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?
2
  126 Hits
0 Comments
126 Hits
  0 Comments
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.
0
  605 Hits
0 Comments
605 Hits
  0 Comments
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.
2
  930 Hits
2 Comments
930 Hits
  2 Comments
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!
3
  295 Hits
0 Comments
295 Hits
  0 Comments
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.

1
  155 Hits
1 Comment
155 Hits
  1 Comment
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.

1
  181 Hits
1 Comment
181 Hits
  1 Comment
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.


1
  2193 Hits
2 Comments
2193 Hits
  2 Comments
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!
1
  281 Hits
2 Comments
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
281 Hits
  2 Comments
Feb
28

Where's A.T. "Waldo"?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


0
  380 Hits
0 Comments
380 Hits
  0 Comments
Feb
21

#ThrowbackThursday - Look at the Past & Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PATINS/ICAM staff picture 2018.

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


2
  416 Hits
4 Comments
416 Hits
  4 Comments
Feb
14

A Reading & Writing App from me to you!

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

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

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

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

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

If this wasn't the valentine you wanted from me, here's another! Baby Shark Valentine
1
  361 Hits
0 Comments
361 Hits
  0 Comments
Jan
23

What is Your Gift?

Last month, while visiting a school in Jennings County, I had an “Aha” moment that made me assess my own gifts.


As I entered Graham Creek Elementary, I could already hear the sound of excitement drifting out of each classroom. Enthusiastic student voices, shuffling papers and the distinct sound of backpacks zipping up indicated one thing....the students were getting ready to leave for the day.


The principal escorted me to the room where I would be speaking to the staff about the Mindful Management of students who are in crisis or have been suffering from trauma. He explained that many of the families who live in the rolling farmland surrounding the elementary schools have taken in children to foster and that they want to make sure staff members are paying attention how to best serve the new set of needs that they are starting to see.


As we continued to walk, a small boy approached us and his face fell as we drew near. The principal stopped him and indicated that he would be right back in his office to meet with the child and that he was looking forward to it. The child’s face immediately lightened and relief seemed to wash over him. I told the student that finding the room would not take long and that he would have his special time, as promised.


The principal turned his focus back to the student and said, “Tell Rachel what your gift is."


Hands holding a small red gift with white ribbon.



The young man smiled broadly at me and pointed to his Star Wars themed shirt. “I know a lot about Star Wars,” he replied. I told him I thought that was fantastic and that I loved Star Wars too. As he turned and headed to the office, his steps seemed to be lighter.


Seconds later another student approached. This time it was an older girl, possibly a 5th grader. She raised her hand to greet us as we passed, and once again, the principal introduced us and asked, “Tell Rachel what your gift is.”


Suddenly her expression changed from one of concentration to an ear to ear grin. “I am an artist,” she exclaimed. She was prompted then, to get some art from her classroom and to show me. It was good. REALLY good. She showed me that the anime character she had drawn actually had special details that only showed up when you moved the paper under the fluorescent lights shining from above.


Later upon reflection, I really began to consider the action of students identifying and naming individual gifts. Yes, it helped me understand the students better and gave them something to be proud of. It added to the overall climate of the school and showed a closeness and sense of community to a virtual stranger. However, it did something greater.


As an adult, I have a hard time sharing my true gifts with others. Not the gifts that others tell me I have, but what I truly value about myself. We have been conditioned in our lives to be modest and humble, which are thought to be great attributes, but upon second glance, are they?


When I was a kindergartener in Texas and was picked to be a Munchkin for Richardson High School’s production of The Wizard of Oz, I discovered that I loved to be on stage, to be in the spotlight, to sing at the top of my lungs and to perform. If you asked me in middle school, after years of being told by society not to “brag” about myself, I probably would not have told you that I was born to have an audience, that I liked my sense of humor and that I prided myself in being able to talk to people even if I was uncomfortable. The short years that fell between discovering a gift and a talent and being shaped by my surroundings certainly took a toll on who I was to the outside world.


