Category Archives: Uncategorized

Evidence-Based Praise for Adolescent Students Struggling with EFL Reading Comprehension Tasks

Some need extra attention…   Naomi’s Photos

Raise your hand if you have high school students in your EFL class who:

* have a shockingly limited vocabulary.

* have trouble matching upper case / lower case letters (which makes using the electronic dictionary much harder).

* you suspect can’t really decode.

* still seem surprised (STUNNED) that you expect them to sit down and be ready for a lesson with actual pencils, notebooks, and books when the bell rings.

* take one look at a text and give up immediately – they can’t even look at it, they totally believe they can’t deal with it. They don’t even want to try.

Hmm, it seems we may face some of the same problems with our struggling EFL students in high-school.

The same students we are supposed to prepare for their national final exams…

Epstein family photos

“But this bridge will only take you halfway there–

The last few steps you’ll have to take alone”.

From “This Bridge by Shel Silverstein” 

I visualize most of my teaching work as a bridge that can lead the students up to the point where they are able to take the last steps alone and be independent. The students take the hand that I have offered and we walk together. That’s why I quote this poem so often on my blog!

However….

There is a problem when it comes to these students.

A BIG problem.

These students aren’t even on the bridge and many of them won’t simply take my hand and let me show them the way. In fact, they have to prove they are right in saying they unable to learn and won’t succeed by resisting help. It’s as if they haven’t heard the maxim “If you are in a hole, stop digging”!

I believe my first job is to get such students on the bridge.

Reading Comprehension strategies are useless to a student who won’t try.

The students know they are weak students, don’t lie to them or praise them in a way that isn’t true. RIG THE SETTING FOR SUCCESS, BUT DON’T LIE! Make sure there is “evidence” as to why the student was praised.

Here are some of the things I do in class to get the students to “step on the bridge” and feel that it is worth giving reading comprehension tasks a try:

Growth can come from unexpected directions…
Naomi’s Photos

Disappearing texts:

I create very simple basic texts on the board from some “tale” a student in class shares. I write the tale in English,  even if the student tells it almost completely in mother-tongue (eliciting words from the other students as much as possible). I focus on expressing a sincere interest in what happened to the student.  Like this text, for example:

What Happened to Sara This Morning?

Sara got up at 06:15.

She left the house at 07:15.

Sara didn’t take an umbrella.

When Sara arrived in Yehud it was raining hard.

Sara got wet.

Sara wants to call her Dad.

By erasing words, having students fill in the relevant missing words on the board in response to basic “WH” questions, I get the students to focus on the text and the words. They know the answers because they were involved in the process of creating the “text”. I finally erase the ENTIRE text and ask WH questions about it. The students can deal with it!

Answering in complete sentences is not the point! If students can answer a “when” question with “07:15” and a “who” question with “Dad” (and not vice a versa!) then I have a good reason to praise them. They are reading and answering questions!

Note: A visual explanation of how to use the disappearing text method with all students can be found in Jason Renshaw’s post, here:  Going Going Gone

There is life!
Naomi’s Photos

“Chopping” Real Exam Papers

The students know as well as I do that their final exams won’t have self-created texts on it. Bringing in a real exam paper from a previous year, chopped into “bite-sized” pieces, makes it easier to “swallow”.

Each paragraph of the text is pasted on a separate page, with only the questions related to that paragraph pasted below it. So now the text is chopped up into several short pages.

On page one there may be only one question but on page two we can show the students that THREE WHOLE QUESTIONS  can be answered based on SIX measly lines!

That is much less intimidating than seeing the whole text and a long page of questions.  Particularly if you highlight the “WH” question words, names and numbers in the text.

A student doesn’t need to answer all the questions to get a high-five  – remember? We’re talking about students who wouldn’t even start working on a text! Lay on the praise for every question answered. Make your check marks extra big!

In it together…
Naomi’s Photos

Divide the Dictionary Work (include the teacher!)

Many of these students gave up on their electronic dictionaries very quickly. Like any tool, you need practice in order to use it quickly and well, yet they won’t touch it. By writing unknown words from a paragraph on the board and dividing the work of looking them up, the students can be convinced to start the laborious process of typing the words they are in charge of.  It is slow work for them because some students have trouble matching lower and uppercase letters and they have to copy every single letter, one at a time. However, the more they do it the easier it will get.

