No More Red Ink

When did it come to be that red ink was a sign of wrong-doing? Why red? I can only imagine that this was at a point when red meant burns, pain, blood, injury… something bad. So why is it that, as teachers, we so often feel the need to critique students… to help them grow and want to improve and be successful… in this very same color?

Three glasses of water with red ink moving through the water.

Book Study & My Why

I have been reading a book lately- In Other Words by Rachelle Dene Poth, that is filled with quotes about life, teaching, and other ponderings to get educators thinking. I am also participating in a Twitter Book Study as part of this reading. A question came up today that is near and dear to my heart: “What is your why?” The thought immediately brought me to the topic above… red ink. You see, when I was in high school a singular event completely changed the way I viewed education and defined my goals for my future. In a very direct way, it lead me straight to this website, to the presentations I give, to my passion for Disruptive Teaching and changing the way we view education.

During my elementary and high school years, learning was relatively easy to me, and school was a place to feel safe and gain knowledge that was unable to be obtained in other places.  Home had it’s challenges, but I knew that each day, I could go to a welcoming school and would find teachers who had knowledge to share. I never dreamed that this was not the case for every student.  In my school, students who struggled were not often in the general education classroom, so I wasn’t aware of classmates who thought learning was hard. This changed late in my high school career. 

When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to spend time as a tutor for students in the elementary school.  Two times each week, I would go to the elementary school during my study hall and work with a student who struggled with academic tasks. It was one of these days that I decided that my life’s goal was to be an educator and find ways to help all students learn, especially those who did not learn in the same way as everyone else. I was assigned to a fifth grade classroom. Most days I worked with one individual student.  On the day that changed my view of education, I arrived and was told I was to help the student edit a writing assignment. The student approached me, smiling, and excited for me to read her story. I was excited as well, knowing how difficult writing was for her and the effort she had been putting into this particular writing. We approached the teacher to get the assignment that the teacher had edited and my student’s face instantly fell.  The change in her demeanor was something I will never forget. I looked at the paper that was being handed to her, and it was full of bright red marks. At the top of the paper, these unforgettable word were written in bright red block letters: “This is a hurried up mess. You will do this again and again until you do it my way.” Those are words I will never erase from my mind. From that day forward, I decided these were the students I wanted to work with--the students who did not learn exactly the same as every other student, who were told through words and actions that they were not good enough.

I had found my why.

And I made a vow: I would never write in red ink. 

Person’s hands holding a pen and writing on paper

No More Red Ink

Throughout my years of teaching, I have worked with many students who do not view learning as an attainable goal-- indeed, it was not even on their radar.  They have been taught by the educational system, their peers, society, and even their families that they are unable to attain the level of learning that is expected of them. There has been no attention paid to the intelligence that these students have in so many areas, but not necessarily in the subjects tested in the standard classroom.  These students were not assessed on their ability to problem solve, which they excelled at, sometimes in order to survive the school day. Nor were they assessed on their ability to find information or learn a topic that was necessary for them to reach their desires. If they had been, I can attest to the fact that these students would have obtained the information faster and with more understanding than most.  I have personally witnessed the depth of knowledge, heart, and strength that these students possess. And while many of them did not perform well on our standard assessments of academic success, most went on to be thriving members of our society. Once these students were connected to methodologies that fit their learning styles and provided content in an accessible manner, the barriers that the educational system thought were insurmountable melted away.

Once these students were connected to methodologies that fit their learning styles and provided content in an accessible manner, the barriers that the educational system thought were insurmountable melted away.

My goal is to be able to work with educators and students to provide a different view of education, one where students are lifelong learners and motivated to find and absorb knowledge in the way that best meets their needs.  In today’s age of information, it may be more important to create learners who have the skill to obtain information than it is for them to know the information themselves. It may also be more significant to create an environment where students’ strengths are encouraged and all learners have access to the information that is so freely available to most.  We have moved past the point in time where students need to come to school because teachers are the ones with all of the knowledge. Information is now free and available. It is the educators job to teach learning as a skill and to show students how to access and utilize the information that is available to them. 

How can we move past the era of red ink? How can we make learning a process where there is no “end” requiring red marks for wrong answers? These questions roll through my head each and every day and hopefully, if you are taking the time to read blogs and Twitter chats, and talk to your teaching neighbors, these thoughts cross your mind in various forms as well. It is essential to the growth of our educational system and for educating the future generations who need to view learning as a continuous process in order to keep up with the changes in our world today.

