All posts by Naomi Epstein

Hi! I teach English as a foreign language to deaf and hard of hearing students in Israel and am a national counselor in this field. http://visualisingideas.edublogs.org

Saturday’s Book: “Waiting” by Ha Jin

Naomi’s Photos

“Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu”.

That is the opening line of the book “Waiting”, which I encountered in the local library. I had not heard of the author nor had I heard of the book, but with an opening line like that, I was hooked.

The book is clever and unexpected.

For one thing, I wondered how long the author, Jin,  could keep up the main storyline of the book without becoming tiresome – it’s no spoiler to say that the hero is an army doctor, there is a nurse at the military hospital and a wife back in Goose Village.

Jin held my interest for all of the 308 pages.

The book was even more unexpected in the sense of how much background information about rural China (both historical and cultural) and social commentary Jin conveys in an indirect and subtle manner. There are no direct horror stories of “The Cultural Revolution”, nor does the quiet military doctor actively participate in any of the enterprising initiatives that open up later. But as the story unfolds, a clear picture of what it is like to live in an extremely controlled society, one in which you never seem to be truly alone, emerges as well.

Another example of a THANK YOU, LIBRARY” book – books that I find there when I stop looking for books I’ve heard about.

 

Using “Control F” to add Sophie’s Voice to “A Summer’s Reading” by Malamud

Some might find this “creature” intimidating! Naomi’s Photos

There is something intimidating about looking at very long lists of vocabulary items, each list spanning several pages of words written in three columns. There is this feeling of being lost in a wood where the trees are made of words.

Fortunately, technology makes it so much easier to deal with such word lists. I found myself introducing the “control F” function on the computer to several teachers over the last two weeks. Holding down those two keys open a “dialogue box” that allows you to type in a word. If the word appears in the list, you will be magically transported to the right place. If those letters appear in other words as well, those places will also be shown, but the little number on the side of the “box” shows you the number of words available. There are arrows to move between the words.

So helpful!

It particularly came in handy while I was thinking about the character of Sophie, George’s sister in the story “A Summer’s Reading” by Malamud. She’s a very minor character in the story but I thought that adding her point of view could give me a useful way to review the story,  practice vocabulary from the word list in context and the higher order thinking skill known as “distinguishing different perspectives” all in one go.  It’s quite easy to imagine some things Sophie might have thought in reference to her brother.

Her voice is hardly heard…
Naomi’s Photos

I identified 58 vocabulary items from the Band 3 word list as words to use while teaching this story. You can find them on the Quizlet list here: https://quizlet.com/361845610/a-summers-reading-flash-cards/

I wrote sentences on index cards. Each sentence uses a vocabulary item from the list (a word or a chunk) and a few use two words. The words are highlighted in orange. I used 28 items from the Quizlet list. Each index card presents a statement one of the characters in the story may have thought or said. These are not sentences from the story itself!

My class of Deaf and hard of hearing students and I read each card together and then discussed who might have said/thought such a thing. It was really great to see how they explained to each other which parts of the sentences gave them the information they needed to decide from whose perspective it was written. The students were very involved in the activity without officially turning it into a game.  The students could be asked to read the sentences out loud “in character”, but I haven’t tried that yet. Frankly, I was very pleased with the students’ reactions!

Here are examples of sentences from Sophie’s point of view. The activity also includes George’s and Mr. Cattanzara’s possible statements. For the full list of sentences,  click on the title of the attached word document below (you can download it). I hope you find the activity helpful too!

“He won’t come out of his room. I don’t know how he can breathe in there! It is very hot.”

“I don’t understand. He says he is reading books but I don’t see any evidence around the house. Is he telling the truth?”

“Working in a cafeteria in the Bronx means that I’m not home during the day”.

“I wish he would get a job! it would enable us to stop living in poverty!”

“Our mother’s absence really made a difference in our lives. I have to live at home and take care of my father and brother”.

Or as George may have said, sadly:

“Getting some money from my sister is my only source of income“.

Summer Reading Perspective-1owtxz2

 

 

 

Woe! What if EVERYTHING in the English Room “Sparks Joy”? A Comment

Joy in the classroom!
Figures by Yankol. Naomi’s Photos.

I was delighted to read Chia Suan Chong’s useful and inspiring post “Tidying my ELT mess with the KonMari Method™  .   

