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Jan
06

Is Your Assistive Technology (Still) Biased?

Is our assistive technology still biased? Image: screenshot of a text message that asks

Over a year ago I shared some thoughts about bias in assistive technology: technology was created by humans, so the technology has biases. Biases hurt humans, but humans have the capacity to fix it.

Not surprisingly, some things have changed since I wrote it! There have been small steps towards a more equitable and representative access for all. In 2020 we hadn’t had a single synthesized voice option for Black Americans, and the first one, Tamira, was developed and released earlier last year which is now an option for many Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) software programs.

Also not surprisingly, we have a long way to go.

When someone mentioned to me that we now could finally have Black AAC users with a representative voice, I had to stop and think for a moment.

It’s a start, but that one voice is one attempt to represent a diverse umbrella of accents in the United States. That voice alone can’t accomplish all that needs to be done to have a "representative voice" for Black American AAC users. For example, when you look closer at the language in most of the robust software for AAC, you notice the bias: you can’t conjugate sentences properly in African American English (AAE). In some software you can say “he is sick” but you can’t say “he be sick” which is a common linguistic feature of many varieties of AAE. The “habitual be” in some AAE and Irish varieties, for example, shows the difference between being sick once or habitually being sick. I can’t conjugate “ain’t” or say “finna.” The word prediction doesn’t predict the correct grammar or vocabulary of AAE.

“Of course not. We don’t want them to sound uneducated.”

Oh yikes. Or as many would say in the Midwest: “ope!”

Prescriptive grammar, the idea there could ever be “the right way” to speak a language, is still a prevalent bias in education and assistive technology. As a speech-language pathologist, there is a lot of harm to children and families by describing a linguistically valid way of communicating as “uneducated” and not representing it properly.

We want all students to be able to sound like their community. There is power in knowing how to communicate in the way your community expects (or to defy the rules, as you choose). To know the very words you say tie you to your family and generations of history is like having a bit of your ancestors in every sentence. We still haven’t created technology that allows that for every person, only some, and that’s a problem.

As perhaps some English speakers could have said 900 years ago:

Englisc meagol witodlic un−l¯æd fâgung (very roughly translated to Old English: English is strong because of its variety).

It’s said that addressing bias is a lot like tending a garden, not winning a race. You put in a lot of sustained effort and you might see a little growth. Sometimes you don’t (yet). When you’ve addressed the bias you notice, give it a few weeks, and then your work and effort will be needed again for something you never noticed before.

It’s the garden worth tending to as we have a lot of human potential to grow.

Resources:

Do You Speak American? from PBS

Contact a PATINS Specialist on how to incorporate your student’s language(s) and dialect(s) into their communication system.

PATINS also has a webinar on "Culturally and Linguistically Representative AAC" that any Indiana PreK-12 stakeholder can request live. Email me to schedule it at a time that works for you.

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Dec
23

Accessibility is a District-wide Initiative

Accessibility is a District-wide Initiative Accessibility is a District-wide Initiative with student in wheelchair reaching for book.

“I wish I still had to use my wheelchair.” This was a quiet statement made by one of my students.

While this particular student had made immense progress physically following a stroke, he was continuing to struggle academically and a bit socially to keep up with the ever changing landscape of middle school.

When asked why he wanted to have his wheelchair back, he said “So people would remember I had a stroke.” He felt without an external symbol of his disability, his teachers and friends treated him like he had recovered 100%. They had assumed he was “being lazy” or “being a teenager” when he did not complete his school work. 

I know some days he enjoyed being able to “blend” back into the classroom environment, especially when he was up to some pre-teen trickery. Although he worked hard to cover up his struggles, he needed support. For instance, I noticed he had a particularly hard time editing his writing on the computer. He said looking at the screen would give him a headache and he had trouble reading back what he typed.

Only after the fact did I find out our district had the AEMing for Achievement grant at the time I worked with this student. I had heard rumblings about Snap&Read and Co:Writer from my speech-language pathologist counterparts at other levels. So I asked about the tools but was told “Oh we are trying it out in elementary and high school right now. This will come to the middle school soon.” 

So I waited.

And that was my mistake.

The tools that could have supported my student (and subsequently benefitted his classmates) were literally sitting right in front of him on his Chromebook everyday. District administration never brought us more information about the AEMing for Achievement grant processes and tools that year.

Here is where I wish I had a happy ending to wrap in a big shiny bow to share with you. The truth is we never found a great strategy to help him in middle school and I am not sure what happened once he moved on to high school.

My hope is that you can take away a couple of lessons from my experience.

First of all, my student is an example of many students in our schools who are passed over year in and year out because they do not “look” disabled. Having mobility aids or other assistive devices is not a prerequisite to receiving academic support. We must create a learning environment without barriers. By designing lessons with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in mind, we can remove barriers to full participation and progress for all students in the classroom.

Second, if you hear of a tool that you feel will help a student, go after it tenaciously. There is always someone willing to help train you, lend it out, or in some cases pay for it. PATINS Assistive Technology Lending Library has many devices, software, and educational items to trial with your students for six weeks for free - shipping included!

Third, access to the curriculum is a district wide initiative. In other words - access for all students! This especially applies to students with disabilities who must receive their accessible materials in a “timely manner” (IDEA, 2004). 

It can feel overwhelming to make systemic changes and to get everyone on board. The PATINS Project is here to help you in your efforts to create and sustain an accessible learning environment. PATINS AEMing for Achievement grant teams receive intensive support to set up accessibility policies, procedures, and practices district wide. Additionally, our specialists can help you get the ball rolling if you have questions about designing accessible lessons or would like training in this area. Furthermore, the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM) provides Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) to qualifying students. All of these services come at no cost to employees of Indiana Local Education Agencies (i.e. public/charter schools). 

Our students do not have time to wait for access to their education. They need it now and the PATINS Project is here to support you in achieving this in 2022 and beyond.

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Dec
08

Reasons To Stay Strong, Collaborative, Positive, and Brave


Starfish award winner, Mandy Hall, with her husband, son, and daughter.
As educators, we are all quite aware of the many reasons it's challenging to keep pushing on, especially right now. Rather than spend even one more sentence reiterating those reasons, however, I want to emphasize the reasons it's so critical that we don't stop moving forward, that we find ways to re-kindle the fires that fuel and warm us, that we remember there are people who need us to do just that, and that we will likely also need someone else to do that for us at some point in our lives, as we are all inevitably Temporarily Abled

It's been a good while since I've had a guest blogger. In fact, it was August of 2019 when Beth Poss graced my blog with her wisdom on designing and decorating a classroom with more function than form! ...definitely, a read worth revisiting! I'm pretty picky when it comes to sharing my turn to blog with another writer. It was a pretty easy decision, however, when I learned about the most recent PATINS Starfish Award winner, Mandy Hall, M.S. CCC-SLP! All Indiana educators, administrators, related service staff, and all other school personnel are eligible for this award that is presented to the super heroes who consistently go above and beyond to meet the needs of all students through Universal Design for Learning, the implementation of Accessible Educational Materials and Assistive Technology, in order to be most meaningfully included in all aspects of their educational environment! Mandy Hall absolutely embodies all of this and while we wait in eager anticipation for her official Starfish Award video to be released on PATINS TV, she has most graciously agreed to guest-blog with me this week! Mandy has worked as a speech-language pathologist for sixteen years serving students ranging from preschool through high school as well as volunteering her time to support the communication needs of adults in her community.

