PATINS Ponders Blog

Weekly insights, ideas and reflections on Assistive Technology, Universal Design for Learning and Accessible Educational Materials

Exploding Kittens Bringing Folks Together


We had a delightful few days at the Sharritt’s over Christmas vacation when my daughter, her husband, my son, and his fiancée were all at the farm with us. We ate rich foods, fought over choice spots on the couch, and spent some time playing games.


My son introduced us to a new card game, Exploding Kittens, which is a cross between Uno, Old Maid, and the Broadway show Cats. The illustrations of the kitties that can be matched in order to earn a free draw from another player are funny--my favorite is Tacocat (a palindrome). The goal of the game is to be the final player who has avoided drawing an exploding kitten card. The key is to be holding “defuse” cards (belly rub, laser pointer, etc.), and strategies involve knowing how many volatile kittens are where, and knowing when to play directional cards including “shuffle”, “attack”, “skip”, “favor” and “nope.”

Exploding kitten game cards

The card, and word “defuse” worked its way into my brain, and I woke up in the middle of the night a few days later thinking about the game, and at the same time, special education. I could try to figure out the thought cocktails produced in my brain blender at 3 am, or just run with them. . . here goes.

I was thinking about a Twitter chat session that PATINS had hosted as a discussion about special education teachers working with their general education peers. Twitter chat may sound as strange to you as Exploding Kittens so I’ll explain.

Twitter chat is where people with the same interests get on Twitter at the same agreed upon time and tweet about a topic together. They “see” the conversation by adding a hashtag to their tweets--as everyone uses the hashtag, new comments and answers appear. There is an assigned moderator for the sessions who posts questions. The pace is rapid, and lively; think dinner conversation for a big table. You may be listening to one end of the table, and then drawn into a comment from your other side. You will miss some things, but might engage more deeply with others nearby, and I suppose you may just be shouting out to no one in some instances.


I did not use Twitter much before becoming a specialist at PATINS. I had an account, but gravitated more towards Facebook and Instagram. My tendency towards reserved listening makes me a little anxious in this media, and I struggle to hit the “tweet” button sometimes, fearing that I’m blurting something weird, incomprehensible, or offensive #tri-(ump)-fecta. Poet Bev, though, really relishes the challenge of distilling my thoughts into a precise 140 characters or less, so it’s slowly growing on me #wordwhittle.

So, the game, and education. I’ve heard teaching kindergarten (mostly lovingly) described as herding cats so let’s start there. In today’s classrooms of all levels, we are faced with the challenge of reaching students of many varied backgrounds, abilities, and needs. Designing instruction for all to have access is as complex as herding felines. You want success for all, and no exploding of any kittens. In the work of both special education and general education, you are faced with opportunities to undermine the other, and hold your cards closely, or form alliances to the success of Beardcat and Hairy Potatocat alike.

In the game played at our house, parents and in-laws were eliminated, leaving my son and daughter in a one to one marathon of Exploding Kitten twists and turns. Ben and Grace went back and forth, alternately yelling, pleading, but, most often, laughing. Someone won, someone ran out of defuse cards and exploded, but the process itself was most delightful to witness.

The process of general educators and special educators coming together may also look like sibling rivalry sometimes.

“The principal likes you best!”

“I always have to do all the things!”

“You got a better room than me!”

But in my experience, taking the time to do the beautiful and hard work of universal design benefits everyone in the end. The recent research and emphasis on universal design in the classroom, and how it can overcome student learning barriers is something we are tweeting about every Tuesday at 8:30 p.m at PATINS. Follow the hashtag #PatinsIcam to sit with us at the table. We’re nice, and sometimes downright poetic. Just listen (also known as lurking), or chime in.  For some helpful hints on how to participate you can go here.
Exploding kitten see the future game card

My favorite card in the Exploding Kittens game is “See the Future” which allows you to pick up the next three cards in the draw pile to see what goodies or perils await. For teachers, let’s share this future with each other--if explosions await, let's use them together to detonate any obstacles we see for our students.


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Can you hear the Echo?

Last summer on our family vacation my daughter brought along her Amazon Echo. She set it up in the main living area and said, “Dad you need to get one of these."

Between my daughter, my son-in-law and my grandkids, it was a fight to demonstrate just what the Echo could do. “Alexa, play Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by the Beatles." Sure enough the Echo played it and before the song was half over, another request, “Alexa, what’s the temperature?” “Alexa, tell me a joke.”

