Category Archives: On Education

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!


Hard Work = Success? Sometimes It Feels like a Lie!

Knock knock, who is really in there? (Naomi's Photos)
Knock knock, who is really in there? (Naomi’s Photos)

It’s that time of year again at the high-school. The twelfth graders are about to take a series of final exams before graduating. And  every year there are a few students who break my heart. But this year one student seems to stand out in particular.

We’ll call him P. Like the other “heartbreaking” students before him, he “bought” the school system’s slogan “hard work = success”, worked hard, did his homework, missed very few classes and reviewed the material. Unlike those other students, he remembers vocabulary items better than most of the students in all my classes. He’s curious about words, and brings in words he encounters online. Even more remarkable, he demonstrates a more extensive world knowledge than many of the other Deaf & hard of hearing students I teach.

This week we had another Mock Exam. The topic was NASA. P. knew what NASA was. Not something to to take for granted in my classes. He remembered to use the highlight-marker the way we practiced. P told me proudly that he had remembered some of the words without using the dictionary.

Once again he got the lowest grade in his class. A barely passing grade. Lower than students who, to put it politely, are not model students at all.

Despite all the ways we work on reading comprehension, he can’t seem to integrate the information in the text well. Some things baffle him even after we discuss them in mother tongue. In the aforementioned text there was a paragraph explaining how in the past only NASA employees could work on space projects (today the situation is different). P. simply could not understand the answer to the question related to who used to pay the people who worked on space projects. We discussed it for 10 minutes afterwards and he still did not see the connection between the word “employee” and the source of the payment. I tried to give examples closer to his reality, (in mother tongue!) such as the fact that I teach him at school (I’m not his employee) vs. a private tutor who could come to his home (he is then the employer). P. still didn’t understand it. Other students did not have a problem with this question!

Every test P. looks so disappointed to see his peers get higher grades, while he barely gets a passing grade. He knows he works harder than they do. He looks at me and what can I say?!!

We just continue practicing…

Confronting Your Groundhog Lesson

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

Once again,  a post by Jen Marten has settled in my brain and won’t stop rattling there until I pay attention to it. This one is called “What’s Your Groundhog Moment” and it’s highly recommended (along with all her other posts!).

Do you remember Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day? He had to relive the same day over and over again till he got it right.

Can you imagine teaching the same unsuccessful lesson over and over again till you got it right?




But wait a minute.

Imagine if your school had the kind of culture and the suitable framework where teachers could meet on a regular basis and “relive”  difficult lessons, without being afraid. Afraid of hearing “tsk tsk” or “honestly, how could you have reacted that way” not to mention (for some teachers) fear of losing your position.

Imagine the professional development the staff members would be getting, without hiring an outside specialist, by analyzing lessons together the way cases are brought to staff meeting in other professions (such as psychologists, to name one). Each time it would be another teacher’s turn, so no one would feel permanently in the “hot seat”.

The turn-taking is vital. I refuse to believe that teachers who never have unsuccessful lessons exist.

The trouble is that the schools I encounter don’t seem to give any space for such reflection. During the school-day there is very little time for such talk, or sometimes any talk at all! Staff meetings are devoted to “business at hand”, are often in the evening after a long day at school. Everyone just wants to get what needs to be done over with and go home.  In addition, it’s not at all clear to me that turn-taking would be enough to make everyone feel secure about discussing lack of success in front of others. It’s so much more convenient to close the door, be alone with your class and keep it that way.

Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

For me it seems counterintuitive but true – having a blog is the only place to confront those lessons that call for Groundhog Day treatment. While posting tales of problematic lessons online may seem like hanging dirty wash for all to see, in reality the teachers who actually read teachers’ blogs are those who are interested in reflection themselves. Their comments can be of invaluable help.

My blog is my little Groundhog Friend. We don’t have Groundhogs here, or Groundhog Day, or snow for that matter (well, occasionally is some parts of the country, never in mine!).  So many thanks to Jen Marten for lending me the image!