"One busy evening at work (summer job) led an unexpected customer to me. Our eyes met and she immediately looked so familiar. It was Karen, Tony’s mom! I remembered her son from my own grade school when I was little! He was the young boy who carried around ‘that thing’ because he never spoke. I never knew the name of it, or got to use it with him, but I now know the importance of those things! Anyway, I remember not seeing him very much; he was always in the smaller room down the hall, with “that bald teacher.” I also now realize the extreme importance of inclusion!

Karen looked at me and said, “I heard you’re the girl I need to talk to!” Her son, Tony, is now thirty four (oh my gosh!) years old. Karen shared that he still lives with her, and that he is still unable to verbally communicate with his mouth. I shared with her that I am, indeed, a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) and that I love helping people learn to share their voice through Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC)! 

Working with learners who have intensive needs can be very tough, and sometimes you get to feeling like it’s never enough, or questioning how you will ever be able to make a difference. Progress can often be slow, but the (SLP) life is fast paced! It can be easy to lose your direction, your passion, your spark, and to feel like you’re drowning in frustration and piling tasks. There are some keys though, that I want to share, to keeping your drive strong, your passion thriving, and the outcomes with your learners trending upward! Mentorship, collaboration, the support of a partner, family, continuous learning and development, community resources, and celebrating the small wins each day.

Fast forward - I would finish my day at school and began visiting Tony every Wednesday evening to work with him using an AAC device. I will say that magic happens at their kitchen table on those evenings! Well, perhaps not magic, but many small wins that are celebrated with vigor! Tony and I share many moments of joy, filling my heart, his parents’ hearts; and Tony is communicating! I quickly realized that I was getting my ‘spark’ back through each of these small wins with and through the support of this family and them with my support! Oddly enough, sometimes it’s the finding of extra work like this, that can reignite the passion! This includes the sharing in joy from our littlest students, at 3 years of age, to adults at thirty four plus! First words, first moments of experiencing in learners that eagerness to communicate and a readiness to learn; the first time parents and caregivers are hearing and seeing their loved ones communicate their feelings, their wants, their preferences in life! 


Starfish award winner, Mandy Hall, with a student and parents
Reaching those milestones to be able to share in those particular joys with other people isn’t usually an easy task, that’s for sure. It takes an entire team, which can include SLPs, SLPAs, teachers, OTs,
parents, administration, support staff, and community partners! You just have to be
all in and open to utilizing them all!

For me, it all started with an amazing mentorship, with the incredibly skilled SLP, Cathy Samuels. I was an SLP Assistant for her. She showed me the ropes and I witnessed the powerful and moving changes she was able to initiate with kids. I wanted to be able to do that! I remember navigating through our first AAC user experience, which was uncharted waters at the time, and we felt like it was just too complicated for us. Paintbrush man, a bucket, a pot boiling? What are these pictures and how will kids ever figure this out? Well, they do. And they do it beautifully. We doubted initially, and they proved us wrong over and over. This may just have been the start of me embracing continual life-long learning, professional development, and not capping possibility!

84 cupcakes in a 7 by 12 grid, each with a paper decoration topper representing one of the 84 buttons of the LAMP Words for Life home page.

The tables have now turned. Me, Cathy's former SLPA, finished graduate school and became an SLP myself! In turn, I then find an irreplaceable SLPA to work alongside me; my own sister! Without my sister/SLPA, there is absolutely no way that I could do this job. She jumps right in with some of the most inspiring bravery I've every seen, to help with any and every group of learners, any level of need, and has also found a love of working with kids in their AAC journeys! Her shared passion, drive, and support of me, has allowed so many of the kids we work with, to be true communicators, which in turn, feeds my ‘spark’ even more! Find those people around you who support you and believe in the work that you do and utilize them!  

Starfish award winner, Mandy Hall, with her sister who is also her SLPA

Helping people, kids and adults, obtain their own communication device can certainly be challenging. Writing funding reports, fighting medicaid, writing appeals, attending appeals hearings with attorneys and parents; all to fight for a person who is unable to tell us their basic wants and needs. The frustration with that, easily reaches high levels and there are times when giving up seems like the only option, and sometimes it’s easy to forget about the resources that are available to you, but critically important to those people you're serving!

A family shared with me a foundation that is now, near and dear to my heart, and many of the families we serve here; Anna’s Celebration of Life. When devices have been denied funding for various reasons, this foundation has pulled through for us and graciously gifted communication devices so that our learners voices can finally be shared! One young girl’s short life on this Earth, is now changing the lives of so many others with exceptional needs in Indiana. Brad Haberman has built a phenomenal foundation that provides to so many children; including 4 of our own here!

The PATINS Project of Indiana has also helped in big ways! Learning of PATINS, a few years ago, I was able to acquire items from the Lending Library for 6-week loans, for free! I was reminded of all the wonderful things PATINS does this past Fall. I was able to attend their 2 day Access To Education conference, learning, listening, and taking in so much useful information! I’m not afraid to reach out, ask for help, and request devices for loan. How do we know what our kids can and cannot do unless we try as many possibilities as we can find? ...and how do we possibly do that without organizations and services like PATINS! That’s the beauty I have found through PATINS. Their support and understanding goes far beyond the loaning of a device or the provision of an accessible material. It’s the implementation support, the follow-up, the training, the feeling of someone holding my hand through the process if necessary, that makes all the difference! PATINS has allowed for some of my learners to figure out that an expensive speech generating device is just too heavy, and that the keyguard is better than a touchguide, and that headpoint access, while exhausting, can work! We learned through two loaner devices that one particular student needs a lighter, more accessible device with special features that cannot be accessed through an iPad, for example. That trial and error process simply wouldn’t be possible without PATINS!

Circling back to Tony, it’s tough to realize, after 34 years and multiple therapists and educators, Tony was only able to communicate with two people (his mom and his dad). I am going to do my best to make sure that Tony gets his forever voice; to keep and never have to return. Though you may not be able to reach them all right away, if you can change the life for even just one by recognizing, facilitating and encouraging communication, then that one will make you want to dig and reach even harder to find the next! Seek out mentorship and try to recognize it when it falls in your lap even if it might seem like a challenge to your current way of thinking! Share the accountability and the responsibility with your team, partner, family! Seek out and utilize the resources that already exist and are so eager to serve you, for free, like PATINS! My goal; to be able to make sure that all of my learners find and have their voices before they walk through their school’s door for the last time."

While Mandy is super-busy, I have no doubt she'll do whatever she can to support you in your own journey to support others! Please reach out to me if you'd like to be put in touch with our latest Starfish Award Winner, Mandy Hall! And... if you know someone who's also doing inspiring work to include all students meaningfully, please don't hesitate to nominate them for a PATINS Starfish Award of their own! You can also learn about the past 13 Starfish Award Winners!

For now, I'll leave you with an email I was sent back in April of 2018, from a Director of Special Education in Indiana. It's an email that I'll never forget and it absolutely reinforces the passion, dedication, and urgency that Mandy Hall represents. Thank goodness someone thought to borrow a speech-generating communication device from PATINS near the end of this 3rd grader's year, but... what about all the things he never got to share during the previous 8-9 years of his life... things that we'll never get to know. Stay passionate, stay eager, driven, fighting for those who need you right now, and using the resources around you! PATINS is here to support you!

