Lost in a Book: “A Good American” by Alex George

A question of perspective
Naomi’s Photos

The book was surprisingly good!

I say “surprisingly” because I was very suspicious. The title hints at slogans, platitudes, stereotypes or just plain “shmaltz”. It’s a library book (as opposed to one you spend money on) so I took it out despite my reservations.

So glad I did.

The multi-generational tale of the Meisenheimer family who immigrated from Hanover, Germany to a tiny town in Missouri in the late 19th century is actually everything the blurb promises it would be. It gets even better as the book progresses. The book is an easy, flowing read with a story that is both touching and amusing.

Best of all, I really couldn’t predict a thing! The ups and downs of this family, generation after generation,  did not follow the script I imagined after reading / watching other multigenerational tales.

What a pleasure!

 

Team Work, Book Clubs & a Podcast – A Comment

Aren’t ideas always depicted as lights that are turned on?
Naomi’s Photos

While the title of Tyson Seburn’s fascinating post is “Serial Podcast for Extensive Reading”, I was only able to focus on the novel idea of using transcripts of an incredibly popular podcast tale for a book club when I read the post the second time.

The first time I read the post I was totally floored by the team work of Tyson’s staff and how a team can promote an instructional goal. Working with the constraints of time and not overburdening the staff, they set up a virtual book club program to promote extensive reading across the board, including all students and teachers. It is more than just a division of labor.

The pigeons’ staff room?
Naomi’s Photos

If you think the expression “floored” is a bit dramatic, consider the following. I’m currently working my way through a book called “The Power of Teacher Teams” by Troen & Boles. It talks about how truly good teacher teams not only help lessen the load of the individual teacher but actually improve students’ academic achievements. Sounds wonderful, right? Reading Tyson Seburn’s post had me fantasizing there for a short while that our multi disciplined staff of special education teachers could promote extensive reading in the students’ mother tongue in such a manner. An art teacher, math teacher, history and civics teacher should also be able to promote reading, right? Many Deaf and hard of hearing students do not like to read. Reading improves academic achievement across the board, so every teacher should be on board with this goal. At least in theory…

Unfortunately, the book scares me completely. While writtten in a very readable manner, it makes it clear that it is REALLY hard to get a staff of wonderful teachers to work efficiently together to achieve goals across the board like that. It involves organized sessions devoted to working on team-work skills, preferably having an outside instructor to get everyone to see that it actually matters and could be done.

Unaccessible…
Naomi’s Photos

One of the nice things about people who write blog posts is that they are perfectly happy to answer questions and one can simply write to them. Tyson Seburn confirmed that his staff had also had specific team training sessions.

Sigh…

Anyway, to get back to the question related to using transcripts of a podcast for a book club – I’m all for it. A podcast such as Serial offers a compelling narrative and rich language , with the added bonus of general knowledge.

Personally, I stopped listening to Serial very quickly. I do not like the true crime genre and do not watch such TV shows either. But that’s just me. So let me run the Douglas Adams  group in the book club ….

Lost in a Book: “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

Who is behind the woman?
Naomi’s Photos

The book deserves all the accolades you’ve heard.

The book.

I didn’t watch the TV series and I don’t intend to. The book left a powerful enough imprint on my brain as it is. I don’t need it spelled out any clearer and I don’t need the graphics of the violent parts.

Margaret Atwood is a master of the “how”, not only the “what”.  The story progresses, is full of drama and tension in the here and now. Throughout it all,  information relating to the past, to explaining how one earth did all of this come to pass, drips in, appears through the lonely single window of Offred’s room, slips through the closet and pops up all over her grocery shopping expeditions.  From remarks on the lack of plastic bags, for example, the reader suddenly realizes that Offred (who once had another name, one which we do not know) had  a daughter. The background and the backdrop literally grow in front of your eyes in a very subtle way.

And yes, it is scary. I read an edition with an interesting forward by the author. As she said, most of the events in the book have actually happened somewhere already. All the events are plausible and possible.

I’m glad they made a TV series out of it, even if I won’t watch it. More people will be exposed to this powerful tale. which is a good thing. All I can do is hope it will make people think.

