Category Archives: Day by Day in the Classroom

Goal 3 “What Do You Believe About Learning?”

My first reaction to today’s goal at the 30 Goals Challenge was; ” there are SO many aspects and ways to look at learning, where do I begin”?

Tweeting with Lisa Dabbs today gave me the “handle” I needed  – mentoring! She has a lovely post on it. I’d like to highlight a different aspect which is what the MENTOR learns from mentoring.

I had the experience of mentoring a brand new teacher, straight out of college, who at the same time also became my colleague, teaching the same pupils I do (we teach in the format of a learning center. I teach full time and she teaches part time in addition to my hours).

I’ve been  teaching for 25 years yet I found I was learning a great deal from the experience. First of all, because she repeatedly asked “WHY?”. I had set into motion all kinds of ways of doing things, some of which I had been doing so long that I no longer remembered why I had decided to do them in this particular way. Suddenly I had to reexamine everything! Sometimes it was tiring, but it was always useful. Some strategies or practices I realized that I felt good about them because now I remembered why they were planned just so. Others turned out to be “dusty” and were tweaked or even replaced.

Of course, as a talented young teacher, she came with suggestions of her own which have enriched my teaching!

But the thing I thank her most for is helping me to continue THINKING about what I am doing and why!

Goal 2 of the #30 Goals Project

Goal 2 of the #30 Goals project was an easy one because I had just done something before reading the challenge! I believe the following qualifies for this goal!

As I have mentioned before, we’re working on the poem “The Road Not Taken”.  Besides all kinds of written tasks the pupils have to do, they are supposed to be assessed on  something creative related to the poem. In the past most of the pupils chose to create a PowerPoint slideshow. It’s a comfortable medium for many of the pupils, and of course. very visual.

This year I’ve been fortunate enough (I siezed an opportunity!) to work with a teacher of Sign Language.  This teacher also knows American Sign Language. So, this year was the first time that the opportunity to present the poem in ASL was made available. Two pupils that came from mainstreamed classrooms and don’t sign are learning to present it in Israeli Sign Language.

However, that’s not the latest development. I have one hard of hearing pupil who isn’t interested in Sign Language and communicates very well without it (utilizes his cochlear implant well!) He has a problematic home life and hardly gets any academic work done at home and would never get a PowerPoint Presentation done. Fortunately, he works with a retired volunteer once a week whom he adores. The volunteer is an enthusiastic American who’s been showing him “the rythm” of the poem.  So, this pupil’s presentation will be to recite the poem in spoken English with some intonation and attention to rhyming! I’ve never ever done that with a pupil in my class!

Only downside is that now another pupil wants to do that and she doesn’t spend time with the volunteer…

“Be a Beam” – My first day of the #30 Goals Challenge

Just joined the #30 Goals Challenge! What a refreshing idea!

As a special ed. teacher, by definition all my students study English in my self-contained class (as opposed to a regular class) because they have problems, either academically, emotionally, or have more than one handicap (in addition to the hearing loss). English as a foreign language is a very hard subject for them as a “default” situation.

So, since basically all of my students can be defined as ” struggling” , I decided to give some extra TLC to “A GOOD GIRL”! Every now and then I catch myself and realize that the few pupils who come in, work nicely on their own (I teach in the format of a learning center) organize everything, hand in their work on time without being reminded,  don’t always get enough attention! I’m often too busy with the pupil who won’t start working until I sit next to him for a few minutes to get him started or with the girl who deals badly with any frustration and needs frequent reasuurance. The volunteer will be asked to sit with the hyperactive boy. And so the list of “blow-ups to be prevented” goes on…

Today I made an extra special effort to spend time with a girl from 10th grade who really is on those “good girls!” I also told other teachers about how she learned the poem “The Road Not Taken” in American Sign Language for her lit. project so that they could compliment her when they meet her.

Wonder what tomorrow’s goal will be!

Comment on “The Power of a Teacher”

On a wonderful blog I’m following called “Be the Change” there is a post about a  powerful quote by Haim G. Ginnot. You can read the quote on the blog or here

I immediatly commented that I strongly identify with the quote and I stand behind that statement.  However, for the last 24 hours something was nagging at me about it and now I identified the problem.

There is a “but” in there. The teacher IS the decisive element in the classroom BUT not the only one. Sometimes things will get out of control, a “drama” will occur despite the fact that the teacher reacted or behaved in the manner we would define as the right thing to do. There is something about this quote that brings you close to passing the dangerous line from being a great teacher to trying to be a PERFECT teacher.  Which leads to misery because there is no attaining the status of perfect teacher.

