Allies for Inclusion Exhibit

October is Disability Awareness Month.  On October 25th, Student Accessibility Services sponsored Allies for Inclusion: The Ability Exhibit throughout the day in the 1962 Room of Cro.  This exhibit was launched in 2010 by St. Louis University and has since toured the country to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities.

A steady stream of students, staff, faculty, and guests visited the exhibit to learn more about the disability movement, gain a better understanding of people with disabilities, and learn to become an ally for those with disabilities.

Check out some pictures from the event:

visitors to the Allies for Inclusion Exhibit watch a video
Viewing the video “My 12 Pairs of Legs”
Visitors to the Allies Exhibit learn about Universal Design
Learning about Universal Design



Visitors to the Allies Exhibit learn about using inclusive language
Learning about using inclusive language
A student pledges to be an ally to those with disabilities
Pledging to be an ally for those with disabilities

Disability Awareness Exhibit: Allies for Inclusion, Oct. 25 in Cro

Wednesday October 25th from 10am to 4pm in the 1962 Room in Cro
Student Accessibility Services is hosting
a traveling, national disability awareness exhibit
This is its first time in Connecticut!
Please attend and encourage students to attend!!

Allies for Inclusion: The Ability Exhibit is a traveling exhibit designed to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities through respect for others, comfort during interactions, and awareness of disability issues. Using a multi-media approach, the exhibit offers suggestions for becoming disability allies and educators.
 The Ability Exhibit poster


New Method for Notifying Faculty of Approved Accommodations

Text "you've got mail" with picture of open mailbox with letter inside

Welcome back!

In the spring, I’d written about Student Accessibility Services’ new online data management system, Accessible Information Management (AIM).   This is to remind you that one of the features of AIM is the email notification to faculty of approved accommodations.  Faculty will no longer be receiving a piece of paper (known as Faculty Accommodation Memo) from students with the listed accommodations.  Instead, faculty members will receive a Faculty Notification Letter sent to your email through AIM.

Everything else related to receiving accommodations remains the same:

  • Students MUST still request these Letters for each class, each semester. They should do this early on in the semester. If a student is approved for accommodations, however has not requested their Letter for your class, you should not be providing them with accommodations.
  • Students MUST still have a private meeting with each faculty member to whom they had a Letter sent in order to discuss the logistics of their accommodations. For example, you need coordinate how a student will receive 50% extended time on a test – arrive early, stay late, or take it at another time. These meetings should happen at the beginning of the semester.
  • Students who do not provide appropriate and timely notice to faculty as described above are not entitled to use their accommodations until they have met these requirements.

In order to not randomly bombard faculty with these email Faculty Notification Letters, they will be released through the AIM system on the first business day of the week following the student’s request for Letters.

The elimination of paper forms has made things much more efficient for students to request the use of their approved accommodations, and we hope that you find this new system easier for you as well!

SAS Co-Facilitating Camp Teach & Learn Workshops

Learn something new this summer

I will be co-facilitating some of the Camp Teach & Learn workshops next week.  See below for details about these workshops.  The two Wednesday afternoon workshops – Growth Mindset and Metacognition – will go into more depth about a blog topic from several weeks ago.  Please come to learn more and participate!

Cultivating a “Growth Mindset” in Your Students

Wednesday 24 May 1 PM to 2:15 PM

One’s motivational mindset affects how much effort we expend and the expectations we have for ourselves.  Carol Dweck, a researcher at Stanford University, has studied the impact of “fixed” vs. “growth” mindsets on learning.  Those with fixed mindsets believe that their talents, abilities, and intelligence are fixed traits, that there is no way to change their allotment, and that these traits alone determine success.  Alternately, people with growth mindsets believe that talents, abilities, and intelligence can be developed through dedication, effort, reflection, and revision; they view challenges and failures as opportunities to improve.  A robust body of research suggests that students with growth mindsets are more persistent in the face of challenges and achieve at higher levels in the classroom than their fixed mindset peers.  Come to this workshop to find out what mindset you hold, how that impacts your students’ learning experiences, and how to support the development of growth mindsets in your students.  Please bring a laptop, tablet, or phone to participate in a brief mindset assessment.

Because growth mindset provides the foundation and buy-in to use metacognitive strategies, we recommend that you attend both this workshop and the following Metacognition workshop to maximize the benefits to your students.

