Feb
14

A Reading & Writing App from me to you!

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

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

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

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

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

If this wasn't the valentine you wanted from me, here's another! Baby Shark Valentine
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Jan
10

Teacher, Wash Your Face

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

Katie holding Girl, Wash Your Face book.

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

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


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

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

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

So, what have you been waiting to do?

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

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

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Oct
18

Time Machine Moments in Education

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

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

red pen markups on a typed paper


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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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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
25

A Case for Meaningful Context and Unpredictable Connections


This is a story about James. Actually, it’s a story about James and Mr. Tooley; the two of them were inseparable outside of school.


James was in 5th grade when I first met him. We worked together on math concepts once a week after school. We primarily focused on fractions and decimals, which he absolutely detested.

Generally, on Tuesday afternoons, I went to James’ school, where we met in the cafeteria for an hour. A teacher friend had asked if I’d be willing to help James. She said, “He’s such a sweet boy, but struggling in school.”

I agreed to work with James and soon discovered he was absolutely amazing.

As the week of Spring Break grew near, James’ mother, Ruth, asked if I’d be available to work with him over break. So that particular week, I went to James’ home for our math session.

Ruth met me at the front door, “Hi. Before you come inside, I need to ask if you have any problem being around pets.” I said I was fine with pets and just assumed the family dog or cat would greet me when I walked through the door. 

front porch view of door slightly open
 
I wish I had a picture of my face when James came around the corner with Mr. Tooley on his shoulder. Mr. Tooley was James’ pet crow.

Prior to meeting James, my experience with crows had been minimal. I didn’t know anything about crows except how they looked and how they sounded. I didn’t care for either. Glimpses of crows picking at roadkill tended to disturb me.

What happened between James and me, once Mr. Tooley (Mr. T) entered the scene was the best tutoring I ever experienced. In the name of full disclosure, James was definitely the tutor; I was his tutee. Mr. T was teacher, friend, and comedian to everyone he encountered.

James used our weekly sessions to teach me all about Mr. T. We never met in the school cafeteria again. He and his entire family thoroughly enjoyed surprising me with Mr. T’s feats of wit or ingenuity.

A favorite family game with Mr. T was Hide and Seek. If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I wouldn’t have believed it. I was surprised how clever and engaging Mr. T was, no matter what game we played with him.

Coincidentally, with Mr. T’s assistance, James would tackle almost anything academic, mathematical or otherwise. James was completely invested in any activity that involved Mr. T because he was completely invested in that crow.

James had tremendous knowledge of crows and other birds. He also loved to draw. Although his fingers were not formed in the same way as most of his peers, he was able to use any type of drawing tool he wanted in order to accomplish any effect he desired. His artwork, as well as his imagination was remarkable. 

black and white illustration of man lying on stomach reading a book with three crows near him
Over time, James shared incredible stories with me. They all traced back to Mr. T in one way or another. We worked together to bring his stories to life. He wrote, spoke and drew them into life, then revised and retold them all over again.

There were innumerable ways to incorporate mathematics into our time together. James seemed to love them all. He wasn’t frustrated or defeated, even when we worked on fractions and decimals.

He loved to prepare fractional amounts of seeds, nuts and pieces of fruit for Mr. T’s food and then calculate the percentage of each that Mr. T ate. He was also motivated to figure out the annual cost of owning Mr. T, which then prompted him to do a price comparison of cages in order to lobby for a new one.

For James, the context was meaningful, which made the content palatable, even intriguing.

In the end, I’m sure I learned more from James than he learned from me. I’m also sure he impacted my way of thinking more than I impacted his.

My preconceived notions about crows had been based on physical attributes, limited experience and no real knowledge. My preliminary thoughts about working with James had been based on curriculum guidelines, classroom settings and personal agendas.

Sometimes it helps to have another person invite you into new ways of thinking and new possibilities. James (with the help of Mr. T and his family) did that for me.

I didn’t work with James in a classroom setting, but I still think this is a powerful testimony for employing the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in the classroom.