On Apr 30, 2018, at 4:58pm,     Daniel - will you please forward this to whomever there at PATINS sends out the assistive technology for us to trial? We have a Dynavox on order to trial with a 3rd grade student of ours at                Elementary School (he is the one for which your staff has been assisting us with the AT evaluation). He passed away quite unexpectedly this past Saturday (April 28, 2018). We need to cancel that request to borrow the device.  Thanks so much -                  ,      Special Education Director

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Dec
01

Small Steps, Big Gains

Screen-Shot-2021-12-01-at-12.35.23-PM creek with stepping stones

QR code to audio versions
QR Code to Audio Version

Artist Name - big-steps.mp3


Have you ever come upon a creek and need to get to the otherside? You think if you make a good run and jump, you can make it. I have done this more times than I can even count. I have made it a few times. However, splash! Your foot lands into the water and soaks through your shoes. You were so close! Now you walk away with soggy feet and potentially miserable for the rest of your journey. 

Now, think about the times when you come across a creek and someone before you has already set out the rocks or logs for you to walk on to get across. Perhaps you find them yourself and make a path on the water. You take your time, hold out your arms for balance and slowly make your way, really thinking of the strategy to make it across without falling into the water. Some of the rocks may have seemed unbalanced but you kept going even if nervous. Maybe you have someone on the other side who reached out their hand for that last jump across. You make it! You celebrate.

Yes, attempting to make the jump seems like a quicker way to get across. However, it is the steps you put down to slowly make your way and perhaps leave steps behind for others that is the most consistent. 

ladder with big steps and a ladder with tiny steps

Steps we need... 

As a PATINS Specialist, I have the honor to work with specific school districts who are recipients of our AEMing for Achievement Grant. Through this grant, school districts assemble a team to develop a sustainable system for the acquisition of Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) for their students in a timely manner. They are essentially creating a path, much like the rocks and logs, so that all of their teachers can get across and know how to ensure that all of their students receive their needed accommodations. They are setting the groundwork for current and new staff to know the why and how of AEM. Building those steps is key for long term success. 

More steps needed…

Students who qualify for AEM, assistive technology is often an element for access. Which also means there is a need for implementation of new accommodations for students. This could be new assistive technology, new schedules, new devices, new strategies, etc. Oftentimes we get so excited for our students to succeed, we hand over new ways so they can quickly jump into the new...when in reality, it is the steps between that will bring potential proficiency and consistency. Not to mention, those steps create opportunities for our students to succeed. These are all skills that need to be taught. It can be the difference between students embracing their support for learning and students who get frustrated and give up. 

Does your school district have accessibility and AEM policies and procedures in place? If so, do you know where to find them? If you are unsure, have you asked? Do you know what a Digital Rights Manager (DRM) is? Do you know who your DRM is in your district? Are your students receiving accessible materials in a timely manner? Are you intentionally teaching your students how to use their assistive technology accommodations? 

PATINS-ICAM staff can certainly assist you in developing those essential steps to support all of your students. We can help ensure that accessibility is in the forefront from start to finish… Contact us

door opening to stairs

While hoping you have superhero jump strength to jump across any barrier you may cross sounds pretty awesome, it’s when you lay out those tiny steps that can get you to the other side more consistently. A little more work upfront can alleviate so many unnecessary barriers for our students. Our students deserve it. 

While I have zero doubt we will end up with a few more soggy shoes in the future, let’s just be mindful that we will always make sure that those behind us can get across. 

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Nov
29

Always Thankful for...Community

Scrabble Pieces making the words:  In lifting others we rise

Two years ago I began working for the PATINS Project. These two years have flown by! Having just wrapped up an amazing Access to Education Conference and with Thanksgiving this month as well, I have been reflecting on so much personally and professionally.

While reflecting, one word I keep coming back to is community. While working as an Occupational Therapist and Assistive Technology Coordinator for an Indianapolis area school for many years, I considered the PATINS Project as part of my community. I knew that I was never alone when I had a question or needed to bounce ideas off someone else to come up with the best assistive technology tool to help a student maximize their independence. The
PATINS Lending Library, the ICAM (Indiana Center for Accessible Materials) and PATINS Specialists were always there just an email or phone call away when I needed technical support, to borrow equipment, or set up a student with AEM (Accessible Educational Materials). I attended numerous PATINS Trainings and also requested support for AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) consultations. The district I was in also received the AEMing for Achievement Grant one year. I often hear stakeholders say, “I didn’t know about PATINS. I wish I knew earlier.” Pass along the information about PATINS to your colleagues. Tell them about our Tuesday night Twitter chats! They will thank you for enlarging their community!

Today, I still have that sense of community working with the team of professionals at PATINS. If I have a question, or want to share one of my crazy Do-It-Yourself ideas, I have colleagues that will support me and provide that sense of community. My colleagues challenge me and encourage constant growth. Our Specialists have a depth of knowledge of AT and UDL that is a diverse treasure. I encourage folks to check out the specialties of each Specialist and use the Specialists as a resource!

Do you have a community to rely on? I am so thankful for mine. Do not be afraid to increase that community and use the resources available to you within the PATINS Project. Iron sharpens iron and we all benefit from a strong community of support. We are here for you.

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Nov
19

SLPs and me!

20 years ago, I received a phone call that changed the course of my professional career. At the time, I was actively seeking a full-time elementary teaching position. There were few openings and it was difficult to even get an interview. I decided to take a part-time position in the Tech Department so that I could make some contacts and hopefully, this would help me to at least get an interview.

The Tech Department job ended up being a wonderful opportunity. I learned so much and was able to build on my computer skills while assisting classroom teachers and other school personnel. I worked with so many outstanding staff members including Media Specialists and Speech-Language Pathologists (SLP). 

Unbeknownst to me, an SLP who I had assisted and worked closely with had made a phone call to the Special Education Director about a job that was posted for an Assistive Technology (AT) position with the PATINS Project. She felt that my education background along with the Tech experience made me a great candidate for this position. I received a phone call from him and he asked me to come in for an interview. 

While I was excited, honored, and surprised I was also caught off guard. I was not sure what Assistive Technology was, but I was eager to do some research and to discover more about this field. Luckily for me, the interview went well and I was named the new PATINS Project Coordinator for SW Indiana. 

I have since moved into the position of ICAM (Indiana Center for Accessible Materials) Digital Services Specialist. These 20 years have been incredible for me both professionally and personally. I have been blessed to be able to impact so many teachers, staff, and especially students. I am so proud of the work that the PATINS Project/ICAM does every day.

On the personal side, I was also exposing AT to my daughter. I frequently used her to try out new AT products and solutions. When she was old enough, I took her to trainings and workshops, and before I knew it she was jumping in to assist and even to present! Now, as many of you know because I tell everyone as a very proud mom, she is an SLP with a school corporation in Indiana. 

An SLP changed the course of my professional career and now an SLP (my daughter) will be changing the course of many students. 

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Nov
04

Believe

The word Believe

I am a huge fan of the show Ted Lasso on Apple TV. It’s the only reason I subscribe to yet another TV app. Each episode puts a huge smile on my face at some point, if I haven’t already been smiling my way through the entire show. For me, the writers have crafted a plot line that tells a charming story via a cast of characters that embody many of the best human traits: honesty, respect, trust, kindness, acceptance, optimism, and compassion for one another.

For those that are unfamiliar with the show, it is set in England, and Jason Sudakis plays Richmond football (soccer) coach, Ted Lasso. Lasso is a passionate coach that defines winning as wholeheartedly believing in yourself and your team while playing your best. In fact, he tapes the word “Believe” written in large letters to the wall of the locker room in the first episode. It is through Lasso’s confidence in the power of belief that connects and bonds the team more deeply as the show progresses. 

Though the show is fictional, it is Lasso’s optimistic coaching style and belief in his team that always makes me reflect on the coaching role we all have as real-life educators. The role that asks each of us to lead by example and to model the very traits shown in the shows’ characters. The role in which we identify our students’ strengths and maximize their opportunities to grow, to learn, and to achieve success. The role where we dismiss doubts in students’ abilities and trade them for the high expectations for each and every student.