This went on for about an hour. It was impressive even when Alexa didn’t know the answer or request the Echo said so with, “Hmm, I don’t know the answer to that question." Not many people will fess up to that.

Alexa was busy all week playing music, responding to joke requests now and then and miscellaneous questions to stump the Echo.

When I got home I didn’t rush out to get an Echo although it was tempting. You see I like technology and most of all gadgets, but I looked at the price and thought I’ll give it some time.

Sure enough a few months later my daughter texted me to let me know the Echo was on sale. Temptation took over and I ordered one. It was delivered and I set it up, got it connected to the Internet and started asking requests like I had no idea of facts or music. My wife and I rambled on until we looked at each other and decided we were done…for the moment.

One little caveat about the Echo is depending on what name you give it, Alexa, Echo or Amazon you should be aware that if you are within an ear shout of the device and inadvertently say the name, it will try to answer you. Most of the time it replies, “Hmm, I don’t know the answer to that question”.

Fast forward to before Christmas.

There were a lot of sale opportunities for the Echo models, one of which was the Echo Dot 2. It is about the size of a hockey puck with a small speaker but the price was about a third of the larger Echo. For as much as everyone seemed to enjoy the Echo, I thought I’d get everyone a Dot. It was a stellar idea because everyone liked them, which brings me to the point of this blog.

My son-in-law has a cousin with Cerebral Palsy. She is wheelchair bound and uses a DynaVox device for communication. My daughter asked me if the Echo would work with the DynaVox. If you know me, you know where I went from there.

I don’t have a DynaVox, but I did have an iPad. I pulled it out and installed a simple Text to Speech app and started playing. The first thing that you must do is address the device by name and for me that was ”Alexa." When it lights up it is ready for your request. I typed Alexa and my request, tell me a joke. I took my iPad close to the Echo and tapped Speak and sure enough I got a joke.

I played around many times with different requests and noticed that sometimes the initial “Alexa” command needed a bit more time before the request could be processed, so I added either a comma or two or a Return entry which put a little pause before the request was spoken.

The request should be made with a 5 to 6 second window for the Echo to respond to the request. I have Proloque2Go on another iPad and added an Alexa joke request button to the default  "Joke" folder and it worked as well. Here is a short video of what I did with my iPad and Proloquo2Go sample.

In theory, any device that lets the user create phrases like I had done on the iPad and Proloque2Go should have access to the Echo’s ability to respond. Every device is different and there might be some tweaking to do. However, the independent interaction of accessing endless amounts of information and entertainment at the request of the user is worth the effort.

The Echo can also be linked to control environmental devices like lights, switches, thermostat and the list is growing. I am sure this was not my sole discovery, but if it gets the interest of someone else, it has served its purpose. I will work to get this in the hands of my son-in-law’s cousin. Stay tuned.

 
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Happy New Year!


Out with the old, in with the new. Well, not really. Many people, places and things stay right with us as we make that leap into a new year on the calendar.

Time does fly though… as they say.

I moved to Indiana from Illinois in 2000. My mind calculates that as 17 years ago, however; it sure doesn’t seem that long ago in my heart. One experience of moving and becoming familiar with a new community is worthy of sharing with you today.

Shortly after settling into our neighborhood, it was time to find a church. We visited several and found one that was a good fit for our family of four. It didn’t take long for me to notice a steady stream of spelling errors on our changeable roadside sign. It was usually a simple matter of switching a few letters around. However; I was concerned about the frequency of the errors. I inquired with the church secretary to learn that our sign keeper had dyslexia.

I was intrigued and wanted to meet this sign keeper. 

“John” was a smart young man of 14. He had a big smile and a willing spirit. He was outgoing and confident and had no reservations talking with me. He admitted he was good with numbers and not so good with letters. We quickly became pals and I would help him make his idea for the sign a reality.  This seemed to take away some frustration for him and bring out that smile of accomplishment. I can truly say John was my first friend in my new community! Our friendship grew to a mentoring role for me. I not only met with him to develop his sign weekly for the church, but we would also go over his homework. I enjoyed helping him with his reading and writing and his mother appreciated the extra attention given to her son. We both knew John had the potential to be successful in the working world. With his intellect and dynamite personality, all he needed was a few strategies and techniques in which to assist him in his reading comprehension and implementing thoughts to paper.  

