Who were you, Dora? First Notes from a Journey Back in TIME

(Note – For explanations about the “Who were you, Dora?” series, click here.)

Alice began her exciting and enlightening adventures in Wonderland by falling down a rabbit hole. A hole belonging to a rabbit very concerned with the time, to be precise.

I also began our Heritage Journey back in time with a fall. I miscalculated the number of steps when disembarking  (at one a.m!) at Brest Train Station (Belarus) and tumbled onto the platform.

The good luck charm my friend Beata pressed into my hand before boarding the train must have softened the fall! Got up with just a few bruises, nothing more.

While Alice’s white rabbit proved to be a rather elusive guide to Wonderland, thankfully our guide Andrei Burdenkov never left our side. Because we actually were in two versions of Wonderland – present day Belarus and Early 20th Century Russia/Poland/Russia (today – Belarus, it changed hands a lot).  We needed the guide to understand the first and to be able to see what remains of the second. You really need to know where to look, especially to see the finer details.

At the entrance to Antopol

We don’t speak a word of Russian nor can we read the Cyrillic alphabet. During our entire four days in the two cities we were researching (Brest and Volkovysk) and the two villages (Antopol and Volpa) I think we only saw three signs in English (and actually one was in a national nature reserve). Not only don’t  almost all the hotel receptionists and waiters we encountered speak any English, the concept of customer service in state run-places seems very shaky. Most staff members won’t smile and some make you feel that you should be grateful they are giving you the time of day! But it isn’t just the language barrier. When we entered a small supermarket (small, but bigger than a min-market) we couldn’t understand what we had done to elicit an angry tone and finger being shaken at us. Roni had chosen 3 bananas from the fruit section and walked over to join me in the baked goods section (Andrei was over in the milk section). It turned out there are four cashiers scattered around the small supermarket and you must pay for the goods in each section before moving on to the next section! The idea never occured to us. This is not the case in the large supermarket we later saw, by the way. Being a vegetarian (that’s Roni) in Belarus is quite a challenge. Meat, in some form or other, seems to be included in almost every single dish. Andrei patiently translated menus and negotiated with waiters to find solutions.

Fresh paint before May 1st.

On the other hand, people we met were very friendly (with Andrei supplying simultaneous translation, of course!). These encounters and conversations added greatly to visualising what life was like during the pre-war years of the 20th century. We even had an amazing meeting with a school teacher who came up with a novel way to teach the children about their village’s former residents who perished. I’ll be describing  what we found and did not find in much more detail in the next posts.

In the countryside you can still see active wells

In the villages it was easier to get a sense of what life was like once.  You can find houses that remain forlornly untouched. In the cities it is much harder. Technology helped  compare old maps to new ones and we found many of the relevant locations despite changes. Sadly, some of the remnants of the graveyards don’t look like anything more than a field strewed with a handful of larger stones. One wouldn’t give them a second glance if you didn’t know what to look for. In some places the graveyards no longer exist at all. Heartbreaking.

The remains of the cemetery in Volpa

But in our search for “life”, even spending time outdoors, getting to know the landscape was an important part of the experience. Our ancestors grew up in this flat country with wide open spaces, endless skies, marsh lands, rivers, storks nesting on poles, lots of trees and really cold weather, that makes it is hard to grow things.

The skies seem endless…

This was the backdrop of their lives.

 

 

 

Saturday’s Book: Purple Hibiscus by Ngozi Adichie

Not a Hibiscus but purple…
(Naomi’s photos)

EXCELLENT!!!!

It is so well written that I was utterly mesmerised. I found it physically difficult to tear myself away from the book.

It’s not that the type of characters or the setting are familiar to me – life in Nigeria during a military coup and fanatically religious Catholicism – but the writing is so skillful that I felt I was observing everything happening very closely, standing close enough to see, hear and feel.

Another case of “Thank a Librarian” who put it out on a RECOMMEDED shelf!

But Teachers DO Take It Personally – A Refreshingly Different Take

Gil Epshtein’s photos

It’s the standard thing you encounter in every teacher training  course or teaching manual (and a quick Google search):

“When students (particularly teenagers!) get angry and hurl insults at the teacher, DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY, it’s not about YOU. The students are bringing in things from outside the classroom, issues related to their home life, their relationship (or lack of) with their peers, their academic struggles and much more. So taking it personally is a huge mistake. The insults roughly fall into two main categories – insults regarding the teacher’s appearance or insults regarding the teacher’s professional abilities.

Supposedly only an inexperienced teacher (or an unprofessional one) gets insulted. This is the cause of  all the teacher’s troubles, and what is obstructing a calm and cool response.

At an in-service teacher’s training session I attended at school today, the instructor took a refreshingly different approach, one that rings true and makes more sense to me.

Gil Epshtein’s photos

In a nutshell, the instructor explained that feeling insulted is an automatic and instinctive human reaction, a survival strategy which indicates the person must protect himself /herself.

Therefore, it is utter nonsense to tell a teacher not to take insults personally. We’re human beings, that’s what makes us caring teachers. Students crave empathy, to be really and truly seen, that requires emotions.

