Mar
12

Sunrise or Sunset?

Is it a sunrise or a sunset, it is all in your perspective.

It is with a heavy heart that I am writing to tell you all that I will be leaving the PATINS Project. I have accepted a position as a Various Exceptionalities/Exceptional Students Educator for Largo Middle School of Pinellas County Schools. 

beach clouds dawn dusk

It is my time with PATINS that has influenced my desire to return to the classroom. When I left Seymour in 2012, school corporations were on the brink of large changes. These changes would affect both the general and special needs classrooms. With PATINS I have seen 1 to 1 computers. The explosion of the iPad as an accessible, multifaceted AT device. I have seen renewed desire to provide all students with the least restrictive environment. Classrooms are more diverse. Options for graduation are diversifying and with that a renewed interest in how schools transition students into society. With technology, so many more students are able to receive accommodations where they once would only receive modifications. Differentiation is becoming Specially Designed Instruction and Universally Designed Instruction is on the cusp of becoming the norm.


With my PATINS experience I found myself wondering what kind of teacher I would be today. I am excited to find out by going back into public schools to teach, support and lead others in these practices.

Thank you for the insight and hope for greater things that you have given me. If it were not for the exposure and experience of working with Indiana’s exceptional educators, I would not be returning to public education. These experiences along with the fellowship and exceptional intellect of my peers has made me capable and hungry to share these skills with students.

Thank you all!
Sandi Smith










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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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Feb
26

#Dyslexia: Celebrating Those Beautiful Brains

IMG_1557-2 Beautiful Brain Sticker
I read an audiobook a few weeks ago by Jonathan Mooney titled Normal Sucks: How to Live, Learn, and Thrive Outside the Lines. Jonathan was identified with dyslexia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) when he was a kid and did not learn to read until he was 12 years old. He writes with a hilarious twist of confessions and speaks about the uniqueness of learners. Jonathan leaves the message that instead of trying to fix these students...let’s empower them to be successful in their own way.

He shares after being sent to the office due to some choices he made and his mom was called to come to his school, “I had crossed that invisible line between the normal and the not normal, which we all know is there. Though we aren’t quite sure where it is all of the time, or who drew it, or how, or why. At that moment, I knew for sure that whatever normal was, I wasn’t it.”

I am constantly meeting and working with new students who have been identified with dyslexia. I am tasked with the privilege to explore with them ways that they may learn and ways they can feel empowered in their own learning. I often get to see their new learning journey with assistive technology accommodations such as text-to-speech, word prediction, speech-to-text, etc. to keep them from getting further behind in school. Each time I am with a student, they teach me something new which makes me a better educator. I am so thankful.

When meeting new students, I have to create relationships very quickly. This often begins with talking about anything but dyslexia. I have laughed so hard with students at the amazing conversations we have had and the stories they share about life in general. I have also left schools with my chest so heavy due to students feeling so stomped down from the weight they feel from struggling to read. They do not feel smart and feel shame, which leads to low self esteem and often matched with bullying. 

Instead of writing a blog about dyslexia, I wanted to put some faces to dyslexia. Each time we talk about dyslexia in schools, there is a face to every single number. Each time accommodations are denied, there is a face to that denial. We have to remain connected in order to prevent the disconnection of accessibility. 

So! I rounded up just a few kiddos who have impacted my own life in some way this past school year, brought together by dyslexia...but relationships built due to all of the other amazing conversations those beautiful brains have shared with me. I asked them a few questions and I have no doubt you will lift them up with me. 

First, Samantha was a feature on PATINS TV! After meeting her one time and working with her for accommodations on the iPad, the next time I came back, she showed me some ways she was using her iPad that I was able to share with other kids. She is brilliant!

Meet Sam
Sam
  Age: 11 years old

  Favorite book or type of book: Dog Man

  What is something you really enjoy doing and know you are good at doing?  Driving the ATV and maneuvering it with a trailer anywhere!

  Anything else you would like the world to know about you? Sam is in 4-H and shows ducks, chickens, and pygmy goats. This year he is going to try his hand at the lawn mower driving project and LEGO building project. When he grows up Sam wants to be a farmer because farming is cool. 

