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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Jun
10

Predictably Successful Outcomes from Purposeful Design

six motorcyclists practicing a cone weaver exercise on a closed range
Near the end of this past March, I set a goal for myself to expand my teaching and I began a new adventure. March 27th was the start of 10 days and well over 100 hours of preparing and learning to become an instructor/coach of beginner motorcyclists. 

Combining two of my greatest passions, education & motorcycling, just seemed like a most logical (and fun) next step in my life! I'll admit that I went into this new endeavor thinking that I'd bring an abundance of knowledge, skill, strategy, and perspective about education to these "bikers," and I'd be revered as a Super RiderCoach, responsible for bringing inclusivity and equity to the teaching & learning of safe motorcycle riding.  Well, the reality of what I walked into quickly made me realize several eye-opening things that I'd like to share. 

Before any activities, exercises, or other interactions at all, the first thing that quickly began to put me in my place was a statement at the very front of our RiderCoach Handbook about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and our trainers drawing attention to it. This was, indeed, a strong confirmation that all possible accommodations being made would be the expectation from that point forward for anyone and everyone. I first thought to myself, "how incredibly cool and refreshing is that!" Then, I wondered why that felt refreshing to me. After all, I was coming from the world of education, special education, in fact! I then tried to think of even a single classroom or school I'd been involved with that started interactions with students & parents with a statement of accessibility, accommodations and the ADA, and the only ones I could even start to compare were the AEMing for Achievement Teams that PATINS had worked intensively with to get an Accessibility Statement and Policy in place. Yet, here I was with a bunch of "bikers" who prefaced all learning to come with not only a public proclamation of the value they placed on inclusivity and accommodations, but they also had actual guidelines for accommodating students with disabilities that was available! 

How could this be? How could it be that the very same concepts of inclusivity I thought I'd be proudly bringing into this group of motorcyclists, was actually the first thing they told me? Then, I thought to myself, "well, a statement is just words if there are no meaningful actions behind them." ...and once again, I was put in my place by the very next statement in the handbook! 

"The curriculum is modularized for flexibility and customization in order to meet the varying needs and interests of program administration interested in maximizing student outcomes."

"Whoa..." I thought to myself... "I think I just read that this curriculum is based in Universal Design for Learning!

Now, I was deeply intrigued and also feeling a bit like the world of K-12 education from which I came, might just be significantly behind and less comprehensive/effective when it comes to inclusivity than this bunch of "bikers" are! 

Further reinforcing this realization I was coming to, were the next few general instructions I was given: 
  1. Utilize gender-neutral statements when addressing students
  2. Never call out any people to read aloud in class (this isn't a reading class and we aren't testing reading) 
  3. Never ask people to check both eyes with the chart when demonstrating the importance of vision checks at a doctor. 
  4. Work in collaborative groups and allow the members to utilize one another's strengths
...and this was all before we'd even gotten to any parts of the actual curriculum or content! These were simply the expectations for any and all students that might come through the door! Once we go to the content, the topic of Engagement was the first thing to be discussed! That, I'm sure, sounds familiar to many of the readers of the PATINS Ponders Blog as it's the very first of the three summarizing bullet points of Universal Design for Learning!

Multiple and Flexible means of: 
  1. Engagement
  2. Presentation of materials
  3. Interaction and response
We discussed utilizing background knowledge, experiences, hobbies, preferences, etc., as ways to approach making sure all students were engaged, before presenting content, which we were asked to do in multiple ways including visually and auditorily! 

Eventually, we got the range and had students on motorcycles, which furthered this notion of high quality, purposefully designed education that I'd been noticing. Also, most of which I'd love to see in all classrooms! 
  1. Limit talking. Pick one thing at a time (the most important thing) to work on and limit coaching to 7-8 words or less at a time. "...longer-than-needed explanations of how to use the front brake lever can overload the brain and result in key information becoming confusing or forgotten, and could even reduce the amount of practice time."

  2. Remain fully cognizant of what it is you're really wanting to assess, in any given moment. For example, if the thing I'm really working on is getting a student to keep their eyes up in a U-turn, I'm not going to draw attention to dabbing a foot down at first. Furthering this, if I'm assessing a student's ability to stop precisely inside a box, I'm not going to drawn attention to them missing a downshift before that stop.

