Oct
24

Growing Up in Mainstream Public School: Things I Wish I Knew Back Then

This week we have the privilege of reading advice for those growing up deaf/hard of hearing from the very talented guest blogger, Sara Miller, M.S. Ed. Enjoy! 


It was the late 1980’s when I was diagnosed with severe-profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and received my first pair of hearing aids. I was almost three and I’m told that I loved my hearing aids so much that I never wanted to take them off! 

Young Sara with hearing aids on.
It was during the 1990s and early 2000’s when I attended public elementary/middle/high schools in small rural towns in Northwest Ohio. I was the only deaf student in my grade to be mainstreamed full time. During these years, there were a lot of trials and triumphs. 


Looking back, there are a few things I wish I had known to help guide myself through the process of being the only deaf kid in my mainstream class. If I could, I would go back in time and share a few things with my younger self:


Number 1: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. There are many other deaf and hard of hearing kids out there who are also born into hearing families. In fact, 90% of deaf and hard of hearing kids are born to hearing families. 75% of those kids attend public school, just like you do. While you may be the only kid to be mainstreamed full time in your school, there are many others just like you out there in the world who are going through the same experiences you are. You will meet them later on in life and establish wonderful relationships. 


Number 2: DO NOT READ INTO HEARING PEOPLE’S FACIAL EXPRESSIONS TOO MUCH. Understand that we deaf people tend to naturally rely on visual cues much more than our hearing peers. If a person doesn’t smile, frowns, or has a neutral look on their face, it does not mean they don’t like you or are mad at you. They simply could just be having a rough day caused by something that has absolutely nothing to do with you. Acknowledge and understand this fact in order to save yourself from unnecessary hurt feelings over misreading someone’s emotions. 


Number 3: PEOPLE ARE NOT STARING AT YOU WHEN YOU SIGN BECAUSE YOU’RE WEIRD OR DIFFERENT, THEY STARE BECAUSE THEY ARE FASCINATED WITH SIGN LANGUAGE. I know... This is so hard to fully believe or understand. When you know you are different, you feel as if everyone is always staring at you. Staring at your Phonic Ear box strapped to your chest. Staring at the long cords from that box that lead up to your ears. Staring at your hearing aids. Staring at your hands when you choose to communicate using sign language. That’s when the staring seems to be the worst. But what you don’t know is that those people stare because they wish they knew how to sign too. Reach out to those individuals and ask if they’d like to learn. Teach them the joy of signing.


Number 4: ADVOCATE FOR ACCESS. Hold your teachers accountable for making content accessible. Request captions for all videos and movies. No exceptions. Utilize note-takers in all subject areas. Let your teachers know not to talk towards the chalkboard and to face you when instructing. Ask your peers to repeat themselves when you didn’t quite catch everything they said in class discussions. And yes, even consider having an interpreter for your core content classes. You deserve the right to have access to ALL that is going on around you. Things you don’t even know you’re missing can be filled by having an interpreter present. Learning these advocacy skills early on will benefit you later in life. 


Number 5: YOU WILL FALL IN LOVE AND GET MARRIED. In your high school years, you will often cry yourself to sleep wondering if you’ll ever find love and get married. You’ll question how someone would ever want a wife who cannot hear. Why would they choose to love someone who is deaf when they could have someone who can hear perfectly like all of your peers. Those nights of self-doubt and the tears you cry will be for nothing. You will meet your soulmate in the spring of your senior year of high school and get married that very summer just before entering college. In fact, you’ll be the first in your class to marry and he will even surprise you by signing a portion of his vows to you at your wedding. Your husband is the kindest and most loving soul who will accept and adore every part of you, especially your deafness.


Number 6: ENCOURAGE YOUR FAMILY TO LEARN SIGN LANGUAGE EVEN THOUGH YOU CAN SPEAK. You are the only deaf individual in your entire family (Extended family included). Your parents will bombard you with language and read to you on a daily basis. You’ll fall in love with reading. They’ll have high expectations for you to soak up any and all language learning opportunities around you and you will exceed those expectations. You will acquire and utilize spoken language with relative ease. Therefore, English will be your first language. In your first few years of school, you’ll learn Signed Exact English, but the only person who you’ll teach sign language to at home is your older sister. (She will later become an educational interpreter.) 


