Maximizing Classroom Space – The “French Cafe” Way

The French cafe classroom

The French cafe classroom

It was the day before school began. Another teacher stood at the doorway, surveying the complete facelift the little classroom had undergone. She didn’t say a word.

“It’s too red, too loud, isn’t it?” I prompted worriedly. I hadn’t really planned on red table coverings for the different work stations. Especially as some of the coverings (some!) have polka dots. But I’m not known for my taste in matching colors and we already had some red coverings available so I was convinced red was the way to go. By August 31st  we had the stations all set up and I was feeling quite overwhelmed by the red and worried that the whole idea wouldn’t work.


I had been teaching in the format of a learning center for many years. In fact, a great many years if you count all the years I didn’t call it that. To me it seems the only way to deal with the absolutely huge differences in level and ability in every class of deaf and hard of hearing students I have ever taught.

But for a large portion of that time, I had a large classroom. It was easier to have students working on different things at the same time without bothering each other.


The whole system was in risk of collapsing last year when we moved to a much smaller classroom. All my efforts to resist having the tables arranged in the traditional semi-circle facing the board (so students who can’t hear well can see each other as well as the teacher) failed.  The students would push them back, the cleaning lady would push them back. There didn’t seem to be enough room – it was too distracting.

And now I was worried that the red (especially with the polka dots!) would be distracting!


“It is a bit loud” she said. “But just tell the students to imagine they are in a French Cafe. It will be okay”.

And it is. Really. The room feels much bigger. Even when I have students going off-task and the classroom is full, they don’t bother the other students. The distance between the students has grown and the whole atmosphere is more relaxed. The red doesn’t seem too loud anymore, just cheery. Much of it is, of course, covered most of the lesson with papers and books.

The strangest thing to me is that almost none of my students commented on the change or the colors. EVERY SINGLE ONE commented on the fact that we had finally gotten a new, good quality door to the classroom, but most ignored the changes! Meanwhile, students from the “hearing” classrooms stop by to peek in and go ecstatic, saying that they want to study here too…

Station Tracking Charts

Station Tracking Charts

That teacher was absolutely right about the French Cafe image. On a recent family trip to France we stopped to eat lunch, and the sidewalk tables had  THE EXACT SAME TABLE COVERINGS!

(Belated) Saturday’s Book: “Never Cry Wolf” by Mowat

It's a Puka, not a wolf, but we are rooting for them too! And I haven't seen any wolves... (Naomi's Photos)

It’s a bearded seal, not a wolf, but we are rooting for them too! And I haven’t seen any wolves… (Naomi’s Photos)

I’m somewhat confused by this book.

On one hand it was a great read – easy to get into, funny and informative. A very engaging tale about the author’s adventures as a young man, about half a century ago, when he was sent by the Canadian government to research arctic wolves and their impact on the dwindling Caribou population. The author knows how to tell a tale and is very convincing about how we should care about wolf conservation.

On the other hand, it is very disconcerting that the tale is presented as true, while there is lots of material online that explains that much of it isn’t. The author meant for the book to be pro-wolves and many scientists recognize the importance of the book in stopping systematic decimation of the wolves. But if lots of the facts are inaccurate, that would mean that beyond reading a well told tale (which is a good reason to read a book, though not a non-fiction one) what have I actually learned about wolves? I don’t have time to research online what was accurate about the tale and what wasn’t! The author freely admits that the point is what counts, not the accuracy.

Confusing. Still, it was a fun read!

(Belated) Saturday’s Book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Skloot

Naomi's Photos

Naomi’s Photos

What an absolutely fascinating book! I’m so grateful to Arlene Blum for telling me about it!

This non-fiction book gives the reader much more than I expected and sustained my interest all the way through, including the appendix (!!!). I had it as an audio-book, and the readers were excellent.

It’s a tale of medical history, explaining how important (big-time!) advances came to be. But it’s also a well told story of the real people behind these advances, their lives and how events affected them.