Interactive workshop led by Loren Marulis, Jessica Naecker, and Melissa Shafner

Co-sponsored by Student Accessibility Services & Counseling Services

Helping Students Learn about Their LearningStrategies for Cultivating Metacognition

Wednesday 24 May 2:30 PM to 4:00 PM

A basic definition of “metacognition” is thinking about your own thinking for the purpose of improving your learning.  Think of it as having a Super Brain that directs your brain.  Research has shown that metacognitive awareness of one’s own thinking and learning is a unique predictor of achieving learning outcomes.  What we think of as “smart” is really the use of metacognition in coming up with effective strategies to successfully accomplish these learning goals.  Some students use these strategies innately and intuitively, while others need to be taught what they are and how to use them.  Come to this workshop to learn more about helping your students to plan, monitor, and evaluate their own thinking, as well as how you can be metacognitive about your own teaching.

It is highly recommended that you attend both this workshop and the Growth Mindset workshop as a growth mindset is what provides the foundation and buy-in to use metacognitive strategies.

Interactive workshop led by Jillian Marshall, Loren Marulis, and Melissa Shafner

The New Language Requirement:  Advising, Accessibility, & Other Implications

Friday 26 May 1:30 PM to 3:00 PM

Sixty-nine percent of the class of 2020 engaged in language study in the 2016-17 academic year, a significant increase over past years that can clearly be attributed to the new Connections language requirement.  Faculty and staff in various corners of campus have faced new challenges as a result of increased class sizes, the presence of students previously exempt from language study, and a noticeable shift in enrollment to the less commonly studied languages.  How do we effectively advise students on their choice of language as they start their academic journey?  What supports are needed to make language courses accessible to all students?  This session, geared toward both advisers and foreign language faculty, will review and summarize enrollment data for the class of 2020, describe challenges, and invite listeners to discuss approaches moving forward.

Session led by Amy Dooling, Laura Little, Emily Morash, & Melissa Shafner

Co-sponsored by the Language and Culture Center, Office of the Dean of First-Year Students, and Student Accessibility Services

flip flops standing up in the sand


The SAS office wishes you a wonderful summer!!!


A Year in Retrospect . . . and Looking Ahead

Looking back and looking forwardThe Student Accessibility Services office was buzzing this past year.  We were busy with the usual registrations and accommodations, but I’d like to share some key achievements of which we are very proud:

view in rear view mirror

Online date management system (AIM) – I described this in last week’s blog entry (check it out for more details), but since this was a massive undertaking, and a huge accomplishment, it’s worth mentioning here again!   Much of the day-to-day business of the office will be far more efficient thanks to this new system.

Additional Assistive Technology offerings – In addition to the college-wide text-reader program, Read & Write Gold, SAS purchased licenses for Sonnocent Notetaker, which allows students to record class lectures while taking notes on their laptops, and also purchased Smart Pens, which records lectures while students take handwritten notes.  Students can try these out to see for themselves how this technology can benefit their notetaking.

Website updated – The SAS website was overhauled to include new information consistent with updated policies, resources for faculty and staff, and clear instructions on how to register with SAS and request accommodations, and more.  We plan to keep increasing our Faculty and Staff Resources and Parent Resources sections.  An Assistive Technology section will be added very soon.

Social media – SAS has a weekly blog and has joined Twitter!

ADHD peer support group – A group of first year and sophomore students was invited to participate in this pilot group, which I facilitate.  The group meets weekly to discuss topics related to learning and attention issues, as well as general concerns that college students have.  I have been very impressed by the support and respect the students show each other.  We will continue this group during the 2017-18 school year, and its members are looking forward to serving as mentors to a new group of Class of 2021 students.

Here are a few other things that we are excited about for next year:

view through windshield of road ahead

Disability Awareness – We would like to increase our efforts to promote disability awareness at the College.  This will kick off in September with our participation in Fresh Check  and continue into October, which is national Disability Awareness Month.  A highlight of this is our plan to bring the Allies for Inclusion exhibit to Conn!

ASD mentor program – We are piloting a program to match up incoming first year students who have identified themselves as being on the autism spectrum and interested in having a mentor with a sophomore, junior or senior student who has expressed interest in serving as a mentor.  This can help to make the adjustment to college go more smoothly and reduce anxieties if there is a go-to peer who can help by answering questions, finding resources, and aiding in navigating new challenges.

