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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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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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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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
15

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


One last piece of advice. When you see an idea from a post on a blog (like this one!) be sure to check the blogger’s credentials. Google them, take a look at what they post on Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram and make sure they truly are someone you would want to take advice and inspiration from! I hope you check me out--find me on Pinterest and Twitter as @possbeth,or on Instagram as @bethposs.
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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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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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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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Recent comment in this post
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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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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Sep
12

When Life Overlaps (With More Life)


two teen girls jumping on a trampoline at the Sharritt's farm
Have you ever felt stretched in more directions than you ever felt possible? This summer was a season of challenging and unexpected beginnings for me, which is kinda funny because in my last PATINS blog, I used the phrase “bring on the possibilities!” (shakes head at 3-months-ago self). Here’s the summary of summer for specialist, flower-farmer, foster mom, and new-grandma Bev:


A challenging beginning for my full time job at PATINS was to create meaningful trainings for ALL educators for the summer of eLearning conferences, given that my specialty area is with blindness and low vision technology. Most of my participants may have one student in their whole career with this disability. I came up with “Close Your Eyes and Imagine UDL” and “Electronic Books for Elementary Students”. Check these out as fall webinars by searching the PATINS training calendar.

More and more, the boundaries of special education and regular education are dissolving into “this classroom works for everyone.” I met many educators who are doing this creative work. They enriched my specialized views with their ideas for taking accommodations traditionally available to students with blindness and low vision and considering how they could help any student.


My part-time summer job as flower farmer became both harder and easier when my Mad Farmer husband Roger, planted 20 new perennial varieties. I loved having a larger variety of textures and palettes when making bouquets, but it also increased the number of times my back had to bend to cut those beauties. We are already negotiating on limits for next year, but I’ve seen some new dirt flying in the perennial field when Roger thinks I’m not watching.

close up of black-eyed Susan flower; black center with gold narrow petals
In late June, we suddenly welcomed two foster daughters ages 11 and 12 into our house. This led to having more than one kind of cereal in our cupboard, and other oddities like an unexpected evening of putting together a trampoline as a thunderstorm approached. The trampoline
does block my view of the perennial field. The volume of life has increased for the Sharritts with this addition of both loud laments/bickering and high-pitched joy/hilarity to our lives.


With great anticipation, I awaited the title of grandma this summer with a due date for Margaret Rosemarie on August 3rd. Then in June, the news that her dad would be a working in Indianapolis, rather than Michigan, threw new possibilities and logistical challenges into the mix. My son-in-law moved in with us to start his job and look for housing (buy more cereal). We worked on squeezing in visits to our daughter while she finished her job, and waited to deliver in Lansing. Then we all waited 9 extra days for the girl while she took her sweet time to make her entrance.

September and structure are my new favorites. I’ve never been more excited for school to start. I’ll be a little sad when the frost comes and kills the zinnias--but only a little. I’d even concede that I’m looking forward to socks again. We’ve all landed softly (or continue to bounce on that trampoline!) after a chaotic summer. The heaviness of the stress when many roles overlapped, eventually found a balance with something lighter. Or I yelled for help, and someone stepped in. Or I just yelled. 

I witness educators being pulled in many directions as well. If it is a season of extremes for you, I wish for you a good team, and a willingness to look for growth in the stretching.



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Aug
16

Transition Times

Transitional times, like back to school can bring pleasant opportunities for reflection and change.

yellow Nasturtium flowers in bloom

At my house, the Nasturtiums are in bloom. Nasturtiums are beautiful as a garnish and completely edible with both leaves and flowers giving a peppery flavor.

There are two transitional times of the year for me; the end of the school year and the beginning of the school year. Approaching the end of the school year, I always say, “ I have run out of year.” I mentally begin moving on to the next year. I reflect how the current year prepared me for the upcoming school year.

"Finish each day and be done with it. You ahve done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I keep in mind this quote and set my sights on to the next year and a centralized focus. I have my goals, my hopes, and, dreams in place. If I can establish a routine, all the better. If I can schedule ahead, great. My goal is to create usable forms and personal procedures. When I do this, I can be flexible and responsive. I am a happy camper!

coffee mug with the words Happy Camper

If I start the next year all up in the air without a centralized focus, all I will have to guide me is luck and frustration.   I don’t want to live that way.

The word chaos repeated and scattered around a white background

I can only imagine that I am not unique in this. Everyone would appreciate a system that is flexible and responsive to change.


