Correcting Errors and Teacher Survival – A Comment

Sharon Hartle,in her post “Is it an Error not to Correct” has once again brought up issues that are very relevant to my daily life in the classroom. My focus is mainly on errors in written work.

I took this photo at the train station in Liverpool.

Hartle says: “Once they (errors) are robbed of their explosive emotional charge, we can start to look at why they occur”.

I couldn’t agree more. Learning from errors mainly happens when students don’t see their errors as a threat, as something that must be ignored or simply made to disappear (by making a bee-line to the nearest trash can!).

I have found that giving students an opportunity to correct their mistakes and then either resubmit their task or get extra points, has had a huge positive impact, both on my adult and high-school students. While not everyone takes advantage of this (I have NEVER found something to work for EVERYONE), I’ve seen a significant rise in the number of students who actually read my comments and correct their mistakes.

However, like everything in life, it has a price. Mainly for me. This topic is so close to my heart because I’m still looking for ways to reap the benefits without working as hard.

I do as Hartle suggested, I don’t try to correct all mistakes, nor have the students correct them all. With the adult students that works better, especially since I began using EDMODO. Edmodo let me easily keep track of who was handing in things a second time and I wasn’t flooded with papers.  Since I could see my previous comments, and I didn’t mark all errors, reading the tasks a second time was much quicker. On the other hand, the adult classes are so very large, 38 students in each course so far…

With the high schools students it is more complicated. Our students take  a lot of tests. In the past many students used to throw tests away without looking at my comments. For the past few years I have been  giving 5 extra points to a student who corrects a test with me in class. 5 points can mean a lot to a student. Each class is small but altogether I have to keep track of more than 50 students. Instead of just grading tests and typing the grade into the computerized system, which is the most efficient way to work, I first write the grades in my diary. Only after a student has corrected his exam do I type up his grade. It is so much more time consuming to keep going back to the grades of each test and typing up individual grades.

I tried using a color coded system to help students be aware of the type of mistakes they are making and gave them a chart to track and see if they are making less of these mistakes. It was a very interesting experiment but I couldn’t keep it up – it took me twice as long to grade each test! And I had to be even more organized in class to make it work!

I can’t stop though – personalized comments and correcting does work! Have to figure out how to make it work for me too!

It’s Saturday! Seems I Can’t Read to Please Someone Else

Most of the time I manage to be quite good at talking to people about books. Since I’m genuinely happy to hear about people reading, I like to believe that my sincerity comes across, even when they are reading books that don’t interest me in the slightest.

But this time I got carried away. Reading a book so I could talk about it and have it in common with my in-laws seemed such an easy thing to do. Especially as my library has it.

Actually, the recommendation was for three books by Paullina Simmons: “The Bronze Horseman”. “Tatiana and Alexander” and “The Summer Garden”. I didn’t really understand that the books were related, and on the covers of the edition in the library it doesn’t say so, so I took out “Tatiana and Alexander”. Even if that was a mistake, I do give full credit to the auth0r that the book stands very clearly on it own.

The book is told, in turns, by each of the main characters. I found Alexander’s story interesting. At times it reads like a “Die Hard” movie without Bruce Willis, and I kept wondering how the author was going to get Alexander out alive of each situation. Tatiana’s story was not my cup of tea quite quickly.

Although it is certainly an easy book to read, after 170 pages I simply got bored. I have no intention of reading any more of it (there are 550 pages!) to please anyone. Especially when they start mentioning promises to dead sisters of the bride…

So far have managed to steer away from the topic of books with my in-laws!

“The Eureka Moment” – My IATEFL 2013 Talk

Photo by Omri Epstein

It took me a while to decide how to upload my talk to the blog. The following elements which made me proud at the talk itself also made it very difficult for anyone not present to understand:

* Hardly any text on slides, no reading aloud of slides

* Letting the audience actively experience some activities

The following is an adapted version. All the text you now see on the slides are for the benifit of the reader. I know that, theoretically I could have recorded myself, filmed myself and all sorts of things. But I also knew that I would never get any of that done now that I’m back to normal life again. This way, I worked on it over several nights, and here it is!

Important Notes:

All photos in the slides were taken either by Gil Epshtein or by Omri Epstein.

Thanks to Sandy Millin for posting her tweets from the talk.

Thanks to Anthony Gaughan for talking about my talk (second topic) when he was interviewed at the conference.


Saturday’s Book: “Painter of Silence” by Georgina Harding

The timing was perfect; just as Baiba Svenca told me about this book, which she was sure I would enjoy, I was asked to choose an audio-book as a gift.

Painter of Silence is a good choice of a book for me, both as a tale and as an audio-book. The book spans a period which begins well before World War II,  and continues into the period after it, moving between the times to draw you into the tale. There are many rich descriptions and I find that in an audio-book (with a good reader, of course!) it is easy to conjure the visual images being described of the unfamiliar Romanian countryside and villages.

One of the main characters of the story, is Deaf. He is the “painter of silence” and the author involves us to a suprising degree in how he viewed the world growing up, while sharing with us how his world viewed (and accepted) him. Through people’s interactions with him (particularly Safda, the girl who knew him from infancy) we see the other characters developing and the clouds of war building up and threatening their existence. The deaf person became the one you could tell anything to.

I wonder if the author had first hand experience with Deaf people. I found very little information about Ms. Harding on the Internet. In any case, I’m sure you don’t have to be a teacher of English to deaf and hard of hearing students to feel involved and enjoy this book!

Notes from an Event in Honour of Prof. Penny Ur

I was fortunate enough to have just had the pleasure of attending a moving event after a busy day at the IATEFL Conference in Liverpool.  The event, hosted by Cambridge University Press, was in honor of Prof. Penny Ur, who had just received an OBE from the Queen of England.

