The Best Next Step

I’ve had the opportunity this past year to attend several workshops and conference sessions focused on innovative uses of technology in the classroom. I’ve been excited and inspired by the ideas, activities, strategies and suggestions for using technology in meaningful, engaging and thought-provoking ways with students.

These are the kinds of learning opportunities all students (and teachers) should be engaging in and benefiting from. These are not experiences designed solely for the purpose of using technology. Nor have they been designed exclusively for the adventurous, the extraordinary or for those with too much time on their hands. These are experiences designed for content-rich, level-appropriate learning opportunities that incorporate technology.

Yet, in nearly every session I’ve attended, a handful of attendees have commented on challenges they face either with getting technology into their classrooms, or with being able to fully utilize the technology they have. The challenges mentioned include things like inconsistent internet access, restrictive internet blocking, lack of training, lack of training on devices, lack of time for training, lack of technology plans, lack of technical support, and lack of funds.   

A handful of situations where challenges like these exist may not seem like much of an issue, but I wonder how many students are being impacted by each of these situations? Even a handful of these kinds of potential barriers is too much. A barrier is still a barrier for the person(s) being impacted.

This has caused me to think deeply about the disparity that exists between technology-rich and technology-less environments. It doesn’t mean that an impressive and powerful learning environment cannot exist with little or no technology. Nor should we assume that wherever technology is plentiful, the learning will be guaranteed and abundant. However, it does mean we have not yet reached a level of equitable access to technology for every school and every classroom. While I’m sure we can’t afford to be okay with this status, I certainly realize the magnitude and complexity of a viable solution.

Likewise, I’ve been thinking about the notion of ensuring equitable access and equitable use of technology for every single student. As in:

  • All students should have access to technology that allows them to learn and survive in the ways they need.

  • All students should have access to current and emerging technologies and to technologies that extend their own thinking about ideas, experiences and the world around them.

  • All students should be able to use these technologies (not just have access to), as much and as often as needed, with the level of proficiency needed, and in ways that provide similar experiences with the technology as their peers are able to receive.

All students, not just some.

When I think about the question “So what do we do?” I realize there is much that can be done, no matter the particular circumstance. There is always a best next step. One great starting point is to consider what technology already exists and explore how it can be used to improve students’ (and teachers’) lives. No matter what your current situation is, it’s important to clarify (and share) key thinking around the following kinds of questions:

  1. What does it look like to use technology in the classroom in such a way that it becomes meaningfully infused into students’ lives?

  2. What message(s) will we send to students and others by virtue of the technology we use - or don’t use - in our instruction and daily life?

  3. What measures can we take as we design instruction that will incorporate the use of technology to enable and encourage students’ thinking?

Moreover, the best suggestion I can offer anyone is to call upon the expertise, resources and support available through PATINS-ICAM Project. Services are at no cost to Indiana public/charter schools & educators. So borrow an item, seek an in-class consultation, submit a request for refurbished tech; you can request services just because! (No IEP required.)

Here are highlights from my own learning opportunities with PATINS-ICAM, but you’ll want to discover these and others on your own:

Let PATINS help with your best next step!

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She’s Always Been a Procrastinator; Didn’t Get Her Birthmark Until She Was Six


For many of us, procrastination comes naturally. Eventually, if one is a good procrastinator, one will learn to determine safe times to practice our postponing ways. For me, that means when no one else will be affected or offended. For instance, if I can just spot in the deferred task/phone call/research/hand-washing in the sink at the last minute, and I am sure the outcome will not be negatively altered, I will put it off. Many of us can work well and accomplish much when there is not much time left. It’s a gift. And a curse. There is anxiety. Self-reproach. Embarrassment when we are observed.


Here’s an example. Last weekend my husband was irritated because I have not yet renewed my passport, which, he insisted, had to be completed in the 10th year, by my birthday. So, Saturday I needed to get to the post office before it closed to have a photo taken and file the renewal paperwork. I called the P.O. to confirm closing time and learned that my birthdate was not the expiration date, necessarily. Voila—my passport is valid until August. I was so happy. I stacked up my renewal documents and put them back on the shelf. Tom: “Well, you should go ahead and do this, while you are thinking of it. Since you are ready to go.” Me: “No, I’ll do it later. There are a hundred other things I need to do right now. I really wanted to weed my flower beds this morning, and now I can.” His look showed his dismay. 

