There is a lot of debate about para educators and how to utilize them, so I thought I would tell a story of one of my greatest and best experiences.

I worked in a particular school district for 7 years. It was typical in this district for the para educators to do too much for the students. But that is all they knew what to do. It became clear that the paras needed to gain blind skills in order to stop doing the work for the blind children as if they were sighted. So, the paras started attending training classes that met a couple times a month to learn how to be a para and how to braille. Within a year and a half over a dozen paras passed the braille exam and had increased tremendously in their technology skills. Another year went by and another half dozen or so passed their braille certification and all continued in their advancement of skills. As they passed the braille certification test, they became known as ProTechs–highly skilled individuals working with students.

Most of their time is utilized adapting work. They have fine tuned their knowledge to know when to step in to help and when to step back. They easily can adapt the work for their student or students and assist them when needed. When one Protech is out, the others take over their student or students. Everyone works together with each others best skills.

Skill advancement has to come to all: Protechs (or past paras), students and Teachers all have to constantly advance in their skills in order to help the students learn what is best for them. They will meet their goals and dreams.

One of my favorite things to hear is when the Protech asks the student if they will need any help in a certain class that is difficult and the student replies, "No Thank you, I got it."

Talking software works great for a child with a reading challenge. This one particular student started with me when he was in 2nd grade. He struggled terribly in school and could not do the work, though is very bright. The way the school was giving instruction did not suit his dyslexia and inability to read print.

I started him on JAWS talking software as I knew he needed to listen in order to comprehend. I taught him about audio books and where to get them. He listened, watched the words on the page, and began to learn to read. He typed, listened, and watched and I showed him tricks on how to spell check when he could not figure out how to spell the word. (arrow into the word and hit your applications key or right click with a mouse and the correct spelling of the word appears). When you finish the document, hit F7 for a complete spell check. Slowly but surely this child learned how to read and write.

He is now going into high school and has been doing online school for the past years with great success: A 3.9 grade average. He has learned that he needs to hear those words in order to comprehend them. He uses audio books from all genres, and I am now introducing him to SKYPE and other chat and texting methods to continue instruction with him. He is also working with an online academy that really caters to audio learning. He will also be learning more advanced JAWS talking software techniques, so as he progresses through school and life he will be able to do anything he wants to do.

Talking software is for anyone who happens to be challenged in accessing the printed word.

Lessons to help teach

Everything to get you going in WORD Office 2003 and XP

 

Everything to get you going in WORD Office 2010 and Windows 7 with JAWS

 

Everything to get you going in WORD Office 2010 and Windows 7 with Window EYES

 

I always tell people I want to get children "Coming from the Womb." Well, 3 months is pretty close. I did not get him earlier because the family did not move into my district until he was 3 months old.

We spent the first 3 years with tactile and full sensory exploration. By 3, he was ready to begin formal braille, technology and cane skills instruction. From 3-5 this little guy learned his braille and technology and by kindergarten was ready to fully participate as any other child. Since he was low vision, he learned his print letters and numbers also. He would type to output his work and hand it in to the teacher at the same time as his peers.

For Braille instruction, before reading time, he would go with the teacher of the blind or braille certified para educator, to learn the new contractions he had in his reading class book coming up that day, so when he was with his class he could read the same material as his peers. This enables him to keep on grade level now and in the future.

There are many wonderful Braille instructional methods, but if you go this route, the child will always be behind his peers until he learns all the contractions according to the particular Braille instructional methods and manuals you are using. You will also have a frustrated child because he is never reading the same stories as the rest of the class. This will lead to resistance in learning the braille. All they can see is they are behind their peers and they blame braille for the lag.

If you just teach the contractions the child is using in class in the books everyone else is using, he can keep up with his peers. More importantly, the child sees braille as a method to help him, not keep him behind his peers.

Lessons and articles to help you:

First Steps in Great Braille Readers

Beginner Braille Reading

Braille Instruction begins at 3 years old

Braille Cheat Sheets

How to STOP scrubbing While reading Braille

Fast Braille Reading

Tricks to Learning Braille in your Teen Years or Later

Free Braille Books-Where to go to get Books

The Synchronicity of Braille & Technology

Braille Rap Song Lyrics

Rap Song to Learn Braille

On virtually teaching, you do not need to have video. It can all be audio. On lessons where I am teaching the braille note or braille, it is all done through the phone. I am listening and giving directions and the people on the other side follow through. I have even done this with computer lessons because the bandwidth was not strong enough to take both video and audio. If you know your stuff, listening is all you need.

