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18/100: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s Teaching Tips – 4. Errors

Smiley Crane (Naomi's Photos)
Smiley Crane
(Naomi’s Photos)

This is part four of my blogging challenge
As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why.

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: “100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 17 : “Do Correct Mistakes”

Yes, yes and again yes.
Yes with struggling learners, students with special needs and adults who have had years of negative experiences with English.
Correct gently, be sensitive, mix with lots of encouragement and praise what is good, but do correct.
Why?
Here’s what I have found.
Correcting means attention.
Students crave attention, particularly those learners who are having a hard time.
Correcting means you listened to them or really read what they wrote.
Exercises with an auto correct function on the computer can be helpful, but in small dosages. The students want to know that I am paying attention to what they are doing, that I noticed they finally remembered to add “ed” after having to correct it so many times, etc.

Note: Corrections are most effective within a short time!

This is a tip close to my heart and day by day experiences in class! What are your feelings about error correction?

The Jar, Spring Cleaning & the Teacher Hoarding Devil

The jar in question (Naomi's Photos)
The jar in question
(Naomi’s Photos)

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: What a lovely little jar, with a tight-fitting lid, let’s keep it!
Spring Cleaning: Really?! What for?

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: We’ll take it to the English Room at school.

S: It’s made of glass.

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: We teach high-school students nowadays, remember? They can be careful with glass.

S: Hmph. Hardly.  Laws of gravity apply in high-school too. What could you possibly do with such a small jar?

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: Store thumbtacks?

S: We already have a little jar for that. A plastic jar.

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: Rubber bands?

S: Ditto.

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: So we’ll keep it in the bottom cupboard with the other boxes and containers waiting to be used.

S: We just organized that cupboard and got rid of things! Do you want to needlessly clutter it again?

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: Needlessly? NEEDLESSLY?!! This year you were grateful that we kept the small boxes that once contained chocolate or calling cards and now contain writing prompts.  All thanks to ME! ME!

S: Spluttering sounds.

S: It’s a tiny little glass jar! Not a cardboard or a tin. It’ll break just waiting around in the cupboard! We should not keep this jar!

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: But it looks so nice, we can’t throw it away…

Teacher shooing away “Me” and “Myself” and just listening to “I”: Enough! I’ll tell you what.  I’m going to give it away. Storage Free and Guilt Free. Now disappear!

Final note: The pair are quiet now. But they are keeping a close eye on any gifts in containers I may  receive …

 

 

 

 

Musings on Memory Palaces in the Language Classroom

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

Every now and then I encounter the memorization method commonly called “Memory Palace”,  though a more precise name would be “method of loci”.  “In basic terms, it is a method of memory enhancement which uses visualization to organize and recall information” (Wikepedia). This current round of musings on the topic was sparked by reading the book “Moonwalking with Einstein – the art and science of remembering everything” by Joshua Foer.

First of all, I’d like to point out that the book is not a self help book, in the style of books with titles like: how to improve your memory in 10 easy steps. It is an interesting, accessible read about how memory works and what we know about it and how memory-athletes train their memory. The  techniques are discussed as well, of course.

And here’s the first point – it’s not easy. Learning how to build a memory palace, learning how to place what you want to remember in different locations in the structure (resting on the armchair, dripping wet in the shower, etc.) and then strolling through the palace visually in your memory to retrieve the information, is not something you can easily begin doing. It requires training and practice. How and when exactly would such training take place in the classroom?

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

Which leads to the second point – are the skills needed for successful acquisition of a foreign language the kind of information we want to store in such a manner? Isn’t this method most suitable for facts, or discrete items? If I were a history teacher, I’d me much more enthusiastic about classroom applications. If my students could visually walk through their “palace” on their test and remember all the important events & dates leading up to World War Two, for example, that would a useful skill indeed. I don’t know how useful it would be outside the classroom (even Foer discusses this issue) but it certainly works for standardized testing.

But what information would the students store in the EFL classroom? The only thing I can think of are lists of words of even collocations. Unfortunately, in my classes of   Deaf and Hard of Hearing students I repeatedly see students who have memorized a great many words but do poorly on reading comprehension tasks and exams, while others (using a dictionary) do so much better. And in classes where conversation in English is practiced, I can’t imagine someone pausing, strolling through the memory palace to locate the collocation needed, and then resuming speaking.  That doesn’t seem to be the way we should think about language.

Do you agree?