The first time I met Sam, we had a race. He was in his running shoes and well, me in my high heels. He won but I’m ready for a rematch. Sam is an impeccable problem solver. His thoughts take him into creative action on a route we may not think of at the time. I was fortunate to see Sam show one of his goats at his county fair. It felt like 110 degrees in the summer inside a metal barn; but Sam took it like a champ (unlike me sweating profusely). He had an adorable and rambunctious goat that he gave 100% attention to in the heat and he placed! Also, this kid can do the Floss dance better than I have ever seen and brings it alive on the drop of a hat! I can’t wait to see him one day on his own farm...living his dream and being a mentor for those who want to learn his craft of farming. He is unstoppable.


Meet
Precious
Precious
  Age: I am 16 years old. I’m going to be 17 years old in March. 

  Favorite book or types of books you like to read: My favorite   book is Dork Diaries

 What is something you really enjoy doing and know you are good at doing?
My favorite hobby is art. 

Anything else you would like the world to know about you? I am a homeschooled student. I want to show my artwork to encourage everyone. I am building my own art studio called Shout Loud. I want people to know, "You can do it!"
Precious's artwork of colorful tree

As you can imagine by her answers above, Precious is extremely kind and talented. I was honored to see her art spotlighted at an event in Indianapolis, Indiana. I noticed on her art displays, the first line was “I have dyslexia.” The way that she sees colors and puts them together truly amazes me.


Meet
Piper
Piper
  Age: 9 years old, March 1st!

  Favorite book or types of books you like to read: Adventure, crime solving
  and mystery genre


  What is something you really enjoy doing and know you are good at
  doing?
Art, ice skating, skiing, and acting.

  Anything else you would like the world to know about you? I would like
  the world to know that I love having dyslexia, because it helps me be even more creative than I thought.


Piper helped me out when I presented on assistive technology accommodations. After learning that she loves to act, I can see now how she stood in the front of the crowded room with me with ease. When I showed Piper the C-Pen Reader, she practiced and figured it out quickly. Then, she proceeded to try it out backwards, upside down and up and down. She then explained to me all the ways one should not use the C-Pen. Ya know, she is right...we need to know that part. Thank you, Piper! 


Meet
Reed
Reed
  Age: 9 years old

  Favorite book or type of book: Dog Man

  What is something you really enjoy doing and know you are good at doing?
  Shooting 

  Anything else you would like the world to know about you? If the world wants to
  know anything else, they need to meet me!!


Reed wasn’t so sure about me at first. He was the observer and then came over to me when he was ready, which works just fine for me. Once he did, he told me about Dog Man and was extremely well spoken about not only the book; but about anything we talked about. Reed heard me say that I had a fear of grasshoppers. At the end of my talk, he walked up to me with his hands closed and said, “Hey, I caught a grasshopper for you!” I thought he was serious for about .2 seconds, which felt like an eternity. He asked me to come back, but Reed, you better watch out! I like to play tricks as well! Reed is right, the world needs to meet him one day. I have a feeling they will as he will positively change the world in his own unique way.

Note: Sometimes kids are labeled as shy, when in reality they just need time or need a purpose to engage. As an educator, practicing wait time and as well as creating purpose can make all of the difference. 


Meet
Jackson
Jackson
  Age: 7 years old

  Favorite book or type of book: Dyslexic Legends Alphabet. This
  is my favorite book because it has the people that are famous
  because they have dyslexia. Even though you have dyslexia, you
  can still read using audiobooks! 


What is something you really enjoy doing and know you are good at doing? Playing baseball and hockey! I really enjoy reading audiobooks. 

(Hey Brent Sopel...I think you've got a huge fan in the making for more than one reason!)

Anything else you would like the world to know about you? That you can do any job that you want, even though you have dyslexia! Even though dyslexia is hard, you can still do whatever you want! 

Clearly, Jack is a true champion for himself in the way he learns best. When he says “...enjoy READING audiobooks,” that kiddo is ahead of the game! Of course he is reading! He is reading with his ears! Jack is an inquisitive thinker and I feel pretty confident when he is not playing hockey or baseball, he is tackling his younger brother. I am hoping to recruit Jack in a future training video on how we all read differently. We can all learn something from Jackson for sure. Besides, he and I have matching shirts... T shirt: Dyslexia is not a disability, it's a different ability.

Jonathan Mooney continues to say and I would like to echo this to all students…

“...I want you to know that normality is a problem to be struggled with, to be resisted, and ultimately, an idea to be rejected and replaced. ...When normal comes for you, I want you to be able to say what I couldn’t when it came for me. Normal sucks.”

