Advice for a First Time Moderator, PLEASE!

Photo by Roni Epstein

My debut as  a moderator at the first OUTPUT Session ever to be held at an ETAI (English Teacher’s Association in Israel) Conference will be next Tuesday.

I’ve advertised the session (on our Israeli online list) as one where we  will tap into the vast experience of our ETAI members and join forces to formulate an agreed list of ONLY seven “Dos” and “Dont’s” on the subject which is currently being chosen by poll.

I’ve also advertised the fact that I’m intending to have a “Critical Brainstorming” discussion rather than a regular “Brainstorming” one: Brainstorming means writing EVERY single idea / suggestion on the board. However here, we can only have a limited number of recommendations. Teachers should be prepared to defend or POLITELY disagree as we HASH OUT our final list. Since the goal is to produce a concise list that will be useful and can be widely posted, brevity and clarity are vital.

The topic leading the poll by far is “staying sane and motivated over the years”. Fifty four people have taken the poll but I have no idea (at all!) how many intend to attend the session.

I have a colleague who will come and help me with keeping written track of the suggestions.

I will bring in extra markers for the whiteboard.

I will bring a few suggestions of my own.

I will have the runner-up topic ready as well in case it goes really quickly (“dealing with technology”).

I will smile a lot.

What else? That’s as far as I’ve got.

Advice most welcome!


When a QUIZ Makes You Feel NOTICED

I’m preparing my third lesson for my class of 38 adult students.

Photo by Omri Epstein

They had their first quiz in the previous lesson. As the topic of their online exercises (this course has an e-learning component) and our first lesson dealt with the information to be gained by reading the title, names, numbers, etc., the quiz had a short and very simple text with facts about the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada. The questions were designed to have short answers too.

I’ve checked all the quizzes.

I know these students were placed in this group (weakest) based on an exam they took, which I hadn’t checked. I don’t check the exercises they do online either. While some students participate actively during the lessons and make themselves noticed right away others do not. Some place themselves at the far end of those long rows of desks that cannot be moved. I can’t even look over their shoulders to see what they’ve written when they sit there.

Now I know which are the ones (only three!) that tried to answer a rhetorical question inside the text itself as if it were another question. Now I know how many students didn’t notice the only question that had two parts. Now I can show the students why we’re going to be spending some time on grammar this lesson – not only is on the syllabus but it is related to mistakes they made.

I still can’t conjure the face behind each of the 38 names. But now that the list of names is connected to things they have written (or the manner in which they wrote them, how they organized their answers on the page) I’m hoping to have made great strides in remembering their names by the end of lesson three.

This lesson’s quiz is just a vocabulary quiz – much shorter. It will be easier to check too, not much to comment on. But that’s fine, its already the second quiz.

At the end of the first lesson a few students came to me to ask if I check their online exercises too. I think the question was based on their desire to know who is “noticing” the effort they are making. They have exercises, a reader to read and flashcards on Quizlet to practice.

It seems that even a quiz with a grade provides “a human touch”, saying “I see you”!

Saturday’s Book: A TRIPLE Feature!

I certainly never imagined that during these busy days of graduation events I would end up with a “triple feature” for Saturday’s post.

It started off last Saturday, when I began the book “Reading Lolita in Teheran” by Azar Nafisi. The title and the topic sounded really attractive to me; women finding comfort in literature under a repressive regime. I was really looking forward to reading this book!

However, I was very disapponted. I do not like the way the book was written and could get no farther than the first few chapters. The topic seems so full of potential but I could not read this book.

So I moved on to “That Old Cape Magic” by Richard Russo. Much better! Although not as WOW of a book as “Empire Falls” was, I enjoy his tale involving academic types, screenwriters with the familiar backdrop of New England (cape refers to Cape Cod, of course!). Russo really writes well! Still reading this one.

Meanwhile, I finally resolved the big “audio book debate” and am happily listening to “The Blind Assasin” by Margaret Atwood. I guess all is well that ends well after all! More about THAT book next week. The laundry really piled up with all these events I’ve been going to lately so it seems there is a lot of listening in store for me this week!

Saturday’s Book and BIG Debate

The book is the third installment of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency : Morality For Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith.

The author certainly created a magnet there for me and I’m quite sure I will read all the books in the series. But I’ve definitely learned my lesson about not reading them one after the other! Its like the term “comfort food” except for books – easy read, optimistic ending, etc. I finished it in 4 days (and that’s ony because I was busy!).

I’m treating myself to an audio book. Trouble is, now that I have all this choice, I can’t choose one!