UDL is not about the wit of a crow or a fifth grader’s distaste for mathematics. But it is about what happens when such things collide into purposeful, accessible and motivating ways, allowing students to flourish academically.

At PATINS, we know it’s darn near impossible to stop students from making educational strides if they enjoy or believe in what they’re learning, and when they have the access and means for this learning to take place.

Give us a “caw” if we can help your UDL plans take flight.

American crow in flight with blue sky background


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Apr
20

Expectations

Expectations are tricky things. Sometimes they let you down, sometimes they lift you up! I had expectations for April to be a lot warmer by now, and yet I wait. The warm air may be late, but ISTEP testing, Senioritis, and transition fairs are all occurring right on schedule. This is the final stretch of the school year, expectations are being fulfilled! But the story for each student started much earlier.

ant 1       “Just what makes that little old ant                          
        Think he can move that rubber tree plant

        Anyone knows an ant, can't
        Move a rubber tree plant” *


Let’s talk about rigor in education. I have never liked that word. 
I associate it with the dictionary definition, “harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment”, but the education definition of rigor is quite differentThe Glossary of Education Reform is a great place to go when education speak gets in the way of understanding. It equates rigor with educational experiences that are, “academically, intellectually, and personally challenging”. When we challenge our students with a rigorous curriculum that is universally designed and equitably supported by accessible content and assistive technology we are showing that we have high hopes. Our expectations are that each student under our care will be challenged and supported so as to reach their full potential. 

 "But he's got high hopes, he's got high hopes"                 Ant looking left


So as this year’s finish line approaches, keep pushing, and search for why they are pushing back. 
Equip them with all they need to access the curriculum for the 175 days they aren’t testing so that on the 5 they are, they know and show their potential. Give them all the skills and knowledge they need to earn the transition of all our dreams!
ant with hands on hips                                               “Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant.”*

*Writer(s): Cahn/Van Heusen
Frank Sinatra High Hopes on YouTube

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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.


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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Mar
15

Life all comes down to a few moments. This is one of them. *Pivotal Legislative Changes for Dyslexia

Recently, IN SB 217, which concerns schools’ response to dyslexia, passed through the Indiana Senate and House. This bill takes a huge step forward in addressing a problem that has the potential of negatively impacting lives of our students throughout their school years and beyond.

The good news for Indiana school corporations and charters is that the tenets of the bill are to be met no later than the 2019-2020 school year; scarcely more than a year from now. Of course, this time will not be spent idly, but rather in preparation for the ensuing changes in instruction, school personnel, and attitudes. Following is a skeletal outline of what will be required of schools in IN SB 217.  
  • At CCC meetings, on IEPs, and on your school’s website, start talking about dyslexia. Everyone should know by now that “if we just ignore it, it will go away” is a negligent fallacy. Talk to other teachers about what they are seeing in the classroom. Get familiar with dyslexia, get comfortable talking about it.
  • Use the IDOE-approved system of supports to address the reading needs of students that present characteristics of dyslexia. Be careful not to spend too long in a tier if it’s not working for the student. Time spent ineffectively addressing dyslexia is time wasted, and studies have shown that a poor reader in 1st grade has a 90% chance of always being a poor reader. Interventions that are timely and effective increase opportunities for academic and life-long success.
  • Obtain parental consent before screening. This should be no problem. When I speak with parents about this, they are hungry for solutions; they want honest discussion between teachers and their families, they want their child screened, they want outcome driven interventions, yesterday. Last year. Two grades ago.
  • Dyslexia interventions may include certain types of instruction. So vague, but so easy. The research is in and we know what works here: instruction that is Explicit, Systematic, Multisensory and Phonetic. If your instruction curriculum does not include these, let us help you find one that does.
  • By July 1, 2019, each school corporation and charter must employ at least one authorized reading specialist trained in dyslexia. Depending on school population more than one may be necessary. Begin making the decision on who will be designated as soon as possible, and find a certification program.
  • IDOE will provide professional awareness information on dyslexia to each teacher in each school corporation and will develop and update an Indiana dyslexia resource guide. Lean into the support they will provide.
So, there it is. If you regard IN SB 217 as an overwhelming addition of copious amounts of work, that is completely understandable. But allow this outlook to exist only for a couple of days. We all know how fast a year passes. This is so much to pull together, but you can do it! Your students need you to be successful, so they can be successful.