  3. Empathize with all students. Many may already be close to cognitive load capacity when they get to class. 

  4. Try to induce good & positive stress through having high expectations for all students regardless of any prior motorcycle riding ability! 
...and this was truly just the beginning. Many statements followed, including ones like, "Motor skills are best learned if they are acquired naturally instead of being forced, and it helps if basic development is provided in a somewhat random and varied manner. For example, the skill associated with making a U-turn is introduced in perimeter turns, and riders often repeat actions in different contexts (like varying weave dimensions, reversing direction in an exercise, or practicing the same path of travel later on in the program with increased skill)." This probably sounds a lot like explicitly teaching the generalization of skills to many of my SpEd Teacher friends! 

In summary, it quickly and repeatedly became apparent to me that this course was very purposefully designed to be inclusive, promote an equitable learning environment, to be empathetic and accommodating of differing learning needs, and was truly based in the science of learning.

All of this combined with a curriculum full of very demanding skills and tasks and tons of information... in other words, "high expectations!" I began to wonder about the success of this. ...did the data actually support all the work, the intentionality of the design, etc. I asked a lot of questions and sought out the data. I was told things like, "the purpose of this course is to create more independent and safe motorcyclists on the street," and "failing riders does not serve that purpose." Then, in looking at the actual state data on crashes and particularly crashes with fatalities, the percentages of both are very significantly lower for students who've gone through course! In other words, it works! 

Since then, I've coached six classes of riders as a certified RiderCoach and every time I think about all of the things in K-12 education that I wish were a little (or a lot) more like the way "bikers" teach one another. Our purpose in K-12 education is not to fail students. It's not to preserve the bell curve, weed students out, or separate students into ability levels. It is to create independence and success. By purposefully designing instruction and curriculum and learning spaces, (both physical and virtual) that are inclusive of all students, empathetic to their prior knowledge and current situations, universally designed with flexibility, choice, and engagement, we absolutely can experience greater success rates! By remembering things like, "spelling doesn't necessarily need to be a prerequisite to creative writing," and "phonetic decoding doesn't necessarily need to be a prerequisite to comprehending written text through auditory reading." 

Utilize No-Cost resources, like the PATINS UDL Lesson Creator! Consider applying for the PATINS AEMing for Achievement Grant, which is open for new apps until the end of June! Reach out to PATINS Specialists and request No-Cost training on making your learning spaces more inclusive and accessible to ALL of your students! We're here to help and eager to do so!
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Jun
03

Learning Through Reflection

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

Portrait of Leslie DiChiara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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May
27

The Learning Continues During a Sense-sational Summer

Smiling son on round web swing being pushed by his mother

Last year at this time, we had just wrapped up an unprecedented school year. What a difference a year has made! As the 2020-2021 school year is soon wrapping up, or maybe just has finished for students across Indiana, I want to encourage parents, teachers, and students to have a “Sense-sational” summer! We have gone through a lot the last year and a half. It’s time for some fun! Engaging in activities that entice multiple sensory experiences and both incorporating a schedule and keeping kiddos on a schedule, can set a family’s summer up for success!

Is the first thing you think of when you think of Summer Break: Intentionally planning activities that will help students grow and thrive in literacy, math, writing, communication, sensory, and behavior? Well, probably not. However, we can plan a fun summer with lots of intentional, educational experiences. Why not make the most of the outdoors and engage the senses while you’re at it? I have created a list of activities/strategies that parents can use to make learning fun this summer and to avoid hearing the dreaded words, “I’m bored. There is nothing to do."

First thing first! Have a plan, maybe even a plan that can vary and be added to on the go, but a schedule nonetheless! Research has proven that children thrive in the safety and predictability of a schedule or routine. They are used to it from being in school everyday. One can plan a day, week or month at a time. The children will benefit from a schedule, no matter how simple or complex you make it. You can write a schedule on a white board, draw on paper, create one on an app, use pictures or create one on a program like Lesson Pix. I have included a version daily visual schedule checklist as an example. No matter what, letting the kids know the expectations of the day will help everyone in the household.



Develop a schedule that includes movement, play, and leisure. Plan for all the senses and incorporate lots of movement. Modeling play activities for your children can be super beneficial. Allowing your children to make choices in some parts of the day will increase their independence and control of their environment. Ask you children for their input and specifically ask what activities they want to do with you this summer. You may be surprised by their answers! 

