Jul
06

Failing the Stranger Test

Failing the Stranger Test: a communication board, and IEP screen, a Speak and Spell Toy, and a red Failing “The Stranger Test” means you’ve failed a student, and that failure can mean, literally, life and death

My first year writing Individual Education Plans (IEPs) an administrator coached me in “The Stranger Test.” I would argue it was one of the hardest ongoing writing assignments I will ever have: everything you ever learned in graduate school, all the jargon and technical language, hide it. Write and communicate in such a way that a stranger on the street would understand what you mean.

It’s important because in practice, failing “The Stranger Test” means you’ve failed a student, and that failure can mean, literally, life and death.

A student I got to work with for a few years had moved across the state. I got a friendly email from the new team asking if I could help them out. When I recognized the student, I asked about the  Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) tools that he had been using at his previous  school.

“He has specific AAC tools? All the IEP says is that he gets ‘high and low tech AAC.’

What in the world could that mean?

  1. A picture of snack choices and an eye gaze controlled computer
  2. An alphabet board and an iPad with any random app.
  3. The cases of DVDs from his video collection and the Speak & Spell from my childhood.

All of those would satisfy the legal document. Yet none would match what this student had been using for years, the only way the team had figured out how to help him communicate what he wanted and gave him access to his education.

Why had the IEP been written in such a way that one of our most vulnerable students potentially lost all of his access to language? The most common answer I hear: “I was told not to name the exact brand/type of device in the Assistive Technology box.”

In the words of the greatest movie of 2003, Pirates of the Caribbean, the unwritten rule about not naming brands is “more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.” Individually, with the case conference committee, consider what the student needs and be clear about the features. In some cases, one and only one specific language system or product may meet that student’s needs and it may need to be named. For other students, several options might be appropriate, and then it’s critical to name the features that make that tool successful for that student, and “high and low technology” is not professional vocabulary for a stranger test.

In other words: the language systems of Proloquo2Go and LAMP Words for Life are not interchangeable for many students. The language system that is only available in iOS is not often interchangeable for whatever language system that can be found on a Chromebook. They might both be “high tech AAC” but for many people it’s like exchanging German for Mandarin. That change move might mean the difference between being able to communicate pain, needs, and accessing education and not. It might mean the difference between life and death.

Of course, we at PATINS have nothing but good news:

If you need help, a friendly stranger for your stranger test, PATINS is here with Specialists to assist you in making sure that you accurately describe the features in the tools your team has trialed. If your student has outgrown those tools and you’re looking for something new, we are here for that too!

Also, I have created a list of common feature terminology used in Augmentative and Alternative Communication tools with descriptions of what they mean, a little study aid for your ongoing Stranger Tests.

The hardest writing assignment of your life, the one in which the futures of children rest in the words you choose, is a living, breathing group assignment. Don’t hesitate to reach out if PATINS can help.


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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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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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Mar
25

PATINS Tech Expo 2021 with IN*SOURCE - Exciting Updates!

PATINS Tech Expo 2021 with IN*SOURCE - Exciting Updates! Tech Expo PATINS Project with IN*SOURCE. Virtual 2021. Students and teacher using assistive technology.

Around this time last year, you pivoted with us to the first ever virtual PATINS Tech Expo with IN*SOURCE allowing us to ensure the health and safety of everyone, while also bringing you high quality presentations, resources, and time for connection. It still amazes me how quickly everyone -- attendees, presenters, PATINS/ICAM staff -- adapted for a successful event!

As I am currently writing this, a small part of me is waiting for the frantic rush to get everything into place for the second virtual PATINS Tech Expo 2021 with IN*SOURCE like last year. I have checked my to-do lists many times, communicated with presenters/exhibitors, and assigned duties to our top-notch PATINS/ICAM and IN*SOURCE staff. Everything is running on schedule and humming along nicely for April 15, 2021. (Knock on wood!) What’s left to do? Get excited!

PATINS Tech Expo 2021 with IN*SOURCE has new and improved features and extra perks for the virtual event! With a record number of presentation submissions, we have added 4 additional sessions from amazing organizations dedicated to support students. That’s 24 presentations to choose from to earn up to four Professional Growth Points (PGPs)! Due to popular demand, we have divided the sessions into strands to help you determine the best presentation agenda for you. The strands are:

  • Access
  • Advocacy and Social/Emotional Services
  • Communication
  • Deaf/Hard of Hearing and Blind/Low Vision
  • Literacy
  • Tech Tools 

Your time is limited and valuable, which may make it tricky to choose only 4 sessions. Even if you are not sure if you can fully commit to attending live, we encourage you to register for no-cost to receive access to presentation/exhibitor information as well as presentation session summary videos for the opportunity to earn up to two more PGPs!

A major upgrade for the 2021 event is the opportunity for attendees to speak with exhibitors live! There are currently close to 50 organizations eager to share their transformational products and services with Indiana administrators, educators, pre-service teachers, families, and advocates. So even if you only have 10-15 minutes to drop in, visit the Exhibitors to learn about products and services which can support your students’ academic, communication, and social/emotional skills.

I hope to see your name come through on our registration list before April 12, 2021 when the form closes.

If you would like to start the Tech Expo 2021 celebrations early with us, download and use one of these free themed virtual backgrounds on your upcoming video conferencing meetings!


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Jan
28

Communication is Key

Key and keyhole with the text communication is key


This Jamie Witheringtonmonth I'm thrilled to present a guest blogger, Jamie Witherington. She has been a teacher for students with intense needs for 19 years. Her career began with Indianapolis Public Schools before moving to Greenwood Community Schools, where she has taught for the past 14 years. She presented at the PATINS Access to Education (A2E) Conference in 2019 and was also a Project Success Model Site Teacher during the 2019-20 school year. When she's not passionately supporting her students' communication in the classroom, she is a mom to 3 amazing kids, coach, friend, and lover of all things gnomes.



