Category Archives: On Education

A TEACHER’S “PERIODIC TABLE”: 3. Lines

Full Title  – Pondering the “Periodic Table of Teacher Elements”  that make up a teacher’s life.

There are all sorts of lines…
Naomi’s photos

The spark for this series of posts was ignited by reading the book “The Periodic Table” by Primo Levi. That book is unique, fascinating and powerful. These posts do not even attempt to hold a candle to the book, which I highly recommend reading.

Nonetheless,  the idea of exploring elements that make up a teacher’s life took hold…

If my claim that “lines” are an absolutely basic element of every teacher’s life took you by surprise, ask yourself the following questions:

  • When you taught the alphabet, did you draw lines on the board yourself or did you have one of those boards that have a section with lines? Are you capable of writing on the board in a straight line? I can’t…
  • Which behaviors do you draw the line at in class? Do you allow chewing gum but draw the line at using the cellphone?
  • To what degree are you required by the administration to toe the line in class? How much leeway do you actually have to decide what you teach, when you teach it and to add your own “flavor”?
  • What are your lines of communication with your students / parents / the administration?
  • How is your classroom organized? In straight lines? Traditional columns and rows?
  • What are your strategies for drawing the line between your private life and work? How do you shut the door on something that worried you at home and give your students your full attention in class? Or vice-a-versa?
  • Lines can become blurry, sometimes…
    Naomi’s Photos
  • How do you navigate that fine line between using humor in the classroom and ensuring that not a single student leaves the lesson feeling insulted?
  • Do you feel a student is out of line when he /she asks you whether or not you fasted during the holiday or if you are pregnant?
  • Do you let students get away with lines such as “My dog ate my homework”?
  • How often have you tried desperately to fit  some important phone calls into a ten minute break between classes, only to be told to hold the line? Then they say they’ll call you back, but of course, you can’t answer the phone because you are teaching?!
  • How much time do you spend online for work purposes?
  • How often do you say (perhaps feeling exasperated) in class “Pay attention to the line numbers!!! “.

I’m sure you can think of other examples along these lines. In the school in which I teach, I am not required to line the students up for lunch or recess, but perhaps that is a daily element for you. In any case, you are welcome to drop me a line with your comments!

Note: I use an apron when I cook for my family. It has lines on it too…

A Teacher’s “Periodic Table”: 2. Diamonds vs. Rust

Full Title  – Pondering the “Periodic Table of Teacher Elements”  that make up a teacher’s life


(Naomi’s Photos)

The spark for this series of posts was ignited by reading the book “The Periodic Table” by Primo Levi. That book is unique, fascinating and powerful. These posts do not even attempt to hold a candle to the book, which I highly recommend reading.

Nonetheless,  the idea of exploring elements that make up a teacher’s life took hold…

*** Title inspired by Joan Baez’s song: “Diamonds and Rust”, 1974.

Naomi’s Photos

Diamonds are those moments when…

… a student’s face lights up with the joy of comprehension.

… a student uses what we have just taught on his /her own initiative.

… a student is eager to learn more.

… we realize that the way we presented / planned / constructed our lesson was just what the students needed to grasp the issue and move a step forward.

Rust takes hold the minute  you decide that since that particular mode of presenting the material was such a success, you will always teach it that way, regardless of context, the years that have gone by  and the ever-changing needs of different students. If the fact that  diamonds no longer sparkle during the lessons escapes you, than the rust is truly entrenched.

Note: One good strategy for Rust Removal is to have a student teacher (a teacher-to-be) in your class.   The need to explain why you do what you do is a terrific rust detector.

Additional Note: Attending  a teacher’s conference will enable you to meet other teachers who also swear by their methods for mining for diamonds. Taking in some of that collective knowledge provides powerful rust-removal polish.

Final NoteDiamonds are also those moments in the hallway (and outside of school) when the students are happy to see you…

 

A Teacher’s “Periodic Table” / 1. Ink

Full Title – Pondering the “Periodic Table of Teacher Elements”  that make up a teacher’s life

Naomi’s Photos

The spark for this series of posts was ignited by reading the book “The Periodic Table” by Primo Levi. That book is unique, fascinating and powerful. These posts do not even attempt to hold a candle to the book, which I highly recommend reading.

