May
07

SODA or CODA?

CODA-or-SODA_-1 SODA or CODA?

I have heard, informally, from a few teachers that there is anywhere from 40% to 100% student participation in classrooms in this time of continuous learning. There are so many variables that could play into whether or not your students are logging in or connecting with you or finishing their work accurately. When I hear these numbers I can’t help to think that some of the variables may be due to a language barrier. 

Indiana Department of Education, IDOE, reports that, “Indiana has a diverse student population with over 270 languages spoken in the homes of Indiana public school students and a growing number English Learners.” 

Your student(s) may not be identified as needing specific accommodations with their school work but their parent or caregiver that is helping with their continuous (distance/e-learning) work might need accommodations due to a disability or a language barrier.

So, what does this have to do with the title of this blog, SODA or CODA? 

Did you know you might have them in your class this year? OR you might have them in your class next year. 

Yes, I am throwing more acronyms your way. Have you heard of CODA or SODA? 

CODA stands for Child(ren) of Deaf Adult(s) and SODA stands for Sibling (or Spouse) of Deaf Adult(s). Your students may not require accommodations such as closed captioning or spoken English translated into another language but their parents do.

Depending on the delivery style of your continuous learning material there could be unintentional language barriers for our parents and caregivers that are helping our students navigate and complete their required work.

I have two suggestions that you can implement into your instruction to remove the language barrier for our parents and caregivers, who may be deaf/hard of hearing or native language is something other than English, helping with continuous learning. 

setting box on a youtube video to select closed captions or subtitles and different language
1. All Videos should have Closed Captioning enabled for subtitles in the parent’s native language and for those that are deaf/hard of hearing. You can easily upload any video that you make into Youtube and follow the steps on this document or video to turn on automatic captions/subtitles then go in and edit them to ensure accuracy. 

We can integrate captions/subtitles universally into our video content for the use of all students for whatever reason they may need to help eliminate the language barrier. 

Microsoft Translator app image
2. Apps like Microsoft Translator, no-cost application, can be used to translate to different languages, even words on pictures can be translated. This app is available on Windows, Apple, Google & Amazon devices.

My favorite part of the Microsoft Translator app is that someone can interact with someone else by using text and then another person can use speech-to-text within the app. This can allow those who are deaf/hard of hearing to use written English to converse with others who are using spoken English or another language. 

So, do you have a SODA or CODA in your class? Perhaps parents or caregivers that speak another language other than English? Let us know how you are helping bridge the language gap for your continuous learning.  

PS: I am a version of CODA, one might say a COHHA, Child of a Hard of Hearing Adult. 

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May
01

Parents as Partners: Maximizing Continuous Learning Success

Parents as Partners: Maximizing Continuous Learning Success

Change can be scary, and it’s not uncommon to be resistant to change. It seems that 2020 brought us a leap day that still doesn’t seem to have ended and that came full of change, whether it was welcomed or not. As a former 3rd grade teacher, I keep wondering how I would be handling my virtual classroom in light of schools being ordered closed for the remainder of the school year.

I believe that I’d be stressed, missing my students, and wondering whether or not I was doing all that I could to keep the learning, engagement, and feelings of value going. I believe that I’d be in need of more collaboration with colleagues and my professional network than I once thought possible. I believe that I’d need more support than ever from my student’s families and support systems to best set my students up for success. It’s the latter that really has got me thinking and deeply reflecting on the role that our student’s families and support play in their lives, especially when it comes to learning.

After some conversations with friends who are working from home and parenting, it solidified for me just how difficult this time is for everyone. Almost no one was prepared for a flipped script like this, and to make it through, we’ve got to rely on one another now more than ever- parents/families on educators and educators on parents/families. That said, the educator in me has begun wondering how well parents have been armed and trained to support their student(s) in a learning environment at home, and how we can boost supports for our students during continuous learning, over the summer, and in the future through a solid, cyclical partnership with parents. 
Cyclical graphic indicating parents/families and educators relying on another
If you find yourself reflecting and parsing through the same notion, consider reaching out to parents/families through a survey to find out how things are going, what they feel they need, how the teacher/school/district could better support them, etc. This information could facilitate a stronger parent/family and teacher relationship in these uncertain times and as we move into the future. Quick surveys can be created in Google Forms. 

You may also find it beneficial to reflect on what’s been shared with your student’s families to figure out where there’s room for improvement. Some questions you may ask yourself are (in no particular order):

  1. Do families know how to download apps on their devices?
  2. Do they know how to login to school-wide systems?
  3. Do they understand how to use the tools/apps/websites that their students are using for schoolwork, including how to submit work or join a virtual meeting?
    1. If not, would tutorials, virtual office hours, a school-wide Facebook page, or other means of information sharing be beneficial?
  4. Do they know how to reach you, when you’re available, and how quickly to expect a response? Over-communicating is better than under-communicating.
  5. Has creating a learning environment been discussed with families?

