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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Jul
30

First day of school….wait a new job?

It is unbelievable to think that my daughter will be waking up and going to her new job on Monday. Didn’t I just send her off to Kindergarten a minute ago? It seems like it, but she has finished her Masters in Communication Disorders at Murray State University and is heading off to her new job as a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) on Monday.
Courtney Graduation Picture

In talking to her over the last couple of days I can tell she is both excited and filled with a little anxiety. “Mom, they are going to send ME real kids!” she says to me recently. Don’t you worry Courtney, you have all the skills you need, you just may not know it yet.  

Courtney has so many resources to help her along the way and she has and will utilize them. She follows specialists in her field on social media and has already used many of their ideas and suggestions. She has met and worked with many great SLP’s during her college experience and they have also been great mentors giving her resources and support. She will be surrounded by other SLP’s at her new job and I do not doubt that they will help guide her when needed.

Courtney has been preparing for her new job along the way. My mom and I have had fun scanning yard sales and the thrift stores for items she will need. We have found many toys, puzzles, and games that she will use with her clients! After attending the PATINS Tech Expo in 2019 she decided she needed a Blubee Pal and a Time Timer. Her wishlist for graduation presents included the Bluebee, the Time Timer, a baby doll, and a race car set. My family found her list to be quite interesting! Come join us in 2020 to see what exciting items you can find for your classroom.

Being around the PATINS Project for almost 20 years has given her an insight into Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) and AAC devices, switch use, basic and complex Assistive Technology (AT), iPad use and Apps and many other concepts that many of her colleagues have not been exposed to. She was helping me do presentations in high school so I know that she is prepared!

Sandy, Courtney and her grandpa


She is also very lucky to have the support of the whole PATINS team behind her!  We have a fantastic staff that is ready to help not only Courtney but all Indiana Public School personnel. How can we help you?
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Jul
25

No Shelf Life On Learning

On the first day of school, thousands of students will arrive at schools, carrying their newly stocked backpacks, some may be wearing new clothes, and all of them will be hearing an internal dialogue that will be positive or negative, depending. Depending on many things. We all know how that works.

Of these students, approximately 1 in 5 will also show up with  a reading disability that requires expedient and effective interventions. At risk of sounding like a 1-string banjo, my reference is to dyslexia. Indiana Senate Law 217, a.k.a. “the new dyslexia law” is now officially implemented. In case you did not spend part of your summer reading Overcoming Dyslexia (Dr. Sally Shaywitz) or becoming an Orton-Gillingham-based scholar by other methods, do not feel discouraged. There is no shelf life to learning. And if you did spend time preparing for the requirements of this bill, kudos to you. As you know, there is an endless supply of knowledge on dyslexia to be gained.

Take every possible opportunity to learn something about dyslexia. Open the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, leave the website open and during the day whenever you have a moment of peace, read something. Share what you learn with your colleagues, ask questions, trade tricks and tips. As your understanding of dyslexia builds, so will your confidence and competence for guiding students’ paths to meaningful learning. 

Become familiar with the information and resources that are posted on the IDOE: Dyslexia web page. Joseph Risch is the Reading Specialist trained in Dyslexia for the state and will make sure that guidance posted there is relevant and current.

Dyslexia is a reading disability from organic dysfunction but not all students in this category will qualify for ICAM services, which requires an IEP.

If a student has already been identified to receive special education services and has a current IEP, or if this identification is made in the future, then that student may receive specialized formats of learning materials through the ICAM. Please contact the ICAM team for details and support.


This will include a free subscription to Learning Ally audiobooks. Digital formats, particularly audio formats prove over and again to be a leveling tool for struggling readers. Before changing the company name to Learning Ally, it was known by RFB&D, Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. Learning Ally by any name has always understood it's target, and the staff works to develop pertinent products that help students experience success. 

Create more than one way to teach what you teach. Design lessons that work through multiple pathways to the brain. Teaching students with dyslexia fits perfectly in the UDL-Universal Design for Learning-- framework. Contact a PATINS Specialist for help in presenting your content through the lens of UDL.

Plan to use as much technology as is appropriate and possible—iPads, audiobooks, spell-check, text-leveling, text-to-speech, speech-to-text. Let AT and AEM help you help your students. Again, the PATINS team can offer suggestions and answer questions. All PATINS Specialist love technology and love talking about it-Just ask! Invite them to your school! 

Know that if an approach or strategy is good for teaching students with dyslexia, it is useful and appropriate for all students. They may not need that extra support but it will not impede their own learning process in any way. For them it will be another layer to learning. 

Know that there will be class periods or even days that you feel overwhelmed and impatient. Step back, take a break, use self-calming techniques. Look at the big picture, then move forward. The steps to implementation and understanding the nuances to IN SB 217 will not be easy. However this process will be rewarding to you, and life-changing for your students.

In your classroom, model acceptance, kindness and respect; require the same of everyone who enters. When students feel safe and know their input is valued, essential learning will happen. 

Thanks so much!


