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Promoting Achievement through Technology and INstruction for all Students
Jun
25

Indiana Educators Focused on Accessibility in 2019-2020

Indiana Educators Focused on Accessibility in 2019-2020. Blog title above a group of people waving.

We often tell our students “you're more than a number”, meaning they have incredible qualities that are difficult to measure in a standardized manner. Creativity and grit are a few of these tricky to quantify metrics. Now, it’s not only Indiana students who have amazing, unmeasurable talents, our educators do too. And one there is one that was particularly evident during the 2019-2020 school year - determination. Specifically, a determination to educate their students whether the learning environment was the classroom or home.

Check out the graphic below showing the support PATINS/ICAM staff have provided this school year. While you’re looking at it, please remember, behind each number is a determined Indiana educator:

A general educator from College Park Elementary in MSD of Pike Township who attended the “Accessibility in Canvas and Beyond” webinar by Jena Fahlbush benefited from having another perspective - “Seeing examples of a screen reader helped me so much. I realized I was unknowingly doing so many things that would make learning more difficult for a student with low vision. After the session, I was able to make fast, easy fixes that will make learning more accessible. I also learned many tips and tricks to help students with hearing impairments or language needs as well.”

A special educator from Binford Elementary School in Monroe County Community School Corporation who can spend her time more efficiently after learning about new, free tools at Jessica Conrad’s “I Love Data 2” training - “I am so excited about Google Data Studio!! I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent trying to pull multiple pieces together into easy-to-read graphs/charts. Game changer!”

A cost-conscious instructional coach at an elementary in Elwood Community School Corporation who attended “DIY Fidgets & Sensory Tools to Enhance Continuous Learning” with Bev Sharritt, Jena Fahlbush, Katie Taylor, Kelli Suding, and Lisa Benfield - “I love these easy, affordable ideas that teachers can easily create at home for student use.”

Note: Indiana public/charter school employees can request any of the above trainings at no-cost.


Indiana Educator Reach by the PATINS Project 2019-2020

  • 1,000+ Tech Expo registrants: PATINS/ICAM staff, with the assistance of IN*SOURCE, swiftly pivoted to a new platform due to COVID-19 and successfully held the first ever, virtual Tech Expo 2020! Also, in November we hosted over 400 attendees at our 2-day Access to Education 2019 conference.
  • 6,044 Training participants: The passion Indiana educators have for providing all students access to the curriculum is unmatched as evidenced by the outstanding turnout at our no-cost trainings this school year.
  • 73% Indiana public and charter schools reached: The PATINS Project has served seventy-three percent of Indiana school corporations and forty-two percent of Indiana preschool through grade 12 schools this year. Our small, dedicated staff goes to great lengths to deliver high-quality technical assistance to meet the access needs of all students through Assistive Technology, Accessible Educational Materials, and Universal Design for Learning.
  • 10,600+ Material and assistance requests fulfilled: Need to trial an assistive technology device? Have a question about Accessible Educational Materials (AEM)? Looking for information on the Universal Design for Learning framework? PATINS/ICAM staff are Indiana educators' go-to resource for improving access to the curriculum which leads to increased literacy skills.

Are you an educator behind one of these numbers? Tell us about your experience in the comment section below.

Want to be a part of the Indiana educators making education accessible in 2020-2021? Here are a few ways to get started:

  • Apply by July 31, 2020 to be one of the Indiana school corporations in our next AEMing for Achievement grant cohort.
  • Register for the first ever virtual Access to Education 2020! ($100 for 2 days, $50 for a single day)
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Dec
12

The One Question I Ask All Students

What is the most interesting thing you learned?

Why is this the one question I ask all students? It seems simple at first, but this question alone has given me vivid insight into who my students are at their core while sneakily working on enhancing language skills. Here are 5 reasons why.

1. Build rapport. Instead of relying on the "About Me" worksheets students fill out once in July or August, you can keep the lines of communication open between you and your students all year long. We all know what's cool one minute, is out the next anyways.

2. Work on skill deficits. With this one question alone, SLPs (and anyone working in the school) can help foster social skills, correct use of conjunctions, and expanding verbal/written sentence length. For social skills, students can work on turn taking, topic maintenance, asking follow up questions, perspective taking and reading nonverbal cues. For example, "What do you think X found interesting? How do you know?" If students answer with a simple sentence, you can use a visual of conjunctions to prompt them for more information. FANBOYS is always a favorite.

3. Find out what they've truly learned. Wait 10-15 minutes, a class period, or even a day and then ask what they found interesting from an earlier lesson. It may be a small detail you've glanced over that actually piqued their interest while they may have forgotten about information needed for the test. Now, you know what needs re-teaching.

4. Learn more about what engages them and use that information for future lessons. Students may reveal surprising interests such as loving opera music or a passion for tornado chasing. These are two real life interests brought up by my former students and you bet these were incorporated in more than one speech session.

5. There is no "wrong" answer. It's a low stress way for students to participate who may not otherwise felt confident enough to speak up with their ideas. Even if they say nothing was interesting, they can explain why and what can be different next time.  

As you can see, "What is the most interesting thing you learned?" packs a lot of educational "punch" with virtually no material preparation (unless you choose to - this could easily be done on a Padlet, white board, or other discussion format should you like a record of it).

Weave this question into your school day and comment below your thoughts on my all-time favorite question. 




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Feb
21

#ThrowbackThursday - Look at the Past & Future

#WayBackWednesday, #ThrowbackThursday, and the #10YearChallenge are opportunities for us to peek back into history. I love seeing these types of posts because it reminds me how small changes in the past lead to impressive results in the future.

Have you read the PATINS Project’s fascinating origin story yet? I recently did. It's amazing that as I was learning my ABCs & 123s in a small, Cincinnati school, many dedicated educators were setting the foundation for the PATINS Project to bring access to all students one state away. Have a #ThrowbackThursday party of your own and take a look at Glenda’s 2016 post about the history of the PATINS Project.

After reading it, I realized that PATINS/Staff as a whole, both past & present, are forward thinkers. No idea is too simple or too outlandish. Never have I heard, “We do it that way because that’s how it’s always been done.” New ideas are met with “Tell me more!” This is a rare quality to find organization-wide and it has led to successful initiatives like the AEMing for Achievement grant.

Forward thinkers don’t rest on their laurels, so what does PATINS have in store for you in the future?

In early April, we’ll be hosting the PATINS Tech Expo 2019 in partnership with IN*SOURCE with vendors and non-profits from around the nation sharing the latest educational tools and support services. Before you talk yourself out of it due to cost or time commitment, there is no cost... and it is only one day off your calendar. Trust me, the resources you gain will help your students ten-fold.

Furthermore, we’ll be releasing videos like Success Stories featuring students and surprising dedicated educators with Starfish Awards. Maybe you’ll recognize some of these fellow Hoosiers!

Did you see we added a new Extended Chat option for #PatinsIcam Twitter Chat? If you can’t meet us at 8:30 PM EST on Tuesdays, now you have the rest of the week to join the conversation.

As always our Specialists & ICAM staff members are updating their trainings to include topics important to stakeholders and our Lending Library is consistently updated with the latest and greatest tools for you to borrow.

Signing up for our monthly eNewsletter is the easiest way to stay up to date with everything new at PATINS.

Now, I ask you to reflect. How have our services shaped your district, school, students, or even you over the years? What do you hope to see from PATINS in the future? Comment to let us know. :)

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Nov
15

Everyday UDL

When I heard we could invite a guest blogger, I knew who mine would be from the get-go. Introducing my former college study buddy, roommate for many years, and always my professional/life guide, Sammi Bowyer.

Currently, there are two preschools in Indiana lucky to have her as their Speech-Language Pathologist. Her incredible optimism and #AvidReader* status lend well to providing the highest quality services for our students.

Sammi & Jen standing next to the

*
#AvidReader is someone who loves reading, reads a lot, and isn’t ashamed to flaunt it.  

Now, when you hear Universal design for learning (UDL), do you think, “Great, one more thing I have to do...?” It’s okay if you do. But, before you click out of the page, keep reading. I think you’ll find Sammi’s take a common-sense way to look at the importance of incorporating UDL in the classroom as we empower and show care for all our students.

--

When I think about UDL, I think about the unique interests of my students, how I can teach a concept in multiple formats, and the many ways in which my students share with me what they know. By utilizing UDL, I work to remove barriers so all my students are able to use their unique skill sets as learners and people. My targets for what I need to teach them doesn’t shift, but rather the ways in which they can go about learning and demonstrating their knowledge can.

We use the three principles of UDL, representation, expression, and engagement, all the time in our everyday lives. For example, think about the expression principle the next time you are completing a task at work, researching something new, or offering help to a friend in need. Then, think about all the different ways you might be able to reach your end goal. Chances are that one of those ways will stick out as making the most sense for you, but it might not be the same way that your spouse, your child, your co-worker, or your friend would approach the same task.

When we utilize UDL in the classroom, we are modeling for our students that their ideas are valued.

--

If you want to learn more about how to put UDL into practice in your classroom, I highly recommend registering for Access to Education 2018 by Nov. 21st. Dr. Nancy Holsapple, Indiana Director of Special Education, and Dr. Kelly J. Grillo, 2018 Florida Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Marjorie Crick Teacher of the Year, lead the way with inspiring keynotes followed by great breakout sessions!

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Sep
29

Just skip to the butterflies

 

Have you seen the photo of the fastest man in the world guiding a Paralympian with blindness while training for her own Olympic quest? Usain Bolt showed up for this event not knowing exactly how to guide (he worried he might run too fast--seems legitimate!) But he showed up, nonetheless, to guide Terezinha Guilhermina, a Brazilian sprinter competing in the 200 meter run.

This recent image in the news encapsulates the vision for educational teams working with students who have blindness and low vision in Indiana schools. We want students to achieve to their highest potential whether their race for the year is to complete AP World History, or learn how to cook some great Indian food like their mom. Many who might guide and teach them have similar worries as Usain, wondering,

“will I go too fast?”

“How do I share visual cues with someone who does not have sight?”

“How the heck does a student with blindness use an iPad?”

Because the particular disability of blindness occurs in such low incidence, many teachers may never have a child with this need in their classroom. Those that do, may never repeat the process. In my experience as a teacher for the blind and low vision, I witnessed a predictable emotional timeline for each school year for staff dealing with this particular new need in their classroom:

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Starting with the initial fear phase, and gradually coming to a settling-in phase, and ending with the this-kid-with-blindness-is-just-a-kid-after-all phase. My career quest has become to find ways to pole vault over those first 6 weeks of freaking out--not an easy task, as folks have deep seated fears regarding blindness. So as fearless as Usain Bolt may seem, his hesitance to guide comes naturally.

The guidelines for being an effective running partner from the AFB (American Federation for the Blind) organization United in Stride apply in many ways to the races we are running with our students toward their educational, social, and expanded core curriculum goals.

Highlighting a few from their website:

  1. Let the runner set the pace.

  2. Communicate often.

  3. Be patient.

  4. Accept correction as a way to improve your guiding skills.

If you read these, and let them sink in for a moment, you’ll realize that they can be further boiled down to: let the runner/student maintain most of the control for the process, and listen to them. Like many other challenges we face with fearing those who have differences from us, the remedy to fear is spending some time with, and getting to know the person. Ask them about their blindness, and the challenges they face, but also ask them about what kind of running shoes they prefer, and what movies they saw this summer.

After making a connection, seek the resources available for answering the questions about visual cues, access, and iPads. In addition to your local teacher for the blind and low vision who will be your point person for accommodating your student’s needs, PATINS has added my position as specialist to help teams sort through, and implement the amazing advancements in technology available for students with visual needs. I’m excited to be your coach for pole vaulting over the fear,  sprinting past the fear,  wrestling fear to the ground (insert your favorite sports analogy here).

We’ve got some exhilarating races ahead of us!


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May
03

May Marvels

It’s May, and some of my favorite days are in May. I know the voyage of summer is near when the light green mist in the woods becomes the solid green flag of all the maple leaves unfurling at once. This happens in the course of just a few May days. Did you see it?

We have a few dozen peony bushes in our yard left over from our flower farming days. I love the heavy fuchsia blooms that usually open around Memorial Day, but over the years I’ve learned to watch for the gorgeous dark red shoots that emerge through the spring grass, and I love their form and fortitude even mdark red peony shoots emerging from the groundore than the show-off flowers. I wonder at how all that silky color is packed into those shoots.

My husband and I have the same discussion on May 3 or so, give or take an unusually warm day or Indiana monsoon weekend. He, of the glass-half-empty part of our relationship, starts the conversation with, “The peonies look like they’re coming on early this year.”

Glass-half-full wife replies, “That’s unusually optimistic of you, but you say that every year. And then they bloom around Memorial Day.”

“We’ll see,” he says, and my heart surges to know that his glass can be full! It happens on a May day, and this year, I think he’s right and I’m glad to be wrong. I’ll be watching as the hard, marble-sized buds expand and soften into pink marshmallows. That’s the day in May before they open.
fuchsia peonies in full bloom at the Sharritt farm
On yet another spectacular day in May, my husband makes the announcement that it is time to switch from the flannel sheets to the summer ones. (insert birdsong and trumpet fanfare!) If you’re familiar with
his blog, then you know what an epic event this is.


May, in the world of education, can tempt us to hurry to the June finish. We’re missing a lot of great May days if we don’t keep our expectations high for ourselves and our students. I happened upon another blog by Aaron Hogan that encourages us to consider the end to be as important as the beginning and to wrap up the year with a flourish. It includes great ideas in the comments section from colleagues on how they energize their May classroom.

My May days have been filled with preparing for trainings at the Indiana Summer of e-Learning events (hope to see many of you there!) and organizing regional professional learning communities for the Teachers for the Blind/Low Vision in Indiana. Reflecting on your year’s failures and successes is another way for teachers to make May a blooming finale, rather than a fizzle. If you are a BLV teacher and haven’t signed up for one of these groups yet, please email me.

In the blog mentioned above, Aaron writes, “We cannot afford to do anything other than continue to pursue our students.” The students have been equipped from August through the year to learn in your classroom. They are ready to dart ahead of you. May days are great days to hand over the dry erase markers, and let those capable students lead. Great growth, in fact, blossoming happens here, too. Do you see it?


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Oct
10

The Intersection of Literacy and Joy

IMG_071_Smiling girl showing her book on her iPad written for her

“I cried when I read Where the Red Fern Grows in 4th grade.”

“My first grade teacher was stern, but when she read aloud she used funny voices.”

“Non fiction is my favorite. I’m still all about the facts.”

“I followed the hymnal at church while listening to my mom sing.” 

“I loved Dr. Suess. . . comic books. . . Harry Potter . . . mysteries . . . .

I’ve had the joyful privilege of working with Indiana teachers in trainings about making and engaging with books and literacy this summer and fall. An introductory activity that I did with groups was to ask them to place 3-4 influential books on a timeline of their life, and these were comments I heard during share time. For most of the presentations, I had to interrupt lively heartfelt discussions because the participants didn’t want to stop talking about books.

“I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a book.” – J.K. Rowling

Something magical was also happening during those discussion times. Folks were connecting over shared experiences and writing down titles for books they had yet to discover. It reminded me that any learning task is made more meaningful with emotional engagement. Our brains get primed for the what and the how if we are taken through the door of the why.


We spent the remainder of the trainings looking for sources for books in electronic format, and making both electronic and tactile format books to take back to all students, no matter what access they may need to engage with a book. 

I’ve received even more joy via photos and stories of students with the books their teachers found or created for them. 

I’d love to see your face light up at the mention of a good book. I’d also love to hear the particular challenges you face when providing opportunities for improving literacy for students in any setting. Give me or another PATINS specialist a shout if you’d like to bring a training on engaging literacy to your district or educational team!

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” – James Baldwin


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Jan
16

Blue Crayons


January is when I go for my annual eye exam, and as a specialist for issues regarding vision, I suppose my optometrist braces himself for that lady who has all the questions about eyes. My eyes are worsening each year, in no small part, due to screen use for work and I admit, due to viewing flowers, babies and political nonsense on social media. I’m working on reducing my screen time, and literally, taking a longer view, by scheduling time to look out the window.


My traveling views over the dashboard this winter are taking me frequently to my hometown of North Manchester. Manchester Community Schools is one of the several districts receiving our PATINS AEMing for Achievement Grant this year, and I have been assigned to help them with guidance and training. I’ve enjoyed visiting, and being reminded of my childhood in this small college town. The sledding hill at 5th and East Streets looks impossibly smaller than when I was 11. The injuries I sustained couldn’t possibly have happened there. The playground next to the little league field at the old Thomas Marshall School no longer has maypoles or tether balls. If you don’t know what either of these are google “playground hazards from the 1970’s”. Mr. Dave’s restaurant remains the same as does their tenderloin recipe. 

Part of the grant for Manchester’s schools provides specialized assistance with finding the right communication device or system for a student with more intensive needs. Jessica Conrad, PATINS specialist for AAC and I consulted with a teacher and speech therapist about a student who had puzzled them for a while. 

The student had a few words and some gestures to communicate but they felt like he had much more to say. Using picture communication had been inconsistent for him. As they described the student I started to hear some behaviors consistent with a cortical visual impairment. Cortical visual impairment, or CVI is where the eye itself is healthy but the visual pathways in the brain struggle to process an image. When the teacher mentioned that the student always chose a blue crayon or marker for a task, I was pretty sure that CVI was a possibility. Students with CVI often have a strong color preference (although it is usually red or yellow). 

