ONE TWEAK AT A TIME: REFLECTING ON FANSELOW’S TEXTBOOK FOR EFL TEACHERS – 2. Read and Look Up!

This is part two of my second blogging challenge, in which I experiment  with and reflect on some of the small changes recommended in John Fanselow’s “Small Changes in Teaching, Big Results in Learning” .  These challenges are a way for me to keep honing my teaching skills.

New constructions
Naomi’s Photos

I had heard of “Read and Look Up” before encountering this book, but never tried it in class. The rationale for having the students not recite a text mechanically while reading it from the page is clear and simple, that wasn’t what stopped me from trying it. It’s intuitive too, I can feel it on myself – a person can’t really focus on  comprehension and process the vocabulary, syntax and content presented in a text while focusing on reading aloud, particularly in a foreign language. It’s perfectly possible to read aloud from a page nicely without understanding what you have read.

What I hadn’t understood at all before reading Fanselow’s explanations and suggested activities is that reading a sentence (or two) silently, pausing and then looking at someone  before saying the words is not simply an exercise in memory and parroting! Now that I had something concrete to “hold on to”, I started trying some of the variations presented in the book , inventing additional variations along the way to suit my own students.

Having a ladder helps!
Naomi’s Photos

The “Advanced” Student – An Individual Lesson

10th grade student, top-level, hard of hearing, but in a quiet, one-on-one setting, can hear fairly well with her hearing aids. She speaks clearly too.

I gave the student, whom we’ll call R., an unfamiliar text written as an opinion essay on whether high school should be required to volunteer in the tenth grade or not. I had no idea if the activity I was going to try was suitable for such a strong student as R. ,but this was a text I had wanted to use in any case. I gave R. no explanations, just asked her to read to herself a sentence or two, turn over the page and say what she read.

R. did as I asked.

She replaced some words with others as she spoke.

I was delighted!

I praised her, explaining that replacing words was wonderful and told her that I wanted us to examine together what exactly she was doing.  I pulled out scrap paper and a pen and asked R. to begin again and wrote down every word she said. The situation amused R. –  she was speaking and I was the one writing furiously.

We paused after every two sentences (more or less) to compare what R. had said with the original text. We noted which words she had replaced with others and whether they meant the same as the original or not. If not, I suggested other words she could have used. For example, she said “In the beginning” instead of “At first”, which is great. When she said “the experience has donated  far more to me” instead of “contributed” we discussed the difference between the two words.

Then R.  read (with page turned over, remember?) two long sentences verbatim. She hadn’t replaced a single word or omitted a single one. R. then looked at the text and asked:

” I used the words in the text. I don’t know other words to use here.  Can you tell me?”

Needless to say, I was happy to oblige.

Look up!
Naomi’s Photos

“The Struggling Learners” – Individual Lessons

12th grade students, hard of hearing / Deaf students who use sign language in addition to speech, their speech is not always clear, all have additional learning disabilities, poor language skills in their mother tongue.  These students are practicing for the writing section on their upcoming “Module C” final exam, which for them is a very simple, informal letter, 35-40 words long. It is a difficult task for them.

I gave each student a sample letter we had used in class before.  The students are already familiar with the format – their final exam is in three weeks! Once again I first had the student look at the text, flip over the page and then read aloud. The texts are short! I wrote what each student said and then we compared it to the original. But then (following Fanselow’s suggestion) I added stages.

Each student received the text again with a blank space instead of one word in each sentence. They had to look at that text before flipping over the page and reading aloud complete sentences. Once again I wrote what they said and we compared what I wrote with the page with the blank spaces.

Then I gave the students the same text again with more blank spaces.  They looked at it and repeated the process. When we compared the results to the page not one student asked for the original complete text, they didn’t need it.

There are two blank spaces missing after the word “almost”, which got cut off in the photo.

Finally I gave the students a blank page and had them write a complete letter on their own.

It’s interesting to note that I hadn’t expected any of the students to replace any words, as their vocabulary is poor.

But they did. A little bit.