Have you ever had a day where you couldn’t get your thoughts and feelings into the words you needed? Have you ever been so frustrated or overwhelmed you couldn’t articulate those feelings and just felt like screaming or crying? I know I have had days like this. So many of us take for granted that we can have a verbal conversation with someone and share those thoughts, feelings, and frustrations. But what if you couldn’t… what would you do? 

I often think of these things as I work with my students with complex communication needs. Many of my students use an alternate method of communication or numerous means of alternate communication. I work with students who use modified sign language, Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) devices, picture boards, and verbalizations. I have worked really hard to try and make sure every student I teach has a mode of communication… it may not be a standard mode to some… but it’s a mode that works for that student. I have had students who used eye gaze, facial expression changes to indicate a response, picture cards, pointing, etc. The main thing it comes down to is building a relationship with each student and figuring out what works for them to “show/tell” what they know. 

I currently have a student that when he moved into our district had some basic sign language, but did a lot of screaming and vocalizing his displeasure. We started with choosing pictures to communicate his wants and needs. We continued to work on growing his base of understandable sign language signs, using American Sign Language (ASL) as the goal, but knowing his physical needs, we knew some signs would not be perfect! Today, he uses a communication device and has learned to scroll down to what he wants. It wasn’t easy; it was days of a lot of headaches, but the smile on his face now when he uses his device to communicate what he wants to us, that’s why I do what I do. 

This has become my passion, my purpose, my “why” if you will. Communication is key to every area of our lives. How do we function without it? We can’t. We have to communicate-- behavior is communication, body language is communication, facial expressions are communication. There are so many ways to communicate if we just take the time to learn what works with and for our students. 

If you follow me on Twitter (@JamieWithering2) you have seen me tweet about the importance of visuals. I love visuals! I need them to function in my daily life. I need them to communicate to me what is happening around me and what I need to do. The red octagon telling me to STOP, the green light telling me to go, the yellow telling me to be cautious, my color coded lesson plans and calendar telling me who I am supposed to be working with and when. If our daily lives need these types of visuals to keep functioning, think how much more important it is for students with complex communication needs to have access to visuals. 

Side by side photos of visuals. The left pictures a check in visual that allows students to indicate how they feel about the lesson and whether the understood it using different emoji faces. On the right is an I Can statement. I can create a 3 or more word sentence using the Core Word of the week.
My students have a visual daily schedule that tells them what is happening and what time it is happening. I have classroom rules and expectations visuals, “I can” statement visuals, and even more importantly, core word and communication visuals all around my room. Students need access to ways to communicate. Students need teachers and speech therapists willing to stand on their heads if need be to give them that access. I have learned that the more I am willing to go that extra mile to find the communication tools, visuals, access points, etc, the more I am able to connect with my students and the more they connect with being able to communicate. 

Side by side photos. On the left is a photo of a large augmentative and alternative communication board posted on a whiteboard. On the right a photo of a folder visual with the top showing to do items and the bottom is open for moving these items to the done side using Velcro

I have also learned that Teamwork Makes the Dream Work. I have partnered closely with my Speech Therapist, PATINS Project, and other passionate educators in my district to create an Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) team. By sharing my passion for communication and visuals, my team was able to create two Playground Communication Boards. They are pictured below with students using them. These boards were a dream for my Speech Therapist and myself, but they became a reality thanks to the buy in from teachers across my amazing district. They were constructed by the high school Industrial Technology teacher and his students. I truly believe it takes a village to make great things happen for students. 

Side by side photos of a two different young male students pointing to words on a large outdoor augmentative and alternative (AAC) board

All this to say Communication is Key! Don’t give up on students, have high expectations and presume competence. In the end, it’s all for students, and don’t they deserve to have a voice no matter what that looks like?!


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Guest — Rachel L Herron
Fantastic Blog Jamie! Your students are so lucky!!
Friday, 29 January 2021 12:37
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Dec
23

The One Gift All Educators Need This Year

The one gift all educators need this year. 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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Recent Comments
Guest — Laurel Blough
Jennifer, you said it! Thank you for this en-pointe post about the greatest professional gift we can give ourselves.
Wednesday, 23 December 2020 20:19
Guest — Jen Conti
Thank you Laurel! I hope you're able to "gift" yourself some time for the second half of this school year. ... Read More
Monday, 28 December 2020 15:02
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Sep
22

Boost your Creativity with the PATINS Lending Library Catalog

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

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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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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Guest — Armen Gulian
Can't wait for culturally sensitive and appropriate voice options for my students of color. Not to mention having skintone choice... Read More
Thursday, 09 July 2020 20:07
Guest — Karen Janowski
Excellent post. So glad this was shared during the AT Town Hall on Race and Equity yesterday.
Tuesday, 21 July 2020 13:52
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Jun
18

Temporarily Abled

Pause your day for a moment and deliberately gather a handful of some things you regularly do every day. Think of some things you do without thinking too much or without putting much effort forth. Making coffee, emptying the mailbox, carrying my own towel to the shower, walking through the front door of the grocery store or doctor's office, carrying an onion from the refrigerator to the cutting board with a knife, are a few such activities that come to my mind. I want you to keep the activities you thought of readily accessible, perhaps, even write, type, or dictate them into a quick note. I'm actually going to ask you to make two lists, so here's a template for you to use, with two columns and some ideas to get started, if helpful.  

visit link for access to 2 column chart for use with this blog
Now, I'm going to make an assumption that many of the readers of this PATINS Ponders blog are educators or other professionals working with learners who struggle with one or more aspects of their daily world. ...some of my most favorite people in the whole world, by the way. I'd like you to now think of why you do this work. Write, type, or dictate the top three reasons you do this work. You've probably stated this many times when people tell you, "I could never do what you do," or "You're a very special kind of person," and then ask you, "What makes you want to do this work?"

Place your second note next to your first note now. Compare them. Do any of the items (activities) from your first list appear, in any way, on your second list (why you do this work)? If they do, you probably already know what I'm going to tell you next! If they do not, stick with me here and let's think about why they should. 

