Sunday, October 21, 2012

Should I ATEval2Go Or Should I just say No

A disclaimer: I know the authors of this product. Chris Bugaj is someone that I admire professionally. He is a person that I trust for suggestions. Sean Sweeney from Smarty Ears, I had the pleasure of meeting him last year at ATIA and follow him professionally. Knowing the authors of this app will not bias my review. Because they are friends, my guess is that I maybe too critical. To know me is to love me. :0)

I didn't even know Chris and Sean were working on an AT Evaluation app until I saw something on twitter mentioning it. It is something that is has been needed to assist individuals that are doing assessments. There is not a person working in AT that loves writing reports. And we all know that there are things that repeat. This is a tool that allows you to have those key descriptions of products, strategies and student files right at your finger tips. If you are like me, you have either created macros for this in MS Word or used abbreviation expansion so these are directly in hand and you don’t have to cut and paste from paste reports. But maybe you aren't like me and you are constantly reinventing, cutting and pasting the text. The app allows you to work smarter not harder. Isn't that what we want for our students. Why not for us, writing reports and summaries.

As soon as you open the app it is very clean looking and intuitive to use. First you add a new student or scroll the list to the right to find a client. If you click to add a new client you are presented with a form to fill in. These are the field evaluation, student or teacher name, date of observation, time of assessment, date of birth, id#, grade level, case manager name, school, participants present, type of observation, additional information. The participants' field that is not my favorite.  You move across the field and pressing enter does not allow you to move the line down. If you print directly out of the iPad you get this lovely horizontal list (Case manager : Jane Doe, Parent: Joe Doe, Speech Therapist: Sammy Smith). For professional reports that I have seen it is always presented one person directly under the other left side persons name, right side their role.

File review and background information

This is the tab that you add the reason for referral, target domains and goals and current accommodations, notes on progress and additional information.   

The reason for the evaluation is an open field that you can type the reason for the referral. The goal field is either click from a previous subset of goals or you can create the goals.  It is very easy to do by clicking on the plus, type what you wish to add and click save.

If you are doing a follow-up assessment you are able to create notes of progress. If you are someone that returns weekly or monthly notes of progress is a wonderful tool to have access too. I have been using it to document my students progress on a specific program. I return weekly to check her progress and then introduce her to 2 new keystrokes.  I can then send the report directly the the case manager and teacher so they know what is happening. This is the area that I also record the students perspective of how they are doing and the problems they are having.

I feel this tab is missing two things. What reports and information you have reviewed prior to completing the assessment. When I do an assessment, I review the IEP, Neuro-psychology reports, occupational reports, physical therapy reports, speech therapy reports, monthly student progress reports, if I am the second option I may review the first assistive technology assessment (only after performing my assessment). This information should not be listed under other information. You need to be able to add the type of report, who wrote it, and the year it was completed. This can be specific to outside evaluators, not sure what school staff review prior to evaluation.

The other piece is outcomes instead of goals. I wasn’t sure if this meant goals that are listed in the students IEP that he/she may need technology supports or the goals that the team determine for the AT assessment.

Most people confuse outcomes and goals. The goals are the solitary step to reach the outcome. For example, if you are playing soccer the outcome you wish to have as a team is to win. There will be many goals (no pun intended) to make that happen on offense and defense. For an assistive technology assessment the person performing the assessment would discuss what outcomes the team would like to see happen and then develop the goals to achieve the outcome. For example, the Outcome: would be that the student is able to write a complete paragraph with no spelling errors or grammar errors. The goals would breaking this down into smaller units: The student will write a sentence with no spelling errors 4 out of 5 opportunities. The student will check his grammar on the computer grammar tool independently prior to submitting the paper to the teacher 4 out of 5 opportunities. Remember the goals are stepping stones to the ultimate outcome of INDEPENDENCE.

Under current accommodation you can use the existing tab or add your own. I personally do not like to list generic accommodations in this area. I know this is a difference of opinions but if the student is already using the item why do I need to use professional jargon. I want to list exactly what the name of the tools that the student has access for reading, writing, math or strategies. The tool is already in place, no harm, no foul. It is important not to only list the items the student currently has access too but how often the student uses the tool. Just because it is there doesn't mean the student uses it. 

Observations and assessments

This is where you write your observational notes. I enjoyed using the add media feature in this section, it allowed me to have everything in one spot. You can take a photo, video or just audio. This is something that also has to be used with caution. You have to make sure your camera is only getting the student in question, that your video camera is only pointed to the student you are working with and the audio is only used when the teacher is talking or student is responding unless you are doing a complete classroom observation and you have waivers for all students to be recorded.

Something that school teams will have to do when using this app is determine how the media files will be secured in the student educational folder. Photos are easy, they can be printed but the audio and video files need to be secured as part of the educational file. Wonder how others are managing these types of files? In the past I only shot video when working on mounting, positioning or demonstrating a skill that is newly acquired.

Recommendation strategies and tools tab

This is my favorite part of the app. It gives you the categories reading, communication, vision, composition, math, organization/ learning/studying, computer access, recreation/daily living, hearing and other. It gives generic AT descriptions of the tools. For schools this is wonderful. Schools love generic terms (talking word processor) so they can either use what is on hand. As an outside evaluator I list the features that I found beneficial then name the 2-3 products that were tried and then make the suggestion of what product meets the criteria. My job is to guide the team to the tools that are possible not send them on a scavenger hunt by listing clues to prize.  As with any report that is written, school can accept in whole, reject the report in whole, reject the recommendations or accept the recommendations by picking and choosing. 