The teacher contacted his parent to schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist. The student’s team also immediately began to offer the student assignments copied onto blue paper. They changed the settings on his iPad so that a blue overlay would cover the display. They used communication symbols highlighted in blue. 

The team was excited to report after only a couple of weeks that they were seeing dramatic improvement in the student’s attention, engagement, and accuracy in pointing at communication symbols. 

view looking over a boy's shoulder at his iPad and school assignment printed on blue paper.

The brain never ceases to amaze me. As educators and humans, we need reminders of how perception can vary so widely from individual to individual. Whether it is the filter of perception through color or through the lens of long-term childhood memories, our view is highly individualized. Keeping this in our awareness as educators can only lead to better results in our work. The staff at MCS are also benefiting from an initiative in Indiana called Project Success that supports higher academic achievement for students with disabilities. I’m grateful for this initiative and the educators at Manchester Elementary who hadn’t given up on finding out what could give this student a voice, and a means for academic success.

How are your eyes?
Where are you looking?
How are your perceptions expanding?
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Oct
28

Finding the Bright Spot

Finding the Bright Spot

Last week my colleague and friend, Bev Sharritt, reminded me how much I currently miss all of you and my fellow teammates. I think many of us can agree that virtual meetings simply aren’t the same no matter how much we may want them to be. Including this new way to work, this year has made me feel all the feelings and changed so many aspects of my daily life. It has changed the way I work, the way I socialize, the way I eat, the way I dress, the way I exercise, the list goes on. 

Nonetheless, I can’t help but try and find the silver lining in all of this change and unfamiliar territory. I suppose it’s the forever optimist in me, but when I encounter fear, I try to cling to the bright side. Here’s to hoping that some of what we’re learning and the adaptations we’re making in and out of the classroom are here to stay!

For example, this year has introduced me to more educators wanting to know how to make their materials accessible than ever before! As an accessibility advocate, this is incredibly exciting! Accessible materials level the playing field for all students and decrease the opportunity gap that too many of our students experience each and every year. I love hearing about educators working diligently and asking questions about how to make their Canvas and other learning management system courses accessible and their Bitmoji classrooms accessible on top of their digital and printed documents. 

To help support your efforts, a few of my teammates and I have put together a series of three 30-minute webinars that you can request via email for your school district as an Indiana public educator. This series includes how to create accessible materials from scratch, how to upload and publish accessible materials, and how to make inaccessible materials accessible from the student’s perspective.

Furthermore, this year has pushed us to not only think about our students’ access to our materials (representing our content), but the ways in which we engage our students and allow our students to show us what they know; this is the heart and soul of universal design for learning (UDL). We are stretching our creativity, figuring out how to use new tools for access, using virtual platforms for teaching and teletherapy successfully, and reaching students in ways we may have never thought possible. 

I also believe that 2020 has made us take a closer look at our work/life balance and how we care for our mental health. Not to say this didn’t happen because we overworked and pushed ourselves to the limit in some cases, but I’m hoping that it’s been a lesson learned to take with us into the future. Finding our boundaries and learning to say no is healthy! It’s a common phrase because it's true; we must take care of ourselves in order to take care of others. 

Lastly, I think or hope many of us have begun to re-evaluate how and with whom we spend our invaluable free time outside of the classroom. This year has brought me closer to the ones I love through phone calls, texts, Zoom get togethers, and sometimes in person. My quaran-team has helped me get through this year and will be there for me as we end this year and venture into what’s to come in 2021. I hope you’ve found your team and that you, too, are finding the bright spots in your experiences. 

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Apr
23

Big Dreams, Small Spaces


I hope this blog finds you healthy and coping well with this not-in-Kansas-anymore life. I was looking at my work calendar from a couple of months ago, and looked at an entry where I traveled, and thought, “Logansport seems like a distant universe.” 

Many of us are escaping to places (other than our snack stations) by watching Netflix. We are all sharing the shows we’ve been bingeing on the streaming platforms. It is spring on our farm, and I am re-watching my favorite British gardening show. 

“Big Dreams, Small Spaces” follows the famous British gardener, Monty Don who guides 2 different garden makeovers per episode. (He’s also an excellent follow on Instagram if you like dreamy garden images.) On the show, the participants share their ideas for a dream garden in their tiny backyard, and Monty checks in over the course of a year to counsel them, and lend some hands-on help. It is the opposite of sensational--there are no bodies found buried in the gardens. There are no cash prizes, and the often very small budgets are footed by the gardeners. 

But many of their dreams are indeed big, including turning their back garden into an enchanted forest, or creating a community vegetable garden for their neighbors. One of my favorites is an episode where parents are designing a garden for their son who has a disability. 

It would be fair to say it is boring, but I also would describe it as compelling. Watching someone dig their own pond with a shovel, and hearing them describe how it has helped them battle depression is a medicine that is working for me as I look for hope wherever it can be found.

My PATINS stakeholders who are contacting me are living in their own “Small Spaces” right now. But like the gardeners, they are dreaming big of taking their limited resources and turning them into a thing of beauty. They are forging stronger relationships with their students’ parents, spending hours communicating how to take their child with blindness on a mobility scavenger hunt, or how to enter math homework using a screen reader. They, like Monty Don and his gardeners, are giving me hope that continuous learning will grow and evolve into something surprisingly lovely. 

At PATINS we’re here to support your big dreams in small spaces. Check out our special resource page or visit our daily office hours with your questions and impossible ideas. 

I'll make the tea. (I guess you'll have to make your own tea if we meet on Zoom. . . but you get the sentiment.)

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Apr
30

Parents as Partners: Maximizing Continuous Learning Success

Change can be scary, and it’s not uncommon to be resistant to change. It seems that 2020 brought us a leap day that still doesn’t seem to have ended and that came full of change, whether it was welcomed or not. As a former 3rd grade teacher, I keep wondering how I would be handling my virtual classroom in light of schools being ordered closed for the remainder of the school year.

I believe that I’d be stressed, missing my students, and wondering whether or not I was doing all that I could to keep the learning, engagement, and feelings of value going. I believe that I’d be in need of more collaboration with colleagues and my professional network than I once thought possible. I believe that I’d need more support than ever from my student’s families and support systems to best set my students up for success. It’s the latter that really has got me thinking and deeply reflecting on the role that our student’s families and support play in their lives, especially when it comes to learning.

After some conversations with friends who are working from home and parenting, it solidified for me just how difficult this time is for everyone. Almost no one was prepared for a flipped script like this, and to make it through, we’ve got to rely on one another now more than ever- parents/families on educators and educators on parents/families. That said, the educator in me has begun wondering how well parents have been armed and trained to support their student(s) in a learning environment at home, and how we can boost supports for our students during continuous learning, over the summer, and in the future through a solid, cyclical partnership with parents. 
Cyclical graphic indicating parents/families and educators relying on another
If you find yourself reflecting and parsing through the same notion, consider reaching out to parents/families through a survey to find out how things are going, what they feel they need, how the teacher/school/district could better support them, etc. This information could facilitate a stronger parent/family and teacher relationship in these uncertain times and as we move into the future. Quick surveys can be created in Google Forms. 

You may also find it beneficial to reflect on what’s been shared with your student’s families to figure out where there’s room for improvement. Some questions you may ask yourself are (in no particular order):

  1. Do families know how to download apps on their devices?
  2. Do they know how to login to school-wide systems?
  3. Do they understand how to use the tools/apps/websites that their students are using for schoolwork, including how to submit work or join a virtual meeting?
    1. If not, would tutorials, virtual office hours, a school-wide Facebook page, or other means of information sharing be beneficial?
  4. Do they know how to reach you, when you’re available, and how quickly to expect a response? Over-communicating is better than under-communicating.
  5. Has creating a learning environment been discussed with families?

Upon this reflection, you may find some gaps between what you’d like for parents/families to understand and what they actually do. For example, I’ve been working with a gentleman who sells pavers for a patio we are considering installing, and without asking the obscene amount of questions that I must in order to clearly understand his explanations, I’d have no idea what he was talking about. This is because he knows his pavers inside and out, but I’m lacking his background knowledge; therefore, I’m thrown for a loop with each new brand or term he throws out. 

To avoid this type of confusion, let’s explicitly share information, provide clear instructions, and teach our students’ parents/families how they can support their student(s) at home now, over the summer, and every year, emphasizing that many of the following are ways to create stronger relationships, to instill values, and to spend quality time with their student(s). 

To begin, let’s consider the learning environment. 

  1. Share examples of working/learning environments, understanding that this must be flexible to fit the needs of individual families
  2. Share sample schedules that include building in learning and screen time breaks for students
    1. Include ideas for breaks:
      1. Physical play or activity
      2. Stretching
      3. Reading
      4. Listening to music
      5. Playing board or other non screen games
      6. Mindfulness activities like deep breathing or yoga
  3. Share and adhere to time limits for virtual learning 
    1. Times suggested by the Indiana Department of Education
      1. Elementary Grades K-1: Minimum Daily Learning Time: 5-10 minute time spans, a total of 45 minutes 
      2. Grades 2-4: Minimum Daily Learning Time: 10-15 minute time spans, a total of 60 minutes 
      3. Grades 5-6: Minimum Daily Learning Time: 20-25 minute time spans, a total of 90 minutes 
      4. Grades 7-12: Minimum Daily Learning Time: 30 minute time span per class, a total of 3 hours
  4. Provide printable or print versions of visual cues to support directions

Consider how you’d like to see your student’s learning supported at home and maybe break it down, sharing specific ideas with students and families subject-by-subject.

Reading

  1. Turn on the captions for all screen time
    1. Turn on captions in YouTube by selecting the CC button in the lower right-hand corner of the video. Check to see if the captions are accurate.
  2. Model reading newspapers, magazines, books, recipes, cards
  3. Read together (use different voices for characters, stop reading at the climax to drive engagement, change where you read)
    1. Guide parents to support comprehension skills with digital or printable graphic organizers, to connect stories to students’ lives, and to show genuine interest in the story
  4. Act out a skit
  5. Turn on podcasts (age-appropriate podcast can be found in a quick Google search) or audio books in the car or on a home speaker (Try the Libby app, books on tape or CD)
  6. Read aloud to pets, siblings, or stuffed animals
  7. Identify words, letters, phrases when out for a walk, drive, or trip

Math

  1. Use dice or dominoes to play and learn with numbers (adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing)
  2. Provide printable visuals like a 100s chart
  3. Practice counting any and all things. If basic counting is mastered practice skip counting items
  4. Cook and bake together (supports following directions, fine motor skills, measurement, fractions, and more)
  5. Sort indoor or outdoor items by color, shape, texture, weight, size, and talk about the sorting method
  6. Practice budgeting, set up an economy system for chores, or play store
  7. Play card games

Writing

  1. Write/make words or letters with magnetic letters, Wiki sticks, pipe cleaners, chalk, shaving cream, hair gel with food coloring in baggie
  2. Daily journal entries. Everyone is living in a time that will undoubtedly be added to the history books. Journaling will offer great daily reflection as well as future reflection on this life-changing time. 
  3. Play Mad Libs
  4. Guide parents to provide writing support by modeling real-world writing tasks- making lists, writing invitations, writing in cards, writing to-dos on a calendar, writing thank you notes to our first responders and hospital workers, filling out forms, etc.
  5. Ask students to create labels for household items, for organization purposes, etc.
  6. Guide parents to support writing through positive and specific feedback and not to concentrate on spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors, but to celebrate their students’ writing
  7. Publish students’ writing on the refrigerator, in a window, or digitally (Book Creator, Tarheel Reader)

Science & Social Studies

  1. Take a walk around your neighborhood, noting different types of architecture, structures, designs, plants, trees, flowers, etc.
  2. Conduct at home science experiments
  3. Share and discuss age-appropriate current events
  4. Research and make paper airplanes in different styles
  5. Explore any maps (theme parks, state parks, atlases, city, state, etc.) you may have laying around, noting the compass rose and key
  6. Go on a rock, flower, or plant scavenger hunt
  7. Make homemade dough for play

Art, Music & PE

  1. Add daily drawings and art projects to a dated sketch journal
  2. Make music out of different household items
  3. Explore different genres of music 
  4. Go for hikes, walks, or bike rides
  5. Make collages with newspapers, pictures, magazine cutouts to illustrate different feelings, ideas, concepts
  6. Start a fitness challenge between family members
  7. Make homemade puppets for a show

As summer nears, I encourage you to continue your reflection, thinking about all of the positives that have come from this change, this new teaching experience. It certainly hasn’t been easy, but we’ve learned so much. Though we may be anxious to get back to life as we once knew it, let’s, instead, grow from this experience, taking the amazing things that you’re doing (maybe once even thought impossible) and grow from this experience to better serve your students by considering:

  1. What tools will you take into next school year? 
  2. What strategies have you learned that you’ll forever hold dear? 
  3. What bonds have been created?
  4. In what ways have you increased the universal design and accessibility of your teaching to better meet the needs of your students and their support systems?

Please share your answers in the comments, reach out for more resources, and keep on, keeping on! 

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Jul
21

Making Room for Eureka!

 

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
29

Text Consumption: Are All Options Created Equal?

Text Consumption: Are All Options Created Equal? Text Consumption: Are all options created equal? Accompanied by eye, ear, and hand graphics.

Reading or as I like to call it, text consumption, is a large part of many of our lives. People may read textbooks with their eyes. Some individuals may read audiobooks with their ears, and others may read Braille books with their fingers. Text can be consumed for understanding in a variety of ways, but are all options created equal? Please share your opinion in a one-question survey linked at the end of the blog.

Over the last handful of years, I’ve reflected on my own text consumption habits. I once only considered myself a sighted consumer of text, with some practice listening to text, I found that I really enjoy auditory reading. I especially enjoy having access to text when I’m driving, walking, or mowing. Not only does it stimulate my brain, it makes the minutes tick by much faster. Plus, I’m grateful that as an adult I have options and can choose how I consume text with no fear of being told that I’m not really “reading” if I consume or read an audiobook auditorily.

Have you ever taken a minute to reflect on how you prefer to access and consume text for comprehension and recall? Some questions to ask yourself.
  1. Do you consume text in different ways? What about your students?

  2. Have you investigated ways to ensure your students have equitable access to grade level text using a method(s) that provides them with an optimal opportunity to consume text for comprehension and recall, especially if they struggle to decode text visually?

  3. Have you ever limited a student’s choice of text only because you believe that their struggle to decode it with their eyes means that they can’t glean any meaning from or find joy in it?

It wouldn’t be fair if I asked you to reflect upon those questions without doing so myself. Though hard to admit, I’d have to answer yes to the latter question during my time in the classroom. My students could only choose library books to read for pleasure from within their prescribed reading level as designated by the STAR program. Ugh, what was I thinking? With the knowledge that I have now, this dreadful strategy likely only caused embarrassment for students that were reading below grade level and barriers to texts that, if offered in an alternate format, could have stimulated imaginations, told meaningful stories, and sparked a love for text.

Elementary student wearing earbuds and looking at tablet.
After reflecting upon your text consumption preferences and the opportunities that have been afforded to your previous students, how might you change what it means to consume or read text for comprehension and recall in your classroom this year? 

If you desire to make some changes in your comprehension instruction this year but need some support or ideas, reach out to a PATINS Specialist! We are here and ready to work together to ensure each and every student has the opportunity to receive and interpret text for meaning, which is really why we want students to be able to read in the first place, right? 

Are all text consumption methods created equally? Share your opinion in this one-question survey (opens new window)!

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Jan
03

To Do One Thing Is Also Deciding To Not Do Something Else

Deciding to do one thing, is also deciding to not do something else. Likewise, to believe one thing, is simultaneously to not believe something else. This almost certainly seems like a simplistic statement...one that is nearly self-evident. Yet, when one begins to contemplate daily decisions, even routine or minor ones, from this virtually-transposed perspective, things can start to be inspected differently.  

I had a friend once, whom I haven't spoken to in many years. Like most people I have had any length of contact with, he said a lot of things, most of which I do not remember even the notion of. However, one particular statement he verbalized to me nearly 20 years ago, has remained with me, word for word.  

He said, "You are always going down one road or the other with every single decision you make, but never the middle." He continued, "Any time you think you're in the middle, you're actually on one path, but thinking about the other path." He concluded with, "Every decision and every action is either moving you in one direction or the other, but never both directions at the same time." 

He wasn't a really great friend, but I've always remembered these particular words from him. I try to meaningfully and regularly ruminate on the deep implications of their meaning. I was also recently prompted to think of this ever-protruding philosophy in my life in a slightly different way, which I anticipated to be worth discussing here.  

There's a question that tends to get posed consistently, whether I'm providing a training, sitting with my office computer, checking emails from my phone on-the-go, or participating in a meeting. That question has to do with two separate, but very related concepts: ALL students' ability to work toward grade-level standards and which accommodations are/are not permitted on high stakes testing. Conclusively, questions that indicate one belief...one path, which is simultaneously not believing something else, according to this philosophy at hand. 

