Saturday’s Book: A Senior’s Film and “In This Sign” by Greenberg

One of my students showed me this graduation project made by a 12th grader at another school. The girl tells about her life as the eldest daughter in a family in which both parents are deaf. In the film she describes how she had to grow up really fast and how much her entire family (two younger siblings)  relies on her. She interperts for her parents and is responsible for her siblings homework (not to mention housework , but that’s not because her parents are deaf). The heroine also talks about dreams she gave up. This short film is in Hebrew with Hebrew subtitles.

The film made me very sad. It reminded of a powerful book I  read years ago called “In this Sign” by Joanne Greenberg, which came out in 1970 (it seems to have come out in a new edition in the 80’s but I’m talking about 1970). This tale is also narrated by a hearing daughter of deaf parents who had to grow up very quickly as her parents relied on her so much. But that was in the days when hearing aids were nothing like they are today, there were no cochlear implants AND all this awesome world of technology was not available for the deaf. I know how independant deaf people can be today.

Yet, here this girl is, telling a similar tale, 43 years later. So sad.

By the way, I just discovered when Googling this book that it was written by the same author of another great book ” I never promised you a rose garden”. The author used a pseudonym.



Students Blogging, Tripline and Panicky Thoughts

I didn’t plan on beginning a blogging project at all. Not even this small one.

I was trying to get my students back on board with the wonderful project connecting deaf teens that Arlene Blum began. We began the school year with no online connection and had used up some pretty good ice-breakers last year. I  needed some way to kindle the students’ interest in the project’s blog “Global Friends.” By the way, it’s been expanded to include hearing teens who would like to correspond with our students, so if you know anyone, send them our way!

Lions, tigers, and bears! Oh my!  A GLOBAL BLOG FOR DEAF AND HEARING CLASSMATES - Mozilla Firefox 10112013 230901.bmp

A student told me she was dreaming of visiting London. I remembered Tripline (that nifty and  simple tool that creates maps with a moving line to show a journey) and that was that. My students have currently begun, alone or in pairs, to write a few lines about their dream trips and add a Tripline map. We have quite a few online already, and a few more are in the making.

Oren post

So, all is good, right?

Well, I AM an English teacher. I do know the students are learning from this experience, I’m just not sure how much English they are actually learning.

It’s wonderful that they Google names of places in the country they want to visit, so that their maps will show movement. My students are so ignorant about the world. As we all know, general  knowledge DOES play an important part in reading comprehension.  I see this in class every day.

But they conduct their searches in Hebrew.

They have fun, particularly when they work on their trip in pairs. I BELIEVE in the importance of fun in the classroom.

But these Deaf / Hard of hearing students converse in Hebrew or Israeli Sign Language.

When they work on their sentences they use online translators quite a bit. That, actually, is less of a problem than I feared, as many of these kids type in sentences in poor Hebrew. Guess what? The resulting sentences are in poor English. So I am able to point out issues in their writing  (such as lack of prepositions, incorrect word order, etc) before they post. They want their posts to look right. However, they are so focused on getting their finished product to look presentable, they don’t seem to be taking my comments in.

Apropos comments, that’s another thing I see the students are learning. Many of them (not all!!!) don’t have a clue as what to do with a comment on their post. Wait, need I mention they read the comment by pasting it into the translator? Anyway, we are having really interesting discussions on how you should relate to the person’s comment in your reply and show appreciation for the comment. Important, huh?

Of course, the biggest panic is what happens after all the students have displayed their dream trips. Where do we go from there?!




Saturday’s Book: “Digging to America” by Anne Tyler

In case you are wondering, I haven’t finished “A Suitable Boy” by Vikram Seth. That isn’t going to happen in the near future (still have a bit less than 1000 pages to go!). But I am still as fascinated by this book as I first was. I am particularly impressed by the female characters portrayed, the credit he gives them while presenting the restrictions of society. I can also see the same Seth that wrote “An Equal Music” – music plays an important role in this book.

“Digging to America” is the audio-bo0k I just finished. Anne Tyler is the author of the “The Accidental Tourist” (great movie too!) and “Searching for Caleb” which I have read (and many more books which I haven’t). The topic is an interesting one – the immigrant experience. The lives of two families in the United States are tied togehter when they adopt babies from Korea. One of these families is an immigrant family from Iran.

I knew the pace of the book would be slow, that is actually why I chose it. I’m reading such an engrossing book, my life is so hectic, I thought the pace would be comforting. And some of the time it was. Tyler doesn’t write about dramas so much as brings you into the everyday life of the families to see how they think. Some of the insights are spot on. I can relate to the immigrant experience!

But parts of it were too slow. Despite the amusing part near the end (tying pacifiers to helium balloons to get the child to stop using them, the day after a storm – funny!) I was quite ready for the book to end when it did. It could have been shorter and it isn’t that long…

Nice, but not one to make an effort to get your hands on.

Preparing a Talk for Tired (and disgruntled) Teachers

When you are asked to give the last talk at a large mandatory national study-day which begins at two o’clock (right after school, for many teachers), you know your audience will be tired and disgruntled by the time it is your turn to speak. Particulary as your talk ends at 7:30 p.m.

How disgruntled is a matter of luck depending on how enganged teachers felt earlier and how many technical mishaps there were. You also know there will be a great deal of ongoing long-distance monitoring of children.

Photo by Gil Epshtein

I read Tyson Seburn’s excellent post “The Thing with Interactive Conference Sessions” several times before my talk this week. I really agree with this post. My experience with “talk to your partner” at sessions has not been positive. Many of my colleagues report similair reactions. The trick I needed was to keep the teachers awake and engaged but to stay away from that pitfall. Particularly when a large audience in a large auditorium is involved.

