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”?
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”.
Note – I first learned of this video from the Film English blog, a blog well worth following. If you are looking for an additional lesson plan for students with this video, I suggest visiting Cristina’s blog, Blog de Cristina .
There’s never enough time at school to talk about some things. So many truly pressing issues take priority. And aren’t we are all in a hurry to get home at the end of the day?
Or maybe issues such as “balancing all the ways a teacher should ideally be meeting the students’ needs” simply seem obvious to everyone. No point in discussing obvious things, is there? That’s what blogs are for – I shall hold an imaginary staff meeting. Perhaps you’ll join me?
At my imaginary staff meeting, everyone is sitting comfortably, sipping their favorite beverage and not worrying about the time (I did say imaginary…) I would begin by showing the following powerful video. Without uttering a single word, this video manages to be truly moving and to raise several issues worth discussing. I’ll settle for discussing the following one.
In what ways do teachers strive to keep the balance in their classes between letting students express themselves and learning the material that must be learnt? On one hand, when watching the video, it’s truly heartbreaking to see the child’s creativity being snuffed out. The child literally loses her colors! On the other hand, we are doing children a big disservice if we don’t teach them how and when to follow rules. If you don’t learn to form your letters in the standard, accepted way, no one will be able to read what you have written. If you don’t learn the importance of coming to class on time (because perhaps you stopped to watch your street musician) you may have a hard time holding a job in the future.
We like to think of book reports or projects as opportunities, or outlets, for students to express themselves, but is that enough? I teach in the format of a learning center, which enables students to get up and move around during the lesson, and do a little “happy dance” if they need to. Which is something I’m pleased about but I don’t think that’s the point either.
If we return to the video for a minute, think what would have happened if the teacher had responded differently to the little girl’s drawing. Perhaps she could have said that she would create a folder for the child’s lovely artwork so it could be kept and admired but now she also needs to practice her letters. Otherwise no one will be able to understand what she writes. In other words, the teacher tries to get her to see the point of what she is asked to do, gets her on board with the rationale.
Isn’t understanding the point of what you are doing a critical step in taking ownership of your learning? Then, perhaps, it would be much easier to find the balance between academic learning and self-expression. It is, of course, easier said than done. Teachers have to prepare students for high stakes exams. Sometimes the reason for doing something is “it’s on the exam…”
Then again, perhaps the whole take away from a teacher’s perspective should be that making the student feel noticed and special can make a world of difference. It can let her keep hearing the violin play in her head!
What would you say if you attended my imaginary staff meeting?
It’s the standard thing you encounter in every teacher training course or teaching manual (and a quick Google search):
“When students (particularly teenagers!) get angry and hurl insults at the teacher, DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY, it’s not about YOU. The students are bringing in things from outside the classroom, issues related to their home life, their relationship (or lack of) with their peers, their academic struggles and much more. So taking it personally is a huge mistake. The insults roughly fall into two main categories – insults regarding the teacher’s appearance or insults regarding the teacher’s professional abilities.
Supposedly only an inexperienced teacher (or an unprofessional one) gets insulted. This is the cause of all the teacher’s troubles, and what is obstructing a calm and cool response.
At an in-service teacher’s training session I attended at school today, the instructor took a refreshingly different approach, one that rings true and makes more sense to me.
In a nutshell, the instructor explained that feeling insulted is an automatic and instinctive human reaction, a survival strategy which indicates the person must protect himself /herself.
Therefore, it is utter nonsense to tell a teacher not to take insults personally. We’re human beings, that’s what makes us caring teachers. Students crave empathy, to be really and truly seen, that requires emotions.
Actually, the instructor claimed, teachers who can respond appropriately and in a constructive manner to a student’s outburst are those that RECOGNIZE their feelings and have given thought to how he/she reacts to such feelings and what works to enable them to regain their equilibrium. Teacher’s aren’t robots! I believe Palmer discussed this in “The Courage to Teach” but I read that a long time ago and don’t encounter such an attitude in my reality.
Interestingly, the instructor noted that research has shown that what really gets under most teachers’ skin are insults relating to how good they are at their profession and not barbs targeted at personal appearance…
I would add that what hurts more than anything a student could say is when a staff member whom you turn to for support and understanding replies:
“You took that personally? What?! You should know better by now”!
My lovely colleague pointed out yesterday that some of our Deaf and hard of hearing students may have a problem in the upcoming exam with the word “most” since we’ve been reviewing superlatives for the last few weeks. In their reading passage, the word is used when describing the results of a survey, as in “Most of the young people said that…”.
