At Last! An Authentic Conversation with Students about Making Mistakes

Sports Day! Naomi’s Photos

There aren’t many authentic opportunities for a teacher in the school system to truly model seeing mistakes as an opportunity for growth and improvement.

You know what I’m talking about.

We teachers are always being told that we should teach the students to try, fail, and learn from their mistakes.

To view mistakes as a learning opportunity.

Important, right?

A truly important message for my Deaf and hard-of-hearing high school students learning English as a foreign language.

Yet we are expected to get this message across in a school system geared toward good grades and “getting it right”. A system in which the students trust me to know the material I am teaching them well.

So how do I show my students, at least occasionally, in an authentic way,  how I make mistakes, try to understand what went wrong, and try again? And again and again?

EUREKA!

Failing doesn’t mean falling… (Naomi’s photos)

Fast forward to the day after our recent annual national sports tournament day, for schools with programs for Deaf and hard-of-hearing students from around the country.

We’re back at school.

One 10th grade student catches me coming down the stairs on the way to the classroom:

(No hello first…)

” Why didn’t you take a picture of me when I was ‘doing’ the penalty kick?!! The teacher of the other school took pictures of her students! I saw you with the camera by the football field!”

The second 10th-grade student said “Hello” and “Good Morning”. And then (more politely)  wanted to know why I only sent her one photograph of herself at the netball game,  (standing still!) when she clearly saw me taking lots of pictures of her during the first part of the game.

You need to learn to use the keys to unlock the right doors… Naomi’s Photos

Both students got the same candid reply:

“You know, I’m trying to learn artistic photography with a real camera (as opposed to a cell phone camera) and it was really hard for me to take pictures when you were moving so fast. Most of my photos were awful. You still have two more years at the high school. I hope you participate in lots of school events and I’ll keep trying. Maybe in the future, I’ll succeed in taking a good picture of you”.

Their reactions?

The “net-ball girl” – “Okay, I’ll be competing again. You keep practicing and try again. I got one picture, that’s a good start”.

The “soccer boy” – “Well, I’m not blaming you but if it’s hard you should practice. Maybe next year you’ll do better”.

Maybe I will take better photos of sports events and other school activities next year.

Maybe I won’t.

Either way, bringing my camera will work out well!


Additional notes:

  • I ALSO told the “soccer boy” that I got hit by a soccer ball kicked directly at my leg while standing by the field, which didn’t encourage me to stick around. He didn’t really find that detail relevant… A true photographer doesn’t let small discomforts get in his/her way, right?
  • One of the few “action photographs” I do have from the girls’ netball game is actually a funny one of a boy who barged in during the warmup time and caught the ball! You aren’t going to see it though – I don’t post pictures of my students anywhere online.

“Grammar Pens” Caught in a Teacher’s Self “Ping Pong”

What’s the next move? Naomi’s Photos

Ping: “Oh Pong, listen to this! I’ve got a new idea for the next school year. Let’s use…”

Pong (interrupting):  Now hold it right there. Did you just say a new idea? As in a NEW IDEA? Weren’t you the teacher complaining about feeling overwhelmed and tired?

Ping: That was me…

Pong: So convince me why I should even LISTEN to this new idea when you can stick with what you already have. Go ahead, let’s see what you can come up with.

Ping: It doesn’t require much teacher preparation time.

Pong: Not bad. Keep going.

Ping: Making small changes, even “tweaks” to the routine always boosts my work-related motivation level, and I really need some of that after this school year.

And the students might learn something…

Pong: Okay, okay, good points. Let’s hear the new idea.

Hear my words…
Naomi’s Photos

Ping: You see, we’ll have “Grammar Pens” to… (Pong interrupts)

Pong: Wait a minute. “Grammar Pencils” are “A THING”. You can Google them and find sites to purchase them from. Those pencils have confusing grammar points on them, such as “to, two & too” or “there, their and they’re”. Are you already planning out-of-pocket purchases for the English Room?!!

PIng: No, no, calm down. Absolutely not. This idea was just inspired by those products. Our students prefer pens and purchasing things like pencils makes no sense as they aren’t made for long-term use.

Pong: Whew… (sighs in relief).

Ping: You know those students who never bring a pen to class? I once read that in such cases a student should leave something of his/hers until the pen is returned at the end of the lesson. Such a method would be problematic to implement with some of our Deaf and hard-of-hearing adolescents (I don’t what anyone taking off their belt, for example!). However,  I thought that perhaps I could still turn the situation into an educational experience.