Prof. Ur spoke of how she began writing for “Cambridge” and later I heard some of the guests sharing their  personal “Penny Tales”.

The advantage of having my own blog is that I can share my own “Penny Tales”!

I started attending our wonderful national ETAI Conferences shortly after becoming a teacher, 27 years ago. That is where I first had the pleasure of attending Penny’s useful and informative talks. For me, Penny was simply an integral part of ETAI. In those days, first as a young teacher and then as a mother of young children, I have to admit that I was remarkably uninterested in people’s existence outside of the conference walls. I made an effort to attend conferences and “made a beeline” to the lectures of those speakers whose talks I knew I would find useful. I’m proud to say that ETAI brings together a great many inspiring teachers worth listening to.

Later on, naturally, I DID learn more about the books Penny had written and projects she was involved in, but I didn’t grasp how famous she was until I joined twitter, two and a half  years ago. Suddenly I heard people recommending her books and tweeting excitedly from talks she was giving around the globe. When I mentioned that I had heard Penny on a number of occasions teachers were jealous! I refrained from saying that at ETAI one could actually TALK to Penny during the conference. In fact, she didn’t speak only at the large conferences in Jerusalem – I attended a talk of hers at a MINI CONFERENCE (one afternoon) at the school down the road from my home!

At the IATEFL conference in Liverpool I discovered that “famous” was too mild a word. Teachers were lining up to ask for autographs and to have their picture taken with Prof. Ur.

I just wanted to say that seeing all of that hasn’t changed my opinion of Penny. One can’t respect a person any more when that person has already earned your utmost respect.

Penny; thank you  for helping me discover many things as a teacher, including the fact that attending English Teacher’s Conferences is a very rewarding thing to do.

I wish Prof. Penny Ur all the best for many years to come!


Leaking Information No One Ever Tells You about Attending an IATEFL Conference

Here is some insider information from someone who is having a GREAT time but has learned some things I’m sure no one thought to tell you before attending a  HUGE international IATEFL Conference in Britain.

Photo by Omri Epstein

Number One:

Computer bags with wheels don’t do well on cobble stones. Nor on mock cobble stones. Quite a few of the sidewalks too.

Number Two:

The hiding place of the water cooler is in the book fair. A quick run down the elevator is the fastest way to fill up your water bottle and be back in the lecture area in time for the next talk.

Number Three:

People in Liverpool are incredibly friendly and patient with Bozos who don’t know what is what when it come to British coins.

Number Four:

Don’t arrange to meet someone by the reception desk at lunch time and THEN go off to find lunch. When there are 2,500 people at one conference, all the eateries at the venue and beside it, literally run out of food. If you want to eat without going too far you have to be off like a shot.

Number Five:

It’s the WONDERFUL company that counts, not the food! It seems to be “Sandwich Heaven” around here. At this rate I’m beginning to look forward to cooking again…

Number Six:

No need to abstain from using your laptop before your presentation for fear of not having “juice”. Turns out the “Quiet Room” for presenters is absolute VIP treatment – from tea and coffee to electricity and even assistance for those who need it! oh, and did I mention cookies?

Number Seven:

Keyboards are different. Surprising. As so many people are logging onto the wifi it crashes so it’s really helpful to use the computer area. The symbols such as @ and quotation marks are in completely different places. Since my computer most certainly was manufactured abroad, I didn’t expect that.

Number Eight

When there is so much going on, so many people to talk to and so much new information (the days are really long),  it IS actually quite refreshing to sit and drink quietly alone for a while. I believe in tea, by the way.

The most important thing is to ENJOY ENJOY and ENJOY!


Repost: Discussing Prof. Crystal on a Remote Island in Ireland

Since I can’t believe that in a week I will have the pleasure of attending another one of Prof. David Crystal’s talks in Liverpool, I thought I’d repost the following. Not only was it a pleasure to attend his talk at the Jerusalem ETAI conference, he took the time to reply to my letter! I n addition, the incident mentions marks the time when I became “the puffin”!

Here is the letter I wrote. I am not posting his reply as I have not asked his permission to do so.

Dear Professor Crystal,
I attended your lecture in Jerusalem, at the ETAI Conference in July. I enjoyed it very much. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I bought your book: “Just a Phrase I’m Going Through”. I began reading it right away. Little did I know that I would be discussing it just a few days later in what seemed to me to be the middle of nowhere!
A few days after the conference I found myself on the remote island of Skellig Michael, 12 km. off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland. We had come to see the Puffins and Gannets as my son is an avid bird watcher. I was feeling worse for the wear – an hour in that sea was not something my stomach could live with (since I’m reading your book I know that you have had firsthand experience with motion sickness as well).
While standing at the “dock” waiting for the boat back (seeing the puffins in nature was worth it!) a man approached my family and asked what language we were talking in. Upon hearing the reply “Hebrew” he nodded smugly and said “I thought so!” I asked if he was interested in languages and he replied that he was only interested in the sounds of languages. I asked if he was a speech therapist and he was somewhat taken aback that I had “nailed” his profession so quickly, obviously he likes to puzzle people with that sentence. He introduced himself and said he was from Dublin. As I had just read about your lecture in the Trinity College to speech therapists, I asked the man if he had heard of you. He was dumbfounded. How had I, from Israel, heard of him? He was envious to learn that I had heard you speak in person, as he had not had the opportunity to do so himself but wanted to.
Then we started discussing what I had just read about you “adopting” the accent of the person you are talking to and do we all do it to some extent or not. A man from Uruguay joined the conversation too! Unfortunately it was rudely cut off by the arrival of the boat. Once on the boat no further conversation was possible, not only because of the sound of the engine…
I’m still reading your book and find it fascinating.
Naomi Epstein