My tips on how to do this:
  • Follow a schedule to keep track of what needs doing and when. What can step aside for an immediate need but not forgotten later?
  • Annual and/or Quarterly planning
  • Monthly chunking
  • Weekly reflection
  • Daily updating
  • Pick a system that is easy to use, intuitive and fits with all the apps and software you use.
  • Use a system that will sync with all the devices you use.
  • Use a system that will provide the accommodations needed.
  • Speech to Text
  • Text to Speech
  • Searchable Handwriting Recognition
  • Handwriting Recognition to Text
  • Use of a stylus
  • Word prediction
  • Alternative keyboards
  • Sometimes free is best. MS Office (Office 365) and Google, have calendar/planner/tasks options. Look for add-ons or extensions to make them more flexible.
PATINS is a great place to find out more. The PATINS Lending Library has organizational tools available that may help. PATINS Specialists can assist with finding your focus. We can help create plans that are flexible and specific. Address your unique details related to organization and executive function. Even set up tracking systems to measure progress.

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Jun
06

Summer: A Time to Create (and Eat Kohlrabi)

purple kohlrabi ready to harvest in the garden

“Beginnings. I detest them.”


This is the first line I wrote in a journal I kept for my first creative writing class in high school, circa early ‘80’s. I was sixteen, so my first inclination in reading it all these years later is to reach back in time and pat myself on my big, feathered,1981 hair and gently say, “oh honey, turn down the drama.” I was, after all, sixteen, so maybe there was only one setting.

photo of Bev's creative writing journal from 1981
In reading the whole journal entry, I sense that what I was really feeling was fear. I liked writing, and other teachers had told me that I was a good writer, but I was nervous about measuring up for Mrs. Bales, who had a powerful reputation in our school. She was known to be quirky, funny, creative, and to set the bar high. I had even heard that she arranged the desks in a circle on certain days--gasp!

She wrote back to me in the journal feedback, “beginnings can be beautiful and new!” which turned out to be true for her class, where I felt challenged and nurtured as a writer. It was also the place where the seeds were sown for my career in education. Mrs. Bales paired me with classmates who struggled with editing, and pointed out that I was good at helping them without doing it for them.

37 years later, (with much smaller hair) I’m thinking about the beginning of summer, and the beginning of my 3rd year with PATINS.

Summer starting:

  • Slicing the first kohlrabi from the garden
  • Walking through the entrance of the amusement park and deciding which roller coaster to ride first
  • Opening the first page of the book you haven’t had time to read
  • No socks for months and months ahead
  • The garage freezer is full of Klondiketwo rows of sunflower plants in the garden Bars
  • Betting with my husband on the first sunflower bloom
  • Porch swing cinematic view of an Indiana storm bowling in
Beginning a new year with PATINS:
I know in September I’ll be ready for structure again, but for now, bring on the blank pages, the possibilities, the bare feet!

outline map of Indiana with pie stickers placed where Bev has traveled for PATINS and found good pie
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May
15

A Regular Committee Meeting or an Example of Everyday UDL?

I just spent the evening with a group of friends focused on organizing for a project. We ate a lovely carry-in meal and got down to a business meeting and ended with a group effort on a task to start the project. It was good to catch up with people we don’t see very often, share quite a few laughs and work on a common goal. The entire process lasted about 4 hours, which was longer than absolutely required to get the job done, and to be honest, we were all glad to go home at the end, and we left with a feeling of having done a good thing. For me, it had been a long day, as I left for work at 6:00 am and got back home at 9:00 pm after this meeting. We all have those kind of days if we are involved with children or community activities. It is what makes life rich, if not overdone.

Every time I am with a group of people charged with making a plan of some sort, I am reminded that “decision by committee” can be, and often is, loud and messy. I will admit that I was pushed to my limit with 16 passionate people enthusiastically sharing ideas and thoughts, often at the same time, and there were plenty of sidebar conversations. Loud and messy are good and important in this process. It means the participants are active and engaged. Each personality and style had an opportunity to express themselves and folks who needed to keep things rolling felt comfortable to nudge the group along. Those of us who prefer less noise and more structure were empowered to move things along or refocus the group. It was easy to shift any negativity into a more positive outcome and when the group needed more gross motor activity, the meeting shifted accordingly.

As I watched this process unfold, it seemed to me that every person there felt safe and comfortable to share and interact. Respect was given to each member who contributed. Interestingly, this was a blend of two separate groups who function very differently from each other and the results were positive.  