“ELT mess”… the phrase resonates with me. My EFL classroom /learning center caters to Deaf and hard of hearing students at every possible level. In addition, I’ve been teaching for a long long time… As you can imagine, the classroom closet is PACKED! It’s not chaotic, I’m not ashamed to open its doors in front of visitors, but it is way too full to be useful! It is also harder to keep organized when it is so full.

Just like everyone else, I’ve encountered Marie Kondo’s tidying up method. My sock drawer says “thank you, Marie”! Yet I had no idea how to apply the method, even partially, in the classroom. If the basis of the method is “Sparking Joy” – how does that relate to classroom materials?

Not only does Chia Suan Chong present the reader with some practical advice on applying this organizational method specifically for ELT teachers, but the author also explains how to relate the term “spark joy” to ELT teaching materials.

So off I went to utilize some non-consecutive free periods and declutter that classroom closet”!

There seems to be a problem…
Naomi’s Photos

I ran into trouble pretty quickly.

Sigh.

For one thing, it seems you can’t skip stages.

Placing the stationery items back into their designated little plastic containers is not a problem to do during a free period. I do that from time to time anyway (staplers start migrating to the glue box, markers end up with the scissors, you know what I mean).

No problem. Well done!

But I can’t possibly take out all the books in the closet all at once and make a big pile. I need to teach in a classroom that doesn’t look like a big mess and I can’t deal with all the books in 45 minutes!

So, I decided to begin looking at the books on the top shelf on the right side of the closet, where I keep the books that I don’t use regularly. The plan was to start from left to right and to pull out the books that I can either give away or recycle. Then I would be able to work in small bites.

ALL THOSE BOOKS “SPARK JOY”!

Naomi’s Photos

Each and everyone might be just the book I might need for a certain student, who knows? I have proof, too!  Just a month ago a passage from a book I hadn’t touched for at least 10 years had just the right type of short text with pictures that I needed for a student who had to get an individually tailored task.

I don’t want to part with a copy of the national curriculum from the 1980s, and I certainly don’t want to part with other books from the 1980s that had marvelous stories and passages in them. Every year I plan on creating wonderful activities with selected sections…. (I know, I know. The fact that it hasn’t happened yet is a bad sign).  I have a slew of grammar books for many levels and age groups, with different kinds of explanations.  Surely I need all of that, right? Then there are the “exam books”. The format of the matriculation (“Bagrut”) exams has changed many times yet it seems wise to keep the old books as some of the reading comprehension texts there could be very useful.

Did I mention that there are the new books coming in, and don’t forget the many binders full of worksheets…

And more…

Perhaps I had better wait till June to attempt this formidable task again!

What’s your strategy for dealing with the ELT classroom closet?

 

 

 

Belated Saturday’s Book: “A Place Called Peculiar” by Gallant

Who are you calling peculiar?! Naomi’s Photos

The complete title of the book is: “A Place Called Peculiar: Stories About Unusual American Place-Names”.

This is the kind of book that is fun to read parts of when you are with a group of people who can share your wonder, disbelief and a good laugh at the really unusual names of places one can find in the United States. Sadly, the rest of the time this book can sit, untouched, for years on a shelf. There’s a chapter for every state and frankly, there are only so many weird place names one can examine at a time.

When reading (or flipping through) this book you’ll encounter place names such as “Coin”, “Tea” or even one called “In Between”. And yes, there’s a town called “Peculiar” like the title of the book! Paradise (California) may (or may not) have inherited its name from a saloon called ” a pair o dice” , you can read about it (there are several other additional places called “Paradise” in the US, did you know that?).

My family and I actually visited “Chicken” Alaska and heard a slightly different version of the origin of the name. In the version we know,  the people who survived the harsh winter thanks to the ptarmigan, wanted to name the tiny TINY place in its honor. However, they couldn’t spell ptarmigan! But they could spell chicken…

“Matura”, Please Meet the “Bagrut”! Accomodations on EFL Matriculation Exams from Two Countries

Spot the differences…
Epstein Family Photos

For anyone who teaches English as a foreign language in a school system, matriculation exams are a big deal. We spend a lot of time learning the intricacies of the exams so that we can spend a lot of time preparing our students for them.

However, how often do we have the opportunity to take a look at what matriculation exams in other countries are like? Do they divide them into sections? Are there levels? Do they allow their students to use a dictionary during the exam?

Now take this one step further.

How often does a teacher of English as a foreign language to Deaf and hard of hearing students have the opportunity to compare accommodations on matriculation exams between countries?

The answer would probably be “ZERO OPPORTUNITIES ” if I hadn’t had this blog.