 

 

Learning to Accept a “NO” – Lessons from a Teacher with a Red Nose

“No”. That’s not something we teachers find it easy to hear, or to accept. We put so much energy in explaining, clarifying, supporting and encouraging. We volunteer our own time and try to go the extra mile. It is difficult to understand that sometimes what is truly right for the other person at a certain moment simply is not what we are trying to give.

The author of this guest post, Dorit Renov, shares her experiences and insights on dealing with “NO” as a response. Dorit has been an EFL teacher for over 40 years. Besides teaching, Dorit volunteers as a medical clown, is an actress, and taught art for many years. This post is an excerpt from her upcoming book.

Looking at things from a different perspective
Dorit Renov

 

“Fill in this space, you still have some space on the page.”

The 18-year old volunteer at the center for mentally-challenged adults pointed to the white space around a cluster of colored brush strokes.

“Here, you have place here for some more color.”

“Well, actually,” I told her later, “If you remember from my instructions, white space is fine. We don’t have to fill in white space. We, in fact, don’t have to do anything for our people here at the center. They can decide on their own how much white space they want to cover, and they can decide what colors to choose.”

“So what do we do?”

“We assist them physically if they need it. And we provide friendly company. We don’t decide for them.”

“But what if they want another page and they haven’t finished that one?”

“There’s no such thing as finishing a page. Each individual is capable of deciding when she or he has completed that work and wants to move on to the next, regardless of that individual’s IQ level.”

Paper
Naomi’s Photos

 

We strive to touch the individuality of the person, to help that person express himself or herself. We talk of self-expression as an important aspect of education or interaction with those tutored. And then we fill in their white spaces?!

Making decisions is a vital part of our independence and it is an expression of our very essence. I choose x rather than y because my essence wishes, has an affinity for, x.

Making choices is vital.

And it lends dignity to people in all situations and conditions.“Help the people here make their own choices. When Lior chooses red he has expressed his own-ness, his self. His self wants red there. And when he says or indicates ‘Enough’, that means that he has chosen to see this page as complete. It is not our place to question that, for we are not him. And he has been him.”

“Um…”

“Um, okay? Um, I understand?

Um, you’re digesting this?”

I respect your um, and you respect the white space.

White spaces on paper
Naomi’s Photos

 

So one day, we – the staff – thought our young adults could take further part in the decision-making, and vote for certain programs at the club. Sitting in a circle, they were introduced to the program, what it would include – in a simplified manner, of course. The voting began and each one could say “Yes” or “No”, whether or not the program should be implemented. After a few yeses, the nos began. The first one to say no said it for his own reasons and the avalanche of nos that followed seemed to simply echo the first no, in the sense of “No” sounding good.

And so, a perfectly lovely program that I had devised was now not to be implemented, simply because no sounded good to say, it being fun to say “No”.

“What shall I do, Adva?” I asked our team leader.

“Well, wait a while and maybe we won’t vote in the near future.”

Making choices it would seem is best done within the limits of one’s capabilities. Voting yes and no may be a tad more difficult than choosing whether or not to fill in that white space on the page.

When color knocks on the door…
Naomi’s photos

 

Clowning at the adult cancer center at a local hospital, I look past the open door of a room in the ward, to a woman lying in bed while a younger woman is sitting beside her. I ask quietly, and with a smile, if I may enter – my appearance leaving no doubt as to my intentions. I have a red nose, a chicken-hat on my head, a colorful vest and equally colorful trousers. Not too much color on my face, just red to emphasize my smile.

The woman in bed shakes her head, so I send a kiss in the air with my fingers toward her, smile, wave and disappear. I am very pleased that she said “No.”

The hospital is a place where one can seldom express one’s will. We are not asked what we would like at the hospital. We are told what to do, and people barge into our rooms with no prior permission or notice. Medical staff, cleaning staff, visitors – all enter at their own will.

I may be one of the few who asks permission, and I therefore consider it a great privilege of the patients to state their desire to have one refrain from entering.

May I?
Naomi’s Photos

I can definitely say that I am just as pleased to receive a “No” as to receive a “Yes”, since for just one moment that particular patient has exercised her or his will. I consider that moment to be the most I may humbly contribute, for I have no knowledge of anything more.