If you are a good procrastinator, you know that you can bake the complicated cake the night before the party, and if doesn’t come out, you can run to the bakery and buy one. If you put off hemming the pants and the date to wear them arrives, there’s always tape. If you do not go shopping for the wedding gift, you can pick up a gift card on the way to the shower.

The discriminating procrastinator knows the other thing too. Some things demand and deserve our immediate attention, because otherwise there may be a financial penalty. Because we have signed an agreement. Because someone depends on us to take care of things.

If your child, or one you teach, shows symptoms of an illness, you get help, you let someone know. If that child exhibits developmental delays, you initiate due process and take other steps to accommodate their learning needs.

If your child or one you teach is obviously bright and inquisitive, yet he or she struggles to decode spelling words, misspells wildly, puzzles at age-appropriate multi-step directions, you know there is a problem. If you notice a student has an odd way of counting time on an analog clock, holding a pencil, or remembering something you are sure they had learned, think of Dyslexia. First. Please do not put this off. Children do not grow out of reading disabilities, and timely, effective intervention is the key to their catching up.

Talk to the parent. Did the child struggle to learn to tie her shoes?  Did he or she talk/crawl/walk late? Do they seem extremely stressed when the room is too warm, when they are ill or when they are tired?

These seeming dissimilar traits could be connected to the brain differences apparent in individuals with Dyslexia. If what you are seeing really is dyslexia, the worst thing you can do is to wait. If you begin interventions, and it becomes obvious that what this child is experiencing is not dyslexia, then, no harm has been done. All students will benefit from explicit instruction, audio books and other multisensory supports. They may not need those reinforcements to read well, but if a student needs those and they are not provided, they then are set up for present and future failure.

A general overview of issues surrounding dyslexia will help you help your students. Knowing what to look for at each age/grade level is a very good start, and this website, Understood is a great resource to help you decide next steps.

Please do not put this off. There are tiny little faces depending on you to get it done.

Thanks so much!



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Expanding the Reach of Assistive Technology


As a general educator turned PATINS Data & Outreach Specialist, assistive technology (AT) has become part of my life more than ever. Before my change in professional roles, my knowledge of AT was minimal at best. To be honest, I often associated it with only the needs of individuals with physical disabilities. What a mistake to make!

Jena Fahlbush looking down at something with students at their desksNow that my exposure to AT has increased tenfold, I find myself wishing I had known more about it while I was still in the classroom. So many students come to mind as I learn about more technologies from low to high. Additionally, I find myself thinking about different types of tech that could or are already benefiting the lives of my friends, family, and even myself.

For example, closed captions are assistive technology for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Though I have typical hearing, the closed captions are permanently on the TV in my bedroom. This is great for when I wake up in the middle of the night and want to watch the TV without disturbing my husband with the sound. Plus, consistently using closed captions at home and in the classroom promotes and supports literacy amongst many children and adults.

The magical realm of AT has broadened my understanding of unlimited access to the world around us. More importantly, it’s broadened my understanding of unlimited access to the curriculum in a classroom setting. Yet, from conversations I’ve had with students and educators around the state, I’ve found that I wasn’t alone in my original thinking about AT. Many of these conversations have yielded a similar perspective - the preconceived notion that AT only supports physical access to one’s world.

Though AT may be understood by many to be technology used to support one’s physical access, it truly offers so much more. Think about your cell phone for instance. Do you ever speak your texts? Have you ever turned on flash alerts, so that you can get visual text notifications in a loud room? People constantly benefit from AT in their everyday lives in ways they may not even realize. So let us as educators, students, and parents begin to think differently about AT.

It’s true; many assistive technologies are specifically designed to increase access to the curriculum for individual students, such as eye-gaze systems for students with limited mobility or communication devices for students who are nonverbal. Furthermore, in these situations, AT must be included in a student’s individualized education plan (IEP) to ensure access to it. However, you will find that many of these same technologies contain an element of universal design or that they can be implemented with other students in more creative ways.

For example, maybe a shy student could break out of his/her shell through the use of a simple communication board. Maybe text-to-speech could help your students who are gifted properly pronounce the new vocabulary words they’ve found through research during an oral presentation. Or just maybe a student with typical vision that struggles with visual decoding skills could learn how to read using braille.
female 3rd grader using a laptop and headphones while laying on the floor

I believe there are three keys to unlocking successful implementation of technology in the classroom. 1) Understand that AT is specifically designed for individuals and that it is essential to find the right piece of technology to support the desired outcome. 2) Remember that many assistive technologies are universally designed or can be creatively implemented to benefit many of your students. 3.) Training for students and educators on this technology is the only way to ensure clear results of effectiveness.