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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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Jul
11

Connect. Elevate. Celebrate.

PATINS-Project--ECET2DeafEd-Presents_ PATINS Project & ECET2DeafEd Presents: Summer Book Club Indiana Teachers of students who are deaf/hard of hearing

Connect. Elevate. Celebrate. 

That is exactly what happened this summer when 23 Teachers of students who are deaf/hard of hearing gathered online for this summer’s book club exclusively for Indiana educators for students who are deaf/hard of hearing. They got the chance to connect, elevate each other, and celebrate their talents and passions as educators through summer book club possible via a mini-grant awarded to PATINS Specialist, Katie Taylor (psst, that's me) with PATINS Project in Indiana from Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers (ECET2) Deaf Education Central. ECET2 Deaf Education Central is a 4 state-wide group working hard to elevate and celebrate educators in the deaf education field.  

PATINS Project & ECET2DeafEd Presents: Summer Book Club Indiana Teachers for students who are deaf/hard of hearing


ECET2 stands for Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers. It was born out of a desire to provide a forum for exceptional teachers to learn from one another and to celebrate the teaching profession. ECET2 is designed, led and facilitated by teachers, to inspire each other to become effective leaders inside and outside their classrooms. ECET2 seeks to realize a teacher’s potential by ensuring each convening aligns with its six key beliefs:
  •     Nurturing trust among teachers
  •     Focusing on each teacher’s potential for growth
  •     Inspiring both the intellect and the passion that drives teachers in their work
  •     Providing time for collaboration and learning
  •     Putting teachers in the lead
  •     Recognizing teachers as talented professionals
I wanted to be a part of this on-going effort because I have been a deaf educator for the past 9 years in Indiana. Working with 100s of students, school districts and those with the endorsement across the state it is apparent that those working in deaf education are worth the celebration. In a recent address by Dr. Nancy Holsapple, Indiana’s Director of Special Education, at the Indiana Deaf Educators and Educational Interpreter’s conference at the end of June 2019 she mentioned that Indiana currently has 53 active Teachers with the deaf/hard of hearing endorsement. It is a HUGE deal to connect these educators with one another and celebrate their effort and dedication to the field and the students of Indiana. Everyone has their "why" for teaching, but how often do you remember and reflect on it? These inspiring educators have dedicated their lives to bettering the lives of students who are deaf/hard of hearing. This book club was designed to remind the educators of their "why" and inspire them to make bring it back to their teaching this upcoming school year. ​​

As part of this book club, these teachers shared their "why" through the hashtag #whyIteachDeafEd




So, 23 of the 53 currently active Teachers of students who are deaf/hard of hearing from all over the state of Indiana participated in the summer book club. Take a look at this google map image of how far the book club reached this summer! 

google map image of where teachers are in the state of Indiana from the book club



They got to choose which book fits their interest.  6 were recommended: 
  • Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
  • Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis
  • Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis
  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Start With Why by Simon Sinek
  • The End of Average by Todd Rose
They connected virtually via a padlet wall each week of June 2019. Weekly discussion questions for each book were posted using a padlet wall and email notifications. It was a great use of this platform that allows you to post comments, pictures, and videos as well as like posts. The posts were well received and many comments back and forth and appreciated the insight into the books that were being read. It was clear that the books chosen were valued and that a lot of thought went into what they were reading and how it connected to their personal and professional lives, more so their students that they serve. 

At the end of the month of June, the book club educators got the chance to meet online via zoom meeting room. This was a great way to end the book up and introduce themselves in a more personal, interactive way. One of the best parts was making plans for potential future meetups and then that next week to meet up at the Indiana Deaf Educator and Educational Interpreters Conference as well as potential ideas to continue this collaborative nature of the book club.  

Because of the book club, many got to meet up, informally, in person with their newly found connected educators at the Indiana Deaf Educator’s and Educational Interpreter’s Conference at the end of June 2019. It was so fun to meet the participants in person and hear how their book was helping them think of innovative ideas for their students for this upcoming school year. They were meeting other teachers that they had not met before growing their personal learning network. 

Lastly, each participant received mail with a certificate for their dedication to serving Indiana’s students who are deaf/hard of hearing and recognizing their years of service.  As well as a computer decal with the wording, “deaf educator”. Participants also received professional growth points for their participation in the book club through the PATINS Project. 

I am so excited to have gotten the chance to help connect, elevate, and celebrate our precious Indiana Teachers of students who are deaf and hard of hearing. Keep doing the amazing work in supporting the best possible outcomes for our students in Indiana! 

Please comment on your summer book selections and what you will take away from your reading to inspire your next school year with our amazing students. Don’t forget to take some time to remember your “why” as you refresh and look onto the new school year. 

Make sure to like and share the PATINS blog with your colleagues. Subscribe to this blog to receive notifications each time a PATINS/ICAM specialists posts a new blog.


