Category Archives: conferences

Crowdsourcing a Talk – A Heady Feeling

There’s something absolutely exciting about getting a large number of poll responses from people. It begins with a feeling of awe at the number of people who spent some time thinking about what I had asked. It’s as if I had spoken briefly to each and every one of the ONE HUNDRED AND TEN people myself.

Then came the drowning sensation. I’ve prepared many talks and usually have a very clear picture of what I want to achieve. Suddenly there was so much data! I could take it in so many directions! For a while I was stuck.

The talk was for “Shema” itinerant teachers. These are qualified teachers who tutor students with a hearing loss in elementary and junior high-school. They teach whatever subject the children  need help with, including English when necessary. But they are not English teachers and most of them aren’t Native Speakers either.

I posted survey questions in Hebrew for these teachers, both as a wake up call to be more aware of services and support they could be getting and aren’t utilizing, and as a way to get more information for myself regarding their needs.  93 itinerant teachers answered the survey questions.

I also created a survey for English teachers, which I posted on our wonderful local network, ETNI. 12 teachers answered the survey in English

I must point out that the part of posting the surveys was very easy indeed, thanks to Adele Raemenr, who introduced me to Google Docs in a session at the Jerusalem  Summer ETAI Conference.

Here are some of the results (note that the numbers refer to actual numbers, not percentages. They don’t always add up to 110 as not all the teachers answered all the questions).

The English teachers did not agree whether or not it was important for a Shema teacher to have her own copy of the teacher’s guide. There was a question of how helpful it could be for someone who was not a qualified English teacher.

Teacher’s Guide

Of the 30 Shema teachers who attended my talk, only one had ever looked at a teacher’s guide in English. In other subjects they had done so.

The Shema teachers, who travel from school to school, were also unaware of what they might find in the school’s “English Closet”. Here is what the English teacher’s had to say:

English Closet

It was very clear from the survey that many Shema teachers do not feel comfortable aksing the classroom teacher to explain material being taught. 61 of them said they would prefer to have a special            reference/resource site for them instead of asking the teacher.

asking the classroom teacher

Considering the Shema teacher’s interest in having a site tailored to their needs (which already exists in a smaller format, yet hasn’t been used much!) I was surprised by the number of teachers who said that they prefer their resource material to be in printed book form – 36!

printed vs online

The explanation was that grammar is the topic most stressful for Shema teachers. They want to own a good book that not only has explanations in Hebrew but also has exercises for the students. They want to have it in printed form, readily available whenever needed.

I asked for information, now I can’t ignore the answers. So, now I had better get cracking on expanding the online resource material for Shema teachers. I just hope they will use it!

IATEFL Dreams Fading Fast

Photo by Omri Epstein

It’s been six weeks since I first requested to attend the IATEFL conference during the school year, following the acceptance of my speaker proposal. The speaker acceptance document  has the name of the school on it and I included it in my request.

I was told that the proposal must go through 3 stages in the hierarchy of my superiors. The final green light must come from the head district’s office. Nobody told me that getting the document through those stages would be like taking on a fourth job – a job that I am obviously not qualified enough for.

The general attitude seemed till now to be “the right way to apply is for us to know and you to guess”. FOUR times my application was returned from second base to first base because something was incorrectly presented. Not only was I not told (till the fourth time) what the problem was, I was also not informed that it had been returned. Endless phone calls led me each time to the discovery of my application’s status.

Still I persevered. After the fourth time I was told, by phone, that all was in order and that as we speak my application was being delivered by hand to the head office.

When I called that office a week later to try and find out how long it would take to receive an answer (and who would inform me that there even was an answer) I was told that no such application had reached the head office.

That’s it. I can’t continue calling people every two days. I don’t even know how to continue after being told that it was being delivered when it wasn’t. I have no flights and no accommodations. I’m trying to have a life here and a fourth job wasn’t in the bargain.  I plan to continue working at this school, and in the national school system, for at least another 10 years. I can’t make a “big stink” over it.

Other interesting things are happening in my life. Building my first online course with Edmodo. Have left my Pilates class in favor of a larger gym which will enable me have both yoga classes and aerobic activity – I spend a lot of time working but not nearly enough being physically active… I feel relief since deciding not to run after these “bases” anymore.

I haven’t cancelled the session at IATEFL yet. I DID set something in motion. It would be awful if I got a letter of approval right after I cancelled. Still, I can’t delay much longer. I think I will wait two weeks.

Perhaps it is for the best. I’m so exhausted (and somewhat hurt) that perhaps I wouldn’t be putting my best foot forward at the conference. More importantly, I need to decrease stress. No wonder I’m so excited about my new Yoga class. I’ve only had two lessons so far but there is something very relaxing about it!

A Blog Birthday Hanging in LIMBO!

My blog is two years old today! I’m rather awed by the fact, I must admit. I had no idea what would happen when I posted my first post. Yet here I am, two years later, my head full of comments, thoughts and books that are just waiting to be blogged about. Writing has become synonymous with reflection for me.

