Saturday’s Book: “The Storied Life of AJ Fikry” by Zevin

Naomi’s Photos

I loved it.

Completely.

The bare bones of the plot line could have easily gone in so many directions that I find boring, corny and unbelievable.  A lonely bookseller, tales of love lost & love found (several characters), the magic of children…

I’m the cold-hearted reader who jumped ship (never to return) shortly after the bookseller in “The Little Paris Bookshop” unmoored his book-boat-shop, remember?

But THIS book, The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, is so well written. To paraphrase something said in the book itself – the right words in the right places, and not too many of them. The author trusts the reader to understand.

And so many books are mentioned, discussed and brought up in a context that makes want to read those I haven’t read yet!

Ah, there’s a wonderful world of books waiting to be read out there!

Belated Saturday’s Book “A Man Called Ove” by Backman

Naomi’s Photos

I actually read Backman’s second book first, so I immediately reached for this one when I found it at the library. I did so because I knew I would enjoy it.

And I did.

There are things one could quibble about. Way too many similes. Certain things that call for “a suspense of belief”. And honestly, truly, there are some awesome social workers out there, who do good work and help people ( the profession sort of needs defending after you read the book).

But those are really minor things. It’s a great story with characters you get involved with and feel truly moved.

Read the book and feel good.

I did.

 

Utilizing the Gift of Texting

Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season!

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

ICYMI , EDO, IDC – Do you know what these abbreviations stand for? Do you care whether you know them or not?

I’m not interested in texting / Internet abrreviations for their own merit. I have no plan to have students memorise them. I’m interested in them  as a tool to expose my deaf and hard of hearing teenage students to some of the commonly used phrases they represent. Teenagers like abbreviations. In addition, I have a few hard of hearing students whose distorted hearing causes them to adopt very odd versions of what they think they heard on television… They are interested in such phrases.

For this acitivity students must first begin with the worksheet. On the worksheet they are asked to match abbreviations to their meanings. Then the students are asked to watch the lovely (absolutely lovely!!!) short video “The Present”. As they watch they are required to rewrite the text without abbreviations.

Enjoy!

Here is the worksheet: utilizing-the-gift-of-texting

Here is the video-lesson section:

 

 

Breathing and Blogging – When a Blog Turns Six…

Hooked! (Seen in the school yard) Naomi's Photos
Hooked!
(Seen in the school yard)
Naomi’s Photos

I first began blogging six years ago.

629 posts.

And I’m still here.

I can’t stop. It’s become necessary to my existence.

There is so much going on in the classroom, the students pose constant challenges. How would I sit down and reflect on reality in the classroom without my blog?

How could I be inspired by other teachers’ words and ideas without recording and sharing what then happened in the classroom?

How could I express my feeling of walking on air when a new video lesson I’ve created worked well in class, if I don’t share it with other teachers on my blog?

How could I have had the surprising opportunities to interact with teachers, speakers and authors if I didn’t have a blog to comment on their words?

How would I have met (mostly virtually, some in real life) teachers from around the globe, without my blog?

I don’t post as often anymore, that’s true.

But six years really grows on you. I can’t imagine life without my blog!

 

Saturday’s Book: “Farewell Anatolia” by Dido Sotiriou

Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

This is another one of those books that I read because of a chance discovery at the library.  Many times (like today!) I get frustrated by the list of books the library doesn’t carry, books recommended to me. But books like this one remind me of what I would be missing if I only read the books people are talking about.

It’s not an easy read. Not at all. The tale of the tragic end of the Greek communities in Asia minor is certainly not a happy one. I have to admit that I knew next to nothing about the expulsion of the Greeks from Turkey. Years ago I read “The 40 days on Musa Dagh” by Werfel, so I knew something about the Armenian population in the region, but not about the Greeks.

It is a testimony to the skill of the writer that at no point did I want to give up on the book. The descriptions of farmers’ and merchants’ lives there before the calamity are vivid. By having the main character meet a wide variety of people you realize the writer has been cleverly giving you many perspectives of the unfolding events.