I pose that these questions represent beliefs, rather than simple factual inquiries. Asking me which shoes I put on this morning, could be a simple factual inquiry. In contrast, asking about allowable accommodations on a high stakes test or how it could be possible for ALL students to work toward grade-level standards, proposes that the inquiry comes from someone who is traveling down the path to the left, while thinking about the path to the right. 

While I cannot fault this, and much could be said at this juncture about the value of reflection while on one path or the other, the actuality of the path that is underway (decisions and beliefs), is that the student who is figuratively walking with the facilitator, is actively traveling on ONE path, but not both at the same time and not the middle. When accounting for the relatively limited time our students have with us, each step taken in one direction, potentially sacrifices steps that could be taken in the other direction.  

By deciding that what ultimately matters, is the allowable accommodations on a high stakes test, one is also deciding that the tools that could engage a student meaningfully for "the other 175 days" of school are of secondary importance. Traveling down this particular path seems to be rather common and also understandable given the gravity of these tests! Yet, allowing this anticipation of the end of the year to decide the path to get there, seems quite counter-intuitive to our ultimate goal.  

We know that the more actively engaged our students are in a curriculum that is accessible to them, the more accurately we can predict their success on that high stakes test (with or without the tools) and more importantly, their success toward independence as uniquely awesome and creative humans in society.  

When we slow down to think before we take that next step or make that next decision, it is of significant consequence to ponder what we are also deciding not to do... not to believe... not to expect.  

Decide to expect greatness from ALL of your students in ways that you can't even envision yet. Take steps that demonstrate your travel down this path decisively. Seek support, training, and trials of tools, from PATINS. Be aware of what your steps, your decisions, your beliefs also mean that you are not choosing, not traveling toward, not believing in. Deciding to do one thing, is also deciding to not do something else. To believe one thing, is simultaneously to not believe something else.

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Sep
21

Are You Getting The Results You Want Now?

Daniel Presenting

At a recent training I was providing, I began to discuss the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and proceeded through the notion of a framework full of choice and options as well as the necessity of providing multiple and flexible means of engagement, presentation, and interaction/responses. Participants had a lot of great examples of what each of those UDL bullet points might look like in a classroom setting and there was ample head nodding and note taking occuring. I valued these indications of a group of educators looking forward to teaching differently, rather than just with different tools. As I was demonstrating the PATINS Universal Design for Learning Lesson Creator, walking through each of it's sections, I was met with a sense of agreement and excitement! 


However, the demeanor in the room quickly took a u-turn when I arrived at the discussion of environmental factors in a Universally Designed learning space! More specifically, I began to talk about the importance of flexible seating options and student choice. Up to this point, everyone seemed very much in-sync with my push to try doing things a different way. We had talked of our mutual belief that all students can learn and grow and, in accordance, there must be a way to teach all students! There seemed to be a shared agreement that, in order to achieve different outcomes, we had to be willing, able, and permitted to teach differently. Yet, when I mentioned the out-dated concept of students being forced to sit at desks, in traditional chairs, facing the front, raising their hands to speak, I was literally and loudly met with laughter. Typically, getting a laugh or two in a presentation, I would consider a positive thing, but this was at a very unexpected time and caught me totally off-guard. However, I continued by asking, "Why do we have this seating requirement in many classrooms...what is the reason for it?" At this point, I was almost knocked backwards in my brown wingtips by the increased laughter and head-shaking, by one table in particular. Worse, this table of participants began to pack up their belongings as if they were preparing to leave at that point in the discussion.  

As a presenter/trainer, this is rarely something you look forward to seeing or hearing. In fact, it's often what a presenter's nightmares consist of the night beforehand, right on-par with forgetting to get dressed and spilling coffee on your shirt! Unfortunately, this was near the very end of our time and I didn't have an opportunity to seek clarification on the laughter and head-shaking. Quickly afterwards however, I began to think deeply about it. I can only interpret that sort of reaction as a strong disagreement with what I was encouraging with regard to flexible seating and other environmental UDL factors.  

One question ran through my head over and over; "what could be the reason that people who are looking for different results are so interested and willing to try a different strategy when it comes to presenting materials in a different way, while being so adamantly against allowing students to sit on the floor?"  

Perhaps, they had reasons that I am not considering. I certainly realize that abandoning what you know and are comfortable with to try something new, especially in front of a student audience, can be overwhelming. Fear is a natural response and sometimes, a natural response to that fear can actually be laughter. Upon thinking even more deeply, it seemed that I found myself settled into one valley of a tough spot between two mountainous forces. Looking to the left, inside that valley, I see the fear of abandoning the familiar. To the right, I see the seemingly insurmountable climb toward different results. If I stay safe in the valley, I experience neither the fear to my left, or the strenuous climb to my right. ...it feels comfy right here in the valley...safe. As long as I keep walking straight ahead in that valley, not veering too far to the left or to the right, I stay safe. However, I also continue to achieve the same results that I always have.  


As I've said for many years when talking to others about trying something new, and have tried to live my own life by "greatness rarely happens when you're comfortable." That tree, the one that you really want to sit under and truly enjoy the view of results, is high upon the hill. Getting to that view requires abandoning the mountainous fear to the left and taking that first step toward making the ascent to the right. It's going to be uncomfortable, but the desired results are there. ...way up there. Further, if you happen to get winded or scared along the way, it's far easier to just turn around and head back to the safe spot in the valley. ...somewhat like trying a different way of presenting information to learners, but deciding that flexible seating is just to difficult to keep climbing. From that spot under the tree on top of the hill to the right, the view of the mountain of fear that used to be to your left looks peacefully at rest in the distance. The view of your former safe spot below seems minuscule now and the differing results achieved as a result of your dedication to the climb is exactly the fresh air needed in the lungs of yourself and your learners.  

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Dec
23

Accessibility is a District-Wide Initiative

“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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Sep
22

Boost your Creativity with the PATINS Lending Library Catalog

Before I was a PATINS Staff member, I was a middle school Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) and introduced to the Assistive Technology Lending Library by a colleague. I knew exactly what I wanted to borrow first. An iPad loaded with LAMP Words for Life for a student with a lot to say and in need of a better tool to tell us about all the amazing ideas he had to share with the world.

I started using the loaned device with the student and saw his language and his personality blossom. Once I had a good amount of data to share with his family and school team, I packed up the iPad, completed the loan request evaluation, and it was on its way for another Indiana student to use.

The last time I borrowed from the Lending Library as a SLP with my own caseload was in 2018. To create the infographic below, I spent some one on one time with the AT Lending Library catalog. I discovered ingenious tools that could have been *life changers for many of my former students, like bone conduction headphones, reader pens, and Cling! ARM.

But why hadn't I seen these items before or thought about different ways to use them? I did some research and it turns out there are two reasons, *time and stress. (Learn more in the article "The Science of Creativity"). Being a new SLP, I was low on time, placed plenty of stress on myself, and therefore did not allow much room for creativity.

*I wish I had set aside a little time to search through the catalog to boost my creativity, stretch my professional skills, and be an even better educator. I would follow only two criteria:
  • Learn more about any item which piqued my interest.
  • Brainstorm how I could use the item to benefit the skill development of students at my school.
*Finding creative solutions is one of the most enjoyable parts of being an educator (and in life). Think of the last time you discovered a new tool that made a big impact. How did you feel? Hopeful? Proud? A little relieved?

Right now, uninterrupted time is a luxury, so tuck this idea away for when you need a burst of inspiration. This would be an engaging activity to begin a staff meeting or even for your students to partake in. Who better to know what we need to succeed in school than ourselves right?

The Assistive Technology Lending Library loans out a variety of educational items, even when we’re facing a pandemic. One of the best parts is that the AT Lending Library is a no-cost service. (The PATINS Lending Library is following the strictest protocol for cleaning and disinfecting all loan requests before shipping to Indiana schools.) Here’s a breakdown from the previous school year:

Types of Assistive Technology Lending Library Items Requested 2019-2020 School Year.

Toys - 23%

AAC - 15%

AT Hardware - 15%

Hearing/Vision - 14%

iPads - 12%

Switches - 10%

Print/Software - 6%

Mounting - 5%



Toys - Educational toys to support academic skills.

AAC - Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices.

AT Hardware - Hardware to facilitate access to Assistive Technology tools.

Hearing/Vision - Devices to support hearing and vision needs.

iPads - iPads for academic and communication apps.

Switches - For environmental and communication control.

Print/Software - Reference guides for theoretical methods, assessment/intervention techniques, and practical tips.

Mounting - Adjustable arms and connectors for improved access to devices.

Peruse the Assistive Technology Lending Library when you have a chance. To view the most results, use a *simple keyword and *always capitalize the first letter. This will return all the items with that word present in the title or description.

Lending Library catalog with

Another way to learn more about the AT Lending Library is to join us at the virtual Access to Education conference in November 2020. You have the opportunity to view new and popular AT Lending Library items paired with practical ideas for your students at the *AT Exploratorium and the UDL Classroom Experience.

How has the Lending Library helped your students recently? Let us know in the comments below.
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Dec
23

The One Gift All Educators Need This Year

At the end of October, I start to see gift guides for anyone and everyone in our lives such as “The Ultimutt Holiday Gift Guide” or “Your Dad Doesn’t Need Another Tie - 20 Unique Ideas.” While I love exchanging thoughtful gifts with family and friends, there is one gift I am valuing more each year - time. Specifically, time to engage in hobbies, time to learn a new skill, time to learn a language, and even time to be bored once in a while. 

As educators, we know time is a critical resource. It is always at the top of my speech-language pathologist (SLP) wish list. Alas, we cannot wrap up time and top it with a bow to give to colleagues, but we can gain more of it. This year, more than others, time has been at a premium encouraging me to find creative ways to get everything done. I’ve compiled five reflection questions which have proven helpful to me in gathering up more time. I hope you find these helpful too. 

  • Am I inventing things to do? I heard this on a podcast and it stopped me in my tracks. (I wish I could remember which one to give credit!) As educators, we may think “Of course, everything I am doing directly benefits my students.” While I have no doubt we all have the best intention of doing right by our students, there may be a more efficient way to approach certain tasks. For example, as a SLP, did I really need to laminate every speech therapy material? Absolutely not! I could create or find digital materials, print one time use visuals, or use a page protector. I saved hours each week by freeing myself from the unreliable laminating machine and directed this new found time into analyzing data for better educational reports as well as leading to a better work life balance. A major win for me and for my students!
  • Can I “outsource” part of my work? The students on my caseload very much preferred receiving a pass from the office rather than having me picking them up from their classroom. Nothing hurts your “cool” factor more than a random lady breaking up gym time with your buddies. This left me creating hundreds of paper passes each year until I outsourced this work. In lieu of a study hall, some students were “pass runners” for the office staff during a class period. These helpful students were more than happy to cut the passes for me and one of them even offered to laminate a bunch for me so I could reuse them, saving me even more time!
  • What can I automate? Automation is huge in the business world right now. It is one of the main reasons Amazon can get items to your doorstep in two days. Educators can reap the benefits of automation right now with technology readily available on your devices. Do you need to send reminder emails for IEP meetings? Do you need to collect data and send daily/weekly communications to parents? Do you need to speed up the calculation process for progress reports? Automate it all! If you’re not sure where to start, reach out to PATINS Specialists for ideas on how to optimize your work day.
  • How often do I need to check my email/phone? Did you know it is estimated that every time we stop a task to check our email or phone, it can take us roughly 25 minutes to refocus on the task? (View the study “No Task Left Behind? Examining the Nature of Fragmented Work.”) That’s why a seemingly simple task can end up taking us three times longer than originally planned. Also consider this scenario, if you check your work email from bed, on your way out the door, or in the car and then decide you need to be at work to focus on answering it, you are devoting twice as much time to the email reply. To combat these pernicious time wasting habits, dedicate a few times a day when you check your email and voicemail. It’s important this is not the first thing you check though. You want to get your most important tasks on your to do list completed at the beginning of the work day. This new habit has been a game changer for me!
  • How many things can I actually get done in a day? Two. I have averaged it out, and I can get two major tasks done in one day. If I try to do 3 or more tasks, usually I am working overtime or it’s not done well. This realization has been both shocking and empowering. Shocking since I originally estimated I could get five to ten tasks done each day. Two sounds like a low number yet, think about if you completed an entire language evaluation, reported all grades, or developed lessons for the entire week or month in one sitting. Those all require major time commitments and are often completed in smaller chunks throughout time. This information was also empowering because the knowledge of this causes me to be “choosier” about the tasks I agree to and reminds me to reflect again on question one above. Plus, when I happen to get more than two things done, I feel super accomplished!

I believe it goes without saying that the demands placed on educators this year has stretched our time thin. However, we are the only ones who can give ourselves more time. I hope the reflection questions posed help you gather up chunks of time by eliminating, “outsourcing”, and automating tasks to do what you do best - teach Indiana students!

I would love to hear your thoughts on how you might approach your work after reflecting on the five questions above. Is there anything you plan to do differently? Are there any other ways you give yourself the gift of time that I did not mention?

Suggested time management focused reading:

40 Hour Teacher Workweek by Angela Watson

Off the Clock by Laura Vanderkam


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Dec
15

PATINS Has a YouTube Channel Full of AT, AEM, and UDL Resource Videos

PATINS Has A YouTube Channel Full of AT, AEM, and UDL Resource Videos. PATINS has a YouTube Channel Full of AT, AEM, and UDL Resource Videos with class in the background.

“Try one thing. If it works, great, keep using it, If it doesn’t, move on to something new.” 

I have said this to myself many times as a speech-language pathologist to help me avoid falling into the “sunk-cost fallacy.”

I first learned about the “sunk-cost fallacy” from my husband who enjoys listening to economics podcasts in his free time. This article from Time Magazine has examples of this concept. They define the sunk-cost fallacy as “…the general tendency for people to continue an endeavor, or continue consuming or pursuing an option, if they’ve invested time or money or some resource in it…”

This may come up in education when a team has spent ample time and money on a certain tool. Team members may be hesitant to abandon a device or strategy, even when the data shows it is not working for a student.

We must remember to keep what works for the student at the forefront. There is a tool or strategy out there that will work for every student. However, there seems to be a never-ending supply of educational tools out there. It can be overwhelming to find a place to start digging into them all. There are many ways the PATINS Project can help you narrow down what works for your students. 

PATINS offers bi-monthly Featured Solution and Specialist Feature resource videos on the PATINS Project YouTube Channel. These videos are released August through May and typically go over a new assistive technology tool, app, extension, or accessible educational strategy. You can view over 180 resource videos on the PATINS TV Playlist. To be the first to know when a new video is released on Assistive Technology (AT), Accessible Educational Materials (AEM), and Universal Design for Learning (UDL), join the more than 2,000 PATINS Project YouTube subscribers and hit the bell for notifications.

See a tool or implementation technique that could benefit a student or your classroom in one of the resource videos? Most devices and apps are available for 6-week loans in the PATINS Assistive Technology Lending Library catalog for school personnel at Indiana's Local Education Agencies (i.e. Indiana public and charter school employees) to trial with their students for no-cost.

Finding a tool is the first step, then you have to figure out how to use it with your students effectively. PATINS Project staff can help! Submit a Technical Assistance Request for training and/or a consultation to accompany any of the items available for loan. This service also comes at no-cost! 

I hope you are able to take advantage of your winter break to rest and reinvigorate yourself. When the new year begins in January 2023, the PATINS Project will be here to help you try effective tools and strategies with your students.
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Aug
07

The Reward

Summer has come and gone for many students around the state, and it’s back to school. New experiences, new friends, and new teachers. One must think of what each one of those students brings to the classroom.

That thought struck me this summer when we were on our family vacation. As with one of my blogs last year, I got to thinking about interactions with my grandkids as inspiration. This summer was no different.

My wife and I, joined by my two daughters and their families, have made it a tradition of going to the Outer Bank of North Carolina. It’s warm, relaxing and a nice way to finish the past school year and begin the summer.

Each morning we like to pack up the kids and head to the beach for the day to play in the sand and surf. We encourage all five of the grandkids to play hard but take time out to rest when they get hot, tired or hungry.

This year, my oldest grandson, Dean, who is 7, took time to sit and rest next to his mom and chat. The sun came and went from behind the clouds and Dean started watching them. “Look, Mom, that one looks like a dog,” I heard him say. Back and forth they went trying to figure out every cloud that passed by.

It wasn’t long before Logan, my 5-year-old grandson, joined them. Logan listened to them describing what they were seeing. He would glance at the sky and squint searching for what they were observing.

After a couple of minutes, Logan whined, “I don’t see it.”

“Right there. It looks like a Pokémon,” Dean said.

“Where? I don’t see it,” Logan replied.

After listening to a couple more descriptions by Dean and his mom, Logan was on the verge of tears. “I don’t see it,” he said.

Dean tried to help and came closer to Logan and pointed to the cloud he had described. “See that cloud right there?” pointing to a large billowing one, “Doesn’t that look like a dragon?”

Logan looked hard and said, “In the clouds? I see it now, I thought you were looking at the blue part.”

It wasn’t communicated to Logan that they were looking at the clouds. Logan had missed critical information as to how to play the game.

We have all experienced that situation at one time or another when that one key tidbit of information was missing and those around us just assumed we understood.

When we get that missing piece, it’s been called that “Aha!” or lightbulb moment. Whatever you call it, it’s that realization of understanding what was missing. For Logan, it was simply the clouds.

