Project Final Report
August 4, 2010
Dr. Harold Johnson/Michigan State University. Dr. Katie Silverman/University of
Michigan at Dearborn & Dr. Holly Hoffman/Central Michigan University
“Using What We Know & Learning What We Need”
Project Report Period:
Lessons Learned – August 2009 through August 2010
Harold Johnson/Michigan State University
Holly Hoffman/Central Michigan University
Katie Silverman/University of Michigan at Dearborn
Project Goals, Objectives & Interim Findings:
Goal #1 Professional Preparation: Ground the preparation of Michigan’s
preservice professionals (i.e., students in post secondary programs) in the day-to-day
realities, problems, goals and resources of existing professionals who work with children
with disabilities and their families.
Objective #1: Using phone, video and Web technologies, establish reliable,
efficient and effective links between the instructors and preservice professionals in 3
courses, at 3 different institutions of higher education (IHE) and 3 existing professionals.
This project demonstrated that targeted technologies can provide an effective and
efficient system to link faculty and students at different universities, in different regions
of Michigan, with parents and professionals in local, state, and world (i.e., Pacific Rim)
communities. Three projects that capture this linkage include:
1. Community Connections: Day-to-Day Realities
This project was focused on both professional and parent day-to-day
challenges and needs. Within this activity, small groups of students were
paired with a parent in the community or teacher. The students communicated
with the parents and teachers using technology, e.g. Skype, iVisit, and email
and in person. These exchanges were used to identify, explore, and then
address the day-to-day experiences and challenges of both parents of children
with disabilities and teachers working with children with disabilities.
Some of the parents and professionals who participated were volunteers
through the Early On Center for Higher Education. They were called Cyber
Mentors. Resulting documents posted on the Project WIKI site.
The student’s comments about the experiences suggested they gained
important insights and knowledge regarding parent and teacher’s experiences
regarding children with disabilities. This knowledge acquisition was
facilitated by the use of technologies such as email, webcam and wiki, and
through collaboration with other students at collaborating colleges. This
collaboration also provided the students with knowledge regarding how to
work with children with disabilities in the classroom and how to research a
The following comments show student’s new learning and insights:
i. “I learned that there are disabilities are real and out there. The
experience has helped to bring resources to people who could really
use it. It also pushed me to go outside of my comfort zone and get
connected more with the community. This program helps parents but
really brings a new improvement to many students quality of life
because of it.”
ii. “I feel like it was a good simulation for my future in the classroom. It
provided practice working with parents, identifying concerns, doing
research and making plans for implementation. I liked how every
group shared their experiences so that everyone benefitted from the
Fall, 2009 semester, each small group recorded a video summary of the
experience that was posted on the wiki. This project was so successful that it
was incorporated in all courses taught by Holly Hoffman at CMU in Fall,
2. Frequently Encountered Problems: Linking Learning w/ Living
At Michigan State, graduate students enrolled in an on-line class worked in
small groups to assist a mentor teacher with a frequently encountered problem
or specific challenge they were experiencing in their classrooms. One
example of a frequently encountered problem of a mentor teacher was an
accessible curriculum for the deaf and hard of hearing students in an inclusive
classroom. The curriculum was developed for students who learn English as
their first/native language and was not adapted for children who are deaf/hard
of hearing or who use American Sign Language as their primary language
system. The teacher needed to find other alternatives to her students' learning
that might not always be as informative as the textbook may have been. The
parents were unable to translate the textbook and homework for their child.
Additionally, many of the parents were unable to sign well enough to help
their children with their homework. In this case, the students researched five
solutions to help the teacher. The teacher then responded to the student’s
recommendations and was able to find ways to incorporate all the student
Examples of the resulting information can be found on the Project Wiki site.
3. Parent Advocacy: Communication w/ Parents of Children w/ Special Needs
In the first semester, Janice Fialka, a national parent advocate of a young adult
with a disability joined class at two universities as part of the Early On Center
for Higher Education Program. She presented on the family experience
associated with a child with a disability and a role play was conducted of an
IFSP meeting. The video “Through the Same Door,” (son’s experience going
to college) was shown in both classes.
During the third semester of the partnership, Janice Fialka and the three
faculty collaborated in one course activity. Janice joined each class to give a
presentation on the parent experience associated with receiving sensitive
information about their child with a disability. In the course at UMD, Janice
joined in person, in the course at Michigan State, students who were taking
the course on-line in the Pacifica observed a videotape of her presentation
with an interpreter for sign language (made during UMD presentation), and in
the third course at CMU, she joined via Skype.
At UMD, students met in small groups and responded to questions given by
Janice after her presentation. The UMD students posted their responses and
new questions for the CMU students on the WIKI site. Students at CMU
responded to the UMD questions on the WIKI site. Janice wrote reflections to
all the student’s responses on the WIKI.