What can we do today?

  • Ditch the red ink- pick fun colors that students will not immediately view as wrong.

  • Talk about ‘feedback’ instead of ‘grading’.

  • Give students an opportunity to fix errors… after all… as an adult, how often is it you don’t get a chance to fix your mistakes?

  • Encourage asking questions. Ask students about their work. Ask why. Go deeper.

  • When writing assessments, try include mostly deep-knowledge questions that allow students to explain and show their knowledge instead of rote memorization.

  • Show your students your mistakes. You aren’t perfect. It is ok to show that to your students and an excellent model of continued learning and growth even as an adult.

  • Be careful how you talk about students. Never speak as if they are limited in what they can achieve.

  • Continue the conversation- find a PLN, connect with others, share what works and what doesn’t. Never stop learning and refining what you do

  • Teach Disruptively

App Price Drop

Many schools and families use the Zones of Regulation curriculum to teach students about emotions and emotional regulation.

The program has two iOS applications that support these lessons. Today, one app has dropped in price. There is no way to know how long the price will stay, so if you are interested purchase it as soon as possible.

Zones of Regulation

Original Price: $5.99

Current Price: $2.99


If you are purchasing through a school district, this app does qualify for the Educational Volume Purchasing Program. This means that when you purchase 20 apps, they will be half off.

New Google Forms Feature

Going through some conference handouts tonight… I opened up a Google Form and a notification popped up about a new feature. Sometimes these are useful, sometimes they aren’t something that makes a huge difference for me, sometimes-like tonight- I am so excited I don’t know if I will be able to sleep without trying it out!

If you are a Google Form user, you know that you have to type in each question you want to use. Sometimes this means that you will be putting in the same question across multiple forms. While you can duplicate the entire form and edit, that often means more changes in formatting, or even more difficult- changes in conditional flow of forms. Google Forms now allows us to select a previously used form and then select which specific questions from that form we want to pull into our newly created form! Even better, it also keeps track of recently used questions so we can pull them in quicker!

Time to go try it out.

11 Must-Do Tips for Attending an Education Conference... or Any Conference...

As I am gearing up for Closing the Gap next week, I spend some time reflecting on past conferences… what went well, what I should do differently, how to gain the most knowledge and benefit from these brief few days of professional development.

People sitting at a conference writing on paper they hold on their laps

If you have never been to a large special education conference and will be attending one this school year, hang on to your hats and be ready for an overwhelming amount of information very very quickly. Also, make sure you continue reading because there are absolutely ways to make more of your conference time.

If you have attended such conferences, think back… what worked for you? Do you remember your first? Do you recognize that glazed look that you see on some of your fellow conference attendees that marks a first-time large-scale conference visit?

I will be forever grateful for advice given to me the first time I attended one of these large-scale national conferences. And that brings me to Tip #1…

#1 Do NOT try to do it all!

It is very very easy when you attend these conferences to pack into your schedule absolutely everything that looks interesting… and there is going to be a lot that does. However, by the end of the first day, your brain is going to be so full. Not to mention the swag bag you will be carrying with handouts, demo products, and notes that you desperately want to look through but are way too tired to do it now. Pace yourself and give yourself the grace to take a session off from time to time to gather your thoughts, write a few notes to yourself about important things, and find something to eat.

snack foods sitting on a table

#2 Stay hydrated and bring snacks.

While you definitely want to make sure you follow #1 above, there will be times throughout a multi-day conference when you find yourself going into a session you are super excited about… and then realize you have completely missed lunch, and haven’t filled your water bottle since… um… huh… when did you fill it last? Nothing makes it harder to focus on a session of amazing information than your stomach growling and feeling fuzzy from dehydration. Make sure you bring simple snacks and fill your water bottle often. One side note here- try to bring snacks that are not loud. Avoid chip bags that crumple, the bag of nuts that only open by pulling with great force… and then spreading the nuts across the entire table, and items that have a significant smell to them. Even if your neighbors don’t notice the smell of your beef jerky or the sound the chips make while you chew, you will be convinced that they can and will be more focused on chewing quietly and eating quickly than you will the information being presented to you.