John is now a husband, father and Chemist for Eli Lilly and Company. He doesn't attend my church anymore, but we stay in contact with each other. He still refers to me as "Miss Glenda," and I'm honored to know him and call him my friend.

Some people might wonder whether a change in sign keepers was in order. Our sign keeper may have mixed up a few letters now and then, but he was (and is) the epitome of a willing servant. It is often those with lesser talents or disabilities who prove to be the most diligent and effective in a given situation.

If you’d like to know more about Dyslexia, check out our Lending Library Resources or ask one of our Specialists.     

Recent Comments
Sandy Stabenfeldt
Great post Glenda! Thank you for sharing. This is a wonderful story, just like you!
Monday, 09 January 2017 08:19
Bev Sharritt
Delightful story --everyone needs a Miss Glenda!
Tuesday, 17 January 2017 12:12
2 Comments

Redhead & Lizard Seek Magic Bus

Redhead & Lizard Seek Magic Bus

It’s one of most universal pieces of employment advice:
don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want.

So, of course, I occasionally dress up as superheros. I own several superhero costumes: Superman, Batman, Pajama Day Girl (I made her up, she’s awesome on weekends). I have a super hero costume in the trunk of my car, nestled alongside my first aid kit, in case of emergencies.  Maybe you won’t be surprised to know I’ve used my Batman mask more than those bandaids.Jessica dressed and posing as superman with a red tutu

Sometimes I dress up as my favorite superhero in broad daylight, at case conferences and staff meetings: the field-trip taking, magic bus driving teacher who introduced generations to physics, anthropology, ecology, and more. That redheaded wonder woman took eight students and the class chameleon to places near and far in search of knowledge. She also has the best motto:

“Take chances! Make mistakes! Get MESSY!”

What is not to love about Ms. Frizzle?  I adored the books and TV show.  She was amazing, I wanted to be in her class AND be her.
Jessica holding her cellphone taking a selfie in a mirror wearing a blue dress with cartoon rocketships
It begs the question: why not aspire to be Ms. Frizzle? We have the career in education, we have the vision for fantastic learning. I have several science themed dresses for any occasion, and the lizard, at least the only lizard I could be expected to keep alive.  What are we missing?

The magical bus.

The magical bus of my dreams would fly around the state and help teachers in their classrooms.  Any teacher, therapist, or administrator could board-- for free-- and try tools so all their students have access to an education.  They pose questions like “do you have something that lets my student access her iPad if she can’t touch it?” or “can I turn my paper worksheet into text and then have that text read aloud?” and we would say “Yes we do, and we will show you how to use it too!”

Our magical bus would always be accessible.  Not just physically, but digitally.  We could instantly connect to administrators and therapists and teachers for training and exploration wherever they are.  Or in their PJs, maybe on Tuesday nights at 8:30 EST.

We design to remove the barriers for all our students so they can take authentic chances and learn from their mistakes and get messy. We share tricks and tips from educators who have been there.  We would celebrate them, cheer their successes and research and problem solve the roadblocks.

We would bring our volcano drawings to life and explore and explode brains. We would help teams create opportunities for communication where none may have existed. We would go where no educators had gone before. Students who never thought they were "smart" would find tools that would change their minds. We would change lives.

I would submit my request for a magical bus, but I know what the answer will be:

Jessica, thank you (again) for your request for a magical bus. We wanted to remind you that not only do we not have any magical buses, everything that you are asking to do with said bus, we already do at PATINS.  Please stop asking.

So while we are not Ms. Frizzle (although we can try!), we do have quite a bit of friendly magic at our fingertips whenever we need it.
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How Do We Know What They Know?

Helen Keller quote, "A person who is severely impaired never knows his hidden sources of strength until he is treated like a normal human being and encouraged to shape his life."Following up on Jim’s Santa and gift message, I am reflecting on thoughts of thankfulness and anticipation. This is something for all professionals, educators, staff and loved ones to work together with students. We all have perspectives and skill sets that can make a difference and place a piece of the puzzle where it counts for challenging students to achieve in school. How do we know what they know?

