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 – “Human Acts” by Kang

A human act from a different part of the world.
Epstein family photos

All the accolades I have read about Kang’s skills as a writer are justified. The writing is unique, the perspective highly unusual.

If it hadn’t been for the writing I wouldn’t have made it through the first two stories, or chapters (because the stories are connected). Perhaps scenes would be a better way to describe them.

However, the topic of a particularly brutal massacre of a student uprising in South Korea (1980) is horrific. Kang’s skill in bringing the emotions straight to the reader made it explosively powerful.

It was too much for me to read any more than those two chapters. Tragic. Kang has won my respect as an author but that was all I could read.

Myths & Tips: Using Electronic Dictionaries in the Classroom – Part Three

Take it slowly, relax! Epstein Family Photos

Note: The decision to post this series at this time is based on the following two facts: 

  • My Deaf / hard of hearing students and I have been working  with electronic dictionaries on a daily basis since the very first models were sold. The students had special accommodations that permitted the use of these dictionaries.
  • This will be the first year that all 7th-12th grade students in the school system will be allowed to use electronic dictionaries. Many teachers are currently expressing interest in the subject. I hope that these teachers may find my experience with Deaf and hard of hearing students useful. 

MYTH – Everything we used to teach about using a dictionary is now useless.

First of all, using an electronic dictionary does not exclude use of a printed one, and there are many students who will still benefit from knowing how to use a printed one.

In addition, while it is true that it is no longer necessary to know the alphabet well or where to find head words when using an electronic dictionary,  most other skills remain relevant indeed!

Naomi’s Photos

Tips: Start with the most “critical” points

“Critical” as in the ones I find lead to the most common errors, at least when working with struggling learners.

  1.  “S” & “ies” –  Whether we are talking about the plural “s” or  one that has been added to the third form singular verb,  you must remind the students repeatedly to “drop the s” before looking words up (and “es” / change “i” to “y). They must get used to doing that.

I stand by this statement despite the fact that the latest models of the electronic dictionaries are much more sophisticated than the ones we used in the past. There are now words which students can type in as they see them in the text and the dictionary will lead them to the right answer.

For example, If the sentence reads “He buys apples every day” the  dictionary will now lead you to the definition of “buy” in the         suitable context even if you type in “buys“. However, in the context of the sentence ” She flies to London every month” , not changing the verb form to “fly” informs you that “flies” is the theater term for the area above the stage for storing scenery. I admit, I did not know that. True, taking advantage of the arrows will lead you to a more suitable translation but struggling learners tend to use them less than I would like.

2. Suffixes “er” “est”  – The same principle.  Type in “bigger” or “smaller” and you will now get a suitable translation (believe me, this was not so in the past!). However, if you type in healthier you will be directed to “healthy.

If you type in “unhealthy” you will get a suitable translation. But if you type unhealthiest you will be redirected to unhealthy.

Note – To the extent that I have seen, the prefixes “un” and “re” typed in along with the word seem to lead to the desired result.  I am referring to the latest models.

*** Being able to identify a word as a noun or as a verb before looking it up is (of course!) a powerful dictionary skill which enables students to find the most suitable translations.

More on that in one of the future posts in this series.

 

 

Myths & Tips: Using Electronic Dictionaries in the Classroom – Part Two

Naomi’s Photos

Note: The decision to post this series at this time is based on the following two facts: 

  • My Deaf / hard of hearing students and I have been working  with electronic dictionaries on a daily basis since the very first models were sold. The students had special accommodations that permitted the use of these dictionaries.
  • This will be the first year that all 7th-12th grade students in the school system will be allowed to use electronic dictionaries. Many teachers are currently expressing interest in the subject. I hope that these teachers may find my experience with Deaf and hard of hearing students useful. 

MYTH – The teacher can ignore the purely technical aspects of the electronic dictionary – the students are all “digital natives” and know how to use the device immediately, on their own.

While there most certainly are students who will feel at home with any new technological device within a very short time, there are also students who are surprisingly clueless about anything digital that involves more than posting photos or messages in the current popular social platform. I know it seems hard to believe when it feels that the students’ cell phones never leave the palm of their hands, but it is true.

The models in the market today are very “user-friendly”. Nonetheless, there are some points that need to be discussed. particularly those related to classroom management and teacher’s peace of mind.