Several years ago, a colleague for whom I have a lot of respect, whispered something to me. She looked around first to make sure no one else was within earshot and still whispered the term to me, "Temporarily Abled." It took me a moment to process her term and while I was processing, she indicated that she was whispering it as to not be offensive to anyone around. At the time I nodded my head as she explained that we're all "Temporarily Abled" in one or more ways, inevitably due to either an accident/injury, disease, or simply due to aging. I've spent significant time thinking about her words since that time and more importantly, why she felt it could be offensive to hear. I do want to say that I understand that disability, for people who have a disability now, is much deeper than using this term or this concept to promote understanding. However, the conclusion I've come to is that there is so much work still to be done for our world to truly be inclusive and there are so many people in our communities who have no idea what that even really means, largely in my opinion, because it hasn't had a personal effect on their life... yet. I do think this matters and I think it has potential for making a difference more quickly, fully and meaningfully including all people in all of our communities, all of the time. 

Moving Image of Daniel riding a dirtbike up steep hill and flipping it over at the top
Seven weeks ago, doing what I love on a steep hill in the woods on my old dirtbike, I completey dislocated my right knee, severing all four ligaments and causing cartilage and meniscus damage. Yes, that's right, the MCL, LCL, PCL, and ACL are all torn! I didn't even know there were so many CL's in my knee! Two required surgeries six weeks apart and 9-12 months of physical therapy certainly have put some things into perspective and strongly reinforced many things I already knew. Several of the people in my personal life whom I consider the smartest, strongest, kindest, and most creative I've ever known, have a disability. From this angle, accessibility and inclusion have been important to me since I was a young boy. However, the inability to walk, carry anything, perform manual labor, sleep normally, etc., these last 7 weeks have reinforced another dimension of my understanding of access and inclusion as well. These personal experiences, while never as meaningful to someone else, are still so important to share. While it may not be your experience (yet), my experiences just might add something to your second list that wasn't there before. 

collage of three images showing three sides of Daniels knee with large surgical incisions and stitches.

Some things I've learned recently and will never forget: 
  1. Automatic or button-operated doors that work are very important. Being non-weight-bearing and havinig to fully utilize crutches, I simply cannot open some doors by myself. While most people are very quick to help, if they are around, I just want to be able to open the door myself! Many places have not had working automatic doors, including the hospital where my surgeon works AND the building my physical therapy is in! 
  2. Knowing where my assistive technology is at all times, that it's close to me, and trusting that other people aren't going to move it, is essential and causes a good bit of anxiety. For me, it's mostly my crutches. I simply cannot move from one place to another without my crutches unless I sit down and scoot. For someone to see my crutches as a tripping hazzard, for example, and move them, is a lot like taking my legs away from me. I compare this to taking away a learners communication device or system for any reason... behavior, battery dead, damaged, etc.  My crutches have become a part of my identity and nearly a part of my body. Moving them or playing with them without talking to me first feels violating. I'm not sure we always keep this in mind when we work with students using assistive technologies. I think that sometimes we feel we're helping by making adjustments or moving things and it might NOT really be a help at all! It might actually change the task entirely. 
  3. High Expectations are essential! Be very critical about ever telling someone that they "can't" or "shouldn't" do something that they want to do! Further, expect that they will do things that they think they cannot! In my case, while I may not be able to carry the onion and knife to the cutting board, I can sure as heck prop myself up and chop it like a pro! ...right along with the peppers, carrots, tofu, and zuchini! I actually love when I'm asked to do things instead of asked what someone can do for me! "Can you come chop this onion." "Can you refill that soap dispenser in the kitchen." I already know that I need many things done for me, but I can totally still do other things and I need to feel needed as well. Let's try to remember this with ALL of our students! 
  4. My "mule pack" is essential to my level of independence. This is a simple and low-tech assistive technology that I greatly rely on. It's a small backpack that I can carry without my hands, that I cram full of as many things as possible allowing me to not have to ask someone else to get them for me. All the things I need daily or that are high on the list of importance, such as my wallet, tools, medical items, snacks, personal care, etc. This allows me to have many of the things I regularly need with me, minimizes repeat trips, and minimizes my reliance on others. 
  5. Steps! There are just some steps that are too high, too steep, or too slippery for me to even consider using.  This means that I have the choice of not accessing that place or sitting down and scooting up or down the stairs...neither allow me to feel dignified or included in that place.
  6. Trust! Whether I like it or not, I simply need help with some things. Our students do too. Having someone you trust immensely is very helpful. Someone you trust to encourage and push you to grow, to assist you minimally enough to preserve your independence and dignity, and to still expect great things from you. This is also exactly what our students need! Thinking about this from the perspective of what I need from my trusted help right now, most certainly provides some guiding mental framework for when I'm the one helping students in the future.  
These are just a small handful of some things that I've realized and/or had solidified for me recently. I'm sure I'll have many more to share. This has truly reinforced the fact that accessibility is so important for everyone, all the time, even if you aren’t one who needs it right NOW. Chances are definitely that you will need something different, something specialized, or just something more accessible at some point in your life, either due to an accident, an injury, a disease, or through aging. The notion that accessibility only matters for a small percentage of “the disabled” is so completely short-sighted and irresponsible to your future self! If, for no other selfless reason, try to keep in mind that the fight for inclusion of all people, high expectations of all people, accessibility to all places for all people is a critical one for more reasons than you might know right now. The loss of or lessing of inclusionary concepts in any amount is a very slippery slope. Work hard, daily, to build a culture of increased expectations and inclusion of all people, never letting that lever tip in the opposite direction. Imagine all the things that are simple for you now that could very quickly and easily be otherwise...what sorts of actions on your part TODAY might better prepare your world for that scenario...what sorts of people would you want surrounding you in that sort of scenario? Speak up when you notice inaccessible entries, public televisions without captions, etc. Learn and become better equipped through the many diverse PATINS Trainings on our Professional Development Guide and our Training Calendar. Trial the many assistive devices available to you, through the PATINS Lending Library!...all at no cost to you, of course! Consider networking and furthing your knowledge-base by attending the FIRST-EVER PATINS Access to Education VIRTUAL Conference this coming November!  