We, as coaches and educators, are in control of creating an environment in which all students, like Lasso’s players, are set up for success, and where a student’s background, ethnicity, disability, gender, or race does not cloud our vision of what they can achieve. An environment where we refrain from making assumptions and instead, remain optimistic and presume competence in the face of the challenges and believe in our students’ abilities to learn how to read and write, to work with and manipulate numbers, to engage in meaningful communication, and to achieve great things!

When we believe in ourselves as coaches and educators and in our students no matter what, there’s no telling what accomplishments we may witness!

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  605 Hits
Oct
27

Nevermind

Nevermind Nevermind

Imagine that you are in a group with three of your best friends, you are standing outside with a light wind blowing, a few birds chirping, one of your friends is describing their first date they met through an online dating service. Suddenly a fire truck comes by with the siren blasting. Your friend doesn’t stop sharing their story, the firetruck passes, and all three friends start laughing, while you are taking a minute, trying to piece together what you think they might have said and why they are all laughing. 

Take a moment and think about what emotion you might be displayed on your face; is it a look of confusion and thought or do you smile, nod your head and maybe even laugh? Next, you ask your friend to repeat the last part because you missed it with the fire truck siren. Your friend quickly says, “Oh, never mind.” Then another friend starts talking. How does this make you feel? As your friend passively brushes the story and laughter off, you might feel disappointed and left out of the group of friends. Anything else you might feel? 

Now let’s apply these same concepts to our classroom, our students, and those that are deaf/hard of hearing. Do similar situations happen during the school day? Sure they do! It may look different such as background noise or music, lack of visual representations of the content, a classroom of small groups all talking, social groups at recess or lunch, the list goes on.  

The same applies during family gatherings such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Diwali, Eid Al-Fitr, Festa Junina, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, just to name a few. 

While completing my master's program at Ball State University, one of my deaf professors described this feeling as being brushed off like a dog that wants to play but you’re just busy doing something else. 

Please think about these situations and how they may make you feel. Take a moment and repeat the conversation for someone who is truly wanting to know what you said when they ask you to repeat yourself. These moments are fleeting for some and isolating for others. If we are going to cancel anything this season, let’s cancel Nevermind.


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Oct
14

Evaluate and Rethink

This morning I had a Zoom meeting with a single Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) team member who was the only one available. Their other team’s lead person was in a classroom subbing because their district did not have any available subs to fill in, and the other members could not take the time out of their extremely busy schedules. In fact, their district is down not only in substitute teachers, but in classroom teachers and paras as well.

There seemed to be an expectation that as we resumed in person learning and were hoping for some sense of normalcy in schools this year, things might lighten up. That does not appear to be the case.

Job openings are available across the state in about every capacity involving education. Job postings are found for teachers, support staff, school nurses, administrators, counselors, bus drivers, cafeteria staff, and the list go on.

Many of these vacancies are not necessarily because of an increase in overall staffing, but an increase in people leaving the educational system.

An article, “How Bad Are School Staffing Shortages? What We Learned by Asking Administrators” in Education Week of October 12, 2021, from administrators polled, “Fifteen percent said shortages are “very severe,” 25 percent said they’re “severe,” and another 37 percent classified staffing challenges as “moderate.” Just 5 percent of administrators said they are not experiencing any staffing shortages in their schools or districts this year. Another 18 percent said the shortages are “mild” or “very mild.””

The article has other interesting statistics that I will let the reader refer to.

As we all see in the daily news, this is not isolated to the field of education, it is a growing concern on a national level, in every form of employment, but that is another focus.

So, for whatever reasons, these staff shortages now exist, and they are numerous. This must have an impact to some degree on the student education. I am not sharing anything that is not obvious to anyone regardless of the circumstances, but it does involve us all.

On a personal note, this school year my five grandchildren, ranging from kindergarten to 6th grade, all have wonderful teachers and support staff. I know their school district is facing similar challenges, but the impact to my grandchildren is barely noticeable.

For all of you educators that continue in the field, in this Covid Era that is so challenging, your dedication and persistence are having an immensely positive impact on students. Thank you!


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Oct
07

the littlest message

infant hand held by an adult hand, the text infant hand held by an adult hand, the text

Sometimes I feel I do little: 

little progress, 

little endless tasks, 

and little accomplished.


Then I remember sometimes I need more little: 

little celebrations,

little breaks,

little reminders of why it’s so important.


Because in this work, we love little:

little differences,

little changes,

for little people who mean everything.


You decided to click on this blog post and make a little room in your day for this message: embrace little, slower, and less in parts of your life. When we love the “little” in our lives, we have space for more of what matters.


My little suggestion today:

Take a little moment and let someone know that showing up and participating in your life today was important. One idea: nominating someone for the PATINS Starfish Award, which has an excellent tradition of celebrating Indiana school employees who have used Universal Design for Learning, Accessible Educational Materials, and assistive technology to meet the needs of their students.

That little memory, after many little moments, will mean more than you can measure.


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Oct
01

AAC Awareness Month

AAC Awareness Month AAC Awareness Month with quote from USSAAC.

"International AAC Awareness Month is celebrated around the world each October. The goal is to raise awareness of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) and to inform the public about the many different ways in which people communicate using communication devices." - International Society of Augmentative and Alternative Communication

A few things to know about AAC:

  1. There is No Prerequisite for using AAC - as long as you are breathing, you are a candidate
  2. Everyone has the right to communicate - treat the communicator with respect and offer AAC solutions
  3. Presume competence/potential for the communicator - expect that communicator can learn, wants to connect with others, develop literacy skills and more
  4. Give the communicator adequate wait time to formulate a response
  5. High Tech is not necessarily the answer nor is any one particular device or app - complete an AAC assessment to determine the best fit solution for your student

Augmentative means to add to someone’s speech. Alternative means to be used instead of speech. Some people use AAC throughout their life. Others may use AAC only for a short time, like when they have surgery and can’t talk. - American Speech-Language Hearing Association

AAC is more than just high tech, fancy communication devices. It can be as simple as teaching a student gestures/signs (e.g., more or help), writing/drawing, to tactile symbols, pictures, icons/symbols, simple voice output devices to high tech devices like an iPad with an AAC app or a dedicated speech generating device (SGD).

Here are a few tools/resources to help your promote communication skills:

AAC Intervention Website by Caroline Musselwhite

Communication Matrix The Communication Matrix has created a free assessment tool to help families and professionals easily understand the communication status, progress, and unique needs of anyone functioning at the early stages of communication or using forms of communication other than speaking or writing.

Dynamic AAC Goals (DAGG-2) The primary objectives of the Dynamic AAC Goals Grid-2 are to provide a systematic means to assess (and reassess) an individual’s current skills in AAC and to assist partners in developing a comprehensive, long-reaching plan for enhancing the AAC user’s communicative independence.

PrAACtical AAC Website PrAACtical AAC supports a community of professionals and families who are determined to improve the communication and literacy abilities of people with significant communication difficulties. 

Lauren Enders (Facebook) compiles an exceptionally thorough resource that highlights the many AAC apps/software that go on sale during October.

Infographic created by Lauren Enders showing numerous AAC apps/software on sale for AAC Awareness month. Plain text version linked below graphic.

PDF with AAC & Educational App Sale information (info from above) for October 2021 provided by Lauren S. Enders, MA, CCC-SLP.