You click on the tools you may want to suggest for the team to consider. I have to be honest, I had to look up what Amorphous visual schedules. If I had to look it up, I am guessing the individuals I am writing the report for would also need a dictionary on hand to understand that an Amorphous visual schedule is a non- linear or shapeless visual schedule. Great tool but that word is way to professional jargon. You can add a photo to demonstrate what you are suggesting for the team to try with the student so the team has better understanding of the concept.


Overall I did enjoy using this app for my assessments. It takes some getting used to because if you only have one iPad and the student is using for evaluation, you are left to going old school and writing your notes in later. For me, I don’t carry an iPhone, I am a Droid girl.  I love my Gnotes which allows me to take photos, video, audio and write notes all in one spot. When the student is using the iPad, I use Gnotes and they are automatically saved to my gmail account.

The app gives you a way to record information all in one location when working with the student then supplying the team with initial findings before you finalize the report or when doing an observation you have the ability to email all interested pares about the observation. You do have to have internet access to do this. If not, you can wait until you get to a free wifi spot ( Panera, McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts or the public library).

As a report writing tool for me personally I had a difficult time getting adjusted to writing within the structure given. I have developed a format and style over the past 12 years that allows me to write my reports with customization. Years of creating macros and shortcuts. With ATEval2go some tweaking, adding information (still adding) my report writing was cut by a ½ hour for a full report. For observation, I was done by the time I left the session.  I am positive as I add more customized items to the tool the amount of time it takes me will continue to decrease for full reports.

Overall, I like the app for individuals that are working with school level students. It gives you a uniformed format for reports and a fast way to select what tools you are suggesting. You are able to customize the banks quickly so you can add your own wording or special strategy. The tool allows you to capture all the information in one place and share the material with the parties that need the information in a timely manner.

Should I ATEval2Go or I should say No? I am saying Yes, to the App.

This is a tool that I am going to suggest to my Supervisor to approve for use by our team. There are many possibilities that have yet to be explored. 

Below are my suggestion of things that I would like to see added if possible:

  1. That you can hide the delete button. I had a student delete his file by accident or maybe he did it on purpose because you do have to say yes or no. Either way would love the delete button hidden.
  2. Be able to upload the report after you finalized it from the computer back to the device. I would not see the reports on the Eval2GoApp as final as it does not allow company letterhead, or original signature or a way to create a signature. I was able to move it another app, create my signature and save it to that app but couldn’t get it to come back into the app.
  3. Participants present field changes it to a drop down like recommendations check off who was present and allow the person's name to be added. 
  4. Be able to save the report as an RTF Vs a PDF file when it is moved to Dropbox.  Since there are things that I still need to add to the report such as letterhead, adding missing pieces and so forth.
  5.  Would like a way for individuals to be able to secure the individual files with a password. If the iPad is stolen, lost or someone is able to access the device, the confidential information of the student is available.  Not sure about others but HIPPA and Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) are one of the reasons I don’t like carrying client information with me no matter how safe one thinks it is.
  6.  The ability to save your name as the author. Why would you have a second line for your qualifications? Typically your qualifications follow your name Jeannette Van Houten, M,Ed, ATP. They don’t typically go directly under your name. I made mine read Jeannette Van Houten, M,Ed, ATP then directly under my job title Assistive technology practitioner and Curriculum Specialist. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

An APP for Google Chrome that a two switch student can use

I am working with a young man that is a two switch scanner. We have developed customized access to websites via PowerPoint, Clicker, SD Pro and other programs just to have the sites no longer available, no one is updating the sites of interest for the student or when the student made a transition to another classroom the programming was left behind and the IT department wiped the system. Sound familiar. And you are probably saying but I am sure you backed it up. Yes, I will assure you that I have backed it up but since I am a consultant and things change or should change, I wouldn’t have the latest information.

So the other day, I was bored and when I am bored I just start randomly searching places and things. My target was the Google Chrome store. I carry an Android phone, tablet and I use Chrome to access the internet but I really don’t spend as much time in the store as I do the iTunes store. Work vs. Personal time. Most of the information that is shared is about Apple apps although there are more Android phones on the market. If you don’t believe me read:

I had no real goal in mind which can always be dangerous for time management and getting lost in the details of the web. Today was my lucky day. You know one of those days that the sun shines, the birds are singing and all the right music is playing on the radio.  I found SpeedDial2 ( for Google Chrome. And I believe I might be in a friendship not ready for love just yet as you know there are some flaws.

Speeddial2 is similar to big picture speed dial except that this is for websites. You can customize the number of row and columns (less on the page the bigger the button). The biggest you can go is 2 columns 2 rows (4x4 squares). The smallest is 20 columns (about the size of a stamp). You also have the ability to add space between the icons (10 point to 50 points). To visualize that it is about the width of matchstick (10 point) and a plastic knife handle (50 point).

You can change the background color. I have come to like sea green. It is comforting to the eyes. Not too bright just enough to pop the icons from the page. There are other options that you can let the student make a choice. For students that love YouTube, you can even make a page of music for the week.