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Guest — Emilee
Thank you for sharing. Being "temporarily abled" is something I have taken for granted all my life. Understanding that I, too, mig... Read More
Sunday, 28 June 2020 21:28
Guest — Daniel McNulty
Thanks for reading AND for responding, Emilee! You and your work in your studies and eventual career will be so impactful to many ... Read More
Friday, 11 September 2020 10:22
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Mar
06

Literacy, Performance, and Well-Being: Realizing Reading, Writing, and Accommodations!

Each year, about this time, educators all over Indiana are likely feeling drained, pressured, overwhelmed, and perhaps worried! I hear so much about state assessment and preparing for it, how it throws off schedules and routines, and how everyone in the building is a bit on-edge. I understand that feeling! I struggle a bit, however, with some of the reasons we allow it to occur. While we don't have a choice in many aspects of high-stakes assessment, we do have a lot of control over the other majority of the school year, which most certainly has an effect on the relatively short assessment portion! 

The things that come to mind are the concepts of literacy, of testing anxiety, and of the general well-being of people. The PATINS Project has a laser-like focus on improving literacy in Indiana PK-12 schools and in order to achieve that, we had to define literacy, which is where my struggles around high-stakes testing anxiety likely begins. The dedicated, passionate, and skilled PATINS team chooses to recognize and actively support the International Literacy Association's definition of literacy: 

"Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, compute, and communicate using visual, audible, and digital materials across disciplines and in any context. The ability to read, write, and communicate connects people to one another and empowers them to achieve things they never thought possible. Communication and connection are the basis of who we are and how we live together and interact with the world."

With this definition in mind, the PATINS staff meets every single week as a team to share, collaborate, and ensure that everything we're doing maintains a strong focus on improving literacy outcomes! While this intentional and deliberate focal point of our work is fairly recent, our services have always centered around literacy. I was reminded of this recently when I was asked about an old (2009) article that had been written about me as a classroom teacher, which you can find here, for some additional reading! 


Daniel as a first year teacher playing guitar for students.
Back in 2001, I decided it was time to leave the business I'd started. I had spent the previous 4 years establishing a system of working with very young students on the autism spectrum and had experienced some great success. While a very difficult decision, what I really wanted to experience was my very own classroom of students on a daily basis. So, I took a teaching position in a K-6 classroom with students identified as having "moderate - severe disabilities."  

When I arrived, eager and enthusiastic, I received a warm welcome, but I also received some advice about my students-to-be. I was told that they were non-readers and non-writers and that I would be using a lot of pictures and symbols. Not knowing my students, yet and also realizing that I hadn't ever had any real reading instruction in college, I took this advice. Not only did I take this advice, but I plastered by classroom with pictures I printed out and with symbols of all sorts! Schedules, social cues, tasks related to IEP goals... all pictures and symbols! I covered a 10' X 6' board with tempo-loop and laminated and velcro'd until my poor, raw, aching fingers nearly bled! We used these in my classroom day-in and day-out! 

a sample of Daniels classroom schedule in all text
While I realized that I was no expert in reading and really had no formal training in the science of teaching others to read, I also understood behavior and I understood fairly well, how learners often perceived things differently in their learning environment. I remember sitting back in my chair at the end of one school day, frustrated that my students were paying textbook rental for books that were inaccessible to them, that I wasn't able to work on writing (composing) with my students, and I looked across the room at my giant tempo-loop schedule. I looked at the symbols and it suddenly hit me that some of them, very much, resembled short words from that distance. It stood to reason then, that if that symbol resembled a word and my students were recognizing the meaning of it daily, perhaps they could just recognize words! ...And they DID! What I also very quickly realized and made all of my paraprofessionals and parents aware of, was that my students were not "reading" phonetically. They were recognizing symbols. However, these symbols they were recognizing were now far more functional in the real world than most abstract, stick-figure symbols, that I had to teach the meaning of anyway. Nevertheless, I knew that my students needed more, if they were to become readers (and writers). 

At this point, I implemented a systematic phonics program, but I also implemented word-prediction! Not really knowing how to teach phonemes, nor understanding reading science at the time, I did realize that by removing the barrier of spelling (with word-prediction software), that I could very quickly begin experiencing the ideas, reflections, and questions that were in my student's creative minds! ...thoughts that I often wondered if anyone else ever knew was even in there!  ...stuff we'd never heard come from these kids verbally, that was coming out in writing, because now they could compose without the impasse of spelling or physical handwriting!  Another amazing thing with word-prediction was that my students could hear the computer read their sentence back after they'd punctuated it, which effectively improved their self-editing and perhaps more importantly opened my mind to the powerful idea of them reading with their ears, and thus began text to speech in my classroom for all students, all of the time. They became VERY good and implementing it for themselves when they needed it and choosing to read with their eyes at times when they did not need it. They began leaving my classroom and joining their general education peers for more and more academics, for arts, and music, and on the weekends for birthday parties!  

As a result, I also worked out that text and language could be fun, engaging, and musical! We played with my guitar and made up words to made up songs and then wrote them down and discussed them, revised them, and laughed! Yes, we laughed! We had fun with language. We went from using stick-figure symbols to having fun with language.  

I look back and recognize this successful and fun 4-year experience in my classroom as a culmination of having high expectations, implementing assistive technology and accessible materials, and having FUN! ...also known as engagement!

Circling back, I wonder why more case conference committees aren't checking the boxes on the IEP that asks if Assistive Technology (AT) or Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) are needed when those two things can lead to such unthought-of outcomes, often at little or no cost. I wonder why, in many places, schedules change and test prep becomes such a focus that the stress and anxiety actually shows on the faces of educators. At the time, my students wouldn't have been permitted to use many of their accommodations on the state's high stakes test, BUT I can guarantee they still would have done better on those assessments with me providing them all year long until then!  