When it comes to children with significant needs, we talk about needs and wants. But what does that really mean? Every year, we write it in goals for them and then we try to measure progress on those goals. Parents hope to know what their child’s wants and needs are, but how do we drill down from such a genuine but general statement to something meaningful for each person involved? How do we get to the richness, the fabric of life? This is truly a challenge and a noble effort. These are open and honest questions intended to go beyond comfort and safety into a different level of challenge for some students. How do we know what they know? In thinking about Christmas or Hanukkah or any holiday that might be celebrated we note a richness of the season. For those who do not celebrate holidays, each day on earth is enough of a celebration. This celebration is found in the seasons, the colors, the brightness, the sounds, the activity, the energy, the countdown, the clothes, the food, the gifts, the visits and the list goes on. How do we tap into this for our significantly or complex or medically involved students? How are they an active part of this cycle of life? How do we know what they know?

Here are some perspectives I’d like to share:
Some of these students are the most medically fragile students to attend school. This is difficult for some educators to balance because the medical status can be very overwhelming and demanding. Balance that with requirements of academic accountability and other limitations and it can seem a bit much at times, especially when various people have different perspectives on what is the right way to do something. We know learning occurs when one is actively involved. So let’s focus on thoroughly and actively engaging complex medical students in learning in the school environment. One little blog cannot possibly cover it all but here are some opening teasers:
  • Provide a schedule of events for each child
    • Engage them visually/auditory/physically with “their” schedule on or near their person within their visual/physical/auditory range.
    • Provide a purpose to every activity
      • You know what you are doing, so clue the student, son, daughter, sibling, in on it as well. It is an easy thing to unintentionally overlook. 
      • This requires full conversations, instead of just a single action or directive.
      • Rather than, “Put the spoon on the table,” explain the activity preferably with steps included, with rich vocabulary, because
    • Students need to know:
      • What are we doing?
      • What comes next?
      • How will I know I am done?
      • Is it worth my time? :)
    • Likely Result:
      • Positive behaviors will improve
      • Communication will increase
  • Home-school connection is important
    • Exact duplication may not make sense because of the two very different environments
      • (I can tell you that what worked for my children at Grandma’s had nothing to do with home life. Haha).
      • But we can usually agree about carryover and consistency and consensus
  • Determine a consistent and appropriate YES response
    • This response should be simple, consistent, not reflexive or not increase muscle tone.
    • Negation is not as critical. A long pause of silence can be a no response. If you can get a consistent "No" response, great.
    • Eventually a Y/N location on a board can be achieved.—even eye gaze.
  • Partner-Assisted Communication can be initiated at this point to engage complex medical/physical/communication students. 
Then communication can go beyond wants and needs and delve into richness of life interactions. Students can have a means of initiation and continuation. Students can have a means of ending a communicative moment. Interests, humor, dislikes, topical interests, preferences, depth, knowledge, background information can be explored or revealed. Once a student has established cause and effect, they have it. That’s it. Move on to something more challenging. If they start to fail at something they have been successful at, consider that the student might be bored or ready to move on. If the student sleeps a lot and it is not necessarily a medical or schedule issue, it may be boredom or a statement of negation. This is the potential for our students. Getting to the solution may not be fast, and there are a lot of factors that get in the way of progress for some students, yet knowing that we can all work together. Positioning, access, language, range, breathing, working around seizures. All this is a challenge. I will admit that some students are very difficult to figure out, yet overall let’s agree to raise the bar high, get excited about the seasonal offerings of variety and assume they are waiting for us to get on board with engagement, action, expression and multiple means of representation.

If Stephen Hawking were disabled sooner, would we have known his brilliance? If Helen Keller was left to roam around the table for scraps, would she have been the first Deaf-Blind person to receive a degree in America? If we expect our students to tell us what they know and keep trying to find ways to help them communicate, will they some day?


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Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus!

The turkey has been devoured! The belt has been adjusted one notch! The thought of eating leftover turkey at one more meal is nauseating! “Jingle Bells”, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”, “The 12 Days of Christmas” and other Christmas music are jamming the radio stations! The annual showing of girl with SantaIt’s a Charlie Brown Christmas” will preempt a favorite show. The Christmas season is here whether we are ready for it or not!

When my children were younger they would pour through catalogs and newspaper inserts to create that perfect wish list. “Don’t worry these are just toys we are asking from Santa!” would be echoed each year. And Santa’s helpers would go from store to store looking for items on the wish list trying to get the best deal. (This was prior to the days of the internet and online shopping.) It certainly wasn’t an easy task the year they wanted Ghostbuster toys! But it was all worth it to see the wonder of Christmas through the eyes of a child!