Don’t forget AT and other technologies can simplify your life in the classroom, too! Try using Google Translate to support communication with non-English speaking parents and guardians. Use a screen reader to check online content for accessibility and to proofread your classroom newsletter, professional emails, and self-created materials (your students can use screen readers to proofread their writing, too). Perhaps you could even improve your focus in meetings with the use of a fidget cube or spinner.

Implementing AT isn’t a new trend or just one more thing on your plate; it’s about increasing access for your students. The possibilities are endless, and we’re here to support you along the way. Through the Lending Library (where you can borrow AT without financial risk), classroom consultations and training, and our specialists’ areas of expertise, your students will find increased access to the curriculum through innovative techniques, strategies, and AT. Let us help you!



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May Marvels

It’s May, and some of my favorite days are in May. I know the voyage of summer is near when the light green mist in the woods becomes the solid green flag of all the maple leaves unfurling at once. This happens in the course of just a few May days. Did you see it?

We have a few dozen peony bushes in our yard left over from our flower farming days. I love the heavy fuchsia blooms that usually open around Memorial Day, but over the years I’ve learned to watch for the gorgeous dark red shoots that emerge through the spring grass, and I love their form and fortitude even mdark red peony shoots emerging from the groundore than the show-off flowers. I wonder at how all that silky color is packed into those shoots.

My husband and I have the same discussion on May 3 or so, give or take an unusually warm day or Indiana monsoon weekend. He, of the glass-half-empty part of our relationship, starts the conversation with, “The peonies look like they’re coming on early this year.”

Glass-half-full wife replies, “That’s unusually optimistic of you, but you say that every year. And then they bloom around Memorial Day.”

“We’ll see,” he says, and my heart surges to know that his glass can be full! It happens on a May day, and this year, I think he’s right and I’m glad to be wrong. I’ll be watching as the hard, marble-sized buds expand and soften into pink marshmallows. That’s the day in May before they open.
fuchsia peonies in full bloom at the Sharritt farm
On yet another spectacular day in May, my husband makes the announcement that it is time to switch from the flannel sheets to the summer ones. (insert birdsong and trumpet fanfare!) If you’re familiar with
his blog, then you know what an epic event this is.


May, in the world of education, can tempt us to hurry to the June finish. We’re missing a lot of great May days if we don’t keep our expectations high for ourselves and our students. I happened upon another blog by Aaron Hogan that encourages us to consider the end to be as important as the beginning and to wrap up the year with a flourish. It includes great ideas in the comments section from colleagues on how they energize their May classroom.

My May days have been filled with preparing for trainings at the Indiana Summer of e-Learning events (hope to see many of you there!) and organizing regional professional learning communities for the Teachers for the Blind/Low Vision in Indiana. Reflecting on your year’s failures and successes is another way for teachers to make May a blooming finale, rather than a fizzle. If you are a BLV teacher and haven’t signed up for one of these groups yet, please email me.

5 elementary aged students running through the grass

In the blog mentioned above, Aaron writes, “We cannot afford to do anything other than continue to pursue our students.” The students have been equipped from August through the year to learn in your classroom. They are ready to dart ahead of you. May days are great days to hand over the dry erase markers, and let those capable students lead. Great growth, in fact, blossoming happens here, too. Do you see it?


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Thanks Harry!

Thanks Harry!

Here it is, time for me to blog. It is my understanding, that as a PATINS blogger, I am to reflect on those things in my specialty area. For me as the ICAM Technical Specialist, it involves getting material from the NIMAC, Learning Ally, how to deliver digital content and what to do when it just doesn’t seem to go as planned.

Anyone who has followed my other blog postings probably didn’t absorb much of that content. I prefer to be a little more whimsical in my writing. I enjoy sharing more on a personal note just because it’s my blog!

On Easter Sunday, we had the whole family together consisting of my two daughters, their husbands and my five grandchildren.

We enjoyed the traditional stuff that we have always done like an Easter egg hunt, Easter baskets, a big dinner, etc. Everything went off without a hitch.

Jeff's 5 grandchildren on Easter
What was different about this Easter was the interaction and independence of the grandchildren. Ranging from one and a half to seven, each had a very different way of experiencing the festivities. Sure, age had something to do with it but it was how different each one got to the same or similar level of enjoyment.

What I noticed that day was even at the most earliest of ages, each child had their own way of discovering, sharing, cooperating, conveying their excitement and disappointment in ways that were not directed by adults.