In summary, if you ever find yourself in an IEP meeting and those two questions about Assistive Technology and Accessible Educational Materials aren't deeply discussed, I:  
  1. Encourage you to borrow items to trial (at no cost to you whatsoever) from the PATINS Lending Library.  
  2. Challenge you to initiate those discussions about AT and AEM in the IEP meeting. 
  3. Contact PATINS Staff, even during the meeting, for more information, consultation, and support on AT and AEM! 
  4. Implement something new with ALL of your students THIS NEXT week! It doesn't have to be in an IEP and you don't have to be an expert to try something new! 
  5. Reach out to the PATINS Specialists for specific training and support! 
  6. Come to the (no cost) PATINS Tech Expo on April 9th, to make yourself even more aware of some of the tools, resources, and strategies that are available!  
Photo of Daniel riding a stick unicorn in a literacy phoneme game       Word Play Root Matrix of word parts and phonemes


















Be brave this week... take a deep breath, think about literacy a little more broadly and try to have fun with your students doing something for at least a few minutes every day! It's OK to laugh with them! ...and, I'll leave you with this one fun literacy-based idea. I recently took part, as a volunteer, in a silly activity with respected educational colleagues from around the world called, "Unicorn Poop." Yes, you read that correctly. In this game, I was part of a team, "riding" on a stick-unicorn from one side of the room to the other in order to scoop a plastic spoonful of unicorn poop (skittles candy) and bring it back to my teammate who was making a new word and conveying it to our "teacher" allowing me to claim the unicorn poop on our side of the room! We ended up losing the game by only a half of a spoonful of poop, but I ended up learning so much about teaching reading instruction in the process. We didn't spend any time on letter recognition or even individual sounds. We put BIG words together by practicing understanding of smaller phonemes!
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Jan
16

Blue Crayons


12 blue crayonsJanuary 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). 

cover of book titled Cortical Visual Impairment by Christine Roman showing a student viewing colored clear pegs on a light box

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.

graphic logo for Project Success


How are your eyes? Where are you looking?
How are your perceptions expanding?
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Recent Comments
Guest — Glenda Thompson
Interesting fact about blue (or yellow or red ) crayons that I didn’t know until today. Your style of writing is so engaging...tha... Read More
Friday, 17 January 2020 08:31
Guest — Bev
Hey Glenda! thanks for your kind words. Mr. Daves does not serve pie. . . worth the trip though for either the breaded or grilled ... Read More
Friday, 17 January 2020 09:22
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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
book cover for Where the Red Fern Grows with boy and his two hunting dogs running through a field

“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.

door opening with a bright light behind it
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. 

smiling boy reading a book on his iPad with headphones

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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Guest — david jackson
Hi Bev, Thanks for sharing! I LOVE reading. Finishing up Sapiens now. I have a stack at my bedside and a stack in Audible!... Read More
Thursday, 10 October 2019 12:35
Jennifer Conti
Not a dry eye in my 8th grade classroom when we got to the end of "Where the Red Fern Grows". What a memory.
Thursday, 10 October 2019 13:51
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Aug
21

Empowered Muggles

Irish logo, DNA logo, Muggles, German Flag
I recently discovered through DNA testing that I am 53% Irish and 33% German. There are stereotypes of being Irish and/or German and if you know me, you may not be that surprised with those recent findings. I may or may not be stubborn at times and I do enjoy a good pub. My locks of curls are red and I do have blue eyes. Although, I am a vegetarian and do not eat schnitzel. I was emotionally impacted by discovering my heritage.  

Also, a few weeks ago at a conference that I attended, I participated in a session titled: “What Harry, Hermione and Ron taught me about learning” and was presented by Tony England. Tony is the Assistant Superintendent of Student Services at Elkhart Community Schools in Indiana and all around brilliant individual. 

At any rate, discussions were had about the diversity of each of us as individuals and how we and our students can appreciate others diversity when open to understanding. This could be certain behaviors, personalities, traits, etc in a classroom setting coming together with our strengths and weaknesses. Also, taking this into consideration when assigning group work, thinking about our own friends who we surround ourselves daily and how we can positively build upon differences.

What does this have to do with Harry, Hermione and Ron, characters from Harry Potter you may ask? After some fun activities throughout the conference session, it was concluded that my personality and traits could reflect that of Harry Potter’s. Of course, due to feeling highly intrigued, I began reading the entire Harry Potter book series. I am nearly embarrassed to admit as an educator, I had never read those books. Where have they been all my life? My Amazon wish list is now stacked with sorting hats, wands, owls, maps and stickers.

Why am I telling you this? Well...as the saying goes, “knowledge is power.” That could not hold more truth in my recent findings of my own self. Knowing my heritage gave me a sense of empowerment, deeper understanding and eager to learn more about where I come from. Constantly seeking new knowledge about the diversity of others and reflecting upon myself, gave me some unexpected permission to be ok with being curious and passionate about things and just jumping into it and figuring it out. That yes, I can be “competitive” and “fiercely independent” but at the same time being “supportive, easy-going, spontaneous and comfortable to be around.” At this point, I even feel completely ok with purchasing those Potter items on my wish-list! 

As educators, we are seen as individuals in a position of power. How can we use that power in a way to empower our own students? We have classrooms of students full of diversity and learning differences. How can we empower all students in embracing not only who they are but who their peers are and creating a safe place to not only succeed; but to fail?
question mark and light bulb ideas


What if…
  • We asked our students how they learn best? Then, begin teaching how our students learn best? aka: Universal Design for Learning If they don’t know or understand, how about helping them discover themselves as learners? Help them understand why they may read with their ears (auditory) and/or eyes (visual) and perhaps why using a stand up desk or a fidget can enable them to embrace their unique way of receiving and comprehending information. Empower them.
What if…
  • We talked about disabilities in our classroom? Do not fear those conversations.  The International Dyslexia Association states:
About 13–14% of the school population nationwide has a handicapping condition that qualifies them for special education. Current studies indicate that one half of all the students who qualify for special education are classified as having a learning disability (LD) (6–7%). About 85% of those students have a primary learning disability in reading and language processing. Nevertheless, many more people— perhaps as many as 15–20% of the population as a whole—have some of the symptoms of dyslexia, including slow or inaccurate reading, poor spelling, poor writing, or mixing up similar words. Not all of these will qualify for special education, but they are likely to struggle with many aspects of academic learning and are likely to benefit from systematic, explicit instruction in reading, writing, and language.