I’ve told these students repeatedly to choose adjectives they remember so as not to use the dictionary much on this section of the exam – they really don’t have time. But some students are “stubborn” – one student always wants to write that her boss is mean but can never remember the word “mean” and has to look it up. Today she simply replaced the word “mean” with “nice”!

Naomi’s Photos

Notes so far:

*The students and I are really enjoying this.

* In the next post I’ll share my “Read and look up” experiences so far with pair work.

* In Fanselow’s book the teacher isn’t the one doing the writing but for now, at least, that tricky with my students who don’t hear each other well.

* There are more elements to the method in the book.

 

 

 

Saturday’s Book: “Imperium” by Robert Harris

Naomi’s Photos

This book tries to be a combination of a historical account and a modern courtroom thriller.

I enjoyed it up to a point.

I’m interested in history, the Roman Empire is certainly a fascinating subject and Cicero’s unlikely rise to power is truly  a worthy subject. However there’s a great deal of detail designed to make the book sound like an episode of Boston Legal (or some other modern show about a law firm)  and by the last third of the book I found it tiresome. That probably says more about me than about the writer’s skill, I’m less interested in the back room wheeling and dealing   for votes. Shorter would have been better.

Nonetheless, I can see myself reading more of the author’s historical novels. He certainly makes a world long gone seem real.

One Tweak at a Time: Reflecting on Fanselow’s Textbook for EFL Teachers – 1. Skepticisim 101

This is part one 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 – experiment with and reflect on some of the small changes recommended in John Fanselow’s “Small Changes in Teaching, Big Results in Learning”   so as to see how I can keep honing my teaching skills.

Small things add up…
Naomi’s Photos

 

Fanselow certainly knows how to attract a veteran teacher’s attention.  That is no small matter. As an EFL  teacher of Deaf and Hard of Hearing students I don’t actually expect authors to be familiar with my specific classroom setting. I’m used to adapting everything. However, I do need strategies that are applicable for teachers in the national school system with a full work load.

For starters, there’s the title. I never would have chosen a book for my blogging challenge that called for “overhauling your teaching”! “Small Changes”, one “tweak a time” – now we’re talking.

Now forget the title. Take a look at this from the foreword, which Amazon lets you read for free without purchasing the book (No, this is not one of those blogs that has the blogger earning money from clicks on Amazon…):

Look up!
Naomi’s Photos

“My suggestion is for you to be as skeptical about your present practices as the alternatives I urge you to try.”

“…you must not only not believe anything I say but anything anyone else says. Do one of your usual activities, make a small change and compare the effects, over and over and over.”

Oh!

Fanselow is offering me a “win – win” situation.

A small change leads to better results? Win!

The old way gets better results? Now there’s a reason and  a rationale for doing things this way. Win! 

JOY!
Naomi’s Photos

Join me on this blogging challenge as I experiment in class, starting off with the effects of “Read and Look Up” on my students!

You will find that in the next post.

Saturday’s Book: “Alias Grace” by Atwood

Naomi’s Photos

Do you know how sometimes you feel sorry when you reach the end of a book you are reading and ” miss” the characters for a while?

By the time I finished reading Alias Grace I was glad to say goodbye to the characters and to have them out of my life.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe it’s a very good book. Atwood’s writing is, as always, riveting. I though it was incredibly skillful how she took the information available from printed sources about this true murder case / trial and filled in the gaps so convincingly. The characters she depicts seem very much alive, as is the period in which they lived. Sad times, unfair times, in which there was  scant attention given (if at all) to a great number of people’s well-being.  That’s putting it extremely mildly.

I’m glad I read the book but also glad I have finished it and can move on.

Who Were You, Dora? Tiny Glimpses into Life before the Holocaust through Ads

There was a time when the only one wearing yellow who was free was a butterfly…
Naomi’s Photos

” Understand, that I am younger and therefore all the troubles influence on me so strong. I must confess that I am not at all ??? Each little thing oldnesses me I don’t know what it is. Perhaps it will pass when all things will be better”.  (Written by Dora Volovelsky, Brest, March 1939, Perished in Ghetto Brest).

Note: For information regarding the “Who Were You, Dora?” series of posts, click here.