I would like to collect some data about these children who are so encouraged to talk about what makes them special and the encouragement and excitement that adults in their lives have when sharing the experience. Does hiding your pride and strengths make you modest and humble, or does it hold you back?


In education we like to celebrate the joys of our students, but do we take the time to sit down and really talk about the incredible things THEY have identified about themselves? How would this empowerment shape the outcomes of kids across our country?


We are being faced with a wave of children who are living in crisis and facing tremendous trauma. However, one huge difference exists from other generations of children born into trauma. Teachers across our country are taking a stand, educating themselves about how to reach students and learning how to empower and connect with them. My challenge to you today is to start the process of discovering the gifts that every student you meet has. Just ask them! They will tell you!
2
  453 Hits
11 Comments
Recent Comments
Sandy Stabenfeldt
Great post! Thank you for sharing!
Thursday, 24 January 2019 13:10
Sandy Stabenfeldt
My gift is being a terrific mom! There is nothing that brings me more joy than being a good mom and seeing my daughter grow into ... Read More
Thursday, 24 January 2019 13:42
453 Hits
  11 Comments
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!

1
  407 Hits
0 Comments
407 Hits
  0 Comments
Dec
26

A New Year, A New Classroom?

Traditional & UDL Classroom Comparison From a traditional classroom to one that is more universally designed.
For many people, the end of the year is laden with traditions. After all, traditions are inherently part of the many cultures that exist around the world, especially when it comes to holidays and celebrations. They are present in a variety of our routines, activities, and schedules at home, work, and school.

Some traditions evolve over the years, reflecting the change in the times, the environment, or the family, while others remain the same from one year to the next. I like to call the latter, anchor traditions. I believe that our desire to observe these traditions not only stems from the definition that they bring to us as a people, but is deeply rooted in the comfort and familiar expectations that accompany each one.

Furthermore, I believe that it’s within this comfort and familiarity that many traditions, good and bad, persist in our schools and classrooms. It’s natural to cling to what we know and what has always been done, but when does our personal comfort begin to impede the learning experience for our students?

I’d argue that more often than not holding onto what we know to be true in a zone of comfort, holds us back from doing the job we truly want to do as educators. That it keeps us in the mindset of teaching the way we were taught, of putting our academic to-do lists before our students more immediate needs, of being resistant to new ideas, of overlooking the value that each student brings to the classroom, of forgetting why we became teachers in the first place.

In fact, as I reflect upon my own teaching and experience, I can admit that I allowed myself to retreat to my personal comfort zone, teaching the way I was taught and projecting onto my students what I wanted for them without asking them what they wanted for themselves.

Had I known then what I know now, there are steps that I would have taken to shift the focus from my traditional, teacher-centered methods solely created to manage my classroom to a student-centered classroom driven by my students’ individual wants and needs.

But how?

I would have started with relationship building. Not the type of relationship building that happens those first few days of school (and includes the obligatory beginning of the year “get-to-know me” poster activity), but real relationship building. The type that takes time, energy, and sometimes a lot of effort and persistence. The type that begins with allowing every student to enter the classroom with a clean slate and without preconceived notions.

I would have asked my students to share how they prefer to learn, what they believed their strengths and weaknesses to be, what their fears were and always given them multiple ways to respond - verbally, in writing, with pictures, etc.

I would have asked my students to tell me what they wanted to learn that year and worked to incorporate their interests into the daily lessons and activities.

I would have asked my students how they were doing and truly listened without judgement.

I would have worked hard to make sure my students knew that I sincerely cared about them regardless of their behavior and even in the worst of times.

Relationship building can be a game changer and is key when it comes to creating a student-centered environment. And though it may be difficult to foster new relationships and leave behind those all too comfortable traditional methods, all it really takes to head in a new direction focused on students is to take the first step. The upcoming new year and semester offers the perfect opportunity to take this step, so will you?