So why am I “in limbo” and not simply rejoicing? Here’s the chain of events that has left me hanging in the air:

Photo by Gil Epshtein

A while back I applied for a scholarship and sent in a speaker proposal for  IATEFL Conference in Liverpool, this coming April. Nothing gained if nothing ventured, isn’t that how the saying goes?

I didn’t get the scholarship.

But my speaker proposal was accepted! Oh my goodness!!

First there were agonizing debates with myself, my husband and some friends – attending a conference abroad is an expensive adventure. We’re cautious people who work hard and plan our expenses carefully.

Photo by Gil Epshtein

However, my blog’s second birthday isn’t the only event of the year (The Jewish year is from Sept. to Sept., you know!). I’ve been a teacher since I was 23 year old. I’m turning 50 this June and speaking at IATEFL isn’t something I have done before.

So, we decided to go for it!

Then why the limbo, you may ask?

I need permission to go as I will be missing a few days at school. My school principal and school inspectors have been wonderfully supportive (IATEFL sends a beautiful official- looking letter with its logo) and I REALLY appreciate their support. However, it seems that someone higher up in the Ministry of Education needs to approve it as well and sign documents. When will that happen? Will it happen?

I don’t know. Hence the limbo. Those two short sentences make a nice ryhming sound when said together but they leave me feeling uptight. Flights need to be found, dues need to be paid, accomodation issues solved (anyone looking for a roomate for the conference?) not to mention a talk to be prepared.

AARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In any case, I can talk about books with real pleasure. I’m still reading (and enjoying) An Equal Music. Meanwhile, here are some recent reccomendations from readers of the blog:

Baiba Svenca recommended The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova. She said she didn’t want the book to end!

Janet Toar couldn’t put down the book “Sacred Hearts”, by Sarah Dunnant

Shulamith reccomends a site of Winter Poems to warm you up. She encourages the Israeli readers to enjoy it quickly – Winter is awfully short around here!

A book Vicky Loras  recently read and really liked was “Scenes From Village Life” by Amos Oz.

I’m delighted  to receive recommendations, so keep them coming!

HAPPY CHANUKA!

 

 

Part 2: Using Google Forms for Online Homework

Here is part two (of three) of my tale describing the classroom applications of Google Docs following an ETAI conference session given by Adele Raemer.

First, an update on  part one.  It turned out that the other two teachers were accessing our shared schedule by searching for my email with the link each time (instead of accessing it directly from Google Docs) and needed a “refresher”. Nonetheless, I’m still very optimistic that they will really adopt this change. All of us having the most updated schedule at all times is simply too good to miss.

The enthusiastic response I got from the students when they saw that the  first online homework task was built as a form with a “submit” button was astonishing. The results appear immediately in my Google Docs. Till now the students sent me homework by email, often with attachments. Some didn’t like using email. Worse, a surprising number of students don’t have “office” on their computers (some seem to have only Facebook…) and I was pasting tasks into the body of the email for them. There were also issues of different versions of “Word” and tasks that wouldn’t open…

Photo by Gil Epshtein

Despite all of that I was still astonished by their response. I didn’t expect students to compliment me on building a homework task! Some asked how I suddenly knew how to do this. I told them that I studied this in the summer and basked in their momentary admiration.

Here is an example of the most recent task for one of the four homework groups. PLEASE don’t fill out the form. I’d like to see only my own students’ names on the results page!

But that’s not all. Adele introduced us to “Flubaroo”, which grades the tasks and lets you send out an email to all the students, with the results and a comment (it doesn’t matter which kind of email the students are using). Very cool and simple to use.

So, why didn’t I place online tasks using Google Forms at the top of my list?

Building every task in the format of a form requires some adjustments. At the moment it is taking me longer than creating a task using Word. There are a number of possibilities for answer formats and I have to devote thought to the right format for each question, thinking of how the answer should look.

A step in the right direction was to expand my possibilities for utilizing the forms by deciding not to use Flubaroo for all tasks.

Photo by Gil Epshtein

There is importance in giving open ended questions. The fact that the answers to each question, in all their variety, will appear in one column should enable me to easily create an error correcting activity in class. At least that is the plan. In the past I attempted to copy problematic sentences from each task I corrected onto a document but that was too time consuming and even confusing.

I am simply going to have to experiment with this and see how many of the tasks I would like the students to do, can fit into the format of a form.

Next time, Part three – Google Forms and Staff Meetings

The Impact of a Conference Session on Using Google Docs

I always learn many interesting things at an ETAI conference. But now and then I hear something that turns out to have a significant impact on my day to day life in the classroom.

I know I may be writing this post too soon. We’ve only been at school for two weeks. I do have a tendency to get excited about things that don’t always turn out to be as awesome as I thought, but this is really too exciting for me to wait.

Photo by Gil Ephstein

However, in order to be on the cautious side, I’ll present the classroom applications I have found in order of my optimism regarding their permanent usefulness.