What is normal anyway? It’s a measurement we can forever chase and never find. If we always consider the variability of all learners, presume competence, appreciate the diversity and be facilitators toward independence with accessibility in our instruction...our impact will be larger than imaginable. It can literally change life paths in a positive direction for all those faces for not only dyslexia but for all students.

#Presuming Competence is the easiest or the hardest barrier to #inclusion. The hardest because you can't force someone to believe in ability. The easiest because believing in ability costs nothing. It requires zero resources. The ? is, what side of history do you want to be on?
What side do you want to be on? Let's celebrate those beautiful brains...together! 


Note: Make sure you click on each picture to enlarge!  Also, If you have a student or child you would like to celebrate in ANY way, please email me at 
ksuding@patinsproject.org, tweet me @ksuding, or share in the comments below and I will lift them up with you and share!

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Feb
20

The Power of Connection

As the newest member of the PATINS Specialists Team, I have had the pleasure to meet many educators across the state in my first 3 months. I have seen the amazing work of educators across the state firsthand. I am asked to problem solve, find resources for, and train educators in my specialty areas. It has been an incredible experience thus far!  

One thing that has rung true the past few months is that we all are connected. So often I walk into a new school and I can find a connection to the staff member or the administrator I meet with. Feeling connected, or having meaningful relationships with others, is a basic need. Humans need to feel connected to thrive.  

Have you ever noticed the power of an unexpected kind word or gesture? Many students do not even know the need for connection exists until they are taught how to create it. They are struggling to navigate the pathways of life. School is one of the many areas they are struggling in. Learning to build positive relationships with others will help students in school and other environments throughout life.  

Educators care about students and their learning experience. The connection or relationship between an educator and student ensures they are ready to learn. Making a good and positive connection with your student will allow an educator to speak into their life. An educator’s role is mighty and multifaceted. One thing is certain though - connecting with all the students you teach will impact them profoundly.  

The educator-student connection may allow an educator to influence actions in the classroom such as work completion, attention, behavior, and success. At first, it may mean the educator offers lots of positive rewards, intentional conversations, and motivational moments. Your efforts will pay off when the student knows you care.  

In the relationship-building process, you will learn to appreciate each student for their strengths as well! I love learning about the educators and students I work with, as I am sure that you appreciate that connection too. Some students need help building positive relationships.  

Relationship Skills is one of the five Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Competencies. Some schools offer SEL programming. There are many resources available to help build the SEL skills needed to be ready to learn. This is one area I have connected with educators within my time as a PATINS Specialist. As social and emotional skills improve, students will become ready to learn. 

As I close my first blog, I want to offer a few ways educators can connect with students. We can empower students to learn through modeling positive relationships and connection. Here are a few ways you can build connection:  
  • Greet them with their name and a high five or fist bump in the morning. 
  • Write your student a positive note.  
  • Catch them being good and praise them for it.  
  • Share a favorite activity, game, food, etc.  
  • Find something you have in common to talk about.  
  • Attend a sporting event or extra-curricular activity or ask about it if you cannot attend.  
  • Call their parents with them to offer a positive report.  
  • Engage in play or a game that they like at recess.  
I encourage you to try one of these out today. Add a new one each week. Let me know what changes you see by Spring Break in the comments below!

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Jan
30

Top 5 Reasons for Captions In Schools

Closed Captioning is Cool! Closed Captioning is Cool!

Top 5 Reasons for Captions In Schools


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

1. Attention and Focus

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

2. Universal Design for Learning

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


Text reads

3. Reading 

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

4. Language Acquisition

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

5. The Right to Effective Communication

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

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


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

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



References


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

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

Morris, K.K., Frechette, C., Dukes, L., Stowell, N., Topping, N.E., & Brodosi, D. (2016). Closed captioning matters: Examining the value of closed captions for all students. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 29(3), 231-238.
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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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Dec
12

The One Question I Ask All Students

The One Question I Ask All Students The One Question I Ask All Students with rainbow paint in the background.
What is the most interesting thing you learned?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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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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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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Sep
05

Middle Schoolers Need the Most Support

Screen-Shot-2019-09-05-at-5.40.04-PM Middle Schoolers jumping with blog title on bottom.
Is it just me or do other middle-level educators feel left out? The search for age-appropriate, engaging materials for teens on Teachers Pay Teachers or Pinterest is like a scene from Indiana Jones.

I think the dearth of resources stems from a perception that middle school is a short layover standing in the way of the exciting trip that is high school. I’m here to dispel this myth and shout from the rooftops: Don’t forget about middle school!