And then there’s more. Much more. These medical advances are intertwined with American history, the history of African-American’s migration to big cities and their relationship with the medical establishment (who knew that John Hopkins hospital once had segregated wards, and that’s because they were the only hospital in Baltimore that would treat the African-Americans to begin with?) and even a connection to the question of why the members of Klu Klux Klan wore white sheets.

If all that wasn’t enough, there is the legal aspect. What rights did patients have then? What rights do we have now in related to cells and tissue taken from our bodies?

Through all that, there is a very personal story of Henrietta Lacks and her family, over several generations.

I really recommend this book!



Visualising School – Photo Pause

A teacher gets “new eyes” with camera in hand!

No rain to clear up that huge sandstorm we got – just the endless dripping of the air-conditioners.

Naomi's Photos

Naomi’s Photos



Should we read anything into the fact that teacher’s chair is facing away from the others?

Naomi's photos

Naomi’s photos


I guess someone’s Mary Poppins themed lesson didn’t work out too well – that’s one kite that isn’t going “…up where the air is right”…

Naomi's Photos

Naomi’s Photos


Two lanes in the hallways. Reminds me of that old lovely book about teaching in New York “Up the Down Staircase”!

Naomi's Photos

Naomi’s Photos

There are actually some really nice pictures with inspirational quotes along the hallways, but you can’t see them from this angle.

Note: This is an educator’s blog, so only school related pictured are posted here. To see what this teacher comes up with when pounding the pavement of her hometown, see here:

Pounding The Pavement in Kiryat-Ono

The Sticky Issue of FOOD in the Classroom

Tel-Aviv, 1947. Summer camp for city children to help them GAIN weight. Photographer unknown.

Tel-Aviv, 1947. Summer camp for city children to help them GAIN weight. Photographer unknown.

Allowing students to eat in class, during a lesson, really is a sticky issue. It is a multi-sided problem full of “yeah, but…” that crops up mainly during lessons later on in the day or during the very first lesson of the day. In most schools in this country there are no “lunch periods”. Students (and teachers!) eat during the breaks between the lessons. One break is longer than the others to allow for eating time.

A hungry student, especially a child or a teenager, cannot concentrate. Particularly so when it comes to children who have trouble concentrating at school in the first place, though I have seen the same phenomenon with adult students.

That’s a fact, as far as I’m concerned. That hungry student might as well have been absent – he/she isn’t taking in much (if anything) of the lesson. A sheer waste of time.

One thing on its mind! (Naomi's Photos)

One thing on its mind!
(Naomi’s Photos)


If you let students munch on sandwiches as they study, you run headlong into “THE STICKY” & “THE SMELLY”.  In my classroom we have a lot of shared materials which risk getting all sticky, smudged and unpleasant. In addition, some students bring food with distinct odors, pleasant to some, offensive to others. Such smells tend to take over the room and can cause students who weren’t hungry before to become hungry too…


When I see a student whose hunger is the only thing on his/her mind I tell them to go outside for five minutes, eat and come back to class. This policy works really well with some students, who study effectively for the rest of the lesson. The problem arises particularly after gym class when the child feels particularly hungry but the time spent in the locker room “ate up” all the break time.


School management doesn’t want students outside the classrooms during the lessons when there are no hall / yard monitors. And the student is missing out on whatever is going on inside the classroom.

Not a school, but cool reflections... (Naomi's Photos)

Not a school, but cool reflections…
(Naomi’s Photos)

And a different kind of BUT…

Some students are quick to take advantage (emphasis on “some”, others emphatically do not). Why should they waste their precious break time eating when they need to talk? Why should they waste their time standing in line to buy food during the break when there are no lines during a lesson?

Now and then (since I teach in a high-school) there are a few cases of those dieting teenage girls who haven’t eaten a single thing all day and then “oh so surprisingly” (to them, not me) start feeling faint with hunger when they hit sixth period (not to mention seventh and eighth…).

I try to adhere to a policy of “drink only” during a lesson (I sometimes need a sip of water during a lesson too!) and I let the students chew gum.  But three weeks into the new school year the “absolutely dying of hunger teen” has already showed up three times.

This seems to be an issue that I cannot be completely consistent about.