Upon this reflection, you may find some gaps between what you’d like for parents/families to understand and what they actually do. For example, I’ve been working with a gentleman who sells pavers for a patio we are considering installing, and without asking the obscene amount of questions that I must in order to clearly understand his explanations, I’d have no idea what he was talking about. This is because he knows his pavers inside and out, but I’m lacking his background knowledge; therefore, I’m thrown for a loop with each new brand or term he throws out. 

To avoid this type of confusion, let’s explicitly share information, provide clear instructions, and teach our students’ parents/families how they can support their student(s) at home now, over the summer, and every year, emphasizing that many of the following are ways to create stronger relationships, to instill values, and to spend quality time with their student(s). 

To begin, let’s consider the learning environment. 

  1. Share examples of working/learning environments, understanding that this must be flexible to fit the needs of individual families
  2. Share sample schedules that include building in learning and screen time breaks for students
    1. Include ideas for breaks:
      1. Physical play or activity
      2. Stretching
      3. Reading
      4. Listening to music
      5. Playing board or other non screen games
      6. Mindfulness activities like deep breathing or yoga
  3. Share and adhere to time limits for virtual learning 
    1. Times suggested by the Indiana Department of Education (link includes activities by subject and grade level, too!):
      1. Elementary Grades K-1: Minimum Daily Learning Time: 5-10 minute time spans, a total of 45 minutes 
      2. Grades 2-4: Minimum Daily Learning Time: 10-15 minute time spans, a total of 60 minutes 
      3. Grades 5-6: Minimum Daily Learning Time: 20-25 minute time spans, a total of 90 minutes 
      4. Grades 7-12: Minimum Daily Learning Time: 30 minute time span per class, a total of 3 hours
  4. Provide printable or print versions of visual cues to support directions

Consider how you’d like to see your student’s learning supported at home and maybe break it down, sharing specific ideas with students and families subject-by-subject.

Reading

  1. Turn on the captions for all screen time
    1. Turn on captions in YouTube by selecting the CC button in the lower right-hand corner of the video. Check to see if the captions are accurate.
  2. Model reading newspapers, magazines, books, recipes, cards
  3. Read together (use different voices for characters, stop reading at the climax to drive engagement, change where you read)
    1. Guide parents to support comprehension skills with digital or printable graphic organizers, to connect stories to students’ lives, and to show genuine interest in the story
  4. Act out a skit
  5. Turn on podcasts (age-appropriate podcast can be found in a quick Google search) or audio books in the car or on a home speaker (Try the Overdrive app, books on tape or CD)
  6. Read aloud to pets, siblings, or stuffed animals
  7. Identify words, letters, phrases when out for a walk, drive, or trip

Math

  1. Use dice or dominoes to play and learn with numbers (adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing)
  2. Provide printable visuals like a 100s chart
  3. Practice counting any and all things. If basic counting is mastered practice skip counting items
  4. Cook and bake together (supports following directions, fine motor skills, measurement, fractions, and more)
  5. Sort indoor or outdoor items by color, shape, texture, weight, size, and talk about the sorting method
  6. Practice budgeting, set up an economy system for chores, or play store
  7. Play card games

Writing

  1. Write/make words or letters with magnetic letters, Wiki sticks, pipe cleaners, chalk, shaving cream, hair gel with food coloring in baggie
  2. Daily journal entries. Everyone is living in a time that will undoubtedly be added to the history books. Journaling will offer great daily reflection as well as future reflection on this life-changing time. 
  3. Play Mad Libs
  4. Guide parents to provide writing support by modeling real-world writing tasks- making lists, writing invitations, writing in cards, writing to-dos on a calendar, writing thank you notes to our first responders and hospital workers, filling out forms, etc.
  5. Ask students to create labels for household items, for organization purposes, etc.
  6. Guide parents to support writing through positive and specific feedback and not to concentrate on spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors, but to celebrate their students’ writing
  7. Publish students’ writing on the refrigerator, in a window, or digitally (Book Creator, Tarheel Reader)

Science & Social Studies

  1. Take a walk around your neighborhood, noting different types of architecture, structures, designs, plants, trees, flowers, etc.
  2. Conduct at home science experiments
  3. Share and discuss age-appropriate current events
  4. Research and make paper airplanes in different styles
  5. Explore any maps (theme parks, state parks, atlases, city, state, etc.) you may have laying around, noting the compass rose and key
  6. Go on a rock, flower, or plant scavenger hunt
  7. Make homemade dough for play

Art, Music & PE

  1. Add daily drawings and art projects to a dated sketch journal
  2. Make music out of different household items
  3. Explore different genres of music 
  4. Go for hikes, walks, or bike rides
  5. Make collages with newspapers, pictures, magazine cutouts to illustrate different feelings, ideas, concepts
  6. Start a fitness challenge between family members
  7. Make homemade puppets for a show

As summer nears, I encourage you to continue your reflection, thinking about all of the positives that have come from this change, this new teaching experience. It certainly hasn’t been easy, but we’ve learned so much. Though we may be anxious to get back to life as we once knew it, let’s, instead, grow from this experience, taking the amazing things that you’re doing (maybe once even thought impossible) and grow from this experience to better serve your students by considering:

  1. What tools will you take into next school year? 
  2. What strategies have you learned that you’ll forever hold dear? 
  3. What bonds have been created?
  4. In what ways have you increased the universal design and accessibility of your teaching to better meet the needs of your students and their support systems?