At first I thought I would choose a non-fiction book which is harder for me to get at the library in English. Perhaps by Dan Ariely (have been talking to Vicky Loras about it) or a book by Bill Bryson. However, these are the kinds of books I often want to discuss with Roni and the boys and I can’t relate to anything when its an audiobook.

So, fiction it is. There are SO many titles, after 15 pages of browsing I got confused. There are, naturally, a lot of books which aren’t “my style”. So, I tried to look for authors I enjoyed in the past and try another book they had written.

The reviews for some of the books described the ones I HAD read by those authors as their best ones.

Some audio-books cost 45 dollars. I most certainly can afford it but it doens’t make sense to me to spend a sum that high. I could get 4 books for that price!

Some audio-books won’t download for Israel. The odd thing about copyright. I’m paying, so what do they care where I live?

But basically there is this feeling that is so different from borrowing a book from the library – I can’t just say oops, don’t really like this one after all. Lets pop over to the library and get a different one…

It’s been 3 days and still haven’t picked one yet!


“What ARE you talking about?” VS. Lizzie Pinnard’s Post

June marks a year and a half that I have been fascinated by the “World of English Teachers on Blogosphere”. It IS just like having a world of professional development at your fingertips. At least that is the way I feel. But is this “world” as inviting to all English teachers (who are comfortable using the Internet that is) as it is to me?

Coming from the standpoint of a teacher in the national school system (of whom there are precious few on twittersphere compared to teachers in language schools) I find there are four kinds of posts:

1)      Being a Teacher:

Photo by Gil Epshtein

Posts such as Steven Herder’s “How Important is Lesson Planning“? His discussion of Spontaneous Learning Opportunities Windows is one that an English teacher, or even anyone interested in teaching regardless of the subject, can easily relate to. The specifics of the setting really don’t matter. In fact, I find that iTDi Blog seems to have a lot of posts that fit this category.

2)      Classroom Strategies:

Posts that offer wonderful ideas to use in class. Take Mike Harrison’s post on “Reverse Reading Comprehension” as an example. I’ve found my colleagues here to be very interested in this strategy, once we got past the obstacle of SIZE OF CLASS! My boys went through the entire school system here in classes of 32 to 40 students. There are many who write off such posts right away and claim there is no point in reading foreign material as they have no idea of our reality. I believe that I never had a problem ignoring the size of the class described because I have never had any expectations that I would find anything tailored to my needs  – “The adapter” is my second name!

3)      “What ARE you talking about?” Posts:

Photo by Gil Epshtein

There are some posts which are simply baffling. Jemma Gardner has a wonderful blog which I follow enthusiastically. But her post Each to Their Own  serves as an example of this. I still can’t quite figure out the teacher training process she is referring to, as I’m only familiar with three to four year training programs, which include a degree and practical experience in the class as a student teacher. I think I’ve picked up a pretty good idea of what the difference is between a Celta and a Delta and I have heard so much about the textbook Global that I’m beginning to be able to picture it. As I personally follow Jemma’s posts regularly I’m able to deal with not understanding everything because those things aren’t the point she is making, which IS very clear and relevant!

4)      The Posts that Don’t Exist:

Photo by Gil Epshtein

As a teacher in the national school system there are some topics that simply are not being discussed. For example, high-school teachers who know they have 4 / 5 hours a week to prepare their students for the national exams in May. Then the school proceeds to cancel lessons right and left (lectures on the dangers of smoking, alcohol, lectures on finance, ceremonies, class trips, extra lessons needed for MATH, etc.) Yet the students must be ready in time. How does one perform this miracle? And what about the time spent recording texts for learning disabled students or testing them orally during your own breaks? These don’t seem to be issues in language schools.


However, then you read Lizzie Pinard’s inspiring post “The Journey of a Thousand Miles and you realize there is only one thing to say to other teachers:

Photo by Gil Epshtein

Despite the differences, ignoring what is being offered to you in the great world out there is like sticking your head in the sand.

It’s Saturday! The Annual Book Fair

It’s long been a family tradition to go to the annual book fair every June. We usually go to Tel-Aviv which has the largest fair, though I believe every city and town in the country has one. Every publisher has a stall (small country but many publishers and writers!), authors come to sign their books and some unrelated “festival” stuff.

As much as I love reading, I’ve always been the member of the family who gets tired of it most quickly.

When we were just a young couple I hardly read in Hebrew and this is the Hebrew Book Fair!

When the kids were small we would help them choose their book and sometimes even had an author sign it which was really exciting. Now they just disappear the moment we arrive.