Finding the perfect gift for some children can be very difficult and frustrating. Searching the internet has provided some resources to assist in that gift selection. The Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids from Toys R Us not only provwrapped Christmas Giftides toy suggestions but tips for buying toys and safe play tips. Purdue University has a 2016 Engineering Gift Guide that provides STEM related gift suggestions for children. Sensory University provides suggestions for sensory needs. A Day in Our Shoes has toy ideas for ‘kids with autism or developmental delays’. And of course, Enabling Devices has a variety of items that can be considered as potential gift items. Just remember the box the gift came in and the wrapping paper will be one of the most played with item for a few days!!!! Also, One Place for Special Needs provides some very helpful suggestions on visiting Santa, creating holiday traditions and, in general, surviving the holidays.

Naturally, my adult children’s Christmas list has evolved over the years. Items have become fewer. Some items are practical. Some items have become costlier. No longer do Santa’s helpers get newspaper ads with items circled or pictures cut and taped to paper to create a visual list. Now Santa’s helpers hear things such as ‘my list is on Amazon’ and ‘I just added a couple more things to the list’! And to my children’s dismay Santa’s helpers still seem to find ways to deviate some from their list. (And for the record this Santa’s Helper is glad he can shop online!) Enjoy the wonders of the holiday season and enjoy them through the eyes of a child! And, Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus!    


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5th Grade, UDL and PLENTY of reasons to be Thankful

"Get out a sheet of paper and put your heading in the upper right hand corner.” This direction was given to my 5th grade class multiple times throughout a school day by my teacher, Mr. Mull. What happened next was a “choose your own adventure.” Could it be a pop quiz? A spelling test? Were we going to be given a topic to write about? Would that topic be The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton? If so, I had my tattered, dog-eared copy available at all times for reference. I usually sat with my fingers and toes crossed hoping that Mr. Mull did not drift toward the record player in the back of the room where “Mr. Numbers,” the recorded multiplication test, lived. I get sweaty and nervous even today just thinking about it.



This process was pretty “cut and dried” in the 80’s. Students pulled a crisp sheet of college-lined, three-holed paper out of their desks and followed directions. No one ever said, “Is there an alternate way I can do this? We BOTH know you can’t read my writing.” No one ever said, “Do you mind if I dictate this? I am a great thinker, but when I start to worry about the mechanics of getting my thoughts down on paper, it never turns out the way it did in my head.” No one ever said, “My hand gets really tired when I write, and it is a really painful task for me. Do you have a way I can type one letter and a word is generated for me to select?” Everyone took out a piece of paper and tried to fulfill the request.  



My note paper was always a disaster. I was fortunate enough to be able to hand write assignments, but organization was not my forte. My desk looked like it had been ransacked by gerbils obsessed with building a “dream home” out of shredded tissue. Somehow, my loose leaf paper always seemed to turn gray in my desk, and I often found sheets of paper by closing my eyes and hoping that a fairy godmother had somehow waved a wand over my desk, rendering it organized. Still, I managed to smooth out creased pages, wipe away remnants of melted Hershey Kisses and write my name on the upper right-hand corner with my classmates. I remember my jealous amazement when I looked over at Kimberly B., the queen of unwrinkled paper, adorable handwriting and what-are-we-going-to-learn-next smiles.



Others in the class were lost. Really lost. Mr. Mull was the kind of energetic, dedicated teacher who would have accommodated for any learning difference if he had had the tools or the knowledge in the 80s. He was exactly the kind of person and fantastic teacher who would have embraced the principles of Universal Design for Learning in his classroom and made sure everyone was learning the way that made the most sense.



Today is an exciting era when teachers are starting to arm themselves with this knowledge. So many resources are available for teaching the principals of the UDL framework. Strategies to make sure each student has a personal way of expressing and receiving information are not even expensive. Those who take time for proactive planning can make a huge difference in the learning experiences of children.



As a former classroom teacher, I know how I felt about anything that was presented as “one more thing” added to my heaping plate of tasks to do at night. Now, as a person who trains teachers, I want to say, “But thinking about learning strategies up front makes everything that follows easier and more attainable.” It is definitely a shift in mindset.  



Flip back to my 5th grade class (PLEASE, for my sake, erase Mr. Numbers from the picture all together). Think about what the picture would look like with multiple means of expression and allowances for organization.  