Of course you know that that I must let you down, right. You knew it had to happen.  For students that are using switches and tabbing, there is no way to get back to home in Chrome. This isn’t SpeedDial2 ( issue but more of a Google Chrome issue. It isn’t a perfect solution but it is better than nothing and better than hours of programming for a few minutes of play. There is an upside if you turn on the side tab and you have a savvy user you can tab through applications, bookmarks and frequently used items.   

For two switch user all you need to do is have your switch interface set up to Tab and one switch to enter. When the student uses enter their page will open in a separate tab.  Once the student opens the website they will need a way to navigate the website. Not all websites work with a tab/enter.  

 You can also get this app as an add-in for Firefox. As I don’t use firefox, I cannot tell you how good it works within the Firefox browser. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Thinking Caps on -- Professional Development is one type of learning

Welcome back to the school year 2012-2013. Your students are ready to learn what you have to offer them. But are you ready to learn about the opportunities that you are offering? 

As I sit and wonder why my school year will look like, I also begin to wonder what my learning opportunities will be. Each year, I pick a topic, subject, disability, service, or something that I want to learn about. During that year, I expand my knowledge on the content material. For this school year, I am struggling with what I would like to expand my knowledge on. For me to learn I need to be passionate about the topic or at least have my interest peaked.

Then I realized something, how often do we remind others that learning about something is a forever process. There are times that we forget some things that we once knew like the back of our hand because we don’t use it often. Or we have progressed in our skills think “I got that”.  So this year, I am dedicating myself to refreshing the old brain and going back over skills that are rusty.

I am signed up for three sessions with AbleNet University

The first session: Course 2 - Switch Mounting: I've found a Location, Now How Do I Keep It There? I have been doing switch access for about 20 years. I know my switches and what each one does however, it doesn’t mean that I can’t learn about mounting techniques that I have never considered. New tools, a different point of view on mounting and learning from others experiences is extremely important to me. 

Second session: All About Computer Access: Adaptations and Alternatives to the Standard Keyboard and Mouse. This is a session I have taught and one that I continue to explore because new tools come out all the time.  Again, someone can refresh my memory of a tool that is still available but I have forgotten about because I am using a tool that I have access all the time too. It is also great to see how others present the material. Sometimes taking a course is about learning from your presenters about timing, or how they work the room via a new medium (webinars).

Third session: Course 3 - Positioning for Optimal Access to Assistive Technology. Just because you have the switch access doesn’t mean you have optimal access to the tools. I struggle with access of devices especially for my students and adults that spend the majority of their day in one flat position. So it will be great to see/hear how others resolve the issues that they have encountered especially on limited budgets.

I also signed up for Webinars from Cambium Learning Technologies (CLT). Cambium is home to Kurzweil 3000 and Intellitools software.

I am taking a session called: The SETT Framework: Straight From the Horse's Mouth. The SETT framework is a core value in my evaluation process for the clients that I interact with. As time passes you begin to modify and adapt what you are doing while following the process that Dr. Joy Zabala developed. It is important to always come back to the root of the design and be reminded of something that you may have forgotten about. Dr. Zabala has also added to the SETT framework so it will be wonderful to hear how the process has developed over the years.


I signed up for a workshop on Kurzweil 3000: Tips and Tricks. I use Kurzweil 3000 on a daily basis in one fashion or another. But there are so many things that Kurzweil 3000 can do that sometimes you just need that fast shortcut to get you through something. So I signed up for this course because I have students that I am asking them to sign up for it. It is important for me as an AT person to encourage my students to seek support beyond myself. My job is to make others independent so sharing resources are part of that.


These are just a few webinars that I have signed up for September and October. I have made it a goal to sign up and attend at least 3 webinars a month.  If I am going to be the best AT specialist I can be. I also know that I need to ground myself on the principals of AT. As the year progresses my training may change because of different skill sets needed. But the important thing is to always make sure that you not only focus on teaching others but that you take the moments and be the student. We are all forever learners. Being forever learners we need to move back and forth in our roles as mentors, facilitators and student. Your professional development should not be one dimensional. You should embraces special education, general education, Speech, Occupational and Physical therapy course but also go to a session on sports, art, language arts, and reading.


Places to look for professional development:


Software vendors often give Webinars on their products. Go to their websites and look under their training possibilities.






Atomic Learning:


Even Podcast are considered professional development. Remember learning takes place everywhere and in different formats. The important thing to think of is what you intentions of learning and what a gem(s) of information you have walked away with.


A.T. Tipscast is one that I enjoy listening and learning from. Chris has a way of addressing concepts from a common sense nature and doesn’t make you feel like you should have known that already.


Find them on Facebook also:


EdCeptional this is a hosted chat. Each session you get to hear from other professionals and knowledgeable individuals on different topics.


Also look at Twitter. Twitter had turned to be one of the best places to learn about professional development. Learn what general education is doing. The hottest trends in education are. And you get your hands on some amazing blogs and tips from others.


Check with your state colleges. There are some wonderful stuff out there. And branch out. AT is not always about the tools but about learning about reading strategies, math courses or science curriculum.


Check your state museums. You would be surprised at what they offer. Yes, it may not be related to AT however you never know what you might learn about art and how to encourage students to explore possibilities.

Take that writing course at the adult school. Or how about that knitting class that you want to take but you can't find a reason. Who needs a reason to learn? Who needs a reason to find time for themselves? 