However, you really need to teach your parents (and family and friends) to sign as well. They are not against it. If they knew how much it would help you in social situations, they’d learn in a heartbeat. (Looking back, they wished they had). Since you speak so well, it’s easy to fool yourself and everyone else around you into thinking that everything is being understood. But deep down, you know you are not understanding everything around you. That sickening pit in your stomach that you get when you’re about to enter a challenging environment: basketball games, dark restaurants, the mall, birthday parties, movie theater, etc., that’s a direct result of the anxiety you subconsciously have knowing how hard you’re going to have to work just to keep up with a small amount of what is going on. This is where sign language can benefit you. It can bring to life what you would normally miss. It can give you complete access to your surroundings. It can reduce your anxiety and allow you to enjoy your surroundings.  So, please teach those closest to you how to sign. You’ll thank yourself in the future.


7: EMBRACE YOUR DEAFNESS. You will go through a phase in your middle/high school years where you will reject anything and everything to do with deafness. You’ll stop signing and refuse to carry your FM equipment with you to class. You’ll hide your Phonic Ear box and cords under your clothes to try to blend in with your peers as much as possible. You’ll hate being different. You’ll spend a LOT of energy and emotion simply trying to become “hearing” like everyone else is in your class. 


STOP! 


Embrace who you are. Love yourself for who you are. Stop trying so hard to become something that you were never meant to be: “hearing.” Embracing your deafness will save you a lot of heartaches and emotional energy. Know that there are strength and beauty in being Deaf. That there is an entire community of individuals in this world who are just like you. Who knows exactly what it’s like to be deaf. Who will welcome you with open arms? Sadly, you live in a small rural town with no Deaf community or Deaf adult role models. You won’t even meet a Deaf adult until you attend college and are already a deaf adult yourself. However, as soon as you are able, seek out those who are like you. They will fill your heart in a way that the hearing community cannot. In a way that even your closest friends and family cannot. Only when you make these connections will you feel complete and fully able to truly embrace every part of who you are.


Sara Miller, M.S.Ed

she/her

🤟🏻Deaf adult bringing awareness to deafness & Deaf culture

👩🏻‍🏫Teacher of the D/HH


Look for more from Sara on her social media accounts: @adventuresindeafed and @languagepriority

Sara Miller signing I Love You in American Sign Language.
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Sandy Stabenfeldt
Thank you, Sara, for sharing this with our readers. I hope it finds its way to students who would really benefit from your great ... Read More
Thursday, 24 October 2019 13:19
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Oct
18

Can You Whistle and Yawn at the Same Time?

Can You Whistle and Yawn at the Same Time?
Engaging students has always been a challenge, and in this day and age, it is more than ever. As educators, we are competing against a digital age in which students are growing up with social media and Internet algorithms that keep them clicking and offer immediate gratification with chemical shots of dopamine (a neurotransmitter associated with our reward-motivated behavior) when their Instagram post gets another like. 

Online gaming feeds into the need for immediate gratification and visual engagement and has become a worldwide obsession with eSports offering young winning gamers the opportunity to take home millions of dollars. Other streaming services like Netflix and YouTube also play into our students’ immediate gratification. We’ve got to face it, long-term goal planning as an executive function just isn’t what it used to be with on-demand Internet gratification at our fingertips. To be honest, we as educators fall victim to this need for instant gratification as well.

So, wouldn’t you agree that the task of student engagement is almost as difficult as it is to whistle and yawn at the same time?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to attend some professional development (PD) on engagement and its impact on behavior. I was reminded that in nearly all cases, desired behaviors including academic outcomes are directly tied to your students’ levels of engagement in the classroom.

Yet, engaging students is no walk in the park. In fact, genuine student engagement is layered, making it more complex than finding the perfect “hook” for your new lesson topic.

The essential first layer and building block requires a genuine relationship with each of your students. They need to know that you care about them as people in and out of the classroom. I find it staggering that according to the PD session led by Susan Hentz, 56% of learners don’t believe that their teachers care about them as people. While upsetting, we should let this motivate us as educators to do better using the following exercise. 



First, let’s zero in on our relationships with our students and get real with ourselves, possibly pushing us beyond our comfort zones. Think about your students who are easy to get along with and easy to like. Next, picture the students who often push you to your limits. Can you name students that exist in the gray area in between, too? They are the ones that may have actually fallen off your radar because they quietly comply with requests and are getting decent grades. Finally, let’s map these thoughts on paper. 

Start as an individual, with your colleagues, or with your entire school’s staff. Put up pictures or names of all of your students on the wall and identify the students that you have positive relationships with using paper clips, stickers, or something of the like. Next, look closely at the students that don’t have any markers. Warning, this may be shocking. 