#3 The Two Feet Rule.

This was a shock to me when I attended my first national conference. The presenter actually told me… to get up and leave! If I wanted. The Two Feet Rule of conferencing says that if you are not gaining information that pertains to your needs or information that is new or valuable to you… use your two feet and get up and walk out of the session to join a new one. This is incredibly important when you are at a conference that caters to professionals with a wide range of knowledge about each topic being presented and that has many sessions running at the same time. Presenters understand that you may be incredibly interested in their topic, think they are an amazingly charismatic presenter… but the information they are giving is something you have already heard, already use, are not ready for yet, or that your brain is simply too overloaded to process right then. As a presenter, I would much rather you leave my session to move to one that is a better fit, than waste a full session listening to information you are not going to use with your students!

two people talking

#4 Networking.

This was a hard one for me when I first started attending conferences. I enjoyed the conference… and I also enjoyed the quiet time back in my hotel room processing the day. What I didn’t realize for almost two years was that some of the best professional development I could get at a conference was making connections with other professionals. The people you will meet at conferences can easily become your tribe. The group that you turn to for answers. The group you turn to for ideas, support, problem solving, and humor that only your fellow professionals will understand. Formally these people can make up your PLN- Professional Learning Network. Often, they simply become more like friends who are as interested in your growth as you are in theirs. So-say “hi”, stay after a session to compliment a presenter, get emails and phone numbers, attend the networking events… be friendly!

#5 This may seem obvious after #4, but for some of us.. especially when at a conference involving technology, it can be hard to do. Unplug.

Look up from your screen. Don’t hide behind a laptop or iPad checking email. Take a few moments, write down notes about the session you were in and then get into the hallways in between sessions. Talk. Smile. Say “hi” to the person in the never-ending line for coffee. Appear approachable. Fake it if you have to. This is the only way you will meet people.

#6 Organize.

Pick a method for keeping track of conference handouts and materials. Make a folder for the PDFs, Google Slides, and Powerpoints you will get with the name of the conference. Make a bookmark folder, or better yet, use an extension like TabSnooze to save the tabs you have open for later. (Trust me, this extension is a conference lifesaver!) Day 1, you will be convinced that you will still be able to remember where things are and find them again. By the end of Day 2…. you have given up all hope of remembering anything and will be incredibly grateful you have your materials organized in a folder to pour over when you get back to reality.

a corner of a computer with an email browser on the screen

#7 Share!

Take a moment and send a link to a co-worker of something you think they would really enjoy from the conference. Organize your documents in such a way that you can go back to share out what you learned. A conference to gain professional knowledge is huge and something that not everyone gets to attend. The knowledge you gain is made even better with the conversations you start with your coworkers and PLNs.

#8 Don’t be afraid to go off on your own.

If you are attending a conference with coworkers, don’t feel the need to stay with them for every session. You are there to get the best information you can for what you do every day. Don’t waste that time in sessions that are perfect for someone else just because you want to attend together. Plus, there is always the concept of divide-and-conquer. With so many sessions running congruently, what better way to gain more than to split up and promise to share resources later!

#9 Take time at the vendor hall.

Take a deep breath. Maybe do some calming exercises…. and then walk into the vendor hall. Typically there is going to be a magical sound barrier that breaks when you enter the room. Suddenly there is noise all around, lots of colors and moving objects, and people everywhere wanting your attention. Vendors come to these events to show off what they have-whether that is software, books, printers, ideas, or… They want to show you every amazing feature of their product because they are competing with everyone else in that hall for your business. This means it is a great time to learn about products that can help you in your profession, and learn about them from the experts! Take time to talk to vendors, learn about their products, ask questions. That is what they are there for. Most vendors will have handouts that show what they are demonstrating- take one. That may be the only way you remember what you see by the time the conference is over. Don’t feel pressured into making promises or signing up. The vendors know you aren’t the sole decision making person in your district or business. So feel free to politely decline or say that you are interested but need to talk to the right people.

#10 Plan ahead.