Learning possibilities are all around us. You have to be willing to take a class that you have no idea why you are there other than it might come in handy later. OK, must go, I am off to my class at the local hardware store. My session PVC and projects around your home.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The conversation of Assistive Technology in the IEP

I am asked on a regular basis about “How do I get AT for my Child” actually the question more sounds like “How can I get a laptop for my child?” Or  “I want an iPad for my child”. The answer is simple, it is a conversation at an IEP meeting. Consideration is part of the IEP meeting. Under IDEA, the team must consider assistive technology for every child on an IEP and for students with a 504 plan. You also have to remember that consideration is not equal to evaluation, it is a conversation.  Which means as a member of the team, you can ask is Assistive technology going to be considered.

In the conversation for consideration, you have to have your specific points in mind. You are working on persuading your team that AT is something that needs to be considered for your child for specific tasks. Often I hear from parents and the line is “I know there has to be something that will make it easier and better.” Honestly, often AT can enhance a child’s learning and ability for output but it is not the magic key that is needed to make it easier and better. The reason that it may not be easier because every intervention brings its own barrier. A new tool means that something needs to be learned and implemented and if the individual that needs to use the tool does not feel like using something NO one can make them use it.

The first thing you need to do is make  sure you have specific needs that you see as a concern.  Your child is lacking access to literature because he/she can’t turn a page, isn’t reading at grade level but is in mainstream classes or reading comprehension is poor not because of a language deficit.  You need to articulate how this impacts on your child's ability to participate in his/her education.  It is important to point out that these are concerns and not point out the tools you feel will work for your child. Even though you know your child better than anyone sitting at the table, you may not be aware of the tools used in the district already and since this is a conversation, no one dictates what tools are needed. This is an opportunity to brainstorm ideas and no one is wrong. Everyone has an equal say even if it sounds off the wall. Yes, there are times it is hard to sit with a straight face when someone recommends something from out in left field. There are times those left field comments have validity. It is important to note, if your child has had AT tools in their IEP previously this does not mean that you don’t perform consideration at the IEP meeting.

Follow up for understanding

The second step is always making the request in writing. I often  tell parents to either have the ready to present at the IEP meeting so it is very clear that you expect assistive technology to be seriously considered and that the consideration process is conducted in a timely manner. Or I suggest digest what you heard at the IEP meeting, the discussion you had and send a letter of understanding on what the school is going to do about assistive technology consideration be it a school based assessment or an “expert” model assessment. You have to remember if it is not written, it is not real.

The assessment

The third is to make certain that you as a team member are clear on what model the district follows. There are very few schools based assessment teams in NJ. So often you land up with an “expert model”. This means your child is seen 1 time which is typically a document review, observation, and hands on with technology then a report is generated. Since you know your child best it is best to advocate for your child before the district contacts the vendors. If you feel your child would benefit from multiple visits for the assessments lay that out with your justifications. For instance, “The team expressed at the IEP meeting and in the PLEPS, Ryan often is very alert and can coordinate his movements in the AM but by the afternoon his coordination changes. I feel would benefit Ryan to see the AT consultant on multiple days (3 times) so  he/she can see his abilities throughout the day. This will allow the consultant to see the student 3 periods of the day and see different environments and the supports in those environments as well as seeing the changes that are happening physically and cognitive changes.  It is also important for the parent to ask the district to supply the name of the agency conducting the assessment and asking if you can interview the person who will be responsible for the assessment. Ask the evaluation their procedures, timeline for report and what should be the next step. Parents need to remember an outside evaluator being independent of the school so if the parent wants the evaluator at the IEP meeting to discuss the result then they need to request that. And just because recommendations are made in the report doesn’t mean the district has to follow the recommendations. Recommendations are merely suggestions for the team to consider.

If the school is having district teams perform the assessment process, ask for the members of the team that will be conducting the assessment, ask to meet with the team and get a timeline of when your child will be seen and when will you reconvene for the results. You want to make sure the individuals that are doing the assessment are familiar with AT and have ongoing training (conferences, workshops, online classes). If the person has taken a certification program through the state, private agency asks to see what the curriculum was and how much time went into training the individuals. When a school team conducts the assessment they will work within the confines of the district policy and procedures. They will focus on the tools that fall within UDL and what is currently placed in the district.  Universal Design for Learning is a concept that says these tools can support all learners regardless of disability. The tools offer support that your child could and may already be benefiting from for instance, text to speech (the computer speaking as a student writes), talking dictionary (a work is typed in student hears the word and definition) or offering word prediction ( software/app  used to suggest completions of words that start with a specific letter and content). For some students it can be picture support software.

I love to perform school based assessments because I have all the disciplines (OT, PT, SLP, Classroom teacher), it also allows us to work on Goals and Outcomes for the evaluation and possible solutions. Each person brings something to the table.    With a school assessment the tools are often trialed for a period of time (2-4 weeks) so the assessment team can see if the product works for the student in real time and not in isolation of a made up activity for the individual to complete.  With a school based assessment you have on-site supports that are there when they are needed not days later.