Now take some time to discuss and record the positives and strengths of these students on the wall. With your team (or by yourself if working alone) devise a plan to reach out and create a positive relationship with each of those students. Learn more about how to create meaningful, positive relationships with your students in this article from EdWeek.

Positive relationships with students can be supported in countless ways. Consider these strategies on your next school day:
  • greet your students at the door
  • ask them to share something they like about themselves
  • give them the time to talk, while you genuinely listen
  • attend their after school drama, sporting, extra-curricular events 
  • share good news about your students with their parents/guardians
  • set your students up for success and give them the credit
  • be genuine and avoid sarcasm when prompting on-task behavior
Once positive relationships are established or being built, you can focus on the second layer of engagement - ways to hook your students into the curriculum content:
  • Designing a year-long bulletin board that only requires changing the topic, and allowing students to share anonymously on Post-Its what they know or what they want to learn about the topic
  • Asking students to make and share predictions on a Padlet wall (or another backchannel) about what they will learn or what will happen when 
  • Connecting your content to use in their daily lives (i.e. - connect ratios & proportions to cooking)
  • Creating lessons that solve real community problems in or out of the school while tackling multiple standards at once; students want to make a difference!
  • Offering your students opportunities to respond approximately every 5 minutes. Think:
    • Thumbs up/down/sideways
    • Individual whiteboard responses
    • Head nods/shakes
    • Stand up/sit down
    • Think/pair/share 
  • Getting students moving and incorporating music into your lessons
  • Taking virtual field trips with Google Cardboard
While genuinely engaging students takes intentional design, effort, and creativity, it is worth it. Engaged students are more likely to have a positive perspective of their classroom experience and to feel like they belong because they know their educators care and are listening. They are more likely to persist, participate, and achieve. You, too, will experience the benefits in and out of your classroom.

Read more about the positive impact of student relationships from the American Psychological Association.

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Oct
10

The Intersection of Literacy and Joy

IMG_071_Smiling girl showing her book on her iPad written for her
book cover for Where the Red Fern Grows with boy and his two hunting dogs running through a field

“I cried when I read Where the Red Fern Grows in 4th grade.”

“My first grade teacher was stern, but when she read aloud she used funny voices.”

“Non fiction is my favorite. I’m still all about the facts.”

“I followed the hymnal at church while listening to my mom sing.” 

“I loved Dr. Suess. . . comic books. . . Harry Potter . . . mysteries . . . .

I’ve had the joyful privilege of working with Indiana teachers in trainings about making and engaging with books and literacy this summer and fall. An introductory activity that I did with groups was to ask them to place 3-4 influential books on a timeline of their life, and these were comments I heard during share time. For most of the presentations, I had to interrupt lively heartfelt discussions because the participants didn’t want to stop talking about books.

“I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a book.” – J.K. Rowling

Something magical was also happening during those discussion times. Folks were connecting over shared experiences and writing down titles for books they had yet to discover. It reminded me that any learning task is made more meaningful with emotional engagement. Our brains get primed for the what and the how if we are taken through the door of the why.

door opening with a bright light behind it
We spent the remainder of the trainings looking for sources for books in electronic format, and making both electronic and tactile format books to take back to all students, no matter what access they may need to engage with a book. 

I’ve received even more joy via photos and stories of students with the books their teachers found or created for them. 

smiling boy reading a book on his iPad with headphones

I’d love to see your face light up at the mention of a good book. I’d also love to hear the particular challenges you face when providing opportunities for improving literacy for students in any setting. Give me or another PATINS specialist a shout if you’d like to bring a training on engaging literacy to your district or educational team!

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” – James Baldwin


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Jennifer Conti
Not a dry eye in my 8th grade classroom when we got to the end of "Where the Red Fern Grows". What a memory.
Thursday, 10 October 2019 13:51
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Oct
03

Changes

Ch, Ch, Ch, Changes

This fall I will experience some personal and professional changes. I am moving away for a moment from my traditional blog themes of my family.

Personally, I will be turning the golden age in a month and I have been reminded constantly with ever-persistent phone calls and mailings of my opportunity for health care.

I do look forward to reaping the rewards offered by many establishments with my new age which qualifies me for discounts. In doing some research I found that I have been eligible for some time now, so I’ll start pulling that card out ASAP.

I don’t see age as a number as much as I see it as an attitude. You know, “You are as young as you feel”. I agree until I see Facebook posts that say, “If you remember this… you’re old”. Ouch, I remember all of them too well.

