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: “The Patron Saint Of Liars” by Ann Patchett

Those who observe…
Naomi’s Photos

Ann Patchett is certainly one of my favorite authors.

I absolutely LOVED “State of Wonder” and “Run”.

“Bel Canto” and “Commonwealth” tie for second place.

The Magician’s Assistant was good too – I had that one as an audiobook!

“Truth and Beauty” is something else completely, not fiction,  I enjoyed it as well.

All these books were written after her debut novel,  (published in 1992), “The Patron Saint of Liars”, which I only recently got my hands on.

While I certainly enjoyed reading the book, I found it to be not as good as her later ones. This is to be expected, though perhaps my expectations that this would the case influenced my judgment. Her trademark movement of the plot forward from the point of view of different characters is a pleasure and I truly truly applaud her for her ability to deal with human drama in a moving way without turning the plot into a soap opera tear-jerker type of thing.  You think you know exactly what’s going to happen, but then events don’t unfold that way.

It’s just that the basic story itself, about Rose from California, who walked out on everything, went to a temporary home intended for Catholic unwed mothers to have their babies in Kentucky, and ended up staying there for years, isn’t that the compelling.  Though frankly, with all that is going on in the USA now related to the topic of abortions, you could say the plot is more relevant than ever.

I hesitate to say it but I think the book could have been improved by being a bit shorter, especially the part told by the man’s point of view.

BTW, the first few pages are a prologue and can be read on its own as well. The descriptions and the way she presents the events are stunning, riveting and so beautifully written! Perhaps I felt a bit of a let down afterward because of the comparison.

I certainly recommend this book, but not as your first book by Ann Patchett, if you have never read anything written by her before.

 

 

Where are my Students REALLY From?

Look closer…    Naomi’s Photos

My students spill out of taxi cabs each morning, rubbing their sleepy eyes after early morning pick-ups, napping or texting through the traffic jams on the long way to school.

Some are from homes where no one gets up before they do,  to see that they leave without breakfast and have packed nothing but party snacks in their school bag for the long day…

Others are from big hugs and best wishes for their day at school, armed with the knowledge that someone is interested in knowing how the day turns out.

They are from blindingly new cell phones, complete with accessories, screens lighting up their lives, from shame masked by annoyance at teachers who insist on such unattainable things otherwise known as pencils and schoolbooks, knowing notes to parents will go unheeded.

Some are from a lifetime of dodging communication pitfalls, guessing meaning from partially heard sentences, tiring easily by the necessity of being constantly alert, at home and at school. From relief at coming to a school where they are no longer the only student with a hearing aid in the entire school – always conspicuous, sure that whispered conversations are about them.

Are you listening?
Naomi’s Photos

Others are from a world full of hands in motion, sailing confidently in a sea of visual vocabulary from birth, signing their pride to be Deaf and their frustration with the world which doesn’t use Sign Langauge, while resenting school organized efforts to create shared experiences between hearing and Deaf peers.

Teenage students of mine come from long trips abroad with their parents during the school year, from dealing with the anger of the same parents for then doing poorly at school, while trusting these parents to bully their teachers into forgetting about the missed material, evading the demand for buckling down.

Adolescent students of mine are from dependence on parents to navigate the world for them, from apron strings tied with double knots, cell phones bridging the distance, tightening the knots that need to be loosened.

My students are from a belief that I always                                                               know where they are really from.

Day in, day out, I give it my best shot.

 

Where are YOUR students really from?

___________________________________________________________________________

This post was inspired by the following talk:

The power of digital storytelling | Emily Bailin | TEDxSoleburySchool

 

 

A Garland of Books – A “Catch Up Post”

Setting the stage
Naomi’s Photos

My backlog of book-posts isn’t getting smaller and something should be done before I forget what I have read!

So here’s a  brief “3 book catch-up” post for 2019!

Journey to the Dawn by Angoff

This book was recommended to me countless times by both my parents, who read it in the 1950s, shortly after it was published.  It tells the story of the extended Polonsky family,  first vividly depicting their lives in a tiny Jewish hamlet in Russia, then following their journey to a slum in Boston, in the early years of the 20th century.