Support and Training

Parents please be aware that a school based consideration is not the team placing AT tools in the IEP without assessment unless it is something that was determined previously.  Anyone can write supports into the IEP but can they back up those supports are being appropriate for the individual (data).  If a support tool is written into the IEP who is responsible for the use of that tool, how often and when will it be used (what activities).  Ask if the tool is a UDL or specific to your child. You don’t need to know it is going to be used on Mon-Wed- Friday but you want to know how often your child will access the tool and what type of activities (long assignments, behavior reinforcement, filling out worksheets).  I
In your child’s IEP you want to make sure you list the supports that are needed. This needs to be spelled out under related services. If the tool is new to the staff, you and the child more supports are needed until they become comfortable with the tool. Depending on the tool this can vary. For the tool word prediction, I typically will recommend 2-3 visits. One visit to go over the mechanics of the tool, one visit to go over fine tuning the tool and the third visit to make sure everyone is comfortable with the device. Included in the request I might ask for 3 consultant session that can be used sometime in the school to help with problems that the staff is having. Consultations' are session that may or may not be used. If it is a school based team most times the services are similar so many visits per week or month and consultant as needed.
It is important to remember these points:

  • Consideration is what is required under the law. 
  • Anyone can bring up the conversation at the IEP meeting.
  • Consideration does not equal evaluate. It determines if interventions are needed and who can do the assessment.
  • Don’t demand a specific tool but talk about outcomes what your child needs to be doing that he/she is not doing.
  • Make sure you are clear on expectations if an “expert” evaluation is being requested. 
  • Training and support are even more important than the tools. If you have a tool and no one knows how to use it, what good is the tool? 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bullying of Students - Shocking Yes, New NO

Recently we have seen much more news coverage on educational staff bullying students with and without special needs. This week in NJ, we had the incident that took place in Cherry Hill. If you would like you can find out more about this incident on the following pages.

I personally feel that these reported incidents are symptoms of a bigger issue not just in NJ but all over the country and the world. The first being that educators lack professional development especially special education teachers. I have been in the field of education for almost 20 years. I deliver professional development around NJ. I hear repeatedly that special education teachers do not feel that they receive professional development that is essential for them to educate their students. When a special education teacher is working with students with significant disabilities, I am not so sure it is important for the special education teacher to sit through training on the new reading and math programs that the district will be implementing.  It is imperative that all teachers need to be trained however districts need to evaluate their professional development to make sure they match the teachers' needs. Special education teachers that are working with students on the spectrum should be taking professional development on improving language skills, how to engineer the environment for language and learning, functional life skills training, understanding transition, the list can go on. If we are to give our students in NJ a fighting chance at a proper education the teachers need to have professional development that is meaningful, supportive and pertinent to what they are required to teach.

The second issue is that we do not give educators that work with students with challenging behaviors are difficult to teach a way to communicate their frustrations and anxieties. This does not excuse an individual that has crossed the line  there is no reason to do so. However, if we do not recognize that teaching students with disabilities and even general education students is stressful than we are being irresponsible. There are two schools for students with autism in the state that I know hire a counselor to visit with the staff each month and hire a massage therapist once a month. You are required to sit with the counselor for 30 minutes to talk about work and whatever comes to mind.  Even my employer has a program that I can call to talk to a counselor or schedule mental health sessions. We all deal with stress but when there is no outlet for that stress we have serious consequences. Staff need to feel they have a safe place to communicate their stress and frustration. 

The solutions are very easy. If we do not accept student on student bullying why should we have to accept adult on child bullying. It happens every day in school across the nation. If our nation is going to take bullying seriously we need to look at solutions that have meaning.  Cameras in every classroom and public space. Then there would be no she said he said or parents having to do something like wiring their child for video or sound. There is no right to privacy in public buildings, schools are funded by public monies (Local, State and Federal). All areas of the school except locker rooms and bathrooms should have video monitoring but they should be wired for sound. Most think an invasion of privacy, from news broadcasts on students being assaulted by peers or adults it often happens in the bathroom or locker rooms.

Many will not like the suggestion of cameras for many reasons but I have a question, WHAT do you risk? I taught for 8 years in an educational setting that had cameras in every classroom and hallway or public area. It didn’t change the way I taught. It actually made me more secure in how I taught. I didn’t have to worry about being accused of something I didn’t do. If I was accused of saying something or doing something ROLL back the TAPE. It allowed parents to observe the classroom without upsetting the flow of the classroom. It allowed me to see what others saw when teaching. There are more pros for cameras in school than cons. 

Incidents are not on the rise. We are just having parents stepping up and reporting it to the news. In the past, districts were holding the cards on what will happen to their staff and even if they would believe what was being said. Now parents are becoming wiser and more savvy on how to get the proof they need to show that their child is suffering at the hands of an adult. Students are learning to use technology to outsmart their educational staff.

My challenge to districts around the nation be PROACTIVE instead of REACTTIVE. Firing the staff that are responsible for poor behavior is the right thing to do however what can you do to insure the safety of your students and staff? Firing staff is only a plug in a whole that is going to grow over time. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

To Individuals with learning differences

To Individuals with learning differences

My name is Jeannette Van Houten. I am a special education teacher. I am an assistive technology specialist. I am an individual with a learning disability. None of this makes me special, unique or exceptional. It just makes me a person that learns differently than someone else. In reality, everyone learns differently so I guess it makes me normal.

With that said, I want you to know my story. Maybe someone out there that doubts they are normal or has the ability to achieve their dream will find it helpful. I was classified early in my education career. I joke they spotted me walking up to the Kindergarten playground and said THAT ONE. I was classified in kindergarten because I was disruptive, impulsive, couldn’t tell my left from my right (still confuse it) and forgot the letters of the alphabet. The letters were just fun lines you would make with crayons and finger paints. I am writing this open letter because I want you to know things get better and you can be the person you dream to be. I will not say that this journey to where I am today didn’t come with struggles, tears and the will to just quit but I have learned that is life. Everyone struggles with something it is just a matter will that something define you or will you define the moment.

