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…



Setting the Stage for “Mama and her Bank Account”


Trying to make lemonade

Trying to make lemonade (Naomi’s Photos)

I actually remember the book “I remember Mama” by Kathyrn Forbes very well, even though I read it when I was about 10 years old. Two things about it left a deep impression on me.

There was a part there about one of the children being hospitalized and how Mama took a job as a cleaning lady at the hospital so she could spend time with the child. I clearly remember how absolutely horrified I was that parents weren’t allowed to be beside their sick children (I later encountered this in Angela’s Ashes and learned that this was common here too, many years ago). Even as a mother I still can’t fathom how the medical establishment ever came up with such an idea.

The other thing that impressed me very much as a child was that the woman had written such a successful book about her own mother! No dramatic adventures in far off lands, no detectives or magical lions. It was an eye opener!

This year I’m going to teach a really simplified short version of the story to “seriously struggling” deaf and hard of hearing learners in the 11th grade, going for the lowest level of our matriculation exams, known as the three-point level. The hospital scene is out, by the way. Just as well!

These are students who have a lot of trouble dealing with texts in L1. Long texts frighten them in any language. My approach is to give the students an “anchor” . The following activity helps them “visualise” the first two paragraphs of the story. Not only will they know who is whom and where the story takes place, but those screens shots from the movie trailer will help them understand the time period. I already know which of my students is going to have a fit of laughter about those “old” clothes!

Most importantly, the first two paragraphs of the story should now be fairly easy for the students to read. If these students feel they can’t deal with the beginning of the story, then all is lost…

Here is the exercise:

Mama Bank Pre Reading

Giving the Gift of Time


Take me to your leader! (Naomi's photos)

Take me to your leader!
(Naomi’s photos)

This little video which I refer to as “Giving the Gift of Time” may be about saving time, but it certainly didn’t work out that way for me!

As some of you may recall, I was taking an in-service course at the end of the previous school year. For the course I prepared what I thought would be a pre-reading task for the story I am going to teach “Thank You Ma’m” by Langston Hughes. I used the tool we were learning about for adding questions to videos called Zaption, instead of my beloved Edpuzzle.

However, instead of enjoying having this particular task on my to-do list marked as done, I’ve sat and made a new version. For two reasons:

a – I wanted the task to lead to a discussion about uncovering motives and what that really means. That is the most important higher order thinking skill to teach in relation to this story. I didn’t think the previous exercise was what I wanted.

b – I was very unhappy with Zaption and the way it embedded online. Unless you viewed it in full screen you could miss the questions. When working in full screen it often exited that format on its own initiative.

In short, here’s the video. The worksheet is below. I learned about this video from the site Film English.

Dial Direct “The Notebook” directed by Greg Gray from Velocity on Vimeo.

Worksheet: Gift of time pre reading Mam

Reading Comprehension – Reviewing “Soft Skills”

What are they discussing? (Naomi's Photos)

What are they discussing?
(Naomi’s Photos)

The definition of the term “soft skills” that I read on the site,  includes the following words:

“…they include common sense”…

Many of my deaf and hard of hearing teenage students have great difficulty in answering advanced type reading comprehension questions. Particularly those questions which call for taking advantage of common sense and general knowledge.

While I am under no illusion that one worksheet for each type of question (which you will find at the bottom of this post) will be enough review-practice for these students, it’s a place to start. I tried to make them as memorable as I could without resorting to things one wouldn’t show in class…

These three particular question types  have been chosen because they appear in the reading comprehension text of their first exam of the year. I’m hoping that this fact will encourage the students to pay attention when I highlight these question types in class and that they answer them well on the exam. Before we can talk about the sentence structure of the students’ answers they have to really understand what type of answer is required.

It’s one of the big challenges every year.

I’m hoping…

The question types are:

1) What is the answer to the question in the title?

2) Copy a fact that explains the title.

3) What is xxx an example of?

Here are the three worksheets:

Animals and Communication 2

Seeing isn’t believing 2

An example of 2015


Saturday’s Book: “A Hat Full of Sky” by Terry Pratchett

How do I get home? (Naomi's photos)

How do I get home?
(Naomi’s photos)

This is the second book of the series about Tiffany Aching. The series is aimed at young adults and I find that Pratchett absolutely outdid himself when writing for young adults. This series is so very good on so many levels.

Perhaps I enjoy it even more because of the teacher side in me, which as we all know very well, cannot be turned off. Pratchett, while giving adventure and comedy, promotes a love of language and a curiosity about words and the world around us. I just delight in his use of language!

I got this second book as an audio-book. As always, Audible has excellent readers and I got to hear the Mac Nac Feegles’ dialogue in a Scottish accent which was great fun! It made it harder for me to copy out a quote I really took to heart though. Afterwards I discovered that there are pages of quotes from this series online!

I’m thinking of posting this quote in my classroom. I find it to be very powerful. However, while I’m positive it is relevant to my Special Ed students and their complicated lives, I don’t know if they will relate to it.

“There isn’t a way things should be. There’s just what happens and what we do”.

(Chapter 4. Don’t ask for a page number because it was an audio-book!).

Taking Up the #SMILEgoal Challenge!

Let's go nurture the new students! Naomi's photos

Let’s go nurture the new students!
Naomi’s photos

Sometimes I encounter a post that echoes exactly what I am thinking about. It echoes, but gives my thoughts a clearer form.

This time it was Josette LeBlanc’s brilliant post: “Play Big: The #SMILEgoal Challenge” . She cleverly created an acronym for the word SMILE that embodies a really practical approach to change.

What Josette also did, for me, was to give me a simple explanation for why I have this need to spend part of each summer vacation working on changes for the upcoming school year. It is true that every single school year that ends leaves me with thoughts of things that could be done better, easier or in a more exciting way. But that’s not the only explanation for spending time changing things.