Please share your answers in the comments, reach out for more resources, and keep on, keeping on! 

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Apr
23

Big Dreams, Small Spaces

laughing child sitting in a garden with purple catmint blooming
I hope this blog finds you healthy and coping well with this not-in-Kansas-anymore life. I was looking at my work calendar from a couple of months ago, and looked at an entry where I traveled, and thought, “Logansport seems like a distant universe.” 

Many of us are escaping to places (other than our snack stations) by watching Netflix. We are all sharing the shows we’ve been bingeing on the streaming platforms. It is spring on our farm, and I am re-watching my favorite British gardening show. 

“Big Dreams, Small Spaces” follows the famous British gardener, Monty Don who guides 2 different garden makeovers per episode. (He’s also an excellent follow on Instagram if you like dreamy garden images.) On the show, the participants share their ideas for a dream garden in their tiny backyard, and Monty checks in over the course of a year to counsel them, and lend some hands-on help. It is the opposite of sensational--there are no bodies found buried in the gardens. There are no cash prizes, and the often very small budgets are footed by the gardeners. 

British gardening guru Monty Don holding a watering can in his garden with his 2 golden retrievers at his side

But many of their dreams are indeed big, including turning their back garden into an enchanted forest, or creating a community vegetable garden for their neighbors. One of my favorites is an episode where parents are designing a garden for their son who has a disability. 

It would be fair to say it is boring, but I also would describe it as compelling. Watching someone dig their own pond with a shovel, and hearing them describe how it has helped them battle depression is a medicine that is working for me as I look for hope wherever it can be found.

My PATINS stakeholders who are contacting me are living in their own “Small Spaces” right now. But like the gardeners, they are dreaming big of taking their limited resources and turning them into a thing of beauty. They are forging stronger relationships with their students’ parents, spending hours communicating how to take their child with blindness on a mobility scavenger hunt, or how to enter math homework using a screen reader. They, like Monty Don and his gardeners, are giving me hope that continuous learning will grow and evolve into something surprisingly lovely. 

At PATINS we’re here to support your big dreams in small spaces. Check out our special resource page or visit our daily office hours with your questions and impossible ideas. 

I'll make the tea. (I guess you'll have to make your own tea if we meet on Zoom. . . but you get the sentiment.)

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Apr
17

What it means to them…

In keeping with my trend, I wanted to get the perspective of my family and how “continuous learning” has impacted them.

I have three grandchildren in elementary school. Dean is in the 4th grade, Logan is in 2nd grade, and Kenzie is in 1st grade. I also have Hazel and Ethan in the same preschool class. My son-in-law, Nick, is a high school teacher, and my daughter is an elementary school media assistant working as the school librarian.

Simple answers for simple questions…

Oldest grandson, Dean, was very straight up honest, “I don’t like it.” I asked him why, and he said he “wasn’t challenged enough.” He misses his interaction with his teacher and his classmates, but an occasional Zoom meeting helps.

Logan enjoys when the small groups and class meet via Zoom. He challenges himself to get up early and get his daily assignments done. His rational is, “I can get it done early, and then I have time to play the rest of the day.”

Hazel misses her friends at preschool, including her cousin, Ethan. However, her teacher, Ms. Becky, sends her students two letters through the postal service every week just to say hello. That is a highlight that she looks forward to.

Kenzie likes that she has more time to work on her math answers and enjoys Like to Draw videos. Her class also uses Zoom with her 20 classmates and each gets to tell a joke to the class. She says, “It’s not the same as school. It’s hard to focus and pretty boring.”

Ethan reflects what his cousin Hazel says about preschool, missing friends and playtime. His highlight is also receiving Ms. Becky’s letters in the mail.

Sarah has been working with the Specials Team teachers, Art, Music, etc. Her challenge is the different ways teachers use different platforms for assignments and sorting through how grades can be quantified for each student. These teachers each connect with 700+ students.

Nick was recently interviewed by a local newspaper and was asked a few questions about continuous learning. I think he has summed up what my grandchildren are experiencing, like many others:

  • e-Learning, of course, is typically done a day here, a day there. Now it's for the next several weeks. What are going to be the biggest challenges with that and how will you overcome those challenges?
    •  "I have received several emails, especially at the beginning of our eLearning, from students. They were not about questions on quizzes or assignments, but rather about missing being at school. These emails are difficult to read, because it drives home the fact that school is much more than a place for knowledge. For many kids, it’s their social support. It is what keeps them involved and connected to the world. The biggest challenge for us, as role models in the school, is to prioritize student well-being over curriculum. Of course, we want them to learn content and increase their knowledge, but it does no good for a school or society if a student feels overwhelmed and becomes disconnected. Our school attempts to limit this by making our lessons simple and to-the-point. Also, by maintaining positive relationships with our students. A simple weekly video or meeting just touching base with kids can make a big difference in their lives. Also, people tend to want to do more when they feel connected and appreciated by their group." 