Looking around at the tools available to make this work, I saw low tech pencil and paper, notes on a napkin, a sophisticated daily planner, an iPod. We even had a bell as a signal to bring the group back together. Empowerment was evidenced by the willingness to take responsibility for ideas and assignments. Collective wisdom was respected, and new ideas were considered.

This was a great opportunity for UDL principles to be used and, without knowing it, these adult team members took full advantage. Throughout this process, we reviewed the why, the how and the what. For the Why, I saw examples of interest, sustaining effort and persistence and self-regulation. There is no doubt about the level of engagement in this group. We had a clear purpose and goal. For the How, we demonstrated multiple means of action and expression with lots of opportunity for movement, we worked through a variety of organizational abilities as we had to problem-solve challenges and change course. We provided opportunities to work in a large group, small groups, with a partner and alone. On a practical level, we had a heavy emphasis on auditory as it was a group discussion. Some people had notes from a previous meeting, others had samples and there was a practical task that required problem-solving, manipulation and visual skills, manual coordination and teamwork. Scissors, sticky labels, signage, scheduling, lists and a schematic layout, paper, planners, iPads, smartphones, varied activities, the use of a walker, tables and chairs, and food are examples of universal design that were brought to the meeting.   

The difference in this practical application of an evening meeting and true Universal Design for Learning is that the UDL piece was not planned. Therefore no specialized needs were anticipated, planned for, nor setup with needed materials. What we saw tonight was evidence of how Expert Learners function at an integrated level. Most of us in the group have experienced enough life to know how to meet our individual needs. We were able to locate adaptation in the environment (scissors) to facilitate our work. And team decisions were able to be made with input from multiple individuals.

This was truly a fun experience for me and I had a lot of fun looking at it through the lens of Universal Design for Learning. What would I do in the future to be more intentional? Perhaps provide writing options for those who did not bring any tools/material. Knowing in advance how we can include elderly or mobility limited, or participants with other disabilities. But we also knew we could provide most of what was required because there is a ready supply of alternatives in the building for those who need it and the level of experienced learners we had assembled.

So, what started as another meeting at the end of an already long day, turned out to be a nifty example of the universality of people’s needs and abilities as we work toward a common goal. Quiet, silent classrooms with a teacher providing information via lecture is not always an indicator of an effective learning experience. In reviewing the revised UDL Guidelines 2018 Chart, these expert learners used a variety of means to access knowledge, build upon that knowledge and take these internalized skills to a functional and productive outcome.

Kudos to these participants who demonstrated expert learner skills by integrating purpose and motivation, resourcefulness and knowledge, toward attaining an end result that was strategic and goal-directed.    

Thanks for the fun evening!

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Apr
10

The Ugly Cry Is Beautiful

You know you are a special education teacher if “it takes years for your student to reach a goal and when they do...you just want to cry.”

Oh yes...celebrations of students’ success…big or small. Those are moments when you feel the rush from the pit of your stomach and then it slowly starts flowing through your veins….then explodes like a can of pop that was shook and quickly opened...which leaves your eyes dripping with salty excitement...and the next thing you know...you are doing your interpretation of the happy dance. If you are a teacher or anyone who has celebrated a child, you know exactly what I am describing. No, it’s not always pretty...but I can guarantee that it is always beautiful to the student to which brought about this emotion.

Happy Dance

I will never forget the first time I experienced this organic feeling. I was sitting on the floor in the hallway with a 5th grade student who independently decoded an entire paragraph for the very first time of a book we were reading together. He paused at the end of the paragraph and was nearly shocked by his own reading. The moment he turned his head, smiled and looked at me...the unexpected floodgate began. It was lovely chaos...I was celebrating him and he was consoling me! Ha ha It’s like sitting in a baseball stadium and your team hits a home run...the next thing you know...you are on your feet cheering and clapping! It’s uncontrollable excitement.

I have to admit, celebrating myself is a personal struggle. However, doing whatever it takes to facilitate a student in success of emotional, social, behavioral and/or academic skills...I am all in. While I am not in the classroom any longer...I get the privilege to have shared classrooms and students across the state. With that said, I am still “all in” for you as educators and your students. In fact, my whole team is all in for you.