I have to wonder how many students come to school with just a few missing pieces here or there. It’s our place to help them find them through listening, encouraging questions and watching facial expressions.

The reward is the smile one sees when that missing piece is found, and we’ve made a difference. I enjoyed watching my grandsons, Logan and Dean, that day as they sat for a while longer both having fun comparing clouds.

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May
25

Finding Ease with the Uneasy

The words Finding Ease with the Uneasy next to four pictures. One of a person moving through a ropes course. One of a variety of rubiks cubes. One of multiple sudoku puzzles. One of a rock climber hanging from a cliff.

Last April, I began a journey towards finding my optimal health. Fortunately, this is a proactive and not a reactive step to becoming my best self inside and out. During this journey, I’ve embarked on lots of new experiences and thus lots of new self-reflections. 

This week I’ve been reflecting upon how I engage and respond to new activities, social situations, information, etc. Some experiences I’m exploring include learning new information about my blood sugar levels, playing on a new sports team (and playing a sport that I haven’t played in years), and meeting new people at a friend’s birthday party. 

While I’ve identified differing responses and feelings about how these activities impact my overall mental, emotional, and physical health as a human being, I’ve also noted that they all have something in common. I chose to take part in them. It was my choice to research my blood sugar; it was my choice to play on a new team and to revive my softball skills; it was my choice to attend the birthday party.

This revelation stood out to me, because our students are regularly confronted with many new experiences in which they aren’t given the opportunity to choose whether to participate; participation is mandatory. So where does this leave our students who struggle to transition into new or difficult activities throughout the school day?

I believe that the answer is that we must teach our students how to become at ease with the uneasy. 

To try this, I encourage you to consider explicitly teaching students how to appropriately request help when up against a challenge. Though it may seem that all students should naturally understand how to ask for help throughout the day, this task actually requires multiple skills. This skill set requires the ability to recognize one’s struggle and the need for help, identifying the person to ask for help, getting this person’s attention, and so on. This means that students who struggle with asking for help need time to practice the steps when they are self-regulated and in a space where they aren’t afraid of what their peers or others may think. 

In that same safe space, I recommend having conversations with your students about what it means to ask for help. These conversations can demystify the stigma around needing help, identify nonverbal or discreet ways to request help, and/or create shared language on alternative ways to ask for help such as, “I need to see another example” or “I’d like clarification on this section.” 

We can also work on improving our students’ ease with the uneasy by improving their cognitive flexibility. This is a skill that can be practiced through the use of student schedules. For example, consider creating student schedules where an unknown activity is represented by a question mark icon. When we first introduce this type of activity to a schedule, the question mark could be accompanied by two or three activities to support the student’s expectations and need for predictability. This can be seen below in the left most visual schedule in the progression.

Three vertical visual schedules with a question mark placed as the fifth of six activities are placed in a progression from left to right. On the left, the question mark is highlighted next to a box with two options of math practice and writing. In the middle, the same question mark is highlighted next to a box of four options of math practice, writing, whole group, leisure. On the right, only the question mark remains.
Then over time, the number of activities could increase to improve their cognitive flexibility, helping the student to understand that during a certain time of day any number of listed activities could occur (seen in the centered visual schedule in the progression above). The list of activities could grow until it becomes difficult to list a large number of activities at which point only the question mark is used indicating that the activity is truly a surprise (indicated in the right-most visual schedule in the progression). It’s important to take behavioral and academic data on how the student is responding to these unknown and mandatory activities.

The end goal of this strategy is for the student to have collected personal data through experience and from real-time educator feedback on how they’ve been handling the new or unexpected activities. This information should then allow them to see how their ability to be at ease with the uneasy is improving, and that in fact, they can handle unexpected challenges, where there was no choice but to lean into it and ask for “help” or “clarification” or “support” when needed.

With hope, we will scaffold our students’ ability to be at ease with the uneasy and lead them into independent lives that allow them to take on challenges they once never imagined they could.

If this blog brings to mind any specific students, please email me! Together, we can investigate what is causing their unease and design strategies or find tech tools to support them. 

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May
18

Thank You, Teachers!

Thank You, Teachers Thank You, Teachers

This morning I asked one of my boys what your teachers (general education, special education, and instructional assistants) do to make him feel safe, loved, and encouraged to try new things. My son took a second and started naming things that the teachers have said throughout the year. To my young third grader, it's the sharing of their day, an “I believe in you” and providing ways to make their accommodations seamlessly part of the classroom. In the teacher’s day, it's small acts of kind thoughtful words. To a boy who has difficulty reading and learning in the classroom, it's a huge part of why he wants to come to school. It's a teacher who does not have all of the answers but knows where to go. It's a teacher willing to learn the audiobook program, the speech-to-text and text-to-speech software, the C-pen, and the fair word spelling test. Sometimes, it's asking for assistance in understanding the why and how of the UDL (universal design for learning), AEM (accessible educational materials), and AT (assistive technology) that makes this young student eager to come to school and learn rather than run and hide in his room before the school bus comes. After my son mentioned all the ways that his teachers made him feel safe, loved, and encouraged this school year he said that he should make a card for each of his teachers and instructional assistants that help and teach him each day. 

If you or your student’s teacher would like technical assistance providing access to the curriculum in the classroom please reach out to a PATINS Specialist or fill out a TA Request. The PATINS staff are eager to help you provide that safe, loved, and encouraging setting for each and every one of your students. Consultations are provided at no cost to the teacher or school.

As teacher appreciation and the end of another year comes to a close, make sure you take time to thank your child’s teacher. Your kind thoughtful words have an impact on the teachers as well. 

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Jan
25

Visions of Versions for 2023

This past weekend I was invited to create a vision board for 2023 with a wonderful group of friends. As a newbie to this type of goal setting or planning for the year, I was looking forward to the inspiration I would find in the giant pile of magazines that we’d collected. 

Tall stack of magazines.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wanted to include something about books. Making my way through a stack of professional books has actually been a goal of mine since the start of the 2022-23 school year. At that time, I set a goal of reading a professional resource for at least 60 minutes a week, and while this isn’t a huge amount of time, my to-read stack is decreasing in size (as a sidebar, I found reading The Knowledge Gap by Natalie Wexler to be thought-provoking and profound)! 

Magazine cutouts with the words let's read books.

Not only am I enjoying reading these professional resources about all things education, I’ve found myself in a new book club and reading books for my own enjoyment. Before the last six months, I had never really viewed myself as an avid reader, but now I’m actively reading two books and will start a third soon. As I record these thoughts in this blog, I’m still happily shocked by this shift in my life. This is because I grew up hating to read the books assigned in school. Instead, I flew through all of R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books, but at one point was told that what I was reading was essentially garbage and worthless. 

One thing that has really come into view over the last handful of months is the fact that I thoroughly enjoy reading with my eyes and with my ears; it simply depends upon the context. For example, I recently purchased the printed book, Solito; A Memoir by Javier Zamora, as this was my last book club book. However, I quickly figured out that I wanted to keep reading it even when I didn’t have access to the physical book, like when I was driving or going for a walk. That meant I needed the audio version too. So I went ahead and purchased it from the Google Play Store (I find digital books cheaper here than on Audible), since it wasn’t currently available for digital access through my local library.

Viola! The reading no longer had to wait on my access to the printed book! I could read with my eyes in bed or read with my ears in the car or on the treadmill. The ability to choose the way in which I read the text allowed me to continue my engagement in the story with less restriction. Having these options allowed me to maximize my time, which is another part of my vision for the year. 

What if we could engage our students in spending more time reading by simply offering them choices in the ways that they can access text? Recent research from the Journal of Neuroscience states that “while the representation of semantic information in the human brain is quite complex, the semantic representations evoked by listening versus reading are almost identical.” This means that when we are focused on building reading comprehension, we should feel confident in letting our students read with their eyes and their ears.

Brain

It’s in these choices that we may help our students see themselves as “avid” readers for the first time in their lives-- just like I’m experiencing for the first time in my late 30s. It’s a mixed feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that I may not have realized could be fulfilled in this way, but it’s a feeling that is shaping my self-image and confidence in my intellect.

Plus, we must recognize that we will always have students with documented print disabilities that require access to digital and printed text in various formats to aid comprehension, and the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM) is ready and waiting to help you provide these accessible materials at no cost to you. Reach out if you’d like more information on getting started!

There are ways to find accessible digital versions of text for all students, too. Firstly, you can check out audiobooks from your local library through apps like Hoopla and Libby. Other sites like Unite for Literacy and Open Library also offer audiobooks. There are paid options as well such as Epic, Books on Google Play, Audible, and more. 

I look forward to the day where school libraries operate like our public libraries offering print, digital, and audiobooks for all students! Please like or comment if you too have visions of text versions for all students!

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Mar
07

...always allow it to teach you

sculpture of a human figure seated cross-legged with hands on knees and a spider plant in a blue pot behind
For several years now, I’ve felt it critical to maintain the notion that, “ I am in charge of and responsible for my own happiness.” In that vein, I’ve spent considerable time and analysis in writing a condensed list of the things that, “Truly Make Daniel Happy.” Along with this list, I have used this as an opportunity to catch myself from blaming others for any unhappiness I might be experiencing. I generally felt pretty good about all of this and would probably say that it offered a solid sense of hope and direction. It can be quite vulnerable to create a genuinely honest list like this, and I was proud of it.

More recently, however, I had someone I strongly respect pose the following question to me, which really challenged my thinking in a way I’d not dealt with before; 

“If your “happy list” were to be considered your list of goals or objectives for the year, what criteria would your Annual Performance Review consist of, and what would your overall performance rating or score for the year be? 

Whoa! What a challenging question! I was rather proud of having identified and listed the things that genuinely make me happy. I hadn’t even considered rating myself on achieving them! Then again, I have worked with educators on writing, supporting, and measuring annual student goals for the past 26 years! Indeed, what would my "happy list" annual performance review look like and how had I never even thought about measuring success on it? Further, if I knew I was going to have an honest performance review at the end of the year on my "happy list items," would it change my actions, or how I used that list as my map/compass during the rest of the year? …most definitely so! 

During that very same week, I came across a student in my evening welding class at Ivy Tech, who was talking with the instructor about the leather-work he does. This caught my attention quickly because this particular student is still in high school. He’s 17 years old, he’s taking evening welding classes, often until after 10pm, and he’s a leather-worker for fun! How cool! I often hear that work ethic, drive, and discipline are lacking in today's youth, but I've come across so many high school students and young adults lately who, quite honestly, have far more of those characteristics than I had as a high school student! I believe it's important to point these students out, support them, and learn from them anytime we can!

photo of the back of a welding a student walking away the point of view, in a welding lab consisting of six or more gas cylinders, welding machines and booths.
About a week before meeting this welding peer of mine, my wife had let me know that the wallet I’d previous gotten her as a gift, was starting to fall apart. Here, I found myself with a young, driven, focused leather-working high school student! It was like a perfect storm of events coming together, so I asked him if he’d consider making a new wallet for my wife. Long story a little bit shorter, Jack produced, with progress pictures and questions about customization during the process, an incredible piece of leather art that I excitedly presented to my wife for Christmas as her new wallet.

Photo of a hand hold up the corner of a piece of leather photo of leather being dyed blue

photo of finished leather wallet attached to car key

As if I wasn't already sure, it was now confirmed that this young leather-working, welding, high school student wasn't quite the same as a lot of other high school students and it was about this time that I asked if he'd consider being a part of my next turn to blog; I was interested in what motivates him, what makes him happy, what drives him to be more, better, different, and satisfied. Specifically, I asked him what he thought about school up through his 17 years and what advice he might offer to other younger students. Jack's somewhat quiet and, in my opinion, very humble, so it took a little bit of convincing... and it is my pleasure and honor to welcome Jack, who is wise beyond his years, to the PATINS Ponders Blog! 

High School photo of Jack with white sweater and gray hat
"Never let school get in the way of an education, but always allow it to teach you"

That is a quote from my grandfather, a teacher, that I've found a lot of value in. Personally, I've experienced frustrations around school, as most students do. However, in creating and keeping a balance of several factors, I've been able to avoid having those frustrations get in the way of my education.

Finding something to do that you truly enjoy works better if you're the only one involved. For example;
Finding an activity that you can gradually get better at, can increase your aptitude, and also feed your desire to learn! This is because when school and homework are the only things you do between periods of nothing and spending time on your phone, you're putting yourself in a regressive environment of learning. When you're actively doing or learning something else, it takes you off of your phone and can give you an important break/rest period from focusing on school work. Rest is a critical part of getting better at anything. Once things are learned and taken in, you will find new ways to relate school and work to what you actually enjoy doing more, which can keep you more engaged in everything! Personally, I've found a handful of things to be critically beneficial in my life so far; awareness of time, self-care in the form of sleep/rest, working for money even if it's not your ideal job, allowing myself to read purely for pleasure, and staying focused on the expectations that your teachers and bosses have for you, even if you see little or no value in them at that moment.  

Let's consider picking up a new skill, activity, or hobby. I was drawn to and decided to pursue creating items from leather. To be able to do that, I needed material and I needed equipment, so I needed money. Entering the workforce is something that has filled my time, allows me important connections with others, and is a motivation to strive for excellence in something aside from school. When time is filled throughout the day and evening with meaningful tasks, school work can begin to take on new importance as one may start to see and truly value the limited hours in a day. It can help keep you aware of minutes and on your toes about how you're spending your time. Spending a significant amount of money on something, like your hobby or other passion, is going to keep the motivation cycle going, growing, and evolving into even more dedication, discipline, and eventual pay-off! Another activity that helped me a significant amount was finding a book I liked,
that I didn't have to write about or relate to school at all. Once I started reading my book it made me want to finish my schoolwork as soon as possible so that I could, instead, read my book. Establishing a personal bedtime for yourself is another valuable time management and motivation strategy. Even if the established bedtime hinders schoolwork progression, making that routine a priority proved better, for me, in the long run. With all this being said, one of the worst ways to waste your time in early life is to be negligent about and around school. There are very important opportunities that present themselves at school, but they aren't always obvious. There is bound to be someone in or out of the school system to help you if you present yourself as willing to work and open to help and as someone eager to do well and achieve what is expected from school, even when it's not easy or the most preferred activity.

Clearly not all young adults these days are lacking in discipline, strategies, work ethic, or motivation! In fact, the humans like Jack that I've been fortunate enough to cross paths with over the years have always taught me important lessons, because I always try to remain as open as possible to "not letting education get in the way of
allowing others to teach me!" In fact, I'll be completely honest, I've peeked around my welding booth more than once to ask Jack what settings or techniques he's using on the night's assignment!

Often, the best teachers are continually learning as much from their students, as their students are hoping to learn from the teacher. It's this sort of 2-way street, mutual respect, and shared learning that can truly lead to the most inclusive of learning environments. It's an aspect of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) that is sometimes easily missed because it's abstract. It's not something we can concretely feel, see, or hear, and it takes a definite vulnerability to embrace. It is, however, very much related to the first and most critical element of UDL... engagement. Remember that without engagement, the other two critical elements of UDL (presentation and expression) are rather irrelevant!

AND... those elements of happiness, success, focus, and engagement that you've identified and deemed critical to your learning spaces; hold yourselves and your students accountable for them! Hold Annual Performance Reviews on them! What data or evidence will be needed to support the annual review of them?

Allow, request, and even fully rely on the PATINS teams to support you in that very way, so that you can support the students you are sharing learning within your daily world. Call on the PATINS Specialists. Utilize our Lending Library. Request Accessible Educational Materials. Implement and support a student reading with their ears, for pleasure as Jack describes, to increase motivation and engagement in academics! Consider coming to our annual Tech Expo on April 20! Registration is open! Register for any/all of our scheduled trainings! Our services to Indiana public educators is always at no cost to you! We're here to help! 


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Mar
23

A Preview of PATINS Tech Expo 2023 with IN*SOURCE

Tech-Expo-2023-thumbnail Tech Expo 2023 PATINS Project with IN*SOURCE logo with tablets and robot on table.

The PATINS Project Tech Expo has been a banner event for Indiana educators and families eager to learn about assistive and accessible technologies and services to promote inclusion in the classroom for all students. This coming April 2023 will be our sixth year in partnership with IN*SOURCE!

You can expect 50 exhibitors in the Exhibit Hall which will be available for attendees to chat with from 9 am to 3 pm. View the Preliminary Exhibitor List to help you plan out your day. The final list will be available the week of March 27! 

In addition to the Exhibit Hall, attendees have the opportunity for in depth learning from a choice of 20 presentations held throughout the day. You can see the Schedule at a Glance now. Enjoy sessions from Apple Education, Microsoft and Texthelp, plus many more awesome products, services, and organizations!

For resources for blind/low vision, there are presentations hosted by CViConnect, EYE can see, Inc, HIMS, Inc, Mountain View Low Vision

For Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) resources, plan to attend sessions by Forbes AAC, Tobii Dynavox, PRC-Saltillo. 

If you are looking for disability resources for families, head to the MassMutual, AWS Foundation, Inc, and IEP Technical Assistance Resource Center offerings.

These are only a handful of the awesome presentations on the schedule!

