Dignity of Risk

Likely, you've heard me assert the term, "dignity of risk," if we've ever had any discourse about life-long learning in any respect whatsoever. It's a term that stockpiles deep significance in all aspects of my professional and personal life. Its significance appears repeatedly and in many forms. It's also been spoken about by a select few people in much more eloquent phrasing than I typically am able to utter.

In recent months, while auditorily reading a book in my car, I stopped to book mark and highlight a section of notes (ask PATINS staff how easy this is to do). This particular section of text was describing a trip on a motorcycle through some especially harsh weather and trying conditions. One person was anticipating his partner needing to take a flight back, while another character argued strongly that, "physical discomfort is important only when the mood is wrong." That when the mood is wrong, one fastens tightly to the discomfort and calls that the cause. When the mood is "right," the physical discomfort carries far different meaning.  The author goes on to say that arriving at the Rocky Mountains by plane is certainly one context, in which they are seen as pretty scenery, but to "arrive after days of hard travel would be to experience them in another way, as a goal, a promised land." Further, that you're "in the scene," rather than simply watching it. I liked this smooth and expressive alternative form of describing what I hold so earnestly as "dignity of risk." 

Two years ago, at the PATINS State Conference, I had the distinct pleasure of spending some time with Daniel Kish, one of our keynote speakers. Daniel is brilliant, inspirational and he is blind. He navigates his physical environment partially by clicking with his tongue and then making determinations about his surroundings based on the reflections of sound off objects around him. Daniel hikes national parks, negotiates busy cities, and rides a bicycle. When talking about receiving the bike from his dad at a relatively young age, Daniel talks of the many risks involved in riding it and his thankfulness that his parents were able to grasp far more positives than negatives in this regard. He finishes with a line that I'll never forget, and that sums up "dignity of risk" in yet another marvelous fashion. Daniel says, "running into a light pole or mailbox is a real drag, but being denied the opportunity to run into a pole is an absolute disaster." 

Thirdly, as a young teacher, I had the great fortune of knowing a miraculous little girl whom I'll refer to as Strawberry Shortcake. I have confidence she'd smile approvingly at this name since she referred to me as "Blueberry Muffins" on more than one occasion. Ms. Shortcake faced several challenges, but her olfactory sense was keen and she always seemed to know exactly what I had for breakfast. I also have her to thank for keeping a toothbrush in every desk I've ever kept since! Ms. Shortcake carried an outlook on life that inspired many and stuck with me. While many factors caused her to fall often, bump into things and people, and show up seemingly every few minutes with new bruises, she wore protective headwear and never slowed down. Adults would ask her things like, "what happens if you fall and scrape your knees again?" "That's a long way to fall, are you sure?" I would often just observe and smile as her response was always, "I'll just get back up and keep going." Fortunately, Ms. Shortcake had parents who also adored this life lesson she so often taught through the way she truly lived. She never let the negative what-if's slow her down or keep her from doing the things that made her happy and successful. She just, "got back up and kept running." In 2005, our little Shortcake with big inspiration passed away rather suddenly and unexpectedly from an unforeseen disease. This broke my heart and soul and nearly ended my career in education, until I genuinely internalized what she'd been teaching me and followed her lead. I was so very thankful that she'd fully lived every moment she had and that she never allowed others' fears to contain her love for experiencing life. ...I "just got back up and kept running," and at that time my realization of the deep importance of "dignity of risk" had an unshakable foundation. 

Having now provided three brief synopses of just a few of the examples I treasure, my hope is that I've started to offer a more rounded view on what it means when I refer to "dignity of risk." When a person only has one choice, there's really never any pride in making that choice. When mistakes are not permitted (and encouraged) creativity is non-existent and true learning doesn't occur. I realize that may be a controversial and bold statement, but it's one I believe in strongly. It's also one that I feel applies unconditionally to education from a professional development perspective both in regard to student achievement and teaching strategy. That is to say, students AND teachers must be encouraged and supported to take risks for the purpose of achieving both academic results and dignity. 

Consider two people, if you will; a scientist who has his own TV show on a set filled with a million dollars worth of equipment. He puts on a fascinating scientific demonstration of massively impressive proportions. Is what he's doing a scientific experiment, however? I'd argue that it most certainly is not, if he already knows what the results will be. The other person is a garage mechanic working on his motorcycle. This individual might turn on the headlight or honk the horn to see if the battery is working. This is, essentially, a more true and creative experiment. If the horn honks, the battery has been proven good. If trying to determine why the bike won't start, the TV scientist might call this experiment a failure because the bike still doesn't start even though the battery has been proven good. The garage mechanic realizes that an experiment is only a failure if it also fails to adequately address the single hypothesis being questioned AND/OR if experimentation stops at that point. The skilled individual moves on to the next single hypothesis and tests that, etc., eventually arriving at complete success. This notion of experimentation involves many "failures" along the route to complete success. It takes time, it may be frustrating, but success is nearly inevitable and it is definite once it's reached. 