The year is coming to an end. Find time for pause and instead of just looking directly at a student’s struggles as we support them, also look around them...see and feel the moments to celebrate.  I have great adoration for this quote from the book Wonder, “Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their life.” Go ahead, it’s ok to get ugly; because it’s beautiful.
Woman crying holding tissue to face.
Fun ways to celebrate your students while also motivating them:
  • Send an email or note to parent/ guardian or school administrator
  • Praise verbally
  • Throw graffiti parties
  • Ring a bell
  • Expression by using GIFs
  • Allow students to write down what THEY feel they did best, crumble paper and have them shoot into a “shining moments” basket at the end of the day.  
Wonder Book
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Feb
28

March Towards Hope

March Towards Hope

The calendar has some quirky coincidences in 2018. The somber first day of lent, Ash Wednesday, when folks in the Christian faith acknowledge that yes, they are
going to die, fell on Valentine's Day: a frivolous celebration of worldly love. Easter is on April 1 this year. I don’t envy the ministers and theologians who will have to work on that Sunday. It seems like they’ll have some extra explaining to do. And now my turn to write the PATINS blog falls on March 1st. Ugh.


Not true everywhere, but in Indiana March is the worst month. Don’t let that iconic shamrock on the calendar fool you, there isn’t much green to be found anywhere. We’re surrounded by gray skies, flat beige landscapes, and still wearing thick socks. In March, there might be a 70 degree day or two where you are lulled into thinking winter is loosening, but it will be followed by a lockdown-drill of freezing rain.

road 2125828 960 720 2
There is the big basketball tournament to distract us, but as I write this, Purdue has dropped from the top of the Big 10 standings, and it seems that having not one but two 7-footers on the team wasn’t enough to propel the Boilermakers from our mid season winning streak to tournament favorites. I blame March in the midwest. I know, not rational, because all Big 10 teams are in the midwest, but before you all message me and gently suggest that maybe Bev needs some medication, I’ll let you know that I do have strategies for surviving March.

First, seed catalogs = hope. Slowly page through them and drink in the colors. Or, while you’re at the home improvement store finding replacement parts for your sump pump (March floods) stop by the display of seed packets, pull out a packet, gently shake it by your ear and hear the sound of presumed life. My second strategy is to pretend I’m somewhere else; otherwise known as Mr. Rogers make believe medicine (I know, maybe consider medication). I put on my colorful bathing suit, lime green swim cap, and swim at the Y once or twice a week. And I imagine that the water is heated by a tropical sun. This week: Belize. My final strategy was a gift given to me by my friend Kelly. She created a Pinterest board for me called “March Madness Prevention” and she posts images or links to my favorite things: Bugs Bunny cartoons, snapdragons, and porch swings, to name a few.

The PATINS blog calendar lottery has also slotted me into a point in time where schools and teachers are looking out at what could be described as a bleak landscape. Fear seems to have enveloped schools, and infected the debate about how to keep all safe in the sacred space of the classroom. I’ve laid awake at night with the debate about violence in schools ricocheting around my brain, but haven’t been able to come up with much that doesn’t sound like more noise.

I’ve decided to follow Kelly’s lead to offer you a Pinterest board of sorts to share some images of hope. As a PATINS specialist I am in and out of many Indiana schools each week, and I see so many lovely things happening despite all that seems against us. Here are a few snapshots of hope happening in schools. Right now. Despite March:
  • My colleagues in Bluffton who work every day to hold high expectations for all and ensure that each child in the room has a voice. Follow the joy: @asheetsroom14 on Twitter.
  • An art teacher friend shares this story
painting created by high school student of bare trees with snow and shadows
  • One kindergartener telling another to take a deep breath when they can’t seem to figure out the reader app I’m teaching them. I followed her lead.
  • Students from STEM and robotics clubs finding solutions for students needing them. I was fortunate to meet members of the Mishawaka Penn High School Robotics Club who presented at a national assistive technology conference.
  • Pre-teacher in a Butler training determined to reach middle-schoolers, despite showing a depth of understanding of the middle school psyche. Felt like a hope earthquake under my feet.
  • Students at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired discovering healthier food by massaging kale with avocado, and planning a new cafeteria garden on their campus. (I repeat, seeds = hope)
If you have an image of hope, please share in the comments!

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Nov
22

A Universally Designed Thanksgiving Gathering

black raspberry pie
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! The Sharritt’s have already stuffed themselves once last Sunday as we hosted my husband’s Kincaid cousins, and we’re on our way to Lansing today to feast with our daughter Grace, her husband Chris, and their family of choice at their church.


