Deafblind High School Teacher Making a Difference in Many Ways

Feb 29, 2016, 05:35 AM

The following podcast was recorded for use by customers of Minnesota’s State Services for the Blind. You can get more information about State Services for the Blind and the services it offers by going to www (dot) mnssb (dot) org. I’m Stuart Holland. (music)

Deafblind High School Teacher Making a Difference in Many Ways Jim Franklin, Special Education Teacher at Elm Street Elementary, Rom, Georgia, and Creator of Slid-a-Round Math Manipulatives. Dana Tarter, Special Education Teacher at Model High School in Rome, Georgia.

Dana Tarter, a high school life skills teacher at Model High School in Rome, Georgia, continues to put her philosophy of education into action by going to work every day with the belief that all students can learn. Teachers often share various reasons with parents, colleagues, and administrators as to why they chose their profession. Dana, for example, believes that it is a privilege to be a teacher and stresses the importance of setting daily goals to help her students move in a positive direction in life by focusing on important rigorous academic standards. Additionally, Dana focuses on incorporating valuable life skills in her lessons that cannot be taught from old school textbooks and are not included in the Common Core State Standards. At age 18, Dana continued her education and became an interpreter for a high school student that was deaf. To better serve the student and become a more effective teacher, she earned a Master’s in Education degree. For many years, she had been a deaf professional who had taught a wide range of students with physical, emotional, and academic deficits in inclusion, resource, and self-contained settings. In 2011, at age 38, Dana was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome, which is a relatively rare genetic disorder that is a combination of hearing loss and visual impairment. Despite the setback, Dana continued to serve her students despite being legally blind and deaf. In her classroom, Dana has always been proactive in solving her day-to-day professional demands and meeting her students’ physical, academic, and/or emotional needs. Dana’s disabilities are significant challenges that most people will never face. With her vision rapidly deteriorating, Dana voluntarily put herself on the fast track to learn Braille. Many people often say that life is about choices. In Dan’s situation, however, she never contemplated the “wait ‘til tomorrow” approach to learn Braille. There was an extreme sense of urgency to learn Braille for communication purposes AND to still be an effective teacher. In June 2012, Dana attended the 2012 Georgia Assistive Sensory Project Conference in Cave Spring, Georgia. With her friend Barbara, who was also her SSP, Dana attended the conference to help improve her instructional methods as well as find useful assistive technology. Dana and Barbara approached an exhibiter table, which was the first one on the right in the exhibit hall. Barbara began to sign in Dana’s hand to inform her that the math manipulatives for her students to use were also available in Braille. With Barbara’s assistance, Jim Franklin, an inclusion special education teacher from Elm Street Elementary in Rome, Georgia, and creator of Slide-a-Round Math Manipulatives, introduced himself and gave the background information of his math manipulatives. At the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year, Jim’s assistant special education director asked to observe his 4th grade math inclusion class. He welcomed the upcoming visit but wondered if any new strategies/interventions had been successfully implemented by other teachers with the concept of rounding whole numbers. He asked other math teachers in his school and searched for ideas on the Internet. He only saw blocks, dry erase markers and boards, and number lines. Other than those options, paper and pencil were the last resort. The last thing he wanted his visitors to observe were towers being built out of blocks, or off-task drawings on dray erase boards. He could not use a number line for his lesson because the longest one available only went to 100; his class was working with numbers greater than 100. Although all four options have been used for years and have had some success, he wanted math manipulatives that could make an immediate impact on education performance and not be considered a toy by his students. Then he had an idea… Incorporating movable, interchangeable slides, he created a number line system that can round whole numbers up to 10,000,000. It can round numbers to the nearest 10, 100, 1,000, 10,000, 100,000, and 1,000,000. When he began to show this concept to his colleagues, the response was overwhelmingly positive! Teachers began to ask him to help create manipulatives to address other mathematical standards as well. Eventually, he developed manipulatives that involve weight, capacity, elapsed time, decimals/money, and fractions. During this process, he consulted with math teachers and specialists, administrators, parents, and students from several different schools and school systems. He also consulted with an occupational therapist, a hearing specialist, and vision-impaired specialist. Of all the stakeholders with whom he worked throughout the initial part of the developmental process, he most valued the student input. After all, they would be the ones who would use these manipulatives as a vital part of their classroom instruction. Because he believed all students can learn, he was able to make some of his manipulatives available for students who are blind, and all of them for students with low vision. The first manipulative Dana wanted to try involved teaching the standards of elapsed time. Dana gently extended her fingers and then reached towards the 24” Braille Elapsed Time manipulative that had tactile dots. With Barbara’s interpreting in Dana’s hand, Jim patiently explained how the slides represent hourly increments and the minutes were in between the hours on a horizontal line. He added that one tactile dot equals one minutes and all five-minute increments have five vertical dots. Dana, who was fairly fluent in Braille at the time, initially began to read the Braille labels on the slides. Dana quickly grasped the design concept because she used self-discovery to learn how to use the manipulatives. The longer Dana used the manipulative, the less Barbara had to communicate. Dana seemed satisfied with the design concept and instructional potential of the Elapsed Time manipulative, especially since there were smaller versions for her students to use while she taught with the Braille version in a small group. Dana was intrigued and inquired about the other math manipulatives that she could try and then considered using them with her students. Because Dana focuses on teaching life skills in her resource room, Jim recommended his Money manipulative. Barbara explained to her that the Money manipulative has two slides and a similar design as the Elapsed Time manipulative. Jim added that Braille labels are on whole dollars and on increments of five cents. In between the increments of five cents, tactile dots represent one cent and are counted every time one is touched. He explained, while Barbara interpreted, that the manipulative is used to round to the nearest dollar as well as find correct change. Dana carefully touched the Braille with her fingers, with her body leaning over the table