Isn’t this an important conversation to have? Having these conversations can provide understanding and acceptance of why some students may be reading with their eyes and some with their ears. This will help those students who use assistive technology accommodations to not feel different; but accepted. Again, knowledge is power and this means educating all students about learning differences. Empower them.

What if…
  • We asked our students what they wish everyone knew about them? Let them speak freely, write them down and share if they choose. Create an environment with school and/or community resources that students know where to go if they need someone to talk to or get help. Empower them.
What if…
  • We not only celebrated successes of our students; but also their failures? This will empower them through teaching resilience and to keep trying! What if our students do not know how to regulate their negative reactions to failures? How about we model the behavior, celebrate loudly and practice the celebrations by setting up opportunities to fail.

I challenge you to have sign on the entrance of your classroom door or building that says:

“You do you.”

What if...we really let them?
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Aug
08

Stop Teaching "Low Functioning" Students

Stop teaching the low students Magic Ball indicating High. A witch's hat with speech bubble reading,
I half-joke that I’m working my way out of education purgatory, trying to make up for my sins in years past. One particular mistake I made: I let myself believe I could help “low functioning students.” The year I refused to teach “low” kids (and “high functioning” students too!) I started to realize what my purpose was.

I worked in a school that had two self-contained special education classrooms. On paper, it was just Ms. A’s class and Ms. Z’s class, but everyone referred to it as the “high functioning room” and the “low functioning room.” Sometimes the students had instruction together or joined their peers in general education but, in general, the students of the low functioning group stayed in their room and the high functioning students had more chances to be included. The high functioning students sat with assistants and learned letters and numbers and the low functioning students watched the other students work. Maybe we’d stick a switch toy on their wheelchair tray. Yipee.

Why? Because it was The Way We Had Always Done It. You’ll be happy to hear it’s changed.

On the flip side, I had students who were “high functioning.” Teachers were very pleased to have high functioning students except when they didn’t do what the other kids were able to do, or in the same way. Every year, like an unspoken agreement, accommodations were slowly chipped away. “He’s high functioning,” we’d all say. “He doesn’t need a sensory break, or note taking support, or Augmentative Communication. He should be able to do that on his own by now, or else he’d be low functioning.”

“The difference between high-functioning autism and low-functioning is that high-functioning means your deficits are ignored, and low-functioning means your assets are ignored.” - Laura Tisoncik

Once I was asked to observe “Cory.” Cory was a youngster who enjoyed trampolines, letters, and car commercials. He needed constant supervision, plenty of breaks, and explicit directions and support for academics, leisure, and daily living skills. He frequently hit the person nearest him, although staff could not pinpoint as to why (no FBA completed). He had no way to independently communicate. It wasn’t that they hadn’t tried but what they had tried wasn’t working, so they stopped. He did have two little symbols taped to his workstation: “more” and “stop” that were used to direct his behavior.

His teacher met me at the door and gestured to where he was “working” (10+ minutes of redirection to sit in a chair with some math problems attempted in between). I asked what would be helpful to her as a result of our consultation.

“As you can see, we’ve tried everything,” she exclaimed, gesturing to her lone visual taped to the desk. “He’s just too low.”

It took me a while to pick apart why this particular visit weighed on my soul. I had been that person and I knew the ugly truth: as soon as we start saying students are “low” we’ve haven’t described the child, we’ve described our own limitations in believing in kids.

The terms “low functioning” and “high functioning” are not professional terms. They have no place in an educational report, school policy, or conversation. They are born from poor understanding, frustration, and/or a misplaced desire to categorize students by how high our expectations should be. Who gets to be high functioning? Who gets to be low? Did you mistakenly think (as I did) that researchers set an agreed-upon standard or that there was a test or some type of metric to determine what bin of functioning we all belong in? Perhaps there was a Harry Potter-esque Sorting Hat of Functioning?

"...‘high functioning autism’ is an inaccurate clinical descriptor when based solely on intelligence quotient demarcations and this term should be abandoned in research and clinical practice." (Alvares et al, 2019)

In absence of a Magic 8 Ball of Functioning, I challenge you to stop teaching “low functioning students,” erase the phrase from your vocabulary, and start wondering “what do we need to be successful?” Describe the supports your student needs, the skills they are working on, the behaviors and interests you’ve observed. What do you need to do differently? Tell me about your student, not the expectations people have formed. At PATINS we have not met, in our entire combined careers, students who were too anything to learn. There is always a way, and we can help.

What ever happened to Cory? I haven’t heard back from his team since then. It still makes me sad, because I know that as long as one of the most meaningful adults in his life thinks of him as “too low,” not much will change.

You will not regret ditching those words. Your students will remember you for it. You have nothing to lose but functioning labels.

They weren’t helping anyone, anyway.
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Guest — Deb Meyne
Love this. Guilty of this. Will do better and share with my colleagues. Thankyou!
Tuesday, 13 August 2019 05:06
Guest — Jessica Conrad
Thank you, Deb! I am right there with you. "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better." - Maya Angelou... Read More
Tuesday, 13 August 2019 09:25
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Jan
10

Teacher, Wash Your Face

Thanks for sharing the lies you used to believe and found a way to dismiss, Rach! Have you heard of Rachel Hollis? She published a book this year that has gone viral called, “Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be.” Have you read it? If you haven’t, I recommend the great and easy read!

Katie holding Girl, Wash Your Face book.

Now, it's our turn to share and help others dismiss the voice inside their head. One lie that I used to believe for a long time is the one regarding age. Growing up we all experienced those moments when our parents told us, "You can when you're older," or "You’ll understand when you're older". Leaving you to always long for just the right moment “when you're old enough” for whatever it is.