The ICAM will support schools as they serve students who have a current IEP in several ways. We will provide a membership for them to receive human voice recorded audio books, some that are accompanied by text: textbooks, children’s books, literature and novels. Also, we will provide NIMAS files, the digital format of their textbooks to use with text-to-speech software, and ePubs. These specialized formats are pathways to adding a multisensory element to your instruction. It’s not the whole multisensory component, which uses all learning pathways at once—visual, auditory, kinesthetic, tactile-- but should be regarded as a substantial piece.

Also, we have a growing collection of dyslexia-related books and other resources in the PATINS Lending Library; you may review titles in ICAM Dyslexia Book Resources. There are a few articles in Document Resources you may find helpful, and on the Dyslexia Resources page there are webinars, websites, a dyslexia screener. We will be adding to and updating these pages as we continue our research.

PATINS/ICAM Specialists are happy to come to your school to present real classroom solutions that can be immediately implemented, even customize a presentation to address specific needs of your school or corporation as you adapt to the changes IN SB 217 requires.

We are here for you. And for the starfish.

Thanks so much!

* "Wall Street"
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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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Feb
04

AT Team Development- Worth the time!

We just wrapped up ATIA 2018 in Orlando. There were so many wonderful sessions and so many great folks to network with. My focus was AT Team Building this year. It strikes me that the issues are the same as always and the individuals faced with solving the issues are the same groups of people. The difference in all these years is that our general knowledge has evolved as has the mass, open accessibility to tools. Maybe it is helpful that our funding is increasingly blended, too, making it more obvious that these kids are all of ours, so more folks are naturally involved in the brainstorming.

Stakeholders are all talking classroom accessibility rather than pulling a student from natural instruction to provide access on a tool so special or expensive it has to be stored in a special "AT room" with security akin to Fort Knox. Talk about leveling the playing field! The Cloud; Access to the Same Curriculum; Getting materials in Real Time; Accountability; Showing what someone Knows; Expecting Achievement; and working with General Educators have all facilitated this growth in Access and Communication. If that is not team building, then I have missed something.  

Bridge builders working together on structure

We still need framework, structure, support, training, modeling and followup as we develop this process. We need to encourage individuals with expertise to blossom, find their niche and shore up the structure for staff and student. The knight in shining armor coming in to save the day never really did work because you are still left with the issues, once the knight leaves.  

Let's work together to Level the Playing field for staff working to find solutions and support each other as we support students. In the immortal words of my daughter, "It's a marathon, not a sprint." Let's pace ourselves and dig our heels in for a lot of fun as we lope along! It is a familiar path and now we can slow down enough to welcome friends. With the tools readily available, progress can be seen fairly immediately, so this marathon can be a satisfying journey.

The PATINS website has some suggested structure to get you started. Go to the Julie Kuhn Webpage and look for AT Team Development. Also, I periodically host webinars on this topic and you can always contact me to get started on your own problem-solving and action plan!

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Sep
28

Learning with Laughter

Kelli laughing
Cachinnate: “to laugh loudly”


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

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


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

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

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



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Aug
31

De–Clutter Is De-Problem - Lack of Headspace Causes Havoc

Colorful image depicting visual clutter, busyness

My kitchen table is a disaster. The table itself is fine. It’s all the junk on top of the table that’s a problem. Obviously, I haven’t been serving any elegant meals lately. (Clever tactic, if I do say so myself.)

I decided to tackle the semi-organized chaos when my eyes caught sight of a Health & Wellness newsletter that was partially buried. It seemed to be mocking me with its title: The Mental Cost of Clutter. Ironic, I thought.

image of cluttered tabletop

I quickly glanced around the house and determined I was safe - no real clutter around except for this stupid table. I skimmed the article just to be sure I wasn’t harboring some unknown health issue.