Nonetheless,  the idea of exploring elements that make up a teacher’s life took hold…

*Ink  – as in ink stains on my hands & clothes from the carbon paper I carried around in university when studying to be a teacher. The choice was between using carbon paper and letting copies of my notes circulate or me not having my notebook when I needed it.

*Ink – as in more ink stains from the mimeograph machine we used in school during my first years to make copies of worksheets. I can’t recall if those stains came out…

* Ink – as in the ink blots that appear on the Rorschach Cards that the young man I married 30 years ago (this week!) was studying back then.

* Ink – as in the ink pads for reusable stamps (proclaiming “WELL DONE” “GOOD JOB” “HAVE A NICE DAY”)  used when teaching elementary school, in a successful attempt to eliminate the endless “out-of-pocket” purchase of stickers.

* Ink – as in the ribbons of my parents’ old Olivetti typewriter which I used when needed because the school simply didn’t own an electric typewriter with an English keyboard.

* Ink – as in the change to whiteboard markers. Farewell to sneezing caused by chalkdust!

* Ink – as in the joy of opening a new package of colored pens. The color chosen to grade papers changes as the year progresses – when the ink runs out I move on to the next color…

* Ink – as in the number of pens I carry around in my purse (usually three). A teacher in the staff room invariably needs to borrow a pen for a moment, a student shows up for a test without a pen while another pen quietly resigns from its duties …

And finally:

* Ink – as in the notes-to-self on real paper, which I keep on my classroom desk. Despite using a lot of technology (educational, to-do lists, Evernote, reminders and more),  when I need to get something down quickly, especially at school , it’s got to be ink-on-paper.

What role has ink played in your teaching career?

 

 

 

 

Saving Board Games from “Classroom 101” – a Comment

Is this what Room 101 looks like? Naomi's Photos
Is this what Room 101 looks like?
Naomi’s Photos

Listening to podcasts is what keeps me sane (and happy!) when doing housework, particularly folding laundry or ironing. The fact that there is no visual input to distract me helps me be reasonably efficient as well.

I am delighted to be subscribed to several different podcasts (all free!), so I can choose to listen to whichever one suits my mood. But I only have one podcast exclusively for teachers who teach English as a foreign language – the TEFL COMMUTE! All those behind the scenes are experienced teachers, teacher-trainers and ELT writers, with a sense of humor!

In their latest episode they played a game of consigning annoying teaching practices , aggravating ELT terms and more, to “classroom 101″ (a spin-off of the television show Room 101”), then locking the door and throwing away the key. No gripes about things like salary or administrators allowed. Things such as teaching “inversions”, “reported speech”, playing certain ice-breakers or using too many acronyms when training teachers to use technology (BYOD is one I recall).

Thought provoking and good fun.

But I’m here to break into the locked “Classroom 101” and rescue BOARD GAMES!

illegal entry... (naomi's photos)
illegal entry…
(Naomi’s photos)

In the podcast they were unhappy with photocopying the board games and the pages of cards from the course book, cutting and pasting all that is needed, hoping for access to a laminating machine that probably wouldn’t work… In addition, they spoke about time wasted setting up the games and getting the students to understand the rules. In short, board games were described as more trouble than they were worth.

I disagree!

All you have to do is follow these simple guidelines:

  • Use just about any commercial board game you can get your hands on.  Talk to all your friends and relatives – unwanted games go to YOU! Games that require moving a marker from one point to another along some sort of track are the easiest to use. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a “road race” or a “space race” or “snakes or ladders”. They all have the player moving forward and backwards along the route (or missing a turn). Students are familiar with the rules to such games. Commercial games are attractive and are designed for multiple use and it’s great that different groups get a different board each time. Games like “Contact 4 (Tic Tac Toe with 4 discs in a row) will work too. Worth owning a few of these games. Adults like them as much as the kids.
  • All games are played with the exact same rule. Always. Very little time spent on explaining.  Whatever it is you want to practice by playing  the game is “the target”. Each player must answer the target question before throwing the dice and playing his/her turn according to the general rules of the game. Perhaps they must use a word in a sentence or complete a collocation. If they got it right, they get two turns. If not, they must correct it and play once.
  • Assuming you are teaching students who hear well (which I don’t..) you don’t have to make cards. In each group have one student be “the teacher” . The “teacher” presents the “target” and determines if the answer was correct by holding a question and answer sheet. Really smart to give your weakest students this role! They feel so good!