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Jul
04

Getting to the Root

Bev holding the Uprooter and a tree removed with the tool
Growing up on a farm, and working part time for over a decade as a flower farmer, I thought I had seen most garden tools available to be grasped by green thumbs of the world: every kind of spade and hoe with unique blade shapes, specialized plates for zinnia planting, and cool Japanese beetle traps that may or may not bring every beetle in a mile radius to the bullseye center of our field. 


My horticultural paradigm was knocked off center, though, when I spent a couple of afternoons working with the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired horticulture program removing invasive species from their campus. I was assigned to the group removing small trees and introduced to the UPROOTER, a.k.a. tool of my dreams. 

As shown in this video, the Uprooter grasps small trees at their base, and provides a long bar/lever to wrench the tree out, providing the most gratifying sensation of feeling the many-fingered roots pull up easily from their depths. If you’ve ever tried to pull even a half inch tree out of your landscaping by hand, maybe you, like me, have resorted to just cutting it off at the ground only to have the tree grow back in a month or so. It’s either that or back surgery. With my very own Uprooter, though, I have removed even the gnarly hackberry tree that I had just been cutting to the ground for the past ten years. 

My most successful consultations through PATINS generate a similar satisfying vibe. A Teacher for the Blind is preparing for a new educational need, or transition to middle school for a student and wants to explore technology options. They have a toolbox full of great devices, strategies and ideas, but want more training or to make sure they have the most up-to-date device. We spend most of our time talking about the student, and their unique needs, and then process our conversation using a great leveraging tool like Joy Zabala’s SETT framework. When a teacher knows their students well, and I am able to connect them with a new accessibility technique or gadget, we reach a moment when the barriers seem to loosen and slide out of the substratum of complexity.

Pinkish red zinnia
What are some barriers you’re facing this school year? Do you need to weed out any old practices that you’ve hoped would just disappear without addressing the root? We’d love to hear from you! Let a PATINS specialist be your Uprooter! 

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Jun
26

“Mimi, can I read this book to you?”

It has been more than 3 years that I blogged, “Mimi, would you read me this book?” It was about my wife Rita and our 5 grandchildren.

Here is an excerpt:

“We have 5 ranging from 6 years of age down to 6 months. From a very early age, Mimi would “read” picture books to each one. It only has a picture and is wordless, but she would describe the picture in a way that would tell a very short story. As each one has grown older, she would ask if they would like for her to read to them. “Bring me a book,” she will say if they don’t already have on in hand. She has never been turned down.  ore often than not I hear, “Mimi, would you read me this book?” You should know by now that the answer is an overwhelming “YES”. It is a blessing to watch how she draws our grandchildren into her world, no their world. So, as I watch this miracle happen, I take pleasure in 
fact that undoubtedly my grandchildren have found the importance of reading and I have as well. What a precious gift to pass on.”

Jump ahead 3 years and the age range is now 9 to 3 and a half. It has been an amazing look back and where the 3 oldest are now after attending school.

Dean just finished third grade, Logan just finished first grade and Kenzie just finished kindergarten. What is noteworthy is that all 3 read at or beyond grade level and they love to read.

What I wrote about 3 years ago has come full circle. Their enthusiasm for reading has been expressed in a reciprocal way to Mimi. What once was “Mimi, would you read me this book?” is now “Mimi, can I read this book to you?”

She never turns them down.

Kenzi reading to Mimi on the glider outdoors.

We take great pride in listening to them read. It goes without saying that what my wife sowed for our grandchildren 3 years ago has reaped tenfold.


Mimi has not given up reading to our grandchildren. We still have Hazel and Ethan that like to be read to, and it is still enjoyable for Mimi and me when we hear, “Mimi, would you read me this book?”



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Jennifer Conti
Reading with children is such a loving act! Great blog post, Jeff. ... Read More
Friday, 28 June 2019 08:41
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Jun
21

People First Language

While Spring cleaning this week, I came across a Syllabus from a Journalism Class I had nearly 40 years ago. It included a discussion on People First Language (PFL). This professor I had called it “A Person, not a Problem”. We were learning how to write descriptions of people without making their backgrounds or beliefs an issue. As the professor explained various phrases we shouldn’t use, there was one piece of advice that really stuck with me. It was this: “Don’t refer to people as being a certain thing.” The professor explained, “Write about them as people who have whatever IT may be.” Such as:
  • A woman who has cancer, not a cancer victim.
  • A man living in the county illegally, not an illegal alien.
  • People without homes, not the homeless.
  • A returning citizen, not an ex-con.
  • A woman with a mental health condition, not an insane woman.
Fast forward 20 years as I started working in Education. I applied this PFL mindset to persons with disabilities, with one realization. Words do Matter. I was bothered by the phrase my professor used “A Person, not a Problem”. My unscientific study of language revealed that the #1 word used about people with disabilities is “problem.” And the problem with “problem” is that it’s also the #1 word that activates exclusion.

Here are a few more respectful PFL examples:
  • People with Disabilities instead of Disabled or Handicapped People.
  • Student with Autism instead of Autistic Student.
  • Woman with a Visual Impairment instead of Blind Woman.
  • Accessible Parking instead of Handicapped Parking.
To learn more on People First Language, check out ARC of Indiana and Disability is Natural.