According to this article’s source, statistics show that:
  • Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), making our senses work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important.
  • Clutter constantly signals to our brains that our work is never done.
Other negative impacts were cited in the article, but these two caught my attention and prompted me to Google clutter, and declutter.

Apparently, I have more of a problem than I thought.

image of female headshot of smirk expression
Here are some of my red flags:
  • I’ve never been through a 15-step declutter program or 30-day declutter challenge
  • I don’t have a Pinterest collection of Top 10 Ways to Eliminate Clutter
  • I don’t belong to a Clutterless Recovery Group or to Clutterers Anonymous

Admitting the problem is the first step.


I’m actually pretty careful about physical clutter. To be honest, I’m pretty much an organizational freak (which is an entirely different Google search…). Nonetheless, I’m fairly organized - except for my kitchen table area. I don’t think physical clutter is my problem.

However, clutter inside my head – now that’s a different issue. The cumulative amount of stuff running around in the confined space of my head is definitely a source of messiness for me.

This mental clutter consists of new input, old residue, and every drive-by source of stimuli in between which, when combined, ends up consuming too much space inside my head. When headspace has no white space, the result is mental clutter.

If I’m in a state of mind-full clutter, I’m likely to become distracted more easily and focus on unnecessary or unimportant details. If I’m struggling to curate the information in my own head, my ability to transfer new information into learning is minimal.

Note to self: Less clutter. More curation.

Distractibility, excess stimuli, information overload, and internalized stress are all known to be barriers to learning. We may not know how prevalent the issue of mental clutter is, but we do know barriers like these negatively impact the learning process.

image of barrier, barbed-wire fence around a field

In and out of the classroom, we know the advantage and importance of developing strong executive functioning skills. Everyone benefits from support in this area. (Case in point: me. I rest my case.)

I love the way Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation is described by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University:

Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.

I sure could use a Captain Sullenberger Level of Executive Functioning right about now. And while I can’t offer a 15-step program for mental decluttering, or a 30-day challenge to eliminate all barriers to learning, I can offer a few resources to support students in the development of their own executive functioning:

Composite Lists of Recommended Apps:
Apps for Mindmapping & Habit Building:
Don’t Forget About Built-In Tools Such As:
Gotta run now - my kitchen table’s overflowing with inedible objects….

What are your favorite resources and strategies? We’d love to hear from you!
Or, feel free to contact us with questions you may have. We’re here for you!


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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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Jul
03

The Hyphen

I never quite realized why I chose a career in special education until this spring. Both of my brothers are electrical engineers and I had a math minor in college. Ending up as a special educator certainly was not my intention when I went off to college. I always would joke that I selected a profession that did not require a government clearance.

Recently, I realized that my mother influenced my career. Mom made it a priority in her life to make sure everyone was cared for, that no one was forgotten. She single handedly took care of my dad for twelve years after he had a debilitating stroke. When I would take her to doctor's appointments she would always take time and ask the doctor how they were doing almost immediately after they would ask her how she was doing. I would often just chalk up this behavior as part of her dementia.

But then it hit me. She knew exactly what she was doing by asking the doctors how they were doing. It was not related to dementia at all. At her assisted living facility I would watch her make sure that fellow residents had everything they needed at meals. She would inform nursing staff if she thought a resident needed some attention. She always had a stash of Lifesaver mints to give to residents and employees. She truly cared for everyone and in her own little way worked to make everyone's life just a little better. For 93 years she had been tossing starfish back into the ocean!

Why did I end up in the special education field? I was destined by my upbringing! I was taught to seek out starfish and return them to the ocean. When I was in the classroom I would somehow always get a challenging student or two because 'I could work with their uniqueness '. At the time I would wonder what I did to make my supervisor continually give me challenging caseloads. I know now that my caseload was based on my ability to see the starfish in everyone. We all need to find the starfish and return them one at a time to the ocean.

I am sure my mom taught me a lot of things. It has just taken me 64 years to realize how she modeled and shaped my life and career. Thanks Mom for your patience with your middle child. You threw me back into the ocean many times!