It’s important that the teacher shows that he/she is also contributing to the joint effort and fills in some of the translations. While it’s good for morale, that’s not the point! The teacher chooses to translate the words that have several meanings and writes only the suitable one. The students do have to learn to deal with such an issue, but only after they have begun moving along the “bridge”!

Create your own version of a “Proud of You” board!

.

I know that most teachers don’t have the option of having a wall devoted to praising like I do.  I don’t know what you can do instead, but I’m sure you’ll think of something.

“The last few steps you’ll have to take alone” (Shel Silverstein)

 

 

Family ELT Travel Fun – “Paperback”, For Students too!

*Note: This is not a commercial post and I have no connection whatsoever to any company. Just sharing the joy.

The lookout
Naomi’s photos

Are you fond of games which require forming words in English?

Have you found that the younger generation prefers having extra “twists” to word games, such as cards with double letters (“ed” “en”) , cards that have powers to get you an extra card , replace or duplicate a card, and even earn you extra points?

Do you like games which can be less competitive and encourage the whole family to collaborate on figuring out a word with the hand dealt to one player?  Note: It can also be very competitive, it depends how you want to play it, despite Mom’s non-competitive bent…

Now bear with me for a moment.

A Smart Move
(Naomi’s Photos)

Our son taught us the board game “Paperback” and it’s a great thing at any age for a family to gather around a table to play together. Since this game is good for developing vocabulary in the English  language, I like the game even better.

But I didn’t think of traveling with it.

You know, space and weight in the suitcase, a table is needed and it takes some organizing of the piles of cards, etc.

Well, there’s an app for that.

For the first time in my life I bought a game app for the tablet.

And now the teacher-in-me is considering using the game, in app form, in class.

It turns out that the app solves more than the issue of making the game convenient to travel with ( we played on the airplane with the tablet in airplane mode) , it seems that it will also solve the following issues

* No precious lesson time wasted on setting up the game.

* The app basically teaches you the game as  you play, so no lengthy instructions or learning curve required. It tells you what kind of action is required next.

* It keeps score. That might sound obvious but since points determine all kinds of perks during the game, it’s important to know how to calculate the score. I’m very bad at score keeping in all games, sigh…

* The app won’t accept misspelled words or invented words. Your offspring or your students can play independently without you worrying that they are blithely giving themselves points for nonsense and reinforcing errors.

* There is a single player mode,  a student can play against a computer with three different levels of difficulty, thought frankly I haven’t explored this mode much yet.

In short, Paperback has won me over as a family game. I’m looking forward to trying it in class.

That is, if our English room ever gets those tablets we’ve been promised…

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday’s Poem: “The Armful” by Robert Frost

So many…
Naomi’s Photos

I received a phone call from someone I used to work with as part of my counseling job. It seems that a small box of papers of mine had been discovered in a cupboard that was being disposed of . The papers needed to be removed.

Among the papers from the late 90s and to around 2004, was a handout from a talk the amazing Aharona Gvaryahu had given. It must have been a talk on what it is like to live with learning disabilities but I don’t know for sure.  The only thing I kept  was this poem.

I hadn’t seen the poem since then and did not remember it existed.

But I immediately knew  why I had chosen to keep it.

It’s about me, isn’t it? It can be about you too, I don’t mind. Aren’t most of us in the same situation?

Enjoy!

The Armful by Robert Frost

For every parcel I stoop down to seize
I lose some other off my arms and knees,
And the whole pile is slipping, bottles, buns-
Extremes too hard to comprehend at once,
Yet nothing I should care to leave behind.
With all I have to hold with hand and mind
And heart, if need be, I will do my best
To keep their building balanced at my breast.
I crouch down to prevent them as they fall;
Then sit down in the middle of them all.
I had to drop the armful in the road
And try to stack them in a better load.

7 in 2017 – When Teaching Literature in EFL Intersects with Life

 

You know that teaching the literature component of the high-school EFL program has influenced you when…

  1. Getting a beautiful piece of artwork as a post reading task on the book “The Wave” makes you ridiculously happy…
  2. You foolishly carry too many books and papers in the hallway and manage to drop half. A few kind students, whom you’ve never seen before, help gather the scattered items. You thank them but what you really REALLY want to say is “Well, you can now count this day as not lost”! 
  3. The name of the game “Quoits” was a new addition to your vocabulary, but you are old enough to remember that “Patience” was the name for “Solitaire” when it was played with real cards.
  • Pondering age… Photo by Gil Epshtein