The questions posed from Janice included:
i. What does comfort look like?
ii. What actual words can you use to offer comfort?
iii. What do you need to give sensitive information to parents?
UMD and CMU Student Responses
What does comfort look like?
• Having someone who will listen to your issue.
• Knowing someone in the same situation or who can identify with you.
• Providing affection such as a hug, an arm around the shoulder, and holding their
What do you need to give sensitive information to parents?
• It is comforting to know you are not alone and there are people who can help.
• Make sure to take the time to explain.
• Let the parent know you are there to support them.
• Provide a written explanation of the sensitive information for the parent to refer
back to at their own leisure.
• Explain the information in layman’s terms.
• You need to have the educational knowledge, experience and resources to best
inform the parents.
QUESTION from UMD Students to CMU Students:
How do you explain to children what's going on?
-Use age-appropriate jargon
-Be sensitive to their needs and emotions
-Talk to them in a comfortable setting
I would ask question first to check how much children know and how much their
parents tell their child. Then I would explain the situation and what parents expect
from you and me. I would tell what my job is to do. Then we both can work on
reaching our goal together.
JaniceFialka Mar 9, 2010 9:04 am
“Regarding: the question about how to inform children about their learning needs. Great
idea to pay attention to this need. This is an too-often neglected aspect. Kids need to
know how to explain their situation/issue/label. And they need help formulating the
words. They need to have a short, to the point phrase or explanation. And they need to be
able to say it with confidence. In Micah's early years, he said "I learned differently and
need some help." Through the years, his short phrases of explanation have changed. I
often hear him say, "I have a lot of sight words, and I am learning to read." Each child
can find their own "quick code" that is right for them. These same thoughts can be
applied to your work with parents.”
“As teachers you can help the youth work through their feelings and thoughts. This
exploration can lead to a decision about what to say, when to say it, how to say it, and if
they want to say it.”
“I agree with the statement, "find out what the parents have told the child." Always begin
with the parents input, esp in the during the child's infancy, toddlerhood, and early
“Many parents appreciate the support to think about what to say and how to say it. This
might sound very odd, but I remember practicing in the mirror what I was going to say
about Micah in those earlier years. I even had to practice saying the words "cognitive
disability." The words were so overwhelming to me in the beginning. They had so many
“Now, they are just a part of our family's story and have very little meaning. Now our
story is about the everyday things that we do as a family, which of course includes the
supports we need for us and for Micah.”
“As time goes on, at least for us, the labels and the reports carry little weight.”
“I heard a great phrase: Teachers need to move from "report language" to rapport
language. I agree. Once again, it is about building the relationships and strengthening
communication and trust so that all of us can talk about the things that "get stuck in our
throat" and are hard to talk about.”
“I also like the following template as I way to talk to parents and students as you share
1)is able to....
2)is beginning to ...
3)needs support on...
4)and we'll begin to focus on:”
This, communication regarding giving sensitive information to parents
showed, in essence, the overall purpose of this project. The professor, parent
and students collaborated across universities. The students learned from each
other within their own course but also from the students at the other
university. The students also had the unique opportunity to explore their
thoughts and ideas and to be gently mentored by a parent through the use of
the wiki page. They established a relationship with a parent who was able to
guide and support them in their new learning through the use of technology.
In “The Young Child with Special Needs” course at UMD offered both spring
2009 and 2010, students were able to observe children with disabilities and
families in both a home and medical diagnostic setting, and directly interview
families and professionals working in the field. Technology was not needed
because of opportunities for direct observation. The UMD students
accompanied early intervention home visitors and observed at the Oakwood
Center for Exceptional Families (CEF) multidisciplinary clinic. The
Oakwood CEF is a medical home and diagnostic and therapy program for
children with developmental disabilities. The students observed a
multidisciplinary team providing diagnostic evaluations for children with
disabilities. The Oakwood CEF medical director and speech therapist both
presented in the “Young Child with Special Needs” class.
For most of the students, this was the first time they had an opportunity to
observe or visit with a child with a disability and their family in a setting
outside the classroom. The student’s comments suggested new learning about
the wonderful value of the home setting as a natural environment for early
intervention. Their comments also indicated new insights and knowledge
about the critical value of input from the physician and diagnostic team to the
educator about the child with disability and their family.
4. Student-to-Student Support: Sharing of Specialized Knowledge
In the second semester of the collaboration, graduate students who were
teachers with the deaf and hearing impaired in the MSU Deaf Education
graduate program, mentored the CMU undergraduates about including
students with disabilities in their program. Using Skype and email, the
graduate student mentors and undergraduate students corresponded back and
forth about topics and issues related to children who are deaf or hard of
hearing, curriculum approaches, inclusion and supporting families.