That is the moment of being oneself, touching one’s own essence, touching the healthy and oft-forgotten side of one’s being.

 

And so, the word “No” may be very pleasant to one’s ears in certain circumstances, and in the hospital it warms my heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Missing U” – Word Play in a Video Lesson using iSLCollective

Notice this! Naomi’s Photos

Really Important Preliminary Note: 

The following video lesson is meant to be done with soundtrack turned off! Everything relates to the visual input. The video does have a lovely soundtrack but my students are Deaf and hard of hearing, remember?

There’s nothing like taking an in service training course to get one moving out of the comfort zone and trying something new. I’ve been using EDPUZZLE extensively for all my video lessons for quite a while but the course encouraged me to explore new options.  So this video lesson was made using  iSLCollective

iSLCollective is really easy to use! There are varied question types to add and a transcript of the questions is automatically generated below the video. That’s a really helpful feature if you want to choose a ready-made video lesson from the website itself – you don’t have to watch an entire video in order to inspect the questions.  However, there doesn’t seem to be the option of adding two questions to the same stopping point like Edpuzzle has. Both programs allow you to crop the videos and they both have good tech support. They both have a replay option, but in Edpuzzle it is added automatically while in iSLCollective you add it on your own.

Edpuzzle lets you create classes to track your students’ progress, but I don’t use that feature. I embed the videos into the Edmodo we use and do the tracking there. iSLCollective has a very large collection of  lessons to choose from (organized by categories) and when you create a lesson you must fill in information to help categorize your lesson. I actually had trouble with that part, especially as this particular video lesson doesn’t focus on one easily categorized topic such as “prepositions” (I had a video lesson on that a while ago…).

So, what does it focus on?

Naomi’s Photos

This video lesson was planned for struggling learners studying for the Module C matriculation exam, which includes a section on writing an informal letter (these students have accommodations). It is not easy for them and we are practicing writing letters a lot.  The video ties in with letter writing in several ways:

Vocabulary

* Presenting a visual aid to help the students remember that the word “letter” does not only refer to the kind of letter they are writing but to letters in alphabet. These students tend to remember (if at all) only one meaning for words.

* The students tend to see the phrase they use in their letters as one word “I miss you”. This video lesson has repeated use of the word “missing”, not as part as that phrase.

* Exposure to some new vocabulary in a meaningful, visual context. Many of my students do not pick up any vocabulary from their surroundings, (incidental learning) due to their hearing loss. I always try to include some vocabulary that we aren’t currently studying (and may never study!) as exposure. In the case, the words “embark” “journey” and “ukulele” appear in the video.

Thinking Skills – Distinguishing Different Perspectives

These students are required to read a short topic and then write an informal letter from the point of view of that person. For example “David is studying art in Italy for a year. He writes a letter to his parents in Israel about his experiences. Write David’s letter”. Some of these students have hard time writing from another person’s perspective. We discuss this quite a bit. In the video we see how the woman sees the letter “u” missing all around her, while the man is missing the letter “I”. The video gives us an opportunity to repeat the discussion (which the students need) but from a different angle.

Word Play

This video is just a great opportunity for a bit of fun with words! The way the light in the windows form the word “city”, the way the sea looks like the letter “C” and the beehive has the letter “B” plastered over it. There aren’t questions on each pun, but this activity is meant to be done together in class so it can be discussed. It’s nice to have fun!

Enjoy!

 

 

The “Magic E” Telephone – A Spin-off

Sunbirds certainly “talk” a lot! Naomi’s photos

When I read Teresa Bestwick’s short post titled “Minimal Pairs Telephone” I immediately knew that a variation of this would be a hit in my classroom.

The fact that it is such a  simple activity to prepare and that the activity is so easy for the students to understand makes it even more appealing.

In addition, it’s fun! Especially with the twist I added.

Teresa used minimal pairs. That’s out of the question when working with students who don’t hear well. The difference between words such as “fit” and “feet” is very hard to hear and to see on the lips.  So I decided to practice the “Magic E”. The words with the magic E have longer sounds and are easier for the students to hear and see. And there is a nice rule one can use.

