Pondering the Death of “Hangman”

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

I’ve always prided myself on almost always using games that actually require the students to practice the target language. Take board games, for example. The target language isn’t printed on the board, where the students can memorize what to do / say according to location. The target language is always on cards that we shuffle and change.

But I did play “hangman” with my deaf and hard of hearing students sometimes. My rationale was that slowly filling in each missing letter of the unknown word makes the students really pay attention to the word and what it looks like.

At the ETAI International Conference I attended last July, quite a few speakers brought up the issue of precious time being wasted on activities, including games, where what was really being practiced was not meaningful use of the language. “Hangman” was mentioned as an example.

I’ve been pondering this.

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

My deaf and hard of hearing students need emphasis on the visual aspect – it would seem that this game makes students look very carefully at the letters that form the word, which helps them commit the word to memory.

But does it actually do that?

I’ll have to admit it doesn’t.

When I look back on the times we’ve played it in class, I think the thing we reviewed most is the alphabet. Some students may have picked up  some information about the frequency of letters in a word. But once my high school students discovered what the hidden word was, often after randomly and wildly guessing letters, most of them were not interested in the word itself and the meaning of the word went in one eye and out the other (eyes are better than ears in my classes, remember?). Usage and context wasn’t even a question. The students mainly wanted to know if we have time to guess another word before the bell!

Even if the students chose the words themselves, out of a printed dictionary, they weren’t paying attention to anything other than the length of the word…

So…

I’m relegating this game to the “almost” category I mentioned in the first line of this post. We’re talking about real life after all. Sometimes class dynamics (or teacher exhaustion) requires something light and simple to end a long day for everyone. It least the game is in English…

 

But I’m NOT Being NITPICKY, Students!

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

Alternative title – How to lose a teachable moment…

Yesterday we finally got started on creating a “Name Box” in class. Our version of Penny Ur’s recommendation to personalize grammar exercises (see post about that here) got off to a slow start because of two completely different reasons:

  • A friendly argument with another teacher about my claim that even though we are NOT following Penny Ur’s advice and using our students’ names, the fact that the students themselves are choosing the names of the famous people  included in the box will still have a personalizing effect. Students in special education classes are particularly sensitive and I firmly believe extra precautions are required (I use students’ names when I control the sentences, not a book).
  • It turns out that covering a lovely tin (that originally contained BarkTHINS)  with sticky red wallpaper is a terrible idea. All the lettering on the box comes through! And then the  sellotape (scotch tape) I used to tape pictures on the box over the lettering doesn’t stick well to the wallpaper! I’m still grappling with that problem…

Nevertheless, we began. Eleven students have already chosen their famous person. Along with the person’s name each student had to add the occupation and country (of origin).

I was really pleased that the students were interested in the names of professions and countries in English. The difference between “America” and “American” came up and we looked at how Brazil is really spelled.

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

But then I ran into trouble. Three students chose names of actors. Great! Except for the fact that they referred to the profession as “players”.

I called everyone’s attention to the fact and tried to explain the difference between a football player and an actor.

The boys in the class thought I was talking nonsense. Why was I inventing a distinction? Why was I being nitpicky?

Not only is the word for both cases exactly the same in Hebrew, those boys play computer /video games and they know about “player one” and “player two”. Actors are just the same. Obviously their teacher doesn’t play enough video games…

At least the girls were more open to the idea of there being a distinction between a player and an actor…

Saturday’s Mystery: Who Were You, Dora? The Father’s Letter

Dora and her father, Nochim Meir. The only two that remained at home ...
Dora and her father, Nochim Meir. The only two that remained at home …

Note: This is a postscript to my Saturday series, in which I, with crowdsourcing help, try to unravel the mysteries hidden in previously unknown letters written by my mysterious step-great aunt Dvora /Dora before and during WWll in Poland. For further explanations see previous post

Translations ascribe meaning.

The trouble is when different people translate the same letter and ascribe different meanings, or at least a different tone to the text.

Among the letter found from Poland (Belarus today) was a letter from Dora’s father, Nachum (Nochim) Meir. The letter is dated April 5th, 1936. It was written to the daughter Libby (in New York) in Yiddish, in very small and difficult to read handwriting, without punctuation marks. It caused difficulties for all who tried to read it. Which only adds to the confusion.

Here are a few examples.

