Spring

I grew up in a Belgian neighborhood. Most of my adult neighbors were immigrants or first generation Americans. ‘Broken English’ was the neighborhood language, English was the second language. The Belgians take great pride in the appearance of their household and neighborhood. Lawns were perfectly manicured, weeds were pulled. Neighbors could be seen twice daily sweeping the curbs due to cars kicking stones up onto the sidewalk.

The hobby of choice was racing pigeons. Every Saturday they would take a crate of their best birds to a designated location to have them turned loose early the next morning to see whose pigeon would return back to their respective coop the fastest and give their owners bragging rights.

Annually in spring and fall were two very special events……Spring cleaning and Fall cleaning. They would wait for the perfect string of days so that windows could be opened to air out the house. Over the next few days every inch of the house got a thorough cleaning. Furniture had to be moved and every wall in the house was washed. Carpets were shampooed. Draperies were taken down and cleaned! All the closets were reorganized! Windows were washed inside and out! The neighborhood smelled like Spic n Span! Six months later a repeat performance.

Well it’s spring again. The neighborhood I grew up in is now ‘integrated’ with non-Belgians who don’t have the same work ethic as old timers once did. But something can be said about that work ethic. It sort of provided each household with a clean slate that was refreshed and renewed.

As educators, a good spring cleaning may just be in order. With ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) and the Dear Colleague Letter, we as educators are being asked to do a thorough cleaning. But instead of washing walls and shampooing carpets in our classrooms we are being asked to refine out teaching styles by insisting that all students live up to high standards and incorporating UDL principles into everything we do. It is not a simple task. Nor is it a task that can be completed in just a few days. Nevertheless, it is an important task. Generations of students will benefit.


And just like when I was growing up the deep cleaning was an annual event held twice a year, we cannot be complacent with an occasional deep cleaning of our teaching style. It, too, needs to undergo a good cleaning and rejuvenation often. So get out the proverbial ‘Spic n Span’ frequently and transform your classroom into a learning environment where everyone has an opportunity to learn. Our students will be grateful for it.


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Getting Lost and Found in Translation

For several hours I was lost in Paris. I was in my early twenties and the world was just starting to expand for me. I had frequently been lost in America, lost in England and lost in my own world, but all of these places shared one commonality...they were places where English was the predominate language. However, THIS moment I was lost in France, only armed with the phrase “Le garçon stupide!” which translates roughly to “The stupid boy!” I began to panic.

That day, I found out that part of getting by in another country was being nice enough to the people there to get them to speak English. It almost seemed as though everyone knew English. Kindness elicited a heavily accented response, sometimes broken, sometimes flowing, in my own language. How lucky I was that they were willing to help an American girl with mascara tears running down her face.  

During those hours of being lost, I discovered a huge difference between this country and mine. My country is landlocked for miles with people who mostly speak the same language and have the expectation that others will learn the language as well. The concept that people living in states as close to me as Kentucky or Illinois would speak different languages is mind boggling. People growing up in France probably learned English, German and Spanish in order to communicate with the people right next door.  

Many years later in America I faced the obstacles of speaking a predominant language and teaching students who did not grow up speaking English. My first year of teaching high school in Chicago found me in a school where 87% of the 3,000 students who attended came from Spanish speaking homes. When I moved to Assistive Technology several years later, I worked with a group of children who had moved from a 16th century agrarian farm setting to the third largest city in America. How was I going to speak to the children? How would I communicate with their families? Software and translators were present, but not mainstream and very expensive. How would I meet the needs of people who could not use kindness to have someone help them in their own native tongue? No amount of “kindness’ on their part would be rewarded by my speaking a language that they understood back to them.

I would like to thank Kelli Suding, another PATINS Specialist, for showing me one of the best apps I have heard about in a long time. Google Translate. Google Translate is free, easy to use and has incredible features. The app translates 103 languages. It translates handwriting directly applied to the screen. A person can speak into a microphone and the app translates what is being said in real time. A phrasebook can be programmed to save translated words and phrases for another time. The best feature, to me, is the camera translation. If you hold the camera up to anything written, it translates the image to the desired language. Imagine holding your phone camera up to a direction sign, or document in a foreign country. Imagine changing the language of a document in real time in a case conference for a family who needs the kindness of someone speaking in their native tongue.

Over winter break I met a woman from Turkey who was visiting her son in Manhattan. As we laughed and talked, I watched her wistful smile as she was not able to join the conversation. I realized after I left that I had the key, and immediately sent them the information on the Google Translate app. A week later, I received the best text of the year. Google Translate was a game changer for the entire family. The text recounted how incredible her trip was and the enjoyment she felt as she was able communicate with everyone. She was able to read signs, converse back and forth and gain independence over her vacation. It was almost as if she was kind enough to get someone to speak to her in her native tongue.


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SETT and the Right Tool

Screen Shot 2017 03 08 at 6.57.53 PM I am currently doing something I’ve always wanted to do, I’m flipping a house. I’ve been watching professionals do this for years on TV. I’ve always enjoyed doing things like that. One week I rented scaffolding, repainted a two story great room, stairs, kitchen and bedroom and tiled (for the first time) the kitchen backsplash. I have learned two good lessons through doing these things and I suspect a third.

Lesson #1 - It is all about having the right tool for the task. Screen Shot 2017 03 08 at 7.34.21 AM

The available assistive technology is varied and vast. There are as many solutions as there are questions. The trick is not just to figure out the correct solution, but to realize when the question may have changed. I use the SETT Framework by Joy Zabala when trying to help educators and students find the right AT solution.

The SETT Framework works through four specific areas to facilitate choosing the correct solution to fit the problem. SETT stands for Student, Environment, Tasks, and Tools. Student, Environment and Task are all considered at the same time in no particular order. These three things are closely connected. Change one of these three pieces and the entire picture changes dramatically. The Tool becomes the answer to this equation.

Student + Environment + Task = Tool

For the past three years, I have been looking at adding an AT tool to our Lending Library. It is a communication device for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. It was never requested by a teacher for loan and when I discussed it with teachers and my peers, they thought it would be useful in the outside world, but not as much in school. This year, when considering this tool, we framed it in the setting of transition. In that situation a student looking at college and work interviews would benefit from being familiar with this device so that they could carry it with them to facilitate communication. That change of Environment made all the difference. Now it was a good idea to have this tool in the Lending Library

If we change the task, we are looking at an entirely different tool again. Perhaps the task is reading instead of speaking. Same student same challenges different task, different tool. It's all about having the right tool for the task.

Lesson #2 - It is ok to get some help from the professionals.

I’ve busted some pipes, gotten in over my head on electrical wiring etc. My favorite contractor pays for his golf games thanks to me! Here’s where I remind you to email or call us. You knew that. But really, it is what we do, and we all love doing it.

Unlike my contractor, PATINS provides professional help at no cost to you, but you knew that too. The thing is, the other educators, general and special educators, may not. Help them out. Introduce them to us! Bring them to the PATINS Tech Expo on April 12th!

That brings us the lesson I think I'm going to learn...
Lesson #3 - In flipping houses the person who always makes money is the contractor. I’ll let you know. The bathroom is done and the kitchen is ½ way. A contractor is there painting today. We are hoping to be done at the end of the month.


* Shaved Shih-Tzu update:

UDL (Universal Design for Learning) works in this area too!  
Our haircuts are now uniform and cute!Screen Shot 2017 03 08 at 6.58.21 PM
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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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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 bookmark 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

IMG_0817.jpg

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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