On a personal note – the method for remembering numbers by using letters is really helping me in my own life. Since the Hebrew language has an ingrained letter-number match, I didn’t even have to learn the corresponding letters given in the book, I just needed to apply the method! Now that’s an easy strategy to use!

It Seems That “Teaching” Beats “Cooking” After All!

It was a close race. “Teaching” and “Cooking” ran neck-to-neck most of the way. Near the end “Cooking”  seems to pull ahead, but at the last-minute “Teaching” beats it to the finish line. 

Part One – running neck-to-neck

Do and Do Again

Again and again (Naomi's Photos)
Again and again
(Naomi’s Photos)

* You invest time and effort in cooking a few dishes. Before you know it the food is all gone, the refrigerator is empty and you have to repeat the whole process. And then repeat it again.

* You invest time and effort in teaching your students various things. You then teach it again to the next set of students (assuming that the first set of students remembered the material!).

Recipes

On the lookout (Naomi's photos)
On the lookout
(Naomi’s photos)

So as not to bore yourself or your “eaters” / students, you are constantly on the lookout for new ways to use the very same staple ingredients in your kitchen / mandated curriculum.

Damage to fingers / clothes

While the dangers of kitchen knives, burns  and acquiring stains on one’s clothes when transferring  the soup from the pot to the container may be obvious, you must mind your fingers at school too. Not only do they become stained with ink, whitener, the whiteboard marker (and possibly glue) but paper cuts abound. Not to mention all kind of old wooden chairs, cupboards with uneven surfaces. Or with an old nail that got slighty raised. These will attack either your fingers or your clothes… Don’t forget the dangers of colliding with a coffee-carrying-teacher in the teacher’s room!

Part 2:  “Cooking” almost overtakes “Teaching”

Positive Reinforcement!

Just for you! (Naomi's Photos)
Just for you!
(Naomi’s Photos)

People, even CHILDREN will actually TELL YOU that they enjoyed something you cooked (children will also tell you what they didn’t like!). Diners may even inquire how many hours you spent in the kitchen to achieve this result and thank you for doing so. They may ask for the recipe. Your efforts in achieving the end result are not taken for granted.

I won’t say this never happens at school, but it’s fairly rare.  Even if at times students actually say they enjoyed something in particular, it’s taken for granted that the teacher has spent time and effort preparing this. Taken for granted by the administration as well.  The kids are passing their tests and there are no complaints, that’s all that is needed, right?

Part Three – “Teaching Crosses the Finish Line First!”

Naomi's photos
The best! (Naomi’s photos)

Every time you cook a dish, it’s a one-time-opportunity. You carefully chopped all those vegetables and then added too much salt? Or forgot to add salt before putting the casserole in the oven? That’s it. The damage has been done. All the careful work you put in has been cancelled out by that careless shake of the hand, releasing all those misguided grains of salt. A few dishes can be salvaged by smothering them in gravy or adding rice but the expected success has turned into “being edible”. While you can say that over time you improve your Spinach Quiche, that first Quiche was done for.

In the classroom you can change tactics, revise your lesson plan and try again. If you realize that the way you presented a new topic to your students wasn’t clear all is not lost. If you gave them too much new information at once or see that they are getting confused you can add support, change tactics and still achieve success.

“Teaching” leaves room for errors, not just for the students. Teachers can get a second chance too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A comment on: ELT-Ten Things I Hate About You

Angry Cat - I took this one!
Angry Cat – I took this one!

I’m not in a “hateful” mood in the slightest, particularly as I’m happily on holiday vacation. But The Secret Dos always has things to say that are worth discussing, and this post “ELT-Ten Things I Hate About You” is no exception.

This post is the first I remember seeing (pardon me if I’ve forgotten someone!) that actually talks directly about us, the forgotten group, we classroom teachers in national school systems:

…”And this is despite the fact that the vast majority of our practitioners are swimming in the waters of mainstream education. By this I mean that the vast majority of English language teachers are working within the conventional education system… 

Kudos for highlighting this! May you lead the way!

One by one - I took this!
One by one – I took this!

Coming from the point of view of  a classroom teacher, I now must disagree with point number three, even though we are probably not  talking about the same thing when we say levels (harks back to point one – a school teacher’s life is different). It has been my experience that struggling learners and really strong learners benefit more from being in a different group. Not just academically, but emotionally too. I have seen children who resort to being class clown and don’t even try to deal with the difficult material because they feel they don’t stand a chance when the “strong” students are around. In a group of their own there are no pretences to keep up. Some of the strong children stop studying completely. They get so used to tuning out when things they understood the first time are explained again that they begin forgetting to tune back in… In my own classes I have resorted to teaching in the format of a learning center so as to address that problem (it isn’t feasible to divide my students according to their level).