We know for a fact that Dora’s life, so tragically,  did not get better at all and ended very badly indeed. That fact is always there when we look back into the past.

Since there were no “better days” in her future, I am drawn to learning about what “better days” were like in earlier times, when Dora was a child. She was born in 1920. The Jewish communities in Pre-War Poland were very literate and had many newspapers. Three years of issues of the local newspaper for the community in Brest,  (where Dora grew up)    Brisker Wochenblat  בריסקער וואכענבלאט   are available online on the Historical Jewish Press Website. Issues from 1928 -1930.

The ads are what attracts one’s eye immediately, especially as they are far easier to understand (I can’t read the articles in Yiddish). There were a variety of ads,  such as advertisements for banks (there was more than one), doctors, clothing and shops that sold shoes. There were ads for plays and performances.  However, a few random ones caught my eye in particular while  virtually flipping through the advertisements in these newspapers. Here are some examples

Driving lessons, easy and quick
June 29, 1928

I wonder who was able to afford such lessons in 1928 and who even had a car.

Carmel Wines, Kosher for Passover, imported from Eretz Yisrael, wine and cognac. They claim it’s tasty! Make sure to get only the original brand with the two “scouts” with the grapes!
March 23, 1928

I suppose it makes sense when you think about it but frankly, I admit that it had never occurred to me that wine was being imported in that direction in the 1920s…

Dancing!
Feb 3 1928

This one is in Polish but the names of the dances are quite clear.  I had to check what “Black-Bottom” dancing was, I had never heard of it. Once again I wonder who attended and who may have studied the ad with interest but would never be permitted to set foot in such a gathering for religious reasons.

Music Lessons – Learn to play an instrument
July 20, 1928

This must have been more common. Not only do we have “The Fiddler on the Roof” image, my own grandmother immigrated from Brest with a fiddle.

Herba soap will give your skin a great color!
July 13 1928

According to family lore, beauty cream was really concoctions of several vegetables but perhaps a nice soap was something more readily available.

Entrance exams to the Jewish Tarbut School

June 7 1929

Dora may have studied here but I’m not sure. In any case, seeing that they had entrance exams to the Jewish school makes me wonder where those who didn’t pass the entrance exams studied. Or perhaps they didn’t study at all? This seems to be high school, not elementary. Many didn’t go to high school in those days.

The bus to Warsaw
Bus to Warsaw
  

This ad particularly interested me for two reasons. First of all, it may  have been the route to Warsaw that some or all of Dora’s half siblings took when they left home to immigrate.  In addition, the ad says the bus passes through Siedlce. That is where the lovely Beata Gulati resides, the one who helped turn my journey to Belarus into a reality and the point of departure for our trip. Perhaps I retraced a bit of my grandmother’s journey without knowing it?

 

 

In memory of Dora and Nochim Volovelsky, who perished in Ghetto Brest.

 

 

Saturday’s Book: “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah

Now you see a bench but…
Naomi’s Photos
… does it still look like a bench now? Naomi’s Photos

This is audiobook number two of the three books I am treating myself to and it was an EXCELLENT choice as a book AND as an audiobook.

Trevor Noah is a brilliant narrator of his own tale. Trevor knows how to employ different accents and make his characters sound differently. This is the kind of book you want as an audiobook.

Noah combines his memoirs of growing up as a mixed race child in South Africa before and after Apartheid ended (hence “born a crime” – white father, black mother, it was illegal!) with historical information and background. From his unique perspective as a child who moved in different circles (he spoke 4 languages!) but didn’t seem to belong anywhere, he takes care to point out how different groups of people viewed the same events, situations or concepts.

South Africa’s borders are not Noah’s borders. He connects his personal childhood experience to a much bigger picture of our world in general. As a language teacher I would love to teach in class the chapter in the book where Noah presents the advantages of knowing four languages. Knowing languages is really a superpower – it lets you connect to people but also allows you to perceive others from a totally different perspective. This knowledge helped Noah deal with complicated situations – students could relate to that.

Hmm… I guess there is a disadvantage of having heard this book as an audiobook. I can’t quickly flip through the book and tell you which chapter it was that I’m talking about. You will just have to read the book yourself!