Naomi’s Photos

TIPS FOR CLASSROOM SURVIVAL

  • NAMES!!! Since there are only a few models of approved dictionaries, large numbers of students in every class will be using the exact same model of electronic dictionary. You really can’t tell them apart. It’s vital to start the year by having the students write their names on the inner side of the cover (if the model has a cover) or on the back. In my classes using Tippex (white-out) for writing is the prefered method as stickers are easy to peel off and some markers can be rubbed off. “Vital” as in avoiding unpleasant situations with students and their parents.
  • SOUND!!! For some unknown reason (to me!) devices come with a beeping sound every time you hit a key. Thankfully, this sound can be easily turned off. Just look for MENU / SETTINGS/ SOUND – OFF. This is an excellent time to enlist those “digital natives” in your class to help everyone get their beeping sound turned off. In my experience the sound  bothers most of the students (hearing and hard of hearing ) as well and they are happy to comply.
  • CLEAR – It’s a good idea to point out the “clear” key. Some students turn the dictionary off and then on again every time they type an error and want to start the word over.
  • Point out which key to use when changing languages.
  • Demonstrate how use of the arrows brings up phrasal verbs and more uses of the words. Even “digital natives” usually don’t notice that one on their own.
  • Batteries – Electronic dictionaries that I’m familiar with run on three small, round and flat batteries. They last a long time, often more than a school year. You don’t plug them into the nearest socket every day, like a cell phone. I’ve had so many students that were astonished when their dictionary suddenly stopped working. It never occurs to them it might be the batteries! Some don’t even know where batteries are sold (or is that just some of my students?).  It’s a good idea to point this fact out. 

More to come – watch this space!

Myths & Tips: Using Electronic Dictionaries in the Classroom – Part One

The real definition of “B & B”?
Bison with birds!
Guest post by Omri Epstein

Note: The decision to post this series at this time is based on the following two facts: 

  • My Deaf / hard of hearing students and I have been working  with electronic dictionaries on a daily basis since the very first models were sold. The students had special accommodations that permitted the use of these dictionaries.
  • This will be the first year that all 7th-12th grade students in the school system will be allowed to use electronic dictionaries. Many teachers are currently expressing interest in the subject. I hope that these teachers may find my experience with Deaf and hard of hearing students useful. 

MYTH – Use of an electronic dictionary will result in all students getting stellar grades without studying any English.

It is completely possible to fail an exam “spectacularly” with a top quality electronic dictionary (“spectacular” as in grades such as 18 out of 100…).

The English language is not a simple language: many words have multiple meanings, use of idioms is common and the grammatical structure of the language is often very different from that of the students’ first language. This is particularly true for students whose mother language is not based on Latinate origins or whose main mode of communication is their country’s sign language ( Sign Language is not universal – different countries and languages have their own signs.).  A student needs a command of syntax and grammar in order to choose the right dictionary entry for a given context. In addition, he/ she must be able to think in a flexible manner when translating and reorganizing words translated into meaningful chunks.

Consider the following sentence:
When Dan arrived, he found out that there was no room in the car left for him. 
If a student chooses the first meaning appearing in the dictionary for every word in this sentence he will come up with a totally incomprehensible sentence. The resulting translation will appear as a jumble of unrelated words, including “left” as a direction, “room” as in rooms in a building, while “found” may become separated from “out” and be translated as founding an organization.

Knowledge is required in order to use a dictionary efficiently and correctly – using it mechanically will not improve a student’s results. Time is also a factor. It is worth noting that a student who hasn’t studied at all and looks up every single word in the dictionary will not finish the exam in the allotted time, even with an exam accommodation granting “extra time”.

The long path… Epstein family photos

TIP: Demonstrate ridiculous translations

At the beginning of the year, before exam time rolls around, choose sentences from texts you are using and write them on the board. Ask students to pull out their dictionaries, and translate the sentence totally mechanically using the first meaning given for every word, ignoring phrasal verbs and not changing word order. Discuss the results.

One lesson won’t do the trick. As students work with the dictionaries or hand in work, point out errors based on reckless use of the dictionary and have the students play detective and see if they can figure out what should have been done.  Bring up the matter when relevant, but students need this message repeated.

Unfortunately, some students need to do poorly on an exam before they heed their teachers’ warnings. Without naming names, put together  a worksheet demonstrating pitfalls students didn’t avoid on their recent exam (such as choosing the meaning of a word as a noun, not a verb, ignoring phrasal verbs and other things that will be discussed in the next posts).

More to come – watch this space!

 

 

 

 

Saturday’s Book – “Commonwealth” by Ann Patchett

Naomi’s Photos

Ann Patchett does it again.

It’s the fifth book I have read by this author and I enjoyed every single one of them!

She has a gift for storytelling that brings the characters to life so vividly but without assuming that the reader needs to be spoon-fed with every little detail explained and rehashed. I love the way she delves into rich scenes of the characters’ lives, supplying information regarding the past as needed, when it serves the plot. I also enjoy how this story about the lives of the members of two families  is told from the perspective of different family members at different time periods. Especially as it all ties in together so seamlessly.

It’s a very hard book to stop reading – read when you have some free time!

I think there are two books of Patchett’s I haven’t yet read, but I will!

Highly recommended!

Bearing Left in BEAR COUNTRY

Inviting you to unfamiliar wonders
Alberta Canada, Epstein family photos

If you, dear reader, will bear with me for a few moments, I will try to briefly explain how “bears” can baffle a tourist.

Obviously, one must grin and bear the inconvenience of long flights and jet lag with grace, if one wishes to see the wild wonders of Alberta, Canada, including a few of its bears, in person.