Is that Gandalf?
Naomi’s Photos

So, before I let them use one of the English Room pens, they will have to tell me what the difference is between your/you’re,   its/it’s,  have/has, etc. I can add confusing vocab items such as long/no longer too.

Pong: What happens if they don’t know the answer?

Ping: We do what we always do, unrelated to this particular idea – I tell the student, and then the student has to tell it back to me.

Pong: How are you going to emboss/ engrave the target words onto the pens?

Ping:  I’M NOT!  Even if I knew how to do such a thing I wouldn’t.  It’s the same principle that holds true for playing board games in EFL lessons – you don’t want the target item to appear in a fixed place. On a board game, if an instruction or a vocabulary item is written in the top left corner, the students quickly memorize what they need to say or do when they reach that corner, and stop reading the words written.  If the words are permanently on “the red pen”, or the “large pen”, the students will just use such cues to retrieve an answer without focusing on the words written.  The cards can’t have numbers on them, for the same reason.

I’ll place a little box with the target words on cards beside our pen holder.  Easy to shuffle cards or pull out ones that are below/above a certain student’s level.  You get a lot more repetition with cards, compared to “fixed words”.

Take a card, respond, get a pen – easy peasy!

I can use it with the highlighters/colored markers too!

Ha ha ha!
Naomi’s Photos

Pong: If you’ve got all that worked out, why did you call me in? I usually only show up when there’s a problem.

Ping: (Sighs in regret)* There is a problem.

Actually, there are two problems.

Pong: Start with the easier problem.

Ping: It’s a learning center, so not all the students are doing the same thing. If a student began the lesson working on the computer, and then went on to something else, he/she may ask for a pen in the middle of the lesson, not at the beginning…

At the moment they just go over to the table and take one without my involvement.

You must look at it all…
Naomi’s Photos

Pong: Hmmm… What’s the other problem?

Ping: What about the students who ALWAYS bring their pens, pencils, erasers, dictionaries, markers, and anything else they might possibly need for the lesson?

They need to practice these items too…

Pong: Why don’t you ask your readers for advice? Maybe they can offer suggestions.

Do you have any suggestions for me to consider?

____________________________________________

  • Can you guess which poem I have been teaching recently, yet again?

 

 

A Book for Our Times – “The Bone Fire” by Gyorgy Dragoman

I had already read more than half of THE BONE FIRE when the war in Ukraine began.

It was certainly a timely book to read.

The story doesn’t take place during a war. It’s a book about the generation/two generations after a war. About generations who not only have grown up dealing with the war scars of their parents/grandparents but have spent their lives behind the iron curtain.

The story takes place in an unnamed Eastern European country that has very recently been freed from life behind “the iron curtain”.  Those who know claim that it’s Romania.

The book is a combination of a coming of age story of 13-year-old Emma, recently orphaned, living with her mystical grandmother. While dealing with typical teenage angst (first menstruation, clothes, first crush, etc…) she must also deal with the harshness of an educational system scarred by the unforgiving brutality of a communist regime and the ghosts of war haunting her grandmother.

Yet her grandmother has special gifts and wisdom to pass down to Emma, gifts that become her own.

Learning to spread your wings… Naomi’s Photos

Beyond everything, the writing is unique and absolutely captivating.  Except for one part in the middle when I felt the author got too bogged down in details of teenage angst for too long, I was very taken by how the story is told and the manner in which the plot progresses. I can’t analyze the storytelling technique the way the New York Times Reviewer does (a review I read after reading the book!) but I don’t feel I need to. What matters is how it made me feel.

Fortunately, my son purchased the book following the New York Times review and suggested I read it as well.

I’m so glad I did.

I only wish that war in an area that had experienced life behind the iron curtain wasn’t taking place as I was reading the book…

Why Teachers Keep Going – A Visual Comment

You work hard every day, sometimes you need to let your imagination run wild… Naomi’s Photos

Before the pandemic, I rarely read blog posts that weren’t written by teachers of English as a foreign language.

As far as I was concerned, “enhancing my teaching skills” meant reflecting on EFL teaching practices, learning new techniques, and getting acquainted with additional teaching resources.

However,  I find the ongoing experience of teaching alongside a pandemic quite stressful. As the months go by of yet another school year rocked by instability I find myself drawn to posts that fulfill a different need.

These are blog posts that support a teacher’s well-being and reflect on what it means to be a teacher.