    4. When you reach the sentence about Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones’ icebox, it suddenly dawns on you that it might not be such a good idea to suggest that the kids talk to their grandparents for further information about ice boxes. If some of the students’ parents were once students of mine, then I’ll soon be the age of their grandparents.  I seem to have been in the classroom forever yet I never had an icebox…

  • Not a yellow wood but most certainly two roads diverged…
    Naomi’s Photos

    5. You find yourself pondering the fact that you actually took the road most taken by women, becoming  a teacher, a wife, a mother, a daughter (of parents in their “golden years”) , juggling roles while trying to exercise and blog too. Which naturally leads to the question whether I shall be telling this with a sigh of joy or regret ages and ages hence… Or perhaps the question of whether there will be anyone interested in listening…

  • A Smart Move
    (Naomi’s Photos)

    6. You have to bite your tongue every time you reach the end of the story “The Rules of The Game” – Waverly had no more moves to plot! I read “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan, I know what happened! From the moment Waverly supposedly insulted her mother, she never won a chess match again!!! Unlike Waverly’s mother, we teachers do give students second chances (and third, or more) but that isn’t something I can point out to the students because their story ends before that. Maybe it’s just as well…

  • Missing information… Naomi’s Photos

    7. You actually feel the weight of all the hours /topics cut from the national  curriculum, particularly history. Over the years more extensive background information of all sorts is needed for the stories and poems, ranging from the rise of the Nazi Movement to the fact that the early African-Americans DID NOT come voluntarily to the US as illegal immigrants who decided to stay…

Forget the students for a moment – how has teaching literature in the EFL classroom affected YOU?

 

Which Book Related to “TEACHING” would YOU add to “Incidental Comics'” Bookshelf?

Something to tie the books together…
Naomi’s Photos

Grant Snyder’s latest comic strip “My Bookshelf made me wonder – which books related to teaching (in the broadest sense) would a teacher pencil in under each of the  categories he presented?  Which ones would YOU add?

Yes, I am using the phrase “pencil in” intentionally. You see,  you may change your mind about the choice of book. More than once.

And you may want to rewrite your choice in smaller print inside the grid of his  comics so that there’ll  be room for a non-teaching-related book as well….

Meanwhile, until you tell meabout your books, here are my choices.

“The book I couldn’t put down”

“Animalia” by Graeme Base. Oh, this most certainly is a book related to teaching. Teaching through the joy of wonder and curiosity! Base has drawn such an elaborate and beautiful alphabet book, with such an incredible number of drawings of words beginning with each letter that you can’t take it all in at once. My sons and I have gone back to this book time and time again and keep discovering more hidden words, looking up possible words and roping in any guest willing to join the fun. There’s even a “Dalek” in there…  What a way to learn vocabulary. Thought provoking…

“The book I couldn’t pick up”

Whisper: Apologies.  “Second Language Research Methods” by Seliger and Shohamy is still sitting patiently on my bookshelf…

“The book you gave me (I haven’t read it yet, sorry!)”

“Being a teacher” by Lior Halevi , which was a gift from the school and the parents of the graduating class.  I feel guilty. The book does look interesting but somehow books I’ve gotten on my own always seem to take precedence…

“The book I brought to the beach” 

No, no no. I don’t take books to the beach. Only magazines. Particularly not books related to teaching, which I hope to use and keep for many years! They are usually expensive and must be ordered from abroad or were a gift that I’m grateful for.

What we really need is the ladder, not the hose, for all those books a mile high…
Naomi’s Photos

“The book I tried so hard to like”

“The Power of Teacher Teams” by Troen and Boles. The book seems so readable and friendly and is supposed to be awesome and helpful but I can’t see the helpful bit… Embarassed…

“The book I somehow own three copies of”

OK, not three, but two. Since I teach Deaf and hard of hearing students, there was a time people thought the perfect gift for me would be “Seeing Voices” by Oliver Sacks. For a while, every time I had two copies of the book I would give one of them away. Shortly after, I would get another copy! I believe I now don’t have a single copy left on the shelf…

“The book that saved my life”

“The Courage to Teach” by Palmer. It isn’t a very easy book to read but it is so powerful and important. A “slow read” makes you think. Being a good teacher can’t be disconnected from thinking about who you are and what you bring to the classroom. Everyone loves to tell a teacher “don’t take it personally” – but why not? How not to? This is a book to own!

“The book that I lent you – can I have it back?”

