• Pit oan yer captions (Put on your captions)

    Posted by Rachel Herron on 4/29/2022 7:30:00 AM

    “Fa in haur ordered tatties an’ neebs?”

    I stood staring at the Scottish Innkeeper with a confused expression.

    “Pardon?” I asked. I had been told “pardon” was more polite to say than the American “What?”

    “Fa in haur ordered tatties an’ neebs?”

    Still nothing. He spoke so quickly. I stood staring at his mouth with a slack-jaw expression on my face.

    He shoved the box of corn and chicken pizza and repeated, with a strained expression, “Fa in haur ordered a pizza fur yer tatties an’ neebs?”

    My brain was spinning and my heart was pounding when the lightbulb turned on. He was saying, “Who in here ordered a pizza for your dinner?”

    I grabbed the box of pizza and fled up the stairs to my room. Once I sat down with my traveling companions, I retold the story and woefully wished that a string of captions had appeared above his head! I KNEW he was speaking English, but the more panicked I got when I could not understand him, the harder I struggled to translate his “charming” dialect!

    If only I had had captions I would have had a hot dinner that night in Edinburgh, Scotland -- not a cold corn and chicken pizza, although it still was pretty good. 

    My wish for captions over the years certainly has not slowed down. The need for visual prompting has become increasingly more important. Students and staff earnestly trying to tell me something through a mask for three years, zoning out in a zoom meeting and wondering what people are saying and being in increasingly larger groups of excitable friends who talk over one another are just the tip of the iceberg of times when I have wished for visual support. For me, and I am not alone, captions provide a huge source of clarification, engagement and relief.

    If I could wave a wand, I would make sure that every teacher across the country has captions on while they are teaching. Whether in need of implementing Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) for one student or an entire classroom through Universal Design for Learning (UDL), captions are imperative. Recognizing how this simple strategy could impact many students is priceless -- and those who benefit from captions include:

    • Students who are learning how to read
    • Students who are learning English as a second language
    • Students who have hearing loss
    • Students, like me, who like to watch captions to see how they fail and how hilarious that can be at times…I mean… Students who need to be engaged and to have their eyes focused in the right direction.

    Captioning for all students is actually an easy process. All you have to do is pull up a slide on google slides and turn the captions on. It is not always precise, but it is still valuable.

    It is an easy process and might catch so many students! As a wise Scottish Innkeeper might say in this situation, “Pit oan yer captions.”


    Rachel Herron, SDI Facilitator

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  • Casting a Spell for Attention

    Posted by Rachel Herron on 1/31/2022

    Expecto….” the 5th grade teacher of the class I was visiting last month stated, drawing out the “oh” sound and dragging her voice up.

    Patronum!” Responded 25 students in her class with enthusiasm, right before they stopped, turned and focused on their teacher. It was almost as if she had cast a wizardly spell. Dumbledore would have been proud.

    I was also impressed. In the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) world, this engagement tactic is called “Call and Response.” It is an evidence-based strategy used to gain student attention and to activate learning in the brain. It is also a fantastic way to save a precious teacher's voice. 

    According to Goalbook Toolkit, a tool that is available for all special educators to use across Earlywood-supported districts:

    • Each "call" is unique and different from the others
    • "Call" elicits a specific, explicitly taught response from the students
    • Phrases are age-appropriate and easy to remember

    The Goalbook Call and Response Resource is included in Goalbook’s Strategy Bank and can be accessed through a sharable link as well as through a paid account.

    Call and Response strategies feel good. They include students and help activate neurons in the brain. Many students like to be an active part of class and established rituals help cultivate a respectful culture in the classroom that creates community and understanding of the expectations.

    Across the six partnering school districts, I have witnessed exceptional and fun call & response strategies as well as attention-grabbers. Some of my favorite strategies include:

    • Teacher: Class! Class!” Students: Yes! Yes!
    • Clapping patterns for the students to repeat
    • Using a Wireless Doorbell 
    • Teacher: 1-2-3 Eyes On Me  Students: 1-2 Eyes on You
    • Teacher: Hear Ye! Hear Ye!  Students (banging the desk in time with the words) All Hail the Queen

    I was also excited to find an article entitled 25 Attention Getters to Calm a Noisy Classroom outlining some other favorites.  

    Not everyone, outside of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry can cast spells, but teachers certainly can create a magical ritual of seeking and finding attention every day in class.


    Rachel Herron, SDI Facilitator

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  • Connections and Respect

    Posted by Rachel Herron on 10/29/2021

    Have you ever heard of Indiana’s Content Connectors? Throughout my career I have taught in several states, and returning to Indiana I was thrilled to discover how much our state respects students in Essential Skills classrooms! The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) has put that respect into action by taking Indiana State Standards and applying “a systematic process...to ensure they are appropriately aligned to Indiana Academic Standards and readily available to teachers, parents, and students across the state.” 

    As some of you may know, I am an Essential Skills Educator by trade, love, passion, and degree. Although I spent many years teaching students with Emotional Disabilities (and ALSO loved it), my heart had been taken by students with multiple disabilities the first time my father brought me with him to volunteer at The Arc. I always knew that I would grow up to teach these incredible individuals.

    Teaching Essential Skills in Maryland in a school for students 3-21 years old was my very favorite teaching assignment.  I would still be there today if life hadn't moved me to Chicago. So many beautiful experiences that occurred in an environment devoted to students with multiple disabilities. A like-minded approach from all staff members, a focus on building community based instruction, increasing communication and preparing students for the next phase of life was refreshing and taught me more than any college class.

    One of my desires was to see respect being given to students who had a different way of approaching life, learning skills and succeeding. The individuals in my class made so many gains and learned so many life skills that would definitely impact who they were as humans. However, the dreaded standardized label that I had to put on goals always made me scratch my head. Were my students an afterthought? Why did we have to fit into the rigors and standards of other students?

    Last year when another staff member and I were trying to help our Essential Skills Educators learn more about goal writing, a lightbulb went off, and I decided our common goal writing tool, Goalbook Toolkit ,should include Content Connectors in the goal writing process...after all they already aligned with our state standards. Eureka!

    I called our goalbook representative and proposed a plan to align to Content Connectors and (drumroll please)...they were already there! Goalbook was one step ahead of us, knowing what we wanted before we had to even verbalize it! The representative stated that we previously said we wanted our state standards aligned, and they believed we meant ALL of them. 

    That, my friends, is respect.

    Rachel Herron, SDI Facilitator

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