Category Archives: On Education

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!


Turning the Tables – The Chips are for THE TEACHERS!

Liverpool is full of these creatures!

The speaker at a lecture I attended yesterday took a concept I was very familiar with and presented it to me from the opposite direction.


One of the people who have had a huge impact on my teaching (though I’ve never met him) is Richard Lavoie. When watching his films I have always felt that he has the gift of phrasing things in a manner which is both very simple to grasp and very powerful. I was introduced to his films back in college and have seen them countless times since (its so easy now, with YouTube! Used to be much harder to do.).

In the segement I have embedded below, Lavoie compares self esteem to poker chips. He talks about how the special needs child “loses” poker chips all day long through negative encounters. He emphasizes how everyone who cares about the child should invest in keeping the number of chips the child has high, so that the everyday losses will not have the power to crush the child. That has been a strong influence in my developing and searching for Eureka Moment strategies, which allow the struggling learners to achieve some success in my classroom. The crisis and outbursts are not avoided, but they are less intense and are forgotten more quickly.

The speaker at the lecture pointed out that we, the teachers, need to work on keeping those chips high too.

Yes, keeping a balance between work and the rest of our life is often  a topic discussed in publications, online and even has even been mentioned on this blog. That in itself wasn’t new for me.

What hit me was the realization that I, as a teacher and a person, can’t wait for the administrators to realize that If You Don’t Feed the Teachers They Eat the Students! and start being more supportive of the teachers. I can’t expect the students to stop venting their frustration at me regarding  what they can’t achieve (the fact that they now know more than they did when they begun is scant comfort to the high-school students who can’t take the final national exams with their peers). And I certainly can’t seem to learn to hang clothes on the clothesline any faster than my turtle’s pace…

I lose chips all day too. But, unlike the children, I take responsibility for replenishing my own chips. So it seems like when I make big decisions such as investing in the trip to IATEFL conference in Liverpool or minor ones, such as ignoring everything else and sitting down to write on my blog (like now!),  I’m simply replenishing my chips.

You may say “duh”, but I really hadn’t thought of it that way. Did you?

Creativity, the IMAGE CONFERENCE and List Making

Encountered this on the streets of Brussels on the way back from the conference.

The word “visualising” in this blog’s title is no coincidence. I’m quite mesmerised by the power of visual images and the sheer joy of experimenting with them (or should I say playing?!).  I admit to shamelessly informing my eldest son, who’s interest in photography has been steadily growing over the past two years, which of his pictures I need for my blog or for class. It works for the way words evoke visual images too – remember James Thurber’s delightful story “My Secret World of Idioms”?

So you would think I would be able to figure out how “list making” could possibly be connected to “creativity”. But I can’t!

At the IATEFL conference in Liverpool I, naturally, attended Keiran Donaghy (Film English) and Jamie Keddies’s (lessonstream) excellent talks. I missed Ceri Jones’ talk (Close Up) because it was (thoughtlessly!) scheduled too close to my own talk. AND, it turns out that all these speakers (and more!) will be at the upcoming Image Conference in Barcelona. I certainly hope the talks will be recorded and not just streamed – we only have a one day weekend here and I can’t spend Saturday attending virtually!

Anyway, back to list making.

I’ve been thinking about these talks as part of a “mining for ideas plan”  for my upcoming course with hearing adults. More about that when I start the course and try them out. But lets forget about students for a minute (gasp!) . In one of the clips Keiran Donaghy showed, called “29 ways to stay creative” (so creative, B.T.W), why is “list making” number one? Running around with a notebook makes sense (recording your ideas before they are lost). But list making (which I’m really trying to do now) connects to the non-creative side of people, its just about making sure what needs to be done gets done. Isn’t it?

Can you explain it to me?

Notes from an Event in Honour of Prof. Penny Ur

I was fortunate enough to have just had the pleasure of attending a moving event after a busy day at the IATEFL Conference in Liverpool.  The event, hosted by Cambridge University Press, was in honor of Prof. Penny Ur, who had just received an OBE from the Queen of England.

Prof. Ur spoke of how she began writing for “Cambridge” and later I heard some of the guests sharing their  personal “Penny Tales”.

The advantage of having my own blog is that I can share my own “Penny Tales”!

I started attending our wonderful national ETAI Conferences shortly after becoming a teacher, 27 years ago. That is where I first had the pleasure of attending Penny’s useful and informative talks. For me, Penny was simply an integral part of ETAI. In those days, first as a young teacher and then as a mother of young children, I have to admit that I was remarkably uninterested in people’s existence outside of the conference walls. I made an effort to attend conferences and “made a beeline” to the lectures of those speakers whose talks I knew I would find useful. I’m proud to say that ETAI brings together a great many inspiring teachers worth listening to.

Later on, naturally, I DID learn more about the books Penny had written and projects she was involved in, but I didn’t grasp how famous she was until I joined twitter, two and a half  years ago. Suddenly I heard people recommending her books and tweeting excitedly from talks she was giving around the globe. When I mentioned that I had heard Penny on a number of occasions teachers were jealous! I refrained from saying that at ETAI one could actually TALK to Penny during the conference. In fact, she didn’t speak only at the large conferences in Jerusalem – I attended a talk of hers at a MINI CONFERENCE (one afternoon) at the school down the road from my home!

At the IATEFL conference in Liverpool I discovered that “famous” was too mild a word. Teachers were lining up to ask for autographs and to have their picture taken with Prof. Ur.

I just wanted to say that seeing all of that hasn’t changed my opinion of Penny. One can’t respect a person any more when that person has already earned your utmost respect.

Penny; thank you  for helping me discover many things as a teacher, including the fact that attending English Teacher’s Conferences is a very rewarding thing to do.

I wish Prof. Penny Ur all the best for many years to come!


Thank Goodness! iTDi Has Turned the Lights ON!

In the past two years in which I’ve been on “blogosphere” and “twitterverse”, I’ve searched continually for mentions of special needs students in ELT.

I’ve found precious few mentions.

And it doesn’t make sense. They are out there. Why isn’t attention being paid to them?

Well, iTDi has stepped up and pointed a spotlight into the farthest corners of this void. Six writers from all over the world approach the issue from different aspects.

I’m a Special Ed teacher. I knew this issue would come out as I was asked to write one of the pieces. Yet I didn’t have a clue that I would be both surprised and moved by the other posts. I sincerely hope that teachers who read these posts will express an interest in special needs students, so that more relevant information will become readily available to them.

I sincerely hope that many other lamps will be lit to strengthen the spotlight  iTDi has aimed at the void, and that the topic of special needs learners will become part of every teacher’s toolkit.

You can find the Special Needs Issue at the iTDI Blog here.


Instructions vs. the Online Course

Please answer the question at the bottom of this post.

Photo by Omri Epstein

“If all else fails, read the instructions.”

Everyone knows that one, right? People in general, not to mention teenagers, don’t read instructions unless they have to.

I took particular note of that when working on my online course for deaf and hard of hearing teens that opened yesterday.

I made short (average of 1 minute!) simple  screencasts to explain such things as:

* how do I log in? * how do I find the assignments? * how do I use the flashcards?

Nothing beats visuals, right?

Except for the fact that the students (and the guest teachers) still have to read the instructions that say there are visual screencasts available…



*** Now admit it: Are you reading this part because you just noticed it or are you following  the instructions written under the picture?

And the question is:

Can you guess what this is a picture of? I wish I could send the winner some sunny local weather but you’ll have to settle for a big “shout out”!