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Jun
12

I "Sparked Joy" In My Office and It Worked

I "Sparked Joy" In My Office and It Worked I
I don’t pretend to be any better than the kids who love to watch hours of people unboxing toys they’ll never play with: I love watching people buy homes I’ll never live in, make food I’ll never eat, or declutter spaces I’ll never visit.

To that end, I really adore Marie Kondo, the enthusiastic and sensitive soul who encourages you to either “spark joy” with items or don’t keep them, among other steps in her decluttering process. My husband is terrified when I turn on one of the episodes on Netflix, because he knows I'll be inspired to tackle another room. 😁

I admit to being a packrat and wishful crafter, especially in my job. When I see corrugated plastic yard signs or empty takeout I bring up the “Pinterest of my mind” and imagine what I could turn it into. Having a shoestring budget to cover 3-7 different rooms every year meant I had to be creative and I thought if I could just find more there would be… more! What if I needed it later?

A few years ago, unaware of Ms. Kondo’s methods, I inherited a workspace that resembled what an avalanche in a tiny library might look like. Materials were slowly suffocating me, and I realized The Purge must happen. I created a little test in my head: was this going to positively impact a student this month? Yes, keep and organize, if not, pitch. That's it, the only rule!

What was donated?
  • 60% of the games and books
  • Outdated testing materials
  • Old triplicate IEP forms from 1997
  • 99% of my college books and projects
  • 90% of the worksheets
  • Treasure box toys (and any references to treasure box/incentives)Neatly organized office supplies and a cup of coffee
  • Assistive Technology that has really truly bit the dust or past its useful life (check with your schools on how to dispose of it properly)
What stayed?
  • Solidly constructed organization tools like shelves and file drawers
  • Perennial office supplies, although not so many
  • A set of what I still consider my “speech therapy on a deserted island” emergency kit: mirror, dry erase board, post its, pens, crayons, tongue depressors
I can report I’ve never missed anything that was donated, not once.

It was better than a facelift: I felt like I had energy! The room wasn’t so busy, I could put things away quickly and my students could get things out. We were moving and grooving to a new rhythm.

At this stage in my career, the 5-7 speech rooms have condensed into the trunk of my car. It’s still a battle of making sure what’s in there really sparks joy and moves the needle. I’m moving offices again, wish me luck in making sure what stays in my new workspace provides me purpose and energy for another year!



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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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May
29

Gas Up the RV. It's Time for Speech Therapy!

RV Aerial view of RV driving on highway through a forest of green and yellow trees.
My classmate burst through the teal trimmed door smiling from ear to ear. All of us were instantly distracted from our silent reading to a simple object in his hand. A blob of bright red, sticky slime. Another classmate whispered to him “Where did you get it?” To which the beaming student replied, “I got it at the band!”

“What?!” I thought. “ Why didn’t I know about this band? And they give prizes?! Sign me up!”

I stomped all the way home fuming that my mom didn’t tell me about the school band. My mom, genuinely confused, said she hadn’t heard about it either. A few days went by and my mom mentioned it to my teacher who laughed and said there was, in fact, no band. However, the student was most likely referring to “the van”, which was actually a gigantic RV stationed in our school parking lot where the speech-language pathologist had an office. One master’s degree later, I can confidently say the band/van mystery is solved and that student was appropriately identified for services.

To close out Better Speech and Hearing month this May, let's give a shout out to all those SLPs who’ve had offices in janitors closets and mobile homes, shared offices, moved offices (with or without notice), or had no office. You know it’s not the space that’s important, it’s the quality of the therapy provided. You can serve students anywhere because communication is everywhere!

What’s unique about PATINS specialists is that they also work in all types of "offices" as they train in classrooms, schools, and districts. They’ve seen it all and have helped you UDL-ify your space. In the next couple of days, our specialists will be traveling to Summer of eLearning conferences near you, Indiana educators. If you can’t make it to any of those, check out our new Professional Development Guide to request a no-cost training or have us design one for you. PATINS will provide virtual or in-person training no matter the size of your space.

Where’s the most unusual place you’ve taught students?  


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May
23

Jump in, the water's fine!

       2007 Indianapolis 500 Starting field formation before start.

       Stick figure person running through door with

School is ending, the Indy 500 is this weekend, and pools are open for the summer! It’s time for a little relaxation. Oh, wait...this is a blog for educators. Back it up.