But I think the most arresting thing about the book is while it is a story of a specific place and time in history (fiction yet based closely on true events), it is a universal tale. Much too relevant to today’s world, which is sort of scary to admit. This is what happens when hatred is inflamed, stereotypes are rampant and scapegoats are needed. Blaming one religion /ethnic group for all possible evils is, sadly, not something one finds only in history books.  Reading about the background that lead to the outbreak of horrific violence from all sides involved is not comforting.  It’s so easy nowadays to imagine the refugees in the book..

While I’m glad to be moving on to lighter fare now I’m glad I read the book.  A lot to think about.

Having “LOTS” of fun with “HOTS”- with TEACHERS!

Attention, please! Naomi's Photos
Attention, please!
Naomi’s Photos

 

I was in charge of preparing a fun activity for a staff event.

I can only do what I know how to do – use visual material.

So I turned to my stack of video-lessons. In class I use them to work on answering reading comprehension questions of both types:   LOTS – Lower Order Thinking Skills / HOTS – Higher Order Thinking Skills.  I decided to utilize the same principles for the staff!

They seemed to like it!

The first activity was a KAHOOT! quiz related to the video  “Paper vs. Tablet” . With KAHOOT! everyone answers the questions using their cell phone. It turned out well to start off with something energizing and there was some good-natured competetion regarding teachers’ places on the scoreboard. In class I used this to practice WH Questions and I decided to stick with LOTS type questions for the staff too. Before showing the video I told everyone that they must be on their toes because they are going to watch a 39 second video and then they will  have to recall details regarding what they saw. Here are the questions that worked well (the KAHOOT! was not in English, so I’m not sharing it):

  1. How many characters were in the video?  (*Some missed the child!)
  2. How long was the video? (*Only teachers who listened to instructions got that one right!)
  3. What language was used?
  4. What is the MAIN purpose of the video ( I used “vengeance is sweet” as a distractor and that caused a lively argument about the word “main”).
  5. What is the woman’s name? (Everyone got THAT right, but that is important with teachers too).
Time to think... Naomi's Photos
Time to think…
Naomi’s Photos

The second activity was a KAHOOT! Survey and this was the most successful activity of all. We were 17 teachers and everyone likes being asked their opinion. Or, in HOTS terminology, we distinguished between different perspectives. This time they had to answer the following questions BEFORE watching the video:

Beginning at what age would you let your child do the following:

  1. wash dishes
  2. load the washing machine
  3. hang the wash on the line
  4. do the ironing
  5. water the plants
  6. make the bed
  7. take out the garbage
  8. walk the dog
  9. tidy up a room

Many teachers thought I was going to show some  sad video about the terrible plight of overworked children. Not so! They loved “Dial Direct”!

Feeding Frenzy! Naomi's Photos
Feeding Frenzy!
Naomi’s Photos

The third activity did not involve using cell phones. I showed a slide show with screen shots from what I described as an “instructional video to teach you to cook something”.  The teachers had to guess what dish it was. The skill of “prediction”, of course. No easy task when you see a section of Rubik’s cube being chopped and pin cushions being crushed. Quite a few teachers realized that picking a dollar bill off a plant and chopping it must be a green spice (basil, in this case). They all the thought that the animation in Western Spaghetti was very well done (BTW, the Rubik’s cube represented garlic).

I should have stopped there. Three activities were enough. For the last activity we did the Emotions of Sound activity as it is on the site (note, you have to click on the link on the bottom of the screen to get to the relevant screen to begin). It’s a nice activity but slow and that was too much. It is also a vocabulary activity not a HOTS one, so it didn’t fit in.

It’s a good thing to let other staff members (who aren’t EFL teachers) see what materials are being used in class.

Good and fun!

 

 

 

Saturday’s Book: “Oracle Bones” by Peter Hessler

Different perspectives! Photo by Iddo Epstein
Different perspectives!
Photo by Iddo Epstein

I’ve been enjoying Peter Hessler’s articles in the New Yorker magazine for years, so was understandably delighted to find his book “Oracle Bones” at the free readers-for-readers corner at our library*.