From Superstitous Spiders to Celebrating Global CPD


The itsy bitsy spider (Naomi's Photos)
The itsy bitsy spider
(Naomi’s Photos)

It’s been the sort of week that makes me think of the phrase “everything that goes around, comes around”. It certainly seems that way, but was it because of the spider?

As some of you may know, I’m participating in a 365 project, which calls for a commitment to take a photo every day for a year. I’ve learned a lot from this project, including how to look at little things. So, I was delighted to get a shot of a spider among the dewy leaves right near my parking spot outside of school  (I never would have seen it before the project!).

Twenty minutes later in class, some students were working on exercises related to “the first conditional”. They asked for help with the sentence: “If you see a spider, you will get money”.

Really?! What a shame that I don’t believe in superstitions, because I just saw a spider!

Well, I didn’t get any money but I did “get” celebrations!

Spreading the word! (Naomi's photos)
Spreading the word!
(Naomi’s photos)

You see, my blog just had its 4th anniversary. So did Vicky Loras’ blog. Vicky is a wonderful ELT teacher located in Switzerland, whom I met when each of us decided to take the plunge and go look for online CPD. This means blogging and twitter, webinars, reading and collaborating online. Four years later I not only have learned a great deal, I now call Vicky my friend.

The thing that helped us both to really enter this new world was Shelly Terrell’s 30 Goals Project.

Today I read that Shelly and the project are celebrating the publication of a book: “The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers: Small steps to transform your teaching!” So pleased to hear that!

But that’s not all.

The postman must have arrived very late yesterday, because we don’t get mail on Fridays. But there was an additional reason to celebrate waiting in my mailbox today – the Special Joint ETAI-ETAS issue of the ETAI Forum is out! And there’s a joint article, written by Vicky and myself,  presenting our “take” on Goal Number 3!

So what do you say about the timing of all of the above?!

Not bad for a little spider!

If you would like to read our article, here it is:

Vicky & Naomi




Helping Learners Visualize Progress – A Comment

Lizzie Pinard’s latest post: Helping Language Learners Visualise their Linguistic Development: Growing Learning deals with a subject close to my heart. How can learners see, VISUALISE, their progress? Students entire attitude changes when they realize that what we are doing together, what they are doing on their own, makes a difference.

Seeing Progress (Naomi's photos)
Seeing Progress
(Naomi’s photos)

Still, it’s a tricky business. Some of my attempts have worked. Others have not. Here are some comments on the issues raised in the post based on my experiences so far.

Is the design of a flower handout too “sissy”?

The “rule of some” is worth remembering.  Some students will find it appealing others will not. It is always so. On the other hand, I would never advocate having the teacher spend time on creating lots of different versions.

I would recommend two versions (and only two!). One, the attractive flower. The other, a simple chart of columns. I have found that simple charts, where students see the numbers of bars rise, to be very effective. The fact that it’s plain and straightforward makes it seem ageless (particularly important for teenagers and adults who are at a low-level). Let the students choose which one they prefer!

What about the self disciplined learners who don’t  need it?

Odd one out (Naomi's Photos)
Odd one out
(Naomi’s Photos)

In order to get the class excited and used to the visual recording system I would insist that for the firs two weeks (depending on the frequency of lessons) everyone do it. I would ask to see their flowers /charts and make an issue of it. But afterwards the responsiblity must shift to the students. The ones who feel that the marking is just extra work on top of all the work they are doing should be given the option to opt out.

How about an app?

I agree that at an app would be excellent for this. Easier to color in, visually appealing AND students NEVER forget their cell phones. They will always have their charts with them!



Passive Learners vs. Introverts – A Comment


The introverts (I took this one!)
The introverts
(I took this one!)

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend this week’s #ELTchat (lively moderated chats for EFL teachers on Twitter ) on the topic: How We Deal with Passive Learners. 

Fortunately, #ELTchat has awesome volunteers who write summaries for those of us who played hooky and missed the chat (I have  a really good excuse this time, honestly!) Lizzie Pinard’s  excellent summary can be found here.