Do you want to learn more? Check out the
PATINS Training Calendar. If you don't see a training that meets your needs, look over the PATINS Professional Development Guide for inspiration. The guide offers summaries to some of our most popular in-person trainings and webinars developed by our team of specialists that are available year-round upon request. These are offered at no-cost for Indiana public LEA employees.

If you have an AAC case you would like help with, request a free consultation with a PATINS AAC Specialist by completing our AAC Consultation FormYou will meet with at least one or more Specialists to review your case and help brainstorm ideas.

Want additional Professional Development?  Come to our 2021 virtual PATINS Access to Education (A2E) Conference on November 16, 17, 18! Registration is open now!

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Sep
23

I Never Learned About UDL In College (And What You Can Do If You Didn't Either)

I Never Learned About UDL In College (And What You Can Do If You Didn't Either) I Never Learned About UDL in College (And What You Can Do If You Didn't Either)

“You do UDL so well!” said the Director of Special Education.

“Thanks!” I cheerfully responded. It’s always nice to know your administrator values your work, especially as a brand new employee.

But, as I walked away, I thought “What am I doing well? What does UDL mean?”

To this day, I am not sure how I was implementing the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) well. Did he hear I allowed students to choose topics for writing based on their interests? Did he know I start each language therapy session with ample background knowledge? Or did he see I was encouraging students to use both low and high tech assistive technology options that fit them best? I can only guess. At the time, I assumed UDL was a term everyone else knew and I had somehow missed this after six years of college.

In reality, I did not sleep through the lesson on UDL. My former classmates confirmed we had never learned the term. While not explicitly taught, the UDL Guidelines were interwoven throughout my graduate coursework. This may have been the case for you.

I have refined my understanding of UDL and its' implementation through attending conferences, trainings, and trialing what works best. It has made me a better educator for my students. By removing barriers to accessing school work, they saw real, impactful academic success. We even had conversations about moving students back to the diploma track. This created life-changing opportunities for my students and their families.

Are you ready to do UDL well too? Here are a few opportunities provided for no-cost by the PATINS Project.

  • The Access to Education (A2E) 2021 virtual conference is a great opportunity to learn more. There is an outstanding line up of local and national presenters who are eager to teach you the why and how of UDL. Our presenters have created preview videos to give you a snapshot of what you can expect to learn at A2E 2021. If you register for both conference days before September 29, 2021, we will send a welcome box, including earbuds (eligibility requirements apply).

  • Try out the PATINS Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Lesson Plan Creator or interact with the Virtual UDL Classroom.

  • Contact Us for in-depth, individualized support and trainings.

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Sep
10

Perception, Least Restrictive Environment, and Changing A Culture

As humans, we tend to perceive the things we’re already looking for. …the things that we are expecting to see, the sounds we are expecting to hear, and the things we are expecting to feel.

Executive functions refer to brain activities that regulate or control cognitive and behavioral processes. It’s responsible for initiating, organizing, and prioritizing what we think about. Subsequently, what we think about is what we tend to perceive. Knowing, understanding, and being aware of this has huge potential implications for nearly everything in our daily lives, including how we teach, how we learn, and the expectations we have for others’ learning.

When teaching new motorcyclists the fundamentals of controlling a two-wheeled vehicle for the first time, safety is up the utmost concern! We actually begin with this very concept of perception. For example, total braking distance is determined by first perceiving that there is a threat, second by reacting to it, and finally by the actual physics involved in stopping the motorcycle. The perception part is overtly critical in whether or not this process will be successful! In that regard, much time and effort is focused on demonstrating how perception improves drastically if the brain has a priority (safety, threats, escape paths). The idea is to see everything but pull out the most significant factors in that moment, quickly, to be processed and reacted to!

Do you see the rabbit or do you see the duck? Both? 

Image of a drawing that can be perceived as a duck or a rabbit

If you only see one or the other, your brain has likely been conditioned, for whatever reason, to search for and perceive that particular animal over the other one. The really cool thing, however, is that you can reshape this! You can train your brain to perceive the other animal and once you do, you won't be able to NOT see them both from that point on! You might also check out this auditory and video version of the old duck/rabbit drawing on YouTube. 

Clearly, this becomes very important as a motorcyclist is scanning the road ahead, traffic to the sides and to the rear in the rider's mirrors. The more potential threats and potential escape paths that the rider is able to perceive quickly, the greater any risk becomes offset by skill and awareness. Personally, I work very hard at getting better at this, both on a motorcycle and in education in general! 

Getting better at perceiving things more deeply and/or in differing ways isn't easy. It requires deliberate focus, continued effort, and dedication. I wonder, a lot, how often we let our initial perceptions about learners settle as our only perceptions about them. For now, let's allow the rabbit to represent the more limiting or negative parts of what we perceive and the duck to represent the other parts that we're not perceiving, yet. 

Back in February of 2019, I wrote about an experience very much related to this, concerning a colleague I was traveling with and the difficulties she was forced to deal with as a result of initial perceptions. How often do we experience a student's IEP and gain a perception that we stick with and subconsciously allow to set the cap on our expectations for that learner? How often do we witness a student in the hallway making a poor decision, or hearsay from a previous teacher, etc., and allow the same thing to occur?

Even further back in June of 2017, I wrote about myself as a younger student and the way I was perceived by many of my teachers. Perceptions that guided what they felt I should be doing differently...how I needed to change...perceptions that clouded them from noticing that I loved to compose, that I loved to draw, that I loved music, that I love motorcycles even then! They just saw the rabbit! I wanted them to see the duck too!

More recently, I've been heard a lot about Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) and student proficiency. Both of which are highly important factors for consideration in schools! When learners are perceived as one thing, solely by their disability category, their inability to speak using their mouth, or their need to receive information in specialized or accessible formats, for example, they often get placed in more restrictive environments! When this sort of thing happens more than once, a trend begins to form. When that trend isn't deliberately, and sometimes uncomfortably stopped, a culture begins to form. ...a culture of, "this is just the way we do things here," or "we just don't have the resources here to do it differently." When that sort of culture has formed in a place, it really means, "we've decided we're satisfied with only seeing the rabbit, we just can't see the duck in there." This sort of mentality becomes very difficult to change. It requires the strongest, most tenacious, and wise parts of a place, to change.

This involves the combining of one's perception and their brain's executive functions. In other words, if a person maintains the priority to actively seek out certain things within a space or environment, the senses and the mind can process them very quickly and accurately. If an educator WANTS to perceive the capabilities of a learner or the ability to see the duck, they usually will have to seek out training, discussion, debate, mentorship, and collaboration!

This is where organizations like PATINS are so valuable to Indiana's public education. It takes trust, which is built over time! Encouragement, which has to be genuine and timely! Accessiblity and adaptability, which require great skill and practice! All active participants, which takes planning and patience. ...and Goal-oriented experiences, which are purposeful and requires great focus. Those 5 pillars represent, construct, and support everything that the PATINS staff builds, shares, creates, and offers to Indiana public schools, at no-cost to them! The offerings from this PATINS team are no accident! Through hundreds of combined years of experience and genuine passion for inclusivity and progress, we're here for you, Indiana. Reach out to us!! Come to our 2021 Virtual PATINS Access to Education (A2E) Conference on November 16, 17, 18! Registration is open now! Sign up for one of our Specialist's MANY GREAT no-cost trainings

Allow yourself to acknowledge that you, maybe, aren't always perceiving the "duck." Possess a desire to perceive more than just the "rabbit," because you trust that it's there. Reach out to others and request assistance in exploring a situation differently, focusing on different parts of it, and enjoy the process, as you begin to perceive so much more than you ever noticed before!