This is a challenging time that came upon all of us very suddenly. However, for many schools, the framework was in place. Educators are adapting the best ways they can.

Let’s not forget about parents who are experiencing the continuous learning as home-school support for their children. I asked my daughter, Emily, about her experience with her young two children. She had lots to say, so I will only share a few comments. She likes that it is helping keep some structure and guidance for the rest of this academic year. But she notes it is hard to keep a 1st grader’s attention on a computer for very long. She appreciates the extra time they now have for creativity and play together.

Adding to the continuous learning implemented by schools, we in the “stay at home” scenario, which further isolates us.

Most have adapted to utilize technology that has always been there, but it has become the norm in so many ways. Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and even Facetime and Duo have allowed us to gather virtually. Does it take the place of face to face? Hardly, but it offers an opportunity to have a visual impact on each person on either end of the screen. A visual peace so to speak…

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Sandy Stabenfeldt
Fantastic blog! It was interesting to hear from all their perspectives.
Thursday, 23 April 2020 09:21
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Apr
02

The News I Did Not Get

The News I Did Not Get

I have something really important to share.

It affects your health. Your safety. Your ability to access education and justice. It might save your life.

Read it below:

grey square

What’s that? You can’t read it?

If you, your school, your municipality or other community servants are sharing pictures of text, it is not accessible to many of the people who may need it most. Pictures of text cannot be read by a screen reader and readers don’t have the ability to make it large print or high contrast. For people with dyslexia, blindness or low vision, or a poor internet connection that won’t load a picture, they don’t get the same information as everyone else. I lose out on the ability to auto-translate it to my language.

If that information was in a video and not captioned, it’s not accessible for people who are deaf or hard of hearing or cannot have the volume on right at that moment (shout out to all the parents juggling baby naptime and work simultaneously!) Interpreting and translating might be necessary.

If your job is to share information with your community, share it with the whole community.

Reach out to the creator if you see it. Point it out and offer suggestions for what to do differently. They will appreciate the information!

Lives may depend on it.

There are many other things we can all do to make our digital content accessible to everyone. If you need support and ideas for distance learning now, PATINS has curated many excellent resources for continuous learning due to COVID-19. Our specialists are here to support Indiana public PreK-12 schools providing equitable access to all.

We have been the best kind of busy helping Indiana educators find solutions to providing instruction for all students. To the teachers learning to be YouTubers and taking on video conferencing, the porch drop offs of AAC devices and assistive technology, the extra training, professional development, and so many creative solutions for kids: you make us very proud to be working with you. We hope to see you at one of our office hours or at the Tech Expo next week so we can (re)connect and share your struggles and successes!

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Recent Comments
Guest — Cathy Eastes
Hi Jessica, I clicked on the Covid-19 resource link in the article and received an error message. Just wanted you to know. Cat... Read More
Thursday, 16 April 2020 16:16
Jennifer Conti
Hi Cathy, We apologize about the error message you received. The link has been updated recently to reflect wording used by the In... Read More
Thursday, 16 April 2020 16:30
  2 Comments
Mar
26

Look For The Helpers

Look for the Helpers Look for the Helpers

As a friend to many emergency personnel, I have learned over many years a little of what it looks like from a first responder’s point of view and the sacrifice that comes with the calling to serve the people. The emotional, psychological and physical toll that comes with always being on guard for split-second decision making in order to maintain safety and order for all present challenges for managing life when days are suddenly atypical. In many ways, we all are experiencing this sense of hypervigilance with the pandemic. We are all in the same boat in that our typical lives have changed in some way. It’s taking a toll on each of us in some shape or form. 

I always thought I wouldn’t be a good first responder because I tend to freeze in certain situations. What I have found throughout my career in education is that there are always helpers in every given situation. We all have something that we can offer in a situation when we need to step up. We have dedicated our life’s work to improving the outcomes for our students. Even in rapidly changing current events, we come to help those needing assistance. I have witnessed many helpers sharing amazing resources not only to provide access to education but also to make sure our families are fed, utilities are maintained, and social wellbeing is addressed. 

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me,

Many of us had great tools and resources for self-management prior to our new pandemic lives. Now, I am finding I need new tools and strategies to help myself regulate emotions, stay on track with daily remote learning for my own children, and keeping up with work and my own learning.  

Here are a few tools and suggestions I am going to try: 

HeadSpace : Headspace is an app that teaches you how to meditate.

ArtfulAgenda: Try this app to help integrate all of your calendars and keep organized all in one place. Mobile app now in Apple and Google Play stores. Syncs with Google, Apple, and Outlook 

Peloton App: Free for 90 days, Try a Yoga class

PATINS Staff is also on standby for your educational access needs while you are navigating remote learning. We have open office hours in a virtual zoom meeting room twice a day at 10 am and 2 pm EST through the month of April. Please feel free to jump on and have a team member guide you through how to use Zoom and any other questions you may have. You can find the office hours and other training on our training calendar

Please share what you are doing to help self-managing during this new normal. 