Teachers have to be willing, permitted, and able to teach differently, not just with different tools. They must feel supported by administration to be creative, try things differently, and scientifically test one hypothesis at a time, with understanding that there will be necessary "failures" along the route to eventual definite success. Teachers must be allowed and encouraged to experience dignity through risk. Students must be permitted and encouraged in much the same way by their instructors. Barring physical safety and destruction of property, of course, students have to feel supported to take risks in thinking about academic problem solving, about the tools that might allow them to circumvent their own barriers to learning, and about creative ways to arrive at a solution. The certain minor failures along this road ARE where great teaching happens. Superb instructors guide, shape, prompt hierarchically, and reach out their hand after every small set-back. This is where deep learning occurs. While I think that many would probably agree with this, I wonder if they truly offer the necessary support to those they are guiding that allows them the "dignity of risk" that is essential in this process.

My purpose at this point is to encourage administrators and instructors to utilize the PATINS staff, resources, and Lending Library, as your supports. We will be there with our hands held out after every step in your journey toward the "promised land." Try a new strategy or tool, take data, draw conclusions and then form an adjusted hypothesis and borrow something else from us. We are full of, "maybe you could try this next, here's how you could try it..." and we have so many items in our Lending Library for you to "honk" to "test the battery," before you move on to the next hypothesis. Embrace the "physical discomfort" from the perspective of knowing that those mountains will feel far different than if you'd simply flown to them. Remember that bruises will happen, but that "never having the opportunity to crash is a total disaster." Finally, know that "next year" might just be too late for some students. Start now with the notion that while creativity stifled by fear may feel safe, true greatness happens in "just getting back up to keep running," even with scraped knees.  



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Some Days....

Some Days….

Every once in a while everyone needs a reminder that what they are doing is important and they make a difference. This is true in any occupation, but especially important in the education field. Some days are difficult and trying, some days are easy and uplifting, but most days are a blessing for those of us lucky enough to be in the education field.

I was having a difficult, trying day recently and all I could think was “some days!” I made it through the day, as we all do, and was glad to put the day behind me. When my husband asked how my day was, I just replied, “Some days!”

Later that evening as I watched television with my laptop in my lap, as I usually do, I noticed an email that came in from an Occupational Therapist that I had recently assisted. I had recommended some apps for a home-bound student, and I was able to send those apps to the parent’s iPad through our mobile management system.

After the day I had, I almost didn’t open the email. The email contained a video of the student engaging with her iPad using a head switch. The email said, “She has not engaged in switches this well ever! Her homebound teacher is very excited! Thanks for your help!”

As I watched the video, it was hard not to cry, realizing what my time and effort had meant to this one student, or starfish as we like to call them! I have asked permission to share the video, hopefully we will be able to get permission so we can share on our social media outlets.

My husband looked over to see what I was watching and asked what I was doing. All I could say was, “Some days…..”

If you would like to try an app that might make a difference, please take advantage of our Lending Library. We can send an iPad with apps installed or if you have your own Apple device (that is not managed by Filewave) we can send it directly to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod.


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What We Can Learn Through the Eyes of a Child

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Meet Nora. The most amazing Little on the face of the earth, A.K.A.my granddaughter.

At ten months of age, she is taking on the world around her. Among other things, she is busy exploring her physical environment, deepening her connections with others both socially and emotionally, and encountering the language around her with great zeal.

Like many children, her parents and numerous others have a vested interest in providing her with multiple ways to engage in their world of language and their methods of communication. She is enjoying a variety of experiences that include read alouds, interactive books, rhythm and rhyme, movement, body language, facial expressions, physical contact, tactile explorations and more.

As I’ve watched Nora light up with joy when her mother sings songs and chants rhymes with her, my mind has repeatedly gone back to a Hands Land workshop I attended this past fall. The workshop featured American Sign Language (ASL) rhymes and rhythms designed for young children whose native language is ASL. (I do not know very much ASL, by the way.)

The Hands Land ASL rhymes and rhythms are specifically designed to promote language acquisition, phonological awareness and foundation for literacy. During the workshop, we experienced a variety of activities that incorporated story, rhythm, rhyme, movement, body language, facial expressions and more. I’m pretty sure I lit up with the same joy I’ve seen roll across Nora’s face so many times.