I know it can be difficult for educators to leave the school for a day. Your time at the expo will be well spent. Not only will you gain valuable resource connections and ideas for creating an accessible environment for your students, it is also a no-cost way to earn up to 4 Professional Growth Points (PGPs)!

PATINS Tech Expo 2023 with IN*SOURCE will be entirely in person in Carmel, Indiana. There is free parking onsite!

Be sure to act fast! Registration for a no-cost closes March 29, 2023 at midnight. We hope to see you there!

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Jul
18

Death By Paperwork

Death By Paperwork
First: I made it out alive. You will too.

This year I messed something up in my back, and by April it was hard to sit for more than twenty minutes at a time. Every drive, conference or meeting I was engaged for a bit and then the rest of the day was spent imitating your favorite wiggly child, trying to ease the pain. I felt terrible.

Sometimes it got better, and then it got worse. I complained. I ignored it. I tried what I knew to fix it, I asked friends for ideas. Nothing really worked.

I had enough and went to a specialist, definitely not something I was looking forward to. I hate going to the doctor. But within a few sessions, my life had changed.

It was like getting glasses in the correct prescription or wearing good shoes after years of wearing Old Navy flip flops. I didn’t know how bad it was until I experienced how my spine was meant to be.

About three years into my career I had another issue that was a major pain: paperwork.

Paperwork is like back pain. Everyone gets some, some people get more than they can handle. It comes when it’s least convenient and it will not go away if you ignore it. By the end of my third-year the IEPs, evaluations, and caseload documents piled up to my ears. It was affecting my ability to do my job and my family life. I felt terrible. If death by paperwork was a thing, it felt imminent.

I complained. I ignored it. I tried what I knew to fix it, I asked friends for ideas. Nothing really worked.

An administrator gently suggested I see some “specialists.” I did not want to admit that I was struggling to anyone, but after meeting with others who were amazing at keeping on top of it all, they gave me some ideas. They pointed out some of my mistakes, the weight that was causing the paperwork pain, and they helped me develop my paperwork treatment plan.

In less than two months, I started to feel better. My files were in order and I felt in control. By the next year, I was rocking a weekly paperwork schedule and found tools to help me streamline and automate. I was spending even more time working with kids than I was before! It was career changing. I didn’t know how good it could be.

You, dear reader, might be dealing with some pain in your career. Maybe it’s paperwork or a student on your mind who you don’t know how to reach. Maybe it’s a new tool or expectation that’s pain in your neck, and doing your job effectively seems out of reach. Maybe you complained or ignored it. You tried what you knew to fix it, you asked friends for ideas. Nothing may have worked.

If it’s related to supporting student’s access to education, we’ve got a team of specialists here to help.

It might just change your life.


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  9882 Hits
Jul
09

Is Your Assistive Tech Biased?

Is my assistive technology biased? screenshot of text from phone, sender to PATINS:

Five years ago I was excited to sit at a table with a young Black student and her mother to show her all the things her child using a new robust augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device could do.

She could tell us what she wanted to play with.

She could tell us her favorite color.

When one of her classmates was bothering her, she could tell them “stop.”

She loved it. The school loved it. Mom wasn’t sold.

“It doesn’t sound like her,” she objected.

Both of us knew this student’s mouth sounds were mostly squeals and cries. I opened the settings and showed her the choices: “Ella,” “Heather,” and “Tracy.” We listened to little clips of the computerized voices.

“They don’t sound like her.”

And she was right. There wasn’t a voice that sounded like someone that came from her family or community. Not a single voice that sounded like a young Black person, not on any system I could find. I could program a voice for her talker that sounded just like Yoda from Star Wars right then and there, but a Black American was too far fetched for assistive technology.

Because technology is programmed by people, who all have biases, our assistive technology has biases. And those biases are a danger to the UDL framework we use and in some cases, life threatening.

The speech-to-text software doesn’t work equally across all voices and varieties of English, especially Black voices.

The grammar checker flags non-white varieties of English.

The AAC lacks language from other dialects, cultures, and communities, and if it is there it is labeled as fringe. You want another language? It's available, but no one downloaded the file or attempted a translation.

The visual support makers are absent of vocabulary that is developmentally appropriate for all school aged children, such as words for sexual health, identity, and justice or they are locked behind a wall of “adult only.”

Indiana’s Article 7 Special Education law is explicit on how to figure out if a student can take home their AT:  “On a case-by-case basis, the use of school-purchased assistive technology devices in a student's home or in other settings is required if the student's CCC determines that the student needs access to those devices in order to receive a free appropriate public education” (my emphasis added). 

If your staff refer to a “school policy” or a hoop for families to jump through, such as an after-school training, you’re inviting bias into determining which kids get to talk, read and learn when the school bell rings at the end of the day.

Your word prediction program guesses the words that could follow “He is ___” are: good, smart, and mean, but “She is ___”: crazy, married, and pretty.

As we scrutinize our own biases, inherent tools and instruction we are welcoming into our classrooms and families:

  1. Listen to the people using the technology.
  2. Question your own biases.
  3. Take action. Engage your colleagues in what you’ve learned. Dialogue with the people creating the technology. Good developers are open to constructive criticism from consumers. My word prediction example was immediately discussed and corrected by the company. If they aren’t responsive to your concern about bias within their product, why would you want that in your room?

Our assistive technology has some problems created by humans. Humans can fix it.

Resources and Further Reading

PATINS Lending Library and no-cost training for supporting all students

Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education for K-12 Educators, Teaching Tolerance

Vocabulary for Socially Valued Adult Roles, Institute on Disabilities at Temple University

Ableism, National Conference for Community and Justice

AI is coming to schools, and if we’re not careful, so will its biases, Brookings

Don’t Get It Twisted- Hear My Voice, ASHA Leader

8 Influential Black Women with Disabilities To Follow, Disability Horizons


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Apr
08

Employee of the Year

Employee of the Year Cheesy 1990s school photo featuring a cream colored chihuahua looking off in the distance as the misty backdrop set against a neon laser background, with another picture of the same chihuahua in the foreground looking at the camera with

I had a student we’ll call Todd. Todd’s favorite things were the zoo, reading animal books, and quizzing people on their animal knowledge. One of my favorite days working with him started with a very rough morning with a writing assignment.

“It’s a letter to anyone,” his teacher explained. “We’ve been at this all morning and he only has one word written.”

Todd looked crestfallen. After animals, pleasing adults was one of his favorite things. His teacher knew that if Todd hadn’t started something, it wasn’t because he was “stubborn” but he struggled to get started with new tasks and needed another way to approach it.

We went back to my "speech room" and looked at the blank paper. I had lots of tools at my disposal: adapted pencils, keyboards, voice dictation software, wiggle seats, kits and binders of visual supports for writing, and of course I had free access as an Indiana public school employee to the PATINS Lending Library to borrow whatever I thought might help Todd. I thought of my tools, I thought of Todd and what he needed and remembered his special nerd power.

“Do you want to write a letter to a dog?”

Todd nodded, still a little hesitant after an hour of trying to write and nothing coming out.

“You could write to my dog, if you wanted. She would write you back.”

“You have a dog?!”

So I told him about my chihuahua, Winnipeg. Winnie was abandoned on the street in Indianapolis and we adopted her. She loves blankets, snuggles, and sandwiches. I had a hunch she loved reading and writing letters.

Todd immediately scribed five sentences (one of his accommodations, since tools like speech-to-text software were not accessible for him), and put the periods and capitalization in himself:

Dear Winnie,

Don’t eat all the treats. Why are you a little dog? You are a good loving dog. Play tug of war with Mrs. Conrad. Don’t wake your dad Winnie.

Love,

Todd

It may never make it into a library or be critically acclaimed, but it is one of my favorite written works a student has ever produced. I felt like Winnie earned Employee of the Year that day. Relationships paired with the best ways for access wins every time.

Some of our pets have put in more hours and done more service to humanity in general and Indiana students specifically than they’ll ever understand. They’ve been especially treasured and faithful companions this past year, while we spent way more time on “their” home. They are therapeutic little creatures who remind us to enjoy simple pleasures, take care of ourselves, maybe take a nap in the sun sometimes.

If you’d like to see some of our PATINS pets, I created a short quiz. See if you can guess what pet belongs to which staff member!

Todd got his letter from Winnie the next week, and he was rightly suspicious:

“Did she write this by herself?”

“Good question, what do you think?”

“She can’t use a pencil.”

“No, she can’t.”

“But maybe you can scribe, like how you do with me.”

“I think that’s a great idea.”

I'd love to hear about your pet and the little acts of service they do for you, your family, or students!

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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.

  • 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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Aug
15

Fancy Font Over Function; Preparing Your Classroom for All Students!

Whilst engaged in a recent discussion with a dear educational colleague and friend, we unraveled the first days of school. Social media often tends to focus on surface level things that are able to be captured in a photograph or video. Being a photographer and artist, I very much appreciate these things. However, also being a professional educator, I also give caution to other educators concerning the intentionality of deep and thoughtful preparation for meaningful instruction for all students. As Beth Poss, assistant principal and private educational consultant, and I discussed the seemingly alarming rate of this focus on the superficial decorating of learning environments without consideration of students and universal design, Beth requested the opportunity to tackle this important topic through the PATINS Ponders Blog! 

It’s Back to School time! Teachers are busy getting their classrooms ready and school has even started in many districts. And based on the multitude of social media posts I am seeing, teachers are all about having the most beautiful classroom decor, the cutest bulletin boards, and jazzy curriculum resources from the Teachers Pay Teachers. It is easy for new or even veteran teachers to believe that if their classroom decor and resources aren’t Instagram worthy they must be doing something wrong.
The truth is, however, that pedagogy should still be the top priority and that just because it looks attractive doesn’t mean that it is effective. 


My fear that a focus on font over function was taking over Twitter and Instagram moved me to write this guest post for PATINS. So as you gear up for the 2019-20 school year, here are a few tips to help you ensure that you don’t get caught up in the “my classroom must be gorgeous” trend and instead focus on what is best for students.

1. Many students identified with various sensory processing challenges, in addition to many students without, can be easily overstimulated by an over-decorated classroom. Researchers found that increased visual stimulation in classrooms correlated with decreased cognitive performance (Fisher, Godwin, and Seltman, 2014; Rodrigues and Pandierada, 2018). So, keep it simple! Personally, I love this classroom from @thegirldoodles, especially how she sticks to just one set of monochromatic color selections, rather than her room looking like a bag of skittles exploded all over it. It is definitely attractive, projects a positive student message, and there is plenty of blank space. 

photo of a classroom dry erase board, 2 chairs, motivational posters, and cabinet all in monochromatic blue-gray color scheme
2. Classrooms should be student-centered! Leave wall and bulletin board space for student work. When students see their work displayed and their peers as their audience, we promote ownership and greater participation and involvement in their own learning process.  (Barrett, et al., 2015)

3. Anchor charts are most effective when they are generated with students, during the learning experience. So don’t worry about having beautifully hand-lettered anchor charts up and ready for the first day of school. Create these with your students so that they connect personally to the information. They are more likely to refer back to the charts while working if they helped to generate the information on the chart.

4. Consider carefully, your font choices on both classroom displays and printed or digital materials that you design. Are the fonts readable to all the students in your classroom, including those with low vision or dyslexia? If your students are learning to form and write letters, do the fonts you use provide a model for the proper formation? I see many cutesy fonts where letters are a random mix of lower and uppercase or where the”tails” of the  p and g are not below the bottom of the other letters. Cute however, doesn’t really help our students learn how to form letters correctly, and if we are teaching students that lowercase g, j, p, q, y, and are “basement” letters, be sure that they see this in what is given to them or displayed around the room. Additionally, research shows that sans serif fonts are generally more readable than serif fonts. (Rello and Baeza-Yates, 2013). What is the difference? Serif fonts have those decorative tails or feet, while sans serif fonts don't and instead are made up of simple, clean lines. You might even check out Dyslexie font or Open Dyslexic, which were both created specifically to promote readability for individuals with dyslexia. Additionally, you might check out the following video and/or this research article, "Good Fonts for Dyslexia.


5.
When downloading teaching resources, check that the strategies and pedagogy behind the resources is best practice. Does it align with your curriculum guide? Is it standards based?  Does it promote the principles of Universal Design for Learning and accessibility? Is it culturally responsive, promote diversity, and free of stereotypes?


One last piece of advice. When you see an idea from a post on a blog (like this one!) be sure to check the blogger’s credentials. Google them, take a look at what they post on Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram and make sure they truly are someone you would want to take advice and inspiration from! I hope you check me out--find me on Pinterest and Twitter as @possbeth,or on Instagram as @bethposs.
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Apr
11

ISO: Someone Like Me

We all want a sense of belonging to a community, a family, a social group that we can feel a sense of identity. These social groups are where we base our identity. 

One aspect that educational practices may be overlooking is our students who may identify with being Deaf/deaf/hard of hearing/deafblind/hearing impaired. As a Teacher of students who are deaf/hard of hearing, it is part of our Expanded Core Curriculum to ensure our students meet and socialize with other students who are Deaf/deaf/hard of hearing/deafblind/hearing impaired. 


Students who are deaf and hard of hearing need to be around peers with hearing loss. They need to have positive deaf/hard of hearing role models who share the same and different modes of communication than themselves. If they do not have these positive experiences while growing up it may be hard of them to not have a sense of where they belong in the world, which social group they identify with and/or perhaps have a sense of social isolation at some point in their educational career.

In fact, did you know that some students growing up with hearing loss that has never met an adult with hearing loss think there is no future for them? How will they know that they can achieve anything that their minds allow them to dream up if we don’t show them how great others are. We have to provide an “end result” picture so they know they are fully capable to do the same or better.


My mother, Beth Fritter, grew up experiencing hearing loss as a hard of hearing student in the 1960s. She attended a private Catholic school in northern Indiana until 6th grade and then attended the public school 6th grade through 12th grade. I was fortunate enough to visit with her for a few days in her northern Indiana home during this year’s spring break. As I was asking her what it was like to grow up in the 60s in the private and public schools with hearing loss, she described what the learning environment was like for her. She talked about large class sizes of about 50 students in one room per grade, desks in rows, and strict rules regarding no speaking, eyes forward, and material will be taught one time with little to no interventions to help students keep up or catch up. She also never received services for specialized instruction or technology for her hearing loss. She recalled having a few good friends that would repeat conversations for her or try to include her. She still hasn’t met anyone else that grew up like her with hearing loss and she just turned 60 this year.


Katie and her mother, Beth Fritter


Have you ever heard the saying, “You don’t know what you’re missing?" My mom just recently received her first set of hearing aids a few years ago. She recalled after getting her hearing aids fitted and taking them home that one morning she woke up and looked out the window she said she SAW that it was raining outside. She then put her hearing aids in and she could HEAR that it was raining. Without her hearing aids, she would have missed that everyone else could hear that was raining without looking out the window. Can you imagine what else she could be missing out on just simply because she wasn’t aware without her hearing aids? Think about our students in the classroom. When we simply ask if they heard us and they say, “yes.” They may not know that they, in fact, did miss something because we really “don’t know what we are missing.” It is best to instead ask, “What did you hear?” or “What will you do next?” to see if our students missed something and need something restated or clarified.


Can you imagine the impact on my mother’s life if she would have gone to a program with other students experiencing the same thing as her or even just got to meet one other student like her? The picture below is from a new popular book, El Deafo by CeCe Bell. The book is a personal account of what her childhood was like with her hearing loss. The picture below is a representation of what a class looked like for the author, CeCe. You may also notice what the hearing devices looked like back in the day! What a difference compared to today, huh? 


picture of six classmates with hearing aids sitting in a circle on the floor. text on picture:                                                                                                     
It should also be noted that it is best practice to be around typically developing peers in a language-rich environment for the best possible outcomes in language development regardless of the mode of communication.

pictures of classmates taped to the wall with names written by them. text on picture,                                                                                               

Give our students who are deaf/hard of hearing/deafblind/hearing impaired a sense of belonging with providing times to interact and engage with peers just like them.

What can we do as parents and educators if our student is the only student with hearing loss in the area?  

Here are a few ideas:
Camps in Indiana for students who are deaf/hard of hearing:
Other ways to connect:
  • Zoom DHH Buddies program connecting students with hearing loss across the state through technology
  • Indiana Hands & Voices Parent Guides Events around the state
  • DHH Students Facebook group
  • Introduce books with Characters/Authors who are D/deaf/hard of hearing/deafblind/hearing impaired - Check out my list and add your favorites!
Please comment below if you have more resources and/or suggestions to connect our students who are deaf/hard of hearing in Indiana. We would love to hear from you! Make sure to “like” and share this blog with your educational teams!
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Jan
30

Top 5 Reasons for Captions In Schools

Closed Captioning is Cool! Closed Captioning is Cool!

Top 5 Reasons for Captions In Schools


Captions… It's all the buzz currently in schools, including higher education institutions like Harvard University. If you aren’t currently using captions in your daily life or in your classroom you might be unfamiliar with why we need to provide them. They may even seem annoying to you when you see them on. However, I assure you they are coming to a workplace near you soon and here are 5 reasons why you should turn them on today:

1. Attention and Focus

Students who need support when it comes to attention & focus can benefit from the visual representation of the spoken words on the screen during class and videos. In a study conducted by the Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit of the 1,532 students, 69% reported that closed captioning aided in keeping their attention as a learning aid in class (Linder, 2016).