Another consideration while setting up a schdule that will encourage showing positive behavior, following directions, following the schedule, and keeping up with expectations is adding a reward. A reward can be a praise, a fun activity, or something out of the ordinary. A reward such as a walk to the park for a picnic, could encourage your child to follow the schedule for that meaningful reward. Adults and children alike enjoy something to look forward to on the calendar. Make the reward achievable and fun for the whole family!

Finally, be sure to include all the senses when planning your summer activities! Given that all of our sensory systems are unique and may not function similarly, you can modify this list to individual or family needs.

  1. Touch (Tactile) - Play in different media - paint, pudding, water table, water beads, or sand, introduce different textures and warm/cold temperatures to touch, or walk or put barefeet in the grass.
  2. Sight (Vision) - Seek out bright colors, high contrast, and play games like I spy (i.e. "I spy something blue." or "I spy something that is a rectangle." Be sure to add more descriptions for children with low vision such as "I spy something at the sink that is blue and has one rough side and one side that is bumpy with holes in it."). Notice the colors that catch your eye and point them out to your children.
  3. Taste (Gustatory) - Grow or buy some new veggies or fruits to try. Describe them, their taste, texture, temperature, spiciness, etc. Make your own popsicles or pudding. Try new foods and have fun trying to describe them.
  4. Smell (Olfactory) - Seek out the scents of the season: flowers, fresh cut grass, the scent of ozone after rain, and notice the scent of the pool. Make your own play dough and add scents or spices to make the activity more “scent-sationally” fun!
  5. Hearing (Auditory) - Listen to and identify sounds in the environment. Create conversations around sounds and music. Ask questions like: Do you hear a bird? Do you hear the sound of the cicadas? I hear fireworks in the distance, do you? Read with your ears. Make music. Feel the vibration of music in a speaker or on the piano as it is played. 

As an occupational therapist (OT), I am quick to add the two additional senses beyond the five senses I learned in grade school. There are actually seven senses to consider! In my work as an OT, taking the last two senses in consideration and planning for them was a large part of my role in the school system. Let’s cover some activities to engage them too!

  1. Proprioception (Body Position in Space) - Think of heavy work activities such as pushing a wheelbarrow, jumping on a trampoline, having bear crawl races, doing wall push ups, carrying “heavy” objects from one place to another, and doing activities that put a good amount of weight through your joints.
  2. Vestibular (Movement) - Swing on a swing, take a spin on the merry go round, slide on slides, rock in a rocking chair, spin in circles, ride a scooter board on your stomach, or do somersaults.

Make this a great summer of connection and lasting memories through activities. Create a notebook and keep track of the experiences of the summer. Use pictures, words, symbols, drawings, and reflect on all experiences that were intentionally planned -the new and the old. I would love to hear your favorite sensory rich summer activities too! Please share in the comments or reach out to me!

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May
20

Summer Activities!

Summer is almost here, and I’m excited to share some outdoor time with my cousin who will be in 9th grade in the Fall. I work with him during the school year, helping out with his homework and studying for quizzes and tests. We work especially hard on Math, and he has shown tremendous growth and I want to keep it going. So I have been looking for ways to incorporate Math into the activities he enjoys. Here are a few ideas I have come up with so far:

  1. Having him pay with cash when we go somewhere, and then checking to see if he receives the correct change.
  2. Letting him help with navigation to the places we go. Which direction are we going? How many gallons of gas do we need?
  3. He enjoys baseball, and there are many statistics that we can talk about and how they are figured.
  4. Cooking may not be his favorite activity, but occasionally I can get him to help out. We talk about measurements and conversions. When we have cookouts, he gets to figure out how many hotdogs, hamburgers, etc. we need for everyone.
  5. When we go shopping for shoes or something he truly wants, we get the opportunity to compare prices and to figure out how much 20% off saves us.
  6. I am hoping to build a project with him, and we can use the tape measure and figure out the amount of materials we will need.
  7. I take him out to eat, and I have him look at the calories we will consume. He can also help me figure out the tip.
  8. We play board games like Monopoly, and this includes money skills and budgeting. Battleship helps with graphing and logical reasoning. Connect 4, Clue, Chess, and Checkers help with planning strategy. Yahtzee and Rummikub are fun ways to work on math skills as well.
  9. He spends much of his time playing video games, so I encourage him to play games that involve strategy and planning.