That is, bears that are animals. Whatever the fur color, I certainly had in mind bears that are unconcerned with linguistics.

Actual live bear in Canada, but not a great picture…
(Naomi’s photos)
Bears in Alaska (just because it is a better picture!) Epstein Family photos

However, it seems that the region is “bear country” in more than one way.

Please bear in mind, as you read this, that people in Canada have a delightful reputation of being very polite.  This politeness extends to the SatNav or GPS system that came with our rental car. It is the first such system we have ever encountered when traveling abroad that says “please”before the instructions, as in:

“Please turn right”

“Please bear left”.

For some unknown reason, “bears” were mainly invoked when turning left, not right, though not exclusively.

At first I found myself attempting to assess the angle of the turns – it had always been my understanding that for a fork in the road, or a slight veering to the left off the main road, one could say “ bear left” . But at a classic junction , with a  90 degree angle, one must “turn” , not “bear“.  However, I could not find any correlation between the characteristics of the turn to the  device’s use of “turn left” or “bear left”.

I know, no turn of any sort in this photo, but so beautiful!
Epstein family photos

Since I couldn’t bear the thought that I had misunderstood the terminology all my life I turned to Google. As far as I can ascertain, the “bear” question seems to be a cultural issue – American English vs. British English. As a native speaker of American English my understanding of the usage appears to be quite common. That’s a comforting thought.

When do YOU “turn left” and when do YOU “bear left”? When do YOU invoke bears in your driving instructions?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday’s Book: “Americanah” by Adichie

Naomi’s photos

This is an excellent book but a complex one.

The previous book I read, The Purple Hibiscus, was mesmerizing and  I was totally lost in the tale as told by a girl as she grew up. I just wanted to keep reading.

The writing here is excellent too but in this book the author seems to want to tell us more than the tale of two young people growing up.  It’s as if she has an agenda of things to make us understand. It is not enough to present what it was like to grow up well-educated in Nigeria but to be unable to complete higher education (or do something with that education), how it feels to immigrate to the US or UK and to return to Lagos, which would be the story of these two young people.

Adiche also goes to great length to describe the peers at school, the co workers abroad, the immigrants who made it vs those who didn’t and the family members, presenting their point of view on every matter as well. As if there is a need to present every possible aspect of every subject.

In addition, Adiche emphasizes in great detail a perspective I haven’t really encountered before, one of the African new immigrant’s musings on race in comparison to  African Americans who have been in the US for generations. There are some very thought-provoking passages.

It’s all very interesting but it is a long book and sometimes I felt that it was trying to encompass too much and I was sort of wishing it would move a little faster.

Nonetheless, a worthwhile read indeed.

June is “Take your Camera to Class” Month!

Sunny June
Naomi’s Photos

June.

The month school ends.

It’s a great time to look at the classroom as it is now, before thinking about changes and improvements.

It’s also an opportunity for me to answer that eternal question –

“What does a multi-level, mixed age, learning center for teaching English as a foreign language to Deaf and hard of hearing students even look like”?!

So now you can join me for a morning at work!

Oh, by the way.

I really do have a lovely walk from the parking lot in the mornings. Interesting in every season.

Have a wonderful vacation!

 

 

Warning! Your Motivational Message on Errors may BACKFIRE!

Sneak Attack
Naomi’s Photos

As a teacher of English as a foreign language I spend a great deal of energy convincing students to try to use the language, that making mistakes is actually fine and can be a great learning experience. You learn by doing and when you “do” you make mistake. Take a look at how Scott Thornbury stresses the importance of feedback on errors in his blog post “P is for Problematizing”

As a Special Education teacher I spend a great deal of energy convincing students to continue making the effort to learn English, even though it is challenging for them when they are Deaf or hard of hearing, have additional learning disabilities and more. Since I teach high-school I often meet students who have had years of discouraging experiences in the classroom.  They need to feel that the classroom is a safe place, they won’t be ridiculed for making errors and that there will be many opportunities to try again.

The following inspirational video has been floating around my social media feed. At first glance it seems fine – who could argue with a positive message like “Always rise above the criticism and stay strong”?

Feeling worthless…
Naomi’s Photos

But the more I thought about it the more I realized you could call the little video a  “fire hazard” , particularly if you teach teenagers. Dealing with errors is an incendiary subject at this age – how teens perceive their peers opinions’ of them is crucial.

The teenagers who need motivational messages the most, the ones who are most vulnerable, will never make it to the inspirational message at the end of the video. We will lose them at the part about being laughed at for making one single error, the part about how one mistake cancels out all the other good things you do in the eyes of the world.

Yes, I know that’s not the point of the video. But I also know my students.  Some will only see it as strengthening the “lets throw in the towel attitude”. Why bother making the effort to study? Why risk the consequences of making errors? Why not play it safe?

Videos can be a powerful motivational tool. But they must be chosen with care.

By the way, there’s an error in the video. One doesn’t say ” a wrong mistake”.