Out of reach…
Naomi’s Photos

Thanks to this blog I met the amazing Beata Gulati from Poland, who introduced me to Professor Ewa Domagała-Zyśk (John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland) and to other members of the research group on the topic of teaching English to this population.

Naturally, I asked everyone lots of questions about matriculation exams. I was fascinated to learn that while there are certainly similarities between different EFL matriculation exams in other countries, there are significant differences in the structures of the exams for the general population and in the accommodations given to Deaf and Hard of Hearing students.

Curious?

Take a seat and check this out!

Naomi’s Photos

I’m pleased to announce that Professor Ewa Domagała-Zyśka and I have written a joint article: “EFL Matriculation Exams for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students – Polish and Israeli Experiences” in which we presented the issue of teaching this population in the context of the Polish “Matura” exam vs the Israeli “Bagrut” exam.  The article was published in “Multicolors: An International Journal of Educational Theory and Research”.  

Such collaborations serve as an “eye opener” and as a reminder – no one in education has a monopoly on “the right way” to teach and assess students. Such comparisons can serve to enrich and enhance our teaching methods.

Here’s to reading, learning, and blogging!

Counting Re-Entry of Vocabulary Items – “Thank You, Ma’am”

Plenty to count!
Naomi’s Photos

One of the stories that my Deaf and hard of hearing students like the most is “Thank You, Ma’am” by Langston Hughes.

I’ve just begun teaching it to a new group of 10th graders so I was very motivated to update my materials for this particular story first. As I explained in my previous post, since vocabulary acquisition often requires significantly more explicit instruction with my weaker students, I want to make sure that I highlight vocabulary that appears on the Ministry of Education’s vocabulary list for high – school students (known here as “Band Three).

I was delighted to see that there is no need to update my pre-reading exercise. I designed it to highlight the higher order thinking skill that we teach with this story  -“Uncovering Motives”. Not only have I been happy with the exercise with previous classes, but the word “motive” is also on the word list!

To download the pre-reading activity click on the title below.

Gift-of-time-pre-reading-Mam-p218o7-1e53wc3

Many ways to highlight one thing!
Naomi’s Photos

However, changes were made to the next part. Due to my students’ hearing problems, we can’t discuss the story properly in spoken English in class. Everything must have a written component.  A worksheet of “Open Questions” help me ensure that the students have achieved a basic understanding of the story (analysis and interpretation come later).

Here is the updated worksheet. Click on the title below to download it. The words that appear on the official list are in “bold”. I highlighted them with a colored marker after printing – they didn’t show up as “bold” after the photocopying machine was done with them.

Thank You Ma’am Open Questions-2ktog3e

Smile!
Naomi’s Photos

I’ve created a Quizlet list of the words I’m focusing on at the moment while teaching this particular story.  I may be updating it as I teach.  See link below.

https://quizlet.com/352417392/thank-you-maam-updated-version-flash-cards/

I’ll let you know!

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Visualising School – Photo Pause

 

Visual notes from a busy teacher’s long days at school:

 

How to start the day with a smile…

(Just outside the school gate!)

Naomi’s Photos

 

When the sky meets the schoolyard…

(The front courtyard)

Naomi’s Photos

 

Shhhh… Just watch the drop…

(The view from my classroom window)

Naomi’s Photos

 

Tunnel of chairs – what’s on the other side? 

(More chairs…)

Naomi’s Photos

 

Saturday’s Book: Musing On “A Tale of Love and Darkness” By Amos Oz

Naomi’s Photos

There was a report on the radio this morning, unsurprisingly, about the great writer Amos Oz who just passed away. A passage from his book ” A tale of Love and Darkness” was read. The reporter chose a passage describing the author’s meeting with Ben-Gurion.

It’s a great passage but not one I remember at all.

Other scenes from the book left strong impressions in my memory – memories not only of what was written but how I felt when reading them.

I remember the descriptions of the books, or rather the significant presence of BOOKS in Oz’s childhood. How much these books meant to his father, how painful it was for his father to part with them.

I remember the tragedy of his mother’s life and the complex relationship.

I remember how befriending children his age was complicated when growing up as an only child among angst, silences, great minds of the period and books.

I remember his struggle to forge his own way, his own identity.

I remember it took me a long time to read the book – it is not a quick, light read.

But I’m so glad I read it.

Note:

I was browsing my blog to see if I had reviewed this book in the past. I hadn’t because I began my blog in December 2010.