At the July ETAI Conference Adele Raemer gave a fascinating Tech-Talk. Among other things she introduced me to Google Docs. I must admit I was dimly aware that I had been missing something. But there were always other things going on… who has the time?! I guess that’s what conferences are for!

Application Number One -The Class Schedule

The deaf and hard of hearing students at my school learn some subjects with their hearing peers and some with special teachers in small classrooms. So each student must have his / her own unique schedule, depending on the number of hours in the regular classroom. Some students barely study with their hearing peers, some study many hours. Learning a foreign language is difficult for most students with a hearing problem so almost EVERYONE studies EFL in our special classroom. All these factors make our teaching schedule an absolute nightmare during the first few weeks of school.It changes a lot during the school year too, though (thankfully!) not as much.

At this time of year the schedule  seems to change by the hour as students shift their majors and make other changes. Think of the butterfly effect… It has always been a nightmare to constantly update the list (worked in pencil!) and update the other part time teachers and the head of my department.

Now, its not that I hadn’t heard of collaborative tools before. But the aforementioned people are decidedly “un-tech” minded.

Epstein Family photos

Google Docs doesn’t require creating a user name and password to a new site and then remembering what that site was called and how to access it.

Its right there in your mailbox.

And there is nothing to learn regarding how to erase a student’s name from one place and type it in another box in the spreadsheet (yes, I created the sheet with original schedule. I even color coded the boxes so one can see who’s teaching when!). I didn’t even have to stand beside them to explain how to use it.

I’m optimistic they will accept this change. In addition to all the advantages I just mentioned is the fact that I flatly refuse to accept written notes about changes and will not write any. I will not read out changes over the phone either.

Worst case scenario – Even if I do end up using it only for myself, I have just “deleted” a whole “brick” of aggravation. I’m the one who teaches the most hours and have said goodbye to those paper schedules with the heavy marks of an eraser. Hurrah!

Next post – classroom application number two, online homework!

 

Notes from ETAI 2012: Guest Speaker Gavin Dudeney

Since we owe a big THANK YOU to the British Council for bringing fascinating guests to local events, I think it is suitable to use the title for the Pecha Kucha event (hosted by the British Council as well) : Good things come in threes

One Gavin Dudeney, three experiences for me!

The very first session I chose to go at ETAI didn’t take place. While there are sessions cancelled due to unforseen circumstances at every conference, there was some lack of clarity regardng the situation and there was no note on the door. A group of people were sitting in the room, waiting and talking and it so happened that Gavin Dudeney had joined the teachers sitting directly behind me! At conferences I must admit to being rather excited and perhaps somewhat pushy and I butted right into the conversation! Its quite exciting to meet someone in person who knows (not just virtually) all these people from #eltchat! Luckily he was very friendly and patient and didn’t look at me oddly when I came to him the next day to say that I had tweeted from his session and it was my first time EVER tweeting from a conference! But most importantly, he meant what he said when he told me to write him regarding my question relating to technology and my deaf / hard of hearing students. HE REPLIED! I don’t take such things for granted.

I attended two sessions of Gavin Dudeney’s talks. In the first he talked about different kinds of digital litercies but kept us all on our toes with all kinds of questions. That was no easy task becasue the room was PACKED and people were sitting almost on top of him. The airconditioner in the room wasn’t geared for such a crowd. Dudeney seemed unruffled and simply took off his jacket

I particulary liked his emphasis that we should be interested in PEOPLE using technology, the skills people needed to know so that technology would  work for PEOPLE!

The second session focused more on practical applications. Adele Raemer, in the preceeding session, had shown us the power of  Word Clouds (among many other things!) and Dudeney emphasized this, citing research that there are advantages to students not always seeing words in straight lines. He gave us a very powerful demonstration of how having an audience (online) can help students improve their speaking skills. This time the session took place in the auditorium!

The third  experience was just watching Gavin Dudeney present and participate in the Pecha Kucha. One of the great things about ETAI is that we are all teachers sharing our work. However, I found it very instructive to see a seasoned presenter in action. I was as interested in the HOW as in the WHAT. Dudeney had all of us glued!

Good things really do come in threes!

 

More Notes from ETAI 2012: Leo Selivan on Synonyms

The room was packed to hear Leo Selivan’s  (British Council) talk on:

Does the word “synonym” have a synonym?

 Leo began with giving us an historical background, explaining about Latinate and Germanic influences, but didn’t get “bogged down” there. All through the session he encouraged participation and there was a lively debate regarding words that are synonyms and those that aren’t really. Part of the “arguments” had to do with the fact that  some of the teachers in the audience speak “American English” while others speak “British English”.  I was particularly interested in the debate about whether or not the words “child” and “infant” are synonyms. As a native speaker from the USA those words seem totally different to me. I knew it was used differently in French because of the movie “Au revoir les enfants” (louie Malle). In that movie the children were certainly not under the age of two!

Leo ended the talk with some practical suggestions for the classroom.

Here’s a link to a related blog post by Leo Selivan:

Two axes of word relationships