It’s not a travel book about China. It is a great many things. Peter Hessler lived in China for many years and his conversations / interactions with people were direct, without the filters of interpreters.  Yet he doesn’t seem to be trying to claim “I KNOW China and am an absolute authority of this diverse country”. Hessler gives us a long-term  personal view of what it was like to be a foreigner living in China in general, and during global events such as 9/11. He also follows the lives of certain people over the span of quite a few years, such as former students of his and people he met. These are not just descriptions, but quotes from conversations and correspondence.

But that’s just one part of the book. The framework of explaining the significance of the ancient oracle bones (earliest forms of local writing!), how archaeology in China is a whole different ball game from what I’m familiar with in this archaeological rich area, adds a whole new dimension to all that I have ever read about the country. Sadly, it seems that everywhere study of the past and politics cannot be separated…

In short, the style is very readable and easy to get into it, though quite long. I took my time reading it but am very glad I did.

*Note: A while I found a treasure trove of three books the library took out of its collection and added to the “free for readers to take” corner. I guess the library decided these books aren’t being borrowed enough, hence not worth keeping. But I’m having a great time with them! This is the second of the three (The Hare with the Amber Eyes was the first). I have now begun the third: “Farewell Anatolia” by Dido Sotiriou.

 

Saving Board Games from “Classroom 101” – a Comment

Is this what Room 101 looks like? Naomi's Photos
Is this what Room 101 looks like?
Naomi’s Photos

Listening to podcasts is what keeps me sane (and happy!) when doing housework, particularly folding laundry or ironing. The fact that there is no visual input to distract me helps me be reasonably efficient as well.

I am delighted to be subscribed to several different podcasts (all free!), so I can choose to listen to whichever one suits my mood. But I only have one podcast exclusively for teachers who teach English as a foreign language – the TEFL COMMUTE! All those behind the scenes are experienced teachers, teacher-trainers and ELT writers, with a sense of humor!

In their latest episode they played a game of consigning annoying teaching practices , aggravating ELT terms and more, to “classroom 101″ (a spin-off of the television show Room 101”), then locking the door and throwing away the key. No gripes about things like salary or administrators allowed. Things such as teaching “inversions”, “reported speech”, playing certain ice-breakers or using too many acronyms when training teachers to use technology (BYOD is one I recall).

Thought provoking and good fun.

But I’m here to break into the locked “Classroom 101” and rescue BOARD GAMES!

illegal entry... (naomi's photos)
illegal entry…
(Naomi’s photos)

In the podcast they were unhappy with photocopying the board games and the pages of cards from the course book, cutting and pasting all that is needed, hoping for access to a laminating machine that probably wouldn’t work… In addition, they spoke about time wasted setting up the games and getting the students to understand the rules. In short, board games were described as more trouble than they were worth.

I disagree!

All you have to do is follow these simple guidelines:

  • Use just about any commercial board game you can get your hands on.  Talk to all your friends and relatives – unwanted games go to YOU! Games that require moving a marker from one point to another along some sort of track are the easiest to use. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a “road race” or a “space race” or “snakes or ladders”. They all have the player moving forward and backwards along the route (or missing a turn). Students are familiar with the rules to such games. Commercial games are attractive and are designed for multiple use and it’s great that different groups get a different board each time. Games like “Contact 4 (Tic Tac Toe with 4 discs in a row) will work too. Worth owning a few of these games. Adults like them as much as the kids.
  • All games are played with the exact same rule. Always. Very little time spent on explaining.  Whatever it is you want to practice by playing  the game is “the target”. Each player must answer the target question before throwing the dice and playing his/her turn according to the general rules of the game. Perhaps they must use a word in a sentence or complete a collocation. If they got it right, they get two turns. If not, they must correct it and play once.
  • Assuming you are teaching students who hear well (which I don’t..) you don’t have to make cards. In each group have one student be “the teacher” . The “teacher” presents the “target” and determines if the answer was correct by holding a question and answer sheet. Really smart to give your weakest students this role! They feel so good!