1
  330 Hits
0 Comments
330 Hits
  0 Comments
Nov
15

Everyday UDL

When I heard we could invite a guest blogger, I knew who mine would be from the get-go. Introducing my former college study buddy, roommate for many years, and always my professional/life guide, Sammi Bowyer.

Currently, there are two preschools in Indiana lucky to have her as their Speech-Language Pathologist. Her incredible optimism and #AvidReader* status lend well to providing the highest quality services for our students.

Sammi & Jen standing next to the

*
#AvidReader is someone who loves reading, reads a lot, and isn’t ashamed to flaunt it.  

Now, when you hear Universal design for learning (UDL), do you think, “Great, one more thing I have to do...?” It’s okay if you do. But, before you click out of the page, keep reading. I think you’ll find Sammi’s take a common-sense way to look at the importance of incorporating UDL in the classroom as we empower and show care for all our students.

--

When I think about UDL, I think about the unique interests of my students, how I can teach a concept in multiple formats, and the many ways in which my students share with me what they know. By utilizing UDL, I work to remove barriers so all my students are able to use their unique skill sets as learners and people. My targets for what I need to teach them doesn’t shift, but rather the ways in which they can go about learning and demonstrating their knowledge can.

We use the three principles of UDL, representation, expression, and engagement, all the time in our everyday lives. For example, think about the expression principle the next time you are completing a task at work, researching something new, or offering help to a friend in need. Then, think about all the different ways you might be able to reach your end goal. Chances are that one of those ways will stick out as making the most sense for you, but it might not be the same way that your spouse, your child, your co-worker, or your friend would approach the same task.

When we utilize UDL in the classroom, we are modeling for our students that their ideas are valued.

--

If you want to learn more about how to put UDL into practice in your classroom, I highly recommend registering for Access to Education 2018 by Nov. 21st. Dr. Nancy Holsapple, Indiana Director of Special Education, and Dr. Kelly J. Grillo, 2018 Florida Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Marjorie Crick Teacher of the Year, lead the way with inspiring keynotes followed by great breakout sessions!   

PATINS Project Access to Education 2018

1
  270 Hits
0 Comments
270 Hits
  0 Comments
Nov
01

Hopscotch Moments

I wrote a blog post last year titled, Happy Birthday to… Me? There I described my difficulty in answering on the spot questions about myself…to the funny (not funny) moment of actually making up my birthday date after going numb from a simple question, “Kelli, when is your birthday?” You’ll have to read it to believe it.

This past summer, I had the professional development opportunity to spend a week at Camp Yes And at Indiana University learning the art, skill and the power of improv to support social and emotional learning for students on the autism spectrum. This is on the spot responding at it’s finest, which the idea made my heart race. Jim Ansaldo, Ph.D. from the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning and heads Camp Yes And states: “Improv is not about being funny, it’s about being you.” It was intensive, meaningful instruction in the morning and then immediate implementation with students with autism in the afternoon.

3 people sitting on chairs on stage

This type of professional development was out of my comfort zone knowing that I once succumbed to making up my own birthday from fear of being judged of my slow processing. However, I also know that we cannot grow as educators if we remain in our comfort zone. Students deserve the best us and they deserve to know and have the skills to be the best them. Modeling plays a considerable part. Their success often begins with our support so count me in with zero hesitation!

What if you don’t know where to start? Start with finding your tribe. Your tribe does not mean like-minded people. It’s about finding fellow educators who will push your thinking and at the same time support you. Besides your colleagues, PATINS staff is always ready to gently get you out of that comfort zone. Join Twitter and develop your personal learning network. Joining Twitter may even be out of your comfort zone…which means 
do it!
iPad with question mark on screen.

Register for Access to Education 2018 and attend sessions that are geared toward the integration of methods, tools and equitable education for your students. When you come to barriers in education, don’t stop and stare…find solutions. When you are not sure how to do something or working with a student you cannot seem to find that breakthrough, ask for help. All of this will not only impact you but also your students!