I also encourage him to read all year long, but especially in the summer. I must admit, this has undoubtedly been a challenge! These are some ideas that I have used, or that I am planning to use over the summer.

  1. I take him to the library. I can’t always get him to read while we are there, but they always have a puzzle out so we work on it, and I encourage him to find something to check out.
  2. I am also going to encourage him to listen to audiobooks over the summer to see if he would enjoy them.
  3. I buy him used comic books which he seems to genuinely enjoy. They are inexpensive, and he will usually read them. I try to ask lots of questions about them when he has finished, so we can work on comprehension.
  4. When we build our project, I will have him read any written directions that we come across. 
  5. I will also take any chance I get to have him read in any activity that we do. He can read directions when we are playing games, and he can read recipes or the grocery list when we go to the store.

These are just a few ideas that I have come up with. There are many other ideas, activities, and a wealth of information available with a search on the Internet. What ideas do you use with your students or children that you have found to be successful? Please share with me via the comments section.

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Guest — Glenda Thompson
I want to spend the Summer with you Sandy! Another good Math game is...RACKO. Enjoy the time with your cousin.
Friday, 21 May 2021 10:47
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May
13

"...regardless of the content we teach, we are all reading instructors."*

Indiana Senate Enrolled Act 217, a.k.a. Indiana's Dyslexia Law provides a strong backbone to reading instruction for Indiana schools. For instance, this bill provides that:

  • screening for dyslexia is to occur at grades K, 1, 2, 3 and after that as necessary, as instructed in the bill 
  • Schools are to use the Response to Intervention (RTI) tiers before identifying the reading deficit as dyslexia
  • Educators are to use an instructional approach that is explicit, direct, systematic, multisensory and phonetic
  • Every Indiana school corporation is to employ at least one (1) Reading Specialist trained for teaching students with dyslexia
Since we know from 100 years of research that 1 in 5 students have dyslexia, the one lone Reading Specialist is going to be very, very busy, particularly in very large districts. How can this be expected? What is the solution to this very tall, broad, and heavy order?

Teachers in all content areas must help fill gaps by embedding literacy in their instruction. Our students are not just learning to read, but learning to learn. All subject content areas require and will naturally accommodate literacy. Following are some thoughts on weaving intentional literacy into your content classes.

Since a textbook is not the only tool, a classroom library built around your content area can be a wonderful addition to learning. Think puzzles, games, models, art supplies, as well as books and worksheets. Math was always my worst subject. Every year I disliked the drab-looking textbook, the formidable-sounding units of study: Fractions. Multiplication. Division. I know I would have benefitted from The Grapes of Math by Greg Tang. Math strategies presented in rhyme? Yes, Please. 

But reading is not just about paper books. Plan to use as much technology as is appropriate and possible. PATINS Specialists can suggest, explain and demonstrate if you need help.

  • Ear-reading is an authentic reading experience. So is using closed captions while watching tv and online programs. Encourage every interaction with print to be what it is: time spent reading.
  • Provide extra everything: Space, time, patience.
  • Provide information verbally and visually, find multisensory methods for learning.
  • Grade on content, not on spelling or neatness. Don't use a red pen to grade papers, don't have students trade papers to grade in class.
  • Instead of returning assignments during class; use homework folders or another more discreet method.
  • Provide class notes, and/or announce that you are about to tell or show something important.
  • Allow keyboarding as well as handwritten assignments, not one or the other.
  • Ask for help to decipher written work, privately.
  • Identify strengths and call attention to those, not to deficits.
  • Some students will not require a structured, systematic approach to reading, or to learning algebra. It certainly will not be harmful and may enhance learning for them as well. If they don't need extra supports, they'll move on.
  • If a student shows 3 or more of these warning signs in your class, talk to the reading specialist, other teachers, principal, related service providers, parents and the student.
  • Relationships are the glue of instruction. Model and require acceptance, helpfulness, kindness, respect. This last point will make anyone's journey more rewarding and much easier.
Learn about helping students with dyslexia: 

Yale Center   International Dyslexia Association

Thanks so much!