“Teaching Reading to Deaf Children” by Beatrice Ostern Hart. This was the very first book on education I owned and I read it from cover to cover, certain sections more than once. It was a powerful introduction, with wonderful examples, to what it means to approach reading comprehension in one’s mother tongue with a very limited vocabulary. Very useful for teaching a foreign language as well. This was back in the early 1980’s. Perhaps parts of the book are now outdated but I’ll never find out. I stupidly lent the book to someone, didn’t record the name, and never got it back…

“The book I fall asleep to every night”

NOT A TEACHING RELATED BOOK! Bedtime books are not for work! Regular readers of this blog are well acquainted with what I’m reading as I delight in posting about them. NOT WORK RELATED!

“The book I mistook for a hat”

This is an obvious reference to Oliver Sacks but I’ve already mentioned him.  Let’s change the “hat” to ” hard hat” along with a toolbox. The book “Switch” by the Heath Brothers isn’t officially about teaching,  but changing behaviors, bad habits and norms are issues a teacher certainly needs to read about. It is easy to connect it to the classroom. Another book that is good to reread from time to time.

“The book I’m desperately trying to write”

A blog, not a book…

“All the books that changed my life”

Here’s to all the books I’ve read and those that are waiting to be read! Life is good!

 

 

 

 

A Learning Curve – Using “Tricider” in Class

Looking Stuck       Naomi’s Photos

 

So truly simple – what could go wrong?

It seems everything is possible – I wonder if such a talent as mine would enable me to qualify for “America’s Got Talent”?!

Part of the task for the great digital in-service training course I am taking was to use “Tricider” with my students.

Tricider is a digital tool that lets you brainstorm, collect ideas and opinions really easily.

It has several appealing features:

  • Very intuitive interface – really friendly.  Register for free and off you go!
  • The students do not have to register in order to participate. Nor do they have to install or download anything. That is a really important point with my students.
  • Tricider allows the user to vote and express his/her opinion in a very simple, clear way. There is no need for lengthy explanations from a teacher before use.  Actually, hardly any explanations at all.

So…

The learning curve…
Naomi’s Photos

This year we are in the process of setting up a work station in our learning center about Deaf people who did /do interesting things. In addition, the work-station is also supposed to include a vocabulary section dealing with words and phrases a person with a hearing loss should know when he /she is travelling abroad in an English-speaking country.  The station is intended to be used by all of my Deaf and Hard of Hearing High-School students, at all levels.

I created the following Tricider page with suggestions I had for useful phrases and vocabulary a person with a hearing loss traveling abroad (in an English-speaking country) would possibly find useful. I hoped using the Tricider would serve as a “teaser” – to spark interest in the new work station. In addition, I wanted to tailor the vocabulary taught to the students’ interests and thoughts – in other words, to collect information from them regarding which phrases and words would be useful for them. Finally, I was hoping to gauge the students’ current familiarity with the target vocabulary. Click on the title below to see the Tricider page that I created.

Which words / phrases related to deafness are useful when traveling abroad?

First of all, anyone entering the link given above can see which suggestions were mine, which were suggested by students and how they voted. Those who did so were interested, engaged and glad to have their opinion heard. Students (and people in general)  like to be asked for their opinion! Their additions are interesting.

Unfortunately, things are not working out as planned. At the moment, only a small number of students have responded.

Warning! Progress may be slow…
Naomi’s Photos

For one thing, for some reason the site lists this Tricider as one I’m a participant in and not one I created (though it leaves me with no clue as to who they think did create it!).  It is annoying because it makes it harder to find when I log into the site and I wonder if it has anything to do with the more significant problem that I’m having.

I sent the students a link to the Tricider page via WhatsApp. However, since a fair number of my students do not study outside of class, on their own, at home (especially for something that isn’t mandatory and is not graded), I did what I often do – have the online activity open on the classroom computer and send students individually or in pairs to do it. Since the classroom is set up in the format of a learning center, it is quite convenient to do so.

Ouch.

When I opened the link using the share link supplied by the site, only the first student who sat down at the computer could respond. When the next students tried to respond there was a notification that answers have been recorded and no further ones can be added. Only the few students who went into the link by using WhatsApp web were able to respond. The only other option was rebooting the computer and bringing up the shared link again. That was far too time consuming and cumbersome, requiring too much of my involvement. I want the students to be independent.

Not giving up, but this is where I’m stuck at the moment.

Oh!

One more thing!

I guess I couldn’t qualify for America’s Got Talent in any case, since I don’t actually live in the United States…

 

Let’s Hear it for The-30s-CAN-ROCK Teachers!