Career collaboration – SAS will be collaborating with the office of Career and Professional Development to offer programs and resources about graduate school admissions tests, technical standards in grad school programs, preparing for job interviews, and accommodations in the work place.

More information to come next week about some immediate plans for SAS:  our participation in several upcoming Camp Teach & Learn workshops!

Student Accessibility Services is Digital!

computer keyboard with a key marked "paperless"

Student Accessibility Services has switched over from paper-based registration and data management to an online data management system, Accessible Information Management (AIM).  AIM is a comprehensive case management software system that was created specifically for higher education disability services departments by disability service professionals.

Students newly requesting registration with SAS will now enter the AIM portal through the SAS website to complete an application and upload their supporting documentation.  Once documentation is reviewed and accommodations are approved, the registration status and approved accommodations are entered by SAS staff into the online database and emails notifying students of their status and accommodations are generated through the AIM system.

A feature of AIM that will directly impact faculty at Conn is that faculty notification of approved accommodations for students in your classes will be handled through AIM as well.   Student course registration data is synched nightly from Banner to AIM.  Through the AIM portal, each semester students will choose the courses for which they would like to notify their professors of approved accommodations.  The Faculty Notification Letter (former paper form “Faculty Accommodation Memo”) will be generated by AIM and sent to the faculty member.  While, students will no longer be bringing you a paper form in class, it is still very important that students meet with each professor at the beginning of the semester to discuss any logistics of how the accommodations will be handled.  Our office stresses the need for students to meet with each professor, though a reminder from faculty to their classes for which they’ve received Faculty Notification Letters would be beneficial while students get used to this new system.

Sudent Accessibility Services has also switched to Google Forms from paper forms for several of the administrative needs that are not handled through the AIM system at present, such as some housing related forms and exam procedure forms (see last week’s blog entry).

We are looking forward to the improved efficiency that will result from this new online system as we become more and more familiar with it and hope that students and faculty will soon experience the benefits as well!

Test Accommodations for Self-Scheduled Final Exams

Photo of exam Blue Book, test form, glasses, and penStudent Accessibility Services has made some changes to the notification process regarding use of test accommodations for self-scheduled final exams.  The intention is that these changes should make the process of arranging for test accommodations for finals more efficient.  An email was sent out to faculty yesterday that explains the changes described below.

By this time in the semester, students should have already given their professors their Faculty Accommodation Memo, which lists the student’s approved accommodations.  Testing accommodations can include extended time, reduced-distraction or private environment, use of College computer, and ability to use calculator.  It is a good idea to make an announcement in class this week that any students who have approved accommodations and wish to use those for their final exam, but who have not yet given you their Accommodation Memo, must do so within the next week.  This will allow sufficient time for students who still have not requested Memos from SAS to do so and get them submitted to you.

Last week, SAS emailed all students with approved test accommodations asking for which self-scheduled exams they intended to use their accommodations.  Students must inform SAS of this by April 26th.    One of the changes this semester is that students will do this via a Google Form, and they will no longer be bringing a piece of paper for their professor to attach to their exam.  Another change is that after the April 26th deadline, Lillian Liebenthal, Student Accessibility Coordinator, will email each professor with a list of students for each class who intend to use test accommodations.  Professors will place those exams on the top of the exam pile (for each class) they submit to the Registrar’s office (no need to attach a sheet of paper).

SAS will inform the Registrar’s office which students will be using test accommodations on their self-scheduled final exams.  Once the Registrar has all exams submitted to their office (deadline is Wednesday May 10 at 5pm), they can then send exams for which accommodations will be used to the Test Center at the Academic Resource Center.  This is the location where all self-scheduled final exams must be taken.  As has been done in the past, professors handle accommodations directly for scheduled final exams.

We hope that eliminating the extra step of students bringing a form for professors to attach to exams, which help to make the process simpler and more efficient.  Next week, I’ll be sharing some other news about improved efficiency in the office of Student Accessibility Services!

Twitter logo

Student Accessibility Services is now on Twitter!  Follow us for articles of interest related to disabilities, teaching, and learning.




End-of-Semester Stress Management

Crown with text Keep Calm the Semester is About to End

It’s the time in the semester when students’ stress is mounting, increasing steadily until exams are completed, papers submitted, and presentations are in the past.  Stress related to the academic work itself can be compounded by other sources of stress, such as the housing lottery, course registration, or lining up summer work.  For some, there’s even stress over the thought of being back home for the summer, or being away from their school friends for months.  For seniors, it’s the stress of the huge transition of moving on the next phase in life.