I’ve read scathing criticism about the characters being too “goody-goody” to be believable and that the descriptions of the hardships were far too nostalgic and romanticized. The author based the book on his own family’s similar journey.   However, that didn’t particularly bother me, as I was interested in all sorts of minute details which I believe were faithfully rendered. For instance  the role of the “Feldsher”, who served the community in Russia instead of a doctor and the remedies he was able to administer and the fact that in Boston the immigrants were eligible for free health care and education. As a teacher, I was also very interested in the great details about Jewish education and public education available at the time.

I’m glad I read it.

One…
Naomi’s Photos
I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg

I’ve enjoyed several books by Fannie Flagg, but this one was disappointing. The story of a former, aging Miss Alabama was easy to predict, though the author did manage to throw in some unexpected details. I like the way the author always highlights characters from diverse backgrounds with warmth and respect in her books while giving you some historical background (and humor ) along the way, but in this book, it simply doesn’t come together so well.

” Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” and “Welcome to the World, Baby Girl” were so much better.

What goes on inside?
Naomi’s Photos
The Counterlife by Philip Roth

I discovered this book among the many books left in my father’s library. I was quite surprised since my father barely ever read fiction. Out of curiosity, I decided to read a few pages and found myself reading the whole book.

Every time I thought I had had enough of Nathan Zuckerman’s philosophies regarding people and Judaism, both in the U.S and in Israel), the book would surprise me completely. It’s called Counterlife for a reason – think of sliding doors allowing you to relive your life in alternate versions. The different versions do connect in clever ways which actually makes it seem quite believable.

It’s not a cheerful, feel-good read, but it’s a book that made me think. Although frankly, I’m not sure if I thought more about what he said or how he said it!

A Year is Ending? Hang On to those Old Calendars!

Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle – whatever you call it, old calendars are USEFUL!

When I was a child people used the image of “yesterday’s newspaper” to symbolize something worthless (I haven’t heard any reference to that in a long time!) . Perhaps you think that last year’s calendars fall into the same category, and are worthless.

Not if they are repurposed for educational use!

Tell EVERYONE you know – save your old calendars for a teacher! Within two years, as long you smile and say “thank you”, you can have all your friends and relatives “trained” to save the old calendar they have just replaced for you.

I’ve been using old calendars in multiple ways in my classroom for years now and I have to admit – I’m still discovering new ways to use them!

Would you realize that the following were made from calendars if I hadn’t told you?

Take a look!

3 different uses of calendars in this picture!

These black “clear pocket” binders are used for supplementary material for the literature program. They are somewhat old and worn. Did you notice that:

  • …the binders are decorated /covered by large pictures taken from calendars?
  • … the numbers used to designate the level of the material in each binder were cut out from the borderline sections of pages of a calendar, (the parts under/above the squares depicting the dates of a certain month)?
  • …the sign on the storage box which says “LITERATURE”  was cut out of a stiff cardboard-like calendar, (either the top/bottom part of a page, or simply the reverse side of a page)?
Our “Proud of YOU” board

I’ve posted about the importance of the “Proud of YOU!” board in our classroom. The accordion-like border for the “breaking news” section comes from the edges of a calendar. The back parts of the pockets to hold the cards the students receive are from stiff-backed calendars. As you can see, some pockets were created from a calendar devoted to space photos, others from calendars devoted to seasonal flowers and several devoted to photos from Italy.  No consistency required here!

Dividers

This is a brand new use of old calendars. Our new Personal Exam Folders (which I recently posted about) were confusing to navigate, even though they have a table of contents. I needed dividers that would “stick out” above the pages. These are strips cut out of calendars with lined paper wrapped around the top. These were made by two 11th grade students. In most pages (except this one, actually) the divider slides in between two pages back that are back-to-back in the plastic pocket, so you only see the top part.

Before I overwhelm you with more ideas, let  me just say the following:

  • You can find more ways to use calendars (including one actively involving younger learners) on a previous post of mine on the iTDi blog, here:  “New Uses for Old Calendars”      
  • Full disclosure – I didn’t make most of this goodness on my own. I collect the material and ideas, define the needs, but many volunteers and students have done almost all of the actual cutting and pasting. I have two left hands!
  • Many thanks to Eric Cohen Books who supply English teachers with a new calendar every year. Many things were made from old calendars sent by them.

So, what do YOU do with old calendars? I’d love to hear more ideas!

Have YOU Added a “Stop Doing List” to your New Year’s Resolutions?