Odds are that you will be doing some kind of professional learning this summer. Is your district hosting a Summer of eLearning conference? Will you be participating in a book club with your colleagues? Maybe you are just planning on relaxing and reflecting. I would like to challenge you to do something this summer that is totally not something that you would normally do. If you are at a conference, attend a session that you normally wouldn’t, even if you don’t think it applies to your classroom. If you normally read fiction, read a non-fiction book or vice versa. Are you a knitter? Learn to sew. You get the picture. Just get outside of your groove.

pool frog floaty.
There are a couple of good reasons to try this. New experiences create new ideas. This could stimulate your brain and give you some creative leaps for next year. But, did you know that some scientists believe that the perceived passage of time is connected to the amount of new information you feed your brain? In other words, by filling some of your time with new experiences and thoughts you can make your summer seem to slow down.
 If a longer summer break sounds good to you, this may be the answer! Give it a try, even if it’s a total disaster, you’ll have a new story to tell!

shark
Watch for the PATINS Specialists at the Summer of eLearning conferences around the state. Come up and say hi!


Oh yeah, remember to take some time for yourself this summer too. Reconnect with what makes you, you. Have a great break!


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May
16

Helping Students Move Forward

Grieving from the loss of someone or even a big change or transitions in your life is probably one of the hardest emotions to tackle. In grieving, so many other emotions are entwined with sorrow, pain, sadness and often misery. It’s like a tornado of memories that keep us attached to our loss or change that is constantly spinning out of control. How do we find control?

Everyone handles grieving in different ways. Some of us just shut down or we get angry. Some of us throw blame or stay so busy that we can almost pretend it didn’t happen or will not happen. Some seek supports and surround themselves with friends and family.

When we know that someone is grieving, we seem to be more lenient and understanding in how they respond to grieving and try to figure out how we can play a helpful role.

This leads me to the end of the school year approaching and how we can play that helpful role. As a teacher, besides holiday breaks, we often see many behaviors on the rise during this time. Often times, these behaviors are associated with the overwhelming joy that summer is coming and students can’t wait! While I have no doubt in most circumstances that is true; let’s not overlook those students who may be in grieving within the anticipation of no longer being at school because they may have food insecurities, violence, zero social interactions, deplorable living conditions or even perhaps no longer access to reading material.

Some students count down days to loneliness, violence and hunger.

We can predict this pattern of behavior toward the end of the school year; which means that we can also do our part in prevention. How can we help?

First, let’s not assume all students are excited about summer break and then make all of our writing and conversations about that excitement. I challenge you to ask your students what they will miss about not being in school, if they have fears, what they wish you knew about them and what they wish they had over summer break. Then, talk with your students and create solutions and goals.

Create summer calendars for your students to support the visual of each day to countdown summer days.

Share resources for local libraries, online access to reading materials, audiobooks or create a YouTube playlist of individuals reading books aloud for children. I love this story of how a principal is using Facebook to make sure her students get bedtime stories.

Make sure all of your students know how to call 911 and also have resources for local helpline numbers. This should also include information about local summer kitchens that provide meals for students at no cost.

Create a summer group backchannel to help prevent isolation and loneliness. This would be a place that students do not have to have “friend requests” but are already a part of the group. This could be a FlipGrid, Padlet, private Twitter feed with GroupTweet or even create summer pen pal kits, AKA: snail mail. (Yes, with stamps, envelopes, paper...shocking, right?)

mailboxes

I do believe some students begin to grieve the upcoming summer break. I recently watched a Ted Talk on grieving. The speaker mentions how we don’t “...move on from grief. We move forward with it.” Moving on being leaving what you know and moving forward being taking all of the skills and memories alongside you and growing with them. Also, knowing how and having supports. I found that extremely resonating and applicable for so many things on many levels. It is definitely worth the watch.

While our students head out for summer break, let’s not focus on them moving on toward the next transition...let’s help them move forward with supports, skills and tools they can use to continue to grow and self advocate for their well being.

We can make a difference. Believe in it.


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May
07

Construct Hope, Rise Above Fear, and Insist On Possibility.


There’s an amazing man by the name of 
Nicola Dutto. Nicola is an off-road motorcycle racer, and a very good one! In 2008 and 2009, he was a European Baja champion. Then in the 2010 Italy Baja race, he experienced a disastrous high-speed crash, leaving him paralyzed. 

Anyone who knows a racer, knows that racing is a powerful thing running through his or her veins…a drive and passion that cannot easily be dropped. Nicola was no different and set his sights on racing again. After 9 months of intensive therapy, he entered the 2011 Baja 1000 in a 4-wheeled vehicle. Mechanical failure kept him from completing this race, but he also learned that 4 wheels just didn’t do it for him. He greatly missed having the command of a 2-wheeled machine. The subsequent steps of this story are the pieces that really grabbed my attention.

Daniel McNulty racing a dirtbike, standing on the foot pegs.

Noteworthy, is the fact that Nicola admits to being terrified to ride again! He knew that his soul needed to ride again. Nevertheless, he wasn’t shy about the fact that it seriously frightened him! As an off-road rider myself, I know that I’m slightly terrified every time I grab the throttle. I also know that the majority of the time I'm riding off-road, I’m actually standing up on the foot pegs, not seated! A lot of steering, control, and weight distribution happens with your legs. They also act as additional shock absorbers and, of course, rear brake control and shifting all happens with the feet! To even begin to comprehend racing at the level of Nicola Dutto while remaining seated the entire time, with no use of my legs, is beyond intimidating!