Professionally, I have been with PATINS for 21 years. I have seen and been part of many changes over that time. Moving from a staff of 7 to a staff now of 17 is an indication of the project’s success and worth.

I have experienced 3 fiscal agency changes and I had made many friends within each agency. As is the case when you leave one to go to another there is always the “keep in touch” said as we move away.

Keeping in touch seems like an easy thing to do, but in reality, it is difficult. We don’t see one another on a regular basis anymore. To do that would require an effort outside of the workplace.

We move apart as time goes on and develop other relations as we have before. We are in constant change.

I am looking forward to our new fiscal agent and new people I will meet along the way, again continued changes.

I often think about change when I hear the song Changes by David Bowie. He talks about how quick and seemingly spontaneous change is. It is the lyric “Ch, ch, ch, changes” that grabs my attention.

There are thousands of philosophical and inspirational quotes and hundreds of songs about change but for me change just is.
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Sep
27

Power in Listening

Recently, I found myself trapped in a hallway with a coworker who likes to talk.

He launched into a long story about his kids, his weekend plans, his new project, his car trouble, and his recent injury. I felt as if it would never end. I was smiling and nodding, but I wasn’t really listening. I was thinking about all the work I had to get done. 

Later that day, I felt terribly guilty for not having listened attentively. I ended up talking to him again after work, and I was stunned when he thanked me for being such a good sounding board. I didn’t feel that I was at all.

Since then, I’ve been trying my best to actively listen to others in my circles. 

It seems our world is fighting to be heard. But there is power in listening. In fact, we may say MORE by listening. Listening tells people that they matter and worthy of your time and attention. When we listen, we have the opportunity to hint at our confident identity and willingness to put others first. Listening is foreign to the world at large. Maybe that’s why it’s so effective.

While working in a First-Grade classroom this week, I heard the teacher ask the class, “Do you have your listening ears on?" Maybe that’s a question we should ask ourselves at the start of each day.

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Sep
12

Would You Rather? - Educator Edition

Would You Rather? Educator Edition
Let’s have a little fun and play the age-old classic, “Would You Rather”. The rules are simple. Pick either the first option or the second option. Then, explain the reason for your choice. You cannot change or combine the options. This is always a popular game with students. You can easily target turn taking, perspective taking, reasoning, and listening skills during the game. There are tons of pre-generated “Would You Rather” questions online for students. I made this Educator Edition just for you. Play this by yourself, with colleagues at lunch, or as an icebreaker at a staff meeting.


So, would you rather:
  1. Use brand new colored pens or a smart pen (like the LiveScribe 3) to take notes?
  2. Have a former student send you a heartfelt email or have a current student grasp a tricky concept?
  3. Start the school day at 5 AM and end early or start at 10 AM and end later in the evening?
  4. Get educational tips from PATINS TV Youtube Channel or PATINS Pages eNewsletter?
  5. Connect with other Indiana educators on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram?
  6. Participate in a webinar or an in-person session?
  7. Wear jeans every day of the year or… (Actually, nothing compares to that luxury, am I right?).
  8. Attend Access to Education or the Tech Expo?

Speaking of Access to Education, the 2019 conference is right around the corner! The session grid is posted and wow! I am excited for all the innovative, amazing speakers coming this year. What I love most about the conference is that we all have the chance to speak one-on-one with leaders in the educational field. It’s an opportunity unlike any other to pick their brains for even more ideas for specific students. Please take a moment to register yourself and a co-worker or two. 

I hope you enjoyed this quick game. I'd love to know what your top picks are in the comments below!
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Sep
05

Middle Schoolers Need the Most Support

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

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

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

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


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Aug
29

Winning the year!


Does/Did your family take a picture of you and your siblings as you left for the first day of school each day? Some do, mine didn’t. When I started looking I found Makenzie.
Here are her 12 years of school. They talked about how old she was what she was looking forward to. All of her answers were about friends and Junior year being able to sleep in! It was poignant watching her age forward and then backward.

We have seen numerous videos of servicemen and women surprising their children at school, which makes me cry every single time!

#GerryBrooks tells us all how to navigate all kinds of school situations from creating fake “how to avoid students and parents apps” to how to handle the first week of school stress. Lampooning the amusing side of school behind the scenes.

One school I saw had big “athletic like” pictures of students just being themselves on the walls. No trophies were won. Just day to day interaction caught and immortalized.

Cheer sign with many cartoon figures celebratingWhat I have noticed is that there aren't many videos of teachers and students doing their favorite activities. I get that you need permission for the pictures, but how great would it be to have a YouTube site, podcasts or blog where we see you and students engaged and working together. This year, be the cheerleader you and your students deserve and show us all how it is done! 