You always hear it is the hyphen or dash that really counts between your birth and death. It represents the accomplishments, both good and bad, in the course of one's life. Mom has quite a distinctive hyphen, oh the stories it could tell!

Rest In Peace, Mom
February 14, 1924 - June 17, 2017

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Julie Kuhn
Jim, this brought me to tears. How beautiful and thank you for sharing this amazing reflection. What a rich life.
Thursday, 13 July 2017 10:42
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Jun
14

"I got this."

fishing jumping from one bowl to another with the words I got this
Reflect, reflect, reflect is what my college professors used to say constantly. I always felt like I was going to lose my mind with one more forced reflection because I never understood the “why” of reflection.

If you have ever been to one of my trainings, you will know that I discuss the “why” in all that I talk about. I do feel that if we do things for a purpose because we know the meaning and relevance for ourselves, then we will most likely stay ignited in the passions we pursue or grow within the learning environment. We will want to learn. We are presented with the big picture and we can actually see it. We will apply and we will continue to remain expert learners; which in turn...can turn glazed-over eyes that look upon us in a classroom- into active, independent, engaged participants in their own learning. Our students.


I naturally reflect almost daily now as I work in education. This wasn’t an easy thing to do for myself because I am my biggest critic. Reflection makes you pause and think about the recent past and when you feel like you have failed; it’s so hard to relive in the moment because most of us just want to accept that feeling and just get away from it. However, within that pause, we can find change, we can find resolution, we can find growth.

Flower reflectionIt’s now summer time when most of us finally take that moment and reflect over the entire year. If you are like me, do not only reflect as your own biggest critic; but also as your own biggest fan. Look back at the awesome things you have accomplished, the changes you have made, the lives you have touched and the laughter that you may have sparked. Grow within those awesome moments and pack up the feelings of failures, learn from them and become a stronger, better teacher because of them.  

As you take some much needed time off this summer and begin the planning of the new school year, consider adding reflection into your days, weeks, months...not only for you, but for your students. Explain the “why.”  In thinking of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles of engagement and action and expression, here are some examples for fun and engaging ways to incorporate reflection into your classroom:

  • Tools such as Padlet for weekly reflections to share.
  • Try using the app One Second Everyday from the first day of school until the last to create a virtual diary by taking one picture each day. The app quickly makes a video contemplation of your entire school year. What a fun way for students to reflect and to share!
  • Consider using furtureme.org to email the “future you” for goals to yourself or for your students. However, there are many good ways to use this free online tool.  

Relax and enjoy your summer.  When the moment comes to get back into the swing of things, pause...look at yourself and repeat, “I got this.”

PATINS staff has got your back also. Contact us anytime.  

PATINS logo
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Apr
03

"Crazy"


Charlie Brown and speech bubble with the words good grief
 


OK, so, I missed my blog deadline this time around and it made me think of how crazy our lives can get. I am not so sold on the benefits of multi-tasking. So here is a YouTube link to Gnarls Barkley (CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse) singing "Crazy". At the bottom, I included a copy of the lyrics from the St. Elsewhere Album. It’s really fitting for all of us, I believe. Parents, educators, students, administrators, support staff. Craziness is for anyone who is putting themselves out there to make our world a better place.  


Feel free to slow down and take 5 minutes to enjoy a song not usually connected to what we do, and is inspiring in its own way!

As we all strive for control over our lives, it seems many of us (attempt to) do this through schedules. In our paperless office, I find I still need the print version of a calendar to ground me on a daily basis.