Stress is experienced when a person perceives that the demand exceeds the resources they have available – they don’t have the know-how, time, motivation, etc.  What happens in response to a stressor?  There is an aroused physiological response – an increase in stress hormones.  There is a desire to avoid the stressor.  And, there is a sense of loss of control, which in the extreme can result in feeling helpless, which in turn can result in feeling hopeless.

Stress can indirectly affect one’s ability to learn since it has a negative impact on physical health and sleep.  Chronic stress can affect the immune system, inhibiting the ability to fight off infection, resulting in more frequent sickness.  Stress also interferes with one’s sleep, leaving you tired, cranky, and cognitively sluggish.

Stress also directly impacts memory, concentration, and problem solving.  While a small level of stress actually helps the brain perform better, stress that is too severe or goes on for too long has a negative impact on learning.  It worsens the ability to perform math calculations, process language, remember information, take in and process new information, concentrate, and reason.

What Can We Do to Help? Girl and Camel Laughing

While there are long term, comprehensive ways to help students cope better with stress, we’re in crunch time and want to help students successfully get through the here and now.  Gaining a sense of control is a key way to reduce feelings of stress.  Here are some immediate ways to help students who have become stymied by their stress to gain a sense of control:

  1. Be an empathetic listener who can help come up with coping strategies.
  2. Help students become aware of the physical symptoms that are associated with their stress, so that they can recognize it early on and work to reduce the stress before it escalates.
  3. Show students that through effective time management and planning they can accomplish what they need to get done. Help them break down large assignments, plot due dates, and designate time slots to get their work done.
  4. Recommend taking regular breaks every 1 ½ to 2 hours while working on assignments or studying to eat a healthy snack, listen to music, or take a walk. Setting a timer is a good idea so they know when to get back to work.
  5. Suggest students attend the mindfulness or meditation groups that exist on campus (contact Counseling Services for more information) or add regular exercise to their daily routine. They might say they don’t have time for one more thing, but these are tried and true ways of reducing stress, so it’s worth the minimal time commitment.  For those who truly feel they can’t spare the time, they can find a meditation app on their phone and listen to that for 5-10 minutes.
  6. This one is tough: encourage students to say “no” when necessary.  It’s not helpful to hang out with friends whose stress levels fuel your own.  Nor is it helpful to be lured away from what you need to accomplish by a friend who is prioritizing fun over work.  But, find the right kind of friend who is also working diligently, and sharing a laugh every now and then can be a great way to help reduce stress.

Balanced Course Load

Rocks balanced on a fulcrumThe time is almost upon us when students will be selecting classes for the fall semester.  Choosing a course load that is “balanced” is important for all college students; for students with disabilities it can be of particular importance and the difference between success and . . . something else.

An adviser may not know that their advisee has a disability (whether learning/attention or health-related) that could impact his or her ability to be successful given class choices that are made.  While an adviser cannot outright ask, “So, do you have a disability?” the adviser can certainly ask a student, “Is there anything that would be helpful for me to know about the way you learn?”  Here are some follow up questions that get more specific, but at the same time are appropriate for all students, with and without disabilities:

  • How do you feel about reading? How much reading do you feel you can reasonably handle?  What types of reading do you find easier vs. more difficult?
  • How do you feel about writing papers? What types of supports do you typically use for writing assignments?
  • How do you feel about tests and exams?
  • What is your experience with learning a foreign language?
  • Tell me about your learning style and work habits
  • How do you do with time management and meeting deadlines?

These are just some examples of questions that might tip you off to a student who has some learning-related issues, and might result in a student informing you that he or she does have a disability that impacts learning, attention, or stamina.

While an adviser cannot possibly know the details of the workload and types of assignments for all classes, the adviser can provide guidance as to how a student might find out more specifics of the classes being considered.  This could mean suggestions to speak with professors, other students who have taken the class, and/or looking at past course syllabi.  The student can assess the amount and difficulty of the readings as well as the types and frequency of assignments.

Students should also consider their capacity for being alert at various times of day and for various lengths of time.  Some students can handle back to back to back classes with no problem, while for others that would be less than ideal.