Take time before the conference to read through session descriptions. Highlight, circle, star, or design your own personalized calendar- whatever you need to do in order to have a list of sessions each hour you are interested in. Yes, I said a list for each hour. At the best conferences, I will have 4 or more sessions during one period that call to me. The benefit to this is that if I have sat through two sessions on something I am passionate about but I am getting burnt out on that topic, I can look at my list for the third and choose maybe to not attend one that is on that same strand. It also allows me to readily have sessions ready should I need to use the Two Feet Rule from above. Another added benefit is you have sessions ready to go and are not wasting valuable networking time reading through the descriptions trying to pick a session.

three men sitting around a table with laptops and coffee

#11 Don’t be afraid to eat alone.

When attending a conference by yourself, or perhaps even when you are attending with others, you will eventually come to the point where you need to walk into the prepared lunch room and find a seat on your own. This is another deep breath moment. While it feels a bit like the junior high cafeteria as you search for an empty seat, you are no longer in junior high. Find an empty seat, if others are at the table, ask if it is taken, and if not-sit down! Ask your table-mates where they are from, what they do. Ask about their favorite session so far, have conversation. You may find yourself learning tips and tricks while you eat!

And while I won’t add it as a final tip, because it seems sort of an obvious note-

Have fun.

As professionals, the days we get to devote 100% to learning our craft are limited. Go into a conference with an open mind, a desire for knowledge, prepare yourself, and then… have fun. Remember how much learning excites you. Find topics you love. And most importantly remember how much what you learn at this conference can make a difference in the lives of those you work with every day.

I am sure I have not hit every conference tip above. What have I missed? Share your favorite conferencing tip below!

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Hawkeye Access

Two months ago I had the opportunity to attend the Assistive Technology Industry Association Conference down in Orlando. I can’t even begin to describe the week that I spent there, learning from fellow AT professionals and vendors.

Unfortunately, just like with any amazing conference, there is absolutely too much content to begin to process until much after the conference ends.

Fortunately, there are many ways to keep track of these new ideas and concepts that one wants to go back and explore- many open tabs on my cell phone, saved tabs on my laptop, pages of notes, many photographs, and an entire folder of apps on my phone that I open and try out as I have time.

One of these new apps is called Hawkeye Access. This was one of the first apps that I tried out after the conference and found myself incredibly impressed with it’s ease of use. After multiple uses, I decided tonight to try it one more time and then share it here.


Hawkeye Access is an iOS app that allows users to navigate many features of a cell phone with only their eyes and no extra equipment. Once the app is installed, it uses the front facing “selfie” camera to read your eye movements to control the screen.

The added bonus to this app is that it is a free app in the Apple App store. It does require a device running iOS 12.0 or later and has a requirement of being 17 years old to download.

When you open Hawkeye Access, you get a screen that prompts to you calibrate. Once you select this, you then are asked to look at a blue dot in various areas on the screen. Each time you look at the dot, it picks up on the location of your eyes and then moves the dot to a new location.

This process of calibration really made me start thinking about how I move my eyes while using my phone. This video shows a demonstration of the way the app reads your eyes as you move them.

The image to the right is a view of the screen that appears once the device is calibrated. You can chose in the app’s settings how you want to select. You can choose to make a selection by blinking, staring at a specific point, or smiling. I have found that the smiling works very well for me and doesn’t need to be a huge smile for it to work.

The first time I used this app, it was in a vehicle while being driven down a bumpy road, and I was impressed by how accurately it read where I was looking and selected at the smallest raises of the corners of my mouth.

I will admit, that at first it took a little getting used to, but after only five minutes, I was able to navigate the internet, watch videos on Youtube and update my Twitter feed. One of the features that I really appreciated of Hawkeye Access is that it automatically begins listening for speech anytime you select a search bar.


Hawkeye Access is definitely an app that will stay on my phone and will be put into my list of apps that are options for students that I work with who struggle with motor control.

For more information Hawkeye Access has a website:

Wisconsin Area Regional Network

Wisconsin Area Regional Network

Often, those working in the area of assistive technology end up working independently without many opportunities to network and problem solve without a team of other assistive technology specialists. Thankfully, in Wisconsin, a group of specialists have came together to create a network for everyone in working in the area of assistive technology.


Today I attended a meeting of the Wisconsin Assistive Technology Regional Network. As I looked around the room, I spotted someone I recognized…

About 8 years ago I began teaching in the public school system. Prior to that, I had taught in a Residential Treatment Facility and an Alternative School. In each of those places, there was limited to no technology use. When I came to the public school system, I was inundated with Moodle, Google, Gaggle, and more.