When I see a new post from George Couros’s blog land in my inbox, I keep it unread until I can sit and give it my full attention. His posts are often about the conversations I’m not having with anyone but wish I did.

The post “Why People Keep Going” is one that needs to be more than just read. I need to personalize it, think about it, make my own version.

Retirement isn’t on the horizon yet (despite teaching for 35 years) so reminding myself of why I go to class each morning is necessary.

In addition, this blog isn’t called “Visualising Ideas” for no reason – I’m itching to liven up some of those grey visuals!

*** George Couros presented sixteen points in his post. I am reflecting on seven of them, and adding one of my own.

  1. Seeing potential
Growth happens even in challenging conditions

Some of my students are making clear progress, despite the difficult conditions.  Therefore, even those students with the sketchiest attendance must still be getting something out of the lessons they do attend – I just haven’t seen the “shoots” burst out yet. I must hold on to that thought.

2. Future  Focused
Take one step at a time
Naomi’s Photos

This is a point which I’m struggling with right at this moment. Having a clearly defined plan of what is expected of them and knowing “where we are going” this semester absolutely does mean something to my 11th and 12th graders. It matters. However, with my 10th graders it’s an uphill battle. It took an incredible amount of energy in the first semester ” to get the information to sink in”, including posting the plan in class, sending them individual messages talking to them and then the homeroom teacher…

Now a new semester has begun and I balk at having to repeat the process. Some students have already made it clear that I must – I should be preparing individual notes for the students instead of writing this blog post…

Yet writing this post reminds me that venting is good, tomorrow is a new day. Right?

3. Recognize Other People’s Struggles
Off balance…
Naomi’s Photos

Bearing this in mind helps. A lot.

4. Work as a Team
We’ve got you covered! Naomi’s Photos

The pandemic has placed a lot of constraints on meeting team members. Not only have many teachers have been out due to the pandemic, I basically stay away as much as possible from the staff room, eating my lunch in the English Room or outside. However, I have found that making an effort to seek out staff members during my free periods is truly one of things that keeps me going.

5. Manage Time
Tea Time! Several Times a Day!

Actually, LETTING GO of “managing time” is what is keeping me going. I am getting dramatically less done (perhaps you have noticed that I haven’t posted about my books recently…) but I find I need more frequent breaks. Lot’s of tea. And time to play “Wordle”!

6. Find solutions
You can’t stop me, I’ll just go around… Naomi’s Photos

Ha! Until I sat down to write this post I hadn’t really considered that I have “my “Special Ed Teacher” skills here on my side! A student needs to take her test at a different hour from everyone else, while another needs a retest, yet another has lost his notebook, doesn’t have a pen, can’t remember his password to the class site – that’s nothing new for me. Pandemic or not – that’s a reality I can deal with!

7. Confident
“Is that you, cousin Bob”? (Dino looking at the cover of “Dinotopia, by Gurney) Naomi’s Photos

Well, Mr. Couros (may I call you George?), I wouldn’t need this lengthy reflection on your post if the experience of meeting certain students 3 hours a month (instead of 4 hours a week!) hadn’t rocked my confidence in my ability to teach them more than they knew before they met me.

It’s a good thing I’m a blogger. Facing fears, in writing, is a step forward.

I do feel better.

                         The following point is not in the original post:

8. Move out of your comfort zone within the safety net of a beloved hobby

Part of taking a good look at myself as a teacher, reflecting what I can and what I must strive to do better, is , well, actually looking at myself.

So, this year’s challenge in my journey to develop my skills as a photographer includes placing myself in front of the lense.

Lessons in confidence, 101.

Self-portrait, holding the book “Dintotopia” by James Gurney

 

What keeps YOU going?

 

 

Going Where the Kids are – Vocabulary Lists & Computer Games

All comics on this page created using MakeBeliefsComix

 

 

 

 

See, Mom?

Here is the list of words for middle school that the English teacher told all the parents about when you came to school.  The teacher gave us the list too.

The teacher  gave us a challenge:

Find as many words from the list as we can, in our computer games.

We add the words to a shared online document – see how many words we found today?

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1fx5OGLYvR_oTRD-C06GinG_VRSRqWY22PCK3AvmLt3A/edit?usp=sharing

Now I’m looking for screenshots of words in the games.

Look! I found a few already.

 

appearance, creator /create (NBA)
team, continue, available  (and objectives from BAND 3)  FIFA

Now, Mom, I have to call some friends. They have different computer games than I do.