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Guest — Bev Sharritt
Thanks Kayti. I'm going to try the Peleton app. I am ending each day with cleaning/sanitizing the sinks while I pray.
Thursday, 26 March 2020 09:10
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Mar
19

What Does Distance Learning Look Like Anyway?

What Does Distance Learning Look like Anyway? Mother and child holding tablet looking at woman on the screen.

What a year this week has been.

Just look at all the massive steps forward we’ve taken as a society in the name of accessibility for all students!

It’s no doubt that every foot has been on the ground making the transition to distance learning possible and to minimize the disruption of key educational services. This week has proved that nothing can stand in the way of educators getting support to their students. From district-wide initiatives, such as continuing to provide daily meals and mobilizing buses to grant Wi-Fi access throughout the community to the administrators broadcasting read alouds (yay for reading with our eyes and our ears!) and over 60 educators spending their Tuesday night with first ever hybrid #PatinsIcam Twitter Chat and Zoom meeting (captioned recorded video to come soon). We’ve all embraced accessibility in many aspects of our lives quicker than I think some of us realize. 

Educators (and that now includes parents/adults at home) - You may feel like your kids didn’t learn anything this week. You may feel out of sorts and wondering how this is going to be sustainable until May 1, as announced by Governor Holcomb a few hours ago. You may feel like you’re recovering from a bout of whiplash because what is distance learning supposed to look like anyway? 

The good news is I can tell you what distance learning looks like - it looks like Universal Design for Learning (UDL)! And you’re probably already doing it...

Multiple means of engagement - “Which book are you choosing today?”

Multiple means of representation - “You’d rather listen to that as an audiobook. Okay, I know that helps you recall the information better.”

Multiple means of action & expression - “I can see sitting and writing a paragraph on what happened in the book is difficult for your right now. How about you choose from drawing a picture, creating a video, or another way you had in mind to retell the story.”

Now, the flexibility UDL allows can help eliminate barriers for many of our students but our efforts still need to be flexible, specialized, and with a keen eye on accessibility. A paper packet of work sent home with a student with dyslexia is inaccessible. A student with limited communication still needs a way to express themselves at home (and they probably need some additional fringe words to describe what they’re feeling during the COVID-19 pandemic). A parent with hearing loss may not be able to hear the instructions for e-learning if their are no captions.

So what can you do?

Continue to think about potential barriers. Check-in with the students and their families to see how it’s going. The PATINS Project has compiled a webpage with resources for continuous learning which will help ensure the presentation of your content is accessible and allows all your families to feel successful.


Visit PATINS/ICAM specialists open office hours. These are now held twice a day at 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM EST each weekday to address questions, concerns, brainstorm, anything you need to figure out. We believe all students can continue to make progress during distance learning.


Learn about educational technology and services at the first-ever virtual PATINS Tech Expo with IN*SOURCE 2020. Registration is open until April 6, 2020, and is no-cost for you.
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Mar
12

Sunrise or Sunset?

Is it a sunrise or a sunset, it is all in your perspective.

It is with a heavy heart that I am writing to tell you all that I will be leaving the PATINS Project. I have accepted a position as a Various Exceptionalities/Exceptional Students Educator for Largo Middle School of Pinellas County Schools. 

beach clouds dawn dusk

It is my time with PATINS that has influenced my desire to return to the classroom. When I left Seymour in 2012, school corporations were on the brink of large changes. These changes would affect both the general and special needs classrooms. With PATINS I have seen 1 to 1 computers. The explosion of the iPad as an accessible, multifaceted AT device. I have seen renewed desire to provide all students with the least restrictive environment. Classrooms are more diverse. Options for graduation are diversifying and with that a renewed interest in how schools transition students into society. With technology, so many more students are able to receive accommodations where they once would only receive modifications. Differentiation is becoming Specially Designed Instruction and Universally Designed Instruction is on the cusp of becoming the norm.


With my PATINS experience I found myself wondering what kind of teacher I would be today. I am excited to find out by going back into public schools to teach, support and lead others in these practices.

Thank you for the insight and hope for greater things that you have given me. If it were not for the exposure and experience of working with Indiana’s exceptional educators, I would not be returning to public education. These experiences along with the fellowship and exceptional intellect of my peers has made me capable and hungry to share these skills with students.

Thank you all!
Sandi Smith










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Mar
06

Literacy, Performance, and Well-Being: Realizing Reading, Writing, and Accommodations!

Each year, about this time, educators all over Indiana are likely feeling drained, pressured, overwhelmed, and perhaps worried! I hear so much about state assessment and preparing for it, how it throws off schedules and routines, and how everyone in the building is a bit on-edge. I understand that feeling! I struggle a bit, however, with some of the reasons we allow it to occur. While we don't have a choice in many aspects of high-stakes assessment, we do have a lot of control over the other majority of the school year, which most certainly has an effect on the relatively short assessment portion! 