I have always been willing to discuss my learning difference especially as an adult. But I have never admitted the extent of my difficulties. This is the first time that I am going to lay it all on the line because it is important for me personally to share the struggles I have. I want others to know that having a learning disability is something that is always there but it doesn’t have to define who you are and what you want from life. There are individuals that will tell you, O, you can outgrow your dyslexia or you can outgrow your writing difficulties. I can no sooner outgrow my learning disability as I can outgrow my brown hair, eyes or being pigeon toed. I want the younger generation of individuals with learning disability know that there are others out there that have walked the path of frustration, sadness and disappointment and that path could lead to great things if you just keep doing your best and seeking out people to help you. You are never alone. There is always someone in your corner even when you feel like you are watching the world pass around you.

According to my school records, I was NI (neurologically impaired), PI (perceptually impaired), math deficits, writing difficulties in the area of composition (organization, grammar and spelling). 

In the area of reading, I have always admitted that I didn’t learn to read until I was a sophomore or junior in High School. This is when I could say the written word clicked together and it had meaning. According to the reports I have found, I was identified as being a lazy, unmotivated and not applying myself to my academics. If I just I applied myself to reading I would be a much more successful reader and learner. What the “experts” didn’t know and didn’t care to ask was, “How much time and effort to you put into reading?”

If they would have asked that I would have told them. I spend every waking moment wishing that the letters on the pages meant something to me. I wish I could look at the page and the words sang to me like my peers. I wish I didn’t have to go home every day with homework because it was taking time away from my Little Golden Books. I have been reading The Poky Little Puppy for years now trying to master the vocabulary. While my friends are outside playing, I was in the house with my books. Every day I would come home and read a sentence or a page. I would start at the first page and read until I got frustrated and cried. My favorite book that I ever received was the Richard Scarry Picture Dictionary. I would look every word I came across and prayed that it had a picture to help me understand. If it had a picture it would help me make sense of the word. I still have that dictionary. The cover has been taped and re-taped but is now completely off, the pages are worn but there are days that it brings comfort. When I need a word it doesn’t judge me because I might be looking up a word that most first graders know and understand.

Those same reports also identified my areas of weakness in reading:

I struggled with reading (decoding and fluency), reading comprehension (vocabulary skills, making connections, omission of details, difficulty with the identification of important information) as well as trouble remembering what I read, I couldn’t summarize, difficulty connecting prior knowledge and applying content to personal experiences. The shocker, I had a difficult time with concentration while I was reading. Seriously?? All I did for hours was concentrated on the lines of information before me to the point that my eyes would blur and I would give myself a headache. I sat there staring at the text wishing it would give me the code to unlock the meaning. Hoping that the words would pop off and say their name.

As I read through the reports, I honestly wonder how I ever became the person I am today. How did I manage to conquer the things that held me back for so long? I wish I had the answer but I don’t. When I was in school there were no fancy tools to read to me. It was rare to have an adult read to me. I couldn’t turn on a computer, the iPad or even CD player to have my text read to me. I had to figure it out on my own. It was either do it or fail. I made the choice to succeed. I can also have no special accommodations for test taking. I took the same test as everyone one else with no support from the teachers. If I didn’t keep pace with the time allotted then the test questions would be left blank. I did my best at guessing the right answer. For the most part, I think the teachers gave me a point for each letter in my name because guessing was not a strong suit until I learned testing strategies when completing my masters.

If I was to answer my own question it would be the following way. I have tenacious. I don’t believe in giving up. Some see it as being stubborn, ungiving but when you know you want and need something, nothing should stand in your way. There is always a way to succeed. It is a matter of picking the path and the tools for the journey. Not everyone’s tool kit is the same so you have to learn to pick and choose wisely for your needs. And be flexible to change the tools when things are not working.

I had to work harder to be average but to be above average, I had to work harder, smarter and be perfect. Trust me perfect doesn’t happen often but that doesn’t mean I can’t strive to be perfect. Define what perfect means to you. Perfect isn’t always the A on the paper. Sometimes, it is more about knowing you can repeat a skill; remember a formula for math or science or sharing with another person something you learned. Perfect is being proud of who you are and knowing that learning is a life goal not a week goal.

When I was in high school, I had a drama teacher that said “you can do and be anyone you want to be, just believe and you can reach it”. At that point, I became Determination. I set my dream, visualize myself being that person and there is no settling for less than I believe I earned. I don’t believe I am entitled to anything. I believe you have to work hard; prove your abilities and show someone you are worth a chance.

You have to have integrity of who you are. There is no dishonor in admitting that you don’t know something. There is more honor in admitting you need help because you are reaching out to another. We don’t get by in this world on our own. I admit it on a daily basis that I don’t know something. Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle in asking for help. For every confident day, I have a doubting day. For those doubting days, I have friends and families that help me rally and remind me of whom I am. The most important aspect of this is to make sure you surround yourself with positive people that can lift you pass those rough days.

As an adult there are still days that I wish I could be like every other typical adult. I wish I could add numbers in my head and not have to count on my fingers or use a calculator. I still have math anxiety and struggle with daily math tasks (checking account never balanced in my favor).

There are days that I wish that internally I could feel organized and calm instead of always feeling like I missed, lost or forgot something. There are days that I just wish for silence. I hear all things around me (conversations, air vents, computers and birds). It becomes overwhelming and it stresses me out. I have learned to tune out the world but there are drawbacks to this strategy. I miss the social interactions because I have to shut myself in my head to get work done.