If you do take this suggestion, let us know!
We will cheer with you!
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Aug
21

Empowered Muggles

Irish logo, DNA logo, Muggles, German Flag
I recently discovered through DNA testing that I am 53% Irish and 33% German. There are stereotypes of being Irish and/or German and if you know me, you may not be that surprised with those recent findings. I may or may not be stubborn at times and I do enjoy a good pub. My locks of curls are red and I do have blue eyes. Although, I am a vegetarian and do not eat schnitzel. I was emotionally impacted by discovering my heritage.  

Also, a few weeks ago at a conference that I attended, I participated in a session titled: “What Harry, Hermione and Ron taught me about learning” and was presented by Tony England. Tony is the Assistant Superintendent of Student Services at Elkhart Community Schools in Indiana and all around brilliant individual. 

At any rate, discussions were had about the diversity of each of us as individuals and how we and our students can appreciate others diversity when open to understanding. This could be certain behaviors, personalities, traits, etc in a classroom setting coming together with our strengths and weaknesses. Also, taking this into consideration when assigning group work, thinking about our own friends who we surround ourselves daily and how we can positively build upon differences.

What does this have to do with Harry, Hermione and Ron, characters from Harry Potter you may ask? After some fun activities throughout the conference session, it was concluded that my personality and traits could reflect that of Harry Potter’s. Of course, due to feeling highly intrigued, I began reading the entire Harry Potter book series. I am nearly embarrassed to admit as an educator, I had never read those books. Where have they been all my life? My Amazon wish list is now stacked with sorting hats, wands, owls, maps and stickers.

Why am I telling you this? Well...as the saying goes, “knowledge is power.” That could not hold more truth in my recent findings of my own self. Knowing my heritage gave me a sense of empowerment, deeper understanding and eager to learn more about where I come from. Constantly seeking new knowledge about the diversity of others and reflecting upon myself, gave me some unexpected permission to be ok with being curious and passionate about things and just jumping into it and figuring it out. That yes, I can be “competitive” and “fiercely independent” but at the same time being “supportive, easy-going, spontaneous and comfortable to be around.” At this point, I even feel completely ok with purchasing those Potter items on my wish-list! 

As educators, we are seen as individuals in a position of power. How can we use that power in a way to empower our own students? We have classrooms of students full of diversity and learning differences. How can we empower all students in embracing not only who they are but who their peers are and creating a safe place to not only succeed; but to fail?
question mark and light bulb ideas


What if…
  • We asked our students how they learn best? Then, begin teaching how our students learn best? aka: Universal Design for Learning If they don’t know or understand, how about helping them discover themselves as learners? Help them understand why they may read with their ears (auditory) and/or eyes (visual) and perhaps why using a stand up desk or a fidget can enable them to embrace their unique way of receiving and comprehending information. Empower them.
What if…
  • We talked about disabilities in our classroom? Do not fear those conversations.  The International Dyslexia Association states:
About 13–14% of the school population nationwide has a handicapping condition that qualifies them for special education. Current studies indicate that one half of all the students who qualify for special education are classified as having a learning disability (LD) (6–7%). About 85% of those students have a primary learning disability in reading and language processing. Nevertheless, many more people— perhaps as many as 15–20% of the population as a whole—have some of the symptoms of dyslexia, including slow or inaccurate reading, poor spelling, poor writing, or mixing up similar words. Not all of these will qualify for special education, but they are likely to struggle with many aspects of academic learning and are likely to benefit from systematic, explicit instruction in reading, writing, and language.

Isn’t this an important conversation to have? Having these conversations can provide understanding and acceptance of why some students may be reading with their eyes and some with their ears. This will help those students who use assistive technology accommodations to not feel different; but accepted. Again, knowledge is power and this means educating all students about learning differences. Empower them.

What if…
  • We asked our students what they wish everyone knew about them? Let them speak freely, write them down and share if they choose. Create an environment with school and/or community resources that students know where to go if they need someone to talk to or get help. Empower them.
What if…
  • We not only celebrated successes of our students; but also their failures? This will empower them through teaching resilience and to keep trying! What if our students do not know how to regulate their negative reactions to failures? How about we model the behavior, celebrate loudly and practice the celebrations by setting up opportunities to fail.

I challenge you to have sign on the entrance of your classroom door or building that says:

“You do you.”

What if...we really let them?
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Aug
15

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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