Now that I am older, it has morphed in my professional career that has left me longing until “I have enough experience to write that book, or present on that topic, or to do exactly what I think I have always been meant to do". Always being told that you need to “put in your dues” and then it will be your turn. Suddenly, I realized that I am longing to do the things of the “experienced” and waiting for “someone” to tell me “it's time”. Do you find yourself waiting for permission or asking for someone else’s approval for that gutsy move to get ahead in your career? One of Rachel Hollis’ quotes from the book is,


“No one can tell you how big your dreams can be.”

We all seem to care a little too much about what others are going to say. The truth is if we wait for these moments, we may be waiting our whole lives. Another favorite quote:

“Someone else’s opinion of you is none of your business.”

So, what have you been waiting to do?

Maybe you have been waiting to integrate Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and technology into your classroom or program? PATINS Specialists are standing by for your email or call for on-site consultation and our *no cost* PATINS Tech Expo is coming up on April 4th to help connect you with the right tools, know-how, and inspiration to make your ideas a reality! Your time is now! Don’t wait to contact us and let us know how we can support you today! {Free Registration for Tech Expo opens soon!}

Don’t forget to like, comment and share this blog and the Tech Expo with your fellow teachers!

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Nov
28

This Blog Post is Full of Curse Words

This Blog Post is Full Of Curse Words Icon for various forms of AAC with the large black font reading
About once a month I have to answer a really important question:

“Why is that word on his talker?”

“That word,” is our euphemism for any number of words: body parts (slang and clinical), fart sounds, curse words, words that are culturally irrelevant, childish, or inappropriate for a child [of his age/place where he is/supposed cognitive level]. And someone, somewhere, decided to program it on this child’s Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device as if encouraging the child to use inappropriate language.

I get it. When I imagined the magical moment of helping a student find her voice with the fancy new Sound Generating Device, I wasn’t expecting her first two-word phrase on her device to be “poop butt” repeated over and over again for the next three days, either.

I get it, I really do! We’re professionals trying to create engaging and enriching environments for our learners and the literacy activity has been derailed because we taught him how to make plurals on his talker and now he loves pluralizing the word “as.”

We admit we’re impressed, but we can’t let that slide.

In moments of “enriched language” that flusters me I take a deep breath and remember:

I am not the language police.

A larger-than-anticipated part of my job has been talking about cuss words. And promoting cuss words. And explaining the functional importance of having access to cuss words. And listening to and programming cuss words into communication devices. And explaining why adults can't delete cuss words and "adult vocabulary" from a kid's voice. And listing all culturally relevant cuss words. And finding good visuals for cuss words.

If my professors could see me now.

So what happens if she talks out of turn, pressing the buttons on her communication app? The same thing that happens to all the other students talking out, of course.

What happens when she won’t stop saying “poop butt”? The same thing you would do for any other child who says it. We don’t duct tape kids mouths, and we don’t take talkers away.

What happens when she uses swear words in class? The same thing that you do for any other student who cusses in class. We can’t forcibly remove words from a speaking child’s vocabulary. We teach, we consider the variables, and we provide natural consequences. We don’t delete words from the communication device.

It is work worth doing, with clear expectations, communication between school and family (and sometimes with the office door closed and the volume down really low as you check to make sure “#$!@” is pronounced correctly). The communication device is a voice, not a school textbook or a representation of just the words you hope or anticipate they’ll use today. It’s their access to their human right to communicate, and sometimes communication is colorful, shocking, or uncomfortable.

Do you agree or disagree with me? Let me know in the comments below, with any language you like.*

*natural consequences apply

The icon AAC in my title image is from ARASAAC, a no-cost Creative Commons license resource for symbols and icons to represent all words (even “those words”).
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Guest — Alyssa Haller
I read these blog posts every week, but this one has to be my favorite! It is so true, at times hilarious and frustrating! Explain... Read More
Thursday, 29 November 2018 08:26
Jessica Conrad
Thank you Alyssa! I agree it can be so hard to change minds. We need to have patience, compassion, humor, and allies in all corner... Read More
Thursday, 29 November 2018 21:47
Guest — Cheryl Fletcher
love this. Clients will find a way to make “those words” anyway like she and it! We should make a collection of client creativity ... Read More
Saturday, 01 December 2018 10:16
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Sep
28

Learning with Laughter

Kelli laughing
Cachinnate: “to laugh loudly”


“You gotta have a sense of humor or this career will take you down,” was what Dr. Cathy Pratt, Director of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism (IRCA) said during her training titled: Understanding and Managing Challenging Behaviors. She hit the nail on the head.

If you know me, you will know that laughing is one of my favorite things to do. Whatever means of communication that we have, laughing is a universal expression and when shared, can be life changing in moments. I’ve always told my students that laughing is good for their insides and I firmly believe that. Laughter releases those feel-good chemicals called endorphins. It decreases the hormones that cause stress and even helps keep you healthy by increasing immune cells. Laughter is also believed to be able to temporarily relieve pain.


We have had a few weeks to spend with our students this school year and are busy building relationships, let us remember to get their blood flowing to assist with concentration. This can be done by offering several silly brain breaks during the day for any grade level. For example, each student tells a partner their name and address by keeping their tongue at the roof of their mouth. This could be done for a student using an AAC device by saying a sentence backward.

We are in the midst of offering the appropriate accommodations to meet all of the diverse needs in our classroom and it can all seem overwhelming at times. We all need laughter in some form. We need smiles that beam from the inside out at times. All students need a mode of communication. Laughing can assist students to build relationships and boost self confidence. While we continue to teach our expert learners on an academic level, let’s add a new word to their vocabulary: cachinnate. Not just give them the word, but live it often within the four walls of the classroom.