Happy holidays in this season of lights!
Naomi’s Photos

I’ve been revisiting this post from 2011 – it seems that I’m still working harder than my students! Perhaps I should post such a list in my classroom so that I will see it every day!

I really enjoyed Robyn Jackson’s practical approach to teaching as presented in her book “Never Work Harder than Your Students”. So now that I’ve just read her piece titled “Case Study – The Stop Doing List”, I find myself wondering if I could do that.

It sounds like the right thing to do. It makes sense – I’m sure there are things I shouldn’t be wasting energy on when there is so much else I should be doing. But how does one eliminate those things?

Dr. Jackson talks about 4 categories:

Time Wasters

Time
Naomi’s Photos

I don’t grade unnecessary assignments or do pointless warm-up activities but the example of getting into pointless arguments with students made me pause. I actually have a problem with students who AREN’T in my lesson who keep coming into my classroom. They want to talk to me about their schedule (which seems to change constantly) or have discovered that a different class was canceled and they want to have their lesson now (even though 10 minutes have passed!). I spend precious time and ENERGY getting them out of the room! This doesn’t happen every lesson but yesterday it was a real pain! I would love to eliminate this from my day but HOW?! The other teachers on my staff are unsympathetic – I’m the one who decided to teach in the format of a learning center…

Time Consumers

Robbing you of quality time!
(Naomi’s Photos)

The advice is to automate these activities. Once again, I’ve caused myself a great deal of trouble by having a learning center. The school has upgraded the online system into which attendance, grades, etc. must be entered. The other teachers can link the calendar to the class group saving time when typing in the information. However, my groups on the computer are simply divided by the students’ level. The students who are on the same level do not necessarily learn with each other. Consequently, they are absent on different days. To make a long story short, I have to locate each student separately in the computerized system and it is MUCH slower. Certainly, a time consumer but a way out of it has yet to be found.

Who needs to do what?
Naomi’s Photos

Empowerment Failures

Which work to delegate back to the students? This is a very important issue and the one I’ve had limited success in implementing. Maybe I should go back and read the chapter in the book again. I’ve tried using color-coded feedback for correcting reading comprehension exercises (similar to ones given on the students’ exit exams) but it didn’t work well enough. LONG story – another post! I HAVE begun experimenting (with some students) with “flipping the classroom” and that seems to show promise!

Naomi’s photos

The Important

The real teaching is supposed to stay!

At the moment I don’t know what I can eliminate from my “To Do” list – do you?

Saturday’s Book: “Becoming” by Michelle Obama

A window of opportunity
Naomi’s photos

“Becoming”.

What a great title that rings so true – we aren’t one thing all our lives and that’s it. We change, we evolve, we “become”. I became a woman, a teacher, a wife, a mother, a blogger, a “dabbler” in photography, just to name a few. Who knows how many more things I will become in the future. A great point to make at the start of an autobiography!

The part that fascinated me the most in Michelle Obama’s tale of “becoming” is the part about her childhood and education. My mother had felt that section was too detailed but I was so interested in all of it. One one hand it highlighted the powerful role of parents who prioritized education for their children despite hardships and fostered curiosity and literacy skills.  On the other hand, it also highlighted the frightening aspect of  “lack of opportunity” and plain “luck”. Michelle Obama’s mother fought hard to get her daughter tested, out of classrooms where she wasn’t learning anything and into better educational programs.  And Michelle Obama worked extremely hard to excel in these programs. But what if she had been born a few years earlier? When there was no program that accepted talented inner-city children? Or was just as talented but didn’t secure one of the limited places? What if a child with her abilities had remained stuck in a classroom where no real learning was taking place?

These points are highlighted sharply in the story of an inner-city high-school Michelle Obama visited while she was The First Lady. The students couldn’t physically make it to school on some days because they were so afraid of the gang violence going on in the streets. She discussed the fact that education can be a “ticket out” but it isn’t so for everyone.

There are too many children out there who are left behind!

In short, I admired Michelle Obama even before I read the book and I found many more reasons to do so after reading.

I’ll be interested to read about what she “becomes” next – she can do and be whatever she decides to be.

Revisting the Smell of “Penguin & Camel Poo” on Blog’s 9th Birthday!

So adorable but smelly…
Photo by Iddo Epstein

Actually, it’s not just smelling penguin poo and camel poo, you have to touch hot sand and cold snow, see footsteps and maybe even feel seasick…

I was doing the “Smelling Your Way to the Second Conditional” exercise with a student the other day, chuckling at his amazement when I told him that those adorable penguins are pretty smelly when you get up close, when it dawned on me – this is the perfect post to revisit on my blog’s birthday!