The value and importance of early and consistent language development is a well-proven fact. Children who are deaf and hard of hearing experience the world through a visual lens; their language is visual and their learning style is visual. As a point of clarification, children who are hard of hearing who use listening and spoken language are still reliant on visual language learning, such as lip reading and body language.

A fully accessible language with which children can interact naturally is vital for every child. The problem is many children who are deaf and hard of hearing have less access to early and consistent language than their hearing counterparts. While children who are deaf and hard of hearing use visual language and visual learning, they may come to school without having had the necessary exposure and access to their natural language and learning style.

According to Marschark and Hauser, in their book How Deaf Children Learn, there is a positive correlation between children who have a strong early language foundation and their cognitive development. The issue of being deaf has no negative impact on cognitive development; rather, it is an issue of not having had enough access to language. The particular background of every child who is deaf or hard of hearing varies dramatically related to how he or she has learned language and how he or she uses language for communication.

This information is significant to me for a number of reasons:

1) It challenges me to think about my own communication methods and the ways in which I interact with the students I encounter.

2) I realize I have much to learn from each and every student regarding his or her particular background with language and his or her use of that language for communication.

3) Even if I know the preferred language and communication method of a student, it doesn’t mean that he or she has had sufficient exposure or access to it.

4) There is joy in the acquisition of language and in being able to communicate with other people. That’s called human connection. I want to do everything within my power to facilitate that kind of joy.

PATINS is here to support you in every way we can. It brings us great joy to make new connections and to deepen already established ones! Give us a call!

* An informative, free online course by Gallaudet University, “Educating Students Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: A Guide for Professionals in General Education Settings” offers a wealth of knowledge, insights and instructional strategies related to the education of Deaf and Hard of Hearing. This course served as a key source of information for this writing.



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Social Stories in the Classroom

Recently a friend, an educator, asked me for advice on a student with autism who was sweet natured, but lacked friends because he was a grabber: of food, milk, books, toys, whatever he wanted, he grabbed, and his classmates disliked him. I suggested using a social story. She was unfamiliar.

When I first learned about Social Stories, it was as though I had discovered pencils; here was a simple tool that could have profound effects in my classroom that included 4 students identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).Carol Gray developed Social Stories in 1990 as a tool to help individuals with ASDs respond to others and to situations more appropriately. More complex stories may be used with higher functioning students, however my students were younger and still learning basic skills, in many cases, with limited support from home. I had participated in a full-day workshop of strategies for reaching students with ASDs, and social stories were my light-bulb take-away. Implementation was immediate.

One afternoon I met with my classroom assistants for several hours of brainstorming. We discussed frequent stressful situations and wrote social stories for those. High stress times were: upon arrival at school, before lunch, before bus-boarding, intercom announcements, and any occurrence that was out of the ordinary, such as a whole-school assembly, or a fire or tornado drill. Other situations included another student having a meltdown, being asked to end a preferred activity, or being presented with food that was not a favorite, at breakfast or lunch.

We used positive words to guide the students to appropriate behavior; for instance, instead of saying “When the bell rings I will not throw a fit” say “When the bell rings, it is time to go home.” Writing the stories for the students was fun, and we shared a few good belly-laughs as we
wrote stories for each other! Following is a story for a 4th grader.


When the Bell Rings

When the bell rings, it is time to go home.

I will keep calm and quiet.

When I go home, I can play with my dog.

First I will put my books in my cubby.

Miss Patty will help me pack my backpack.

I will get my coat.

I will get in line behind Teacher. I will walk to the bus.

I will keep calm and quiet.

When I go home I will see Mama and play with my dog.

Stories can of course be personalized: My name is Charlie. When I go home I can play with (my dog) Hank. More generic ones may be used with several students, for our class we decided that was best in many cases. We typed, printed, and laminated the stories we created, and filed them in a basket on my desk. Once we began using them, we’d find them everywhere at the end of a day. A story would be grabbed in a hurry, read with a student, and left behind. I found them with the corners chewed, damp, sometimes stuffed in a desk. It did not matter—the stories worked, by preparing students for changes ahead, limiting outbursts, and giving them some power over their behavior. We were fairly consistent in recording behaviors, which should be done to measure progress. In addition to the stories for recurrent issues, my assistants and I became quite proficient at writing stories off-the-cuff, as needed. If you have card-stock paper and a Sharpie pen, you can write a story in a minute. Later you can add pictures and make it look nice.

I talked to the General Education teachers about the stories, and we designed stories for behaviors they saw when my students were with them. One of the teachers had a cd and license for Boardmaker, this was another life-changer, since my students preferred stories with pictures. I had also used free resources from Do2Learn and am happy to see they’ve expanded services and added color to their web site. When you click a heading, look for the green tabs: Free Area. There are printable symbol cards, teaching resources and more.