This is Libby, the half sister Dora was writing to in the U.S.A. She could not have had real memories of Libby. The photo is dated April 27, 1925 stamped by a US photographer's studio. Dora was only born in 1920...
This is Libby, the eldest daughter the letter was addressed to. The photo is dated April 27, 1925 stamped by a US photographer’s studio. 
  • One version of the translation claims the letter begins: “I am writing you dear daughter but you will not have pleasure from my letter, because I am writing you now to unburden myself, as they say, as I do not have one good friend. This is why I’m writing to you, you will understand me. I am carrying around a bitter heart from everything”. The other versions claim that the father is writing NOT to unburden himself from all the distress and pain in his heart but just so his daughter will understand him.
  • The next issue is more conflicted. All five of Nachum Meir’s children from his late first wife fled their childhood home with the terrorizing step-mother, and immigrated. Tales passed down the generations tell of a father who never stood up for his children or noticed that they were being underfed, denied proper clothing  for the severe winters and generally mistreated. The question is, did he regret all of that? One version claims he wrote that he feels so bad because he knows he was the worst father in the world. It sounds like a true apology. However, in another translation he sounds like the stereotypical Jewish mother blaming the offspring: “It seems that I am indeed the worst father in the world, as the children do not want to know what I am doing and how I live. Especially since one son and one daughter have children of their own, therefore it should not be like this”.
  • All translators agree in regards to the only mention of Hitler in all of these letters – he wishes his poor health and troubles on Hitlers’ followers.
Dora 1935
Dora 1935
  • Another source of conflicting information is in regards to Dora, whose letters we read. All versions agree that the father is asking for money for his sick wife and for Dora’s schooling. On the one hand, from one version of the translation and from Dora’s letters it seems that she is studying in a high-school (Gymnasium): “ …( cut part) Dora another two years in the gymnasium. Her studies will be finished and then she will earn money. She already earns money now, she has some lessons. For the first lesson she took only two dollars (why would he write about dollars??!), then she immediately got another one…I hope she will be able to earn but she must finish the gymnasium in two years.” We do know from Dora’s letters  that she graduated in 1938 but she mentions working for money only starting that year.  She doesn’t say doing what. A different version of the translation claims that money is needed to pay the tutor who teaches Dora so that she can graduate. No Dora tutoring anyone. Perhaps “pay the tutor” is the same as paying the school?

Was he a contrite father writing for help or did he feel unjustly treated by his fleeing offspring? I want to believe the former because of this sentence (only one translator figured it out): “In life you always make mistakes and the world is such that you always hurry and you run and you stop for nothing and die like a fool”.

I guess I’ll never know.

Very sad, no matter how you look at it.

 

Saturday’s Book: “Blue” by Lou Aronica

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

How do I tell you about this book without spoiling it for you? I want you to enjoy it too!

I started it in the best possible way – I read the first few pages, got totally hooked and didn’t want to stop. I knew nothing about the book and that worked out really well. Reviews I have seen since completing the book include spoilers! Don’t read the plot online!

I can say that its a young adult book (you can tell) . I generally like young adult books but am usually good at predicting events in them. In this book I was often surprised.

The author thanks Ray Bradbury in the forward. I actually think the book has elements that remind me of “The Never Ending Story” & “The Fault in our Stars”. And yes, there is a part where you will probably be glad if a tissue box is nearby.

The color blue is important here.

There are some bits in the beginning which are slightly confusing but otherwise its a very engaging read, a really moving story with parts that I simply could not stop reading. I finished it quite quickly! I just had to know how it would turn out.

I really would like to believe in the ending…

18/100: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s Teaching Tips – 18. Write in Class

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

This is the final part (part eighteen) of my blogging challenge. I’ve enjoyed this challenge a great deal. It has left me eager to start the new school year!

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: “100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 95: “Do writing in class”

I certainly use this tip.

Although it does make some sense for students to write their essays at home (writing can be quite time-consuming since students need time to think about what they are writing) it also makes sense to have the students write some of the essays (or work on parts of an essay) in class.

I do correct essays written at home, have students rewrite them and hand them in again. That is good. Nonetheless, the learning experience is different.

Immediate feedback

Encouragement

Support

Opportunity to model work habits

I’ve had students who told me they remembered certain advanced vocabulary items because these particular words were ones I had suggested when they “got stuck” while writing in class. Sometimes students even remember that I wrote the word on the board in the righthand corner, or on a yellow piece of scrap paper that was available.

Emotions and multi-sensory experiences seem to have a role here.

I believe that like most things in life, it’s about striking a balance. I won’t stop assigning writing tasks to be done at home but I make sure to have students sit and write in class.

Do you?

 

18/100: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s Teaching Tips – 17. Sight Words

A better view Naomi's Photos
A better view
Naomi’s Photos

This is part seventeen of my blogging challenge.

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: “100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 89: “Teach a lot of vocabulary”

* Note: I was sorely tempted to reflect on all the tips in the vocabulary section, but a rule is a rule…

I love it when practices  we recommend for teaching Deaf and hard of hearing students are recommended for everyone.

Sight words are words you understand right away without the need to decode.  Check out this quote from the book (page 106): ” It appears that a large sight vocabulary …is the main condition for successful reading comprehension”. When you have words at your disposal that lead to meaning effortlessly, you can focus on the content of the text must more efficiently.

The thing is, the sight vocabulary needs to be large. Even students with normal hearing cannot pick up enough vocabulary based on incidental learning and by seeing words in context in books. Vocabulary has to be taught and practiced. A lot!

Vocabulary flashcards rock!

They will “rock” even more if you include collocations!

Especially god for pair work – an opportunity for students to be teachers too. Meanwhile you, the official teacher,  can work with someone who needs extra help.