Simple! So don’t send board games off to “Classroom 101”!

When a Teacher Must Reinvent the Wheel – a Comment

Time to reflect (Naomi's Photos)
Time to reflect
(Naomi’s Photos)

The iTDi  blog is known for the wide range of topics and varied perspectives it offers its audience of EFL teachers around the world. Yet it can hardly be taken for granted that the latest batch of posts included one on teaching a deaf learner in Japan. The topic of teaching students with special needs (SEN) has long been neglected in many international forums and training centers so I’m moved to see issues related to mainstreaming highlighted.

In his post, EFL teacher Mathew Turner describes the challenges he was faced with when integrating a deaf student in his English discussion class, “a class that required the ability to actively listen and respond to other people’s ideas and express opinions”. Turner also writes the following:

“In all my years of teaching, I’ve never had a learner with any kind of hearing impairment, nor by extension have I really experienced teaching a student with a recognised or self-identified disability. In in-service courses, such as my MA program, my DipTESOL, and even my pre-service CertTESOL, there was never a module, workshop, or focus on teaching English as a foreign or second language to learners with disabilities”.

Who will be sitting in that chair in YOUR class? Naomi's Photos
Who will be sitting in that chair in YOUR class?
Naomi’s Photos

First of all, I would like to say how much I admire Turner for tackling the formidable problem of involving a student who doesn’t speak and can’t hear in a discussion class. With no precedent to work from he found ways to both involve the student academically and as a contributing group member of the class. Turner clearly put a lot of time and effort in it. It is also heart-warming to hear how the entire staff and administration collaborated.

As a national counselor for teaching EFL to deaf and hard of hearing learners , it seems to me that the experience could have been a bit easier.

Turner writes: “Firstly, I had to script my teacher talk. Before the lesson, I wrote down all of my planned teacher talk on separate sheets of paper that reflected the stages of the lesson.”

I’m sure that helped the student (who had two student notetakers). However, not only is that incredibly hard work and not always feasible, but good notetakers using a laptop or a tablet  should be able to keep up with a reasonably paced lesson without getting a script in advance and at a much quicker pace than writing. This allows the student to read as the text is being typed and the teacher to go with the flow of the lesson, responding accordingly  (and to have some free time now and then…).  Perhaps some things need to be done by professionals.

There are text-to-speech programs available today. Again, if a computer was being used, the student would not need an additional intermediary to speak for her – her computer would be her voice and the others could get used to that voice. It would be a more direct way to communicate (and again, faster).

I’d like to end with a special note of thanks to Turner for emphasizing this very important fact, with which I agree wholeheartedly:

Talk with the student about how best to help her/him!

 

Warning – Adding Independent Professional Development to New Year’s Resolutions Can be Hazardous!

 

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

Temptation is everywhere, just a click away.

For example, Anthony Gaughan and Phil Wade are currently offering  “a one-month teacher development experiment, 5 minutes a day of reflection for a working month“, completely free.

2016 will find #ELTChat continuing to tempt teachers with weekly dynamic Twitter chats on a wide variety of ELT issues. So many ideas and links are mentioned that summaries are posted afterwards to allow a teacher to take it all in.

Even one of the moderators, James Taylor (aka The Teacher James), when posting about his webinar, tempts you with a vision of the kind of teacher you might aspire to be “If you’re the kind of teacher who goes to webinars, reads books, goes to conferences and generally tries to keep up to date with what is going on in the world of ELT…”

All this and more, yet not a DANGER  warning in sight.

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

There should be THREE WARNINGS, to be precise.

1) Independent professional development can be addictive. The more you read, discuss and reflect with your online PLN, the more you want to do it. Which means spending a larger chunk of your life sitting down in addition to all the time you spend sitting down marking papers, preparing lesson plans and attending meetings.  Where is that time spent at the gym going to fit in?

2) Independent professional development might open your mind, and lead to a desire to change, innovate and question. Desires which, to varying degrees, are frowned upon by many institutions. The ensuing conflict of desires can lead to frustration and an awareness of constraints not previously noticed.

3) Independent professional development, for the most part, leaves with you with no documentation to prove you have engaged in it. Or at least no recognized documentation. In this country even a certificate of attendance from an International Conference is useless for official purposes (the explanation being that those conferences give the certificate after checking in, and who knows if the teacher didn’t spend the rest of the time shopping?).