Nonetheless, Nicola did it. He placed 24th in Spain’s Baja Aragon race to become the world’s first paraplegic pro racer just 4 months later and then…he set his sights on becoming the first paraplegic to race the world-legendary, white knuckling, and grueling Dakar race! While I love riding and racing, what truly excites me about this is the passion, determination, skill, creativity, and support of Nicola and his team tackling this together! He needed all handlebar mounted controls, a special seat from a wheelchair cushion specialist, a roll-cage for his lower extremities, and a 3-point harness to hold his legs within the cage, and this was just the necessary hardware ingenuity!

Nicola Dutto and his team after a race, with him sitting on his motorcycle accommodated to allow him to race as a paraplegic.

Nicola also needed “ghost riders.” People to ride ahead and scan the terrain, helping him choose racing lines, since he would be unable to stop his motorcycle. He also needed two riders behind him to right his bike in case of a fall (which happens a lot to me). In short, Nicola truly relied on his team in many ways. The Dakar race would simply not be possible without his team’s collective brain power, physical dedication, and willpower. He needed them and they quickly rallied around his determination to make his dream a reality. Nicola states that it's difficult to even describe how he now has to ride and that it required a lot of practice for him to become proficient with the changes. 

While I could read and write about motorcycling for days, what I love even more about this story is the camaraderie, the support, the teamwork, the passion, and the determination of the team! The PATINS Team embodies all of this in my eyes! This PATINS team of incredible people bring their respective expertise together to accomplish seemingly impossible feats for so many Indiana students every week! This team pulls together to get students physical and cognitive access to their curriculum, to put communication systems in place for students who are non-verbal, to create emotionally secure learning environments, to support teachers who feel like they have a "Dakar" race to complete without the use of their legs, to convey information to students who cannot hear it, see it, or organize it. …and this inspiring teamwork happens every single week, all year long! 

Many of you are also likely part of a team who rallies around student’s strengths, desires, and goals. Frequently, you invite the PATINS staff into your team for further support and we are so grateful for those opportunities to help assist your kids! When we consider all of these things that our teams work to accomplish, one word presents itself prominently; accommodations!

Nicola didn’t want to compete in a different race, he wanted to face the same demanding Dakar experience as other racers who were not paraplegic and he needed some creative accommodations and hard-core resolve to make it happen! We have so many students in Indiana who are fully capable of and desiring to take part in the “Dakar” of their educational experience…to meaningfully participate in the general curriculum and obtain a high school diploma, with appropriate accommodations both in the daily classroom and on assessment! The race is the same race, the content is the same content, the diploma is the same diploma, but the ways in which it is approached, interacted with, and responded to could vary! Taking away any one of Nicola’s accommodations would almost certainly guarantee his non-participation. Similarly, taking away any one appropriate student accommodation will almost certainly exclude them from the most meaningful participation in the general curriculum, and effectively, from a diploma.

As Case Conference Committees (CCC) come together to build effective Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for students, they must rally together as a focused, insistent, creative, and purposeful team! Each student’s strengths and barriers must be analyzed. Potential software, hardware, and strategy-based solutions must be trialed! Remember you can always borrow from the PATINS Lending Library and seek support, training, and development from the PATINS Team! Data from these trials must be used to determine appropriate and effective accommodations in each and every IEP! These accommodations must then be implemented with fidelity on a daily basis (the extensive practice necessary to become proficient), and on assessment (the Dakar)!

I don’t anticipate losing the use of my legs, or my arms, but if I ever do, I’d certainly be grateful for and reliant upon a team of passionate, hopeful, creative people around me, figuring out how to get me back on a motorcycle as quickly as possible! Figuratively speaking, unfortunate things happen all the time which, on the surface, appear insurmountable, and take our "legs" out from under us. The riding of the “motorcycle” seems like a lost cause many times. These are the times when we need our teams, and students need their teams, to match our/their determination, to be the most creative, and to be brave enough to believe with all their heart that the impossible only seems as such because no one else has done it yet. It’s hope that these dream teams construct! Before Nicola Dutto and his team made racing in the Dakar as a paraplegic a reality, many thousands of people likely didn’t even possess a construct for hope in this regard. 

Be a constructor of hope in your team! Be the determination who thinks and tries things for 10 minutes longer! Be the creativity that encourages possibility. Be the strength that “picks the bike up” for a teammate every time it falls!
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Daniel G. McNulty
...much thanks, Julie...much more so for being an integral part of our dream team, working daily to construct hope for so many.... Read More
Thursday, 09 May 2019 14:24
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Apr
30

Better Together

“I’ve got it,” my eight-year-old daughter Zoë frequently says when I offer to help her. I am completely on board with her show of independence, although sometimes I have to fight the urge to help her do “it” the same way an adult would. She actually mowed the front lawn on Friday...she was so determined and excited. Yes, the yard looked like crop circles and she had to contend with a low-flying helicopter parent, but she felt accomplished and proud.