My blog turns 9 on Dec 8, 2019!

The exercise I created in April 2011, designed to help my Deaf and hard of hearing students grasp the hypothetical aspect of the second conditional, shows how my access to creative and inspiring ideas “EXPLODED” once I began blogging.

Sailing away!
Photo by Gil Epshtein

The inspiration came from  Ceri Jones’ post about using the senses to relate to a picture , and the format from  Jason Renshaw’s Valentines Day lesson , which I was already using.

I would never have had the opportunity to know that such posts (and countless others!) existed, written by creative teachers around the globe, some of whom now are part of my P.L.N (Personal Learning Network), without my blog.

So what has changed since 2011?

I now use this exercise mainly for reading comprehension, less as a “grammar exercise”.  The modal “would” is extremely common in texts and many students have trouble internalizing the hypothetical aspects of its use.  I find it works well with several levels.

In addition, I blog dramatically less than I used to and am seriously behind with my book posts. Yes, I am still reading a lot , but can’t keep up with posting about the books. Perhaps that has to do with the influence of another creative teacher, James Taylor, aka The Teacher James, who advocated the “Just Say Yes” attitude! I find I’ve got my finger into too many pies and don’t know what to do first…

Feeling the hot sand…
Photo by Gil Epshtein

Anyway, in honor of my blog’s birthday, here’s a downloadable link to the original “Smelling Your Way to the Second Conditional” lesson. This lesson is in full color so I don’t print it, we use it on a computer.

Smelling+your+way+to+the+second+conditional

Here’s to using your senses and having the good sense to blog!

Bringing “The Kitchen” Back into the High-School Classroom

More than one…
Naomi’s Pictures

Sometimes it takes a colleague to make you see the obvious – I haven’t been utilizing (or should I say “milking”?) “The Kitchen” activity enough in my high school classroom.

It seems I had fallen into the trap of using a resource for only one purpose, then losing the ability to see how useful it could be for other purposes.

What a waste!

TEACHERS NEED TO BE IN TOUCH WITH OTHER TEACHERS!

Debbie Ben Tura, in her in-service training course on “Creative Teaching”,  discussed the activity of bringing in various items that belong to a person, then describing an imaginary person who might possess such objects. For high-school teachers, that’s a  good way to practice using vocabulary that high-level students may need for writing an essay on their matriculation exams (what we call Module G).

OH!

Instead of bringing in objects, why don’t I unearth “The Kitchen” picture?

She turned her kitchen into a walk-in closet!

Mind you, it’s the hard copy that’s been buried in a binder in the closet.

I have been using this picture for years,  every single year, as part of a digital activity on our class “website” (actually on Edmodo).  I use it with 10th grade students new to the topic of inferences.  There’s a lot to infer here! The students respond well to the picture and particularly like discussing whether or not this woman could possibly have children (kids are always hungry – they agree with that!).

At the bottom of the post, you will find two downloadable versions of the worksheets I use, for different levels.  They are called “Kitchen Red” “Kitchen Blue”.

Neither one of my worksheets was designed for my advanced  Deaf and hard of hearing students, the students who need to know how to write 120-140-word essays describing a person, using a rich vocabulary.

My advanced students have never seen this picture.  It never occurred to me use it with them.

Well, now is the time to get them imagining and describing!


Note: The original “Kitchen” post (with the activity related to the skill of “inference” ) was posted on December 18, 2010.  It was one of the first posts on my blog, which I launched on December 9, 2010, almost nine years ago! I posted a lot in those early days – the “kitchen” post was post number 12! I’m glad I had the opportunity to revisit it now.

kitchen red        kitchen blue

Saturday’s Book: “The Wonder” by Emma Donoghue

Metal nurse?
(Naomi’s Photos)

What an amazing book!

I was riveted! A book that was quite hard to put down!

I’m completely in awe of the way Emma Donaghue (yup, the author of “Room”) constructs the story – she manages to create what some call “a psychological thriller” while giving enough historical and cultural information to support the claim (my claim) that it feels like a historical novel

The book takes place in Ireland in the mid-1850s, not long after the great potato famine had “ended”. In a small, impoverished place, a wondrous girl seems to be existing on air – not eating but apparently thriving. It is considered by many to be divine intervention. A tough, no-nonsense English nurse, who was trained by the great Florence Nightingale herself,  is sent to investigate.