As I was typing this blog, I received an out of the blue message from a young lady on Facebook who I have not actively spoken with in probably 21 years. She was in elementary/junior high school at that time. She was one of my “little sisters” from the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program where I volunteered. Her message states this: “My aunt sent me pictures after cleaning out my grandmother’s place. There was an article about you being the Big Sister of the Year. Thank you so much for helping me at some of the hardest times of my life. My childhood was extremely rough, but you have no idea how you inspired me to have a better life. You helped me break the cycle.”

I had no idea that I had that impact on her after all of these years until 10 minutes into writing this blog. Here I was trying to break my own cycle of my painful childhood by supporting those who were struggling. I was out of my comfort zone then but realized that no change can be made by staying there…just like taking that improv class. We may never hear of the stories of how we have changed a student’s life; however, push your own thinking and remain that expert learner and seek those out of box moments to be the best you…because you indeed can help students be the best them. I was told that we can’t control the lives of our students…but we do have influence.

I LOVE this video and have watched it more than a dozen times. It is worth the few minutes to watch. What would you do? Would you be able to release all inhibitions and play? Get uncomfortable and find your hopscotch moments…and let’s model for our students that it’s ok to be “you.” #KidsDeserveIt

2
  1176 Hits
0 Comments
1176 Hits
  0 Comments
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.


3
  398 Hits
0 Comments
398 Hits
  0 Comments
Oct
11

Inclusion: The Ongoing Illusion!

On July 1, 2012, I became a PATINS Coordinator. At that time we each had our own library of assistive technology and were assigned to assist educators within a certain region of the state. I was fortunate enough to find myself in an office within the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation Administration Building. The special education department welcomed me and assisted me with my transition from a K-12 educator to a PATINS Specialist. At the forefront of that welcome and assistance was Dr. George Van Horn. So, typical to form, when I asked if he would like to be a guest writer for the PATINS Ponders Blog he immediately agreed to share his thoughts. 


George Van HornInclusion: The Ongoing Illusion!

George Van Horn, Ed.D., Director of Special Education, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation


street sign the corner of perception and reality







Image reference


I have long believed in inclusion. Inclusion is a school environment that welcomes all and provides what is necessary for all students. But believing in inclusion is not enough. Many people don’t realize that P.L. 94-142 did not create special education, it created general education. In an effort to allow children with disabilities access to the public school system, states and local districts started with the assumption that the environment was focused on educating only students who were already educated in public schools and a system needed to be created. Hence, the creation of general education. Prior to the passage of the federal law, the system educated “all” students. Through P.L. 94-142, “all” was expanded to include children with disabilities. In order to accomplish this, the system in place was kept, named general education, and continued to serve students. However, to educate students with disabilities, a parallel system was created because the existing system was viewed as only being for students without disabilities.

Venn diagram on mainstreaming with 3 areas: general education, special education and high ability. None intersect











As time moved on it became clear a separate system for students with disabilities was not effective and the initial solution was “mainstreaming”. Students with disabilities were still a part of the separate special education system, but would “visit” general education classrooms. This practice was useful in introducing general education educators and students to students with disabilities. But, the “home” for children with disabilities still remained the special education classroom and they were not members of the general education environment. This practice led to the next step in educating children with disabilities – inclusion.


Picture shows Mainstreaming with student going into a classroom and Inclusion showing an arrow where students can leave for support and service
Image Reference

Inclusion means all children are members of one educational environment, meaning there are no more general education and special education systems. As I reflect on the many years I have supported inclusion, I have come to the conclusion that in reality what many of us have accomplished is advanced mainstreaming. In most educational environments, children with disabilities are still viewed and treated differently. Many educators continue to struggle with the concept of equity versus fairness. Inclusion is not about giving all students the same (fair), it is about providing students what they need to be successful (equity). While progress providing equitable opportunities for all students has been made, there still remains two educational systems, general and special. While this is not our goal, it is a step toward achieving the goal of creating truly inclusive educational environments. What’s next?