The “balance” refers to the combination of classes taken at once.  Certainly, early on in one’s college endeavors, it’s probably never wise to take four heavy reading classes, or writing classes, or lab classes.  It’s probably not even wise to take three of any of those.  For some students, two heavy reading (or writing) classes is manageable, and for others no more than one is wise.   Some students may not be able to manage two classes with labs in the same semester.  If a foreign language course will be very time consuming or challenging for a student, then those semesters it might be best for the other courses to be in the student’s comfort zone and areas of strength.  It’s also nice to have a variety of in-class experiences – lecture, discussion, projects, performances, etc. – so for a student not focusing on the arts, they might consider a music, theater, dance or art class to add something different to the mix.

Also important to consider is what other commitments the student has:  extracurricular clubs, athletic teams, jobs, even how much “hang out” time they expect.  There seems to be a trend toward extracurricular over-commitment by many college students; in their quest to meet others and broaden their experiences, they wind up increasing their stress level because they feel so tightly scheduled and have so much on their plates that they don’t have enough down time.  Guiding students through an assessment of how much is reasonable is often helpful.

If a student has disclosed a disability to you, you can certainly offer that they can schedule an appointment in Student Accessibility Services to meet with me to discuss considerations of whether a particular course load might be a good fit for them.  This can be particularly beneficial for first and second year students who are still learning to navigate the college experience.




Metacognition and Growth Mindset

a frog thinking about a frog thinking about a frogPrior to my working at Connecticut College, I worked at another college in a program specifically for students with learning disabilities, ADHD, and Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Most of these individuals had a track record of struggling to learn, and the goal for those of us who taught and advised the students was to teach these students how to learn so that they could be successful in college.  In addition to using explicit instruction methods and incorporating a high level of executive function support and development, we incorporated how to use metacognition into our content classes.

Simply put, metacognition is thinking about your thinking for the purpose of improving your learning.  This second part is critical – it’s not merely a pondering, philosophical exercise (no offense to philosophers), but rather one with an explicit goal.  We think about our thinking to understand it better – its strengths and weaknesses – so that we can learn better.  We can teach students how to do that.  Equally important, educators can use it to evaluate and improve their teaching.

We think of our highest performing students as exceptionally smart, intelligent, bright.  The strength they really share is being metacognitive about their learning.  They may not know the term, or have ever consciously thought about what they are doing to be successful, but they are being metacognitive nonetheless.  It comes innately for some students – or at least they develop the ability fairly independently – while for many others, its development needs the guidance and support of others.

Cartoon character explodes thinking about his thinking

Let’s look at metacognition in a little more detail.  Metacognition involves constant monitoring of determining the task hand, the best way to approach it, how you’re doing, should you be doing something different.  Then reflecting on the entire process, and when necessary, cycling through again with any needed adjustments.  This requires understanding oneself as a learner, knowing options of strategies to use, determining which ones to use and when, evaluating whether they’re being effective or whether a different strategy is needed.  It’s being able to gauge when you understand something and when you don’t, and if it’s the latter, then being able to figure out what to do to aid comprehension.  It’s knowing when the process you’re using to monitor your learning is effective and being able to adapt your monitoring if it’s not.

Different analogies can be used with students to help explain this concept of metacognition.  For some, what is described in the paragraph above reminds them of seeing yourself in a mirror, looking at yourself in a reflection in a mirror, looking at yourself in a reflection in a mirror and so on.  Others describe it as “driving your brain” or “dissecting your learning.”  And one of my favorites, “doing therapy on your learning” – you can’t just take things as how they appear on the surface, but really break things down to see and understand what’s really going on, how are you helping or hurting yourself, what should you be doing differently.

Flower with quotation by Dweck "I haven't learned that ...yet."Having a growth mindset, the belief that the ability to learn can be increased and challenges overcome with effort, goes hand in hand with being metacognitive.  After all, using metacognition focuses on the process being used, the journey to success, not just the end goal.  A metacognitive approach shows that hard work does pay off.  And with a growth mindset, one has the patience and resilience to work toward that payoff – what Carol Dweck, Stanford psychologist and growth mindset guru, describes as “the power of ‘yet’.”  I can’t do it . . . yet.

During Camp Teach & Learn at the end of May, there will be a workshop on using metacognition to teach and teaching metacognition as well as a workshop on developing a growth mindset in your students.