Aren’t the flames a bit TOO high?
Naomi’s photos

No, I’m afraid this post is not about all you truly wonderful teachers who are in their 30s.

Nor is this post about finding educational lessons in the comedy show called “30 Rock” . I actually tried but I couldn’t find anything on the theme of “keeping the flame alive”. All I found was this and it simply won’t do…

” Can I share with you my world view? All of humankind has one thing in common – the sandwich. I believe that all anyone really wants in this life is to sit in peace and eat a sandwich” (Liz Lemon, 30 Rock).

So, lets just pack the sandwiches in the lunchbox (along with a salad and an apple, please!) and head on to school to talk to those teachers around the world who have been teaching for more than 30 years and are still going strong!

What is the secret?

I prefer this version of “flaming trees” (Naomi’s Photos)

The organizers of the upcoming ETAI conference have once again given me space to present pearls of wisdom from teachers around the globe, this time  on the topic of “How to Keep Motivated after 30 years of Teaching”!

I need everyone’s help with this one! Even if you aren’t a member of this select group of teachers and can’t answer the ultra short questionnaire below, I’m sure you know someone whose words of wisdom should absolutely be on it. I would appreciate if you could share the link or bring up the questionnaire in the teacher’s room.

Replies are limited to only one sentence.

I may exercise my right as the organizer and add two sentences… Yup – you guessed correctly. I’m a member of this select group myself!


https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdh-T-6GOKbuKSxik_ZacjuznHWUa6sKHTzo_BvyZV8xbBw-w/viewform?usp=sf_link

 

 

Revisiting a post -“Oh, But there ARE ELT Emergencies!”

The annual cycle of exams…
Naomi’s Photos

Once again I’m bracing myself for the national matriculation (“Bagrut”) exam day. We have them three times a year but this is the major one, with the largest number of students taking the exams.  So what has changed since  I first posted this in 2012?   Well, I don’t teach in a private language school anymore . In addition, this is the first exam without the envelopes mentioned in the post (new system) so who knows what new emergencies can arise? Expect the unexpected and hang in there!

 

There is a wonderful post which I really recommend reading: “Can you have a normal life and work in ELT” on the TEFLGEEK Blog. I really identify with that post!

But I just had to comment on the following statement from the post:

“But I can think of absolutely no situation within my own teaching experience, that could possibly be classified as an emergency”.

Epstein Family Photos

So here are a few ELT emergencies, beginning with the ones least causing palpitations:

First of all, as someone still fairly new to the world of “for profit” schools (I’ve recently begun teaching my second course at a private language school) I’m amazed as to how everything is treated as an emergency. When a client squawks  all able-bodied hands should report for duty at once:

* I peek at my phone during the break at the high school. Four (!!) unanswered calls from the private school. I call them back. A student contested his grade, they need me to come over right away. Fortunately, I have  a clever husband who said ” I bet they could scan and email the exam to you”. He was right, they could and did, when I knew to ask.

* A student mailed me a query through the private school’s website less than two hours before the lesson (begins at five p.m). I only saw the query after the lesson. Confident that I had discussed the issue with the student personally during the lesson I did not answer the letter. At eight a.m the very next morning (!!!) there was a letter from the private school intended to draw my attention to the fact that there was an unanswered letter to a student in my inbox!

However, lets return to those ELT emergencies that involve running, physically.

I took this one myself…

National Matriculation day (our leaving exams are called “Bagrut Exams”) is often a source of drama at high-schools round the country. Being a special ed. teacher adds more combustible pieces to the puzzle, but doesn’t make my situation seem like an exception to the rule:

* Mad dashes down long corridors and up/down steps to get to the photocopying machine when:
a) not enough exam papers were sent

b) the envelope containing the special section for the students with hearing problems got sent to the wrong room by mistake and no-one knows which room (more running, photocopying of master copy if necessary)

c) one of my students who has emotional issues (my students arrive early on exam days as they don’t have transportation for exactly when they need it in the afternoons) tore his watch strap while horsing around with another boy and threw a temper tantrum, screaming and banging on walls of classrooms where exams where taking place. More running to get available staff over to remove him from the testing area and help him calm down. Quicker than trying to get people on the cell phone because they are probably on the phone!

True, none of these emergencies required a police escort, as described in the blog post. Though my husband would have appreciated one the day  he had to make a special trip to the high-school because I had left the candies we give out on exam day at home!

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 …