Category Archives: On Education

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 “” 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!


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.