Oct 25 2014

Saturday’s Book: 16 Kinds of Snow by Kostrzewski

Filed under Books I enjoy!

We don't have snow, only rain! And not much of that! (Naomi's photos)

We don’t have snow, only rain! And not much of that! (Naomi’s photos)

The full title of this E-Book is: 16 Kinds of Snow or How & Why Bilinguals do it Better by Wiktor Kostrzewski

It’s fun to read an e-book based on a blog, especially as I have actually met the writer in person. You can feel how, like in a blog, Kostrzewski draws examples from ongoing daily life to make his points clear. He uses a wide variety of springboards, from podcasts to romance. Makes me want to shout things out in response “Hey Wiktor – I listen to “This American Life” podcasts too!”

At first it takes some getting used to though. Blog posts are designed not to be particularly long and in the beginning I was repeatedly surprised that a chapter was over, I sort of expected more in a book.  In that sense  I liked the second part of the book better, which was written for the book and not as a blog post.

Reading the whole book did give me a complete picture, as Kostrzewski details ways to deal with the decision to learn a second language and stick with the plan. It’s helpful information both as a teacher (though he does have teachers of language schools in mind I believe, and not school-teachers in national schools) and as someone who still toys with learning Spanish for her own use one day. Kostrzewski  sounds like a real person, that understands you and the juggling act that is life.


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Oct 23 2014

Daring to Say “but” to Alfie Kohn about Homework

Naomi's photos

Naomi’s photos

I use the word “dare” because I have the utmost respect for Alfie Kohn and his battle against children being made to do unneccessary busy work in the afternoon (aka homework) after having spent all those hours in school. I’m glad someone is highlighting the adverse effect this has on many parent/child relationships.

And the Washingtom Post article my friend Ruth Sheffer pointed out to me :“Homework: An Unnecessary Evil? Findings from New Research is a fascinating read. Shows you how carefully one should look at researches too. I totally agree with his stand regarding elementary school children.


The article doesn’t mention English as a foreign language.

Nor does it mention struggling learners and students in Special Ed.

Naomi's photos

Naomi’s photos

For starters, when teaching English as a foreign language, I need to expose the students to the English that exists beyond the physical walls and virtual walls (time constraints), of our classroom. I need them to see that they are able to use their English in some manner online, even when I’m not beside them.

I give my high-school students a short online homework assignment ,once a week, every Monday,  using the platform Edmodo. I often use short films or refer to foreign exercise sites. Sometimes the task calls for checking out links with color photos from distant places Things that are difficult to do in class. This exposure goes beyond the English language itself, it relates to culture and general world knowledge. Information. Some of my deaf and hard of hearing students ask about driving on the “wrong” side of the road after noticing that in a British made video. Or ask about phrases we didn’t learn in class that they encountered.

Even more important, online homework gives me a chance for personal attention and scaffolding, in a manner that simply cannot be done in class. Students do not compare online homework. Therefore no one is insulted. All the students watch the same video as part of their homework , but the task they must do with it varies. Some students get word banks, more explanations in mother tongue, less questions, etc. A few may even get an entirely different task. I also give practice on material that will appear on their tests.

All the students get tasks that they are able to do.


And success breeds success.

And this success is motivating because I check their homework. It doesn’t work if I use an automatic software to check it (well, once a while is o.k!). The students want my reaction. They feel “noticed” and that I care whether or not they have taken the time to do the task and what they think of it. Since it’s not busy-work, connections to what is being done in class are found .

This is not to say that all my students do their homework. Yet every year, as the school year progresses, the number of students who do their homework rises (after a dismally low number at the start of every school year. Sigh.).

I haven’t conducted a scientific research and I’m not objective. But it sure seems clear to me that those who do their weekly homework task benefit from it.

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Oct 06 2014

Struggling Learners are ONE of the HOT TOPICS at IATEFL Web Conference

Filed under conferences


Naomi's photos

Naomi’s photos

IATEFL is highlighting hot topics relevant to ELT teachers everywhere, in its exciting upcoming free web conference.


I’ll be putting the spotlight on creating  opportunities for struggling learners to experience success while working with the whole class.

My talk, The EUREKA Moment, will be given on Oct. 18th at

14:30 GMT time, 15:30 BST time or 17:30 Israeli time.

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Oct 04 2014

An “Almost Sunday” Book: “Quiet” by Susan Cain

Filed under Books I enjoy!