Teachers Grading Finals, Slog Through Bloom’s Taxonomy Too!

Note: This post uses the  revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy as explained in “The Second Principle by Leslie Owen Wilson”. 

It CAN be done!
Naomi’s Photos

Students aren’t the only ones to whom Bloom’s Taxonomy (the revised version) relates to.

Just look at teachers grading finals, during exam “high season”, and see for yourself.

Remembering

Recognizing or recalling knowledge from memory.”

Remembering the ghosts of previous piles of exam notebooks during “exam high season”. Recalling that you did vanquish them and even did so on schedule (thanks to the fun activities you didn’t partake in…).  Remembering not to think of the ghosts of future exam piles…

Really?!
Naomi’s Photos
Understanding

“Constructing meaning from different types of functions be they written or graphic messages…”

Constructing meaning from graphic messages otherwise known as students’ handwriting. Trying to decipher  letters written in an exam notebook which form words you didn’t recognize at first because they had no business being used in the sentence they were placed in.  Understanding that grinding your teeth in frustration isn’t worth it because your dental bills may exceed your salary.

Applying

“Applying relates to or refers to situations where learned material is used…”

From many years of experience you have learned that  “simple” exams  (testing a lower level of English, such as  Module A) can be checked efficiently one at a time, on your lap, in a waiting room, a  crowded teacher’s room or anywhere else. Exams at higher levels are more efficiently checked on a table where they can be slightly spread out and checked in batches, per question.

Time… Naomi’s Photos

 

Analyzing

Breaking materials or concepts into parts, determining how the parts relate to one another…”

Parts, huh? Identifying “parts” is the easy “part” . But how does a teacher fit them all in? You know, time wise?

Grading exams, recording grades digitally, preparing review material and repeat exams, doing housework, dealing with the crowded pre-holiday shopping scene, familial obligations, meeting with friends and relatives you don’t see often enough, attending gym classes, taking pictures, blogging and sleeping

One leg on either side…
Naomi’s Photos

 

Evaluating

Making judgments based on criteria…”

Judging whether it is worth the extra weight and inconvenience of carrying the exam notebooks with you wherever you go so you may take advantage of every single spare moment to keep on grading. Evaluating the advantage of the former strategy vs the unthinkable  danger of forgetting the exam notebooks somewhere…

Creating

“…reorganizing elements into a new pattern or structure…”

Now that you think you have finished grading the exams you must create another version of  every test for the “retake day” . Don’t worry, management cares enough to worry about you being  in danger of suffering from “hubris” due to having prepared an extra version while creating the original exams. Therefore, an extra special exam date will be added at the last-minute so don’t even dream of saying goodbye to the photo copying machine. There’s creating to be done…

HANG IN THERE FELLOW TEACHERS! THANKFULLY THERE’S SO MUCH MORE TO TEACHING THAN GRADING EXAMS!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday’s Book: “The Last Days of Night” by Moore

Illuminate!
Naomi’s Photos

So how would you like to “meet” Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla, Alexander Graham Bell and J. P. Morgan? Or “see” the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as it is  being built and “visit” the new Metropolitan Opera (it seems the old Opera House wouldn’t accept the likes of Rockefeller and Vanderbilt so they needed a new one…)?

I did!

Well, not exactly. But it feels that way!

I treated myself to three audiobooks, and this historical legal thriller is the first. The excellent narrator was able to make each character sound a little differently, which added another dimension to the book. The book is rich with details and background information and in many parts its quite easy to imagine being a fly in the room, with a front row seat to the legal battle.

Naomi’s Photos

Make no mistake – while there’s a lot of fascinating history here, this is  a legal thriller in the tradition of any of those courtroom dramas series you happen to favor on T.V. It turns out there was a huge dramatic battle over who and how the USA would become a country with electricity. The lawyer (whose eyes you are peering through as the story unfolds)  is young and dashing and of course there’s a love story too…

It’s certainly a good choice for an audiobook as the drama makes listening to it rather energizing – I got a great deal of cooking done while listening!

