A Conference OUTPUT SESSION – On to Stage Two!

Emboldened by all the encouragement I got when I floated the idea of having an OUTPUT SESSION  at a conference I submitted a proposal.

My proposal has been accepted for the upcoming ETAI Jerusalem Conference! Perhaps it helped that the theme chosen for the conference is “Keeping an Open Mind”?

Now, on to stage two – getting teachers interested in the idea.

I posted a letter to our local list explaining the idea and a call to vote for the topic (many thanks to David Lloyd for setting up the poll!)

Here’s the letter:

Have you ever stopped to think at what an amazing resource of accumulated wisdom the teachers who attend ETAI conferences are? Teachers who have experience teaching every age group and every sector in the country.

Well, it’s time to start tapping into the vast experience of our ETAI members by having an OUTPUT SESSION.

In this first output session we will join forces to formulate an agreed list of ONLY seven “Do’s” and seven “Don’ts” on ONE of the following topics. Please go to the following link to vote for ONE of the six possible topics!


The results of our combined efforts at the Output Session will be posted on the ETAI website, in the ETAI Forum and more!

Let’s begin a new tradition!

Stage three will be on Tuesday, July 3rd, at 1:30. I don’t know if the number of teachers who take the poll is any indication of how many will participate in the session, but one thing I AM sure of –  now is the time to give me advice regarding being a moderator!

Saturday’s Book – It’s Audio, but not quite a Book!

As you may remember, I really enjoy audio books. Particularly when I have to do housework!

As it has been a while since I finished listening to “Great Expectations” (Dickens) and haven’t gotten a hold of a new one, I’m listening to Coffee Break Spanish – Spanish Lessons!

Now, its not the same as having an audio book, as I don’t want to listen to too much new information at once. One lesson of 20 minutes is enough for a day (sometimes I listen to a lessson more than once, but not on the same day). Its not enough for housework!

But it is great fun. The course is from SCOTLAND and the characters speak English with a beautiful Scottish accent! I had to go back to the beginning of the first lesson becuase I was focusing on that lovely accent instead of the Spanish! But now I’m used to it – Mark and Kara are very pleasant to listen to. It’s tourist oriented and has lots of useful phrases.

It’s odd to learn a language without using any book or any written material at all. I plan to use Quizlet and I have the coursebook I once learned beginning Spanish with but haven’t gotten to any of that yet. I just listen!

It’s an interesting experiment to see how much I will retain simply by listening! I certainly remember how to say “Scotland” in Spanish!

When a Mistake Reminds Me Why I Love You

This is certainly a good time to stumble on Renny Gleeson’s TED Talk. In four minutes (and 8 seconds!) Gleeson makes an unusual conclusion make perfect sense:

” A simple mistake can tell me what you aren’t, or remind me why I love you”

See the talk here: Renny Gleeson: 404: the story of a page not found

Wow!  Can this  work in  the educational system?

At this time of year, at both my jobs, intolerance of mistakes is all around me.

At the high-school my students have one very clear goal, to graduate with a full diploma which includes English. Those national exams we just had (and students are still taking, but in other subjects) are all about getting as many answers as possible right in a limited time.

As a counselor, one of my jobs is collecting data needed to feed the computer information regarding our deaf and hard of hearing students on the national level (for the exams). About 250 teachers must pass on the data to their coordinators, then to district representatives who pass it on to me. I create the final list and send it on to THE COMPUTER.

There are a lot of people, human people along that chain of data. And there is always at least one human error, every time.

THE COMPUTER does not suffer mistakes. VERY complicated to get things corrected.

Perhaps we can feed into it one of Gleeson’s examples of error notices? Love us – we are humans?!

Saturday’s Book: “The World According to Garp” by John Irving

All week I’ve encountered references to John Irving’s new book and it reminded me of the “The World According to Garp”.

This is one of the rare examples of seeing the movie first (I adore Robin Williams!) yet still really enjoying the book afterwards. All this was many years ago but that’s a tale that certainly made a mark in my memory!