Middle schoolers look older physically, have grown emotionally, and/or have overcome some deficits in elementary school, but that doesn’t mean they need less support or less engaging work. As the complexity of curriculum content increases, our students’ weaknesses become more apparent to both themselves and to their peers. In an attempt to cover their struggles, they may not directly ask for support. Not knowing how/when to ask for help, peer pressure, or a combination of both may cause this. They may show they need support only through their behaviors (i.e. long bathroom breaks, acting poorly to be sent out of class, attempts to cheat, etc). Don’t dismiss these signs as merely “bad” behavior. Middle school is the last push to gain skills before classes begin to count as credits toward graduation. The students know it and need you to help them now. 

Where other resources have let you down, I’m here for your 6th, 7th, and 8th grade teachers! These are my favorite no-cost and low cost tools for working on reading and writing skills with this age level:
  • Expanding Expression Tool (EET) - This is very popular with elementary students since the main teaching tool is a cute caterpillar named EETCHY. For your mature middle schoolers, leave EETCHY in the box and dig up the note card sized outlines for writing pieces such as biographies and summaries. Indiana public school educators can borrow the whole EET set from the Assistive Technology Lending Library.
  • SMMRY - An online summarizing tool that can be used to scaffold the skill of pulling out important information or to save your time while conducting research. Great for students learning a second language or students overwhelmed when a ton of information is presented at once.
  • TweenTribune - Fascinating articles on current popular topics that get students talking! Each one is about a page or two long. These are a total win for middle school teachers since they are sorted by grade and lexile level.
  • UDL Lesson Plan Creator - We all know tweens and teens crave freedom. While designing with UDL (Universal Design for Learning) in mind has a host of benefits, this tool is particularly helpful in developing lesson plans which give students the ability to direct and control their own learning.
We appreciate you middle school teachers and the ingenious ways you keep learning fun! I hope you find these resources helpful. I’d love to hear what your favorite resources or lessons are. Drop a line in the comments below.


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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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Jul
18

The End...Or Is It?

This is a bittersweet week. I am leaving The PATINS Project on Friday to head out on a new educational adventure supporting students in a similar, yet different capacity, for multiple school districts south of Indianapolis. Leaving the team is a decision that was not made lightly. Being a Specialist for the PATINS Project has been an opportunity that has changed me professionally and personally; it allowed me to partner with some of the most innovative and knowledgeable educators I have ever known. It has exposed me to dynamic and creative professionals who have what I consider to be the key to helping students -- a mixture of extreme passion, ability to transfer information to educators and always knowing WHY they do it.

Being a part of the PATINS Project has armed me with the ability to access an entire world of no-cost resources than I never imagined existed. I have learned from the best in my field, and have also been exposed to so many ways that expand my educator world without ever going outside my school office. It is my honor to impart some of these things to all of the blog followers out there.


Twitter 

If someone tweets in cyberspace and no one hears it, did it ever happen? 

When I was hired as a PATINS Specialist, I had a Twitter account -- @RachelH872 for those of you who do not follow me but absolutely should! Truthfully, I rarely used it and quite frankly had no idea why or how it could be a networking tool. I followed the Indigo Girls, Ryan Reynolds and some of my friends who seemed to lead interesting lives, but it was just something else to check. 

What I found as I started to delve into the “Twitterverse” absolutely changed my life. My Personal Learning Network (PLN) expanded beyond my wildest dreams. I took the time to figure out who I wanted to learn from and who to follow. I joined incredible weekly Twitter chats where I could learn from the experts and threw myself into moderating and participating in the PATINS Twitter chat. If you are interested in learning in a fast-paced, information-packed way, join the team every Tuesday at 8:30 EST for a half-hour chat where you can gain a PGP point for participation. The chat can be found under #PatinsIcam and is well worth your time and I will see you there! I plan on engaging and energizing each week in this chat next year!


Trainings and Webinars

I think this is one of the most incredible services offered by the PATINS Project and I plan on not only attending webinars and sessions in the future but bringing more live sessions to my new districts. Team members host in-person and web-based trainings each week delving deeper into topics that are important to educators and provide PGP points for attendance. Webinars are given at convenient times but the staff even offers private viewings and in-person trainings if the times don’t work. 