Let me get you started...
Lady laughing
Contagious Cachinnating Lady 



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Apr
06

A Mighty (Laminated) Sword

A Mighty (Laminated) Sword
A preschool teacher consulted with me about a student who was struggling with behavior; one of most intense issues she’d ever seen. The little girl would bite and punch and roll on the floor, and it was a full-time job just to keep her in the classroom. She also had a severe communication impairment. She talked and you could understand the words, but there wasn’t any meaning behind them. She couldn’t tell you about her favorite movie or answer beyond a simple question. For four years, every adult and child had to guess what she wanted to say.

“We’ve got a lot of things started, a lot of plans,” she explained, rattling off all our favorite behavior acronyms: FBA, BIP, FERB, etc. The one thing she didn’t say: AAC - Alternative and Augmentative Communication. The student had a severe communication impairment; couldn’t that be a big part of why she’s having behavior issues? Did they consider AAC and giving her a voice?

“But she can talk,” the teacher said. “The issue isn’t talking, she just wants control.”

Before I could jump on my soap box, another preschooler yelled with perfect dramatic timing:

I don't wanna tootie!” edged with the desperation of a preschool boy who would probably explode if he had to eat an animal cracker cookie.

“This is what we have,” said the assistant, pointing to the snack menu visual. He screwed up his face. “Do you want anything?”

“My teez.”

“You have cheese in your lunchbox?” He nodded. “Go and get it.”

And life went on. Crisis diverted! Communication saved the day! And wouldn’t you know, he was awfully and age-appropriately controlling. It’s communication that gets us what we want: acceptance, love, and cheese. Adults are known to throw fits when they can’t communicate their order in a drive-thru. Imagine four years of being stuck in the Taco Bell drive-thru and never getting to talk to someone. You’d want to hit someone too.

In another preschool, I got to observe a program where AAC was wrapped around the entire classroom. Brightly colored AAC boards were taped to the walls and hung from the cabinets. Every kid, whether they needed to use it or not, had a core word communication board at their elbow and so did all the adults. I sat down next to one student, and the teacher smirked.

“I don’t know if you want to sit next to him.”

Oh no, I thought, panicking, Did he have pink eye? Was I going to get pink eye?!

“He’s our typical peer.”

This little guy, brand new to preschool and a little wary of everything around him, was talking with the communication board like he’d used it for a month. He didn’t have a communication impairment, and he wasn’t anyone’s idea of a typical AAC user. But we’ve all seen the new preschoolers cry and shut down at their first-ever activities, and he was using an alternative way of communicating and interacting with his brand new environment and classmates. Maybe he only needed it that day, maybe he’ll never want to use AAC again, but he’ll remember feeling safe and included in preschool from the beginning. Communication, in any form, saved the day.

According to their speech-language pathologist, Jenni, including robust and thoughtful AAC has been amazing:

“They know that they give them a voice… We've had so many days that we've just looked at each other and shouted, "Did you see that?", "Did that really just happen?" It's been so fun to watch these kiddos learn... I can't believe how quickly she is learning. She carries her board around with her like it's a mighty sword.”

So teachers, therapists, administrators everywhere, (I can’t believe I’m saying this): all students must have swords*, whatever sword(s) fit them best. Make sure they have their swords everywhere. Make time for sword practice. Seek sword specialists, talk to other sword users. Don't favor one type of sword over another, because it was never about the sword, but the person wielding it.

Expect swords to be mighty and all students have strength to wield them, and they will conquer dragons.

*the sword is communication, all types of communication, for those who still aren't into my ridiculous analogies


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Guest — Kristen Baker
Love!
Friday, 07 April 2017 11:35
Guest — Martha
I love your analogies! Great Blog! Would like a follow-up to the first little girl, with the great big behaviour problems...... Read More
Monday, 17 April 2017 15:27
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Mar
02

Happy Birthday to...Me?

Please wait, I'm thinking
I recently attended a training and the presenter asked us all to introduce ourselves and then share one thing about us that would not be on our résumé. I instantly went into panic mode and could not think of one thing about myself to contribute. Luckily, my colleagues came to the rescue and offered this unique information about me when I was failing. My response was, “One thing that is not on my résumé is that when I am put on the spot to answer a question about myself, I totally forget who I am and what I like.”

For instance, I’ll never forget the time I was in gym class when I was in second grade. It was January 12. To make teams, the PE teacher had us line up and tell him the date of our birthdays. I was third in line, and he wanted this to happen very quickly. When he pointed at me, I said: “January 15.” (My birthday is September 23.)

I was horrified when he responded, “Oh! Your birthday is only a few days away!” He then proceeded to let me pick whatever team I wanted, and I was first in line for everything. Then the worst (but kind) thing happened on January 15...he had the whole class sing “Happy Birthday” to me.

Birthday Balloons


I mention this story as a reminder to give students multiple ways to respond to your requests, alleviating many of the barriers to expression. This will allow students to access themselves. Even if we feel our requested tasks are simple things to ask of our students, we must also make it simple for them to respond.

Being cognizant that some students may struggle with verbal responses for various reasons can be a game changer in getting to know our students and allowing them to open up to their peers. It may not even be a struggle to express; but a matter of their own processing time as we hurriedly skip them or show frustration, translating their actions into defiance.

This coincides with the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principle of offering multiple means of action and expression. Having a universally designed environment in all areas, all locations, all subjects, all the time within the walls of your schools is essential for equitable education.

Just a few examples to start or continue;

  • Get to know your students. Ask them how they like to respond.

  • Have visuals available for responses.

  • Allow students to write or use speech-to-text (STT) responses.

  • Using backchannels in your classroom are not only a beneficial way to remove the barriers of anxiety of having to verbally respond on the spot; but they are also a good way to expand the classroom outside of school hours. There are many free tools to make that happen.

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Guest — Laurel Blough
Kelli, I connected completely with your dilemma in your opening paragraph, as I also have a tendency to shut down when asked on th... Read More
Thursday, 02 March 2017 18:03
Guest — Dee Suding
Kelli, I wish I had had someone like you around when I was teaching. Keep up the grat work. Love ya
Thursday, 02 March 2017 19:56
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