I want to hear what they found.


  • The list linked to in the post is a “work in progress” and will be updated! Note my comments in red  – the difference between “fresh” and “refresh” leads to a discussion of the prefix “re”!
  • If you and your students find additional words or create a list of your own, please link to it in the comment section, so we may all use it!
  • I’d love to hear about discussions you had or activities you prepared based on the connection between computer games and the “Band Lists”. Tell us about them in the comment section!

 

EFL Students, Your Exams are Coming Up – Time to Head into Outer Space!

Space, the final frontier…
Naomi’s Photos

This post is a direct continuation of my previous post:

BUT SERIOUSLY, EFL STUDENTS, MEETING A COW WILL HELP YOU PREPARE FOR YOUR EXAMS!

In that post, I explained how the gaps in struggling students’ general knowledge about the world hinder their performance on reading comprehension tasks regularly.

“The gaps in general knowledge are most striking when it comes to texts related to environmental issues.  There are many such texts in our practice books and exams.”

Well, the amount of trash/debris cluttering up outer space is also an environmental issue. It’s time to push the boundaries of the students’ world knowledge and help them visualize the topic.

Wild animals in the city… It’s a JACKAL
Naomi’s Photos

But first, a quick detour.

I began this “general knowledge project” with the video about cows and the environment (see aforementioned previous post) adding captions on a website called veed.io.

It really wasn’t particularly challenging to add captions using this website!

Video number two, on the topic of wild animals moving into the city also worked when using the site, despite its length. The site allows you to “chop off” a bit! My students were interested in the topic despite the fact the video is longer than the one about the cows. A few of them even had stories of animal sightings to share. I shared a picture of a jackal that I had taken, too.

Here is the original video. I’ve added a link to the captioned version (Hebrew captioning) below.

This is a link to a slightly shortened version of the video with Hebrew captioning. The captions have been edited for length and clarity.

https://www.veed.io/view/38f0c2fe-8513-4db2-9864-e879c8cfd9a0

Now, back to outer space…

The same captioning site did not work well with the video below. The helpful captioning in English on the original  (which I think is good for learners, regardless of the status of their hearing) is large and appears in different places on different scenes.

More importantly…

The topic of space debris and the dangers it poses when hurtling around outer space is much more complex and includes more terminology than the previous videos did.

It’s much easier to take in the clear visuals and read the text properly when you stop the video frequently.

But who wants to stop a video frequently on their own initiative? Especially if viewed in class?

Fortunately, I have a  wonderful 10th-grade computer whiz volunteering in my classroom – Amitay Merhav. Amitay translated the captions and spent time trying different captioning options to find one that works for my students.

For this video, we decided to use Edpuzzle, which I used to use intensively, but haven’t done so in recent years.

In this viewing mode, you see the English captions first, then the Hebrew version, and then the video stops completely until you hit the  “continue” button.

In short, the viewer controls the pace.

Captions in any language can be added this way.

Or questions about the text.

When the video stops there is time to think.

Here is the original video. The link to the version with Hebrew captioning, the one with the pauses, appears below.

Here’s the link to the captioned video:

https://edpuzzle.com/media/61bf18b89b9e1c4304b36977

If you have any suitable videos to suggest, please do so in the comments. It would be great to have a video library of visuals related to common topics in course books and on exams!

Time for a Book: “The Library Book” by Orlean

Celebrating books / Naomi’s Photos

This is a very engaging non-fiction book about A specific library and about libraries in general. While highlighting the role of libraries in our lives, Orlean takes us through different time periods, to different countries and cultures, to times of war, of book censorship, to the surprising connection between billionaires and the advent of women librarians and to beloved writers whom we never would have heard about if they hadn’t had a library in their lives.

And so much more…

The book’s framework is investigative journalism, researching the unsolved mystery of who set fire to the Los Angeles Central Library in 1986, and why. Not only were more than 400,000 precious books lost, it became a mythic fire in its proportions and unique characteristics, the kind most firefighters, thankfully, have never seen. How does a library recover from such a devastating event?

Naomi’s Photos

The answer to the question of why most of us have never heard of this incredible fire is interesting too!

The author also discusses the role of public libraries in homeless people’s lives. This was new to me as it is not something I have encountered here.

The book could have been a bit shorter, but otherwise, I really enjoyed it!

Time for a Book: “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead” Olga  Tokarczuk 

Natural harmony… Naomi’s Photos

I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to read this book as the title is rather off-putting. However, after seeing both my husband and our younger son get excited about the book, I decided to give it a try.