Personally, the warnings wouldn’t have deterred me. Being a part of this “scene” is helping me stay motivated after 30 years of teaching with 10 more to go (I started young). But these are real issues. Issues that hurt.

 

 

Experimenting with ROOJOOM as a Teacher Trainer

 

Choose your own direction! (Naomi's photos)
Choose your own direction!
(Naomi’s photos)

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m taking an in service training course on EDTECH with Hishtalmoodle (highly recommended, interesting & with excellent support for participants) and it seems there is a lot of redundancy in the field of educational technology. Many programs offer similar services.

This time the new (for me) EDTECH tool is called Roojoom. In many ways it seems similar to Live Binders. It allows you to collate links (embedded), documents, slideshows (anything PDF) all in one link, ready to be shared. A nifty feature of ROOJOOM lets you write an introductory text on the side, which is easier than sweating out a title for each page of the binder that will explain why you are showing it.

Because both tools offer the option of skipping the pages that aren’t relevant,   I find that such tools lend themselves well to teacher training.

Here’s the link to my collation of information for a teacher who has a new student with a hearing loss in the EFL class.

Looking at “Productivity Guides” from a Teacher’s Perspective

Mission accomplished! (Naomi's Photos)
Mission accomplished!
(Naomi’s Photos)

Every now and then I get caught up in reading “productivity posts” – posts on how to be efficient, get everything done and feel good. I’ve never quite figured out the secret behind that.

The trouble is, these posts always seem to be for entrepreneurs, or at least for people who work in an office.

But I’m a teacher.

The most recent post I read is a very impressive and detailed one : The Complete Guide to Productivity  by Sean Kim.  He writes well and I enjoyed reading it. Surely you can relate to the attraction of lines such as the following: “If you would like to make more effective use of your time, maintain your energy levels throughout the day, and achieve your goals faster — read on”. I did and I’m impressed .  However, which of his suggestions can work for me, as a teacher?

Conditions are far from ideal (Naomi's photos)
Conditions are far from ideal (Naomi’s photos)

For starters, the points about scheduling are interesting. I have no control over my school weekly schedule, though interestingly, most of the lessons are scheduled in segments of 45 minutes. Theoretically then, after every two lessons (the 90 minute cycle) I need a break (according to the article). Which I get, sometimes. Other times, I rush to photocopy something, talk to the home room teacher or a student, or do paperwork. If no one is misbehaving, yard duty can be a semi break… The breaks are not 30 minutes long, that’s for sure!

It’s a dilemma. If I sit and chat during the breaks I will be more relaxed. But that comes at the cost of bringing home more work that must be done in the evening!

Stop or go? (Naomi's photos)
Stop or go? (Naomi’s photos)

I’m at complete odds with the author regarding the morning routine! For starters, cold showers are unthinkable! Whose with me on this? But I also can’t handle the “don’t check your email in the morning” advice either. Sean Kim makes a great case for not doing it, but enjoying my email and social media feeds over breakfast, before school is a great way to start the day for me. While I do have a smartphone and take quick peeks during the day at school, it’s usually nothing more than peeks. Actually, this way, I often don’t check my mail when I walk in the door after coming home from school, in the afternoon (or at least I only continue peeking). That’s when I prefer to eat lunch and read a book for a while before focusing again.

Kim also says that creative work should be done in the morning.

Hmmm. Depends on how you define creativity.

Teaching is one kind of creativity, and I do most of that in the morning. Though not every lesson is creative, and certainly not everything that I do in a school day has any creativity in it. The other kind, simply cannot be done at school, is pure creativity. Activities such as inventing video lessons, figuring out how a new tech tool might liven up a class, photo posts, slide shows and more, all happen late at night. I (and most of the teachers I know) do not sleep as much as this article suggests!

I was startled by the evening activity related to the “not to do” list! It never occurred to me! However, I do write down my tasks much more often than in the past, as I have become more forgetful. I totally agree with Kim’s recommendation regarding the “any.do” task manager – so friendly and helpful! I use it all day.

One final point – I was totally unable to relate to the Pareto Principle in regards to teaching. Can you?

 

 

When an EFL Teacher Sits in a Waiting Room…

T'm paying attention! (Naomi's photos)
I’m paying attention!
(Naomi’s photos)

Setting: A standard looking waiting room – a couple of chairs, some magazines and a water cooler.