What I saw was an unspoken use of Universal Design OF Learning. Each child using their own talents and not being told what to do be it right or wrong, but enjoying the moment.

This holiday experience reminded me of a Harry Chapin song Flowers Are Red. Some of the lyrics are as follows:

The little boy went first day of school
He got some crayons and he started to draw
He put colors all over the paper
For colors was what he saw

And the teacher said, "What you doin' young man?"
"I'm paintin' flowers" he said
She said, "It's not the time for art young man
And anyway flowers are green and red"

"There's a time for everything young man
And a way it should be done
You've got to show concern for everyone else
For you're not the only one"

And she said, "Flowers are red young man
And green leaves are green
There's no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen"


I am not the type to spoil the rest of the song, but I think it’s worth listening to because it sums up just how to incorporate UDL into any classroom, as well as our lives outside of the classroom.

As I listen, I gotta say…Thanks, Harry!


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The Party's Over

 PATINS staff photo with the words keep calm and smile with friends poster

Last week, PATINS hosted a party. Well, not really a party, but Tech Expo 2017… and it had components of a party:


·      Invitation and RSVP
·      Theme/decorations
·      Food
·      Lively conversation
·      Meeting new people
·      Seeing friends/colleagues
·      Laughter
·      Activities
·      Goodie bag/gifts
·      Photo opportunities

As the Event & Financial Manager, it is my responsibility to plan the event in a fiscally responsible manner as well as coordinate the efforts of the venue, staff and exhibitors to serve the attendees to the best of our ability.

Looking over feedback that has come back to us, it seems we provided a valuable day of learning and professional development for the teachers, support staff, administrators and parents that were in attendance. For those of you who joined us, thank you! For those of you who didn’t make it, we will offer Tech Expo once again in April 2018 with an Exhibit Hall full of experts in the field of technology and a day full of presentations exploring how to implement those products and services in the classroom.

Daniel has a phrase he encourages us to use as a focal point in our PATINS positions…Faces, tiny little faces. In my position, I do not get out into the classrooms to see the students’ faces, but, I do appreciate having a hand in a successful professional development event, such as Tech Expo, where I am able to see the faces of eager educators taking away new ideas and product supports to their schools where they will undoubtedly increase student achievement.

Lastly, a party is a celebration and Tech Expo felt like that at the end of the day. We can all celebrate when the students we serve succeed in the classroom as well as outside of the classroom!


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A Mighty (Laminated) Sword

A Mighty (Laminated) Sword
A preschool teacher consulted with me about a student who was struggling with behavior; one of most intense issues she’d ever seen. The little girl would bite and punch and roll on the floor, and it was a full-time job just to keep her in the classroom. She also had a severe communication impairment. She talked and you could understand the words, but there wasn’t any meaning behind them. She couldn’t tell you about her favorite movie or answer beyond a simple question. For four years, every adult and child had to guess what she wanted to say.

“We’ve got a lot of things started, a lot of plans,” she explained, rattling off all our favorite behavior acronyms: FBA, BIP, FERB, etc. The one thing she didn’t say: AAC - Alternative and Augmentative Communication. The student had a severe communication impairment; couldn’t that be a big part of why she’s having behavior issues? Did they consider AAC and giving her a voice?

“But she can talk,” the teacher said. “The issue isn’t talking, she just wants control.”

Before I could jump on my soap box, another preschooler yelled with perfect dramatic timing:

I don't wanna tootie!” edged with the desperation of a preschool boy who would probably explode if he had to eat an animal cracker cookie.

“This is what we have,” said the assistant, pointing to the snack menu visual. He screwed up his face. “Do you want anything?”

“My teez.”

“You have cheese in your lunchbox?” He nodded. “Go and get it.”

And life went on. Crisis diverted! Communication saved the day! And wouldn’t you know, he was awfully and age-appropriately controlling. It’s communication that gets us what we want: acceptance, love, and cheese. Adults are known to throw fits when they can’t communicate their order in a drive-thru. Imagine four years of being stuck in the Taco Bell drive-thru and never getting to talk to someone. You’d want to hit someone too.

In another preschool, I got to observe a program where AAC was wrapped around the entire classroom. Brightly colored AAC boards were taped to the walls and hung from the cabinets. Every kid, whether they needed to use it or not, had a core word communication board at their elbow and so did all the adults. I sat down next to one student, and the teacher smirked.

“I don’t know if you want to sit next to him.”

Oh no, I thought, panicking, Did he have pink eye? Was I going to get pink eye?!

“He’s our typical peer.”