5. Faculty-to-Faculty Collaboration: Course Enhancements
One of our goals was to collaborate across courses as a way to share
resources, strengthen student learning and offer opportunities for students to
partner and learn from each other across the three universities. Our
collaborations across courses occurred in different ways across the three
semesters. The first semester, each faculty Skyped into each other’s courses
for brief introductions about the collaboration. Two of the universities
collaborated in reading an on-line article and reflecting on the reading across
courses. A second collaboration occurred when Harold Johnson gave a
presentation on children who are deaf and hearing impaired to Holly Hoffman
and Katie Silverman’s classes.
Examples of presentations that were given across the participating universities
can be found at:
i. University of Michigan/Dearborn
ii. Central Michigan University
Goal #2 Professional Recognition: Identify, document, support, network and
share Michigan’s most innovative and effective professionals who work with families of
infants, toddlers and young children with disabilities.
Objective #2: Using nominations generated via Michigan’s Early On
Center for Higher Education, identify 3 existing professionals who work with
families of infants, toddlers and young children with disabilities who are
recognized for their innovative and effective work.
(see information posted above for Goal #1, items 1 & 2)
Across the three semesters, a total of 12 parents, 36 professionals and
7 student workers participated in and contributed to the success of this
Goal #3 Services to Families: Utilize the resources of Michigan’s IHE to assist
existing professionals as they work with families of infants, toddlers and young children
Objective #3: Using the network of phone, video and Web technologies
established via Objectives #1 and #2, instructors and preservice professionals in 3
courses, at 3 different IHE will provide informational support to 3 existing
professionals who work with families of infants, toddlers and young children with
disabilities 2-3 times during the 2009 calendar year.
(see information posted above for Goal #1, items 2 & 3)
The resulting “Frequently Encountered Problems” knowledge base
provides a unique resource for both parents and professionals.
Janice Fialka’s videotaped presentation, power point, and resulting
student/professional discussion provides a shareable resource that
captures a unique glimpse of a parent’s perspective concerning
Additional Project Accomplishments:
In addition to the goal/objective specific work, the Project faculty accomplished
1. Dr. Hoffman is now considered to be a “resource” by a number of her CMU
colleagues in the use of Web based technologies to enhance teaching and learning.
2. Dr. Silverman, supported by Drs. Hoffman and Johnson, gave a poster presentation
entitled "Using What We Know and Learning What We Need, Technologically
Facilitated Community of Learners for Michigan's Parents and Professionals." This
presentation was given at the Michigan Association for the Education of Young
Children, March, 2009, in Grand Rapids, MI.
3. Dr. Johnson gave an invited presentation entitled “21st Century Communities of
Learners” at the Indiana Deaf Educators & Educational Interpreters Conference, in
4. Dr. Johnson, Hoffman and Silverman’s presentation at the Early On Fall 2009
5. Dr. Silverman’s leadership in the design and implementation “Inclusive Family Night
for Parents of Children with Typical and Atypically Developing Needs” Spring 2009
6. Dr. Silverman’s collaborative work in the design and implementation of the “Tran-
disciplinary Partnership in Inclusive Practices” conference held in Spring 2010 at the
University of Michigan/Dearborn
Summary: Final Report:
This project was based on the premise, that while a great deal is known
concerning how professionals can effectively support families of young children with
disabilities, there is a lack of an efficient and effective networking system to share what is
known and to learn what is needed. The project proposed that cost effective, and
therefore sustainable technologies (i.e., phone, Web cam, wiki, Skype & iVisit) could be
used to both support existing professionals, while enhancing the university preparation of
preservice professionals. This enhancement was to be carried out via technologically
supported “links” between university faculty, students, parents and professionals. While
a summary analysis of the interim data indicates that technologies did serve to link and
enhance collaboration, courses planning and instruction of three faculty members and
their students, at three different universities, the analysis also shows that technologies are
not the only means through which collaboration and knowledge sharing can be carried
out. Technology did enable faculty, students, professionals and parents to communicate
more easily and to develop and share knowledge effectively. However, technology in
and of itself cannot create the trust, or relationships that are needed to establish and
sustain collaborative relationships among faculty at geographically dispersed settings.
Having said this, the technologies used in this Project, the collaborative work undertaken
by the Project faculty, students, professionals and parents did create a unique community
of learners that served to enhance the professional development of pre-service teachers
and the support of parents of children with exceptionalities and the professionals who
work with them. As a result, the Early On Center for Higher Education is strongly
encouraged to continue its efforts to explore and model how technologies can be used to
reduce isolation, recognize excellence, and foster collaboration among parents,
professionals and preservice teachers.