Here is a little of what I have learned over the years:

Digital calendars/schedulers:
  • Great for portability
  • Great for ease of adjustability
  • Easily searchable, depending on how it was set up
  • Easy to set repeating appointment
    • And my favorite
      • Great for color coding/categorizing
  • Downside:
    • Too easy to misdate or delete something
Paper calendars/schedulers/appointment books
  • You can see what you erased!
  • Easier for me to see a week at a glance.
  • I am able to glance at weeks more quickly.
  • Easier to quickly glance on the road.
  • I can make notes right on the document.
    • including…my mileage
  • Downside:
    • If you leave it at home, you are sunk.
Conclusion:
  • There is no one system that works for me and believe me, I have been looking for a long time.
  • About the time I think I have a good system, I find it may be perfect on a desktop, but not on a mobile set up.
  • Or it was better with a previous email system, but not a new one.
  • Or a new data collection system changes my personal coding system.
And it is all good!
OK, anything useful here?
  • First of all, we all have to work with the materials at hand and the resources available.
  • Decide how to visually organize your life and go from there.
  • We also look at ourselves or who we are considering. 
  • So this is where the feature match comes in. 
    • I can be pretty flexible with some basic features and allowing myself to print out a working calendar document. 
    • Anything else is just crazy!
Choices:
  • These are more schedulers than organizers, but the list might get you thinking. These are a drop in the bucket I currently have eleven in a folder on my phone that I have explored.

Gnarls Barkley (CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse) singing "Crazy"

"Crazy" St. Elsewhere Album Lyrics
I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind
There was something so pleasant about that place.
Even your emotions had an echo
In so much space

And when you're out there
Without care,
Yeah, I was out of touch
But it wasn't because I didn't know enough
I just knew too much

Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
Possibly [radio version]
probably [album version]

And I hope that you are having the time of your life
But think twice, that's my only advice

Come on now, who do you, who do you, who do you, who do you think you are,
Ha ha ha bless your soul
You really think you're in control
Well, I think you're crazy
I think you're crazy
I think you're crazy
Just like me

My heroes had the heart to lose their lives out on a limb
And all I remember is thinking, I want to be like them
Ever since I was little, ever since I was little it looked like fun
And it's no coincidence I've come
And I can die when I'm done

Maybe I'm crazy
Maybe you're crazy
Maybe we're crazy
Probably

Uh, uh

Credit AZLyrics 

Thanks! Julie

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Mar
22

Spring

I grew up in a Belgian neighborhood. Most of my adult neighbors were immigrants or first generation Americans. ‘Broken English’ was the neighborhood language, English was the second language. The Belgians take great pride in the appearance of their household and neighborhood. Lawns were perfectly manicured, weeds were pulled. Neighbors could be seen twice daily sweeping the curbs due to cars kicking stones up onto the sidewalk.

The hobby of choice was racing pigeons. Every Saturday they would take a crate of their best birds to a designated location to have them turned loose early the next morning to see whose pigeon would return back to their respective coop the fastest and give their owners bragging rights.

Annually in spring and fall were two very special events……Spring cleaning and Fall cleaning. They would wait for the perfect string of days so that windows could be opened to air out the house. Over the next few days every inch of the house got a thorough cleaning. Furniture had to be moved and every wall in the house was washed. Carpets were shampooed. Draperies were taken down and cleaned! All the closets were reorganized! Windows were washed inside and out! The neighborhood smelled like Spic n Span! Six months later a repeat performance.

Well it’s spring again. The neighborhood I grew up in is now ‘integrated’ with non-Belgians who don’t have the same work ethic as old timers once did. But something can be said about that work ethic. It sort of provided each household with a clean slate that was refreshed and renewed.

As educators, a good spring cleaning may just be in order. With ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) and the Dear Colleague Letter, we as educators are being asked to do a thorough cleaning. But instead of washing walls and shampooing carpets in our classrooms we are being asked to refine out teaching styles by insisting that all students live up to high standards and incorporating UDL principles into everything we do. It is not a simple task. Nor is it a task that can be completed in just a few days. Nevertheless, it is an important task. Generations of students will benefit.


And just like when I was growing up the deep cleaning was an annual event held twice a year, we cannot be complacent with an occasional deep cleaning of our teaching style. It, too, needs to undergo a good cleaning and rejuvenation often. So get out the proverbial ‘Spic n Span’ frequently and transform your classroom into a learning environment where everyone has an opportunity to learn. Our students will be grateful for it.


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Mar
02

Happy Birthday to...Me?

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

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

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

Birthday Balloons


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

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

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

Just a few examples to start or continue;

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

  • Have visuals available for responses.

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

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

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