Zoe mowing the lawn
I love that she wanted to do it on her own. However, here is the rub. How do humans balance learning and growing when one of the best ways to grow is to seek help? Especially after we discover that we are way better together when we share our gifts with one another.


Consider the gift of discovering that someone already created a form, saving you hours of time and hard work. Learning a strategy from a veteran teacher of how to streamline lesson planning and collaborating with others should be wrapped up with a bow. My favorite gift arrived from a former teacher of a student who was struggling in my class. Incredible suggestions on how to help allowed me to offer the best support possible. I know how important these gifts have been to me.


For those of you who know me, you know I have moved around a lot. I never dreamed when I started teaching the small middle school classroom designed for students with Emotional Disabilities in Indiana that my life would change so drastically and look so different from year to year and from state to state.


I taught a cross-categorical classroom in an elementary school in Gambrills, Maryland. I taught high school at a separate day school for students with significant disabilities in Edgewater, Maryland. I taught self-contained and collaborative classes on the high school and night school levels in Chicago Public Schools. All of this was before I decided to take a leap to become an Assistive Technology Specialist for the city of Chicago. Moving back to Indiana I was an AT Specialist for seven school districts as well as a behavior consultant for another district.


All of these experiences specifically taught me how to change, to learn, and to reinvent.


None of this, however, have I done alone.


When I found myself in a classroom where my principal was not a fan of encouraging words and teaching a man to fish, I learned a huge lesson on what collaboration could do. I viewed it as a punishment when she called in the “big dogs” to teach me how to do reading intervention and how to structure a classroom with so many demands. The class had 13 students and ranged from a student with limited communication who became physically aggressive toward the other students repeatedly throughout the day to students who had dyslexia and would pop in for extra help. I had one assistant and I was drowning.


When the “Big Dog” sent to save me, entered my classroom I felt defeated. I knew she had been sent there because I could not keep my nose above water. What I didn’t know is that this dynamic, brilliant and compassionate person would literally turn around every thought I ever had about education. She would work by my side, not in judgment, and forever alter my path as an educator. I could have said, “I’ve got it.” and completely dismissed her support in fear of seeming unskilled or incompetent. Look what I would have missed!


The PATINS Project also does not want anyone, not a single educator, to move through life without a collaborator. I am so proud to be on a team of specialists who are dedicated to learning everything that they can and sharing even more. My best hope is that you take advantage of the in-depth and informal training sessions, conferences and the vast Lending Library we share with you! So many educators have already taken advantage of these services that are, almost completely, no cost to educators. Just this year:

  • 1,242 educators received classroom training sessions led by PATINS/ICAM specialists on Universal Design, accessible materials and/or assistive technology.

  • 800+ attendees learned from and networked with local and national leaders in education at our Access to Education conference & Tech Expo.

  • 1,797 items borrowed from the Assistive Technology Lending Library. Trialed items support communication, vision, hearing and executive functioning in the classroom.

  • 167 in-depth trainings held for publicly funded district, school, and cooperative employees throughout Indiana.

Never do alone what you can do better together. Collaboration is what teachers were born to do! We want to be a part of that collaboration!


PATINS In-Person Educator Support July 2018 - March 2019 Infographic.
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Apr
26

Traditions

Sandy and her husband.
Easter is one of my favorite holidays. We have a tradition in my family on Easter; the family gathers together at a local park for a day of food and fun. To the best of my knowledge, this tradition was started when I was around 2 or 3, so it has been about 50 years or most of my life. There have been many changes in our family dynamics over the years, but this tradition has survived and for that, I am very grateful.
 
Sandy and her daughter and parents.

We have been very lucky over the years and the weather this year did not disappoint, it was so beautiful. This wonderful weather has been great for the many sports and activities we have participated in over the years. I can remember many years ago when they had a roller skating rink and us kids would go skating. We have played softball, tennis, horseshoes, ladder ball, washers, frisbee, hopscotch, and we added pickleball this year. We jumped rope one year and everyone was so sore the next day!

We have an Easter egg hunt every year, and the kids always enjoy hunting eggs. We have had years where we only had one or two kids and we have had years where there were many! This year we had 15!

Group of kids at Easter.

Traditions are important to me and I do my best to make sure our family traditions continue for our future generations! What traditions are important to you? Do you have traditions that you use in the classroom?

Here are some classroom traditions that I found through a Google Search:
  • Making hot chocolate after lunch on the first really cold day
  • Decorating sugar cookies and watching "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (the original) the last day before Christmas break
  • Doing an "awards" presentation for all of my grade 8 students on the last day of school
  • Birthday snacks
  • Flipping on the monkey bars at the end of each day of state testing
  • Making time capsules on the first day of school and opening them on the last day
  • Any students that have not had a discipline referral all year get to bust a piñata on the second to last day of school
  • Pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving
There are many other great ideas available through a search on the Internet!