The topic of teenagers who post pictures of themselves in an alternative reality, works beautifully for my purposes.
I chose a different video than the one Magda used as I thought it was less suitable for my class, especially as the characters clearly seem to be talking. What they are saying doesn’t matter, but with my students I prefer videos where it is clear that you don’t need to hear the audio.
Today I started using the following worksheet in class. All sentences include the word “most” but are related to the video.
There we were again. Once again my 10th grade student, whom we’ll call Dan, was throwing a tantrum in class over his test grade.
He got an 87.
Which is a very nice grade for a fairly high level exam. But it wasn’t a grade of 100 or at least one that is over 90 , which is marked with a different color in our computer grading system.
The tantrum was somewhat milder than the previous incident when he threw the test into the trashcan, stormed out of the classroom and shouted some more, so as to attract the attention of more teachers.
Dan has a particularly loud voice even when he is not shouting. Not only does he come from one of those families in which the volume of daily communication is turned up high, he is one of those hard of hearing people who hear themselves well when they speak very loudly. In addition, his tone is often very aggressive. This attitude has served him well in life and compensates a bit for his learning disability – it seems that people are willing to do a lot just to get him to quiet down. It is quite difficult to have meaningful conversations with Dan as he is always ready to go into “confrontation mode”.
I tried to tell him before he got the test back that I was really proud of him. I knew he had actually studied for the test and had done all the practice work. I was there when the class took the test and I saw that he really had made every effort.
I told Dan that I was proud of him and that I wanted to post about his achievement on our “I’m proud of YOU!” board.
Dan refused. He was gearing up for his tantrum. It’s purpose was to get me to add 3 points to his grade.
I didn’t. He tried to get my lovely co-teacher to do it but she wouldn’t do it either.
Two days later I had the opportunity to talk to him outside of class. I told him how disappointed I felt that he wouldn’t let me celebrate his achievement by posting on the board (I don’t post about students without their permission.). Dan replied that only when he gets a perfect grade of 100 he will grant me permission.
That’s when I had a moment of inspiration and said:
“I wouldn’t want to post about you if you had gotten a grade of 100. No way. That would have meant the test was really easy for you. I want to post about how much effort you put into studying for this test (which was not easy) and then did really well. I don’t post about kids for getting perfect scores”.
He actually listened to me. Not something to sneeze at.
Then Dan smiled, started walking away and shouted back:
For some of my students, it is simply not enough for me to smile and say “Wow, that’s really clever of you, well done!” when they show me a video they made for a friend’s birthday. They need other students to know the teacher knows. More importantly, they need all the other students to see that I respect some things the student does even though everyone knows that in class he’s busy trying to pull girls’ pony tails, hide someone’s cell phone or off looking for his own lost school supplies.
Frankly, I myself need reminding too – we’re talking about 11th grade, did I mention that?!!
Then there are the good students, even the excellent students, who really need to hear (or see, in my class of Deaf and hard of hearing students) a good word said about them that isn’t related to academic achievements. Some are so quiet that even their academic achievements aren’t well-known.
Duh, you may say (especially if you teach teens). EVERYONE, including we teachers, want to be noticed.
So why am I equally excited and worried about the new I’m Proud of YOU!” board now hanging in our English Room? My plan is to hang up notes, scattered around the board (wall wisher style) mentioning things students did as they happen, taking off old notes when it gets too crowded.
What could go wrong?
For starters – I really recommend watching the TED Talk below. I’m sure the teacher mentioned in the beginning of it had the best of intentions, but her intentions were not what mattered to the poor student. And my students need the board in order to add a tiny extra layer of protection to all the rejection many of them encounter in life.
At least, that’s what I hope.
I don’t want anyone to feel insulted.
I don’t want anyone to be made fun of.
I don’t want anyone to feel forgotten but it would be defeating the purpose if I hung up notes about all of my students on the same day. Everyone would lose interest in the board if it didn’t change. I plan to keep track of the names that go up.
Back to the TED Talk. My take away from it was that I should try. I won’t be able to improve and make corrections if I don’t start! And I teach these students for three years, so I have time to make amends if needed.
The new board has been up for a few days but I’ve been out sick, so no students have seen it yet. I remain hopeful and concerned.
Recently, as I was about to begin teaching a pleasantly small group of students, 10 of my deaf and hard of hearing 10th graders walked in and sat down. “The program director said we have to study with you, now” they announced. Obviously another lesson had been cancelled…
So there they were. And I needed something I could do with them and the students who were already in the class. NOW.