I know from experience that this is a fantastic way to connect across the state and a platform for educators to gain and share information. It is mind-blowing to me that these services come at no cost to educators. Team members will even take topics, research cutting edge information by request and produce a fantastic and informative session. Check the PATINS Project calendar for a listing of webinars and trainings! I have my eye on learning even more about accessibility this year and cannot wait to dive in!


Lending Library

The extensive Lending Library is a lifesaver to those out there, including myself, who like to “try before you buy.” No one wants or can afford to purchase an expensive device only to discover that it is not the perfect match for a student. The library not only lets educators check out devices, software, apps and other AT beauties, but also pays for shipping back and forth to further make it an economical choice for schools. There are also two virtual librarians who are extremely knowledgeable and willing to help! 


Newsletter/Blog

If you are reading this, you are probably already signed up to receive the blog. In my humble opinion, it is a fantastic weekly read. I love the fact that each team member is given the opportunity to bring a different perspective on education and what might benefit our valued educators best. In addition to this, the newsletter keeps stakeholders informed of new products and trainings on the horizon while highlighting some of our exceptional educators and students across the state. 



Conferences

I believe the PATINS conferences are the best networking experiences that Indiana has to offer for classroom implementation, Universal Design for Learning and Assistive Technology. Long before I worked for PATINS, I valued these genuine experiences full of national and local presenters. After experiencing the inner circle of these events, I am convinced that they are worth the time and funds. The annual Access to Education (A2E) conference is the only PATINS’ event that has a registration price tag, but in exchange, educators walk away with meaningful interactions, are exposed to state of the art presenters and flavor from the country as well as local expertise.


AEM Grant

Before I was hired to work for PATINS, I was a proud member of a school district that was accepted for the AEM Grant. My husband asked me multiple times what I was talking about, believing that our team was participating in the AMY Grant...big difference!






The AEM Grant stands for Accessible Educational Materials Grant and is a great way for school districts to bring the policies and procedures up to speed while respecting individual student need for materials given to them in the form that works best. Past school districts who have participated in this grant have shifted the paradigm of learning and increased the inclusive culture of their communities! It is a great way to support students and to help teachers with such an important charge. The grant application is still open until July 29, 2019 at midnight!

I am not sure how to end this blog entry or this chapter of my educational journey. I will never be able to thank my team enough for the experiences and knowledge I have gained from them. I am absolutely grateful that as an educator in Indiana I will be able to continue to reap the benefits of their tireless work. Thank you, PATINS for helping me become the best educator I can possibly be through your collective expertise and passion. I am so excited to work with the team in the future now that I have a true understanding of the breadth of what they have to offer! You should too!
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Jun
06

UDL is Natural

This has been a lively few months at the lake. I have seen wildlife for the first time and welcomed back regulars. What a year! Our new visitors include unusual ducks- the Bufflehead and Redhead, a red fox trotting in our yard before going over the frozen lake; a deer in the yard (and in the past, deer swimming across the lake). A turkey flying from a tree over the marsh behind our house, an orchard oriole. Some old friends include the Bald Eagles fishing over open water at the edge of the frozen lake, wood ducks, 2 Loons, Baltimore orioles and the noisy spring peepers/bullfrogs.

Reflecting on these friends from the animal kingdom, I realize I look forward to their seasonal visits and delight in their individuality, listening and looking for their sights and sounds. In the same spirit of appreciation, I am glad to see regular visitors including robins, hummingbirds, cardinals. In the summer, the purple martins fly low over the lake at dusk to catch mosquitos and other tiny airborne critters and the occasional kingfisher will find a tasty fish. A regular year round visitor is the great blue heron. I call our home “Heron House”. So yeah, cool stuff in my mind. 

Common Loon     Bufflehead Duck
 Redhead Duck     Wood Duck 

Orchard Oriole     Baltimore Oriole     Spring Peeper
       
Bull Frog    Bald Eagle     Wild Turkey in Tree
Red Fox    White Tail Deer in yard

I cannot help but draw a comparison to my work. There are seasons to working with schools and school systems. Each year, in the spring, I reflect on that school year as my thoughts move to the next school year. This happens with a comfortable regularity. I think back on individuality even within a system, district, school and classroom. I look for trends for what worked and what did not work and how drawing general conclusions may lead me to miss the mark on some things. For example, back to the birds. Orioles like oranges and jelly. They do not like orange marmalade. Thinking that I could combine two features into one solution proved to be an epic failure. I had not truly individualized what the orioles needed.