* title quote: Rebecca Alber

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Recent Comments
Guest — Glenda Thompson
Ms. Martha...your last line is YOUR very model in life... acceptance, helpfulness, kindness, respect. Your writing is easy reading... Read More
Monday, 17 May 2021 13:49
Guest — Martha
Thank you Glenda, for your kind words and great examples of multisensory teaching strategies. Your examples are lined up with the ... Read More
Monday, 17 May 2021 14:09
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May
06

P2: Power of Peers

P2: Power of Peers P2: Power of Peers

Oregon Trail taught me how fun and frustrating it would be to travel in the 1800s, Floppy Disks taught me how to transfer data from computer to computer, Moon Shoes were so neat, Gak Splat was a great game that I played with my brother, Trolls were one of my favorite toys, Nintendo 64 was ultimately better than PlayStation but made our thumbs sore, I learned that Carmen Sandigo was possible to catch, Mavis Beacon taught me how to type, but my peers taught me American Sign Language. 

My peers taught me another language, although they never were in my classroom. Instead, I was a peer that had the opportunity to visit the "hearing impaired classroom" now referred to as “deaf/hard of hearing or DHH classroom”. I would spend the morning with about five other students that used ASL and/or Spoken English to communicate. They had a dedicated teacher of the deaf with a dual license in speech-language pathology and instructional assistants in the room. I was a peer model in their classroom. I would participate in their morning meeting time, practice vocabulary, etc. 

One morning I was with a peer in the class play grocery store learning about shopping and grocery item vocabulary and money. The student I was with was upset due to communication barriers, he used ASL and wore hearing aids. I remember signing with him and all of a sudden it seemed that he started yelling and running around the room. I remember thinking “oh no! I upset him today!” I jumped up to let the teacher know what was occurring and he started to tell the teacher that he was so happy and excited. I remember thinking “what? What is he saying?”  

He was shouting that I was signing to him fully in ASL. He was excited that one of his peers was signing full sentences to him. I was communicating with him in a peer setting like kids typically do. However, he hadn’t experienced that until fifth grade. 

I am not sure where he is today. But that memory is something I think of often when I talk to school districts, educators, families about universal design and the power of peers being with their peers.  My peers changed and shaped my life and my career choice. My peers belonged in my fifth-grade classroom so they could change and shape every peer's life, not just the one peer model in their room. 

What types of programs are you seeing in your school district to ensure all students are with their peers?  If you have a program, research or tools to share consider putting in a proposal for the Access to Education State Conference! We would love to hear your story! Submit your proposal by May 14th

PATINS can help your staff and school teams with professional development in UDL and AEM. Join over 14 school districts next year with The AEMing for Achievement Grant in building your district’s UDL and AEM policy and procedures to ensure all students have access to grade-level curriculum and their peers! The grant application is open to apply now! 

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Apr
30

What You See May Not Be What You Get

For this week's blog, I'm beyond delighted to share an incredible story of a student's communication journey to success experienced by my AEMing for Achievement grant team in Perry Township. I'd like to thank two members of the grant team, Callie Herrenbruck and Kelsey Norris, for their collaboration in sharing this story. Please enjoy!

I have this student. You most likely have one, too. This student is what I would call a communication conundrum. It’s not that this student doesn’t communicate, because he most certainly does, but when asked if unfamiliar individuals understand what he is attempting to communicate? Probably not.

Student from blog seated and smiling
This student most often communicates to express enjoyment, request preferred objects and actions, and refuse non-preferred activities and objects. He does not (YET) verbalize but will vocalize using a variety of pitches depending upon the context. He moves his body to convey his refusals and moves others to make his requests. This student’s laugh is one of the most infectious ones I’ve ever heard, but when he is upset he has significant self-injurious behaviors.

I, along with this student’s teachers, other therapists, and paraprofessionals were constantly attempting to find the “magic tool” for communication. This is where we have all thanked our lucky stars that our school district was one of the AEMing for Achievement Grant recipients, as being a part of the grant includes a communication package!

Members of our grant team and the teacher of record (TOR) met with Jessica Conrad for an in-depth problem-solving session. Several topics were discussed during the session including behavior(s), motivators, previous trials, and goals. The best part of the session was having someone from PATINS who is extremely knowledgeable about communication and communication tools, along with having access to a variety of resources, share their knowledge with the team.