Since the 10th graders had a section on the passive form on their upcoming exam, I thought a quick review might be something that would work for everyone, at least for starters.
So I wrote the title “Logical or Ridiculous” and the following sentences on the board, inventing as I wrote (sentence 5 is a flop, I must admit):
The students were asked to say which sentences were logical and which were ridiculous and why.
The first sentence was: A family was eaten by a giant pizza. It caused a surprising amount of confusion which really set me thinking. A significant number of the students read it as if the sentence said ” the family ate a giant pizza”, which is a perfectly logical thing to do in their opinion (some students complained that I was making them hungry!). They simply changed the word order in their heads! You might think that they simply don’t know the passive form but in other ways the same students exhibited a good understanding of it. I was surprised and tried to get students to explain their thought process. I even added the red markings to emphasize the passive form.
But what came up was that a few students were actually trying to follow something else I tell them day in and day out in the classroom – you must be flexible with the word order when reading a sentence, so that it will make sense.
In Hebrew adjectives come after the noun, not before it. In Israeli Sign Language word order is a totally different ball game. I constantly remind the students to read the whole sentence and then change what is needed in their heads so it will make sense.
Being flexible with word order is an important skill for these students otherwise they can’t make sense of a great deal of what they read in a text. Remember, most of these specific students don’t speak in English, they just read and write. But it is a serious disadvantage when encountering a sentence like this, particularly in the passive form, when they end up distorting the meaning completely.
Of course they also do other things, such as what they did with the sentence: This classroom will be erased by the teacher next week.Almost all the students read it as “The whiteboard will be erased by the teacher”… But that’s another issue.
I have to think about my flexible-word-order message. How to address issues without over complicating it.
I was in charge of preparing a fun activity for a staff event.
I can only do what I know how to do – use visual material.
So I turned to my stack of video-lessons. In class I use them to work on answering reading comprehension questions of both types: LOTS – Lower Order Thinking Skills /HOTS – Higher Order Thinking Skills. I decided to utilize the same principles for the staff!
They seemed to like it!
The first activity was a KAHOOT! quiz related to the video “Paper vs. Tablet” . With KAHOOT! everyone answers the questions using their cell phone. It turned out well to start off with something energizing and there was some good-natured competetion regarding teachers’ places on the scoreboard. In class I used this to practice WH Questions and I decided to stick with LOTS type questions for the staff too. Before showing the video I told everyone that they must be on their toes because they are going to watch a 39 second video and then they will have to recall details regarding what they saw. Here are the questions that worked well (the KAHOOT! was not in English, so I’m not sharing it):
How many characters were in the video? (*Some missed the child!)
How long was the video? (*Only teachers who listened to instructions got that one right!)
What language was used?
What is the MAIN purpose of the video ( I used “vengeance is sweet” as a distractor and that caused a lively argument about the word “main”).
What is the woman’s name? (Everyone got THAT right, but that is important with teachers too).
The second activity was a KAHOOT! Survey and this was the most successful activity of all. We were 17 teachers and everyone likes being asked their opinion. Or, in HOTS terminology, we distinguished between different perspectives. This time they had to answer the following questions BEFORE watching the video:
Beginning at what age would you let your child do the following:
load the washing machine
hang the wash on the line
do the ironing
water the plants
make the bed
take out the garbage
walk the dog
tidy up a room
Many teachers thought I was going to show some sad video about the terrible plight of overworked children. Not so! They loved “Dial Direct”!
The third activity did not involve using cell phones. I showed a slide show with screen shots from what I described as an “instructional video to teach you to cook something”. The teachers had to guess what dish it was. The skill of “prediction”, of course. No easy task when you see a section of Rubik’s cube being chopped and pin cushions being crushed. Quite a few teachers realized that picking a dollar bill off a plant and chopping it must be a green spice (basil, in this case). They all the thought that the animation in Western Spaghettiwas very well done (BTW, the Rubik’s cube represented garlic).
I should have stopped there. Three activities were enough. For the last activity we did the Emotions of Soundactivity as it is on the site (note, you have to click on the link on the bottom of the screen to get to the relevant screen to begin). It’s a nice activity but slow and that was too much. It is also a vocabulary activity not a HOTS one, so it didn’t fit in.
It’s a good thing to let other staff members (who aren’t EFL teachers) see what materials are being used in class.
Good and fun!
Teaching English as a FOREIGN language to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students