Do We Desire Balance or Imbalance? A Comment

Two great posts, one calling for balance and the other promoting imbalance.

Epstein Family Photos

And they are both right.

It was a real treat to come across two posts dealing with different aspects of the same term.

Nathan Hall, in his post “Dieting” warns of educational fads. Each new idea is hailed as THE WAY to teach. Anyone who has spent a long time in the educational system knows how true the scenario Nathan is describing is. He calls for balance. I like to say the teacher needs a “toolkit” and have the freedom to use  what’s in it appropriately. It is so unfair to the students when teachers are “encouraged” to favor one method or strategy over all others, regardless of the needs of each class. As Nathan says “…if we only eat one type of food to the exclusion of others, there is no balance.”

Anthony Gaughan, in his post “Balance isn’t everything”  points out that we absolutely need imbalance.

“…in order for a physical body to move in any direction, it cannot be in a position of balance”

“For a human being to learn, he or she cannot remain in a position of knowing”.

We can’t move forward if we don’t lift our feet off the ground. And we certainly feel less safe, less “in our comfort zone” if  we don’t have both feet on the ground. To learn something we need to lean out of the comfort zone.

I know Anthony is talking about training teachers, getting them to really examine their beliefs about teaching and be ready to consider other ways of doing things.

Yet I think its a relevant point in relation to students as well.

The big difference between the trainees and real students in the classroom, I believe, is that the students need to know that their are lots of “handrails” all around them, and that it IS really safe to try and move forward.

Saturday’s REALLY Long Book & a Short Story

I’m not one to be scared of long books. But when my good friend Dorit first offered to lend me this book, I balked. A NOVEL that is 1,474 pages long?! How do you even hold the book? Even the author acknowledges the problem. In his delightful, rhyming “A Word of Thanks” preface to the book:

“Buy me before good sense insists / You’ll strain your purse and sprain your wrists”


Longest Novel Ever?
Longest Novel Ever?

So, back in December, I chose Vikram Seth’s other book “An Equal Music”. I really enjoyed it! Which is why I decided to take on Seth’s “A Suitable Boy”, despite the daunting size. Since it is going to take me a long time to finish, I might as well share my thoughts as I go along.

The story takes place in India, a few years after the country gained its independance. Supposedly the book is about a widowed mother’s search for a suitable husband for her daughter, but the book is actually about so very much more. My faith in Seth’s ability to tell this tale without makingit sound like a Bollywood film seems (so far, at least!) well justified. There are lots of references to books, for example. I loved the part about the argument among the lectureres in the English Dept at the University whether or not to add Joyce to the curriculum!

Meanwhile, I was able to read a great short story over lunch, in the October 14 edition of the New Yorker Magazine: “Katania” by Lara Vaphayar. Great! The author seems to be telling a simple tale about girls playing with dolls in the former Soviet Union, and then what happened to them as adults. Yet she manages to include so much more, such as thoughts about freedom, material possesions. Thought about it for several days afterwards.

Unexpected Student Reaction to Use of Cell Phones in Class

Until the computer in my classroom was hooked up to the Internet last week thanks to RSCON4, I resorted to desperate measures. The beginning of the year is the time when I must introduce the new students (and remind the older ones) what we do on the computer, how and why we do it. It is the time for building habits for the rest of the school year.


Photo by Gil Epstein
Photo by Gil Epstein

* I sent my high-school students, one by one with an adult escort (not a teacher) to the library.

* I sent them in pairs to the library, having one explain to the other.

* I sent them in pairs to the TEACHER’S ROOM on Fridays (school library is closed) with a note from me.

* I had them pull out their cell phones.

Note: I only have one student who doesn’t have a Smart Phone (I DO have some students who don’t have a computer, only a realy big Smart Phone!).

Some students were pleased that I could explain things to them myself and the Quizlet new flashcard feature caused quite a stir at first.

Others were surprisingly reluctant to use their cell phones. Mind you, these are kids whom I describe as having their cell phones hooked up directly to their blood streams!

At first I thought it was possesiveness. However, at no point did I make any attempt to actually TOUCH their phones, I would just explain and they would touch the screen and hold the phone.

So then I asked about the cost. Perhaps they were concerned about the price of surfing on a cell phone? But that wasn’t it either. All of them have unlimited surfing plans.

A few said that I’m wasting their battery. I pointed out that my new classroom is full of electrical outlets. That was helpful to those who remember to bring their chargers to school (actually many kids do!).

It used to be a lab. There are so many sockets!
It used to be a lab. There are so many sockets!

The others finally clarified their problem. Their cell phones were for them to be on Facebook and Instragram and WhatsApp. What right do I have to ask them to use it for helping them with their schoolwork?!!

I didn’t argue with anyone about it. I left it as an option. Now we have a computer in class. Those who are comfortable with checking their homework assignments and talking to me about them while looking at the app may do so. Others can wait their turn on the computer.

Still, I WAS surprised.

Saturday’s Books: “Someone” by McDermott and “Two She-Bears” by Shalev

It is good to have some rules in life. It’s also refreshing to break them from time to time.