Following the problem-solving session with Jessica and members of the grant team, this student’s TOR, and the rest of his team, put the suggestions to work. One of the suggestions was to use a mid-tech device (Logan ProxTalker). The device was borrowed from the PATINS Lending Library. Almost immediately, this student “picked up” use of the device to request desired objects and actions. He had NEVER done this with any other communication tool! Absolutely amazing! This student’s family then met with the team to learn more about the Logan ProxTalker-- how the student uses it at school, and what the next steps would be in obtaining his own device. Upon seeing this student use the device, they were blown away, to say the least! Watching their reaction to him using the device was one of the best moments in my career.

This student continues to appear to prefer using the Logan ProxTalker, as opposed to other communication tools to make requests. I will be honest and say that he does not love communicating with the device every day. He may even meander away when prompted to use it, but don’t we all have our days?

Student from blog seated in classroom pursing lips in disapproval
So, is what you see really what you get? ...not necessarily. If you didn’t know this student, you might see him putting cards on a machine and the machine talking. What you don’t see is the progress he’s made in being able to effectively communicate his wants and his likes/dislikes. You might not see him participating in joint attention with an adult regarding his interests, and you might not see the relief his parents show when this student demonstrates growth in his communication! Thanks again to PATINS for helping our team and this student to grow in his communication capacity. As the Starfish Story says, “It made a difference to this one!”

Written By: Kelsey Norris and Callie Herrenbruck, Perry Township Schools | Pictures used with parent permission
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Apr
22

From Ireland to Arizona


From Ireland to Arizona

three young women hiking the Grand Canyon in shorts, tank tops, and hats. The sky is blue with a few white clouds.

If you are reading this from Indiana, you may, like me, be looking out at tulips in the snow. It will be gone by this evening, but not soon forgotten in this year of adapting because you really have few choices over your circumstances. 

I had the pleasure of meeting our PATINS guest bloggers for this week at our Mid-Winter Online EdCamp. Ellie Sear and Nina Koeppen are juniors at Butler University studying elementary education. They participated in our sessions about assistive technology to learn about resources and shared their own pandemic story of needing to adapt when they found out that their year of studying abroad had been cancelled. Ellie and Nina met as freshman roommates and here is their pandemic adventure story: 

Ellie and Nina smiling from a beach with some street food

Late at night in our freshman year dorm, we would lay in bed dreaming about studying abroad our junior year. By sophomore year we had put together a plan to leave Butler in the fall of 2020 to continue our studies of education in Northern Ireland. We researched about what type of clothes we would need to pack, what classes we could enroll in, and even watched videos about the accents people in Northern Ireland may have. Our dream was becoming a reality. Then, COVID-19 took the world by storm. We received the heartbreaking email that our study abroad dream was no longer a reality. It was devastating. 

Rather than adventuring to Northern Ireland in the fall of 2020, we moved back onto Butler’s campus. While we were disappointed by the effects of the pandemic, we were determined to make the best of the situation. So, we started brainstorming ways we could travel and experience new things safely and responsibly. 

We reimagined what studying abroad meant and created our own experience. During this semester, Spring 2021, we have traveled across the United States. We enrolled in online classes and planned to live in Florida, Arizona, and Colorado. Since January, we have lived on the beach, in the desert, and the mountains. Along the way, we have stopped at National Parks and breathtaking cities and monuments. We have learned how to broaden our horizons despite the unforeseen circumstances 2020 would throw at us. While it is not Europe, we have come to love exploring the United States.

Unlike study abroad, where you would still have a college campus to call home, our semester-long trip has been completely remote with no “home base”. Our connection to school has been solely Zoom meetings, Canvas assignments, and our lifeline of Google Drive. 

We were somewhat used to remote learning from the unforeseen circumstances of March 2020, but fortunately, all of our classes were in person during our Fall 2020 semester so going back to remote was an adjustment. This journey has taught us a lot regarding how much technology means in the world of education and how it can be a powerful tool in building connections. 

Luckily, we have been able to keep in contact with professors to work on projects remotely, maintain relationships with classmates over Zoom and FaceTime, and still feel a part of the Butler family we have back in Indiana. We would have never been able to have these social, historical, and cultural learning experiences if we did not have this technology to connect us. 