I am also struck by Universal Design in Nature. Everyday there are many options available to the animal kingdom for food, housing, and development. Those options are always available, not pulled out occasionally. Sometimes, new ones are provided (i.e. jelly, nectar, birdseed, corn). The key is that not each animal needs all that is available, but all animals need something from what is available.

So, taking a cue from my friends in nature, let’s make materials available in the classroom so that what is needed for each unique learner will be at the ready when our students make their seasonal return. What I wish for is the same delight I have in watching life being nurtured outside my windows, be the same delight in having student and staff nurtured, inside the classrooms, with what they need to thrive. After all, a bird is a bird, but a heron does not need what the oriole needs.

Have a fantastic summer! Rejuvenate, Revive and Return! Contact PATINS to help you achieve some classroom Universal Design. Here is a good source for learning more about Universal Design for Learning  (UDL).

Photo credit: Common LoonBufflehead Ducks,Redhead Duck,  Wood DuckOrioles, Spring PeeperBull FrogBald Eagle Wild Turkey,Red Fox,White Tail Deer, and Alamy Stock Photos -Wild Turkey Roost.

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Apr
11

ISO: Someone Like Me

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

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


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

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


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


Katie and her mother, Beth Fritter


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


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


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

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

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

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

Here are a few ideas:
Camps in Indiana for students who are deaf/hard of hearing:
Other ways to connect:
  • Zoom DHH Buddies program connecting students with hearing loss across the state through technology
  • Indiana Hands & Voices Parent Guides Events around the state
  • DHH Students Facebook group
  • Introduce books with Characters/Authors who are D/deaf/hard of hearing/deafblind/hearing impaired - Check out my list and add your favorites!
Please comment below if you have more resources and/or suggestions to connect our students who are deaf/hard of hearing in Indiana. We would love to hear from you! Make sure to “like” and share this blog with your educational teams!
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Jessica Conrad
Great blog! I love all the resources, which made me thumb through the Expanded Core and I love how the expectations of self-advoca... Read More
Thursday, 11 April 2019 09:50
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Mar
29

Behind the Scenes of April Testing

Behind the Scenes of April Testing Chalkboard with math equations.
I’ve spent a lot of my time in the past month or so interacting with teachers for the blind and low vision who are preparing for the new ILEARN test that will be given starting in April. I love being called to drive to Valparaiso or Connersville for these visits. Connecting with these teachers is the musical equivalent to attending an amazing jazz performance with masterful improvisations.

Fingers on the keys of a saxophone
The new test is built to test students online so that we can level or adapt the test to the user, giving us a more accurate picture of proficiency. Leveling also lowers the stress on students as they are quickly sent to questions at their level or ones that are slightly harder or easier.


The state has provided an item repository for all subjects and grades to try out in advance, so that students and teachers can know how to tweak the many accommodations offered to match the features they use in their daily work. Accommodations include things like using a Braille display, enlarged display, different types of contrast, or text to speech for students with BLV. Many other accommodations are available to students with other disabilities, such as closed captions for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Technology moves quickly and teachers for the blind have to keep up with both Braille and low vision devices while often working in multiple districts with multiple platforms for students of multiple ages. If this were the subject of an ILEARN test question, the answer would look like:

complex learner X many devices X all the subjects
= explosion of detail management!

chalkboard with math equations and symbols

The folks I’ve visited with are courageously forging ahead into new territory with technology, and working overtime (read on their spring break), to figure out what will be best for each of their students. They are choosing to engage with technology outside of their comfort zone, becoming vulnerable to ask for help from a team member or from PATINS. At each visit, they are teaching me new things and engaging me in new questions about giving students the right setting, environment, and device.

More than focusing on technology for the test, they want materials and devices that support real learning. They don’t need the fanciest tool, but the one that really works for their students. They want to set each student up to become the best versions of who they are and engage with the world independently. Most folks who interact with students with blindness first instinct is to assume dependence, so these BLV teachers are constantly whispering (or shouting), “let them do it!” They wear the “mean teacher for the blind” badge with pride.

They are learning subject content with their students like AP chemistry or braille music notation, even if they don’t read music in the first place, because some of their students dream of becoming scientists and Broadway stars.

These teachers wouldn’t ask for it, but I’m shining the spotlight on their hard, unglamorous, day to day work. I see you, and I’m grateful that you keep showing up for your students.



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Jessica Conrad
Love it, I see you too, Bev! And the “mean teacher for the blind” badge, is that available for purchase? ... Read More
Monday, 01 April 2019 16:10
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Feb
28

Where's A.T. "Waldo"?