I also read the Hotel New Hampshire which was the author’s next book. I think pretty much the only things I remembered about the book was the phrase ” keep passing the open windows” (again, we’re talking many years ago!) . However, I just caught the movie on cable TV one holiday quite recently and I remembered a lot once I began watching. Certainly worth reading.

It isn’t as powerful a story, or as memorable one as Garp. I think the actor Robin Williams must have also been influenced by this tale because the theme of someone trying to do good, to be good to children despite difficulties, runs through a lot of his movies.

Always nice to remember a good book, even better when both the book and the movie were good!

National Exam Day vs. a Special Ed. English Teacher

Yesterday was national exam day, or matriculation, or “Bagrut”, as it is called here. This year was one of the difficult ones.

Photo by Gil Epshtein

And I’m not talking about the complexity of the exams. I didn’t have time to look at them!

Every national exam day is a busy one for me. As a national counselor of English for deaf and hard of hearing students, on the day of the exam itself (and the days preceding the exam)I respond to a large number of questions from schools who have only one such student. They generally need clarifications regarding the paperwork that needs to be stapled to our students’ exams.

At my school we, of course, know what must be stapled where but we have volume! About 30 of our 62 students took the exams, some took more than one. There is the usual round of minor crises to be solved – students who don’t bring their pens or dictionaries, students who come slightly late or arranged to be picked up an hour before the test ends, the usual.

This year, on top of that, all hell broke loose.

We have two students with issues related to anger management (a trigger will cause them to move from being sweet to “Hulk-like” at an amazing speed).

The exams are given in three sessions. During the second session one of these students (we’ll call him L) was taking an exam. The other students (we’ll call him A), along with a few other kids who had taken the first session of the exam and were waiting for the third session, camped out in an empty classroom. I wasn’t aware of this.

This empty classroom was the one adjoining the exam room. Worse, the wall separating the rooms was a dry wall (made of plaster).

It would have gone unnoticed if they had sat quietly and used sign language. But it seems that someone pulled “A”‘s arm and his watch fell off and the metal strap separated into sections. That did it. “A” started pounding the wall with his fists and screaming.

“L” is hard of hearing and he certainly heard THAT. When I came to see what was going on “L” was already getting worked up and making threats

Now, if you were under any illusion that I’m the kind of special-ed teacher that soothes the outbursts of the angry student, then now is the time to get rid of that thought. I can help them find the ways that will enable them to study English. But when a 6 foot 19 year old is enraged I call for help. Other staff members got him out into the yard, fixed his watch strap and calmed him down.

In fact he calmed down so completely that less than an hour and a half later he took his exam. “L” was supposed to be in the same room for his last exam but I moved him into another room with students taking a totally different level of exam – did not want them in the same room! That caused a bit of technical confusion but nobody disagreed with my decision!

Some exam days have gone by so smoothly that I go to gym class afterwards. Yesterday was not one of them!

But it’s over now. And I must tell you, these kids are NOT usually (except for certain days!) the ones I would call my most difficult students.

But this post is long enough and I have written a post entitled “Will the REAL Difficult Student Please Stand Up” over at the iTDi blog (as part of a focus on working with difficult students) so I’ll be off to bed now! Good night!

It’s Saturday! Remembering Maurice Sendak

I have to admit that until I heard that Maurice Sendak had passed away this week, I had never read anything related to his biography. As  I have “mused on” in a previous post, I’m not a big fan of looking for keys to understanding stories (or poems) in the authors’ biography. A piece should stand on its own merit.

“Where the Wild Things Are” most certainly stands on its own. I’ve met people who aren’t interested in children’s literature in the slightest, who may never have heard of Sendak, immediatly react to the name of the books. I encounter the book EVERYWHERE, in its Hebrew translation that is. By the way, the title in Hebrew is “In the Land of Wild Creatures”.

However, reading about Sendak in the New York Times article DID explain a few things. In particular, the part about how the abduction of the Lindbergh baby influenced him.

In short, Maurice Sendak has left a significant legacy. May his memory be blessed!

Simon’s Cat & HOTS

Photo by Omri Epstein

This is the first of my new batch of exercises as part of my Reading Pictures Strategy for  improving the reading comprehension skills of struggling learners.