Participants: One tired EFL teacher, a woman whom I know slightly from the neighborhood and her 20-year-old daughter.

The Dialogue

Me: Hello! How are you?

Woman: Fine! Have you met my daughter?

(Woman turns to daughter and nods in my direction):  She’s an English teacher. (I’m not insulted that the woman doesn’t remember my name, I don’t remember hers either…).

Daughter: Really? Do you teach high-school?

Me: Yes.

Daughter: Do you teach the LITERATURE? All that “bridgingshmiding stuff? (she is referring to the “bridging tasks” we have in the Literature Program. Shmiding is her own invented word).

Me: Yes, I teach all levels.

Daughter: You know, that material was really hard. My favorite story was “The Split Cherry Tree” . (turns to her mother) You know, we learned a play and  stories and even poems in English written for native speakers. Really hard words! (turns back to me) But I got a 97!

Mother: (in a complaining voice) “Tell me, how could she get a grade of 97 when she won’t speak in English?”

Me: Your daughter is very talented. (Sigh. Did I mention that I was tired?)

Daughter: Our teacher made us work really hard. We went over everything over and over again. (YAY! She appreciated a teacher!).

Mother: That’s the way it should be (in a satisfied tone).

Daughter: What was the name of the play we learned? I can’t remember. I liked “The Split Cherry Tree“.

Me: “All My Sons”?

Daughter: Yes! That’s it! Isn’t it about a doctor who saves someone fighting against their country?

Me: Perhaps  you mean the story “The Enemy“?

Daughter: Oh yes, we learned that one too. What were the poems we learned? I liked “The Split Cherry Tree”.

Mother: They are calling our name. Bye!

Me: (to myself) Phew, now I won’t have to play “guess the poem” with her… There might have been cherry trees in them. Back to my own book!

 

 

What a Glorious Mistake!

Odd one out (Naomi's photos)
Odd one out
(Naomi’s photos, taken on  the “photo-walk”)

What a glorious mistake!

That is most certainly not something I say or even feel I want to say very often. Yet yesterday I wanted to shout it!

Sandy Millin once called me “The Eternal Teacher”. She may have referred to the fact that except for a stint in a “baby shop”,  teaching is the only thing I have been doing since I was still in high school (which was a long time ago!). But perhaps it is a reference to the fact that I can’t seem to stop thinking about how my own experiences  relate to class.

I can’t see how feeling this excited over a mistake can be replicated in class. My students know they can correct homework assignments and that they get extra points for correcting their exams. We use process writing for their literature tasks, and the students work on corrected versions.

All helpful but not exciting. Mistakes are still closely linked to grades and in high-school there is also the issue of students who are afraid to look bad in front of their peers. Not elements I am able to eliminate in my classroom.

No entry! (Naomi's photos)
No entry!
(Naomi’s photos )

Compare the classroom to the following situation:

* I’ve taken up photography purely for my own pleasure. I’m not studying it in a formal manner, I don’t have any tests or deadlines.

* Learning about controlling the settings on my camera doesn’t come easily for me. Aperture and shutter speed settings (not to mention other things!) are all related to numbers. I have a hard time with numbers in any situation, I tend to have difficulty remembering them and often get them confused. I’m good with theory until it gets down to numbers.

* Yesterday I had the pleasure of going out on a photo-walk with two good friends who know much more than I do about photography. I got totally muddled regarding which setting numbers work for what.

And it didn’t matter one bit.

I wasn’t worried about they would think of me (great people!) and I didn’t have any photos that needed to be handed in. Nobody was judging my work and I didn’t have to show photos to anyone if I didn’t want to. I had a great time simply experimenting, trying out different settings and discovering the results.

And I made some glorious mistakes! Mistakes as in the photos didn’t come out the way I thought they might be supposed to according to the settings I had chosen (note the use of the word “might”!) but the results are so fun! Here’s my favorite “mistake” (it wasn’t dark yet, to mention one thing):

My glorious mistake! (Naomi's photos)
My glorious mistake!
(Naomi’s photos)

Perhaps a science teacher could replicate my joyful experience in a lab, but I don’t see it happening in class. Nonetheless, studying photography has reminded me, once again, that its useless to give students information they aren’t ready for. My friends had lots more to tell me, but I don’t want to hear it till I get a handle on those setting numbers!