We live in great times. The connection between general classroom technology and specialized technology has never been closer. We are increasingly talking about accommodations, assistive technology and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as regular discourse as stakeholders make decisions for accessing curriculum for students. Technology directors look at means of providing technology for most students. UDL makes sure students in the margins are included and assistive technology takes technology beyond a general consideration and provision to addressing specific needs for students who require these solutions to access their education. It does take a village to accomplish all this.

Given all these considerations and efforts, what does technology look like in the classroom? PATINS supports teachers as they work with students to have access to the curriculum. So, let’s look at a classroom through the lens of "Where’s A.T."?

Classroom with students working at tables and desks and in a group on the floor.
Classroom supplies and equipment fill the room including specific assistive technology tools.

So, the items to look for include:
  • AAC Devices
  • Keyboards
  • Computer
  • Books
  • QR Code
  • Exercise ball/ alternative seating 
  • Visual icon-based schedule
  • Magnet letters
  • Glueing options
  • Keyboard
  • Wheelchair
  • Projector
  • Slant board
  • Trampoline
  • Switches
  • Pencil grip
This is certainly a busy classroom, and that is the good news. Students are engaged, and able to produce their work using a variety of means. This is a great example of a classroom environment where universal design is implemented. Not all students need all of the tools. The tools are available and ready for students who choose to use them and for students who require them. The tools are available everyday and used on a regular basis. Consistent use of the tools sets the stage for increased daily participation in the curriculum and activities. Once a student has appropriate access to the general curriculum, they have an increased likelihood of improved performance on local, district and state tests and assessments.


Now, we need to implement intentional steps toward tool determination and implementation of use. Throwing a bunch of technology into a classroom without considering the range of needs and abilities in students and staff is not helpful. Any implementation must also be supported through training and follow up to evaluate effectiveness. This data will help determine future technology requirements.

PATINS has a UDL Lesson Creator available that will expand the typical lesson plan to be more inclusive of students on the whole spectrum of abilities, including the specialized needs of students who are considered gifted and those who need various scaffolds for support in their learning. We have a Lending Library from which educators can borrow tools before purchasing them. Our specialists can also help educators work through the many options for Universal Design for Learning, Assistive Technology and classroom/student supports.

Given the tools and strategies that are available, this is a great time to be in education! How many Where's A.T. "Waldo's" did you find?


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Feb
21

#ThrowbackThursday - Look at the Past & Future

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

Collage of PATINS/ICAM staff members from the past (2008).

2008 photo collage of PATINS/ICAM staff members. Left to right. (Top Row) Glenda Thompson, Lori Kane, Walt Daigle, (Middle Row) Daniel McNulty, Vicki Hershman (Bottom Row) Jeff Bond, Tina Jones, Jim Lambert, Sandy Stabenfeldt. Not pictured: Sheri Schoenbeck, Carrie Owens, Alice Buchanan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PATINS/ICAM staff picture 2018.

2018 Photo of PATINS/ICAM staff members. Left to right. (Back Row) Julie Kuhn, Kelli Suding, Rachel Herron, Jeff Bond, Sandy Stabenfeldt, Jessica Conrad, Carrie Owens, Martha Hammond, and Jena Fahlbush. (Front Row) Jen Conti, Glenda Thompson, Bev Sharritt, Daniel McNulty, Sheri Schoenbeck, Andria Mahl, Sandi Smith, and Katie Taylor


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Feb
14

A Reading & Writing App from me to you!

Pink & read M&M candies in heart shape.This Valentine is better than candy!

I learn so many great things every year. I want to pass one of them on to you this time in my blog. Being the Secondary Age Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) specialist for PATINS allows me to introduce auditory reading/text to speech technology and writing supports like voice to text and word prediction to so many Indiana educators and their students. This powerful combination can be the difference between a graduation certificate and a diploma for students with learning or cognitive disabilities. They are capable of so much when they are properly supported. There are many great solutions out there. The correct one for each student depends on their environment and task

Claro SoftwareHere is a new option, ClaroSoftware. ClaroSoftware includes the following apps: ClaroRead for PC, ClaroRead for Mac, ClaroRead for Chromebook, as well as iPad, iPhone, and Android Apps. ClaroRead for Chromebook comes free with both ClaroRead for PC or Mac. This is great if a student uses different devices in different settings. ClaroRead for Chromebook can also be purchased on its own, however, it is not as powerful as ClaroRead for PC or Mac.  Here is a quick comparison of the PC and Mac versions. 

