Monday, August 25, 2014

Increasingly Arne Duncan hears concerns about standardized testing...

Well, one more for the day... Guess I'm on fire Tek-ninjas!
Our fearless United States Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan writes a blog about education. It is often interesting, and mostly infuriating to me, as I don't see Mr. Duncan as a supporter of education, and so I am not a fan.  Ironic, I know, given his office. 
Recently he posted to his blog "A Back to School Conversation with Teachers and School Leaders.  In this article he write that:
"There are three main issues [he's] heard about repeatedly from educators:
  1. It doesn’t make sense to hold them accountable during this transition year for results on the new assessments – a test many of them have not seen before – and as many are coming up to speed with new standards.
  2. The standardized tests they have today focus too much on basic skills, not enough on critical thinking and deeper learning.
  3. Testing – and test preparation – takes up too much time."

If you've followed much of his work, this all is an about face for him. It does not fit with what seems to be his agenda to support high-stakes testing, and (the real cynic in me thinks) dismantle public education.

But don't take my word for it, head over there, read it yourself, and leave him a comment. 
I left a comment, and so far, the FBI has not visited me.

Happy testing!

When To Refer, When Not To Refer

My inspiration to write today came from an email from a friend, and fellow Occupational Therapist from a nearby state. She wrote:
"Our Assistive Tech team keeps getting overwhelmed with referrals for an AT Eval or Consultation....How do you divide up the roles in your county? Any process tips you'd recommend to cut back on needless referrals or to put back some effort into the teams making the referrals? I've heard staff say, "Let's make an AT referral" as soon as a parent asks the team if the student might do better with keyboarding. I feel like the OT or teacher could answer that question without involving an AT referral. Any thoughts?"
We occasionally get referrals that don't require our expertise. When this happens, we follow up with a phone call to the referrer and try to get a bead on the situation. Are there questions that the team genuinely needs help with or are they simply looking for confirmation of their thinking. With newer staff, it is often an issue of sharing with them what our respective roles are. Occasionally, we may be faced with a potentially litigious situation, and so we are called in to be thorough.

In order to head off unnecessary referrals, we make a point to offer in-services to various staff groups (OT, SLP, PT, teachers) to really delineate what our respective roles are from our perspective.

For example, Occupational Therapists already have significant "Assistive Technology" as part of their domain. Consider adaptive eating utensils or cups, weighted vests, or pencil grips. An OT would never make a referral for such low-tech equipment, because they consider it a part of their domain. I posit that keyboarding software is a part of such equipment for most OT's. Similarly, many simple switches are part of a SLP's bailiwick as well.

Our Assistive Technology team considers our role as assessing need and prescribing technology interventions when the team "requires" such assistance. 

If the team already has a handle on the tools required to create an effective intervention, they probably don't need an evaluation, or possibly even consultation.

Assistive Technology teams are not here to replace your clinical reasoning. 

That being stated, I do have staff who will utilize their considerable knowledge, plan interventions, and then call or email to to see what we think regarding what they are doing, and whether or not we think they "missed" something. In my estimation, this is a great way to use available resources.

Other teams may handle such situations differently, and I'd be curious to hear from folks.

Thanks for reading, and happy therapy!

Return to School... searching for my muse

Good day folks. Here in North Carolina students are officially back in school, at least if they attend one of our many beleaguered public institutions they are.

It has been a looooong time since I last posted. I've had a terrific summer full of backpacking, mountain biking, family time, and the beach. Also, to be candid, my writing muse seems to have gone on a walk-about, and I've simply not felt the drive. I'm hoping to get back into the groove with this return to school!

Good luck this school year!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Patience is the key...

Aug Comm Tools
Yesterday my colleague, Ashley Robinson and I had the privilege of observing a self-contained classroom with 6 students with severe language impairments. Every student utilized some kind of augmentative communication tool, and often more than one.

We were very impressed with what we saw.  Ashley and I came on time for morning group, and observed from the back of the room.  Morning group looked much like any morning group for young students with a review of the date, the weather, and who was present. The difference between this group and others is the communication devices, and the slower conversational pace. And, this is where the magic occurs.

The teacher would ask who wanted answer a given question. All around the group, a careful observer could witness students work to coordinate uncooperative bodies to respond via a switch or pad. For students who are language impaired, and as the case is in this class, also presenting with severe motor impairments, organizing their response takes significant effort. And time.  Teacher Assistants are helping by holding devices at optimum locations.  Once it's established who will be answering the question of the moment, the real question is asked. And then the waiting begins.

Eye Gaze Board
At one point, another student in the group (with better motor skills and response time) expressed some exasperation at the wait. The teacher encouraged patience.

Eventually (about two minutes) the student successfully targeted a switch providing an answer. This is real communication. But the key is waiting.

Later in conversation with the teacher, I compliment her and her staff for being so patient. She mentions that she sometimes has to remind colleagues in school to wait for her student's response time.  An adult will greet one of her students with a question (such as: how are you?), but go to leave before the student responds because it takes awhile. She will call them back, and say "hey, don't walk away, he/she is working on an answer".

So, the key to success here is patience. If you ask a language and motorically impaired student a question, you have to wait for the answer. Sometimes you might wait several minutes. But, it will be worth the wait!

Happy Therapy!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Happy Birthday Tek-Ninja!

Two years ago today I was inspired for some inexplicable reason to write a blog. My first article was called "The Covenant", and it was about our responsibility as parents to stay educated and aware of the cyber-world on behalf of our children.

Most popular articles
Since then, I've written over 200 posts, mostly though not exclusively about technology and education. I don't think of myself as a writer. Many of my blogs are likely riddled with grammatical errors. And my level of productivity varies. Some weeks, I write several times. Some weeks I don't write at all. I enjoy seeing how many "hits" an article receives, however, there is no monetary incentive to writing. 
International Readers!
So, why write? There is no money. There is no prestige or power. I write because the process helps me to think about my practice as an Assistive Technology Professional, and as an Occupational Therapist. Writing helps me organize my thinking, and scrutinize my assumptions. It also makes me reach beyond the tools that I might typically gravitate to from inertia. 

Tek-Ninja has been a great vehicle for me to develop my practice. I hope the writing has been of some use to others. Happy birthday to me, and happy therapy to you!

Thanks for reading!