2. Universal Design for Learning

Setting up your classroom with every type of learner from the beginning means that you plan to include captions (Morris et. al, 2016). For school districts needing to put a policy in place for providing captions and transcripts as part of providing accessible education materials, PATINS has you covered with a sample policy. 


Text reads

3. Reading 

Students building early literacy skills can benefit from captions since captions explicitly illustrate the mapping among sound, meaning, and text (Gernsbacher, 2015). Since one predictor of reading achievement is time spent reading, the use of captioned content has the ability to benefit each & every student in your classroom.

4. Language Acquisition

Students learning a new language can benefit from English subtitles of classroom audio media. Students are taught how to recall and build their auditory listening skills in the second language after viewing videos with closed captions/subtitles in the new language rather than just receiving the content via auditory alone (Gernsbacher, 2015). 

5. The Right to Effective Communication

When we have a student who is deaf/hard of hearing in our classrooms, we need to provide accurate, timely and effective communication. One way to achieve this is by providing closed captions on all. This is explained in ADA, IDEA and Article 7.  You can read more about the recent Harvard’s lawsuit resulting in all media including open online courses to include closed captioning.

Do you need help with the tools and implementation of captions? The PATINS Project has you covered with no-cost in-person training and webinars. PATINS’ Specialists, Jena Fahlbush and Katie Taylor have a live webinar, Captions for All: The Writing’s on the Wall! This will help get you acclimated to using captions in your classroom the very next day. 


Captions for All: The Writing’s on the Wall! Live Webinar 
Register for the next live webinar! 

As you build experience with captions, you will see the need for captioning to the public and in your classroom! Speak up! Request captioning in the gym, restaurants, and doctor's offices to help make every place an accessible place for all. 



References


Gernsbacher M. A. (2015). Video Captions Benefit Everyone. Policy insights from the behavioral and brain sciences, 2(1), 195–202. doi:10.1177/2372732215602130

Linder, K. (2016). Student uses and perceptions of closed captions and transcripts: Results from a national study. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit

Morris, K.K., Frechette, C., Dukes, L., Stowell, N., Topping, N.E., & Brodosi, D. (2016). Closed captioning matters: Examining the value of closed captions for all students. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 29(3), 231-238.
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Aug
07

The Greatest Show

The Greatest Show The Greatest Show

Nothing quite gets me hyped up like a good theme song. The one that I started listening to this morning to start off my live webinar was, “This Is Me” from the movie The Greatest Showman. I was looking for American Sign Language (ASL) songs on YouTube to start off my webinar on a great note. When I stumbled upon this one: "This Is Me" The Greatest Showman - ASL by Sarah Tubert, I knew I had hit paydirt. 

After watching this video, I realized the connection to this song for our students and educators. Educators are equipping students for their greatest show, that is, their adult life. In many ways, this school year (2020-2021) will be most educators’ greatest show yet. This will be the year for educators to really show what they’re made of. I already know - they’re made out of a great deal of awesomeness. This year, countless districts are stepping up to support students and families in order to improve their delivery of distance and in-person learning. Students and families are also demonstrating great compassion through understanding and giving it their all to help make this year a great year.

We have heard many times that we need to take care of ourselves (e.g., eat better, get more sleep, exercise, read, connect with nature, etc.). We do need to be healthy before we can help others, and we need to nurture our own mental health. Similar to the flight attendant’s instruction “to put on your oxygen mask first” so that you can help others. If we aren’t prepared, we won’t be able to help others. We must take care of ourselves. I hear this so often yet I’m not quite sure what it means for me. Much like student rewards/motivational charts/options change over time, our own self-care choices may need to change to meet our current needs. What worked before the pandemic doesn’t seem to be working for my own self-care. I’m trying though. I am always looking and willing to try something interesting and different to try to keep things novel and fun. However, lately, I’m hanging out more and more in bed when I’m not at work watching Netflix and the series, Good Bones on Hulu. If I wasn’t careful, this social isolation could easily sabotage my mental health. So, I made a change. I’m on to seeking new things that spark joy in this new time in our lives. I found sunflowers bigger than my head at the local farmer’s market and I’ve been getting back into a safe routine at my gym.

image of a gym with pull up racks and black mat floor

G
ym time has been a refreshing self-care choice and is something that I am clinging to lately. Oddly, that had never really been the case for me. I realized why I love this gym so much, it demonstrates universal design like the
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) we advocate for in our classrooms. I’ll give you a little rundown of the similarities (Engagement, Representation, Action & Expression); 
  • one main coach, 
  • objectives and activities are written on the board, 
  • sometimes we work with partners but we all need to do our own work, 
  • we can learn from my peers by watching how they do different lifting exercises, 
  • everyone is at a different place in their fitness journey, 
  • no one is compared to each other, 
  • each activity can be scaffold to meet each person where they are, 
  • all the tools and activity access options in the gym are available to everyone at all times,
  • those who are ready to be above the prescribed work out can do that and it’s not displayed in a way that everyone else can’t achieve that as well, and 
  • there is a timer for the workout but you can take longer if you need extra time. 

My favorite part is that we use a smartphone app to track our individual progress, but each week we celebrate our growth together! Although we all work separately, we root for each other together.  Each visit improves my mental and physical well being, I am excited too by seeing my progress from my last session. 

Katie and her husband, Cam, after working out at the gym.

Everyone’s self-care will be different and can change with the seasons of life. Make time and do something for yourself even if it’s a small change. Let’s all put on our oxygen masks first and ready ourselves to support our students, families and fellow educators. If we are healthy and ready, we can help change the lives of our students in an even bigger way than we have ever thought possible.  This is the year that we show everyone that each educator is The Greatest Showman/Showwoman and the amazing impact we have in every student’s lives that walks in the doors or logs into their device. Let’s give them the greatest show!

                                                                            image from the movie The Greatest Showman, the main character with his arms open wide at the end of the show with characters around him.













If you are feeling even a little overwhelmed by all the cute Bitmoji classrooms, digital files, or unique access materials questions, please come visit with a PATINS staff member during our new Monday - Wednesday - Friday open office hours. These are drop-in, no appointment needed support for any educator, we are available to brainstorm ideas and offer technical support at no-cost by a PATINS Specialist. Links for the office hours can be found on the
PATINS training calendar. 

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Jul
30

Have I Been Doing It Wrong?

Have I Been Doing It Wrong? Clipart of racially diverse students

Recently, a colleague shared an article with me that threw me for a loop and spurred my thinking. Could what I’ve been so passionately sharing with educators all along be wrong? Yikes! 

Well, of course it could be. Because if what we love about teaching most is learning (and I do), then we always seek to expand our knowledge. We also keep open minds and regularly reflect on our practice and understanding. And when we know better, we have the opportunity to do better!

So, here’s what I’m wondering and questioning… “Have I as a white, middle-class American citizen been touting Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as a solution that may only be designed in ways to support other white individuals?” Unfortunately, I think the answer is yes. That now put in writing, let me reflect upon why I feel this way. 

Simply based upon my race, gender, and lack of diagnosed disability, I have experienced privilege in ways that I both understand and still have yet to comprehend. Take, for example, my gender and personal experience, as an educator I have always worked with far more educators who identify as she/her than those that may identify as he/his, or they/their. Since I also consider myself to be neurotypical and able-bodied, I find myself pondering what proactive steps I must take in order to appropriately advocate for UDL when my experiences and thus my true empathy are first and foremost limited by traits I did not choose.

My new knowledge on intersectionality from Ijeoma Oluo’s book, So You Want to Talk about Race is also making me question the ways in which I’ve been promoting UDL. For example, I know that I’ve shared how implementing the UDL framework can change the game for a student with an intellectual and/or physical disability, but I have neglected to challenge myself and others to think about more than one demographic of students at a time as the philosophy and culture of UDL represents. 

This neglect has me now reflecting upon how a person of color with a disability may be experiencing their education; or, how a person who is transgender, Black, and has a physical disability may be experiencing their education. Have I been promoting UDL to specifically level the playing field for these individuals? The answer is again sadly no, which tells me that I haven’t been serving all students and that I’ve missed the mark on explicitly sharing the true definition of UDL, which does include a framework for all demographics and their intersections, with educators.  

With equitable access to education for every single student and the gaps in opportunities that have been created through well-intentioned educators like myself, I’ve begun to explore new (to me) research and changes I can make to best serve each and every student. One element I have found and believe is worth sharing is that while there is much research in support of UDL for a variety of students, it is worth noting that Indar (2018) and Azawei, Serenelli & Lundqvist (2016) point out that many studies conducted on UDL leave out specific student demographic information. 

These studies leave me questioning the general population’s comprehension of or attention to who is actually a part of our student body. Thus, I believe the time has come to put our UDL practices under a microscope in search of their demographic weaknesses and to boost true equity in our classrooms both in-person and virtually.

Some ways we can get started are to:

  1. Find and explore research studies with a critical eye for participant demographics and the potential for researcher bias - are a variety of student populations being studied or is it unknown?
  2. Don’t be afraid to admit that some changes may need to be made in your classroom.
  3. Like my colleagues, Jessica Conrad and Bev Sharritt, have mentioned over the past few weeks, explore your own implicit bias using these tests and this study on implicit bias in the early childhood setting. Finding yourself feeling uncomfortable is normal, or at least I hope so, because I certainly had my eyes opened to some of my biases and subsequent actions in and out of the classroom.
  4. Don’t forget that bias isn’t always assigned by a different demographic onto another. Many, if not all, of our students have been socialized to hold both positive and negative beliefs about themselves based upon their cultures, race, gender, etc. Check out the Doll Test to gain more perspective on this idea.
  5. Promote more racially diverse workplaces or push yourself to find more diverse educators and professionals to converse with (as a white person, I consider these tips in more difficult conversations about racism). Social media can be a great place to connect with others from more diverse backgrounds on student, classroom, and school issues.
  6. Ask your students and their families for feedback. How can you make them feel more included?
  7. Consider your shared resources and teaching?
    1. Are you including diversity in your shared images and graphics?
    2. Are you including diverse titles for reading and research?
    3. Are you using inclusive language?
    4. Are you open to constructive criticism when it comes to diversity and genuine inclusion of everyone; not just those students that look and sound like you.
  8. Consider crafting a statement on diversity and/or anti-racism for yourself as an educator or as a school/district to follow. We have dedicated ourselves at PATINS to our statement on anti-racism.
  9. Reach out for support. We are here to explore these issues together!

References:

Al-Azawei, A., Serenelli, F. & Lundqvist, K. (2016). Universal design for learning (UDL): A content analysis of peer-reviewed journal papers from 2012 to 2015. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 16(3), p. 39-56. doi: 10.14434/josotl.v16i3.19295

CAST. (2020). About universal design for learning. Retrieved July 29, 2020 fromhttps://www.cast.org/impact/universal-design-for-learning-udl.

Indar, G.K. (2018). An equity-based evolution of universal design for learning: Participatory design for intentional inclusivity. Retrieved June 25, 2020 fromhttps://www.learningdesigned.org/sites/default/files/Done_INDAR.EDIT_.DH_.JEG%20copy.pdf.

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Dec
16

Our DIY School Year

Artist Name - Read-by-Author-DIY-School-Year.mp3

QR Code(to the audio version of blog DIY School Year)








[QR Code to Audio Version]

After much of my adult life as a happy nomadic creature, my husband and I decided to
put down roots and purchase our first home. We found our nest tucked in our favorite neighborhood and near some of our favorite people. It had just a few “fun” DIY projects. Once we started the DIY process I discovered that it really stands for Discovering an Infinity of Yikes, rather than Do It Yourself. We dove into project after project with high hopes that our inspiration could overpower our inexperience. We wanted to do each project correctly from the start, knowing that a good investment now would help create a home we could truly love. Despite the ups and downs, we came through with a beautiful home filled with love AND with sore muscles, paint splotches, tears of frustration, and lots of other things that we shoved into closets.

Our home, a view from the front yard of a red brick house.

I see a lot of parallels between my family’s DIY home projects and the “Discovering an Infinity of Yikes” school year. Just as a strip of duct tape here and glue there can be quick patches, this school year has seen a number of temporary fixes. But, I believe that if we take the time to make repairs correctly from the start, we can reshape our educational system into one that we all love.

The Right Tools

This school year, we awkwardly slipped back into remote learning with packets and phone calls. The struggle was similar to turning a rusty screw with a butter knife. Yes it might eventually work; but, the extra time and effort, combined with the possibility it might not work should be enough to start the search for a better tool. In my family’s case, an electric screwdriver made seemingly impossible tasks more manageable. It was just one example of our learning process, as we moved through various never-before-needed gadgets and equipped a toolbox with enough to be the envy of any contractor. 

Just as my family struggled, through tears of frustration and sore mental muscles many teachers and schools have started utilizing support tools (like Schoology, Google Classroom, Canvas, and Seesaw) to enable centralized communication for students and parents. The hard work early on of teaching students (including Kindergarteners) to login and find assignments built independence and a foundation for success when students later moved to remote learning. Through evaluation and reflection, schools using synchronous learning moved from full-class zoom calls to focused, short, small-group sessions with specific goals like collaboration and interaction. Schools also created a balance between asynchronous and synchronous learning, adding even more tools (like Epic, Starfall, Khan Academy, ABC Mouse, BrainPop, Kids Academy, TED, Mendeley) to help balance teacher workload and student engagement in other ways. Another example of added tools were: a variety of Chrome extensions and apps for students are used to practice, learn, and respond in a variety of ways supporting a more universally designed classroom. This has included the increased acceptance of accessible materials and assistive technology, breaking emotional and educational barriers for many students. 

Tips, Tricks, and Expert Advice

When we first opened the door to our adventure in home remodeling, we had many inspiring dreams of what could be; but, the reality of our inexperience prevented us from taking the first steps. So, we called in the experts. We had many professionals give us recommendations on types of paint, low-cost options for tile, and how best to arrange our kitchen. Without this advice, we would have spent countless hours struggling to do these projects. With this support to boost our confidence, we googled how-tos for smaller issues and watched YouTube for our mini projects. 

For teachers, this year has been Professional Development after Professional Development (PD). Consults, webinars, and YouTube tutorials have been equally accessed. Teachers have been in a state of emergency, training and (in some instances) being forced toward technology integration. 

Some popular tips from PDs that I have noticed include: creating a Bitmoji classroom to build a fun space to communicate with students, using Flipgrid to create videos for and by students, and using interactive slide tools like Pear Deck

Inexperience with technology is a barrier that continues to be a stopping point for some teachers trying to reach their students. At PATINS, we have seen an increase of teachers and administrators requesting personalized/individualized training or one-on-one sessions (provided by the PATINS/ICAM team) to create universally designed online classrooms for ALL students. 

The Risk

For many of my family’s projects, one of the biggest barriers was fear. Fear of the first step, fear of messing it up, fear of the cost, and fear it would take too much time or turn into something we hated. One of my biggest fears was to use power tools, especially the table saw. It is big, scary, dangerous, and once you have cut something, it is final. However, at one point in a project, we needed a small piece of wood to be cut before we could move forward. Waiting for a contractor would have increased our wait from one week to up to three months! I stayed up all night convincing myself that I could use this saw. I finally got up, put my safety goggles on, and picked up the table saw. I practiced on a couple of scrap pieces, took measurements, and marked where to cut. I blasted through it with no fear. Did I do it perfectly? No. But, we were able to move forward quickly after that point, and I now can start building my table saw skills. Before this school year, many teachers dabbled in technology integration in the classroom, but some avoided it at all costs. 

Today, many still struggle with the same barrier: fear. One of my AEMing for Achievement Grant  team members, Melissa Harrison, has an inspirational quote in her office: “You never learn anything by doing it right.” In many of life’s fearful experiences this rings true, such as bike riding, public speaking, going on a date, or starting a new career. The level of risk is high, but necessary for success. 

As for our DIY school year, we have all been risk takers and continue to learn new methods and use new tools. The results are not perfect, but the more steps educators have taken toward a seemingly scary new form of teaching and learning, the more enriching experiences have resulted for both students, parents, and teachers.  We are forming bridges and exploring methods that have not been utilized before, and as a result, we are seeing a bright path toward an educational system that we can all love.

Melissa Harrison, smiling and holding a sign that says, “You never learn anything by doing it right.”

Like any new homeowners, our new place will probably be under construction for the rest of our lives, but the process of creating and recreating a space that we enjoy and cherish is invaluable. Similarly, teachers, parents, and students continue to grow as our schools are reimagining what education could be. We still have a long journey ahead, but a universally designed educational system is in our sights. Just like any home remodel, it was not easy and there are still are many unfinished jobs, surprise repairs, and exhausted workers. But we can continue to build our toolbox, seek expert advice, and be brave enough to take risks with that we can continue to build a place we truly love. 

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Aug
01

5 Ways to Include Students who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing using Universal Design for Learning

Inclusive-DHH-UDL-PATINS-Project-Poster-Print-Blog-Banner-1

Welcome back to School! While you are planning your seating charts, prepping lunch option boards, and digital homework options take a peek below at 5 easy tips to make sure you are universally including access to the curriculum and participation for all students in your classroom this year. 