The only caveat is the issue of general knowledge. The students have to have a reasonable grasp of the concepts the words denote. Otherwise the ability to quickly translate the words into their mother tongue does not contribute to reading comprehension.

Which may sound extremely obvious to you.

Unless you are working with Deaf and hard of hearing students…

(For more information on that issue, see the post on the Q/A blog: Translating words into L1 isn’t always helpful. Why?

 

 

 

18/100: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s Teaching Tips – 16. Assess Yourself

Spot the difference! Naomi's Photos
Spot the difference!
Naomi’s Photos

This is part sixteen of my blogging challenge.

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: “100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 88: “Assess yourself”

I couldn’t agree more – assessing is something we need to do to ourselves, not just the students. It is particularly necessary for veteran teachers, so as to avoid going into “sleep-teaching” mode – teaching purely based on habit. Doing that places the teacher in danger of failing to adapt her teaching style to the ever-changing needs/demands of the students and system and feeling bored with the profession.

The author discusses three ways to assess your teaching practices. I actually see the second two as two sides of the same coin and, would like to expand the first.

I totally agree that getting feedback from a reliable colleague is a very tricky issue. Everyone is so busy at school and asking to be observed can be awkward. However, it’s amazing how blogging truthfully about your lesson and then discussing it online with members of your PLN (Personal learning Network) can help you assess your lesson.  I emphasize the word amazing because none of the teachers in my own PLN teach EFL to deaf and hard of hearing students in the format of a learning center in the national school system. Nonetheless, these teachers have helped me understand what didn’t work well in a lesson or did in fact work well and why this must be so.

I cannot separate giving yourself feedback after a lesson and using the students as a source of feedback and assessment. When a lesson ends I judge it by the students’ reactions. Did they concentrate? Were they working or wasting time? Did they demonstrate that they understood the material? Did I have to explain the same point for a long time? What did they say to me and to each other?

The students’ feedback comes through loud and clear, as long as I take the time to reflect on it.

 

Saturday’s Book: “Measuring the World” by Kehlmann

Two on the go Naomi's Photos
Two on the go
Naomi’s Photos

This is one of those books I had never heard of (translated from German), that I stumbled upon in the library and quite enjoyed. Wikipedia says that a movie was based on the book, never encountered that either.

The author really brings to life two scientists that devoted their lives to figuring out the world’s secrets, Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander Von Humboldt. The early 19th century comes to life as well. The tale is told skillfully, with understatement and humor. The author manages a winning combination of explaining information while presenting the human side.  Frankly, I’m glad I never met either of them – it was no simple matter to be around either one of them!

Here’s to trying books one has never heard of!

18/100: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s Teaching Tips – 15. Eye Contact

I'm over here! Look at me! Naomi's Photos
I’m over here! Look at me!
Naomi’s Photos

This is part fifteen of my blogging challenge.

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: “100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 78: “Keep eye contact”

Dare I say “I told you so”?

Not just me, any teacher /counselor / specialist who works with teachers who have a student with a hearing loss in their classroom has said the same thing; many things that we are asking you to do for “our” student are good for everyone!

I completely agree that keeping eye contact with as many students as possible helps them focus on what you are saying. Focus on the teacher, in fact. And when teachers look at the students a lot they are more aware of the students reactions – are they baffled or completely “on board”?

Naturally not everything good for students with normal hearing is ideal for those who don’t hear as well. The author recommends sometimes speaking from the side of the classroom or even the back. As long as the student with a hearing loss is seated on a side row (so as to be able to swivel in the chair) and the teacher moves to a different spot and spends some time there (aka, not moving constantly), he /she  could deal with these options as well.

I love this tip!

18/100: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s Teaching Tips – 14. Speech & Memorization

The lampost doesn't have to bore the chair... (Naomi's Photos)
The lamppost doesn’t have to bore the chair…
(Naomi’s Photos)

This is part fourteen of my blogging challenge.

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: “100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 74: “Let students use memorized text” {for speaking activities}

I sincerely believe this helps the students. Even the Deaf ones, not just the hard of hearing students.

The first things my students want to know how to say in English are set phrases , useful for dialogues in real life situations “what’s your name?”  “My name is _____”, How old are you”? “How much does this cost”? “I didn’t hear you”. The students with more severe hearing losses need a lot of practice with each phrase individually but once they master them, they become readily available for the students to use fluently. Fluently from the speaker’s perspective, not in the sense of how understandable their speech is to the listener (some of the students’ speech is not very clear).

My students need to practice the same exchanges and expressions over and over again. I used to have the students pull out the names of celebrities from a box. Then they were asked to answer as if they were that character. That would hold students’ interest while repeating the set phrases. This strategy worked better with younger students.

The author has intriguing suggestions for varying simple dialogues so as to keep the necessary repetitions interesting. I  particularly like the suggestion related to “tone”.  Students have to repeat the same words but each time they must say them in a different way – angrily, happily, sadly, etc.

This is something I would like to try.

How about you?

 

 

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