My blog turned eight this month and I had forgotten.

My mind is elsewhere this year – full of memories…

 

Counting Re-Entry of Vocabulary Items – Elementary School vs. High- School

Bottoms Up!
Naomi’s Photos

Incidental learning.

Sigh.

“Incidental learning” as in picking up vocabulary that wasn’t taught explicitly in class. Or an expansion of that – vocabulary items that were introduced in class, being reinforced in an unplanned manner outside the classroom walls.

“Incidental learning” as in the Deaf student who showed me the word “racist” in a comment on a website after the word “racism” was introduced while teaching the poem “As I grew older” by Langston Hughes. (Happy Teacher!) Or the Deaf student who worked on a text related to online shopping which included a reference to “Amazon”. She was sure it was a reference to the Amazon River, which she had learned about in Junior High School. No one in her family had ever ordered anything from Amazon and any casual conversations she might have encountered in the hallway or on the bus mentioning “Amazon” were not heard.

In short, Deaf / hard of hearing students need extra exposure to words in class. Repeated exposure to vocabulary items (mainly in written form!) in context and lots of practice!

With that in mind, I’ve been examining the Ministry of Education’s words list for high school students for ways to count and increase the number of times I use words from the list in context, in writing.

“We’re not kidding!”
Naomi’s Photos

And I have formulated a plan.

Or at least a way to begin.

Refreshing a small unit I prepared from the elementary school vocabulary list (see below the horizontal lines) helped me decide what not to do for the high school students while sticking to a “re-entry plan”.

For the unit for elementary school, I chose a random set of 20 words and word-chunks from the list which I felt I was able to effectively place in a meaningful, visual context (I used two words not from the list as well). Then I created a visual lead-in activity (slideshow), a short film without dialogue that ties the items together, then the same film again with questions using the vocabulary items, ending with a Quizlet word set to practice with.

For the high school students, there is no need to choose a random set of words to begin with or to create the context. I already have a context that I spend a great deal of time teaching anyway – the pieces in the literature program.

Not only do I know exactly which pieces I will be teaching over the next three years, I also have no particular interest in creating activities that don’t tie in with the literature program and could take up time that I don’t have.

“Bear with me, okay?”
Naomi’s Photos

There are some vocabulary items on the list, such as the word “poverty”, that stand out.  These are words which I will put under the category of  Across The Board – words I can use in many (or even most!) of the poems and stories I teach.  Roger and Mrs. Jones from “Thank You, Ma’am”, are poor, as are characters in “The Treasure of Lemon Brown” and  “A Summer’s Reading”. The concept of poverty can also be related to poems such as  “As I grew older” and “Count That Day Lost”.  I’m keeping a special eye out for those words at the moment. I haven’t thought of a good title for the words that are relevant to only one piece yet…

So, what’s my first step?

I’m about to begin teaching the stories “Thank You Ma’am” by Langston Hughes and “A Summer’s Reading” by Bernard Malamud. I’ve started off by comparing the word list to the former story. Here are the  “Across The Board” words that I have identified as relevant to this story:

poverty / trust* /  to struggle* / to escape / an offence / an entrance / an exit / a promise / literature / racism / to steal / tone / setting / share / witness / to survive /  theme / to threaten / in return for / the main thing / to blame / to bear in mind /  youth / get away with / it resulted in

  • Only  “trust” and “to struggle” (out of the above list) are in the text of the story itself, though the word “escape” does come up frequently when discussing phrases such as “make a dash for it” that appear in the story. “Escape” is, naturally, also a very useful word when teaching a Summer’s Reading, but I’ll get to that story in another post.
  • Madam / God / Kitchen – these words are both in the text and on the list, but are “story specific”.

The next step is to go over the questions, activities, and exercises I have for this story. I have begun checking which questions I would like to rephrase or change so as to ensure that the items from the above list will be used.

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The Egghunt

1) Here’s the list of vocabulary items FOR THE TEACHER:

Egg buy Take care! hungry
Caveman* Hunt * Be careful! long
Spear* fall That’s not fair! angry
film smile How many sad
food watch sure
another break true
see

 

2. Here is the lead-in activity for the students. It must be done BEFORE watching the film.

 

3) The animated film (no dialogue, remember?)

4) Questions related to the film embedded in the film, courtesy of Edpuzzle.

5) A set of the vocabulary items on Quizlet.com

http://quizlet.com/44000574/egghunt-vocabulary-flash-cards/