Mr. Mull says, “All right class, get ready to express your viewpoints on The Outsiders.” Students automatically move to their preferred mean of expression. Kimberly B. pulls a fresh, crisp piece of paper from her neatly organized desk and looks at Mr. Mull expectantly. Gretchen W. takes out a small Chromebook with word prediction software already loaded so she can type one letter and have a list of words generate in a helper box. Heidi P. glances at a word wall in the classroom for extra reminders and help. Ann H. moves to her seat, equipped with a ball instead of a chair because she knows she writes better when she can also regulate her movement. Billy C. picks up a thicker pencil that really helps his grasp and allows him to write legibly. Buddy H. pulls out a blank comic strip and begins to draw, since he has found illustration a better way of getting his ideas across. I pull out my laptop and search through my organized folders for a fresh document — sans the Hershey Kiss stains and gray hue.  



On this day of being thankful, I turn my thoughts to the promise of a brighter future for students who in the past have been left in the dust. I give thanks to the teachers across the state who are taking every student into consideration — no matter how much work it is and I am forever indebted to excellent teachers, like Mr. Mull, who shaped my life and learning. Happy Thanksgiving!



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The Shaved Shih Tzu Effect or The Case for Universal Design for Learning in Everyday Life

Pei Pei 1   In March I brought home a shih tzu puppy! 

Included in the care of a shih tzu is grooming.
Pei Pei 2 The first time went well. Pei Pei 3


Pei Pei 4But it grew out quite quickly.  

It was time to take her back and I had a few other requests.  

Just a bit of a change.  
Not much really... just keep the hair around her nose and mouth a bit shorter this time.
Not so much mustache and beard.  

So, I took her to her 6 week appointment and I think I said just that.


Pei Pei 5

Obviously I had failed in communicating my request.  I was disappointed.  In my mind, I blamed the groomer.  How could they have done this?  
They took my puppy away.  As I looked at my poor hairless baby, I reflected.  How could I have made myself clearer?


This reminded me of when I would fail to teach something I was really passionate about, like weather.  I would stand up in front of the class and give
some of the best lectures of my life.  Full of energy, (hand motions are required) sound effects, (boom, crash, swoosh, zoom!) engaging anecdotes
(hold the camera still and be quiet)!  Then I would give my students a lab that I thought they were totally prepared for and some would be, but most
wouldn’t.  I would be disappointed.  Why didn’t they learn?  


We forget all the work that we have already done in our brain that we take for granted.  I have taken numerous courses and had several extensive field
experiences.  I have read and internalized all of the information that I will be providing them.  I designed the entire experience.  No wonder I would succeed.  
So how can we be better guides for those who have not had this experience? Universal Design for Learning (UDL).


Universal Design for Learning tells us that if we want our students to understand and embrace what we are teaching we need to employ multiple means to:

  1. Engage them - interest them in the activity.
  2. Represent the information to be absorbed - facilitate different modes of communication to create understanding.
  3. Action and Expression - allow for different ways to show that they comprehend the information.

So, let's UDL my next grooming appointment:


Step 1:  Engagement - Upon entering the new groomer I will show them pictures of my dog before and after our previous appointment.  We will brainstorm
ways that she could look cuter than she did following that last appointment.  They will gain ownership of her hair care and connect with past knowledge
of shih tzu hair appointments.


Step 2:  Representation - I will offer alternatives for auditory information.  I will show them pictures of other shih tzus that I feel are very cutely groomed.  
I will clarify vocabulary such as “teddy bear cut” and “beard and mustache” through pictures and physical manipulation of the areas prior to cutting.


Step 3:  Action and Expression - I will break the assignment into manageable chunks.  We will begin with trimming around her eyes and trimming her ears.  
Once I am confident that we are communicating well I will continue with graduated levels of support to work towards a full grooming experience.


When we look at what we could have done, it is easy to see what we should have done. UDL is great in that way. We look at the barriers and the ways
that things could go wrong and place options into the lesson plan that take those barriers away.

For more UDL fun you should tune in to our Twitter Chats on Tuesdays at 8:30 pm. #patinsicam We always have great discussions peppered with
interesting points of view!

Until next time! Pei Pei 6

Recent comment in this post
Rachel Herron
Great Blog, Sandi! I love the tie in here...and, of course, the adorable pics!
Monday, 21 November 2016 11:33
1 Comment

Improving Outcomes

The students ranged in ages from 6 to 10. I looked at the IEP for each student, it was fairly bewildering. Four still wore diapers. Four had no spoken language. Four had Autism. Four had to eat a soft-food diet. Four used a wheelchair as their primary mobility. One boy had a warning written in a black sharpie pen:  Paralyzed! Blind! Deaf! Developmentally delayed!