Since I teach in the format of a learning center, I could not do this activity on the board with the whole class, the way Teresa did it. I needed this activity to be up on the wall to be done individually or in small groups during the week. So I used 10 index cards, and attached them to an existing activity board (little pockets for flashcards).

Magic E Telephone

 

Above each word there is a number, zero to nine.

First I asked each student what  the difference is  between the words that look mostly similar (hat /hate). They all noticed the letter “e ” at the end. I explained about the Magic E and its effect on pronunciation and said the words out loud. Then I informed them that I was going to say my phone number, but in words!

You may be surprised, but it isn’t so simple to think of a number and then say a word. I found myself wanting to point to each word and it goes slower than rattling off numbers. Try it!

Close up of Magic E Telephone

Then it was the student’s turn.  To make it more amusing, I asked the students to fold their arms and not point at all and just read off the words of their phone number. I pointed to each word I understood and they had to nod if I had understood them correctly. If they didn’t pronounce the word correctly they had to repeat my example.

The students loved it! I love it! It was great fun for them trying to meet the challenge of not pointing and not getting confused and they all tried hard to say the words correctly. I’ll see how many repetitions we can manage of this activity before moving on to the next one.

Two anecdotes:

One student got a new phone with a different phone number just before school. He could not recall his new phone number. I told him to use his old phone number. The student came back to me later in the day and said he found his new number and asked to repeat the activity!

This year I only have three students who are profoundly Deaf from Deaf families and don’t usually use their voice very much. I had planned in advance that any student who wanted could opt out of a speaking activity and learn to sign the vocabulary items in ASL (American Sign Language) instead. They wanted to speak the words too and did create a difference between how they said the words! No one else would understand their speech, that’s for sure, but even for Deaf students speaking helps retention.

Lost in a Book: “Speak Swahili, Dammit!” by Penhaligon

Full title: Speak Swahili, Dammit – a Tragic, Funny, African Childhood.

Naomi’s Photos

I discovered this book completely by chance and really enjoyed it. My son was explaining to me that Amazon actually has free Kindle books and was demonstrating how one finds them, when we stumbled upon this one. I had never heard of it, but at the price of $O.O , with such an intriguing title,  it was an easy decision to give it a chance.

James Penhaligon grew up in a truly remote, tiny cluster of homes near a mine by Lake Victoria. A child of British parents who picked up Swahili before English, he tells the story of an unusual childhood. He earned the right to use that subtitle, the tale is fascinating, funny and tragic. But it is more than just the story of his childhood, Penhaligon also tells the story of the region in East Africa, what was once called Tanganika, the battles fought there, how it changed hands and the very diverse people who ended up living there.

My only complaint is that the book is too long. Slightly less detailing of every escapade would have been better. Young James had many an escapade indeed!

I was so absorbed in the story, now that I’ve finished reading the book I feel I’m going to miss the characters! On the last page it says another book will soon be out , describing what happens next. However, as far as I can tell, it hasn’t been published. I’m very curious regarding what happened when the mine closed and all the residents had to leave.

Back to Amazon, I discovered two things after finding this gem of a book:

When you scroll through the options for free Kindle books, Amazon starts suggesting  sleazy looking romantic novels with suggestive covers , supposedly based on your viewing preferences.  There are a ton of such books in the free section. ANNOYING!

This book, at least today, is no longer free. I assume that if they see people are downloading it they start charging for it again.

 

A TEACHER’S “PERIODIC TABLE”: 3. Lines

Full Title  – Pondering the “Periodic Table of Teacher Elements”  that make up a teacher’s life.

There are all sorts of lines…
Naomi’s photos

The spark for this series of posts was ignited by reading the book “The Periodic Table” by Primo Levi. That book is unique, fascinating and powerful. These posts do not even attempt to hold a candle to the book, which I highly recommend reading.