As the tension builds up and the events unfold, there are rich descriptions of the way of life there, the tragic famine, and of the early days of the newly born profession of nursing.

Believe me, if you haven’t read the book yet, this is all you need to know in advance.

Enjoy!

I certainly did!

 

Battling with a Rusty “BOT” in the Classroom – A Comment

The threat of rust…
Naomi’s Photos

So, it seems my classroom “BOT” has gotten rusty.

Not only did I not register that fact, I only learned of the cool acronym “BOT” for a teacher’s “Bag Of Tricks” after reading Lisa Wood’s blog post “BOT: Why Every Teacher Should Have One”.

Lisa Wood defines a BOT as a combination of items that could be used to help out in a sticky situation, solve a problem or respond to a need”.  You know, things to use in all sorts of unplanned situations that I feel a need to plan for, such as:

  • Half the class is absent (taking make-up tests,  flu season, etc.)
  • Some sort of disturbance or exciting event took place in the schoolyard/assembly hall before the lesson began and everyone is distracted.
  • Students have a big math test later on in the day
  • I want to conduct an impromptu review of a certain topic for a number of students.

I find Lisa’s SIXTEEN BOT items (some of which are completely new to me!) and suggested uses particularly inspiring because she teaches teenagers too! I can adapt some or create a different version of them to suit my needs. Check them out!!!

Cool dice!
Naomi’s photos

It was easy to have a BOT when I taught elementary school.  I needed them often in my special classes for Deaf and hard of hearing students.  I always had the following items with me:

  • Multi faced dice with extra numbers, in different colors and shapes (dice that are used for Dungeons and Dragons!).
  • Coloring sheets of various kinds (coloring according to instructions, connect the dot with the letters of the alphabet instead of numbers, etc)
  • Colorful magazines with “find me” items pasted on the cover. The children had to locate (and write down ) the page numbers where they found the items on the list which had been pasted on the magazine’s cover, such as “a man is eating a banana”, ” a blue sofa”  and  “two people are talking”.
  • More colorful magazines for kids to cut out items from and paste in their notebooks.
  • Sticky tac – the gum-like substance that lets you hang any picture or page on the whiteboard (or on a table, chair, etc) and then easily remove it again.
  • An envelope with the names of the students so that it would be clear that students’ turn was chosen randomly.
  • A picture of an American baseball player to stick on the whiteboard when playing whiteboard baseball”.

BUT WHAT ABOUT HIGH-SCHOOL?

What is the next move?
(Naomi’s Photos)

Some of these items made the transition well to teenagers, particularly the multi-faced dice which students like.  I have a few different board games (the kind with a track, start here end there) for reviewing vocabulary.

While coloring pages are out, I do have students who need to “defuse” (particularly girls, I have to admit)  who occasionally prepare colorful signs and cover sheets for materials in the classroom. You can’t beat coloring for indoor relaxation.

I never had ” a question box” like Lisa suggested, but I used to have a grammar name box, following something I read by Penny Ur.  I’ve forgotten about it and haven’t used it in ages. Maybe it’s time to renew it. It added spice to grammar!

There is only one remnant of the magazines with things to find on them. A beautiful hard-cover photography book has a permanent page of items to find inserted in the front cover. But that has become part of the curriculum – it appears on the 10th-graders’ list of extra tasks to complete for the semester grade (there are six a semester, mostly on our class website), so it’s no longer a BOT.

My best and favorite high-school BOT, which I call “the disappearing eraser” (also called  “reverse reading” “live dialogue” and “disappearing text”) requires no prep, just the whiteboard.

However, The word-puzzles, riddles, and particularly the once-beloved questionnaires (  you know the genre: “what kind of friend are you? ” etc.)  that we used to do, lie unused in the closet. I’ve become so concerned with time that I don’t pull them out anymore. So many lessons are canceled for school activities, many students have attendance problems and with my special needs students, progress is slow on the mandatory material.

I hadn’t even thought about the pros of cons of not using my BOT material anymore.  And I haven’t added new, energizing material in a long time.

Thank you, Lisa Wood’s for making me examine the BOTS!

How about you?

What are your BOTS?