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Sep
02

No More Sticks & Stones

“Ya know, I do not think you are college material. I think your best route is to just find a job when you graduate,” said the educator to a student when asking for advice on how to apply for college.

Does this statement make you cringe? Does it make you upset? Has something like this ever been said to you in some capacity? How did you feel? How did you respond? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments.Mad bitmoji imageMany of you have most likely heard the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” For me, that is one of the most untrue statements. I feel like it's merely a way to protect ourselves from feeling hurt. Not only can words hurt, they can truly change the trajectory of one’s life. 

Fortunately, the student that I mentioned above had an excellent support system. While those words did hurt, he was able to use them as fuel to pursue college and graduate. Not all students are so fortunate. Many students have already felt that about themselves their whole school career and those words would only be a confirmation. It makes me wonder how many times that one educator said that to a student, and how many took it as truth and confirmation.

The way we interact and the words we choose with our students can impact their daily outlook, not only academically but behaviorally and socially. 

I work with many students who share with me that they do not want to go to school each day. They do not want to use accommodations they may need in fear of looking different than their peers. I get it. While I am not one of these students, I certainly have experiences that help me relate to those feelings. We can gather experiences of our own to perhaps attempt to be relatable. If we cannot, our students' reflections of themselves can be validated by simply saying, “I hear what you are saying and while I have not experienced that feeling, I believe that you feel that way.” This certainly would never be a chosen opportunity to lower the expectations that our students may have of themselves. 

The student who is yelling, “I hate my dyslexia” after he fails a test, does not need us to feel sorry for him and then lower the expectation of the assessment. He needs time spent helping him understand his dyslexia, making sure he has the accommodations that he needs with accessible instruction. He is the student who does not want to look different from his peers. How can we help him not feel different from his peers? We have conversations about learning differences with all of our students. We immerse ourselves in the principles of Universal Design for Learning and then implement. Need help? Reach out to us!  

Do not underestimate the power of your position as an educator. We are not in the business to “make or break” our students. We are in the business of meeting our students where they are, with high expectations and ensuring equitable opportunities for all, not just some. 

Teach your students how to be champions for themselves. Then, when someone says to your student, “Ya know, I don’t think you can do that.” Their response: “Wanna bet? Watch me.” Teach them how to always bet on themselves. That is always a win.
If people are doubting how far you can go, go so far that you can't hear them anymore.


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Aug
19

Looking Forward to Fall!

Fall will be here before you know it and I am so excited, Fall is one of my favorite times of the year. Although I love summer and hate to see it come to an end, the Fall brings its own wonderful treasures.

Fall brings football, which I love. The Pittsburgh Steelers is the team I root for. I’m often asked why Pittsburgh? There was a very famous linebacker who played for Pittsburgh named Jack Lambert and I just happened to have an uncle with the same name and I thought that was neat! 

Also, in 1977 my hometown college basketball team from the University of Evansville was on an airplane when it crashed leaving the Evansville airport killing all 29 people who were aboard. I was just 11 when this happened but I had just been to watch them play and it was quite devastating. 

Harry Lyles Jr. states in his article “‘Oh my God, it’s the Aces’: Remembering the University of Evansville plane crash that shook college basketball”:

On Feb. 11, 1978, just under two months after the crash, the Pittsburgh Steelers came to Evansville to play in a charity basketball game to raise money for the crash victims and their families. “They all said, ‘When do they want us to come?’ Not, ‘I’m available next Saturday’ or ‘I’m available June the 15th,’” Stephenson tells me. “It was, ‘When do they want us to come?’ and they came.” The university offered to pay their travel expenses, and the Steelers declined. Stephenson took Keith Vonderahe, Maury King’s 6-year-old son, back in the locker room to meet the Steelers. Back there, they met players like Lynn Swann, Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Franco Harris, and others. “It was the first time since the plane crash that there was — you felt joy in the arena, and in the community,” Stephenson says.

This act of kindness and grace for my community made the Pittsburgh Steelers my favorite team as well as many others in Evansville.

I also look forward to the MLB (Major League Baseball) playoffs in the Fall. I played girl’s little league fastpitch hardball when I was young and I have loved baseball ever since. I root for the New York Yankees and again I am often questioned about why the Yankees. We didn’t have a team that was very close but the Yankees did have a player named Don Mattingly, 1st base All-Star, who was from Evansville, so they became my team!

Fall is also the perfect season for tennis and pickleball which are the sports I play now. The break in the heat and humidity are welcomed and fall evenings are perfect weather for being outside.

Fall also brings Halloween and although I have never cared for the costume aspect of the holiday I happen to love the pumpkin painting and carving, the decorations, and most of all handing out candy to all the trick and treaters! My daughter Courtney, my best friend Donna, and I have been at it since Courtney was a little girl. The memories of these wonderful fall days always bring a smile to my face.

Sandy's daughter Courtney painting pumpkins
Sandy's daughter Courtney with painted pumpkins
Sandy, her daughter Courtney, and her friend Donna with painted pumkins
Sandy, her daughter Courtney, her friend Donna and painted pumkins

Finally, Fall brings a new and exciting school year full of new opportunities and possibilities. I am
here to help Indiana educators serve their student’s need for Accessible Educational Materials (AEM). Let me know if I can be of any assistance this Fall or anytime!
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Aug
13

Change is Good!

A caterpillar is talking with a butterfly. They are sitting at an outdoor table sipping drinks. One says to the other

When the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) Regulations were added to the IDEA in 2004, three categories of print disabilities were indicated, which deemed a student qualified to receive accessible formats: Visual Impairment, Physical Disability, and the poorly understood Reading Disability resulting from organic dysfunction. 

Say goodbye to all that. Or at least say goodbye to some very archaic-sounding language and its pairing with perplexing policy.

Finally, after seventeen years this language has been rescinded by the Library of Congress, in keeping with new amendments in the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act (MTIA). The changes in this policy are something to celebrate. One of the main tenets of PATINS/ICAM/IERC is the removal of barriers to learning. Now we can demonstrate that without concession. The MTIA has updated terms of who may benefit from section 121; instead of "blind or other persons with disabilities, the term is "eligible person." Then, "eligible person" is defined:

"as someone who is either blind, has a “visual impairment or perceptual or reading disability” rendering them unable to read printed works “to substantially the same degree as a person without an impairment or disability,” or has a physical disability making them unable to hold or manipulate a book or focus or move their eyes to read.   

So, as you can see, the term "organic dysfunction" has been removed from the language.

Furthermore, the requirement for a medical doctor to be the only recognized competent authority for confirming a reading disability has also been changed, or you might say, expanded.

"Eligibility must be certified by one of the following: doctor of medicine, doctor of osteopathy, ophthalmologist, optometrist, psychologist, registered nurse, therapist, and professional staff of hospitals, institutions, and public or welfare agencies (such as an educator, a social worker, caseworker, counselor, rehabilitation teacher, certified reading specialist, school psychologist, superintendent, or librarian)."

Let me repeat: now, the competent authority for print disabilities is the same for all, including the addition of educators, school psychologists, certified reading specialists, and certified psychologists. So, a teacher or other named school personnel, in conjunction with the case conference, is able to confirm that a student presents any type of print disability. 

Write this in big letters and post it somewhere prominent: 

IF THEY HAVE (1) AN IEP, (2) A DETERMINATION OF A PRINT DISABILITY, AND (3) CONFIRMATION BY A TEACHER AS THE RECOGNIZED COMPETENT AUTHORITY, A STUDENT IS ELIGIBLE FOR AEM FROM THE ICAM.