I’m so glad I did.

What a unique book!

The style of writing captured my interest right away – I was hooked within minutes.

The book is written so cleverly that the story is, at the same time, all of these things and more:

  •  a vivid personal account of thoughts and events as seen through the eyes of an unusual woman who lives on a fairly secluded mountain top.
  • a murder mystery full of action and suspense.
  • a relentless cry to respect and protect animals and nature
  • keen observations on human nature, society, and bureaucracy.
  • humorous moments
  • a homage to William Blake
  • a fascinating window into the joys and complexities of translating poetry
  • a delightful use of language.

There, I haven’t spoiled anything for you – give the book a chance!

I’m looking forward to reading other books by Tokarczuk.

“But Teacher, I Knew the Answer, I just DIDN’T NOTICE that…”

Look at me! Naomi’s Photos

“Hey, look at me. I completed the test really quickly!  See? I’m leaving the exam room and you all are still at it. So who’s the smartest student in this class? ”

_________________ (add relevant students’ names. You know                          who these students are!)

So what are these “speedy students” missing?

Lots of things.

But for the moment I’m only trying to tackle one specific point that causes students to wildly jump to conclusions – line numbers.

Lines – CAUTION!   Naomi’s Photos

True, if a question is phrased like this, students know where the answer will be found.

  1. What does the writer explain in paragraph I?

However, what happens when the line numbers only denote the source of the quoted phrase, while the answer is located elsewhere?

  1. What does the word “this” ( line 6) refer to?

We know what happens.

All those who work quickly without paying attention to every word of the question, lose a lot of points…

Here’s a short interactive, self-check worksheet, intended to highlight the different ways locations in a text are referred to on reading comprehension questions.

Where Would I Find the Answer in the Text?

https://www.liveworksheets.com/qa2708231ys

Hopefully, the students will get the point and not lose points…

Giving Robert Frost Digital Advice on Choosing Roads

Advice needed!

Note: Inspired by one of my favorite children’s books, “Fortunately” by Remy Charlip.

FORTUNATELY, we’re back to teaching at school every day – no distance learning!

UNFORTUNATELY, due to Covid, the students have missed out on many school activities, both academic and social /emotional ones, and have a lot of catching up to do this year.

FORTUNATELY, schools are intensively trying to make up for lost time – students are going on school trips and outings, experiencing workshops on topics ranging from health and safety to inclusion, and even doing volunteer work.  Wonderful things! These experiences are certainly more meaningful for high school students than the additional reason their English lessons are canceled – taking exams in other subjects…

UNFORTUNATELY,  I have discovered that Merriam-Webster’s definition of the musical term “staccato” is now applicable to my lessons:

“1acut short or apart in performingDISCONNECTED staccato notes”

By the time we discussed the last stanza of  “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost during one of the lessons that did take place as scheduled,  my Deaf and hard-of-hearing students needed a review of what we talked about at the beginning of the poem…

I needed an activity reviewing basic understanding of the poem.

Response cards

Suggestion cards

FORTUNATELY,  I had a review ready, one which I created in 2019. In this review, the speaker solicits advice from a friend about his dilemma and then explains why he rejects the advice.   You can find that activity here:

DARING TO DIVE INTO THE DILEMMA – “THE ROAD NOT TAKEN”

UNFORTUNATELY, The review activity is written on flashcards, housed in a box in the classroom. This means that the activity can only be done in class…

There is so much ground to cover when the students are in class…

FORTUNATELY,  I just created a digital version of the activity. I now have the speaker, stuck at the point where the two roads diverge, using his cell phone to solicit advice from friends.  I posted it online using LiveWorkseets, a format which is convenient for the students to access and use, even on their phones, and is easy for me to work with.

I did not make the worksheet a self-check one. I wanted the students to type in the missing sentences, so at first glance, it would have made sense just to type in the answers and let them check themselves.   However, my Deaf and hard-of-hearing students often type with spelling mistakes, and then LiveWorksheet would mark a correct answer as WRONG.  I simply ask the students to send me pictures of the completed worksheets.

UNFORTUNATELY,  the students ended up doing the review activity in class after all…

I may have completely wasted my time but perhaps I’ll be glad to have a digital copy in the future.

I’m sighing now but I shall not be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence – I will have forgotten about it by then!

Here is the link:

https://www.liveworksheets.com/et2648217sy


 

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