There were eight students. Seven boys, 1 girl.

As you can see, there was much layering of disabilities.

During our interview, the Principal told me I was the 5th teacher he had interviewed for this position. The other 4 had said “No thank you.” They walked out. School would be starting the following week. He was nervous.

I said yes.

This would be my first year teaching, after graduation. I had completed a one-year assignment as a substitute for a class of 10 boys, EBD and LD. That too was a not very ordinary situation, but this made that look fairly benign.

I received an emergency certification to teach students with Multiple Severe Disabilities, and off we went.

By Christmas I was exhausted. The commute was 105 minutes one way. That was my sitting time because once I arrived, I never sat down again until I got in my truck to go home. Sometimes I was surprised to turn in my driveway because I didn’t remember driving. Every morning I arrived early, got their breakfast from the cafeteria, and ground it up in little food processors. Those boys arrived at school hungry!

Only one of “my” boys was on a Graduation Track. He was very bright, and had severe Autism. The rest would, each year, receive a social promotion, and were expected to attend school until age 21. As I got to know the children, as we worked together and I began to see their hidden potential to learn, by the end of the year I felt like the "social promotion track" was appropriate for only 3 of the students. Now, with improved outcomes for students due to increased emphasis on best practices including UDL, effective modifications, research-based interventions and nationally recognized allowances, I might feel differently about even the most disabled student in that class. The one who came with a warning.

According to an article in disabilityscoop, the national graduation rate of students with disabilities rose to almost 65% during the 2014-2015 school year, which was the fourth year of consecutive growth. In 2005, approximately 35-40% students with disabilities graduated high school. I remember discussing this in a class. It was quite bleak. A 25% increase is something all educators should be proud of, but it’s not time to put our feet up.

In Indiana, in 2013, 87% of the Senior class received a diploma, 69% of Seniors in Special Education did, according to Education Week. For a good breakdown of special education outcomes in Indiana, including statistics on post-high school engagement in college and job-related activity, please see this supplement: Indiana State Highlights 2015 Special Education Landscape. If you love statistics and comparing numbers, you will find this fascinating.

Indiana is fortunate to have a unique system of supports to help you serve your students with disabilities: the PATINS Project, the ICAM, and the IERC.

Together we make educating fun, real, and effective. Our team of Specialists are always available to assist you with services and tools and methods designed to improve outcomes for students, and to point you in another direction if needed. We are, however, only part of the equation.

Last week at the PATINS State Conference, I had the opportunity of meeting many educators who were overflowing with enthusiasm and hope, a genuine love for teaching, and a deep desire to do that well. You are the reasons our students continue to enjoy improved graduation numbers, which leads to improved lives.

We cannot thank you enough.
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Just Leave The Light on 10 Minutes Longer and Watch the Door!

Image of porch with spider webs, dragon, and big spider
This spooky Halloween evening, while 10 important things I contemplated blogging about campaigned vividly through my over-flowing mind, I finally retreated from the front porch to my desk.  The porch was subject to the breeze of the surrendering days of Fall, where I’d been passing out sweet treats to little monsters and giant gremlins who dared make the trek up my mountain of steps through the faux webs, past Frank the heavyweight arachnid, toward the bag of magical sugar in my grasp.  The clock had just struck 9pm, treating had ended, and I needed to get to work! 

With SO many recent questions and important discussions, ranging from state testing accommodations, to the 
PATINS State Conference THIS WEEK, to ESSA and the Nov. 2015 Dear Colleague Letter, I had a multitude of topics from which to base my writing on!  Right about the time I was certain my stampeding blog-related thoughts would trample everything else in my mind, leaving me unable to lasso a single one and reign it in, I caught a glimpse of one last little pig-tailed-skeleton girl standing on my porch… just standing...waiting.  She looked as if she were frozen in confusion about whether to knock on the door or to turn back around to her mother and admit defeat.  Confusingly, I had left my porch light on and it was now 9:15pm.  Recognizing that look on her painted face, I bounded vigorously for the door before she could turn around to her mom and just as my hand hit the door handle, the skeleton-paint nearly vanished from her face and all that remained was a smile that looked as if an amiable dragon had just swooped down and carried her from harm’s way upon his mighty back.  Delighted, she reached into my candied cauldron and politely took just one packet of sugary delicacy.  At that very moment, I heard her mother speak, which startled me!  I hadn’t even noticed her standing there during all of my “dragon-swooping” toward the door handle!  Phew, It’s a good thing she didn’t take offense to all the reptilian swooping parts of this story!  In fact, what she said, hit me like a harpoon right in the chest and instantly I knew what I’d be writing about this evening. 

