Learning with Laughter

Kelli laughing
Cachinnate: “to laugh loudly”


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

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


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

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

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



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"I got this."

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy Birthday to...Me?

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

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

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

Birthday Balloons


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

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

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

Just a few examples to start or continue;

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

  • Have visuals available for responses.

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

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

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Go Forth & Teach Like a "Gamer."

Go Forth & Teach Like a "Gamer."
We just recently wrapped up our first #patinsicam Twitter chat, 6 week cycle on the Basics of Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  When the question, “Which UDL principle do you find the most challenging?”...the majority vote was not surprising at all:  ENGAGEMENT.  

This made me reflect as to why engagement poses to be the most difficult in teaching.  After all, we can engage with people easily on a daily basis and also engage ourselves.  We share conversations, we tell jokes, we laugh and smile, we listen to music, we enjoy our hobbies, we may read for pleasure...all for engagement.  

We are engaged because these are things that are relevant and meaningful to us.  We aren’t focused on our weaknesses but using our strengths and interests to enhance fulfillment of our lives, which results in applying these experiences to increase our own intelligence...naturally.  It’s not even something we think about, it just happens.

A coworker and I have often pondered about the intense level of engagement in video games.  We have thought that if as teachers, we could change our mindset like that of a developer of video games, engagement may be a piece of cake.  What IS the secret key they hold that will naturally lead young people to sit for hours in front of a monitor, take breaks and stop when they need to, be driven and take self initiative to be successful in the game?  NEWFLASH!  Video games are universally designed and player centered. Are our classrooms, instructions and materials universally designed?  Are they student centered?

Well folks, I have to say that recently- I happen to be at the right place, at the right time.  After all of these years of pondering the draw to video games...I had a young man eloquently describe his occasional video game dabbling.  This is how it went:

Boy:  “I feel dumb sometimes.”

Me:   “What?  Tell me more about that.”

Boy:  “Well, school doesn’t come easy to me like it seems to for everyone else. I have to study all the time to even get smart and I don’t feel like doing that all of the time. My mind races because I’m so focused on getting the good grade, that I start forgetting what I learned and then make mistakes”

Me:  “So, how do you cope with that?  What do you do?”

Boy:  “Well, I started wearing earbuds and listening to music while I do my math homework.  It keeps me from overthinking the problems and then I just do the problems right without even thinking really.”


Me:  “Oh wow, that is such a great idea!  I need to do that!  I overthink all of the time.”

Boy (laughs):  “Yes, it really helps.  I don’t even think about the grade.  I just enjoy my music and working math becomes easier.”

Me:  “What makes you focus on the grades so much that you actually get stressed out?”

….and then this is when my teacher lightbulb came on and shined brightly with confirmation after the innocent, perfect “rant”...

Boy:  “School seems to be ALL about the grade!  It’s so stressful and so focused on intelligence. When someone doesn’t feel so intelligent, how can you even survive?  There is so much more to us than how smart we are!  If school was like most video games, we’d all do better….”

Me:  “What do you mean “like a video game”...?”

Boy:  “...I feel as if we are just seen with how much intelligence we have.  They are forgetting the other qualities of us that build us as people!  We have strength, agility, luck, perception, charisma, interests and endurance.  In certain video games, you build your own character and the better you perform with ALL of your qualities, the more intelligence you build.  You have to have all of those qualities to become more intelligent in video games.  As we go through school, we are just focused on gaining intelligence and teachers forget about our other qualities.  Some of us may have high intelligence and some of us may feel like we don’t.  This makes us feel completely unbalanced which affects everything else.”

                                                                game.jpeg

I heard a keynote speaker once say, “We don't have to teach kids curiosity...they came that way. We have to NOT take it out of them!”  Let’s make our students feel BALANCED inside of our classroom.  Let’s teach with relevance, meaningfulness and then naturally ENGAGE.  Let’s get to know our students and build upon their strengths and lessen the load of heavy feelings of weaknesses.  Have them actively participate in their own goals, no matter how big or small.  Let them self monitor themselves by using tools like https://www.futureme.org/  Let’s bring their interests into our teaching.

Need suggestions on how to make that happen?  Give any of us PATINS Specialists a shout!  

Now...Go forth and teach like a “Gamer.”


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Food Trucks & Snow Cones & Grasshoppers, Oh My!