A recent example of this occurred in my classroom. Pupils are not allowed to eat during the lessons. They are allowed to drink, chew gum (as long as they don’t make balloons!) but no eating. No eating during lessons  is a policy ALL kids are familiar with since kindergarten and I don’t make exceptions for that particular rule.  No long ago, first lesson of the day,  a 12th grader burst into my classroom and took out a sandwich. When I reminded her that she is not permitted to eat in class there was a huge scene which actually only lasted two minutes or less. It ended up with her leaving the classroom, slamming the door as she left. I felt bad about it all day but could not see how I could have reacted differently. She’s 19 years old, she can wait for the break to eat and that’s the kind of rule that if you make an exception to it – well, its like opening the floodgates!

At the end of the day the scho0l’s art therapist came  and told me that this pupil had had a major fight with her parents before coming to school and I was basically the first person she met when she arrived. Her reaction had nothing to do with eating and could easily have been about anything at all. She was brewing for a showdown with someone and I was there…

Is it worthwhile to teach authentic poetry without knowledge of vocabulary?

I’m teaching the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken” to a large group of my Hebrew-speaking deaf and hard of hearing 10th and 11th graders. It’s in the curriculum.

I find it to be a puzzling situation. On one hand it seems absolutely insane to teach it to most of these kids. I’m not exaggerating when I say that most of them only know two to four words in the entire poem. Even a word that seems familiar to them such as “sorry” isn’t in the right context as they only know it to mean “please forgive me”.  Even though we did a pre-reading exercise which included translating the really difficult words (such as “undergrowth” “hence”) they didn’t know most of the other words either and couldn’t even begin to read any sentence of it on their own.

On the other hand, this poem is about dealing with dilemmas and making choices. We did a pre-reading activity on how they solve problems and many of them were interested in that. The vocabulary exercise I gave on those really hard words had them match the Hebrew translation to a simple definition in easy English, so there was reinforcement of vocabulary, just not of the vocabulary of the program. In addition they learned  a bit about metaphors, how to infer something and about the poet. Some of the pupils actually said they find the poem related to life!

However, to answer the low order reading comprehension questions (which were in English they could handle) they relied mainly on the translation of the poem. Since I foresaw that, I made sure they had to copy out lines of the text to prove their answers otherwise they wouldn’t have looked at the poem itself at all!

I wonder if I could have achieved the same effect by having all these nice activities and tasks in English, about a poem written in Hebrew?! So, is it worthwhile to teach authentic poetry without vocabulary?

Comment on Can Texting Help Teens with Writing and Spelling

I just read Bill Ferriter’s post titled

Can Texting Help Teens with Writing and Spelling?

and it reminded of what we experienced in my classroom when texting first became an option on cell phones. I’m not quite sure how long ago that was anymore – maybe 10 years ago?

The first cell-phones pupils showed up with only had texting options in English. People were texting each other in Hebrew transliterated into English. My deaf students were ecstatic about this visual option to communicate, but they had to use English letters! They spent time on their phonics, always pestering me with requests to help them sound out the letters for the words they wanted to write. It was wonderful.
Now, of course, not only can’t we discuss if texting helps their English, we can’t even discuss if it is good for their Hebrew! Most of the pupils have 3G cell-phones and sign (Israeli Sign Language) their messages!

Comment on “Taking a Walk in the Learners’ Shoes”

On the blog Box Of Chocolates, which I really enjoy following, there’s an interesting guest post discussing whether or not the experience of learning a foreign language can help you understand your students better, called

Taking a Walk in the Learners’ Shoes

I had an interesting experience related to this. About 7 years ago when I was on a partial sabbatical, I took a beginner’s course in Spanish. My motivation was part historical (classic Eastern Jewish story, my maternal grandmother’s family scattered from Poland to Israel, USA and Argentina) and part practical (Spanish is supposed to  be an easy language to learn).

I wasn’t thinking of sharing my students’  experiences when I registered – after all, I’m not deaf and had not been expecting the course to enrich my experience as a teacher. Just hoped to learn some Spanish!

Well, I was wrong from the word “go”. I barely knew 3 or 4 words in Spanish when I started. My clasmates were shocked that I hadn’t known the Spanish word for heart! Hearing children in second grade know all sorts of words in English beore they start formal education. The deaf pupils literally start with nothing (some kids know the word LOVE but only in capital letters).

I had no exposure to Spanish outside the classroom. The only Spanish speaking friend I had at the time had recently moved away and I don’t watch the Spanish speaking Soap Operas.  Many (not all, never all) of my students are not exposed to English outside of the classroom, even though we live in a country where English is influential. They watch TV and movies with subtitles, use Facebook in Hebrew and don’t hear songs in English.