I hope you are on your way to a gathering filled with love, moist turkey, and many kinds of pie. It’s a time for human to human contact, something we may feel a little uneasy about in these days of personal interaction mediated by devices. We’ve been seeing Cousin Cyndi’s baking wins and fails all year on Pinterest, and now it’s time to sit down and actually break some honey twist bread with her. Uncle Mickey has been lurking on Facebook all year, and while we haven’t seen him, he’ll know much about what we’ve been up to by monitoring our newsfeed.


It is a new and ever-changing social dynamic we’re all figuring out together. I thought I’d share some tools I’ve discovered as a Specialist for
PATINS that might help you navigate this tricky digitally disposed world.


There are many apps designed to help folks who struggle with social skills. And I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing like a family gathering to make you feel like your social skills have been set back a couple of decades. A Jeopardy-style game called 10 Ways helps students learn to recognize idioms, sarcasm (also known in our family as decoding what Uncle Roger is saying), and how to start a conversation, among other things. These are mainly developed for people with autism, but who among us couldn’t benefit from choosing “listening for 400” or “personal space for 100” and learning some pointers to help us improve at getting along?

gameboard for 10 ways app showing the categories body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, personal space, and eye contact

Working with students who have blindness or low vision, I am constantly on the lookout for ways to help these kids find ways to interpret social situations without the benefit of seeing body language and facial expressions. A new viewing device called the
OrCam helps them to not only read print in their environment (signs, menus, books), but can also be taught to recognize faces of their friends and family. The lens on their special glasses sees who is present when they enter a room, and voices names into the user’s earphones. An app for your phone called Seeing AI does this as well with the phone’s camera, and goes a step further: you can train it to not only recognize “Aunt Ethel” by taking her picture, but you can train it to recognize “Angry Aunt Ethel” and “Happy Aunt Ethel” by taking her picture with those facial expressions. Then when you walk into the kitchen you’ll know if she’s discovered that you broke into the fudge stashed in the pantry before she yells at you.


screen from seeing AI app showing boy aiming his phone at a girl with the text

I don’t have low vision, but this app is helping me to remember which one is Auntie Mid and which one is Auntie Rene (same enormous nose and sweet smile) just by discreetly aiming my phone their way. Honestly, it is helping me keep track of names for folks I may only see a couple times per year at the family dinner. At PATINS we are promoting a movement in education towards
Universal Design for Learning and this app is a good example of how one tool designed for a special need or task can evolve into an improved learning environment for all (including those of us who have 51 first cousins!)


There are new instant captioning apps for the hearing impaired that use voice recognition to put speech into text. This is huge for both students in a classroom, and also for Grandpa who is struggling to hear his granddaughter speak to him over the football game.

There are three major principles for Universal Design for Learning: Engagement, Representation, and Action & Expression. Engagement entails getting someone interested in learning, like this little cheer my son Ben did with his younger cousins to get them get motivated to help dry dishes.

Representation is the practice of presenting content in many different ways. For Thanksgiving, this obviously translates into having as many flavors, colors and textures of pie as possible. You also might want to contrast with a cheesecake or flan.

The final principle, Action & Expression is easily illustrated at any family gathering. Look around the table at the beautiful diversity that came from the same bank of DNA, and embrace all the forms of expression that we have to share what we know.
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Aug
09

Failing Forward

Bev Sharritt using a Braille Note Touch
As the specialist at PATINS for Blind/Low Vision, I work with Braille, and its evolving technology. In an exercise in review (and humility), I decided to type this blog on one of the Braille devices that we provide in our lending library. Here is my first line attempt:


“My blog is due throughursday so i geed to startd.”

Hmmm, probably need to brush up on my Braille skills as I head into the school year towards training sessions with teachers for the blind and their students. Definitely a wobbly ride after a summer of staying off the proverbial bike, but after a few more sentences, words were flowing more smoothly, at a creeping rate of about 25 wpm.

The device, a Braillenote Touch, is a Braille note taker created to fuse with an Android Tablet so that a student who uses Braille as a primary literacy media can access anything their sighted peers can access.

Watch me work at my speed on the device.

Watch more proficient users on the same device.

I learned to read and write Braille back in 1996 from a delightful teacher named Margaret, who had taught for many years at the Indiana School for the Blind. I struggled with e’s and i’s while writing Braille because they are mirror images of one another like b’s and d’s are in print. Margaret helpfully admonished, “You go up the hill and down to hell,” describing the orientation of the dots in “i” and “e”. I think of her every time my fingers pause at these litters, I mean, letters.