Nonetheless,  the idea of exploring elements that make up a teacher’s life took hold…

If my claim that “lines” are an absolutely basic element of every teacher’s life took you by surprise, ask yourself the following questions:

  • When you taught the alphabet, did you draw lines on the board yourself or did you have one of those boards that have a section with lines? Are you capable of writing on the board in a straight line? I can’t…
  • Which behaviors do you draw the line at in class? Do you allow chewing gum but draw the line at using the cellphone?
  • To what degree are you required by the administration to toe the line in class? How much leeway do you actually have to decide what you teach, when you teach it and to add your own “flavor”?
  • What are your lines of communication with your students / parents / the administration?
  • How is your classroom organized? In straight lines? Traditional columns and rows?
  • What are your strategies for drawing the line between your private life and work? How do you shut the door on something that worried you at home and give your students your full attention in class? Or vice-a-versa?
  • Lines can become blurry, sometimes…
    Naomi’s Photos
  • How do you navigate that fine line between using humor in the classroom and ensuring that not a single student leaves the lesson feeling insulted?
  • Do you feel a student is out of line when he /she asks you whether or not you fasted during the holiday or if you are pregnant?
  • Do you let students get away with lines such as “My dog ate my homework”?
  • How often have you tried desperately to fit  some important phone calls into a ten minute break between classes, only to be told to hold the line? Then they say they’ll call you back, but of course, you can’t answer the phone because you are teaching?!
  • How much time do you spend online for work purposes?
  • How often do you say (perhaps feeling exasperated) in class “Pay attention to the line numbers!!! “.

I’m sure you can think of other examples along these lines. In the school in which I teach, I am not required to line the students up for lunch or recess, but perhaps that is a daily element for you. In any case, you are welcome to drop me a line with your comments!

Note: I use an apron when I cook for my family. It has lines on it too…

Lost in a Book – “Solomon’s Song” by Toni Morrison

Moving from darkness into “go safely”…
Naomi’s photos

Toni Morrison had me hooked by the end of the first paragraph.

Hooked from beginning to end, when I finally figured out at least a few of the layers of meaning that the title refers to. No spoilers here!

I found myself comparing a few elements of  this book to “The Bluest Eye” which is still my favorite book by Morrison.  “Solomon’s Song” has an educated African-American family of means at the center of the story.  It isn’t as gut wrenching to read as “The Bluest Eye” with its tale of a child caught up in endless cycle of poverty, lack of education and woe.  A book that was nonetheless mesmerising – I couldn’t put it down.

In Solomon’s Song, through the tale of four generations, one encounters a rich tapestry of tales over the generations. We have racial tensions, gender issues, politics and ideology, history and much more. The language used is different too.

The whole issue of people’s names and their implications is fascinating too.  The main character is called Macon Dead. His aunt is called Pilate…

This is the kind of book I would be happy to study in a literature course and discuss with others. There is so much food for thought in it!

 

A Teacher’s “Periodic Table”: 2. Diamonds vs. Rust

Full Title  – Pondering the “Periodic Table of Teacher Elements”  that make up a teacher’s life


(Naomi’s Photos)

The spark for this series of posts was ignited by reading the book “The Periodic Table” by Primo Levi. That book is unique, fascinating and powerful. These posts do not even attempt to hold a candle to the book, which I highly recommend reading.

Nonetheless,  the idea of exploring elements that make up a teacher’s life took hold…

*** Title inspired by Joan Baez’s song: “Diamonds and Rust”, 1974.

Naomi’s Photos

Diamonds are those moments when…

… a student’s face lights up with the joy of comprehension.

… a student uses what we have just taught on his /her own initiative.

… a student is eager to learn more.

… we realize that the way we presented / planned / constructed our lesson was just what the students needed to grasp the issue and move a step forward.

Rust takes hold the minute  you decide that since that particular mode of presenting the material was such a success, you will always teach it that way, regardless of context, the years that have gone by  and the ever-changing needs of different students. If the fact that  diamonds no longer sparkle during the lessons escapes you, than the rust is truly entrenched.

Note: One good strategy for Rust Removal is to have a student teacher (a teacher-to-be) in your class.   The need to explain why you do what you do is a terrific rust detector.

Additional Note: Attending  a teacher’s conference will enable you to meet other teachers who also swear by their methods for mining for diamonds. Taking in some of that collective knowledge provides powerful rust-removal polish.

Final NoteDiamonds are also those moments in the hallway (and outside of school) when the students are happy to see you…

 

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