Full title: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking

Quiet Time (Naomi's photos)

Quiet Time (Naomi’s photos)

It’s an “almost Sunday” book not just because the hour is late and it IS almost Sunday, but also because the book is sort of a mix of reading for pleasure and for work. And work belongs in weekday posts…

I listened to this as an audio-book and for once, I’m not going to say that was a wise choice. It’s very difficult to skip paragraphs here and there on an audio-book…

It’s not that the book isn’t interesting. It is an interesting topic, relevant for me both in my personal life and my work as a teacher. The researches quoted and the advice given regarding how to treasure the powers of introverts is great. For example, at our recent ETAI teacher’s conference we heard how much we should be doing group work, as this is the way the job market will expect our students to function. In the book, Cain emphasizes the price of such practices. It seems that companies are moving away from these huge open plan crowded work spaces. Not only is it not suitable for some students’ style of learning (or people’s style of working) we’d be missing out on all the important products that are born of quiet concentrated thinking. And that kind of thinking requires space, time to work alone.

However, the book is too long. There is a lot of emphasis on the world of business. But what really bothered me was that her important points were made too many times with too many examples. “I got it” the first few times!



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Sep 30 2014

OH MY! I Taught My Student’s Parents!

Naomi's photos

Naomi’s photos

I just discovered that I taught the parents of one of my new 1oth grade students. Yes, both of them. I only tutored the mother for one year (12th grade) while I taught the father for the duration of his three years in high-school.

A friend pointed out that he was rather surprised that I tell this story to everyone who bothers to listen. Frankly, I’m quite excited about it.

I know it shows that I’m getting old. It’s a fact I’m not trying to hide. I’m 51. There, I’ve said it. But I don’t think age is the issue here. I’m much more worried by signs of forgetfulness (I cannot remember names! Oh no!) than by this. After all, I started young, I began teaching when I was 22. When one teaches high-school, one can get “grand-students” quicker.

But it is a sort of red flag.

“Warning! You are still here but the students are new!”  ”Been there, done that, won’t work”! “There is still so much you need to learn”!

I think Nathan Ghall’s moving and powerful post Commemorating helped me listen to these warning signals. When I read the  post my first thought was:

Oh, wow, this post should be hung in every teachers’ staff room, to remind those of us who are not Special Ed teachers to respect our students with special needs, and to celebrate what they ARE able to do, the people they are, and NOT what they cannot do.

And then I realized it. Who am I to talk about others, what about me? Every year the students who turn up in my Special Ed classes have more and more additional issues to deal with in their lives, besides their hearing problem (learning disabilities, emotional problems, visual impairments, broken homes etc.).  I need to remind myself over and over  that I must work at looking for the students’ stronger points, even though with some students these points seem to be quite difficult to find at the beginning of the year. There’s something overwhelming about meeting a large group of students with so many “issues”.

Naomi's photos

Naomi’s photos

It also made me think of how much I need to continue renewing and changing my teaching practices. Despite the fact that my life would be easier if I recycled more materials from year to year. Yet when I do, those dangerous feelings of impatience with a student for not knowing something I’ve taught so many times (but to others!) fight to reach the surface.

So perhaps my battles for implementing technology and trying all sort of things will lead to me being ready to teach many more students whose parents I have also taught. I still have at least 11 more years to teach and there are more students coming my way!

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Sep 27 2014

It’s Saturday! Musings on Photo-Books

Filed under Books I enjoy!

A blast from the past

A blast from the past

I’ve only recently joined the HUGE amounts of people following the posts of “Human’s of New York”.

I’m so glad I did.

The posts are usually very short, presenting an excellent photo of a person with a snippet of something that person said about himself/herself. At the moment the posts are from around the world, as the photographer, Brandon (no last name mentioned on site) is travelling with the UN.

I read about two such posts a day. It makes me pause for a moment, imagining that person’s life. It’s fun.

However, would it be just as fun as a photo-book? It seems that Brandon is coming out with his second book now. I find that one of the appealing things here is “being introduced” to just one or two people  a day. It doesn’t work that way with a photo-book.

In my experience, I read through most of a photo book in the first day or so, look at it again a bit with visiting friends the first few weeks, and then the book is banished to a life of solitude on the bookshelf. I’ve taken some photo books to the classroom and created “scavenger hunts” for them (you know, on which page can you find the following…) and thus given the photo books new lives.



When I was a child I had two photo books which I thought were called “The many faces of man”  and “The many faces of children”. I thought they were from the Time Life Series which we had a few volumes of. Obviously, my memory is faulty and the names are incorrect because Google can’t seem to recognize and locate the books I mean. I was an avid reader as a child too (and there was no Internet then either) and yet I recall looking at these books over and over again.

But that was then. I haven’t done that as an adult. I’m delighted with the medium, Internet, that disciplines me and lets me enjoy these words and photos a few minutes a day. Every day.

Would you buy a photo-book?




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Sep 24 2014

May The Sun Light Up Your New Year!

Filed under Uncategorized

The sun lights up a plant

The sun lights up a plant

Tonight we begin celebrating the New Year. I took this picture on my walk yesterday. The afternoon sun really lit up this plant, and it seemed to symbolize what I would like to wish everyone, a year full of all the good the sun can bring, whether you are celebrating today or some other time.
Shana Tova!