Printable Poster to share at your case conferences and beginning of the year in-services. Thumbprint image of the poster below. Thumbprint DHH UDL PATINS Project Poster

  1. Flexible Seating: Students who are deaf or hard of hearing need sight of everyone’s face to follow the conversation. U-Shaped desk arrangements or kidney-shaped tables are best. 
  2. Representing Content: A visual representation (open/closed captions and descriptions) of the spoken language on all media and presentations/lectures are suggested for full access to auditory information in the classroom. 
  3. Small Groups: Students who are deaf or hard of hearing often participate and learn from peers best in small groups. Provide device for live captioning software and ear level FM/DM systems to be utilized. Allow students who are deaf or hard of hearing and their group to move to a quiet room or hallway to work to ensure an optimal signal-to-noise ratio. 
  4. Options for Repetition: Students who are deaf or hard of hearing often need options for how the information is represented and may need early access to materials before the information is presented in the classroom. Pre-teaching vocabulary and early access to reading materials and media content allow students to participate in discussions.
  5. Expression of Knowledge: Flexibility in the ways that a student who is deaf or hard of hearing can express what they have learned will increase engagement and motivation to participate in activities. Provide back channel or alternative ways to ask questions, visual presentations in slides, google draw, etc. 

If you and your team need suggestions on implementing any of the above please do not hesitate to contact Katie Taylor, PATINS Project’s deaf/hard of hearing state-wide specialist at ktaylor@patinsproject.org.



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May
04

Educational Interpreters: Considerations for Schools

Educational Interpreters: Considerations for Schools Educational Interpreters: Considerations for Schools

This week's blog is brought to us by our guest blogger and Language First founder, Kimberly Sanzo, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-CL. Kimberly's biography is at the bottom of this blog. 

Educational interpreters are an important part of the educational team and their work in providing language accessibility for Deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) students is critical. However, it’s important for school districts contemplating hiring an American Sign Language (ASL)-English interpreter for their DHH student(s) to consider a few vital factors. First, what is the language level of the DHH student? If the student has strong signed language skills, they may benefit from having the academic information interpreted into a visual language. If, however, the student has strong oral language skills and minimal signed language skills, then perhaps there needs to be a discussion as to the ultimate goal of having an educational interpreter in the classroom. If the goal is for the student to learn some ASL, then simply being provided an interpreter will not help them acquire a new language. Educational interpreters do not provide language instruction, and it would not be fair to expect the DHH student to attempt to acquire a new language while simultaneously trying to take in academic information. Additionally, having information interpreted into a language they barely know will likely be unhelpful. 

Most crucially, if the student has minimal signed language skills and minimal oral language skills, an interpreter may not be beneficial. In fact, providing an educational interpreter to a DHH child with no complete first language may be more harmful than helpful. As Caselli et al. (2020) assert, there is no evidence that DHH children with language deprivation can overcome their language difficulties from a single language model, even if that model is fluent in the language. School-aged DHH children without fluency in any language will not be able to simply acquire a signed language from an educational interpreter. Rather, they need intensive and purposeful language intervention in their most accessible language as well as plenty of language models and same-language peers with which to interact.

Another important consideration is the skill level of the educational interpreter. In a study by Schick et al. (2005), the authors found that 60% of the interpreters evaluated did not have the skill level necessary to provide DHH students with full access to the curriculum. This may be a result of state-by-state variation in requirements for interpreter skill levels. Many states don’t have standard requirements for educational interpreters, while others have standards that are gravely below the needs of DHH students (National Association of Interpreters in Education, 2021). Thus, it is critical that the school properly vet ASL-English interpreters who may be working with their students by ensuring they have an objective measure of adequate skill level. 

This is vital for a few reasons. First, interpreters themselves may not be able to accurately estimate their skills. This is due to a human cognitive fallacy called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, or the tendency for less-skilled individuals to rate themselves as highly skilled, and highly skilled individuals to rate themselves as less skilled. Indeed, Fitzmaurice (2020) found that the least skilled interpreters overestimated their skills, while the most skilled interpreters underestimated their skills. Therefore, a score on a standardized test like the Educational Interpreter Proficiency Assessment (EIPA) can be helpful in offering a more objective evaluation of an interpreter’s skills. Second, less skilled interpreters are less accurately interpreting information for their DHH students (Schick et al., 2005). The lower the percentage of accurately interpreted information, the less access DHH students are getting to academic content. Indeed, Schick et al. (1999) found that “many deaf children receive an interpretation of classroom discourse that many distort and inadequately represent the information being communicated” (p. 144).

Our DHH students need and deserve 100% access to academic information at all times, just like their hearing peers. It is our responsibility to ensure that a.) the student is a good candidate for an educational interpreter (if they are not, other educational placements should be discussed), and b.) that interpreter is highly qualified to provide full language access.

References:

Caselli, N. C., Hall, W. C., & Henner, J. (2020). American Sign Language interpreters in public schools: An illusion of inclusion that perpetuates language deprivation. Maternal and Child Health Journal.  

Fitzmaurice, S. (2020). Educational interpreters and the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Journal of Interpretation, 28(2).

National Association of Interpreters in Education (2021). State Requirements for EducationalInterpreters. https://naiedu.org/state-standards/

Schick, B., Williams, K., & Kupermintz, H. (2005). Look who’s being left behind: Educational interpreters and access to education for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 11(1), 3-20.

Schick, B., Williams, K., Bolster, L. (1999). Skill levels of educational interpreters working in public schools. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 4(2), 144-155.


Kimberly Sanzo, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-CL


Kim is a speech-language pathologist (SLP) who is committed to educating parents and professionals on the neurological effects of a late or incomplete first language acquisition for Deaf and hard of hearing children. She received her M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology from Gallaudet University in 2012 and is a board-certified specialist in child language (BCS-CL) through the American Board of Child Language and Language Disorders.

Kim is also the founder of Language First. Language First aims to educate and raise awareness about American Sign Language (ASL)/English bilingualism and the importance of a strong first language foundation for Deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) children. You can find more information on Language First social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram and website.

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Mar
24

Did You Miss Us? Tech Expo 2022 is In-Person!

Did You Miss Us? Tech Expo 2022 is In-Person! Teacher and student smiling at one another. Tech Expo 2022 PATINS Project with IN*SOURCE. April 14, Carmel IN.

Almost one year to the date, I wrote the blog “PATINS Tech Expo 2021 with IN*SOURCE - Exciting Updates!” about our second virtual Tech Expo. Fortunately, we are back 100% in-person in Carmel, Indiana for PATINS Tech Expo 2022. We are excited to partner with IN*SOURCE for the fifth time!! It’s quite apparent over 400 of you are looking forward to hands-on time with assistive technology, face-to-face conversations with resource organizations, and fun and networking too!

The presentation schedule has been set with 20 excellent sessions from knowledgeable experts, including representatives from Apple, Don Johnston, Inc (makers of Snap&Read, Co:Writer, uPar), Texthelp, Microsoft, and many more! All sessions will show you how to boost accessibility in your classroom without adding more to your plate and provide valuable information to share with parents/families about their child’s future. Nearly all presentations tie into a big topic for educators - literacy!

In addition to the presentations, there are over 40 exhibitors available throughout the day! They will answer your questions, provide resources for supporting Indiana students both in and out of the classroom, and introduce you to their transformational products and services. Attendees will not want to miss the live Exhibit Hall to find out how to win educational door prizes from our generous donors!

Check out the presentation Schedule-At-A-Glance and Exhibit Hall List now.

There is still plenty of time in the school year to make an impact on that one student who needs better access to communicate, read, write, and/or socialize. Tech Expo 2022 is the spot to find your a-ha solutions.

Only two week’s left to register for a no-cost ticket. This includes free parking and complimentary breakfast and lunch, plus you can earn up to four Professional Growth Points (PGPs)/Contact Hours for attending.

I hope to see you on April 14 in Carmel, IN!


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Mar
09

"There is No Cure for Autism:" A Mother’s Journey with Her Son


Photo of Daniel with student Dylan back in the year 2001

Audio version of this blog
 (8 minutes 35 seconds)


Derek would scratch, hit, scream, and was unable to remain still for more than a fraction of a second at a time. It was May of 2000. It was 22 short years ago and it was the beginning of an experience that would shape the next two decades of both my professional and personal lives and would help to continually reignite the passion in me to keep going in this challenging educational work, year after year. 

I was still an undergrad at Purdue and my side-jobs as a paraprofessional, respite worker, camp counselor, and Big Brothers volunteer all had me so frustrated in the missed potential I perceived in many of the older students and adults I worked with, that I quit all of my part-time jobs and started a behavioral consulting service for young children on the autism spectrum. One of my very first clients was Lianna, the loving, smart, determined, caring, patient, and strong mother of Derek. It is with great honor that I welcome Lianna as my guest blogger this week who graciously shares a portion of her journey! 

Young Derek holding a purple stuff bear
Things were normal until just after he turned two years old. He started displaying some odd behaviors, like staring at his hands and flapping them. If he didn't recognize a person, he would start screaming until the person left. When his dad took off his eyeglasses, Derek would start screaming and it would take a considerable amount of time for him to settle again. There were a lot of behavioral issues, including scratching himself and hitting his siblings because he still couldn't talk. I thought he was just a late talker, and I expressed my concern to his pediatrician, who gave us a referral to a neurologist. At the next doctor’s appointment, the pediatrician gave us the diagnosis of “Severe Autism with Mental Retardation.” That was 1998 and I had never heard of autism before, so I asked his pediatrician what the cure for it was. With a sad face, I remembered what he said to me vividly: “Mrs. Dawson, there is no cure for autism, you have to prepare yourself that your son might live in an institution because he will be hard to handle for you later on.” That was the last time we saw his pediatrician or any doctor.

I immersed myself in finding a cure or at least, how to help improve my son’s berserk behavior. I lived and breathed autism. The Barnes and Noble bookstore became our favorite place to visit until I stumbled upon one particular book on behavior intervention for young children with autism. That book became my bible. Luckily, we lived one town away from Purdue University and I put an ad in the Purdue Exponent newspaper. I started hiring Purdue University Special Education pre-service teachers and Speech, Occupational Therapy, and art students. This is when I met Daniel McNulty, a special-education pre-service student, along with some other bright students who were willing to make a difference in Derek’s life. Daniel McNulty facilitated the Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) with Derek when ABA was not even known or accepted in a school setting. It is not easy to implement, especially with a child who lives his own little world. Pulling him out of that world and his autism-related behaviors, I pictured was like pulling him out of a darkness filled with repetitive and odd behaviors. This was not an easy task for Daniel McNulty or for myself. Daniel seemed a miracle worker, rewarding Derek’s positive behavior with popcorn and other tangible items that Derek preferred at the time. He started sitting at the table and doing the short tasks that he was prompted to do, starting with things like clapping his hands, pointing to letter sounds of the alphabet, and identifying colors.

It was a long, dark, difficult road ahead, full of twists and turns. I was a desperate mother who was desperate to give my son the best chances in life that I could! I integrated different approaches, as to not leave any stone unturned. Applied Behavioral Analysis, Auditory Integration training, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and Gluten-free and Casein-free diet. Following his diagnosis, I started seeing a naturopathic doctor who did some biofeedback along with lots of vitamin therapy. It turned out that Daniel McNulty accepted a classroom teaching position in the school corporation that would be where Derek attended Kindergarten through 12th grade, which meant that Daniel wrote Derek's Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals and ensured that the appropriate accommodations and assistive technologies were in place! This also meant that Derek never had the same sort of summer vacation as many other kids. His school sent a teacher to our house all summer long for extended school year services to help compensate for the lack of progress during the school year. We were very lucky to be living in a good school district that wanted the best for Derek, as we did. 

Derek standing in wrestling stance, facing an opponent in high school wrestling

Fast-forwarding through substantial behavioral therapies and other educational services, and never-ending hope, high expectations, and perseverance; Derek graduated last year with a degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology at the age of 24 from one of the best engineering schools in the country, Purdue University. There were a lot of challenges along the way, but somehow, we managed to get through them, one by one, and to conquer that uphill battle. I always told Derek that he was a warrior and I called him Victor. From the background, in the stands, I always cheered him on with “Go, Victor!” I'm sure some people thought I must have had two sons out there! Derek always asked me why I called him Victor, especially when he was wrestling (his favorite sport, which he was great at, and perhaps channeled some of his aggression onto the mat). I told him I called him Victor because he is my warrior and while this road is full of barriers, he will be victorious. I told him he is one in a million and he is very lucky, that not all kids with autism are afforded the opportunity to overcome their challenges and function independently as he does. I thank God, that I met his angels like Daniel McNulty, Shelly K., and Betty R., who introduced me to a holistic approach to autism. Without these people who helped pulled him out of the dark, he probably wouldn’t be living independently now. 

Derek sitting in Purdue University cap and gownDerek standing in front of a massive Caterpillar dump truck
Autism is not a life sentence as I once thought it to be and as our pediatrician made it out to be. It may not be an easy journey and there will be times of seemingly insurmountable challenges, but those make the victories that much sweeter as well. Derek is now working in engineering for Caterpillar, the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, off-highway diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives, and lives independently out of state! When I talk to Derek on the phone now, he complains that he has a lot of meetings and big projects at work. I just smile in deep gratitude for that, and in my mind, I scream, "yes, Victor!

Derek standing with his mom, Lianna, in front of the Purdue Engineering fountain
For all the parents, family members, and educators that are a part of the critical team supporting a "Victor," do not give up. You are probably the strongest advocate and the biggest voice for your children. There is hope!  Derek is the living proof of it. Seek out resources and help, as it's out there for you! Search for Daniel McNultys, the Shelly K's, the Betty R's, and the many tools and resources that are available through organizations like PATINS

Derek's IEPs always included accommodations for text-to-speech (TTS), word-prediction, graphic organizers, reduced verbal instructions, extra time, and additional non-verbal prompts when needed, and others! While some people viewed these accommodations as "cheating" or "lowering expectations," Derek's amazing success as a young adult and highly productive professional member of society is proof that these accommodations actually facilitated setting and achieving incredibly high expectations for a once young, non-verbal, physically aggressive child who was not able to focus!" 


PATINS
1. Lending Library of Assistive Technology 
2. Training and Professional Development Specialists
3. AEMing for Achievement Grant (Open now, Closes May 30th)
4. Statewide Conferences in November and April (Tech Expo Registration Open Now) 


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Feb
09

The ramp AND stairs

The ramp AND stairs The ramp AND stairs

Next time it snows, I invite you to take a look at your ramps outside of your school buildings. Are the ramps AND the stairs shoveled and salted or just the steps? One sign that your school or district is fully inclusive is that the ramp is included in the clearing of snow. Every staff member needs the mindset that ALL of our students are included in ALL of the classrooms and buildings. This means the ramp is included. After all, who can use the ramp versus the stairs? EVERYONE. 

I am calling on each one of you to have this very important discussion with your staff on behalf of each one of our unique, bright students. As we are charged with educating ALL of our students as they come to our buildings, let’s not make accessing the building their first barrier to their education. 

The photo below was captured at an Indiana school the week of February 7th, 2022. ramp with snow and stairs shoveled and salted entrance into a school building with text ramp and stairs

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Feb
03

Creating Accessible Learning Environments for All—Questions That Can Guide Our Design

This week I would like to introduce guest blogger, Matt Brenner, District Technology Coach for Southwest Allen County Schools (SACS) and SACS AEMing for Achievement grant team member. Each year as part of the grant process, all the teams meet in January to share positive outcomes thus far and goals for the remainder of the year. As the representative for his team, Matt shared four guiding questions they are using to drive their team's and district's discussion on accessibility. Because many other teams were finding the use of these guiding questions to be insightful and inspiring during the meeting, I'm grateful and excited that he agreed to share the four questions in this blog just for you!


Educators have always believed that variability exists between learners, yet our instructional practices do not always address this belief. While this gap between our educational beliefs and our practices was already worthy of attention prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a renewed awareness of it because of the many struggles students, educators, and families experienced during the past two years. These common struggles have created an opportunity for us to re-examine our beliefs, continue to ask questions about our instructional practices, and work together to determine how to make learning more accessible to all students.

Making learning accessible for all is the goal of educators. While accessibility is a simple concept in theory, it can become more complicated as it is put into practice. We need to acknowledge its complexity by modeling the practice of asking questions to gain a better understanding and to frame our conversations about accessibility. This will lead to logical, purposeful, and well-intended discourse to occur and to better outcomes for all of our learners. Let’s explore what questions we can use to guide our conversations around accessibility.

Four Fundamental Questions About Accessibility

  1. To whom are our learning environments truly accessible? A learning environment includes more than just the physical space of a classroom. We need to expand our understanding of both where learning can take place and what needs to be available for learning to take place. A learning environment includes the physical location of the learning, the resources and curriculum available to the students, and the lesson design. Let’s quickly examine a typical curriculum or lesson materials. Most curriculum and educational materials are designed and developed to address the needs of the so-called ‘average student’ and the ‘average brain.’ Through modern educational neuroscience, we have learned that there is no average student, nor is there an average brain. But because the majority of our curriculum and instructional practices are implemented through this lens of designing for ‘the average,’ we unintentionally make learning inaccessible by placing barriers within our environments.  This means that for many of our learners, much of their learning is not accessible because of a barrier that was inadvertently placed within the lesson design. For example, we may introduce a concept to a student and assume that they have the background knowledge necessary to become (and remain) engaged throughout the entire lesson. However, their lack of background knowledge to the topic is actually a barrier to them engaging in the lesson. To reduce that barrier, a teacher can activate or supply background knowledge through providing visuals, demonstrations, or models. By doing so, that barrier has been reduced and students are more likely to engage and persist in their learning. We need to acknowledge that the barriers to learning are not within the learner, but in how the learning environment is designed.