It seems that the distinction between passive learners and introverts was found to be problematic. For me, there is a substantial difference in this respect between adult learners and children.

Going the extra mile (I took this one!)
Going the extra mile
(I took this one!)

All the adults I have taught (whether EFL or in courses on EFL for Children with Special Needs for teachers) have not only paid substantial sums to attend the courses but have had to “go the extra mile” in order to take the course. Many had to find sitters for children, others had to work more hours on other days while some students travelled from far away. The EFL learners I taught needed to take my course in order to pass an important test. Everyone had a reason for being in class. In this situation I felt I could clearly tell the difference between introverts and passive learners.

The introverts did not raise their hand, did not want to speak in front of the class and preferred to work on their own during group work. However, I could see their eyes focused intently on me when I was explaining things. They took notes. When I went over answers to questions the class had done on their own, they did not shout out  “Would you accept this answer as well”? But they came to me in the break and at the end of the lesson (or sent me emails) asking if their answer would also be recognized as correct.

(I took this one too!)

The passive learners did not bother to listen when going over a quiz or task that had been returned, unless correcting it would improve their grade. They had no patience for explanations on why something was so, they just wanted me to write the correct answer on the board so they could copy the answers into the right places. They would return from mid-class break late regularly until I announced it would go into their grade. As one adult student last year said to me, after a group work activity; “You shouldn’t do group work. You don’t make me stop using Facebook during the lesson at such times. And it’s your job to do so”.

Children are a whole different ball game. I only teach children with special needs in the national school system. Children don’t choose to go to school and most of the subjects they study were not chosen by them. While I feel fairly confident I can recognize an introvert, I don’t feel the term “passive learner applies here. There are so very many reasons why a child may exhibit behaviors similar to what one would call ” a passive learner” when really what he/she needs help in other matters that get in the way.

Children, especially children with special needs, need to learn how to take responsibility for their learning. That is part of our job. They go to school for many years. Adults who haven’t learned this in school may need extra support which is not always possible to give in a one-semester course. Especially when the classes are large. Recognizing these students is the first step, I would say.

Ha! Seems that Having a PLN Will Take You Halfway to Happiness

Taken on the way to the car after work this morning
Taken on the way to the car after work this morning

I’m usually quite suspicious of any posts or written materials that claim to have the recipe for happiness. I mean, really?!

But this particular post caught my attention because of the photo with the words:

“You are good enough”.

The term “Good enough mother” (Winnicott) was very significant to me after the boys were born, and so I read on. I was delighted to find that almost all of the “10 Simple Habits Proven to Make You Happier” related to what belonging to a PLN can do for you. So this post, is really about why a teacher who wants to promote her/his happiness level must join a PLN and , when possible, attend an ELT conference (there’s an ETAI one coming up shortly!).

Number one, two and five on the list, are “no-brainers”. In a community of teachers you connect to others, “giving” goes with sharing. Huge exposure and encouragement to help you keep learning new things. And then learn how moderate the amount of new things you learn before you become overwhelmed…

Number ten, now that’s a powerful one “be part of something bigger”. If you have ever participated in an online collaboration or attended a conference, you’ll know what that feels like. Really good.

You may not think that number FOUR (“noticing the world around you”) is related, but I certainly find it to be so. Huge number of ELT teachers contribute photos (for the benefit of all teachers) to ELTPics, a project started by teachers collaborating. The calls for photos on certain topics encourages noticing your surroundings. I’m having a great time with blipfoto (which of course I go to know through my PLN). Every day I upload one picture (you can only upload one a day) of something I have noticed in my every day surroundings. Amazing what I never looked at in the school yard, next to the supermarket and on the way to gym class…  No special photo trips for me! I thought I wouldn’t have time for this, but it takes only a few minutes and feels great!