This little guy, brand new to preschool and a little wary of everything around him, was talking with the communication board like he’d used it for a month. He didn’t have a communication impairment, and he wasn’t anyone’s idea of a typical AAC user. But we’ve all seen the new preschoolers cry and shut down at their first-ever activities, and he was using an alternative way of communicating and interacting with his brand new environment and classmates. Maybe he only needed it that day, maybe he’ll never want to use AAC again, but he’ll remember feeling safe and included in preschool from the beginning. Communication, in any form, saved the day.

According to their speech-language pathologist, Jenni, including robust and thoughtful AAC has been amazing:

“They know that they give them a voice… We've had so many days that we've just looked at each other and shouted, "Did you see that?", "Did that really just happen?" It's been so fun to watch these kiddos learn... I can't believe how quickly she is learning. She carries her board around with her like it's a mighty sword.”

So teachers, therapists, administrators everywhere, (I can’t believe I’m saying this): all students must have swords*, whatever sword(s) fit them best. Make sure they have their swords everywhere. Make time for sword practice. Seek sword specialists, talk to other sword users. Don't favor one type of sword over another, because it was never about the sword, but the person wielding it.

Expect swords to be mighty and all students have strength to wield them, and they will conquer dragons.

*the sword is communication, all types of communication, for those who still aren't into my ridiculous analogies


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"Crazy"


Charlie Brown and speech bubble with the words good grief
 


OK, so, I missed my blog deadline this time around and it made me think of how crazy our lives can get. I am not so sold on the benefits of multi-tasking. So here is a YouTube link to Gnarls Barkley (CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse) singing "Crazy". At the bottom, I included a copy of the lyrics from the St. Elsewhere Album. It’s really fitting for all of us, I believe. Parents, educators, students, administrators, support staff. Craziness is for anyone who is putting themselves out there to make our world a better place.  


Feel free to slow down and take 5 minutes to enjoy a song not usually connected to what we do, and is inspiring in its own way!

As we all strive for control over our lives, it seems many of us (attempt to) do this through schedules. In our paperless office, I find I still need the print version of a calendar to ground me on a daily basis.

Here is a little of what I have learned over the years:

Digital calendars/schedulers:
  • Great for portability
  • Great for ease of adjustability
  • Easily searchable, depending on how it was set up
  • Easy to set repeating appointment
    • And my favorite
      • Great for color coding/categorizing
  • Downside:
    • Too easy to misdate or delete something
Paper calendars/schedulers/appointment books
  • You can see what you erased!
  • Easier for me to see a week at a glance.
  • I am able to glance at weeks more quickly.
  • Easier to quickly glance on the road.
  • I can make notes right on the document.
    • including…my mileage
  • Downside:
    • If you leave it at home, you are sunk.
Conclusion:
  • There is no one system that works for me and believe me, I have been looking for a long time.
  • About the time I think I have a good system, I find it may be perfect on a desktop, but not on a mobile set up.
  • Or it was better with a previous email system, but not a new one.
  • Or a new data collection system changes my personal coding system.
And it is all good!
OK, anything useful here?
  • First of all, we all have to work with the materials at hand and the resources available.
  • Decide how to visually organize your life and go from there.
  • We also look at ourselves or who we are considering. 
  • So this is where the feature match comes in. 
    • I can be pretty flexible with some basic features and allowing myself to print out a working calendar document. 
    • Anything else is just crazy!
Choices:
  • These are more schedulers than organizers, but the list might get you thinking. These are a drop in the bucket I currently have eleven in a folder on my phone that I have explored.

Gnarls Barkley (CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse) singing "Crazy"

"Crazy" St. Elsewhere Album Lyrics
I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind
There was something so pleasant about that place.
Even your emotions had an echo
In so much space

And when you're out there
Without care,
Yeah, I was out of touch
But it wasn't because I didn't know enough
I just knew too much

Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
Possibly [radio version]
probably [album version]

And I hope that you are having the time of your life
But think twice, that's my only advice

Come on now, who do you, who do you, who do you, who do you think you are,
Ha ha ha bless your soul
You really think you're in control
Well, I think you're crazy
I think you're crazy
I think you're crazy
Just like me

My heroes had the heart to lose their lives out on a limb
And all I remember is thinking, I want to be like them
Ever since I was little, ever since I was little it looked like fun
And it's no coincidence I've come
And I can die when I'm done

Maybe I'm crazy
Maybe you're crazy
Maybe we're crazy
Probably

Uh, uh

Credit AZLyrics 

Thanks! Julie

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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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