Actually, the instructor claimed, teachers who can respond appropriately and in a constructive manner to a student’s outburst are those that RECOGNIZE their feelings and have given thought to how he/she reacts to such feelings and what works to enable them to regain their equilibrium. Teacher’s aren’t robots! I believe Palmer discussed this in “The Courage to Teach” but I read that a long time ago and don’t encounter such an attitude in my reality.

Interestingly, the instructor noted that research has shown that what really gets under most teachers’ skin are insults relating to how good they are at their profession and not barbs targeted at personal appearance…

I would add that what hurts more than anything a student  could say is when a staff member whom you turn to for support and understanding replies:

“You took that personally? What?! You should know better by now”!

Note: I recommend checking out this very practical post, on a different angle: “Controlling the Power of Words: Teaching Students How to Confront Insults” by Dr. Richard Curwin

 

 

Saturday’s Book: “The Dinner” by Herman Koch

A long evening
(Naomi’s Photos)

Wow, what a skillful writer who can really pack a punch!

The author is “only” describing two couples (two brothers and their wives) spending an evening out in a fancy restaurant, but a whole lifetime and a tense plot pops up cleverly between the minuscule food portions such upscale restaurants have a reputation of serving.

Believe me, it’s best not to know more in advance. Let the author present the story in his way.

Interesting side note the author makes in the book – what do people the world over really read about Holland and famous Dutch people? There are the famous painters and there was Anna Frank (and some other heroic stories I might add). Don’t forget “Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates” ! But I really can’t recall reading anything else that takes place in the Netherlands.

The only thing I resent is one of the comments on the front cover of the book. It IS a thought-provoking book but I most certainly do not identify in any way with the characters.

 

MOST of what teenagers post on INSTAGRAM is…

Hello! You weren’t here before! (Naomi’s photos)

Sometimes things turn up just when you need them. I always like to practice a point that needs highlighting by using something thought-provoking or generally informative.

A few days ago I read a very inspiring lesson plan called “Image challenge – how to teach critical thinking through INSTAGRAM” on Magdalena Wasilewska’s blog. I really recommend checking it out!

Hmm…

My lovely colleague pointed out yesterday that some of our Deaf and hard of hearing students  may have a problem in the upcoming exam with the word “most” since we’ve been reviewing superlatives for the last few weeks. In their reading passage, the word is used when describing the results of a survey, as in “Most of the young people said that…”.

Hmmmmmmm….

Thinking…
(Naomi’s Photos)

Aha!

The topic of teenagers who post pictures of themselves in an alternative reality, works beautifully for my purposes.

I chose a different video than the one Magda used as I thought it was less suitable for my class, especially as the characters clearly seem to be talking. What they are saying doesn’t matter, but with my students I prefer videos where it is clear that you don’t need to hear the audio.

Today I started using the following worksheet in class. All sentences include the word “most” but are related to the video.

Here is the worksheet.

most and instagram

Here is the video.

I hope it works well for you too!

 

 

 

 

Saturday’s Book: “The Reader on the 6.27” by Didierlaurent

Some are different…
(Naomi’s Photos)

As the cover states, it’s a charming book.

It really is. Charming is the apt description. There’s even a different take on “Prince Charming”!

It’s sweet (and short!) and makes you feel like saying “aw, nice!”.  It has some unusual (quirky, perhaps? ) ways to express a theme that I, of course, believe in – reading books and writing tales (AND reading aloud!!!!)  are really good for you, in many ways.

I wonder if the author was influenced by “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” as there is the same theme of people doing menial jobs that are almost invisible to society, yet who have a rich literary world going on in private.

In short, not raving about the book but I’m glad I read it.

 

Fun for Children who are Seriously Sick – A Guest Video Post

The tired puppet – courtesy of puppeteer Ruth Levi
(Naomi’s Photos)

Veteran teacher Marlene Saban has kindly sent me a video lesson to share on the blog. She teaches both junior-high & high- school. A reading passage about a special camp (run by special people!)  devoted to bringing some joy to the lives of children grappling with illness, inspired Marlene to add a video as a lead-in exercise (in the case, a short advertisement) and another one directly related to the topic of the reading passage. Since no hearing is needed to understand the advertisement and the other video is meant to be shown without sound, (the students must read the captions in English!), Marlene’s video lesson certainly can be used with deaf and hard of hearing students too!

Marlene used this lesson with a strong class of students in the seventh grade ( 13 year olds).

Here is the lead-in advertisement:

Here is the main video:


Here is a downloadable document with Marlene’s lesson plan and worksheet.

Enjoy!

Fun for Sick Kids- by Marlene

Giving “Pride” a Concrete Expression

It started out small.
(The names of the students have been blurred).

There we were again. Once again my 10th grade student, whom we’ll call Dan, was throwing a tantrum in class over his test grade.

He got an 87.

Which is a very nice grade for a fairly high level exam. But it wasn’t a  grade of 100 or at least one that is over 90 , which is marked with a different color in our computer grading system.