The things that come to mind are the concepts of literacy, of testing anxiety, and of the general well-being of people. The PATINS Project has a laser-like focus on improving literacy in Indiana PK-12 schools and in order to achieve that, we had to define literacy, which is where my struggles around high-stakes testing anxiety likely begins. The dedicated, passionate, and skilled PATINS team chooses to recognize and actively support the International Literacy Association's definition of literacy: 

"Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, compute, and communicate using visual, audible, and digital materials across disciplines and in any context. The ability to read, write, and communicate connects people to one another and empowers them to achieve things they never thought possible. Communication and connection are the basis of who we are and how we live together and interact with the world."

With this definition in mind, the PATINS staff meets every single week as a team to share, collaborate, and ensure that everything we're doing maintains a strong focus on improving literacy outcomes! While this intentional and deliberate focal point of our work is fairly recent, our services have always centered around literacy. I was reminded of this recently when I was asked about an old (2009) article that had been written about me as a classroom teacher, which you can find here, for some additional reading! 


Daniel as a first year teacher playing guitar for students.
Back in 2001, I decided it was time to leave the business I'd started. I had spent the previous 4 years establishing a system of working with very young students on the autism spectrum and had experienced some great success. While a very difficult decision, what I really wanted to experience was my very own classroom of students on a daily basis. So, I took a teaching position in a K-6 classroom with students identified as having "moderate - severe disabilities."  

When I arrived, eager and enthusiastic, I received a warm welcome, but I also received some advice about my students-to-be. I was told that they were non-readers and non-writers and that I would be using a lot of pictures and symbols. Not knowing my students, yet and also realizing that I hadn't ever had any real reading instruction in college, I took this advice. Not only did I take this advice, but I plastered by classroom with pictures I printed out and with symbols of all sorts! Schedules, social cues, tasks related to IEP goals... all pictures and symbols! I covered a 10' X 6' board with tempo-loop and laminated and velcro'd until my poor, raw, aching fingers nearly bled! We used these in my classroom day-in and day-out! 

a sample of Daniels classroom schedule in all text
While I realized that I was no expert in reading and really had no formal training in the science of teaching others to read, I also understood behavior and I understood fairly well, how learners often perceived things differently in their learning environment. I remember sitting back in my chair at the end of one school day, frustrated that my students were paying textbook rental for books that were inaccessible to them, that I wasn't able to work on writing (composing) with my students, and I looked across the room at my giant tempo-loop schedule. I looked at the symbols and it suddenly hit me that some of them, very much, resembled short words from that distance. It stood to reason then, that if that symbol resembled a word and my students were recognizing the meaning of it daily, perhaps they could just recognize words! ...And they DID! What I also very quickly realized and made all of my paraprofessionals and parents aware of, was that my students were not "reading" phonetically. They were recognizing symbols. However, these symbols they were recognizing were now far more functional in the real world than most abstract, stick-figure symbols, that I had to teach the meaning of anyway. Nevertheless, I knew that my students needed more, if they were to become readers (and writers). 

At this point, I implemented a systematic phonics program, but I also implemented word-prediction! Not really knowing how to teach phonemes, nor understanding reading science at the time, I did realize that by removing the barrier of spelling (with word-prediction software), that I could very quickly begin experiencing the ideas, reflections, and questions that were in my student's creative minds! ...thoughts that I often wondered if anyone else ever knew was even in there!  ...stuff we'd never heard come from these kids verbally, that was coming out in writing, because now they could compose without the impasse of spelling or physical handwriting!  Another amazing thing with word-prediction was that my students could hear the computer read their sentence back after they'd punctuated it, which effectively improved their self-editing and perhaps more importantly opened my mind to the powerful idea of them reading with their ears, and thus began text to speech in my classroom for all students, all of the time. They became VERY good and implementing it for themselves when they needed it and choosing to read with their eyes at times when they did not need it. They began leaving my classroom and joining their general education peers for more and more academics, for arts, and music, and on the weekends for birthday parties!  

As a result, I also worked out that text and language could be fun, engaging, and musical! We played with my guitar and made up words to made up songs and then wrote them down and discussed them, revised them, and laughed! Yes, we laughed! We had fun with language. We went from using stick-figure symbols to having fun with language.  

I look back and recognize this successful and fun 4-year experience in my classroom as a culmination of having high expectations, implementing assistive technology and accessible materials, and having FUN! ...also known as engagement!

Circling back, I wonder why more case conference committees aren't checking the boxes on the IEP that asks if Assistive Technology (AT) or Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) are needed when those two things can lead to such unthought-of outcomes, often at little or no cost. I wonder why, in many places, schedules change and test prep becomes such a focus that the stress and anxiety actually shows on the faces of educators. At the time, my students wouldn't have been permitted to use many of their accommodations on the state's high stakes test, BUT I can guarantee they still would have done better on those assessments with me providing them all year long until then!  