I like the approach to grammar (point number 4)!

I know the best way to learn a language is to travel to a country that speaks that language and spend some time there, but that’s hardly feasible for most people. The current system may be flawed but we can’t get rid of it. And of course, one can’t ignore the fact that some people simply do not learn a language by osmosis – I’m sure we all know immigrants who have lived in a country for years and can barely manage basic sentences in the language of their adopted country.

Photo by Omri Epstein
Photo by Omri Epstein

Finally, I found it interesting that the Secret Dos brings up “polarizing arguments” (point 6) . Aren’t all debates about taking opposite sides? Doesn’t that expose characteristics of each one, even if we believe the right answer lies in the middle? And wasn’t it a bit of a polarizing act to choose such a name for the blog post? The title caught my eye, to be sure. And I’m glad it did. I believe I’ve only just mentioned a small part of the things to think about following this post.

 

Visualising Students’ Errors – Second Error

 

The branch looks like a bird peeking out behind the tree! I noticed this - so pleased!
The branch looks like a bird peeking out behind the tree! I noticed this – so pleased! Now to get the students to notice things!

This second presentation starts out in the same format as the first one but then moves on in a different direction. I left the review part in slide show format, instead of sending them off to an online questionnaire type thing (with instant feedback).  Frankly, I thought the pictures were important. On Pro Profs Free Quiz Maker (which I used on the last one) you CAN upload pictures to the questions but you don’t see them as nicely (perhaps they need to be really small, not sure).  In any case, variation is good.

Debating what to do about the short vocabulary list I have compiled. I’m putting it up on Quizlet in any case but I’m wondering whether to create a short slide show to highlight a related error and then link to the list, or just give the students the link to the list.

All suggestions welcome!

 

 

 

 

New Year Wishes

I know, I know, New Year wishes are supposed to be sent and posted BEFORE the new year actually begins. But I was too overwhelmed and busy this year. The year certainly began in a very intensive manner!

However, it is never too late to wish people good things! So, whether you are celebrating the holiday or just starting a new school year, or even if you aren’t, here goes:

Look what I got for the holiday!
Look what I got for the holiday!

May this year be a healthy one.

May this year be peaceful and safe.

May this be a year where you find the students AND school administration actually care about your goals at school. They cooperate too.

May this be a year when work is so nicely organized that there is time for recreation without having it be at the expense of sleeping now and then.

May this year be a healthy one.

May this be a year  for discovering new things and trying new experiences.

May this year be one filled with great books to read and share.

May this be a year of expanding the global enriching network of supportive teacher-friends.

And yes, beginning, middle and end:

May this year be a healthy one!

Shana Tova!

 

 

IATEFL Dreams Update – Lessons in Uncertainty

Note: This is an update regarding my IATEFL Dreams, as described here.

Today I finally got a hold of the secretary of the Ministry Official, who is in charge of authorizing such things as missing school to attend a conference abroad.

She says the request did not arrive at her office.

AAAARRRGGH!

Back to making phone calls to the people lower down in the pecking chain who had approved my request and promised to pass it on …

It’s Saturday! E.B White Wrote Poetry?

For me E.B White has always been the author of beloved children books. I think my personal favorite was “The Trumpet of the Swan” (I guess an amusing tale about a Trumpeter Swan who “makes it” despite being mute would appeal to a special ed. teacher!) though I believe my sons enjoyed “Charlotte’s Web” more.

Since the age of nine or ten, I’ve always associated E.B White with humor. That was when I received the HUGE book called “A Sub Treasury of American Humor”, which he edited along with his wife, in 1941. I still have it and it truly is a treasure trove. It is an edition from 1941.  I got it from friends whose children were all grown along with the classic board game “Careers” in which man had not yet reached the moon. In the pages of this book I discovered authors (such as James Thurber) whom I later encountered in many contexts, and countless others whose work I never encountered anywhere else.

This week I learned that White also wrote poetry. Think of all the babies you have known – isn’t the following poem so right?!

Conch

Hold a baby to your ear

As you would a shell:

Sounds of centuries you hear

New centuries foretell.

 

Who can break a baby’s code?

And which is older-

The listener or his small load?

The held or the holder?