Saturday’s Book: “After Dark” by Haruki Murakami

Naomi's Photos

Naomi’s Photos

What a strange book. Short, but very strange.

Yes, there is something strange about every Murakami book that I have read but this is one of the stranger ones. Parts of it I still don’t understand at all.

However, the parts I did understand were thought-provoking. Several times I had to stop reading and think about what was just said. I’m afraid I didn’t copy out some of the sample sentences, so I’ll just mention one example. There was a part about how memories (important ones and minor ones) serve as fuel for people, that really touched a nerve.

I’m still thinking about the book though, which is another sign that it was worth reading. Looking and being observed is an important issue in the book, one character whose eyes are closed but is being observed, another who sees everything but can influence nothing…

My favorite Murakami’s are still “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and “Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World”.

Saturday’s Book: “The Story of Ferdinand” by Munro Leaf


Ferdinand! Can you find these flowers? Naomi's Photos

Ferdinand! Can you find these flowers?
Naomi’s Photos

Our family took a trivia quiz together today and the following question was on it:

“Under which tree did Ferdinand the bull like to sit?”

Not only couldn’t I remember the answer to the question related to this lovely children’s book, our sons didn’t remember the book! I DID read it to them when they were young, but it wasn’t a book we actually owned and they don’t remember it all. Frankly, they couldn’t quite imagine a book related to bull fights as being “lovely”…

I really liked the tale. Must tell MY mother about it – she loved reading me that book along with Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel. Sigh – another book our boys didn’t own and I don’t think they remember. As much as I try not to buy books and rejoice in the library, the books young children own seem to be the ones that find a firm hold in their memories.

There are lots of videos related to the book online – I found the narrator of this one to be amusing.



Visual Prayers for the New School Year

School begins day after tomorrow.

These are the thoughts taking over my head right now:

* May I succeed in drawing the new students out of their “shells”, in a positive way.

Naomi's Photos

Naomi’s Photos


* May I manage to employ an emotional sifter that lets the really good things about being a teacher get through while barely letting the bad aspects affect me.

Naomi's Photos

Naomi’s Photos


* May the students understand that we need to work together and that they must invest some effort. Simply believing in success is not enough…

(Naomi's Photos)

(Naomi’s Photos)

* May I keep the students alert (and awake!)

Naomi's photos

Naomi’s photos

* May I not spend all my late evenings on school work!

Naomi's Photos

Naomi’s Photos


Wishing everyone an energizing, interesting, satisfying and healthy new school year!

Saturday’s Book: “The Upside of Irrationality” By Dan Ariely

Irrational reflections? (Naomi's Photos)

Irrational reflections?
(Naomi’s Photos)

It took me a while to figure out where the “upside” bit of the title comes into things but I think I have grasped it now. Basically the book is a case for why we should be glad we don’t live in a society where everyone is like “Mr. Spock” and behaves only in a rational matter. The world is a better place because we trust other people (for example) even when it doesn’t make rational sense to do so. And then people, feeling trusted, often reward our trust…

The book is interesting, connected to real life, but not as interesting as the previous one (Predictably Irrational). More of the same, really.

Saturday’s Book: “Dance of the Happy Shades” by Alice Munroe

Naomi's Photos

Naomi’s Photos

This is what happens when I break my own rule.

The rule is not to read a book by the same author, (an author whose writing I like, mind you) without waiting several months.

I read “Dear Life” in July.

What happened was that a year ago or more (not sure) Vicky Loras had really recommended this book to me and the library didn’t carry it. I talked to the librarian about it and she wrote it down. “We’ll see”, she said. Imagine me arriving at the library just as they were unpacking a batch of brand new books they had purchased, including this one, the one I had requested!

So, of course I went home with it.

It’s not that the book isn’t good, it is (especially the story with the same name as the book!) and having read Munroes’ autobiographical stories in the previous book gave me extra insight into these stories. However, Alice Munroe’s writing has a depressing quality about it. Lots of trapped women, dreams dashed, general dissatisfaction…

Reading a second batch of these stories got me feeling quite depressed. I skipped two stories, I just couldn’t deal with it.

Rules are there for a reason…