I understand there is going to be a movie version soon. It doesn’t surprise me in the least. I’m glad I read it before the movie comes out!

 

 

Saturday’s Book: “The Rights of Desire” by Brink

Unexpected!
Naomi’s Photos

And to think I almost didn’t read this book!

I picked it up at the “readers-give-readers” corner at our library but it remained on the bookshelf while I read other books first. Not only had I  never heard of the South African author,  the title and the cover weren’t particularly appealing. It clearly wasn’t what once was called a “10 cent paperback” but the book didn’t appear particularly appealing either.

As they say, appearances are misleading. I’m now ready to read any book by Brink I can find, and I understand he wrote several.

The style of writing had me hooked by page one. The main character is a former librarian and the book is full of references to other books, in addition to moving paragraphs about the degree in which books can make a difference in a person’s life.

The setting is in post-apartheid Cape Town, South Africa, though the story weaves past, distant past (there’s a ghost!) and present. All turbulent times in different ways.

And yes, there is desire, lust, love or lack of it, from different perspectives. Don’t expect any “saccharine coating” here, but there is tenderness along with reality.

A wholly unpredictable book.

I’m so glad I read it.

Students Writing for an Authentic Audience affords A Peek into their Hearts

Behind the mask…
(Naomi’s Photos)

Spelling, grammar, vocabulary – it is well known that these skills improve the more students practice their writing. Naturally, when students have an authentic audience to write for, they are markedly more motivated to pay attention to their writing.

In addition to all that goodness,  I discover time and again that such a kind of writing leads to many other meaningful things as well. Meaningful for both the students and the teacher.

I just want to share the joy!

My lovely co-teacher just gave birth and I opened a Padlet virtual wall so that the students could write congratulatory notes for her. My teenage students like  Padlet’s cool backgrounds and the ease in which they can edit and add pictures.  So it’s always a good choice for me. The students were eager to wish their teacher well – no prodding was necessary.  It’s good for a teacher to be reminded that the students care!

  • MOTIVATION – Got that covered! CHECK!
Handmade for you!
Naomi’s Photos

One student  wished the teacher “good health and happy” so we talked about happy vs happiness. Another expressed hope that the teacher would come back next year with ” new powers”, which is a direct translation from Hebrew. So we discussed leaving “the powers” for the superheros and went with “lots of energy”. In short, the kind of discussions an English teacher expects to have, you know what I mean. Some mistakes I did not correct or point out – going  over each note with a fine tooth comb would have been counter productive.

  • VOCABULARY – SYNTAX – GRAMMAR     –  CHECK!

One student started to write his note saying that he hopes the teacher feels better again soon and will come back to class as soon as possible… We had a talk about the fact that  having a baby is not like being sick and in any case the teacher won’t come back soon, she’s on maternity leave. I had a similar talk with a girl in a different group who wanted to write a note but claimed she only knows what to say when someone is ill. We mentioned useful phrases for this situation in L1 as well. Other students did not have this problem and even asked for pictures!

  • PROMOTING SOCIAL SKILLS – CHECK!
Parents?
Naomi’s Photos

One student wrote a particularly long note. Half of the note was devoted to telling the teacher to make sure her husband takes care of the baby too. A sample sentence: you gave the new baby for the world and father need to do something also.hahah :)”. It was a strong reminder of the student’s own “thorny” fatherhood woes  and how it must be an issue close to his heart. I did not point out any errors at all on this student’s note…

INSIGHTS INTO WHAT’S ON STUDENTS’ MINDS – CHECK!

I saw one student having Google translate an entire paragraph typed in L1. I was about to protest strongly  (they are not supposed to do that in class!) until I saw what she had written. The kind of “flowery blessing”, which was obviously something she had encountered at home, was important to her. “This is the right thing to  say when someone has a baby”, she said with a big smile. The student would not have been able to produce sentences such as the following on her own: “That the sun on you will always shine. And your family will grow and blossom. That they sow endless love”. So I just smiled back and didn’t say a word.

LEARNING ABOUT  STUDENTS’ CULTURAL BACKGROUND – CHECK!

In short, wishing someone else well, in written English, did us all good!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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