Of course this sounds like old-school. Now there are on-line resources, and many of you may be using these. And some of you may be like me, and will have a head smacking moment.

There are myriad social stories on YouTube --just search on the social or academic skill you need to address. You will want to preview the stories before presenting to your students; some are just too long; some characters may have an annoying voice for a particular student. Social stories are great for teaching skills such as sharing and taking turns, as well as more complex issues such as expecting a new baby in the home. Check out One Place for Special Needs and Small Steps, Big Skills from Sandbox Learning; the latter provides options for designing individualized stories by creating student profiles so the child in the story physically resembles the student.  

The use of digital social stories requires planning, preparation and time. For example, after you preview and choose an appropriate story, you will need to upload it to the student’s device. If you personalize it, there is another step. Some may find it is effective to use a combination of digital and hand-designed social stories. You may want to review a few guidelines before you begin, and soon you will be able to execute a story quickly for nearly any situation. Parents will also find social stories helpful for home-life skills, so please share your resources.  

On a lighter note, once I began writing social stories for my students, I would sometimes find myself in circumstances where I felt that adults could use a social story: Can you imagine when you encounter a grouchy or inattentive server while eating out?

When I Have a Customer

My name is ______.

I work at Nikko’s Cafe.

When I have a customer, I will be helpful, patient, and kind.

This is my job.

When I do my job nicely, we all feel better.

Social Stories could lead to a kinder, gentler world. Which could start in your classroom!

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How to Write a Solid Lesson Plan


The simple answer… collaborate. But maybe not with someone in your comfort zone. Let me explain. 

As a 3rd grade teacher, I often co-planned for each week with my partner-in-crime, Tracey, the other 3rd grade teacher. We worked extremely well together — her strengths were my weaknesses and vice versa — and our collaboration decreased the amount of time and effort it would have taken us to plan independently. Think smarter, not harder, right?
two nondescript human figures collaborating to push two 3D puzzle pieces togetherNow fast forward to the present. I am no longer in the classroom and responsible for writing day-to-day, week-to-week lesson plans with Tracey. However, only a mere three weeks ago, I discovered the most valuable trick to lesson planning.


It was the last Friday of December 2016. At the request of our director, my colleague, Jessica Conrad, and I were nestled into a corner at Panera, collaborating on an engaging, universally-designed lesson plan. 

I’ll admit that I was a little intimidated by working with Jessica. She’s a super smart and creative licensed speech and language pathologist. What did I know about speech and language pathology anyway; other than my students getting pulled out for their time with our speech and language pathologist (SLP)? Not to mention, I preferred teaching math and science when I was in the classroom. My bet was that she would prefer to focus on the English/language (ELA) arts standards in our plan. 

I was right. ELA standards were on the menu, but she made a kind compromise and agreed to write a plan using third grade standards; standards in which I was the most familiar. 

And so the lesson plan writing began. 

Trading ideas, resources, and strategies came naturally to us both. What I hadn’t given much thought to was everything that Jessica would bring to the table from her role as an SLP. She shared so many awesome resources and techniques — in addition to introducing me to the Indiana Content Connectorsmodified standards written in parallel for each grade for students who are not on a diploma track in Indiana. Embarrassingly enough, I did not know these existed. 

In the end, we created what we felt was a solid lesson plan that implemented activities and resources in a way that would make the content accessible to each student in a classroom.  

Without her expertise, my lesson would have been lacking in its universal design and implementation of assistive technology and accessible educational materials — even though I may not have realized it at the time. 

female student pressing a big switch to activate a toy


So, while I always thought that the lesson plans Tracey and I co-wrote were engaging and creative, many of the students in our classrooms would have had greater access to the curriculum if we had the opportunity to include the expertise of another educator who was beyond the general education setting. 

If you’re reading this and thinking that perhaps your lesson plans are lacking techniques or technology that could increase access to the curriculum, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone. Reach out to another professional in your building. Schedule some time to collaborate on a chunk of lesson plans for a week. Be open to new techniques, technologies, and ideas. Plus, our staff is here for support. Just let us know how we can help! 

Trust me, your students will thank you for it.


Recent comment in this post
Rachel Herron
What a fantastic reminder to think outside the box, collaborate with many and to occasionally step outside of our own comfort zone... Read More
Friday, 27 January 2017 15:49
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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?

A person who is severely impaired never knows his hidden sources of strength until he is treated like a normal human and is encouraged to shape his own life. quote by Helen Keller
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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