Please don't be wary of this gift from the powers that be. When you see that a student is struggling to read, pay attention. Perform informal and research-based assessments. Screen for dyslexia. Confer with all classroom teachers who are with the student daily, and the special services providers who work with them. Document every assessment, every intervention, and every result. As stated in the IDOE 2021-22 Accessibility and Accommodations Information for Statewide Assessments (p.51), "Determining the nature of the student’s reading challenges can help determine the appropriate intervention approaches, as well as needed accommodations during classroom instruction and during assessments."

The ICAM team has created the AEM Instructional Guide and ICAM/IERC NIMAS Forms Guide for the Case Conference; see p. 6 for instructions on how to include related information in the IEP, and p.9 for AEM and AT Considerations. For another resource, consult Accessible Educational Materials in the IEP, from the Center for Applied Special Technologies (CAST).

Based on scientific, replicated research, it is widely reported that at least twenty percent of the population presents some degree or level of dyslexia. However, only about four percent of school-age students receive special education services for reading disabilities. Some students will respond to Response to Intervention (RTI) that is required by Indiana's SB 217, the state's dyslexia law, without the need for special education services. Some will not. Now we can close this gap, and open the door to literacy.

"By not recognizing shades of gray represented by struggling children who haven't yet failed enough to meet a particular criterion, schools may be under-identifying many children who will go on to experience significant reading problems." This is from Overcoming Dyslexia by Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a book all teachers should have in their toolkit. Also, it is available from the PATINS Lending Library.

If you would like to discuss these significant changes and how they may impact students, and the AEM decision-making process, or information on a tool found in one of these resources,  please feel free to contact me or one of the PATINS/ICAM specialists.

Thanks so much!

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Aug
06

What is the Goal, Anyway?

What is the Goal, Anyway? What is the Goal, Anyway?

I have two sons in lower elementary grades. They started their 2021-22 school year on July 26 this year. I have to brag about their teachers this year! 

Allow me to give some context to what I am going to share about these amazing educators. Something that we learned from the last year and a half is to give grace and be flexible with everyone. We did this because we all felt the weight of what was going on. Though, typically, we need to remind ourselves that we don't know what others are going through and to take a deep breath and allow for some grace and give people the benefit of the doubt. Over the past 18 months and for what felt like the first time, we all realized that we needed to allow for grace and kindness because we were all experiencing, dare I say it, the pandemic. together. 

Ok, now onto celebrating a positive with the aftermath of the pandemic. My boys came home this week with homework packets. We usually meet our nightly homework with whining and not-so-kind words. Most of the time, I think this is true because my boys have difficulty with reading on their own (they both have IEPs), and they can not wait to relax at home after working so hard all day at school. However, homework seems like it's going to be different this year. But why?

Their teachers have extended grace and flexibility with this year’s homework. The homework has great and clear expectations and for the first time, there is breathing room on the due dates and built-in choice. The homework gets sent home at the beginning of the week on Monday and isn’t due until the following Monday.

 As a mother, I am thrilled that we get to have the weekend in case we get too busy during the week. We also know exactly what will be expected of us for the whole week so we can plan accordingly due to the boys' participation in a lot of activities including private tutoring, swimming, hockey, and scouts, just to name a few! 

Another reason why I am so thrilled is the choice and options that are built-in. The boys need to read for a minimum of 60 minutes per week, however, the teachers understand that the reading does not have to be all with the student’s eyes or traditional reading. They built-in choice with options ranging from students reading printed and digital text with their eyes, reading auditory formats through MyOn on their school laptops or through Audible or eBooks on their tablets, and/or parents and other families reading to them. 

After all, what is the goal of reading 60 minutes at home a week? 

What I think we are achieving with this flexible format and giving choice is:

  • Building habits of taking time to read at home
  • Being able to answer questions and discuss what we have read
  • Developing a love of books and reading 
  • Decoding and fluency practice (which isn’t always the only goal!)
  • Building vocabulary
  • others?

Because choice and flexibility were built into this weekly assignment, the boys have embraced that they just need to do a little each day and it's ok if we need to miss a day. We are actually getting the homework done without the tears and frustration of past years. This makes my education-loving heart so happy. 

I have been blown away by the results from this past week. The flexibility of choice of format of reading is making all of the difference for my boys. One day they chose to read 10 pages with their eyes for 10 minutes, and the next day they picked a chapter book on MyOn and read 80+ pages with their ears for 25+ minutes. Regardless of the type of reading, the results were the same - answering questions on their reading log each day. Also, we are achieving my goal, a love for reading! 

This leads me to a question for you all… What is your understanding of the definition of reading/literacy? Check out my colleague, Jena Fahlbush's blog on ways to consume or read text and share your thoughts on options for reading in the one-question survey at the end!

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Jul
21

Making Room for Eureka!

Light bulb with lights inside that look like fireflies

How is your summer going? My kids’ preschool teacher, Mrs. Callahan used to look for scrapes and bug bites to determine if the kids were having a good one--evidence that they were getting outside and having fun. 

After a year plus of COVID griefs, fears and stress, I’m thinking we Indiana educators may need a different measure than how many boxes of bandaids we’ve purchased to determine the quality of our summer. The bumps and bruises on our psyche are evident and it’s time to stay off of the monkey bars for a day or two.

My turn to write the blog for PATINS staff is coinciding with a vacation to Lake Michigan. Our plan was to:

1. Find a place close to the beach.
2. Stare out at the waves.
3. Resist the urge to make other plans

So far, we’ve accomplished steps one and two, but step 3 was derailed by the fact that we forgot a couple of crucial items—I forgot my prescription and the teen girls forgot their bathing suits. So we’ve spent more time in CVS and Meijer than staring at the lake. One of the teens whose birthday is today started throwing up yesterday evening. Our rental is really nice so we may just huddle here with all of the chocolate that we somehow remembered to pack. (Update: she’s recovered on day 2!)

I do not wish a barfing teenager on you at all to force you to slow down, but I do hope that you are making room for some “nothing” time in your summer. Research shows that our brains need down time in order to reset and come up with new pathways. Rest is essential for creativity. I’ve been working on content for new trainings to present for this school year with my focused brain in the past few weeks, but this week I’m letting my diffuse brain take the jet ski handlebars and drive. 

I know when I return to my laptop next week, I'll revise with some fresh ideas.

Are you focusing on your return to the classroom this fall? Take some time to walk, meditate or just stare blankly. If you find yourself mopping a bathroom floor in the middle of the night, prepare yourself for the jolt of creativity that only comes when you make some room for eureka

If your idea keeps floating around and you need some help pinning it down, give one of our specialists a call. Check out our professional development guide or training calendar for opportunities to learn something new. Registration is open for our PATINS A2E state fall conference. At PATINS we strive to practice the UDL methods that we preach and encourage creativity and participation for a deeper learning experience.

We have a wonderful opportunity to frame this coming school year with all of the new strategies we’ve discovered through this challenging time. Join me and the PATINS staff in creating new opportunities for Indiana students.


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Jul
15

Lyrically Correct

It is my blog time again. Not moving too far from what I have blogged in the past regarding my grandchildren, I am keeping it in the family. Today, I am going to share a tidbit about myself.

I LOVE listening to music. I find comfort in the sounds, the melodies, and instruments used, but really enjoy the lyrics and the stories told.

I have an abundance of song lyrics memorized to a wide variety of tunes. There are a lot of lyrics that have special meanings that conjures up memories of a time or place or event. This is not unique to me; we all experience those moments when a song starts.

Over and over, I sing along, word for word…. or though I thought! Let me give you a couple examples.