Food Trucks & Snow Cones & Grasshoppers, Oh My!
I have a slight obsession with food trucks.  I follow the food truck schedule on FB. Then, assume most people around me are just as excited as I am that one is parked in our office lot.  (They’re not.)  Recently, I have honed in on snow cone ice.  I passed a food truck this summer that HAD snow cones!  I felt like I was in heaven. 

When I get gas at the station, I HAVE to end the dollar amount on a zero (0) or a five (5).  I struggle with beginning a project and having to stop in the middle.  I am allergic to hay and as a young child, got bucked off of a horse and quickly found out what manure tastes like. (It tastes like it smells…blah.)
Boy holding nose in disgust
Watching scary movies as a child has left me STILL to this day, always pulling the blankets up past my neck to keep vampires away; and occasionally jumping up on the bed so no Boogieman can grab my feet.  (Yes, I am a grown-up.) As if that isn’t enough, mice will make me find a safe spot on top of furniture; but grasshoppers can nearly make me pass out from fear.

If you have never met me or maybe even DO know me, you probably would not know those things about me.  I’m terrible about talking about “me.”  It’s out of my comfort zone to share things about myself.  This reflection made me think of students in the time we are at now…BACK TO SCHOOL!
Back to school!

As teachers, the first weeks of school are spent getting to know your students, students getting to know you, and students getting to know their peers.  For students who struggle with expression and communication, this can create high levels of anxiety; or students who are nonverbal may be unable to get to know their peers equally.
With that said, while being focused on the implementation of accessible educational materials (AEM),let’s not lose sight of being socially accessible as well.  Here are a few ways to make that happen:

telegami logo   Telegami:  Create a quick avatar, typed or spoken text
 
TeleStory Logo  TeleStory:  Write and tell your story via video

ChatterPix Logo  ChatterPix:  Take photo, draw line over mouth, and record voice

Photo Mapo Logo    Photo Mapo:  Great app to share summer adventures or wish list places

Book Creator Logo  Book Creator:  I feel like this should be a “staple” app; but is great to use for digital About Me books.
 
Give all students that voice for introductions, regardless of barrier and allow them multiple ways to find their own zone of comfort to open up and share with their peers.  Let the friendships begin!

Drawing of boy and girl happy
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Curly Locks & The 2 Dimples

Curly Locks & The 2 Dimples
As a young girl, “Oh my goodness, look at those curls; and those dimples nearly swallow your cheeks!” were words that she would hear often from strangers.  One day, she even slipped and fell face flat into a mud puddle at a public park.  Clearly, the mud was what swallowed her face AND her embarrassed tears; but what she heard was, “Not even a speck of mud in those dimples,” from the lady who came to help her.  All she really wanted to hear was, “Are you ok?”...because she wasn’t.

Growing up, she quickly realized the smile that would create those dimples, was like a magic cape that would make her invisible...even when she wanted to be seen. Many acquaintances, friends and even teachers knew that behind the facade of a beautiful home, lived the girl who could not possibly be “ok”...but no one ever asked.

When she entered her high school years, a teacher realized a pattern in missing days at school...and the teacher asked, “Are you ok?”  The young girl froze in surprise of the question, looked at the teacher and smiled…”Yes, of course I’m ok.”  Her “magic cape” allowed her to vanish in plain sight once again with her grades slowly faltering.  Her barrier was the inability of verbal expression under intense stress, fear and/or anxiety.

While she was a typical student in the mainstream classroom who could speak and read and write text, this story makes me think of all of the students that come to classrooms daily from diverse backgrounds and needs...each one with their own form of a “magic cape.” With that in mind, working to create a universally designed environment (UDL) may seem like a daunting task when working with students with disabilities and/or emotional & behavior disorders. How are those students able to access what they know or how they feel if they are unable to access that communication in the way that they need? I would like to focus on one of the UDL principles- “multiple means of expression.”  


Behaviors happen for a reason and they can adversely affect a student’s educational performance.  Some students would rather have a physical or emotional outburst or shut down completely when asked to do a task in front of the classroom- before they will EVER let their peers know that they struggle with reading or completing what seems to be a simple math problem to most.  Some students may be repeatedly told in various ways that they are not smart; which in turn causes them to disengage academically and socially.  Not all students can express what they know or how they feel verbally.  What about our students who are nonverbal?  Not all students can express what they know or how they feel in written text.  What about our students with physical disabilities?  