The tantrum was somewhat milder than the previous incident when he threw the test into the trashcan, stormed out of the classroom and shouted some more, so as to attract the attention of more teachers.

Dan has a particularly loud voice even when he is not shouting. Not only does he come from one of those families in which the volume of  daily communication is turned up high, he is one of those hard of hearing people who hear themselves well when they speak very loudly. In addition, his tone is often very aggressive. This attitude has served him well in life and compensates a bit for his learning disability – it seems that people are willing to do a lot just to get him to quiet down. It is quite difficult to have meaningful conversations with Dan as he is always ready to go into “confrontation mode”.

I tried to tell him  before he got the test back that I was really proud of him. I knew he had actually studied for the test and had done all the practice work. I was there when the class took the test and I saw that he really had made every effort.

I told Dan that I was proud of him and that I wanted to post about his achievement on our “I’m proud of YOU!” board.

But the number of the notes on the board is growing…

Dan refused. He was gearing up for his tantrum. It’s purpose was to get me to add 3 points to his grade.

I didn’t. He tried to get my lovely co-teacher to do it but she wouldn’t do it either.

Two days later I had the opportunity to talk to him outside of class. I told him how disappointed I felt that he wouldn’t let me celebrate his achievement by posting on the board (I don’t post about students without their permission.). Dan replied that only when he gets a perfect grade of 100 he will grant me permission.

That’s when I had a moment of inspiration and said:

… and growing!

“I wouldn’t want to post about you if you had gotten a grade of 100.  No way. That would have meant the test was really easy for you. I want to post about how much effort you put into studying for this test (which was not easy) and then did really well. I don’t post about kids for getting perfect scores”.

He actually listened to me. Not something to sneeze at.

Then Dan smiled, started walking away and shouted back:

“Then you should post about me on the board!”

Saturday’s Book: “Waiting for Snow in Havana” by Carlos Eire

Unlocking secrets of the past (Naomi’s Photos)

I don’t usually write about books before I have finished them, but this one has blown me away from the very beginning. The only reason I haven’t finished it is that the need to finish a book is not yet a legitimate reason to stay home from work and forget about feeding the family…

It’s another one of these books that I happened on by chance at the library. Thank goodness for libraries – if I only read books I hear people talking about (or read reviews of ) I would be missing out on a lot.

Eire’s style in describing his childhood in Havana during the end of the Batista era (son of a judge) and the beginning of Castro’s takeover is spellbinding and unique. It is so vivid yet not sugar-coated; it’s not as if everything was the paradise Eire’s teachers tried to claim it was until “out of the blue” bad things happened. His method of describing childhood memories in Havana  and then throwing in comments, snippets highlighting the future trauma when his life changed completely, delivers quite a punch.

Eire was airlifted out of Cuba when he was eleven years old with his brother. He was allowed to take absolutely nothing but a change of clothes, not even photos of his family or a familiar object. Then he began a life of an orphaned refugee.

Not only do I think this is a fascinating book to read at any time, I find it particularly relevant nowadays – Cuba’s new relations with the U.S.A and what it feels like to be  a refugee. I’m not so interested in his comments related to wrestling with tenets of the Catholic faith, but the book does tie into my current ROOTS research – my own grandmother lived in Havana for a few years in the fifties.

“Reading Videos” Strategy Sails Across the Waters

Reaching out across the waters!
(Naomi’s Photos)

I’ve been invited to speak at an international conference!

IV-th International Congress on Social Inclusion Implementations-versions and controversies,  April 6-7 2017., at the Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities, Poland

I know I’m not being very modest about it but there is a great deal to be excited about:

  • It’s a conference about “Inclusion and Special Education”, and there will be a specific section on TEACHING ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE TO DEAF STUDENTS! A golden opportunity for me to finally meet teachers from other countries who actually face the same challenges I do every day!
  • I’ve been invited to the conference and will be giving a plenary talk and a regular session. My heartfelt thanks to Mrs. Beata Gulati, a wonderful teacher and an organizer, for her dedication to connecting the teachers who teach EFL to Deaf students and making this happen.

    My personal invitation!
  • The conference is on vacation time – I do NOT have to ask for anyone’s permission to attend the conference and miss school. As you can see, I’ve not gotten over the traumatic experience of doing that in order to speak at IATEFL Liverpool a few years ago…

I will be speaking about the use of videos  to promote reading comprehension skills and am also writing a paper on this topic for the post conference publication. This is where I need your help:

A question mark in the sand?! (Naomi’s Photos)

Judging by the large number of times my video lessons* (which I call “Reading Videos” ) have been downloaded, it seems that teachers who don’t teach Deaf students also find them useful. Strategies that are good for students with special needs and everyone else as well are particularly beneficial in settings of inclusion. It would be extremely helpful if you could take a moment and answer a very short survey regarding your use of these video lessons.

  • Reminder: You can find the video lessons by clicking on the title of the category on the left sidebar of the Home Page. Here’s the direct link to the category:
    http://visualisingideas.edublogs.org/category/video-lessons/

Thank you!

 

Skip to toolbar