On braille instruction. If you are a totally blind teacher, even if you were sitting next to a child teaching them braille, or even touch typing, you need someone sighted to make sure they are using their fingers correctly (that is an in general comment–most blind instructors need the sighted to watch the child's hands unless you have been blessed with working with someone like Jerry Whittle from Louisania Tech, one of the most gifted blind braille instructors around). When present with a student, I start out positioned behind a blind child and I actually guide their hands in the correct way on the paper or the keyboard. It is just as easy to tell someone on the other end to do so also, so the child has an idea of what to do, but there has to be someone constantly making sure they are using their hands correctly. Even when you become a TVI and are not there at the school, someone has to follow through on your instruction. If you are virtual, or even part time virtual and part time direct contact, schools will actually have more contact and communication with you, thus you are able to give better service because you know virtual techniques.

I am looking at this as another way to teach. Not to take over for direct contact necessarily, though it can. I do both, but have more access to more people in the World virtually. If you are trying to do all teaching in person, you can only touch a few lives. If you teach virtually, you can touch and help the world.

The methods that are presently in place are not meeting all the needs of our children. We have over worked TVIs and paras that need a lot more direction and guidance. This is a supplemental way to teach or all inclusive…getting into areas where there are NO TVI's or not enough. Using the combination of virtual techniques and direct contact gives you the ability to do more with efficiency. However, total virtual instruction allows you to sit in one spot and teach hundreds and thousands of miles away in different corners of the world by the hour.

Lessons that help teach

Bookshare.org and JAWS-Eight lessons to get you moving

GMAIL- Everything you need to use in basic HTML or standard view

JAWS and Internet—how to get Going and Moving

 

Remote Access using SKYPE

 

SKYPE—for Regular Vision, Low Vision, and Blind

 

Skype texting and making a Video Call—with additional JAWS scripts

 

Skype texting and making a Video Call—no additional JAWS scripts

 

GMAIL-Google Talk, Firefox, and Chat

 

One of my high school students has been learning technology for awhile, but because she did not start it until high school, she had no paradigm for how technology worked, so struggled with using it. This year, it has started to click in and she is really getting it. When she is learning a new skill on the computer, she can start to figure out where I am going to take her and what we are going to do.

I have been telling her about Google chat for awhile, but she had so many other areas that needed addressing that we were not able to start it until today. With JAWS tandem I can connect and disconnect with just a keystroke, so once I got her all set up, I told her we would just communicate through chat and I was going to disconnect for a bit. We text each other back and forth and as she was inputting her 5th response I quickly brought her computer and her up again. The smile on that child's face lit up the room.

I told her that once she gets really good at it, that she can leave her Gmail and chat box open all day. Whenever she does not know how to do something, she can just text me and get an answer within seconds. I asked her if she understood the power of this tool. "YEAH!!" was the quick response. That incredible happy smile of JOY beaming throughout her will warm me for quite some time.

Lessons that help teach

Bookshare.org and JAWS-Eight lessons to get you moving

GMAIL- Everything you need to use in basic HTML or standard view

JAWS and Internet—how to get Going and Moving

 

Remote Access using SKYPE

 

SKYPE—for Regular Vision, Low Vision, and Blind

 

Skype texting and making a Video Call—with additional JAWS scripts

 

Skype texting and making a Video Call—no additional JAWS scripts

 

GMAIL-Google Talk, Firefox, and Chat

 

I have teachers of the blind calling me from all over to learn the virtual techniques to teach students. The excitement of showing them another way to help the children is always a joy for me. Today was no exception to this rule. If you want to be one of these teachers…send an email and we can get going.

A few days ago, I received an email from a teacher who had quit her job last year to have a beautiful baby. Before she had quit I told her what I had been doing in regards to virtual teaching and that if she wanted, she could do it too from home, while still caring for her children. A couple days ago I got the email asking about the virtual teaching.

I took her through the process of being the student and how I connected to her and then her being the teacher and connecting to me and all the many aspects that went along with virtual teaching. Her excitement of its potential could be felt across the wires. We will practice until she is comfortable and then when she gets students I can assist when she needs it.