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Apr
18

Accessible Media Producers and Specialized Formats: A Primer

This information is available online and the ICAM staff talks about these issues often. There is always confusion, understandably, so let’s give it another run through.
  1. NIMAC - National Instructional Materials Accessibility Center:
  • Created by IDEA 2004, NIMAC is a federally funded, online file repository of source files in the NIMAS (National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard) format. Here, authorized users (the ICAM is an authorized user) can access more than 52,000 K-12 NIMAS files for use in the production of accessible formats for students with disabilities. Digital Rights Managers are trained on the process of ordering materials, many of which we obtain from the NIMAC. A digital file received from a publisher does not automatically mean that the file is accessible. All files that are sent by the ICAM to the end user are accessible. The NIMAC tweaks the digital file to create an accessible NIMAS file and they are used to make the specialized formats such as braille, large print, ePubs, accessible PDFs, etc. When searching for an ISBN title, choose Search ICAM/IERC.
  1.  APH - American Printing House for the Blind:
  • Dispenses materials and products designed primarily for people who are blind or visually impaired, including accessible aids and equipment for age 3 through grade 12. Individuals must be approved and registered through the Federal Quota Program. You will hear us refer to that as the APH Census. Aids and equipment refer to items ranging from low-tech to higher-tech items such as raised line writing paper, talking calculators, video magnifiers, math manipulatives.
  • The Louis Database is the APH File Repository. They use NIMAS source files to produce learning materials in digital and hard-copy braille and large print and digital text files for e-readers. Materials are ordered through the IERC (Indiana Education Resource Center) via the ICAM online ordering interface. Search ICAM/IERC.
  1.  MAMP - Miami Accessible Media Project:
  • MAMP was established in May of 2008 through the collaborative efforts of the Indiana Department of Corrections, the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired/IERC and the IDOE (Indiana Department of Education). They provide quality braille, large print and other accessible educational materials transcribed from NIMAS files, whenever possible, for qualified students in Indiana’s local schools, in a timely and efficient manner, while providing a skill to the offenders that will increase employment opportunities thus reducing recidivism. Materials from the APH and MAMP are ordered through the IERC via the ICAM ordering interface: Search ICAM/IERC.
  1. Learning Ally:
  • Provides the largest available library of human-read textbooks, popular fiction, and literary classics. These are human-voice recordings and, therefore, are not available upon demand. Volunteer readers must audition and be trained. For textbooks, readers are matched with the subject content, for a more relatable, natural listening experience.
  • Learning Ally audiobooks are not made from NIMAS files. However, since the ICAM was created to help Indiana LEAs (Local Educational Agencies) adhere to the federal mandate of the NIMAS regulations, and because of a long-standing partnership between the ICAM and Learning Ally, we include these audio files in our on-line integrated ordering interface.
  • Learning Ally, as its own entity, can provide audiobooks to students who have a 504 plan; the ICAM cannot, because of our inherent link to the IDEA.
  • Individual memberships currently cost $135 per year, per student. If you become a member of Learning Ally by private purchase, you still must provide evidence of the print disability, documented by a Competent Authority. In this case of a reading disability such as dyslexia, this may be specific school personnel.
  • Due to the Learning Ally/ ICAM partnership, we provide this membership for free for students who have an IEP and documentation of a print disability. For a student presenting a reading disability such as dyslexia, this documentation must be provided by a medical doctor or doctor of osteopathy, as per the NIMAS regulations of the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) 2004. Materials are ordered through the ICAM interface using the eBook search.
  1.  Bookshare:
  • Has over 700,000 titles of textbooks, popular fiction, children’s books, vocational resources, as audio files, audio with highlighted text, digital braille and large font. Free for students with qualifying print disabilities including dyslexia; requires confirmation by a Competent Authority which may be school personnel-special education teacher, school psychologist, and others.
  • When the ICAM cannot find a book for a student from the NIMAC or Learning Ally, we search the Bookshare library and let you know if your book is available there. It is important to consider that Bookshare files only come in a digital voice and many students might benefit from a human voice option, particularly in the lower grades.
Further considerations:
  • PATINS/ICAM is a grant-funded service designed specifically for the state of Indiana public schools. Our grant is made available to us largely because of data we provide, the statistics of how many students and schools we serve, how we serve them, then the results of that service. Our trainings: Free. The use of the lending library: Free. Learning materials obtained through the ICAM: Free. Hardware obtained from our Refurbished Technology Program: Free. The advantage of the areas of expertise by staff Specialists: Free.
  • When materials are ordered through the ICAM, we provide ongoing support that is personalized to your needs. If the individual you contact feels someone else can better assist, we connect you. We work closely with the MAMP and the IERC staff in this way as well, to be sure that concerns for students with print disabilities of any nature are not overlooked. This type of attention is largely missing in an organization that is the size of Bookshare, and even Learning Ally, except because of our partnership with the latter, ICAM Specialists can fill in service gaps there as well.
  • When determining the best-specialized format for a student, the consideration should never be based on what is most expedient for the adults in the room. The goal of the Case Conference should always be to provide the best possible learning solutions for our students.
Thanks so much!


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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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Recent Comments
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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