Here are notes about what worked well and what didn’t:

* This is NOT the situation to go for a “No Tech Talk”. The fact that I began with suggestion for using  a humorous clip from YouTube, and then, at intervals, explained how I use Word Clouds and Quizlet really grabbed attention.

*, which I just learned about from Larry Ferlazzo, helped me create some sophisticated looking slides easily. I’m quite impressed by the options there!

This talk was given in Hebrew to teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing.
This talk was given in Hebrew to teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing.

* Eliciting sentences from the audience based on the activity we had done before did not work well. I only wanted 6 sentences to show “the Erasing Words Technique” but it seemed that paying attention (even asking questions!) was one thing, suggesting sentences was another. Too much interactivity at this hour, I guess. Actually, this was the “low” part of the talk as it calls for a white board, which collapsed before I approached it (I was grateful it didn’t fall on my head, to be honest. It was huge!). I had sentences prepared in advance and did it on the computer but it really doesn’t work as well. When you erase words on a white board the space remains there. Important. On the computer you have to create the space manually.

* Choosing unfamiliar sounding Japanese words to show a technique for using charts to learn vocabulary gave everyone a welcome humor break (I knew my audience spoke many languages, Japanese was a good choice). However, some teachers would not even make the effort of coloring in the relevant squares on their charts. And that was a pity because those who did felt the sense of satisfaction that I wanted to convey. It is simply not the same when you just look. I  tried some active encouragement at this point but as one teacher replied “not at this hour”.

If you know the word, you go up. If you don't, you go down.
If you know the word, you go up. If you don’t, you go down.

* But the best thing was sticking to practical tips that teachers could easily try in the classroom. That was the thing I got the most positive feedback about. Photocopying a simple Irregular Verbs in the Past Tense game ( a la “Snakes and Ladders) for them to take home went down very well. We may all be adults but having something to take home with you still feels as good as getting a “goody bag” at a birthday party.

Saturday’s Book: Puzzling over the name “Milo” in “The Phantom Tollbooth”

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster was one of the first books I posted about on this blog, one of this family’s all time favorites.

Today my eldest son and I had an interesting discussion about the impact of names of characters in many books. The names in the  Harry Potter series of books is an obvious example, one which we used to discuss when the boys were younger and crazy about the books. I don’t remember all the meanings we had found back then (except that Dumbledore is Old English for Bumblebee) but the sounds of the names convey so much! Slytherin sounds evil from the first encounter.

Then there are Martha and George from “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf”. When I studied this in college my teacher not only claimed the names were supposed to make us think of President George Washington and his wife, but that choosing the right names for the characters is the cause of her own writing block.

My son is watching a new Australian TV series (new here, at least) about an Australian lawyer named CLEAVER! I had never imagined it could be a name. But the name certainly suits the character.

Naturally the conversation turned to Milo in the Phantom Tollbooth.  Milo is not, in my opinion, a common, run of the mill, American name. We had no idea why Juster chose this name for the character. So I googled the meaning of the name Milo, and now we are even more puzzled.

The Germans, the English and the Americans apparently claim the meaning of the name is “merciful”. The Greek meaning refers to “destroyer”.

None of the meanings seem right. Milo is most certainly not a destroyer, but the word merciful doesn’t seem relevant either. Milo is a sleepwalking child who discovers the amazing world around him.


Perhaps the answer is just that the author liked the name!

Having a Mental Block Related to Robert Frost & Comics

Perhaps everyone else is shaking their heads and saying “where have YOU been” but until my son introduced me to the site Zen Pencils  today, I was unaware of its existence. There are great cartoons/comics drawn for lots of inspirational material (look for the Neil Gaiman one! Or the J.K Rowling one! And more!). And there is a really nice one for “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, which we are in the midst of studying in class at the moment.

“A yellow wood”
Photo by Gil Epshtein

My first thought was: “Perfect for my visually minded students!”.

My second thought was: “I don’t know how to use this in class!”

It’s not like me to draw a complete blank, so I turn to you for help.

I have two groups of students studying it. The first, small group, are strong students who are about to finish the poem and its related activities. I can safely say they understood the poem. Writing a description related to the pictures sounds a boring  and irrelevant task…

The other group are weak students with poor vocabularies (the only words they understood in the poem before we began it were basically “and”, ” two”,  “yellow” “morning” and “day”). We still have a lot of work to do on the poem and I believe the comics could be useful for understanding it. However, I can’t simply say: “Look at this!” Most kids will give it 10 seconds of their attention if there isn’t something active that needs to be done. Since I don’t teach frontally (but rather in the format of a learning center with10th, 11th and 12th graders  all mixed), we can’t all look at it together. The students studying the poem come at different times (some students are at too low a level to study this poem).

I’m stumped. Any suggestions?



Saturday’s Book: More on “A Suitable Boy” by Vikram Seth

The more I get into this book the more I enjoy it. What a fascinating peek into life (of a certain sector of society) in India in the early fifties!

There’s a great passage about Mountain Parakeets, whom the author claims can be taught to speak even better than Mynah birds. As long as they are taken young and kept in their cages, with no other parakeets, that is (how cruel!). You think you are reading about birds and then suddenly the comparision between the parakeet and the plight of the teenage unmarried girl, who in the future will be exchanging one set of four walls for another, becomes startingly clear.

Still complaining about the size though. I spent time in waiting rooms twice this week, but had to read other things. I simply cannot run around with a paperback book of 1, 474 pages!