At times, we get so caught up in what is in front of us, whether it is the disability, the behavior or even the dimples- that we avoid or forget to simply ask, “Are you ok?” A simple gesture that when asked, we must provide various ways for our students to respond in a way that best fits them.  A few examples are verbally, written, text-to-speech, drawing, recorded response, AAC, pictures, etc.  

Getting to the core of what is creating the behavior and addressing that with your student, can certainly assist in avoiding what I like to refer to as the behavioral domino effect.  Dominoes in lineMeaning, when one falls without being caught, it lands on another that falls, which lands on another, etc.  Before you know it, you have a whole line of new behaviors.  If you have ever lined up dominoes to create the chain reaction of falling in a pattern, then you know that if you want to set them back up...you have to set the very FIRST one back up that fell.

Let’s help our struggling students KNOW and FEEL that we care and that they CAN achieve great things.  Sometimes that IS the most important thing they need to know and understand.

For those of you who may want to know what happened to “Curly Locks & The 2 Dimples,” I do not want to close this blog with a story half written.  A teacher did ask her AND her entire class one day a simple question in the form of a writing prompt:  “Tell me something that you think I would never guess about you.”  The young lady wrote and she wrote and she kept writing...  

If you were to ask her if she is “ok” today...she will offer you a real smile, with no magic cape and now verbally respond,  “Absolutely.”  I can answer for her with complete confidence...

...because she, is me.
Drawing of girl in grass

 
 
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What I learned, I learned from a robot.

What I learned, I learned from a robot.
Let’s face it, teaching isn’t for the weak.  Not only do we have to smile to our student with Asperger’s when he asks us a question that warrants the reply, “No, I am not growing a mustache. Mustache Icon It must just be the lighting.  Eeks! Let’s focus on math now;” we also need to provide multiple means of engagement, representation and expression.  Better known as creating a universally designed learning environment (UDL).   

I have to admit, many moons ago- there were times when I allowed my students to be too dependent on me.  I would read their tests for them, often times take notes for them, type their papers, inflect my voice at JUST the right word to heighten their senses or do the brainstorming while they were disengaged from me.  Afterall, if the work didn’t get completed- my students may have a huge physical meltdown. Who wants THAT to happen?!  To go even further, while on recess duty, if they fell- I’d even rush to help them up.  As I reflect...what a complete disservice I offered them in those moments of my own discomfort.

Today, I work with educators on a daily basis sharing ideas, suggestions, tools to make sure that codependence is so far removed- regardless of any disability.  Afterall, the main teaching/modeling objective for our students should be independence.  Accessing the curriculum independently, in the way our diverse learners need- may require our own mindset change to having high expectations for each and every student.  Yes, the easiest and quickest way to get through a lesson to prevent upset or outburst is to continue to assist them; but the RIGHT thing to do is to give them the tools they need to work independently.  I do not mean just SOME of the time, but ALL of the time.

With a universally designed classroom environment comes independence.  With independence comes confidence.  With confidence comes natural problem-solving in your students’ life skills without relying on us.  We owe it to our students to provide accessible materials with the support of usable assistive technology tools that fits them;  and develop self regulation through everyday experiences.  If you aren’t sure how to make this happen or even find yourself allowing your students to be dependent on you SOME of the time, let me know.  I will fill your “teacher toolbox” with a plethora of resources with FULL support for you to get started with your students.  

Portrait of Kelli Suding
 
I brought our NAO robot, Ophi- into a few classrooms these past few weeks.  During one of his activities for students in a life skills class, he got tangled in himself and went crashing down on the table robot-face first.  His fall was loud; but not as loud as the shrieks from the teachers and students nearly rushing to pick him up.  I use to pick him up.  However, I now have impeccable wait time.  I held up my hand to assure the students that Ophi was fine and I stood back and let him figure out how to get back up himself.  He did.  Success.  The student’s smiles were stretched from ear to ear because they did not know that he could stand up by himself.  However, I knew.  

Always know that your students can do it.  Believe in them and show them how and/or give them the gift of figuring it out. We don’t have the right to impose our fears, or our lack of confidence in implementing new tools for students to gain independence.  Our students face enough barriers daily…let’s not be one of them.

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Kelli Suding
The app "Fused" was used to create multiple pictures into one and it's FREE! https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/fused-double-exposur... Read More
Tuesday, 15 March 2016 12:21
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