Numbers six, seven, eight and nine are partial matches. Having the strong support of a PLN and attending conferences does support setting goals and bouncing back from difficulties, seeing the bright side of things and feeling better about yourself. But it certainly isn’t enough. Remember, I did say HALFWAY! To deal with life I believe you need more than that. But one should gather support from wherever it is available, and every bit helps.

The only item on the list that having a PLN does not help with is number three, exercising! Connecting online and attending a conference promotes SITTING DOWN! Which is supposed to be bad for us all. Sigh…

Still, halfway to happiness is a big deal, and I’m grateful.

Note: Yes, I’m very influenced by Shel Silverstein’s poem “This Bridge”:

“This bridge will only take you halfway there”.



New Q/A Blog: The Key in the Apple

Every now and then I get questions from teachers from other countries who find themselves teaching English as a foreign language to deaf students.

After being contacted by two such teachers in the last week, I thought I should have an additional blog for specific questions on the topic.  It seems to make sense, as teachers sometimes ask the same questions and then I would have links ready for them. It might also be more searchable.

I’ve actually been thinking about this for a long time. While I’m always pleased to hear that someone found useful information on this blog, Visualising Ideas is NOT a blog with any specific agenda, nor do I wish it to be. I love the freedom of blogging about any aspect of being a teacher that is on my mind at a given moment, whether it is teaching deaf teens or hearing adults, battling with the school janitor to turn up the temperature of the air-conditioner, or meeting former students whom I remember but have forgotten their name.

The blog is called The Key in the Apple. At first I thought of calling it “Apples and Zebras”, which is the name of my reading program and first book. It seems there is already a blog with this name.  “From Apples to Zebras” was also taken (both teacher-blogs, by the way). Then I realized I should use the name of both of my books, the second one being “The Book of Keys”. And so a blog was born!

The Q/A format means that this new blog will grow slowly, as needed, without demanding frequent attention. At least that’s my intention – lets wait and see!

Crowdsourcing – Why Turning 50 is a GREAT Thing for a Teacher!

You may say this post is one of self-delusion. Doesn’t everyone want to be 29 or 34 forever?

But since turning 50 (today!) is no delusion, I’ve decided to ask you all for help in listing all the advantages a teacher turning 50 has. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. Lets see how many we can get on this list!

1) My boys are young adults now.

I took this one!
I took this one!

Not that they don’t need some “Mommy Time” too (not to mention food and laundry) but its nothing like when they needed to be picked up from nursery school  EXACTLY on time. If I want to stay, on the spur of the moment, in the English room at the end of the day and finish something up, I can.

2) I really care a lot less what people think. I recently joined the local gym, which is near my house and gives a better deal than the private places I used to go to. I don’t mind that the many teachers from my school who also go there (and I’ve met a former adult student too) see that I’m a Klutz.

3) HUGE PERK , only for Israeli teachers in the national school system (as far as I know!): 2 “age hours”. That means that instead of a full time position being 24 proper teaching hours, it will now be only 22 hours!!! I will actually be working 24 hours next year too (my co-teacher just had a baby!!!) but will be paid extra for those two hours. Hmmm, I think there will be two more “age hours” when I turn 55!!

4) Experience – you would think that I would put that first, wouldn’t you?

Not a walk in the park
Not a walk in the park

But that’s a tricky one. On one hand, every day, EVERY LESSON, gives me more “experience points (remember the board game “Careers”?). On the other hand, every year brings new challenges. Changes in the curriculum is only part of it. I’m a special-ed teacher. There is a strong push toward mainstreaming in this country. That means that the percentage of  students with multiple disabilities,emotional difficulties, illnesses or broken homes rises every year. Its not getting easier.

5) I used my fiftieth birthday shamelessly as part of my campaign to get permission to go the recent IATEFL conference in Liverpool.

My conference bag
My conference bag

I milked it for all it was worth! It worked!

Bring on the ideas – how long will this list get?

Note from two days later:

Thought of another one!

I’ve always had trouble remembering names. The older I get the less odd it seems!

Check out the suggestions coming in the comment section!