My rule is that I don’t do Proffesional Dvelopment stuff on Saturdays, I just post about books! However, as you may have noticed, there were no book posts for the last two weeks. NOTHING in my life (so far, I’m thankful to say) has stopped me from reading. However, participating in RSCON4, which was an incredible experience and well worth breaking a rule for (see previous posts for information about that experience) DID stop me from posting about what I have recently read.

“Two She-Bears” by Meir Shalev is the author’s latest book. I have read most of his books and still say that his first one, known by the name of “Blue Mountain” in English, is his absolute best. He is very readable with a rich use of language. I always say that he reminds me a bit of Garcia Marquez, as the characters in his books are often larger than life, stuff of family legends. The grandfather in this talee reminded me a bit of Paul Bunyan at some point. Though, I have to admit in this book some of it goes beyond “slightly unbelievable”… Still, once I began, there was no option of not reading till the very end.

“Someone” by Alice McDermott is the audio book I just finished listening to (remember? I have this awesome 12 audio-book gift! This is number 4). I chose it based on the HUGE ad in the New Yorker Magazine. It was a double temptation, Not only did the ad say it was for lovers of Ann Patchett (me! me!) but I felt a luxurious feeling of just clicking  on the mouse and already having a brand new book available.

I had some trouble with this story though. McDermott is a skillful writer and the descriptions are incredible. No problem there. I was pleased that it was about an Irish Catholic family (and their neighbors, in Brooklyn , starting in the 1920’s and onwards) as I have always enjoyed reading about them. I grew up in Brookline (not Brooklyn) Mass alongside many Irish Catholic children. They went to the parochial schools in the mornings but we met at extra curricular activities and on the playground.

I found large portins of the story to be quite depressing. It’s not Angela’s Ashes in the sense that noone here is starving or has terrible untreated eye infections. Nothing like that. But you can see that the comparision came to mind several times. But people’s lives seem so sad, so locked in…

Maybe it was a question of timing, just not what I needed to read now. Nonetheless, I listened to the very end. I might try other books of hers in the future, but I will wait awhile.

How RSCON4 Got My Classroom Online

Perhaps the future IS here!
Perhaps the future IS here!

One might think that an online conference couldn’t be as exciting as a face-to-face one. The attendees don’t get to immerse themselves in the experience as is done when traveling (that pile of laundry didn’t disappear and there’s  work too). The presenters (at least this one did!) can wear a nice shirt with house-pants and flip flops.  You don’t share meals with others.

One might be SO WRONG!

There was an incredibly exciting feel of being at a conference! The lineup of speakers was enticing and just like at any real conference, one had to make difficult choices regarding which talk to attend.  However, unlike a “traditional” conference, recordings of all those talks that I missed are already online, here! Both video and audio are available, so it is very convenient.

But that’s not all. I actually did meet and connect with people, which is an important draw at a conference. The vibrant chat boards at the talks enhanced the talks by giving me the feeling that I was benefitting from the comments of others and I made some new friends! The organizers added a lovely touch before each talk – a map of the world for the attendees to mark their location. A Global Conference was not an empty phrase! WOW!

The big surprise though, was that the conference had a special gift for me – it got my new classroom an Internet connection! This year I moved to a new classroom after teaching in the old one for 15 years. The school kept its promise to paint the room and invest in the acoustics but nobody was in any particular rush to have the neccesary work done to connect the computer to the Internet. As someone who had been using the computer in almost every lesson, this was very aggravating.

One board is looking much better already!
One board is looking much better already!

I was feeling so enthusiastic during the conference, particularly after the tension preceeding my own talk disappeared, that I wrote an email to the principal. I said that I had represented the school well (if I may so so myself) and that I talked about the ways I use technology to individualize learning for our students. But then I explained that I can’t continue doing many of these things as I no longer have an Internet connection. I attached links to the conference and a link to the page where you can see the school’s name.


The technician did me the extra favor of cutting the wire that held up those ghastly curtains! Hurrah!
The technician did me the extra favor of cutting the wire that held up those ghastly curtains! Hurrah!

Thank you for whole experience and the wonderful parting gift, RSCON4!

* Please note that the list of recordings is organized according to the speakers’ last names and I am Ganin-Epstein.


Struggling Learners & Homework Fall in Love at RSCON4

HW slide

If struggling learners embracing homework may sound like a dream, take a moment to think how mindboggling the existence of the Reform Symposuim Conference is. VOLUNTEERS, amazing educators from all over the globe, are taking the time to organize, moderate and present a THREE DAY CONFERENCE available to any teacher, from the comfort of her/his home, for free! And so much is offered! Professional development at your doorstep, with recording available for your comfort. The future is truly here, only days away, Oct 11 to 13!

I’m pleased to play a small part of this dream come true, and will be sharing how I kindle “the romance” between struggling students and homework. For information on joining us, please see the links below:

Link to information about the conference including explainations how to attend, click here

Link to schedule showing local Jerusalem time, click here

My talk is on October 12, at five pm, Jerusalem time.