Photo of students in classroom.

The barrier that has not been addressed is the need to create education environments that remove barriers and create options for instruction, assessment, and most importantly student learning. Until this occurs, it does not make sense for students with disabilities to be placed in classrooms where failure is probable because we have not changed why we do what we do, how we do it, and what we do. The focus in education needs to shift from the individual as disabled to the environment as disabled. I suggest the framework for accomplishing this monumental shift is Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

UDL is a framework that begins with several assumptions:
  • Variability is the norm
  • Disability is contextual
  • Focus on the learning environment and curriculum, not the students.
Through the use of the principles and guidelines of UDL in designing learning environments, educators can identify barriers and create options for ALL students. UDL is not about some students, but instead, focuses on improving learning outcomes for all students. Educators know that students come in all shapes and sizes. Variability is the norm. We know the students we work with will all be unique. In addition to variability, we also know that all students have strengths and weaknesses depending on the activity. Hence, disability is contextual. Everyone is disabled depending on the circumstances. For inclusion to become a reality, we must create one learning environment for all students that allows the students to choose what option works best given the activity. The creation of an environment where all students have a sense of belonging and ownership is our ultimate destination. While this is not an easy shift, it is necessary if we truly want to educate all children.


1
  2601 Hits
0 Comments
2601 Hits
  0 Comments
Sep
20

Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education

In the winter of 2018 at the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference in Orlando, Florida, I attended a breakout session presented by Thomas O’Shaughnessy and Conor Hartigan, two nearly lifelong friends that are also colleagues in the assistive technology department at the University of Limerick in Ireland. Together they presented, “Assistive Technology in Education: An Irish Perspective.”

Their session opened my eyes to the universal struggles that we face as advocates for equitable access to the curriculum in all levels of education, especially when it comes to the implementation of assistive technology and Universal Design for Learning.

In the time since ATIA, I’ve remained in touch with Thomas and feel lucky to call him my friend. It’s within this friendship that he so graciously agreed to share some of his higher ed experiences and perspectives from across the pond.

- Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education - written by Thomas O'Shaughnessy

Ireland haThomas O'Shaughnessys changed significantly in the last 25 years. It is now seen as a leader in terms of technology, science and medical advancements and is well on its way to becoming a global technology hub. With a heavy emphasis on education, our universities have developed reputations for developing highly skilled graduates in every area of employment from business, technology and engineering to science, the arts and education. These higher education bodies have developed programmes to accommodate a range of learners from different backgrounds including socio-economic disadvantaged, asylum seekers, mature students and students with disabilities.

While initiatives like the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) in Ireland promotes inclusion for students with disabilities at higher level in terms of an access route, are these students appropriately accommodated in Higher Education?

The National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education for 2015-2019 in Ireland was designed to ensure that the student body entering, participating in and completing higher education at all levels reflects the diversity and social mix of Ireland’s population. It discusses the mainstreaming of many supports that currently support this social mix including students with disabilities.

This argues that the current systems are changing and as they further develop we may no longer have a need for specialised supports to accommodate this social mix. Realistically speaking, this is currently still far away from the truth. However, one support that could help alleviate a lot of these issues involved in supporting this social mix is an educational framework based on research in the learning sciences, including cognitive neuroscience, that guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences. It is called Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

However, when it comes to UDL in higher education in Ireland, we seem to fall well short of our American counterparts. I’ve been to my fair share of UDL themed conferences (AHEAD (Irish Organisation), ATIA, etc.) to know that the implementation of UDL in a classroom stateside is one thing, the implementation of UDL in higher education in Ireland is entirely another. Principals and school administrators have far more influence at school level than their counterparts in higher education. Teachers can also take control of their set curriculum much easier than academics in higher education.