Simple! So don’t send board games off to “Classroom 101”!

Using the Word “Promise” in Education, Freaks Me Out – A Comment

After The Mad Hatter's Teaparty Naomi's Photos
After The Mad Hatter’s Teaparty
Naomi’s Photos

Robyn Jackson, as always, makes some excellent points in her Mindsteps Article: 10 Promises We Should Keep to our Students.  I completely agree with the first part of the article, that it is irresponsible for an educator (teacher or principal) to promise that a student will graduate high-school or will finish a course successfully.

I am  a HUGE believer in the attitude expressed so well by Shel Silverstein in the poem “The Bridge”:

“This bridge will only take you halfway there / the last steps you have to take alone”.

I can put my heart in helping students learn, utilize all my professional skills, but I can’t learn for them. Therefore, I cannot promise they will master the material, pass the test and graduate successfully.

Clear enough. Or as the students might say, “duh”.

It's a real wolf! Photo by Omri Epstein
It’s a real wolf!
Photo by Omri Epstein

However, Jackson claims that there are ten promises we should be making to our students and that we had better keep them.

Calling them “promises” scares me completely.

And I won’t make those promises.

Because promises must be kept. I was also brought up that way. I don’t make promises to students because there are always too many variables.

I strive to give you, a safe learning environment, I really do. But I can’t promise that it will never happen that you think another student was making fun of your answer when my back was turned (even if he wasn’t) and you get insulted (or worse, with consequences) because your social skills are highly problematic.

I strive to provide challenging and engaging instruction that will meet your needs and help you grow but it is extraordinarily difficult to do so for all students all the time. Especially with some curriculum demands. Sometimes you may not like the task which I thought would be engaging…

I strive to listen to the verbal & non verbal feedback you are giving me to help you study, but sometimes what you want is not what you need, or is not something I am able to provide as a teacher.

I can’t even make promise number five, which is my favorite on Jackson’s list:

“I promise to keep trying until together, we figure out the best way to help you learn”.

Again, “together” requires a partner. I’m “game”, I’ll do my best to get you to be motivated too, but I can’t do anymore than that…

Finally, I can’t promise that on some days I won’t have a rough day of my own and not be the most attentive and  patient teacher I want to be.

Goals to strive for – YES!

But not promises.

Digital Literacy, Cyber Safety – What about COMPUTER HYGIENE?!

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What we don’t see CAN harm us. (Naomi’s Photos)

We teach the students how to copy links, look for information, submit answers,  switch between languages and formats and so much more.

We teach the students to protect themselves online, as in not sharing their telephone numbers / home addresses, being careful with their passwords and staying away from dubious sites.

And we do all this (and more) on the shared computers at school.

In my case, one computer in the English Center.

Students from all grades and the teachers have their ten fingers and their palms on the same keyboard and the same mouse for about forty hours a week.

Where else have these hand been and what have they been touching?

While I believe all teachers around the world support fostering a classroom culture of sharing, I don’t think sharing germs is on the list of goals.

And I haven’t been doing anything about it.

I came back to school the other day after being out sick for a week. That very same day one of our new students reminded me right away that he has “hygiene issues” (not verbally, of course. I’ll spare you the details) and then went over to do something on the computer.

Photo by Ido Epstein
Photo by Ido Epstein

I went out right after school and bought a big package of wipes (luckily another teacher gave me some wipes  that day at school after the aforementioned student worked on the computer).

All the sessions at conferences, discussions groups I’ve attended and posts I’ve read on using shared devices in class don’t mention hygiene. You don’t have to a special student with “issues” – so many kids sneeze, sniffle and cough for months around here.

Should I place the package of wipes at the edge of the computer desk and encourage each and every student to use one before his/her turn at the computer? I don’t want anyone making fun of another student or turning it into an issue. I would like the message to be the same as the one for protecting your password.

Common Sense.

What do you do?

 

 

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