There are days that I wish that I could shut up. Yes, there are days that I am so excited about the little things in life that I distract others. The struggles that I had as a young child are right there shaking hands with the adult me. As an adult we like to think we mask it better than we did as a child but I am not so sure that is true. There are times that I just feel like I am in a sports car in high gear moving at a 25 mile per hour.

Although my learning disabilities are with me daily , I can say I am perfect the way I am. I have learned to accept who I am and what I am not. I have learned to march to my own beat. I believe either you march with me as a partner or you can march to your own beat and we make wonderful music together. There are things that I will never be in life. For example, I will never be an editor of a newspaper or author. I will never be the person that you ask to help a difficult math problem. The person I am today is not as good as the person I will be tomorrow. Every day is a learning experience.

Are there days I wish my learning disabilities weren’t with me? Yes. But then No. The lessons I have learned over the years is what makes me who I am. I am the person that will reach her hand out and offer you assistance. I am a person that has compassion and accepts others for who they are. I am the person that will stand up and offer a voice for others when they cannot find theirs. So the gift of my learning disabilities is priceless.

Jeannette Van Houten
Proud owner of my learning disabilities

Sunday, February 5, 2012

App Rubric to guide you in app selection

There are over 100,000 apps in the app store according to Apple. As an educator and AT Specialist I was struggling with the evaluating apps for the students that I support. How do you know if the app is right for the goal you are working on with your student? I searched and found no information on how to judge the app with the details I needed for the special needs population. Most of the 100,000 apps in the app store do not have the features that are needed for the some of the special needs population but in general they do not have the needs of the general population. We are a country/world of many languages however most apps do not support multiple languages at least in the American app store. 

The purpose of the rubric is to help guide your choices, it is not the end all. Just because an app score lower on the rubric doesn’t mean that it does not support a specific student needs. For example, an app that is used for behavior management such as the Autism 5-Point Scale EP is not going to get a high number on the rubric.The question you need to continually ask yourself is: Does this APP meet the students’ needs or specific goal you are working on? If the answer is YES then that is what matters. It also means that you can continue your search for an app with those features you like in that app but may offer you growth potential. This rubric was designed to address academic selection. I needed something that could offer a more objective way to view the apps. Most times when you read reviews it is subjective. I wanted something that was free of emotion or  or personal prejudices.

There are many wonderful app review sites out there that can lead you in the right direction. They give their point of view about the app but since they don't know your student the review cannot tell you if it will meet your students needs. It is important to evaluate the app yourself. If you don’t have the app check to see if your friends have the app so you can have hands on time. Contact your local lending center in your state to see if they have the app so you can borrow it, try it, and evaluate it. It isn’t enough to watch a video of the app you are thinking of purchasing, having someone else point out the highlights of the app

Please offer some feedback on the app rubric. If you would like to see something added or wording changed.

Here is the link to the Rubric that was developed. Please note that I am always adjusting the rubric so check back to see if it has changed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Not always what it seems...

Today I was in a session with a student that is learning to use Intellipad (Name change coming). The teacher made a comment prior to my session that this student was doing a perseveration behavior with the text to speech in the word prediction and smiling at the teacher as the student was tapping the screen. I found this odd because the student had used text to speech in the past and also used the word prediction program in the past. Although odd, I figured to take the issue at face value. It needed to be investigated.

I decided on the following course of action:

First ask the student about the use of the product and how they felt it was going, any difficulties and was it helpful.

Second was an observation of the student using the device.

I sat away from the student so I wasn’t peering over their shoulder but close enough to see and hear what was going on. The student had to type a journal entry in response to questions written on the blackboard.

The student started to type and I heard the word prediction (list to the word) and then student selected the word (word speaks again). So far so good. This went on for about 5-10 minutes. Then I heard the same word repeated over and over. A word I knew the student could spell and type. I let it go 2,3,4,5 the student staring at me with a smile. OK time to get involved.

I asked the student, “why listening to the word so many times?” The response, “It isn’t typing word just saying the the the”. So I give it a try, 1,2,3,4 OK I think I can stop now.

Hmmmm. So what was perceived as this student having a perseveration behavior with the text to speech and smiling at the teacher really was not really what was happening at all. The student was having a problem with their device and app. The student wasn’t sure how to ask for help. So the student would turn and look and smile at the one person in the room that they hoped could help them. The student just wanted to get the teacher's attention without being disruptive to the other students.

The moral of this story is that before you assume a student is performing a behavior for attention, take a look at what is going on. There are times that it can be a behavior but even a behavior has aspects of communication. But there are times something is happening because of a malfunction of the tool and they don't know how to explain it.

Even with technology students need support and sometimes more support until they master the skill. Moving from an iPad from a computer was a huge jump for this student. The student had used a computer for 17 years. The iPad was a new tool that had only been used for recreation. This student was not using it as a learning tool means all new expectations and skills.

The solutions were simple ones:

  1. The student was given a stylus for using the word prediction. This way the student couldn't accidentally hit the speaker and word at the same time.
  2. If it repeats more than twice, just copy the word or type the word to the best of your ability.
  3. The student was given a help me card to indicate that help was needed. I made enough for the 10 other students in the classroom. They were shown if they need help, place the card in front of them.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Access to the iPad

The past few weeks I have been working with three young children that have a form of MD. Not all the students are from NJ. Each has a different type of the same disability. All three are unique and amazing in different ways, what each have in common beyond a DX is their drive to be as independent as possible. All their hopes and dreams involve one form of technology or another.