I have discovered several different ways to do virtual instruction. When you go across state or country lines, the connections vary. Instead of phoning and adding up long distance charges, I connect with SKYPE, give directions, then bring up JAWS Tandem and we continue both throughout the lesson. If the video becomes too garbled because of bandwidth, we use only audio. Local calls can be phone and straight Tandem. I have also given lessons straight through chat, text and Tandem. There are so many ways and options. Meetings with school personnel can happen through SKYPE or a phone. If teaching braille or other hands on skills, a para educator is on the other side following instructions on how to help the child position their fingers….all watched through video on my side.

Most importantly, we have the ability to teach every child as long as there is a phone line. Every child could potentially have the ability to receive as much instruction as they need to achieve their goals and dreams. This is one more option to address the challenge of teaching so many children.

Lessons that help teach

Bookshare.org and JAWS-Eight lessons to get you moving

GMAIL- Everything you need to use in basic HTML or standard view

JAWS and Internet—how to get Going and Moving

 

Remote Access using SKYPE

 

SKYPE—for Regular Vision, Low Vision, and Blind

 

Skype texting and making a Video Call—with additional JAWS scripts

 

Skype texting and making a Video Call—no additional JAWS scripts

 

GMAIL-Google Talk, Firefox, and Chat

 

TRACK CHANGES for students and teachers

 

I receive many personal emails about fear or frustration. Paras and teachers do not know how to let the district and the families, know how frustrated they are with the teaching system for the blind children. They feel hopeless and trapped and sad for the child. Not everyone, but a good portion.

I have paras who know their students are dependent on them and that they do a bulk of the work, but they are waiting for direction from the teacher of the blind (TVI). They fear for their jobs if the students they are working with do not show a good grade….. they are waiting for that help and direction.

The teachers of the blind are overloaded with a huge caseload. The teachers generally can only see children a miniscule amount of time each week. They are putting out fires more than really teaching. Not to mention the teachers have no time to help the para and no time to gain further skills to help themself and in turn help the student.

We have districts with the directors, that IF they know, they are trying to look for more personnel to hire but cannot find qualified people. But many directors do not know. Many teachers of the blind and paras suffer in silence over the condition and are not sure where to turn.

As a collective community of people that want to help make a difference, we need to start really thinking outside the box…and way outside. I see this condition getting worse in many areas, especially now that I am communicating and teaching all over this county and in different parts of the world. People are looking for direction.

Virtual teaching is a "think outside the box" area that is blooming in its possibilities. If anyone is interested in a virtual lesson, email me and I will get you going. I have been teaching this way for over a 15 years with great success. Teachers can access more students in one day than if they are trying to drive to every school.

Another aspect of virtual instruction is if our community all gets on texting, chat, video conferencing, everyone is always 1 second away from an answer or the help they need. Get more information on virtual instruction in my contact page on this site.

I am blessed to have known one particular young person for almost 2 decades. She came to me in lst grade with little blind skills, and had a progressive eye condition. She loved print…large print and was determined to stay with it and nothing else. IN ADDITION, she would argue to stay with large print, if allowed. Consequently, it took her hours to do the work that the other children did within shorter periods of time.

I asked her if she wanted to learn how to do her work as fast as her friends did. She immediately said "Yes" but then added, "What do I have to do," with a concerned look on her face. I demonstrated the talking software on the computer and she was amazed at how fast my fingers flew across the keyboard and how I could not only get everything to speak for me, but I could get it to repeat and make that computer do anything I wanted. I had an older braille student demonstrate her fast fingers moving across a braille page, sitting up straight and tall and confident in her abilities. The younger child was impressed and hooked.

This young person was convinced this was the path for her…but not without "buyer’s remorse." The technology was easy. It always is for the kids. They pick it up incredibly fast and are pretty much independent with it within a couple of weeks. By third grade, she was emailing her work and receiving it back from the teacher. However, the braille was harder. It took more work. She got the idea of how much faster it was, but she still resorted to large print and could see it if she got a couple inches from the paper.

We compromised on her using the large print for everything but reading books, as I knew she would need to practice to become proficient but also to be ready for such little vision that she would not be able to use large print any more. You have to get students to "buy" into where you want to take them. If they are not on board, it will not happen.

I have had low vision children go from seeing large print in the spring to NOT seeing in the fall. I have had children come to me who had vision one day and woke with NO vision the next. This sudden loss brings with it terrible depression and a lack of will to do anything. We have no idea when loss will come, so be prepared. It takes a lot more effort to get the child turned around if they have no idea how they are going to handle life. I knew that if this young person learned those blind skills along the way, the transition would be far easier into the no vision.