We both are planners. We have both had a four-year plan since the first day of freshman year, with most of our classes being taken together. This trip seemed like the perfect way for us to step outside of our comfort zones with someone we felt safe with. Both of us can agree that we would not have seen this much of our own country had it not been for taking this chance. Being from Illinois, the prairie land, we have pushed ourselves to hike the Grand Canyon and Ski in Colorado. It was easy for us to accept the fate that seemed to be in front of us, no longer being able to study abroad, but we wanted to take advantage of any opportunity to grow our independence and awareness of the world.

A far off silhouette of Ellie or Nina on top of a sand dune at sunset

I (Bev) hope these ladies land a teaching position in Indiana. We need great planners like them who are also willing to release the plan, face a hardship, and embrace adaptability. Ellie and Nina have become participants at our Tuesday night Twitter Chat. We hope you’ll join us too to hear more about their teaching journey.

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Apr
16

Caution, but with Purpose


To say this has been “an incredible year” would be an understatement. Just 13 months ago the country was put on lockdown due to the Coronavirus. Life, as we all knew it would change in ways that we didn't think, would happen.

During this time, our face-to-face interactions were drastically curtailed. My wife and I hunkered down not knowing how long it would be with minimal interactions with family and friends. It really hit home for us when my brother was diagnosed with COVID. Although it was a mild case, it was a wake-up call for the severity of what would later become a pandemic.

People retreated to working from home, all face-to-face interactions were halted and PATINS as we know it was changed. We changed our routines to accommodate the rules set out by the CDC and as a result we worked together from home.

Zoom meetings replaced our staff interactions for meetings and working directly in person with those that we serve and support. We had previously moved to virtual staff meetings so this was not a real replacement for those in person.

Our first real test of the new norm was the rescheduling or our annual Tech Expo. The Tech Expo was a day-long event that allowed vendors from around the country to demonstrate technology and software to educational and support staff, parents, and students to get a hands on experience in a conference booth setting.

The Tech Expo was one of the biggest draws for PATINS to offer to anyone that registered at no cost and then came COVID.

PATINS had a decision to make, and it had to be a quick one. It was acknowledged that we could not have it in person, but would it be possible to have one virtually. That meant however no interaction with vendors, staff, parents, or students.

We had the tools, we had the staff, and Daniel McNulty and Jen Conti’s guidance formed the foundation. I would like to note here that the PATINS staff is a unique group that works like a well-oiled machine (had to add it) that pulled off several State and Tech Expo conferences in the past so the framework was there but the delivery would be much different.

On April 9th, 2020, the PATINS Project had its virtual Tech Expo with over 500 virtual attendees and more than 40 vendors. In the middle of a pandemic, the PATINS Project continued its support to stakeholders with creativity and adjustments to the challenge which is marked in the PATINS Project mission.

As the year progressed, so did the virtual meetings and in November we held our 2-day Access to Education Conference virtually as well taking from the success and what we had learned from the previous Tech Expo.

We are now more than a year into our virtual environments and as there seems to be a positive transition into normalcy with the delivery of vaccines and continued recommendations from the CDC PATINS had decided some time ago to hold our Tech Expo virtually again this year.

Our expectations are still lofty, but our commitment to bring support and assistance to our stakeholders remains forefront.

It has been a tough year for everyone. We have all missed those personal interactions with family and friends. I have also missed the interaction with people at our Tech Expo and Access to Education conferences. It is the personal “touch” and spontaneity of the interactions that cannot be achieved virtually.

As we move forward cautiously but with purpose, we may move closer to an ease in virtual visiting and more face-to-face interactions that we all so desperately need.

Postscript:

As I submit this blog, we have just held our 2021 Tech Expo! It was all I described above and more. We had 600 participants with 50 vendors either presenting or manning the virtual exhibition hall.

However, with all its success, it still had a somewhat sterile feel unlike our many in-person events.

The PATINS Project will continue to strive to meet and exceed the needs of the students of Indiana be it in-person or virtual. Hopefully, we can Zoom to in-person.

Thoughts, prayers, and sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of the Indianapolis FedEx workers killed this day April 16, 2021. May they rest in peace.

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