The oldest student is in high school we will call him Bob. His personal goal is to be able to access the internet so he can Facebook with his friends and get on MySpace (yes it is still there). Bob loves music and wants to be able to create music writing, playing and producing music. He also knows he has to do school work not as motivating as the first two goals. Bob is currently attending school on a regular basis but that can change at any time. When it changes because of illness, he will receive home instruction 10 hours a week.

The middle school student we will call him John. His personal goal is to be able to play his games on Playstation, Wii and some computer based games. John is an avid reader and wants to be able to access books that are not assigned by the school. He knows he can listen to books but he wants to be able to READ not listen. John also enjoys school. However, he is on home instruction because of mobility issues. He has a wheelchair but also lives on the third floor of a high-rise building. The elevator has been broken for 5 months and no one knows when it will be repaired.

The youngest of the students we will call him Juan. His personal goal is to be able to enjoy time playing with his sibling and family. So many of the things he can do is hand over hand or isolation play. Juan has the most significant limitations of his movements but has the best head control. Juan enjoys using the computer to join his class for 30 minutes a day. Juan would also be able to listen to books (he is just learning to read). It is something he can share with his family or do by himself. There are games he can play also that if he played the typical way he would be a spectator. Juan at this time does not go to school but that could change with time. Juan enjoys school in short burst. He receives home instruction for a total of 10 hours a week.

Now that you have the background of my three amazing young men there is something that all three could benefit from. I am going to say it, the iPad. Yes, I said. I know you are shocked. The key for these young men are about direct access. If we had to use a computer none of these students would have direct access. We would have to find an alternative method of access. Voice recognition, eye gaze, switches and more that may not be as efficient as direct access. Eye gaze is a form of direct access but since the students don’t need AAC private insurance or Medicaid would not pay for the devices so it would be up to the school district to purchase the devices. Since they are school based machines the question always is can a student do personal activities on the device. The answer there is it depends on the district. It depends on the type of software they will be using.

Each of them has different goals and different needs but all three have another thing in common. Limited movement of their fingers IF the students are physically supported. Each of their supports look different but offer the support the individual needs to access the device. The amount of touch that is needed is great because it is barely a touch. The quantity and quality of apps make it a device that individuals can have a diverse set of tools.

So what have we yes we because I don’t work in isolation, I work with the student team which includes the parent, OT, PT, IT staff and whoever else I can wrangle into the mix. Each of us has skill sets that are needed when working with complex needs.

For Bob, for computer access was voice recognition but he found that he couldn’t play music. He also couldn’t use the VR in the classroom. Access to the iPad we used a wedge to support his hand. We used a small platform built off the wedge to support the iPad. We also gave it a way to rotate by using hardware. We placed little suction cups on the edge so the student can rotate the iPad when needed.

Apps that he is using:

AKAI Pro SynthStation APP

Symphony Pro

Jump Desktop

Computer software:

Dragon Naturally Speaking

Write: Online from Crick : Bob uses the Jump Desktop software to use Write: Online

For John, computer access was using his PS3 Game controller. He is able to zip around the screen like you and I do with a standard mouse. He uses voice recognition for writing long assignments. John prefers the standard Windows 7 on-screen keyboard with word prediction for short assignments. Now because he spends the majority of his day in a supine position so we needed to find a mount that could let us get the iPad into his field of vision. Then the other issue was creating a way for him to access the iPad. We used a very basic thera-band sling. We used different colors depending on the speed he needs to tap. For games we use yellow and when he is working on something that needs stability we might head to red or even black. It comes down to his day. Then there are times we use cloth slings that his grandma made using lamb wool and satin.

Apps that he is using:

Jump Desktop to share the computer screen. It allows him to collaborate with peers and do activities that the teacher has created in MS Word, and Excel.

Dragon Go to research information on the internet

Go Go Gadget is a game he likes to play

Talking Calculator

Graphing Calculator

Recorder for recording reading, writing and questions he has for his teachers.

For reading he is using the Kindle App

Facetime to speak to his teachers at prep time for homework assignments

Computer Software:

Adobe Student and Teacher

Dragon Naturally Speaking

The youngest of the group, we are still working out with the things we will offer. Right now we are keeping it simple. For access, we are using a sling option that was purchased from SMA website. However, we will be changing this. We want to give him more movement than the sling offers.


The youngest of the group, we are still working out with the things we will offer. Right now we are keeping it simple. For access, we are using a sling option that was purchased from SMA website. However, we will be changing this. We want to give him more movement than the sling offers at this time. We may land up with a different sling system. Computer access at this time is not something we are working on however that will come later in the year. Right now the most important thing is to get him to access the iPad and some activities that he and his siblings can do.


Chutes and Ladders

Free Kids Counting Game



There are other apps that are being used. A total of 25 apps that align with the student's school curriculum.

Facetime to access his classroom for the morning meeting (calendar and schedule) and literacy circle (vocabulary and read aloud).

Access for these three overlap at some point but each is set up a little differently in the height and the support that is used. For adults you can find some sling pre-made equipment but when working with children and young teenagers, you pretty much have to make what you need.

I will do my best to get a picture of the alternative access that could be used.