Just like my students I found it increasingly harder to remember the vocabulary. Each week required more effort on my part to review the words on my own. As I was also teaching, it was difficult sometimes to keep up when I had report cards and national exams to deal with.  Just like a sizeable number of my high-school students, who are often distracted by things going on at home.

I put in extra special effort and finished the course pretty well. But not easily at all. Seven years ago, after  not using Spanish at all, I remember very little… But I do remember how I felt when I studied.

I think learning a foreign language is a very important experience for any language teacher!

Reform Symposium 2011 and “BURNOUT”

I saw a large number of excited tweets about the Reform Symposium 2011 .  A whole convention online!

The lecture dealing with teacher burnout caught my eye and I decided to attend this one lecture. Now there’s a paradox right there! The lecture, my time , was on SATURDAY, my only day off. If I’m feeling so stressed and overburdened that I’m attracted to a lecture on “burnout”,  (we’re just before report cards and mid-year matricualtion exams and I work 6 days a week!), then WHY ATTEND A LECTURE ON SATURDAY?!!

But the speaker, John Spencer was good. He didn’t just say – go to gym class and you’ll be fine! I didn’t take notes but I went to his blog after the lecture and found my PARADOX right there!  Here’s an excerpt of what he wrote about himself, on his contact page:

“I believe that true impact occurs in a paradox. The more I try to “make an impact,” the less I impact a student.”

I have 4 months of real teaching yet to go this year. In addition, as a counselor I have two more matricualtion exams to deal with.  Maybe I  need to stop trying so hard. Easier said than done…

I’m glad I attended the lecture!

Homework – Moving from “Alfie Kohn” to “Robyn R. Jackson”

For years I basically subscribed to Alfie Kohn’s approach to homework, which he hammers home briefly and succinctly in the video clip: “Making Students work a Second Shift”

It seemed particularly unfair for my deaf and hard of hearing high-school students to have to work “a second shift” doing homework when they live so far away from school. Some of my pupils leave the house well before 7 a.m. and return home after 5 p.m.  Not only is dealing with texts in English (as a foreign language!) such a struggle for many of them, many of the kids were notorious for not doing homework before I got them! Therefore, I did not give homework on a regular basis.

But I wasn’t happy with the situation. Some of the students were not taking the learning PROCESS seriously enough and only cared about tests. In fact, I had to admit, that not only weren’t they working “a second shift” – some weren’t working much during their “first shift”!

A few months before this school year began, I read about Robyn Jackson’s approach to homework in “Never Work Harder Than Your Students”. She discussed two elements which I felt were “written for me” :

1)      Focus on quality rather than quantity

2)      That small amount of homework IS IMPORTANT (otherwise I wouldn’t have given it – no busywork) so it’s not going to go away, it has to be done.

I agonized all summer about how to make sure the students did the homework.  WE are not in America – suggestions I found in the book such as utilizing Lunch Period (which we don’t have) or having children stay after school (they are all tied to transportation schedules, NO flexibility there!) were inapplicable.

Since I always “learn by doing” I decided to start without having solved the problem. I created a class website. Every Monday (homework only once a week) I post new homework, but the previous assignments are still visible (I use the format of a table).  I told the pupils that homework is presented online and they can email it me or hand it in, as they prefer. I explained that we’re using online homework to enable me to use color and media. In addition it is good for the environment. The assignments are short and focus on point I want them to pay attention to (such as six sentences on the difference between “how long” and no longer”).

Most of the new tenth graders were onboard right away (though two do not do homework to this very day!) Some even told me they felt that this was a serious class! At first, the others hoped that if they ignored it, I would drop the issue. I kept reminding them that important info is waiting for them. When I congratulated them on getting a good grade I reminded them that their teacher evaluation would still be low because by not doing homework they didn’t complete the learning program. After the first round of tests, the pupils who did fairly well to very well asked how they could prevent the teacher’s evaluation looking bad on their report cards and sat down and made up all the assignments! I even heard another teacher say that the pupils told her that they consider English to be one of the serious subjects because there is regular homework! I didn’t expect that!

The current situation is that about 80 percent of the 65 pupils do homework. I know that a weekly point I want to emphasize is getting across and feel very good about it. Unfortunately, not all of the pupils do the homework on time. I’m not sure how to get around that because by now the pupils know that my focus is on the learning aspect and don’t feel pressured to hand in the work on time. For the second semester, which is about to start, I plan to make a rule that homework can only be made up in the month it was given.

One thing is for sure –  my husband feels that since I read the book  “Never Work Harder Than Your Students” I’m working harder than before!