Her sight loss was very gradual. Every year, she used the large print less and less and increased her Braille. She was already full on board with the technology so the output was easy for her, whether it was Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Internet, email or an adapted laptop with braille display. She had it down. She did not even have a bump in the road on her sight loss. The progression of gaining the blind skills made it easy. Though little sight, she had her VISION of who she was and what she was going to do in life and she just continued to gain the skills she needed to achieve those goals. She is in college now, pursuing those dreams and goals, happy and blessed with many friends and a great family and the ability to embrace life.

One of the biggest issues in the blind field (and there are many) is how much should a para educator be with a child?

What I have seen:
When a district does not have a teacher of the blind, a para is glued to the child's side and does most of the work for the child because the para lacks the blind skills to help the child do it for themselves. The child appears to be succeeding (though only because of what the para is doing, NOT the child) and all are happy. BUT the parents do not realize how much their child is NOT doing and many times, the district is unaware of this also. Or, parents fight for a para next to their child all day, without realizing this para will be a big brick wall between their child making friends and achieving their own goals and potential.

I went to a school district and watched a blind child rocking back and forth while the para did the work. Sitting side by side, the child was miles away, in her own little world. When I talked with the child, the most intelligent words came from her mouth, so I knew there was a brain there. We spent the next couple of years teaching her all the technology, braille, and other blind skills, and she was completely independent by the third year. The para just adapted the work for her and made sure she had it in class when all the other students did. This is more of what SHOULD be happening with all paras and students.

I have had the first scenario over and over and depending on the "pain" level of weaning the child from the para, it is really up to the child and parents. Most are on board with the heavy duty technology, braille lessons and other blind skills and within that 2-3 year window you can have an independent child.

However, there are the people who are not thinking ahead to graduation, college, a job. They really think that somehow, miraculously their child will be completely independent when they graduate, when in fact, they have been completely dependent on a para throughout their school career and this dependence and lack of ability follows the child. The child ends up living with the parents and the parents continue to do everything for this child who has the potential to climb Mt. Everest inside, but instead the child sits like a rock going no where.

Parents and children bring the fear to each other. The child brings that fear to the parents and the parents have the same fear, or the parents put the fear on the child and they tell the child they cannot live without the para (the second scenario is the most common). They truly believe they cannot live without that para being right next to the child all day long. It kills the confidence of the child. The child lacks friends because the para has become the end all to be all of their life. They fail to gain enough skills to go onto college, and worse, be gainfully employed to their IQ level.

So, back to reaching your potential. We can't do it without "pain". It will be painful, not physically, though I have seen a lot of sweating, but emotionally. The fear. The dread of not being able to do your work because you forgot something. The fear of getting lost in the school or on a bus ride because you got on the wrong bus.

I use the phrase: We learn more from our failures than our successes. I give everyone permission to fail because we are going to fail at something no matter what it is. Don't feel bad about it, feel happy that you are progressing toward something. We can learn from our mistakes, but if we never try, we do not know our own potential.

When the children are getting ready to take their first solo bus ride, they are very fearful of getting lost. I tell them, cheerfully, "Don't worry…you will!! And they laugh. That is why God gave you a mouth. Speak up and ask someone directions. Same thing goes for class. Speak up and ask." I see relief come over my students. Yep, it is better to fail at trying something than to never try anything. You can only reach your potential with work and pain….but the pain goes and confidence and success stay.

I try to have my students take a class called Financial Fitness…This class allows practical application of life and how we spend money…or over spend it. The students have to set up a monthly budget, get a simulation job and pay their bills. They use an excel sheet to layout all their information, do auto calculations and very sophisticated formulas, then they create a graph that encompasses all this information. The graph does not mean much to my blind students, but it does to the teacher. If the rest of the class is going to create a beautiful and colorful graph with headings, titles and number plots, then I want my students to do it also. After all, they will most likely needs this in college and they may need it for their job.

After my students create the graph, I have them type it out in long form so I truly know they understand what they are doing. They move their cursor below the image of the graph and start to type out every number in an XY plot graph or shade in a bar graph selecting each cell accordingly, and then they plot the graph. If they need further detail, we take out the Draftsman or some other tactile drawing kit and draw it so they can feel what they just did. Once they have the concept in their head, they can easily create any graph required by the teacher.

Watch video to get you going: Excel lesson and Student doing excel through virtual instruction

Lessons that help teach

Twelve main Excel Office 2003 Lessons

 

Twelve main Excel Office 2010 Lessons

 

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