Category Archives: Uncategorized

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 …

 

 

 

 

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.