In summary, if you ever find yourself in an IEP meeting and those two questions about Assistive Technology and Accessible Educational Materials aren't deeply discussed, I:  
  1. Encourage you to borrow items to trial (at no cost to you whatsoever) from the PATINS Lending Library.  
  2. Challenge you to initiate those discussions about AT and AEM in the IEP meeting. 
  3. Contact PATINS Staff, even during the meeting, for more information, consultation, and support on AT and AEM! 
  4. Implement something new with ALL of your students THIS NEXT week! It doesn't have to be in an IEP and you don't have to be an expert to try something new! 
  5. Reach out to the PATINS Specialists for specific training and support! 
  6. Come to the (no cost) PATINS Tech Expo on April 9th, to make yourself even more aware of some of the tools, resources, and strategies that are available!  
Photo of Daniel riding a stick unicorn in a literacy phoneme game       Word Play Root Matrix of word parts and phonemes


















Be brave this week... take a deep breath, think about literacy a little more broadly and try to have fun with your students doing something for at least a few minutes every day! It's OK to laugh with them! ...and, I'll leave you with this one fun literacy-based idea. I recently took part, as a volunteer, in a silly activity with respected educational colleagues from around the world called, "Unicorn Poop." Yes, you read that correctly. In this game, I was part of a team, "riding" on a stick-unicorn from one side of the room to the other in order to scoop a plastic spoonful of unicorn poop (skittles candy) and bring it back to my teammate who was making a new word and conveying it to our "teacher" allowing me to claim the unicorn poop on our side of the room! We ended up losing the game by only a half of a spoonful of poop, but I ended up learning so much about teaching reading instruction in the process. We didn't spend any time on letter recognition or even individual sounds. We put BIG words together by practicing understanding of smaller phonemes!
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Feb
26

#Dyslexia: Celebrating Those Beautiful Brains

IMG_1557-2 Beautiful Brain Sticker
I read an audiobook a few weeks ago by Jonathan Mooney titled Normal Sucks: How to Live, Learn, and Thrive Outside the Lines. Jonathan was identified with dyslexia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) when he was a kid and did not learn to read until he was 12 years old. He writes with a hilarious twist of confessions and speaks about the uniqueness of learners. Jonathan leaves the message that instead of trying to fix these students...let’s empower them to be successful in their own way.

He shares after being sent to the office due to some choices he made and his mom was called to come to his school, “I had crossed that invisible line between the normal and the not normal, which we all know is there. Though we aren’t quite sure where it is all of the time, or who drew it, or how, or why. At that moment, I knew for sure that whatever normal was, I wasn’t it.”

I am constantly meeting and working with new students who have been identified with dyslexia. I am tasked with the privilege to explore with them ways that they may learn and ways they can feel empowered in their own learning. I often get to see their new learning journey with assistive technology accommodations such as text-to-speech, word prediction, speech-to-text, etc. to keep them from getting further behind in school. Each time I am with a student, they teach me something new which makes me a better educator. I am so thankful.

When meeting new students, I have to create relationships very quickly. This often begins with talking about anything but dyslexia. I have laughed so hard with students at the amazing conversations we have had and the stories they share about life in general. I have also left schools with my chest so heavy due to students feeling so stomped down from the weight they feel from struggling to read. They do not feel smart and feel shame, which leads to low self esteem and often matched with bullying. 

Instead of writing a blog about dyslexia, I wanted to put some faces to dyslexia. Each time we talk about dyslexia in schools, there is a face to every single number. Each time accommodations are denied, there is a face to that denial. We have to remain connected in order to prevent the disconnection of accessibility. 

So! I rounded up just a few kiddos who have impacted my own life in some way this past school year, brought together by dyslexia...but relationships built due to all of the other amazing conversations those beautiful brains have shared with me. I asked them a few questions and I have no doubt you will lift them up with me. 

First, Samantha was a feature on PATINS TV! After meeting her one time and working with her for accommodations on the iPad, the next time I came back, she showed me some ways she was using her iPad that I was able to share with other kids. She is brilliant!

Meet Sam
Sam
  Age: 11 years old

  Favorite book or type of book: Dog Man

  What is something you really enjoy doing and know you are good at doing?  Driving the ATV and maneuvering it with a trailer anywhere!

  Anything else you would like the world to know about you? Sam is in 4-H and shows ducks, chickens, and pygmy goats. This year he is going to try his hand at the lawn mower driving project and LEGO building project. When he grows up Sam wants to be a farmer because farming is cool. 

The first time I met Sam, we had a race. He was in his running shoes and well, me in my high heels. He won but I’m ready for a rematch. Sam is an impeccable problem solver. His thoughts take him into creative action on a route we may not think of at the time. I was fortunate to see Sam show one of his goats at his county fair. It felt like 110 degrees in the summer inside a metal barn; but Sam took it like a champ (unlike me sweating profusely). He had an adorable and rambunctious goat that he gave 100% attention to in the heat and he placed! Also, this kid can do the Floss dance better than I have ever seen and brings it alive on the drop of a hat! I can’t wait to see him one day on his own farm...living his dream and being a mentor for those who want to learn his craft of farming. He is unstoppable.


Meet
Precious
Precious
  Age: I am 16 years old. I’m going to be 17 years old in March. 