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Sep 20 2014

Saturday’s Book: “Alone in Berlin” by Hans Fallada

Filed under Books I enjoy!


Naomi's photos

Naomi’s photos


I was a bit afraid of reading this novel, it sounded quite intimidating.

Once I began I had trouble putting it down. I became completely engrossed despite the serious topic and the fact that it was clear that there would not be a happy ending.

The point of view is so different from other books about the second world war. This book was written shortly after the war by a German author who had suffered the Nazi regime first hand.

Before I read the book I thought that “Alone in Berlin” referred to the isolation of those who dared to defy the regime, who refrained from becoming party members. However, by the time I finished the book my understanding of the title had changed. I now feel that the book emphasizes how the Nazi regime isolated everyone, encasing them in their bubble of fear. No one could trust anyone, it was best not to be in contact with others (nor to confide in them). It was an atmosphere straight out of 1984 – you never knew who would denounce you. Every word could be used against you. Even the party members and high-ranking officials were not exempt from these fears. At any minute they could fall from favor and get the same terrible treatment they had been administering.

I was a bit disappointed to discover just now that the original title in German was “Every Man Dies Alone”, which may not support my theory at all. Alone in Berlin made more sense to me.

What a book!

It reminds me a bit of “The Day Lasts More Than A Hundred Years” by Aitamtov, which I read three years ago. Also powerful, also very authentic, but “Alone in Berlin” is a much easier read, style wise.

I recommend them both!


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Sep 17 2014

“Because I’m Happy” – New Year’s Activity


Happy New Year! Naomi's Photos

Happy New Year!
Naomi’s Photos

I had to consider so many different constraints when creating this video-homework-task that it became quite difficult. Time will tell how effective it was.

1) The first constraint was actually time – I HAD to have it ready by Monday (two days ago). I’m trying to get my new students used to doing homework online, once a week. I post new tasks on Monday nights. Believe me, with this group it is an uphill battle.

2) We’re celebrating the New Year next week and I really wanted to have the activity relate to happiness in some way.

3) I really needed to practice the word “would” right away, even though many students haven’t learned the second conditional yet. It’s a very common word yet the electronic dictionary doesn’t help them understand it. My goal was to stress the hypothetical aspect of the word, and only that. Trying to imagine yourself participating in one of these two videos and thinking about what it would be like to have certain things happen to you, seemed to me to be the way to go.

4)  Students indiscriminate use of Google Translate (or alternative online translators) make it very problematic to assign certain types of tasks. If I just ask the students to create sentences to describe things that would make them happy, copy sentences into suitable columns in a table, or sequence events depicted in a video, they’ll do it all in L1. I call this situation:

“No English was harmed in the course of completing this activity”.


So I added gap-filling to the sentences before copying them into the table, simply to make it harder to use the online translator blindly. Not entirely satisfied with the results, but I had to stick to the “happy” theme.

5) I had to use TWO videos. I knew my deaf students would like the video made by deaf students at a Film Summer Camp. However, I have a group of new (very new) hard of hearing students who not only don’t use sign language, they don’t want to have anything to do with it.  I believe they will relax over time, I’ve seen it happen many times before. The kids study together! So I used a version without sign language and made sure the questions didn’t mention it.

6) I had to make sure the activity fit into one page. It is quite astonishing how many students do not “see” the part on the second page!

So, here are the two videos. Below them are two worksheets. The “blue” one is a bit harder than the “red” one.


 Because I’m happy blue2

Because I’m happy red



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Sep 13 2014

Saturday’s Book vs. Movie – “The Giver” by Lowry

Filed under Books I enjoy!

Look who peeked out at me!

Look who peeked out at me!

Before watching the last movie adaptation of a book (The Book Thief), I debated a great deal and asked everyone I knew for their opinion of the film. I was afraid of spoiling the way I felt about the book. I was actually very impressed by the film.

With “The Giver” it was different. This book was something our boys and I had shared and enjoyed. The moment we heard that the movie was being released we  decided to watch it together. So I was committed! I did so eagerly despite the last time we went to a movie based on a book I had shared with them when they were younger – “Cheaper By The Dozen” is a great book and a terrible movie! But when you have sons in their 20′s and they want to go to a movie with you, you move quickly!

I’m incorrigible. I compared the book and movie mercilessly. I found the movie to be pretty good. The visuals are beautiful and the acting is good. I don’t expect a movie to be a replica of the book, that doesn’t work. So I was o.k with some of the changes they made. And I think they managed to show the community quite well in a short time.

But I missed more of what Jonas went through to be able to understand what the Giver was showing him. It’s against his entire life indoctrination. And most of all I was troubled by the change regarding the friends sticking together. I know they needed to make more of the love story for the movie to attract an audience and needed the action sequences with the friend, but in the book Jonas is very much alone, cut off from his peers. Which is one of the reasons its such a potent book for teens who feel different.

Still, I’m glad I saw it. And it was a great family outing!

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