I need to gather energies to start a new year in a challenging teaching situation. And I need to start the new year with a big smile and a feeling of excitement, despite knowing many of the difficulties awaiting, and the awareness that every single year previously unknown difficulties  (of various kinds) magically appear.

So, I should define my changes for this year using the SMILE approach, and the change will give me the SMILE I need!

Invest my time in the right things. (Naomi's Photos)

Invest my time in the right things.
(Naomi’s Photos)

So here’s one of my most dramatic planned changes, presented according to the acronym.

Background: I determined that what upset me most during the past school year was that all my hard work making interesting, varied, colorful, interactive and practical review & homework material for my students was going down the drain (after 3 years of success) because a large number of students stopped using computers at home completely. Entire families rely only on cell phones. It’s a long story but the myriad of tech problems and emotional reactions that arose was overwhelming and dispiriting. These exercises will now become classwork.

Simplify – Focus on vocabulary.

I decided to focus on the amazingly clever flashcard site /app Quizlet. Since deaf and hard of hearing students have a major problem retaining vocabulary when learning a foreign language (in a nutshell, there is no, or little incidental learning from exposure to the language outside the classroom, because they don’t hear it spoken) I am in the process of creating a classroom for every group of students, with words and collocations that appear in the material we will be studying. Quizlet has ready-made games and study modes, I don’t have to prepare them. I just add the study sets I want.

Measure – Quizlet gives data about the students. Not only who is working and who isn’t, but which items are causing difficulties!

Integrate – The students will see these collocations and words in their material in class & on tests. They will see the relevance clearly. It doesn’t take a lot of time for me to add a set so I can fit this into my teaching schedule (less time than what I was doing before!).

Lean in and let it go – I’ll have to adapt using Quizlet as I go, I can’t relate to this one yet!

Enjoy – I’m already pleased about trying this different approach. We’ll have to see what happens next, but it gives off positive vibes!

So what’s your #SMILEgoal Challenge for the new school year?

Saturday’s Book: “All the Light We Cannot See” by Doerr

Naomi's Photos

Naomi’s Photos

What a great book!

First of all, because of the fascinating use of language. Such rich descriptions! There are words used in ways I have not encountered, yet ring so true. I must admit that I also encountered some words which were totally new to me. Though I very quickly stopped looking them up. I was too wrapped up in the story to stop for that – it was hard enough to stop when it was time to stop reading!

I had heard about the book for quite some time but was hesitant about reading it. I wasn’t sure that I was in the mood for another book that takes place during World War Two, especially one that is over 500 pages long. I was also afraid that if the book’s main characters were a French girl who lost her sight and a poor German boy, the book would be terribly “shmaltzy’.

The plot is engrossing and the writing beautiful and I was totally wrapped up in it. It could have been a bit shorter and one can argue whether or not the epilogue is as good as rest the of the book, but that’s just quibbling.


Nice Dice Add Spice!

Naomi's photos

Naomi’s photos

In my recent talk on playing games, as part of the 30 goals conference, I mentioned how a teacher can add an extra element of fun simply by using unusual dice.

It occurred to me afterwards that not everyone may be familiar with these interesting dice.

By “interesting dice” I mean multi faced dice, such as those which are used by players of D&D, short for Dungeons and Dragons (which Google defines as a fantasy role-playing game set in an imaginary world based loosely on medieval myth). From the teacher’s point of view, what you need to know about the game is that it is globally popular and there are stores that sell accessories for it. Like these dice!

Naomi's photos

Naomi’s photos

More than 10 years ago I purchased one (just one!) beautiful purple die, with 10 sides. That means it includes the numbers zero and nine. The fun of throwing a really high number and the laughter ensuing when you throw “a zero” really adds spice to a game. As you can see, there are dice with all sorts of combinations, even ones that are in a series of tens (seventy, eighty), though I have not tried to use such numbers in class myself.

Naomi's photos

Naomi’s photos

Two cautionary notes:

When working with young children with emotional issues, I would not use the zero as a zero, but rather call it the magical number that gives you an extra turn, instead of taking it away. If the teacher does not think of such things in advance, the game intended to be fun could end very quickly and badly.

The clear (see through) die-within-a-die is very cool (you don’t have to throw two dice!) but it is the only one I know of that is actually breakable.

So let the games begin!

Saturday’s Book: “Dear Life” by Alice Munro

Naomi's Photos

Naomi’s Photos

This collection of stories is absolutely excellent.

Often sad, but excellent. Every word is meaningful, no pointless information. I got caught up in each story after reading the first few lines, and took my time reading the book. I wanted to think about the story I had just read before moving on.

I had read some of these stories before, as they were published in The New Yorker magazine. But it didn’t bother me at all. The power is in the details, in the careful choice of words, it didn’t matter if I had some general memory of the plot outline.

This collection includes stories which are autobiographical in nature. It’s fascinating to get an insight into a talented writer’s childhood.

I really enjoyed the book!

Belated Saturday’s Book: “The Humans” by Haig

Naomi's Photos

Naomi’s Photos

It’s a nice book.

Yes, I know, “nice” is sort of a general term, not one to use when describing a book. In fact, the hero of the story says: “To like something is to insult it, either hate it or love it. Be passionate”.

But that’s just it. I heard it as an audiobook with an excellent reader who did the British accents of different people (and different ages) beautifully. The story of an alien who comes to earth and learns what it means to be humans is nice, kind of feel goodish, but not too much so. For example,  it is kind of nice (there, I used the word for the third time!) to stop and think about the question: “why do we make such a fuss about clothes”.

But it isn’t wonderful, or anything to be “passionate” about. Nothing to hate, either.

Just a nice book.