  Favorite book or types of books you like to read: My favorite   book is Dork Diaries

 What is something you really enjoy doing and know you are good at doing?
My favorite hobby is art. 

Anything else you would like the world to know about you? I am a homeschooled student. I want to show my artwork to encourage everyone. I am building my own art studio called Shout Loud. I want people to know, "You can do it!"
Precious's artwork of colorful tree

As you can imagine by her answers above, Precious is extremely kind and talented. I was honored to see her art spotlighted at an event in Indianapolis, Indiana. I noticed on her art displays, the first line was “I have dyslexia.” The way that she sees colors and puts them together truly amazes me.


Meet
Piper
Piper
  Age: 9 years old, March 1st!

  Favorite book or types of books you like to read: Adventure, crime solving
  and mystery genre


  What is something you really enjoy doing and know you are good at
  doing?
Art, ice skating, skiing, and acting.

  Anything else you would like the world to know about you? I would like
  the world to know that I love having dyslexia, because it helps me be even more creative than I thought.


Piper helped me out when I presented on assistive technology accommodations. After learning that she loves to act, I can see now how she stood in the front of the crowded room with me with ease. When I showed Piper the C-Pen Reader, she practiced and figured it out quickly. Then, she proceeded to try it out backwards, upside down and up and down. She then explained to me all the ways one should not use the C-Pen. Ya know, she is right...we need to know that part. Thank you, Piper! 


Meet
Reed
Reed
  Age: 9 years old

  Favorite book or type of book: Dog Man

  What is something you really enjoy doing and know you are good at doing?
  Shooting 

  Anything else you would like the world to know about you? If the world wants to
  know anything else, they need to meet me!!


Reed wasn’t so sure about me at first. He was the observer and then came over to me when he was ready, which works just fine for me. Once he did, he told me about Dog Man and was extremely well spoken about not only the book; but about anything we talked about. Reed heard me say that I had a fear of grasshoppers. At the end of my talk, he walked up to me with his hands closed and said, “Hey, I caught a grasshopper for you!” I thought he was serious for about .2 seconds, which felt like an eternity. He asked me to come back, but Reed, you better watch out! I like to play tricks as well! Reed is right, the world needs to meet him one day. I have a feeling they will as he will positively change the world in his own unique way.

Note: Sometimes kids are labeled as shy, when in reality they just need time or need a purpose to engage. As an educator, practicing wait time and as well as creating purpose can make all of the difference. 


Meet
Jackson
Jackson
  Age: 7 years old

  Favorite book or type of book: Dyslexic Legends Alphabet. This
  is my favorite book because it has the people that are famous
  because they have dyslexia. Even though you have dyslexia, you
  can still read using audiobooks! 


What is something you really enjoy doing and know you are good at doing? Playing baseball and hockey! I really enjoy reading audiobooks. 

(Hey Brent Sopel...I think you've got a huge fan in the making for more than one reason!)

Anything else you would like the world to know about you? That you can do any job that you want, even though you have dyslexia! Even though dyslexia is hard, you can still do whatever you want! 

Clearly, Jack is a true champion for himself in the way he learns best. When he says “...enjoy READING audiobooks,” that kiddo is ahead of the game! Of course he is reading! He is reading with his ears! Jack is an inquisitive thinker and I feel pretty confident when he is not playing hockey or baseball, he is tackling his younger brother. I am hoping to recruit Jack in a future training video on how we all read differently. We can all learn something from Jackson for sure. Besides, he and I have matching shirts... T shirt: Dyslexia is not a disability, it's a different ability.

Jonathan Mooney continues to say and I would like to echo this to all students…

“...I want you to know that normality is a problem to be struggled with, to be resisted, and ultimately, an idea to be rejected and replaced. ...When normal comes for you, I want you to be able to say what I couldn’t when it came for me. Normal sucks.”

What is normal anyway? It’s a measurement we can forever chase and never find. If we always consider the variability of all learners, presume competence, appreciate the diversity and be facilitators toward independence with accessibility in our instruction...our impact will be larger than imaginable. It can literally change life paths in a positive direction for all those faces for not only dyslexia but for all students.

#Presuming Competence is the easiest or the hardest barrier to #inclusion. The hardest because you can't force someone to believe in ability. The easiest because believing in ability costs nothing. It requires zero resources. The ? is, what side of history do you want to be on?
What side do you want to be on? Let's celebrate those beautiful brains...together! 


Note: Make sure you click on each picture to enlarge!  Also, If you have a student or child you would like to celebrate in ANY way, please email me at 
ksuding@patinsproject.org, tweet me @ksuding, or share in the comments below and I will lift them up with you and share!

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Recent Comments
Guest — Glenda Thompson
What an interesting and fun group of friends you introduced us to, Kelli. Here's my takeaway: Samantha - look at the look of dete... Read More
Friday, 28 February 2020 14:47
Guest — Mary Kelly
Hey Kelli!!! Today I was in awe of the opportunities that my daughter, Precious, has received! It is amazing watching her beautifu... Read More
Thursday, 23 July 2020 01:06
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