What is different about this new batch is that I’ve placed more emphasis on the HOTS (higher order thinking skills) which is now a major issue in high-schools.

I’ve added a category and a tag called “HOTS” to make these exercises easy to locate. In addition, they can also be downloaded from the blog page titled “Downloadable Goodies!”

The Simon’s Cat short videos are perfect for discussing the skill of “identifying patterns of behavior”. This cat most certainly exhibits clear patterns of behavior!

Here is the worksheet. You are welcome to adapt it to suit your needs. I would be delighted to hear what you do with it!

Simon’s Cat

It’s Saturday! Musings on the Genre of Fantasy and Getting Older

I just watched the third movie of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy with my younger son. It wasn’t the first time.

I read “The Hobbit” and the trilogy when I was a teenager. I also read many other fantasy books and some science fiction too, then and in the following years. The “Narnia” series, “A Never Ending Story” and “A Wrinkle in Time” are the examples which pop up first.

I accompanied my boys as they discovered the world of fantasy and learned from them about some books that hadn’t been around when I was their age. Books such as the “Artemis Fowl” series and “Good Omens“.

It didn’t seem to me that age was a problem when it came to enjoying fantasy.

However, tonight I felt less sure. Though it must be noted that I was watching the movie again, not rereading the book.

The third film includes the happy end. You see Aragorn being crowned and everyone is in white and all is splendid, beautiful and shiny.

That bothered me.

Of course they are happy. But they’ve just been through an incredibly horrific war with lots of dead and wounded, and great devastation. They couldn’t possibly be looking like that after what they’ve just been through, even though they are happy.

I’m being ridiculous, right? The tale is full of magic, so what’s my problem?! I didn’t have a “reality check” for the previous parts of the film but the ending bothered me.

I didn’t react this way before. Is this a sign of age? Is it harder to surrender to fantasy when you get older? I hope not…

An Emotional Comment on “Evaluate Me, Please”

The post “Evaluate Me, Please” on Teach from the Heart Blog REALLY struck a chord with me.

By Gil Epshtein

So much so that here I am, writing about it. In particular, I need to expand on this quote:

“Don’t assume you know my kids as well as I do. That little boy with his back to me? Yeah, I know he’s off-task, but six months ago he would’ve thrown a desk when he was angry. Now he just turns his back. If I leave him alone, he’ll calm down and eventually apologize. If I say something to him now he’ll explode.”

In my class it wouldn’t be a little boy. It would be a teenage girl who is engrossed in cutting off threads coming out of her cloth pencil case. She can’t focus on anything else until the offending threads have been dealt with. Once she’s done she’ll work quickly and nicely. However,  if I try to stop her now we may end up in the principal’s office. Or it would be the huge teenage boy who says swear words to himself as he works. That’s significant progress – he used to swear at other students and get into fights which lead to trouble. As long as he does it quietly with his head down I’m thankful my students don’t hear well and ignore the behavior.

The problem lies with “the other” people. As opposed to “Teach from the Heart”, I don’t get officialy evaluated. At all! However, that doesn’t mean I’m not being judged.

First of all, there are the young teacher’s aids which I have for part of the lessons. I’ve had cases where I had to talk to them several times so that they wouldn’t loudly draw attention to a child off-task during the lesson. It is sometimes difficult for them to understand how a teacher could not expect everyone to behave like little angels and ignore some things!

Then there are the students themselves. Particularly 10th graders, which are new to the high-school. As I teach mixed classes (all 3 grades together) there’s always at least one student who takes it upon himself / herself to monitor what everyone else is doing and report it to me, loudly. And since that means that student isn’t working, he or she is so indignant that I’ve ignored a behavior the teacher from last year would never have ignored… now, of course, I can’t pretend not to notice and have to diffuse a situation that could easily escalate when it could have simply  been avoided!

Anyway, when you visit my class, which I hope you do, remember that there is a reason for everything, which I”ll be happy to exlain after the class!

I really recommend reading the full “Evaluate Me, Please” post.