She spoke, “Oh, thank goodness someone's porch light is still on! I had to work late tonight and her grandmother wasn’t going to take her trick-or-treating. I was so afraid she wouldn’t get to go out for any candy at all tonight.”  

Thank goodness indeed, for that porch beacon like a lighthouse on the dark street for a lone pig-tailed skeleton, and thank goodness I’d left the front door open enough to see those little bones on my porch.  Immediately, I extended my dragon paw into that same candied cauldron and pulled out a pile of bounty, piling it into her small, but strong and eager, skeleton hands.  

Some, could perhaps, reduce this to unhealthy confectionary on a weird Autumn night that really doesn’t affect anything important.  However, what I saw on that little pretend-skeleton’s face and heard in her mother’s voice was something quite different.  Here was a student, whom you might have in class tomorrow, who was waiting at her grandmother’s home, all dressed up with nowhere to go, waiting on her mother who was working late to put real food on her table and fun paint on her face.  One person, whom she didn't even know, leaving their porch light on for an extra 10 or 15 minutes WAS the difference between this child having a disappointing evening and one that just MIGHT give her something fun and positive to write about tomorrow as she uses word
-prediction to collect her thoughts into a meaningful response to your assignment in your morning class.  ...and even if she forgets the candy entirely and ends up writing about the ridiculous old guy who thought he was a dragon, clumsily stumbling toward the door, she's still smiling and writing.  

Others could say that "rules are rules" and that structure and guidelines are important.  …and I will agree to a very large extent.  However, sometimes it’s possible to be the amiable dragon for a student, a parent, or a colleague, and it costs us truly nothing more than maybe an additional 10-15 minutes with the light on, or another sentence in an email to ensure it’s encouraging rather than discouraging, one more phone call, email, or one more google search with a slightly different keyword before we toss in the towel on finding a potential solution for someone facing a difficult barrier.  Sometimes people just need ONE other person to leave that light on for an extra 10 minutes.  …for someone to care as much as they do, even if just for a small moment. 

As educators, we find ourselves every single day, in a position to be that difference.  While rules and structure are important for a mass of reasons, I’ve found that greatness usually happens when we step outside of comfort, normality, and guidelines, within reason, of course.  For instance, we sometimes feel hesitant to try something different, even though we KNOW that what we’re doing currently isn’t working.  We still become fearful that whatever we might try could end up worse than what’s not working at the moment OR we simply just do not know how to begin implementing that new strategy or device that we THINK MIGHT possibly work better, and so we let that fear keep us from moving.  We stay still.  We turn the light off early.  

The PATINS Staff is here to support your effort.  I hope to see so many of you this week at the 2016 PATINS State Conference, where we will have near-record attendance AND an absolute record number of general education teachers, which makes me so happy!  After all, ALL students are ALL of our responsibility ALL of the time in ALL settings.  If you are coming to the conference, please come say hello and be brave …tell us what keeps you from doing something differently next week with your students and let us be YOUR support. 

Image of old light switch on wall 


For A LOT of educators, substance such as Assistive TechnologyAccessible Educational Materials, or Universal Design for Learning in a Twitter Chat, can seem more scary than a pig-tailed little skeleton girl on the porch!  Regrettably, we aren't always able to see that what’s genuinely frightening is NOT melting away that skeleton paint with a child's smile that just cannot be contained behind paint, brought about by simply trying a new, different, untamed, unexampled bounding toward the door before your student can turn around and look toward the ground in disappointment.  Be that amiable dragon.  Be brave.  Leave your light on a bit longer and keep your peripheral vision on the door.  
Recent Comments
Daniel G. McNulty
Thanks, Sharon! What nice things to say and thank YOU for all that you do! Stay in touch with us and let us know how we support ... Read More
Tuesday, 01 November 2016 11:02
Daniel G. McNulty
Ahh, YES! I remember ACR prep very well. ... I am so GLAD that your students have you on their side at that case conferences.... Read More
Tuesday, 01 November 2016 11:12
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