ClaroSoftware is different in another way. I know that it is all about the student and the tools, but sometimes it comes down to....Hand writing COST in blue marker across the screen.
The pricing structure includes a version where the app can be purchased for a one time cost. No subscription, just like when we downloaded software to specific computers for specific students. Now don't go thinking I've changed! I still think it should be on every computer for every student. That's best practice and also increases the likelihood of the students that have to use it, doing so. Now that I have said that, the pricing options across the board are pretty great too! 

More great reading & writing solutions:
TextHelp - Read&Write, Snapverter, Equatio, Fluency Tutor, WriQ, Browsealoud 
DonJohnston - Snap&Read, Co:Writer, and First Author

If this wasn't the valentine you wanted from me, here's another! Baby Shark Valentine
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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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Oct
18

Time Machine Moments in Education

The setting was an educational psychology class at Ball State University, the time was sometime in the early 1990s. I eagerly anticipated my masterpiece, a million-page research paper on the brand new fundamentals of why including kids with special needs in the general education was so important. I had been working on the paper for months. I can still hear the click clack click of the Brother Electric Typewriter I borrowed from my roommate to complete the task. I knew it was an incredible paper. I could feel it in my bones. No matter what some professors or teachers from the past might say about my multiple choice test taking skills, I have always prided myself in being able to convey information through writing.

The moment of truth arrived, and my paper was passed back. The score, written on the cover page in a slash of red, was less than enthralling. My mind raced. I had been so confident that my message was clear, my content so developed, my avant-garde approach to education so stunning that my teacher would be showcasing my paper in front of the class...not slipping it to me as he walked by.

red pen markups on a typed paper


I flipped furiously through the pages to find the culprit. On the first seven thousand pages, only a hint of the red color came in the form of agreement, encouragement or an occasional probing question designed to make my preservice mind churn. The last page, however, was a sea of red - waves crashing all over the bibliography I had to include per the rubric. MLA style was absolutely not my friend. All of my innovative ideas and passion took a back burner to something I had been taught but had not learned.

As a person who has been in the field of education for a long time, I feel like part of the overall job is never to stop learning. Ever. It is part of what we preach, and part of what we should do. However, continuing to learn new things and expanding horizons often comes with a price. A price I like to call, “Time Machine Moments,” or TMM for those of us who love acronyms.

To be specific, Time Machine Moments refer to when directly after learning something new or better one thinks, “I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and teach that again.” This does not mean that there is anything wrong with what I taught, especially taking into consideration what I knew then. I did what I did at the time, because it was what I knew and I always tried my best for students.

I also do not want anyone to confuse these moments with regret. I refuse to beat myself up for not knowing about or having the resources to do something. I can be aware of the fact that I always got marked down in college for MLA or APA citing style issues, and as a result I could spend time being furious that I did not have a tool like Snap&Read Universal that actually generates the citing mistake free. I could react by either shaking my fists to the sky, screaming, “WHY?!” OR teach students to use the tool, sparing them from the defeat of turning in a fabulous paper marked down by something ambiguous to most students.

When I speak to teachers across the state about writing tools and devices, a frequent reaction held by the attendees is one of frustration. The response to the Livescribe Note-Taking pen is almost always, “Where was that when I was in college?’’ The response to APA, MLA or Chicago style citing tools is one of disbelief. Is it possible that so many people with so many good ideas might have missed an opportunity to shine due to a technicality? My philosophy on when we introduce text readers or word prediction software with auditory feedback to children is in the same vein. How many years did I drill decoding into a student who wanted to read Harry Potter? A text reader with a highlighting tool would have allowed the student to be reinforced of the words and text while auditorily reading on a level of extreme interest. The way to get better at reading is to...you guessed it...READ. Bring me that time machine now!

How many students would I have helped if I had been figuring out a way to get original ideas out of them instead of asking them to do something technical that was not the point? Traditional teaching models I used were good for some students, but truly figuring out what would have helped them discover inner brilliance would have been the best gift I could have given them.

Time machine selector pointing to present
There will always be time machine moments for educators. There will always be an advancement that will make a teacher run for a “Back to the Future” type Delorian and start wildly punching in dates. I think the thing that balances it out, however, is having an open mind in the present. Being innovative and outside of the traditional teacher comfort zone is what it is all about.


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