and her head about six inches above the slide on the left, orally reading the Braille numbers. Her fingers continued to slide across the Braille on the main piece, while “whisper” counting by five cents and then by dimes until she touched the next dollar on the right slide. She did not expect a full explanation in how the manipulatives were used. As a matter of fact, when Jim began to discuss how the manipulative could help the students add and subtract with regrouping, Barbara looked at Jim with a smile and quietly laughed, “Just let her do her thing. This is who she is, and she will eventually figure it out.” Dana continued to seek other instructional aids to help her students with math. Because Jim was a teacher and knew how his own students struggled to master their fractions’ standards, he offered to demonstrate his Fractions 16th manipulative. Dana knew exactly where her students were in terms of their ability level, based on recent assessments and performance on classwork. She openly stated that her students were eventually going to learn fractions, but they were not ready for that standard. Jim quickly assembled the Fraction 16ths manipulative by sliding the appropriate slides into the main piece before he put it on the table. Dana immediately began to follow the same steps to use with this manipulative as she did with other manipulatives: find the Braille whole numbers on the slides first and then find the fraction in between the slides on the main part. Dana initially slid her fingers left to right on the main part and then paused. She tried again, grinned, and then requested a more detailed explanation. Jim began his demonstration of the manipulative by stating the students in his inclusion regular education classroom often have difficulty realizing that there are fractional parts between whole numbers. After Dana briefly examined the 24” manipulative, she asked to use the 32” Fractions 16th manipulative because she thought it would be easier for her to use because there is more distance between the fractions and whole numbers on the slides. Jim thought of a foundational part of teaching and understanding fractions that he emphasizes with his students, such as comparing fractions from least to greatest and/or greatest to least. By having Barbara continue to assist with communication, he related the fraction number lines on the manipulative to Dana by imagining them as string cut into halves, fourths, eighths, and sixteenths. Jim asked Dana to rank the fractions ¼, 3/16, 7/8, and ½ from least to greatest. Dana used her fingers to find the fractions on the number line from the sample math problem Jim gave her. Once she found the first fraction, she anchored her left pinky finger to that fraction. Next she proceeded to find the other fractions with her index fingers until she had her other fingers on the other three Braille fractions on the number lines. Finally, she proudly stated, “the fractions are in this order: 3/16, ¼, ½, and 7/8.” It is important to note, while Dana was comparing the fractions, she realized students could simplify and find equivalent fractions as well as add or subtract mixed numbers with different denominators without paper and pencil. Jim stated, “Dana, you are correct. In my opinion, great teaching is when you teach the students when they do not know they are being taught.” Dana started to get the attention of other exhibitors and conference attendees because they were impressed by her interest in finding the right manipulatives for her students and the wide range of questions that she asked. Barbara informed her that they had to leave because they were about to miss a session at the conference. Dana thanked Jim for his time and shared her email address with him because she was interested in receiving complimentary handouts and additional information about his manipulatives. In late October, 2013, Dana sent Jim an email because she had some additional questions about his manipulatives. Dana told him that she was very interested in using some of his manipulatives to meet the needs of her students’ challenging learning and processing deficits. Dana informed Jim that she wanted to get some of the 11” regular student manipulatives for he students first because she felt that their needs were a top priority. At the beginning of April, 2014, Dana invited Jim to her classroom for a quick refresher during her planning period on how to use the manipulatives more effectively with her students. In addition to Dana, her interpreter, and Jim, she felt that it would be beneficial for her paraprofessional to be present. Jim seemed to find this setting more conducive to explain his manipulatives to her team rather than in an exhibit hall at the conference. The demonstration lasted about 30 minutes and all of the professionals asked Jim impressive first-time questions about the Fractions 16th manipulative. Dana believes that her classroom revolves around students meeting their goals and objectives, and it is a team effort for students to achieve success, regardless of the subject. She is responsible for her students’ services and planning challenging, but appropriate, lessons for all of her students. Dana has an interpreter and paraprofessional to help increase her students’ academic achievement. All of the professionals in the classroom have specific roles to ensure academic success and structure. Dana’s interpreter primarily assists Dana with her communication needs, so she can provide valuable instruction and communicate with the parents, professionals, and students. The instructional model for all of her lessons resembles a triangle: teacher to student to interpreter to teacher. Her students are expect to provide answers such as “I understand” or “I do not understand because…” Students are not allowed to give simple statements such as “I don’t get it” or “I do not know”; they are expected to provide the reason why they do not understand the standard, directions, or question. In math, for example, Dana usually provides instruction for a small group of 2-3 students or works individually with a student to focus on critical academic skills. Dana uses the Braille math manipulatives while her students use the standard student versions. Because many of her students exhibit strengths in visual processing as well as mild to moderate learning disabilities, Dana initially models how to obtain the correct answers with her manipulative. When the students have their turn, several important steps occur. First, the students work to solve the problem with their manipulative. Then, they have to explain their answers to Dana’s interpreter. Students not only learn their math standards, but they also must consistently work on their communication skills so that their explanations are concise and accurate for the interpreter to translate to Dana. As a result of better communication skills, Dana believes that their math and writing will improve and hopefully help them at their jobs during and after high school. Because Dana’s classroom is multi-grad level and has students at many different academic ability levels, her paraprofessional frequently assists Dana by providing additional individualized and differentiated instruction for other students. Because Dana and her paraprofessional understand the versatility of the manipulatives, as well as the tendencies of their students’ mistakes, they are able to ask specific questions such as “What are the numbers at the beginning or end of your number line?” and “I...