I was late in arriving to listening to AC/DC. I found them of value when I wanted some upbeat music to listen to while working out. “Thunderstruck” is quite motivating. I began listening to AC/DC a little more. I had listened to their song “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” several times. It was not until I came across the written lyrics, that I realized I had missed a couple words.

ACDC Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap Aus Front  “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” by AC/DC

The refrain is “Dirty deeds done dirt cheap”, but I heard “Dirty deeds and the Dunder Chief.” That is what I head. I knew what the song was about, and I even knew the title of the song. BUT I heard “Dirty deeds and the Dunder Chief.”

If I had been that wrong with an AC/DC song, what other songs could I have been mis-lyricing? Probably plenty. Was I the only one that thought Dunder Chief was the lyric? It turns out, I am not. In polling several others, they shared a similar Dunder Chief experience with this popular song. How could others have had such a similar version of a song, when the lyrics are in the title, but be so misguided by what they heard?

When you listen to a lot of music, this type of thing must happen all the time. My wife shared with me that she and some friends came to Indianapolis for an Eagles concert in high school. The question was asked, “What is your favorite Eagles song?” “Hotel California”, “Desperado”, “Flies in the Vaseline”? Yep, someone thought “Life in the Fast Lane” was “Flies in the Vaseline”. Makes Dunder Chief sound mild.

I have since found other songs that I had the lyrics a bit off the mark, but this old dog is not in the mood to be lyrically correct after all these years. Besides, that is the way I heard the song, and why take that away from the experience.

Here are a handful of other lyrical mistakes people have shared and how subtle they are, me included:

'Bohemian Rhapsody' by Queen

What people thought:Saving his life from this warm sausage tea”
What the lyrics are: “Spare him his life from this monstrosity”

'Paradise City' by Guns N’ Roses

What people thought:Take me down to a very nice city”
What the lyrics are: “Take me down to the Paradise City”

'Livin’ on a Prayer' by Bon Jovi

What people thought:It doesn’t make a difference if we’re naked or not”
What the lyrics are: “It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not”

'Purple Haze' by Jimi Hendrix

What people thought:"'Scuse me while I kiss this guy,"
What the lyrics are: "'Scuse me while I kiss the sky,"

ELO Discovery album cover  Don't Bring Me Down” by Electric Light Orchestra

What people thought: "Don't bring me down, Bruce."
What the lyrics are: "Don't bring me down, groose."

“Helen Wheels” by Paul McCartney and Wings

What people thought: “Hell on, hell on wheels”
What the lyrics are: “Helen, Helen Wheels”

TOTO IV album cover  “Africa” by Toto

What people thought: "I miss the rains down in Africa."
What the lyrics are: "I bless the rains down in Africa."

'Blinded by the Light' by Bruce Springsteen

What people thought: “Wrapped up like a douche, another rumor in the night.”
What the lyrics are: “Revved up like a Deuce, another runner in the night.”

“Money for Nothin’” by Dire Straits

What people thought: “Money for nothin’ and your chips for free.”
What the lyrics are: “Money for nothin’ and your chicks for free.”

Men At Work album cover  “Down Under” by Men at Work

What people thought: He just smiled and gave me a bite of my sandwich.”
What the lyrics are: He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich.”

It is easy to chuckle at some of the things people sing, but that is just the way they heard it. I bet some folks were laughing at me!

So, think back on some lyrics you might have thought you knew, but they seem odd now that you sing them. Just keep singing!

Dirty deeds and the Dunder Chief…


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Jun
03

Learning Through Reflection

I am so thrilled to share Leslie DiChiara's words of reflection of this past year with you as our guest blogger this month. Leslie was a classroom elementary teacher for 15 years. Her background is special education and literacy. She is currently the Assistive Technology Specialist in her school district in New York. I met Leslie a few years back at a national conference and we became instant friends and a colleague in our field. Her passion for access for ALL students mirrors that of our PATINS team. #BetterTogether

Portrait of Leslie DiChiara

As John Dewey once said, “We do not learn from experience….we learn from reflecting on experience.” If you have spent any time over the past 15 months working in the educational system, you can unquestionably agree that the pandemic certainly provided its share of opportunities for reflection. What we once knew about education was swiftly flipped. The equivalent of literally having the rug pulled out from underneath your feet. Yet, with no notice teachers across the nation rose to the occasion to revamp every aspect of how they provided instruction to their students. Even if this looked different based on where you work or the student population you work with, the one thing educators had in common was that we were navigating uncharted territories together.  

As a mother to two school-aged children and an educator for the past 20 years, I was able to view the educational impact of the pandemic from multiple lenses. Questions swirling about how our children would make up for lost months, closing educational gaps, meeting their social and emotional needs, ways to creatively provide accessible instruction with various constraints. So many unknowns.  

Looking back a year later, virtual students are returning to in-person learning, desk shields are being removed from classrooms, masks requirements are lifted in some establishments for those who are vaccinated, schools are beginning to reopen, and a small sense of normalcy seems to finally be on the horizon.  But it’s safe to say that COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on education, casting a critical light on everything from ed tech to student equity to accessibility to school financing.  

Many aspects of education were directly impacted by the pandemic leaving years for schools to successfully get students back-on-track, not only academically but also socially and emotionally.  Teachers, parents and students spent the better part of the year being pushed outside of their comfort zones and likely will seek a return to the educational world they once knew. However, we can argue that some changes resulting from COVID-19 were for the better and efforts will be placed by educational leaders to maintain those changes.  

With the end of the school year here or on the near horizon make time for reflection. The act of reflection provides an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos while sorting through and creating meaning from your experiences. The questions below are adapted from article Reflection Questions for Teachers and Students: Looking Back at Our Year created by Lydia Breiseth and Elena Aguilar’s Questions for Reflecting on a Year of Learning. The hope is for you to pause and think back on the challenges, the successes, the impact they had on and how it shaped yourselves, your students and families.

  • What was the most difficult challenge (or series of challenges) I faced this year? my students and their families faced this year?
  • What strengths did I show in addressing those challenges?
  • Who or what helped me address those challenges? What helped my students and their families begin to address those challenges?
  • What opportunities did those challenges create?
  • What did I learn about my students’ lives, families, and past experiences? my colleagues? my school community? my local community? myself?
  • What impact did I have on my students and their families?
  • What impact did I have on the systems in my classroom, building, or district?
  • How did I grow as an educator this year? 
  • How can I harness what I learned and continue to move forward with it? 
  • What do I anticipate facing next year? What is my plan of action?
  • What has given me hope?
  • Who or what was particularly helpful in a moment when I needed it?
  • How did I take care of and nurture myself this past year?

If the past year has allowed us to reflect on anything, it’s that our teachers, students and their families are not only resilient but adaptable. It has taught us that our educators should not be taken for granted. It has taught us that not all COVID-19 changes were necessarily obstructive. It has taught us the powerful impact technology has had on how instruction is delivered. It has taught us a valuable reminder of the importance of in-person interactions and engagement both in and out of school settings. It has taught us there is more work to be done to change the challenges of our educational system and the inequities many students face. It has taught us to place priority on the things and people who matter most to us. It has taught us to celebrate small victories. It has taught us to be flexible and to step outside of our comfort zones.  And most importantly it has taught us to be forgiving and patient with ourselves as we continue to navigate these unchartered waters.

As we near the close to another unprecedented school year I can say with certainty that although the path we journeyed may have been divergent, with hills and valleys along the way, we emerged changed but maybe in some ways for the better. 

_______________
If you would like to hear more from Leslie, you can follow her on Twitter @lrdichiara and her blog Where It's AT.

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