Personally I am not fond of crowds and quickly tire of browsing when it is so crowded and noisy. My husband and I have cut back on purchasing books and frequent the library. But the boys delighted in the sales and came home with armloads of books! Their excitement and pleasure is worth it!

A “Warmer” Activity (Puffin Style) for 36 Adult Students

If you find it somewhat confusing that the title mentions 36 students but my “language plant” (thanks to David Warr at Language Garden!) refers to 60, you aren’t the only one.

I began a summer job, teaching at a private language school which has a special course for adults (hearing!) who need to improve their English in order to be accepted to college. This summer course has an online component (which I don’t prepare) and I am doing the face to face meetings. In the course we will focus mainly on reading comprehension skills for weak learners, which is, of course, my specialty. Just not usually in such a setting! But in the spirit of The Teacher James’ post “Just Say Yes” it feels good to move slightly outside my comfort zone and enjoy being a teacher who can also use conversation as a tool!

When I took the job I was told that two groups were being combined and that there would be approximately 60 students. I REPEATEDLY asked for the list of registered students before the first lesson and was told again and again, that due to the increased number of students registering for the course, the list wasn’t ready yet and it would be emailed to me shortly. I was quite concerned that there would be 70 or more students and spent quite a lot of time debating (agonizing?)about a warming activity suitable for the first lesson with such a large group.

I finally received the list of students at exactly 6:30 in the evening, when the first lesson was scheduled to begin. 36 students! If only I had known! Pity the classroom is SO big, some students sat quite far apart from each other and pretty far from me. They are adults of all ages and very varied backgrounds.

By Gil Epshtein

I began the lesson with a moment of morale building (plan to start each lesson like that!). I brought this large poster of door knockers. The course is labeled as level D (weak!) so I told them that “D” stands for DOOR and this is the “open door course”, the course which will help them open the door to college if they study. That went down very well.

In regards to the warming activity, despite the group being smaller I stuck to my original plan. These are people who haven’t read in English for quite some time (for some, quite a long time). I felt we needed some unscripted time to review basic “Wh” questions but also to see what would come up, what were they saying and asking. So I presented them with “The Kitchen Picture” :

I wrote the first question:

What did this woman do?

A student said : “She smiling”. So I asked them about the “ing” , we looked at the “did” in the question and someone asked about “will”. Some of the students were saying:  “Oh yeah, I think I learned this once.” We mentioned better answers to the question. Then I asked them what other questions could we ask about this picture. They came up with the question:   How many bags does she have?”

They had all kinds of wild theories about what the difference between “how many” and “how much” was! They also came up with the question: “Where does she live?” The students agreed that it is probably a city. I added another question: “Where can you find such an ad?” Some students weren’t sure the word “magazine” was in English! They couldn’t think of a “who” question so I asked “Who created this ad?” They needed hints to guess the source (a credit card company) but then the class came up with the next question: “Why did they create the ad?” (easy one to answer!).

I asked the next question: “Do you think this woman has children”?  There was a resounding “NO!”. So, I wrote “How do you know?” The older students supplied the answer to that one –  children need food!

We never made it to “When” (I just added it on the board) as I felt we had had enough and it was time to move on to the first text which I was supposed to use. I really felt that now everyone seemed focused and I was hoping that some prior knowledge had begun to be prodded into wakefulness. In any case, the students (and the teacher!) looked less tense than they did when they walked in the door.

Next lesson on Thursday!

Saturday’s Book: “All Over Creation” by Ruth Ozeki

I was grumbling at the library this week. I know that at the English section of our library you have to come with an open mind and browse but I wasn’t in the mood for browsing. And the browsing wasn’t going well. It seemed that every book I picked up was created from the same mold of romance novel or was one I had read. I finally decided that this book  seemed different and took it home.

Good choice!

The book is really captivating and I find it difficult to stop reading! The heroine is the daughter of Lloyd, a giant potato farmer from Idaho and Momoko, a tiny Japanese woman with an extraoridnary green thumb. Her name is Yumi but everyone calls her Yummy! Though she is the heroine, the story is cleverly told from the different points of view of other characters.

This is certainly a book with an evironmental message but its not “preachy” – very readable. I’ve already read 154 pages!

The langauge teacher in me can’t help but point out this wonderful descriptive sentence about Momoko: ” After fifty years in Idaho she still spoke with the deliberateness of a foreigner, carefully pronouncing words, lining them up one after another and launching them tentatively in the air” (p-10).

Side note: I actually knew that Momoko’s name was related to the word “peach” – we have a children’s book about a boy who was found in a peach (The peach boy) and the boy’s name is Momataro. Funny how one suddenly remembers such things!