Unfortunately, we are now in an era where business models drive many universities and other higher-level institutions where research income and reputation (ranking) take precedence over teaching and learning. We see senior academics buying their way out of teaching to further focus on research. Academics that are needed to help drive UDL change, replaced with younger less experienced educators too inexperienced to initiate any change like UDL.

This business shift is coming from the top down, exactly where the adoption of UDL should originate from. However, since UDL often comes with a cost (time, resources, etc.) are higher education institutions interested in driving UDL forward? Are academics for that matter?

When we do see academics engage it is usually when the push comes from the top down or when priorities arise related to statistics on student engagement or student progression. We could begin to discuss incentivising the UDL approach, but should we have to? Are financial and other rewards the only way we can get buy-in?

UDL requires lecturers to allow students multiple means of representation in order to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge, multiple means of expression to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know and multiple means of engagement supporting how learners differ markedly in how they can be engaged or motivated to learn.

While I’m sure in theory we all recommend this framework, do academics have the resources to support this framework and do they have the multiple rubrics needed to implement it? Would they have the support to inform their department or faculty? A colleague of mine said recently “UDL is great if you have unlimited resources and buy-in from everyone” and for me, this struck a chord.

The biggest problem incorporating UDL in Higher Education is the lack of buy-in from the top. UDL will only ever work in Higher Education by employing a top-down approach where the president/senior academics buy-in from the start and where UDL is mandated into every new academic contract.

Unfortunately, interdepartmental politics, accountability (lack thereof) and attitudes make some initiatives hard to employ at higher level. In my experience most academics still don’t even know what UDL is and unfortunately there are many who simply don’t care – they don’t currently see it as a priority or their responsibility. How do you convince a lecturer to spend three times the time (approximate guess) developing class material to support UDL when nobody is requiring them to? They will almost always argue ‘time and resources’ – I know, I’ve seen and heard it.

I love reading books like Dive into UDL, attending talks by UDL experts like Kate Novak and seeing images like (Em)Powered by UDL. My excitement however quickly dampens when I realise how difficult it is to organise UDL at third level and even, at times, in schools. Who will train the staff, who will pay for this, would the staff attend? (even if it is mandatory) Who will drive it?

We have seen some small shift; University College Dublin is making strides to incorporate UDL in their everyday practices although I’ve yet to see how this is being handled and deployed. In October 2018, The Universal Design and Higher Education in Transformation Congress (UDHEIT2018) will be held at Dublin Castle, it will be an exciting conference that will give a proper insight into the current situation. There will be a focus on the creation of the state’s first technological university - based on the merger of Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), IT Tallaght and IT Blanchardstown.

Apparently all three (yes, I said three) presidents of this new technological university are advocates of UDL and they have put UDL as a cornerstone of this merger. I await this conference with equal scepticism and anticipation. Too often have I attended UDL conferences where the theory didn’t meet the practice, where “UDL practices” were not real UDL practices. Too often have I left more disappointed than when I arrived. I want practical solutions on how it is implemented, not theory on how it could or should work. For me, for UDL to be successful the answer lies with teachers and teacher educators.

Too often these days I hear “give it to the teachers”, however UDL is one area where I generally think teachers can make a real difference. We need to train (our already overburdened) student teachers about UDL and its importance. Let them incorporate its principles in their class through lesson plans and let them show every student that there are multiple ways in which tasks can be represented, engaged with and completed. Let them see the teacher using it and let it become the norm where when their students graduate they will be able to incorporate multiple approaches to everyday issues. Let them use readily available (what will hopefully become standardised) resources to achieve this. Then and only then will we see a change in attitudes and practices needed to fully utilise the UDL framework.


2
  624 Hits
1 Comment
624 Hits
  1 Comment
Sep
12

When Life Overlaps (With More Life)


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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



6
  484 Hits
1 Comment
484 Hits
  1 Comment

Copyright 2015- PATINS Project