  2. Under what conditions are they truly accessible? Educational neuroscience has also made clear that learners do not have one global, or fixed, learning profile. Instead, they have jagged learning profiles that may shift depending on a variety of factors. Context truly makes a difference. Simply put, what may be accessible to one type of learner in one setting may be inaccessible to the same learner in a different setting. We need to be mindful of this reality as we consider the accessibility of our learning environments. We can design for variability within our learning environment by embracing flexibility in our design. Flexible resources and tools can be used in several different ways to express understanding over the same information. For example, flexible resources are used within a learning environment when a teacher allows students to use a resource in a way that is meaningful to the student rather than requiring the resource to be used in a specific, predetermined way. Based on its inherent flexibility, technology can also offer opportunities for students to make their learning more accessible, regardless of their context. As an educator, it is not as important to know why a particular student would need to experience this level of flexibility; it is more important to offer the flexibility to all your students based on our classroom’s variability and jagged learning profiles so that they can all have access to their learning.

  3. What if we saw accessibility as the ‘main course’ of our design decisions instead of the ‘leftovers?’ Accessibility is often discussed through the reactive response of special education versus the more proactive approach of general education. General education teachers may see it as “one more thing” to worry about or that “we do not have time to worry about making everything accessible.” These are natural responses given educators’ heavy workload and limited time. However, when taking a more proactive approach in our design, we usually discover that “What is essential for some, is useful for all.” If we did a little digging, we would find that there is an inherent, common, and yet incorrect assumption that “general education students” learn similarly to each other. Based on educational neuroscience, we know that is not true because of learner variability. Because of the variability that exists within the “general education” population, there are likely students that could benefit from greater accessibility. By increasing access for our specialized populations, we are actually increasing usability for everyone because so many hidden learning barriers exist in our student population. This subtle, yet profound shift in our design has tremendous implications in improving learning outcomes for all. Accessibility should not be viewed as “one more thing,” it should be viewed as “the thing.” It should be our SWAG…the stuff we all get.

  4. What if we viewed greater accessibility as an opportunity for us to raise the bar for all learners instead of lowering it? As educators, our goal is not simply to make information accessible to all learners, but to make learning more accessible. Accessibility is not about lowering expectations, in fact it is the opposite. When we make learning more accessible, that means we are providing learning materials, tools, and environments that make it possible for all students to be challenged to their fullest extent. This is accomplished by allowing students to choose flexible tools within their learning environment that are meaningful to them to express their understanding of the teacher’s learning goals. This will provide students with the opportunity to truly demonstrate what they know within a learning environment with fewer barriers in it. It is essential to know our students, their learning profiles, and our instructional goals so that we can determine when to provide support and when to challenge them. With this mindset, balance, and alignment, we can continue to raise the bar for all of our students by making their learning more accessible.

There is no doubt that every learner learns differently and has different needs. Educators will continue to search for instructional practices that will enhance their ability to reach all learners. As educators we can proactively address those needs by adopting a mindset focused on making our learning environments more accessible to all. If we do this, we will discover and unlock the potential of all our learners.

Resources:

Nelson, Loui Lord. Design and Deliver: Planning and Teaching Using Universal Design for Learning. Brookes Publishing Co, 2021.

Ralabate, Patti. Your UDL Lesson Planner: The Step-by-Step Guide for Teaching All Learners. Brookes Publishing, 2016.

Rose, David H., et al. Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning.
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2002.

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Dec
30

Recharged and Raring to Go!

Battery with lightning over it with the word charging

Recharged and raring to go!

Winter break often cannot come soon enough. Up to this point in the school year, we have been depleted by so many things such as lack of connection with family, daily workload, testing, grading, COVID worries, our own health, unexpected changes, and advertising. Advertising is all around us knowingly or unknowingly shaping our behavior and not necessarily for the better. So, we strive to counteract these forces in the new calendar year by planning new goals for personal habits, health, finances, professional growth and more.   

Change is inevitable, growth is optional. Considering the number of ads we encounter on a daily basis, how easy it is to neglect our physical health and how we may not make time for professional growth, I ask you to pick three things to change for the next year and choose to grow.

Screen_Shot_2021-12-30_at_12.45.01_PM.png

Figure 2 Man running away while looking over his shoulder at advertising icons chasing him.

We are bombarded with advertising on TV, Radio, Billboards, emails, social media and more. Just yesterday while I was trying to enter and update my password on the vendor’s website, I had to close pop-ups from the vendor inviting me to enter my email to win $100!

In 2004, “The advertising industry spends $12 billion per year on ads targeted to children, bombarding young audiences with persuasive messages through media such as television and the Internet. The average child is exposed to more than 40,000 TV commercials a year, according to studies.” – Protecting Children from Advertising, American Psychological Association 2004

In 2007, it was reported that on average, people were exposed to 5,000 ads per day.

In 2021, that number is estimated to be between 6,000 and 10,000 ads per day!

#1 Reduce the amount of time you spend on social media and talk about social media's impact and effects with your students.

To Do: 

  • Connect with a family member or do something active that brings you joy (i.e., electronics break). These are actions that can recharge you mentally and physically.
  • Block ads (Android, iOS, WIN, Mac, Chrome)
  • Use built-in tools to reduce website distractions [great to help with focus]:
  • You can also use 3rd party solutions to improve focus like:

Figure 3 Before using Reader Mode, example similar to what one might see when accessing an article on a website showing the extra content that can be distracting.

 

Figure 4 Using Reader Mode, example in Safari on a Mac computer. Irrelevant content has been removed, the background color and text are higher contrast and the only content on the page is from the blog post.

#2 Make healthier choices.

It’s easy to skip taking care of yourself given work and family commitments. Convenience and fast food are easy but will cost your body in the long run. Working into the late hours of the night to “get one more” thing done also comes at a cost.

Keeping your body healthy helps you have more energy to meet the mental and physical demands that your students bring. Rest, drink enough water and reduce caffeine. That’s a tough one. I like coffee! I am fortunate enough to still be able to run. Running keeps my heart, body and mind healthy.

To Do:  

  • Choose something physical that you enjoy and do it!
  • Maintain a regular bedtime routine
  • Consume some mindfulness blogs, newsletters, books or podcasts

#3 Improve your knowledge and expertise.

No single educator can know everything. Hopefully, you are already part of a team (e.g., grade level, focus area, specialty area, etc.) that shares knowledge and information to overcome problems and improve learning. If you are not or your team needs assistance, you can:

To Do:

  • Connect with a PATINS/ICAM staff member to learn new ideas to help you improve your instruction and take your students' academic, literacy and communication skills to the next level!
  • View Free PATINS Training Videos and earn Continuing Education Hours.

Figure 5 Battery showing Full Charge

By making just three changes, you will recharge your mental and physical batteries, have more focus and provide better instructional support for your students! Have a great New Year in 2022!

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Jan
19

A Girl, a Frog, and Accessibility

20220120-004655frog-dissection-and-iPad-Pro A student with blue plastic gloves completes a frog dissection using an iPad to enlarge her view of the task.

Once upon a time there was a girl in middle school. She was like every other middle school girl, in that she wanted to succeed in school. She was also like every other middle school girl who wants to be noticed but is painfully averse to being singled out. 

Her inner heart cried out, “Look at me!” and “Everyone is staring at me!” at the same time. 

This fairy tale intro is one that I’ve heard throughout my years as both a PATINS specialist and a teacher for the blind before that. Adolescence is hard. Needing to use large print books that don’t fit in a backpack and using a magnifying device to see the board makes it harder. 

Most of the students I’ve worked with have been able to move past the “everyone is watching me” mindset. Once I got a teen girl to use her magnifier because she had a cute student teacher and she could see him in hunky detail with it. Another teen girl used the technology for some mean girl antics, inviting a peer to her desk and zooming in on other peers to make fun of them. This made me cry, not because she misbehaved, but because it was so normal. When you have a disability, feeling normal can be a luxury.

The advent of one to one devices and built in accessibility has been a game changer for all folks with low vision, and especially for the teenage folks feeling all the feels. Now students are able to get digital texts delivered to their devices through the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM) and facilitated by their district’s Digital Rights Manager (DRM). And whatever is projected onto the board at the front of the room can be sent electronically to the student’s device. 

All of the platforms continue to race like a fairy tale hero on horseback to outdo each other with built in accessibility features like enlarged/bold format, enlarged mouse/cursor, special color filters for folks with color blindness, and many ways to have text converted to speech with more and more human-sounding voices

I received the cover photo for this blog from one of our stakeholders of an 8th grade girl using an iPad Pro clamped in a stand to enlarge her frog dissection in science class. She wrote, “In observing her during the frog dissection lab it was evident that her confidence and efficiency with the task grew using the tablet clamped to her lab table.” She went on to describe how the student took the lead in the dissection where before she would have been dependent on the partner to report observations. 

This also made me cry because 

  1. A CONFIDENT adolescent is more beautiful than any Disney Princess. 
  2. When I was a science teacher at the Indiana School for the Blind from 1996 - 2000 all we could do was buy the extra jumbo frogs from Carolina Biological Supply. 

This student and many others are benefitting tremendously from new technology. Here’s to their continued success and just the right amount of getting in trouble so that they can live happily ever after. 

Masked female student looking at a frog dissection through an iPad Pro


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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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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
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
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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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
02

Lifelong Learning is a Must!

Quote

Today, there are so many opportunities available to improve your skillsets to help students improve communication, literacy and learning.  Instead of being the person who says "I don’t' know how to do that!", you can;

  1. Find someone to teach you, or
  2. Teach yourself, and then
  3. Become the person who says "Let me show YOU how!"

Every year on my birthday (February, if you want to send a card…LOL), I reflect back on the previous year and tell myself I thought I knew everything but NOW I really know what life is about.  In reality, I spent another year learning not just about life but work, relationships, technology, teaching strategies and what things make me happy. 

From 1986 to 1991 while attending Purdue University full-time, I worked 30 hours per week (except for my first semester of Graduate School). After earning my Master's degree, I worked nine months in a Fellowship before I was let loose on my own.  I had to work while I learned.  Now I learn while I work!  It can be overwhelming but I have found a balance.

Being employed is important to me and specifically in the field of education I find happiness helping students, teachers, professionals, parents and more.  To be an effective educator, continuous learning is a must.  It is so important that state credentialing and licensing organizations require continuing education hours.  National organizations too require commitments to continuous learning to receive renewed certifications/credentialing.  Technology improves seemingly daily and data is being collected to help improve instruction.  We must consider these, be willing to learn and improve our teaching.

At one point in my career, I was licensed by three state agencies, certified by one national, and was a member of three professional organizations.  Each had different continuing education requirements!  And…this was before Twitter, Facebook, blogs, podcasts and all of the other learning opportunities and choices that constantly fill my email inbox today.  How do you know where to get you information and learn new ideas (scientifically sound with good evidence)?  I love to learn new ideas and solutions that not only improve my service delivery but help kids communicate better, read better and become more independent.

There are SO MANY options available…FREE, subscription, Patreon (fans support your creative work via monthly membership).  How do you find the time and avoid burnout?  I have found several solutions and ideas that work for me and might help you too!

First of all, consider how you learn best (UDL Guidelines from CAST) - great resource for upping your teaching skills for your students).  How do you engage learning, what keeps you connected, how do you best perceive and connect to new content, how do you organize and express what you have learned…

  • Do you prefer to read with your eyes or your ears (computerized or human)?
  • Are you a hands on learner?
  • Do you learn from watching others?
  • Do you take notes with paper and pencil or digital?

I am definitely a hands on learner.

I love to read but since discovering audiobooks and podcasts, I have increased my reading and learning time using my ears while running, in the car, and walking my dog.  Many audiobooks provide additional controls.  I increase the reading or playback speed to 1.5x or 2.0x allowing me to devour books and podcasts more quickly! At night, I read with my eyes before bed (usually fiction for entertainment).

Notetaking is accomplished with paper and pencil at times but Microsoft OneNote has improved my organizational skills.  I can type or dictate notes, insert pictures, documents, recordings, share/collaborate and so much more.  OneNote is also text searchable.

When people explain things to me, I sort of understand but as soon as I do it myself everything seems to click.  I have always like this quote (various forms of this have been attributed to many people) because it fits MY learning style, 

When I hear, I forget.

When I see, I remember.

When I do, I understand.

Is there an online platform that works for you?  Find it or try a new one!  You don't have to do it all at once.  James Clear says (author of Atomic Habits) in his Blog from February 25, 2021, "Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour. You don’t have to do it all today. Just lay a brick."   Find a time each day, a regularly scheduled day and stick to it.

Here are some trusted resources and tools (various platforms to suit your learning) that I have found useful and you might too!

From the PATINS Project:

Access to Education is where dedicated educators, who are focused on ensuring that every student has equitable access to the curriculum, will come together to experience motivational keynotes, local and national presenter breakout sessions, opportunities to view the latest assistive technology, networking, and so much more!

Sessions will be designed around accessibility, Accessible Educational Materials (AEM), Assistive Technology, and/or the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. There are no vendors at this conference.

Continuing education opportunities curated by your professional organizations and others - books, journals, Twitter, podcasts, Facebook, listservs, etc.

Book options

  • Hard copy - local library and bookstores
  • Digital and/audio

Libby or Hoopla app (books, magazines, music, movies) active library card required

Audible paid audio books

MackinVIA through PATINS ICAM for eligible students

Book Clubs (Team/Collaboration learning) e.g., The Knowledge Gap  by Natalie Wexler

Speech-Language Pathology - ASHA Continuing Education, Learning Pass and Special Interest Groups and Indiana Speech-Language Hearing Association (ISHA)

Occupational Therapy - AOTA Continuing Education and Indiana Occupational Therapy Association (IOTA)

Physical Therapy - APTA Learning Center and Indiana Physical Therapy Association (IPTA)

Deaf and Hard of Hearing - PASS Project Deaf/Hard of Hearing Listserv and Center on Literacy and Deafness Activities and National Deaf Education Conference Elementary Resources, Middle School, High School

Teachers - MyNEA360 edCommunities Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA)

Facebook - Indiana Inclusive Communication Matters (IICM)

Twitter - #PatinsIcam, #UDL, #AT, #AAC

PATINS hosts a weekly Twitter Chat during the school year on Tuesdays from 8:30 - 9:00pm ET

Podcasts - Talking with Tech (AAC) (link to website)

Assistive Technology Listservs and more

AT Makers - ATMakers.org introduces Makers and Assistive Technology (AT) users and give these two communities the tools they need to collaborate.

AT users and those who support them desperately need engineers and technologists to help them with everyday tasks. High School STEM and Robotics students, hobbyists & DIY electronics enthusiasts have the skills necessary to create innovative solutions today.

QIAT (pronounced quiet) - Quality Indicators in Assistive Technology

RESNA (Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America) AT Forum

Indiana Resource Network (Organizations across the state)

Please reach out to one of us at PATINS if you have questions, want to learn something new or want to share an idea!  Enjoy the 4th of July, be safe and enjoy the rest of the summer!


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Jun
17

How Do I Get “Buy In”?

How Do I Get "Buy-In"? How Do I Get "Buy-in"? written on chalkboard with pencil, ruler, and chalk nearby.

“How do I get “buy in”?” It's a perennial question many educators ask throughout their careers. How do I get my student to try new assistive technology? How do I change mindsets to create universally designed lessons/environments? How do I encourage caregivers to model and provide a student’s communication device wherever they go?

Much of it boils down to creative marketing, or messaging from multiple sources/formats, and persistence. Here are a few ideas you can seamlessly incorporate into your day to day:

  1. Get your students on board. This has been a time tested proven strategy for me. When I introduced the Expanding Expression Tool (EET) to a class of middle schoolers, teachers were hesitant to adopt another tool. It was viewed as too much of a time commitment for something that may not work. What quickly convinced the teachers to “buy-in” was seeing how their students looked forward to our weekly EET writing sessions and when they independently requested an EET visual support for other writing assignments. The students enjoyed selecting their subject for writing and sharing their interests with the class. Ultimately, their teachers were convinced with impressive writing quality and quantity!
  2. Tie in real-life success stories. Sharing student success stories with your colleagues can help spark “a-ha” moments. If you need a bank of these to draw from PATINS has a playlist of success story videos showing students gaining tools to communicate, improving their literacy skills, and independently reaching higher academic success.
  3. Keep it top of mind. When introducing new tools or ideas, bring it up anytime there is an opening in the conversation. Staff meetings are a great time to connect your ideas to what teachers are already doing. Also, there are many creative ways to share the information such as hanging posters or filling bulletin boards in hallways or common areas for all to see research based strategies. You might even schedule a PATINS no-cost professional development session to help you demonstrate the importance of Accessible Educational Materials, Assistive Technology, and Universal Design for Learning.

While you may feel like a broken record for a little while, with creative marketing and persistence; eventually your efforts will pay off as colleagues and families “buy-in” after seeing the benefits for their students!

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