I read Braille as a visual code, rather than a tactile code, as do most sighted folks. The course I took taught the complete literary Braille code in one semester, and after this, I could read my students’ work, and compose documents on a mechanical Braille writer for them to read. It was much easier than I anticipated--mainly learning an alphabet code ala Kindergarten plus punctuation, plus 250 or so contractions (like learning stenography), but, nevertheless, accomplished in a single semester.  

If you’re looking for a fun brain challenge, the app Braille Tutor is free, and will guide a sighted user through the code. Many folks look at others using Braille as “amazing” or “inspirational”, but they just learned to read like the rest of us, one letter, word, and corrected mistake at a time. If you’ve learned all the ins and outs of that current game on your device, I’m sure you can learn Braille.

When I go back to typing in Braille, using 8 keys, my muscle memory kicks in, for the most part, but I am wretchedly slow, and the letters that were difficult for me before remain hard. It really is like riding a bike, but y’all could probably walk beside me and keep up, and I definitely should wear a helmet. Throughout my years of teaching, the more I used it, the faster and more proficient I became.

Even more than reigniting the synapses in my brain reserved for Braille, this exercise reminds me of the need to consider that the learners (students and teachers) that I’ll be working with are ready to fail and ready to achieve. As C.S. Lewis put it:

“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.”  

How are you setting up your learning environments for failure this year? How will you create situations where students will struggle? How will you model reframing a failure into a learning opportunity? Here’s a list of resources to spur you on to failure.

I’m going to break out the Braille device once a week. I kind of like the word “throughursday” that came out in my first attempt. Sounds like the day you need to struggle through to get to Friday.

Wishing you all a year full of epic failing forward opportunities!



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Jul
18

Death By Paperwork

"Death By Paperwork" in a creepy font and a blood splatter
First: I made it out alive. You will too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It might just change your life.


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Jul
13

Summer Musings, Student Thoughts


Summer. What a great time to store up some natural vitamin D, enjoy the outdoors, and clear our minds from the doldrums and cobwebs that some of us collect during the winter months and look for renewal for the upcoming school year.


At our house, we remodeled our kitchen and, that was an undertaking! It only took three times longer than anticipated but the end result is gorgeous. One does not realize how old something is until it is updated though to be sure, my daughter did try to advise me of this for a while. I took the opportunity afforded by dust, chaos, and disarray to purge the rest of the house. This made the mayhem worse. The saving grace for me was in knowing this messiness was temporary and actually, in my relative control. We have expanded some of the renewal to include new carpeting, which should be installed next week. So it is not smooth sailing yet. Then, of course our family get together is happening before the carpet comes in so it is not “perfect”. There is a lesson in there, too. Perfect is not necessary. 

As I gear up for the 2017-2018 school year, I cannot help but reflect on the daily lives of some of our students. This is not a statement of poverty, class, background or anything else. It is just life. The issue of clutter, chaos and stability crosses all the lines. So, how does this impact our students?   

On an individual level, consider how each of us is able to focus, find things, concentrate, think, create, remember or recall in an environment where we feel we have control, or where we feel we do not. A great example of this comes to mind with the topic of homework. How can homework get done in the midst of chaos? Let alone get done effectively. What does it take to set students up for success when it comes to homework completion? We have to look at individual needs on a universal level.

If we follow the UDL principles set by CAST and follow up work at the UDL Center we have an expectation to facilitate students ability to become expert learners. How can a child and young adult be resourceful and knowledgeable; strategic and goal-directed; purposeful and motivated amidst clutter, chaos, mayhem and limited choices? I think of students with complex disabilities.  Again, the issues cross all the demographic lines. Without a voice or a way to effectively communicate, an individual is dependent on the organizational style, timelines, thought processes of those around them. I do not see how this can promote the development of expert learners.

As an occupational therapist, we look at the whole person, not just the physical aspects of disability. When I see homework not getting completed, there are usually a number of reasons and punitive measures do not seem to get better results. These other reasons can include many issues including significant/subtle learning disabilities, no adult support, poor executive functioning, and emotional issues. This is obviously not a comprehensive list, but you get the idea. Also, a question that is good to ask is “What is the purpose of the activity?” The answer to that question alone can make a big difference in focusing on critical elements of performance for a student that is useful in growing their expert learner potential. This can even be explored with seating and positioning in the classroom. Without control and confidence of one’s physical state, learning becomes the secondary focus. So, homework, in-class work, whatever the work of a student is we need to know what we are working toward universally, know the student individually, and intentionally plan upfront for all the diversity and chaos eager to learn this year!

Let’s find “techy” ways to help students find their own control and stability in a chaotic world.
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