It’s Saturday! Answer it with a BOOK!

Not only is Baiba Svenca a creative and  inspiring teacher and person, she is also a fellow booklover! We often discuss books. She can read in THREE languages! So when she tagged me with her Eleven-Questions I decided to answer in a “bookish manner”!


1. A book related to my birthday? This question caused me to recall a book I hadn’t thought about in YEARS – “Thursday’s Child” by Noel Streatfeild. I was born on a Thursday (in June). I had never asked my mother what day of week I was born on till this book and for a while it made me feel special.

2. A book related to my place of birth? I was actually born in Philadelphia, but I remember very little and can’t recall any books I’ve read particularly related to the City of Brotherly Love. However, I grew up in a suburb of Boston and I have read SO many books that take place in that area! “Run” by Ann Patchett was the most recent one. Really enjoyed that one!

3. Morning Reads? On mornings when I eat breakfast alone (and am not running late) I prefer to read my magazines and not a book. They easily lie flat while I make sure the slices of tomato don’t slide off my toast with cottage cheese.

4. Relaxing? I reallly do relax when reading!

5. I don’t like circuses but I did enjoy “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen! I have learned in recent year to appreciate the complexity of clowning (there’s even Theatre clowning!) from my friend Dorit, but I still don’t like circuses.

6. Asking about a “sleuth vs. a sloth” reminds me of the wordplay of Dr. Seuss or The Phantom Tollbooth by Juster. Characters such as “The Whether Man” (not the weather man) or “Faintly Macabre, the not-so-wicked which” (not witch!) are unforgettable!

7. I do know how to swim but I go to Yoga or Pilates classes instead. I’ve run into trouble in such classes by recommending books to people, some of whom did not enjoy the books recommended. I have never had this problem on my blog, perhaps since my recommendations aren’t personal. Though I’m not sure about that…

8. The first three books that come to mind when I hear the word school? “Up the Down Staircase” by Bel Kaufman” “Teacher Man” by McCourt” andLittle House on the Prairie Series” by Wilder (because of the way I teach I identify with one room schoolhouses!).

9. Repetition? When I was a kid I reread books a lot (I read the whole “Narnia” series three times)  but now I can’t recall the last time I reread a book. There are so many books waiting to be read…

10. Music? Two great books come immediatly to mind: “Bel Canto” by Ann Patchet and “An Equal Music” by “Vikram Seth”

11. Makes my Day (or month) when all four members of my family read the same book and can share the experience. We’ve all read books such as “Holes” by Sacher, “Fragment” by Fahy and “Ender’s Game” by Card, just to mention a few.

* Note: I’ve reached page 1,100 of “The Suitable Boy”!


“The Treasure of Lemon Brown” & My Deaf Students

Photo by Gil Epshtein
Photo by Gil Epshtein

With all the advances in the quality of hearing aids and the popularity of cochlear implants, I don’t teach very many students nowadays who can’t hear anything at all. While they might not be able to understand speech, most students react to sounds, though they can’t always identify them. “It’s a truck backing up” I’ll explain, or point out the crow on the branch of the tree outside the classroom window.

We are in the midst of studying the story “The Treasure of Lemon Brown” by Walter D. Myers, as part of our national curriculum program. It turns out that this story is highlighting those students who have a serious hearing loss. I did teach it last year but only to a few hard of hearing students. This year we have a more diverse group in terms of hearing loss.

The main part of the story takes place in a dark abandoned house, during stormy weather and there are quite a few references to sounds. Two of my students thought lightning was simply called “thunder and lightning” and did not know that thunder makes a sound (other students did know this). When clouds hit each other there is lightning! There are scary noises in the dark, in particular, “a scraping sound” which was harder for these students to understand than the crashing sounds.

The main character, a teenager named Greg, tries to “quiet the sound of his breath” when he is crouching, afraid in the dark. That was hard for quite a few kids to understand.

Not one of them was perturbed by the fact that Lemon Brown sang the Blues. Some had encountered the name (” like Jazz”, they said!). Others simply said they had no interest in what type of music Brown sang, knowing he was a singer was enough.

But the hardest phrase was this one:

“His father’s words, like the distant thunder that now echoed through the streets of Harlem, still rumbled softly in his ears”.


Saturday’s Book: “The Valley of Amazement” by Amy Tan

What a disappointment.

It’s the first time I’ve stopped listening to an audio book. I probably would have stopped sooner (I listened to almost half) if it had been a library book –Libraries ROCK! Endless (endless!) detail, no end of calamities, I simply got bored.

I didn’t really read any reviews before choosing the book (as part of my birthday gift). Reviews are also spoilers and I enjoyed Amy Tan’s previous books. When I like an author it seems like a safe bet. The last book I read by Tan was “The Opposite of Fate” and I think I liked that one best of all.

Oh well.

Note: Yup! Am still reading “A Suitable Boy” by Vikram Seth!


“Seven on Eleven” – A Blog Game

I was tagged by Carol Goodey to participate in a new blog challenge that is everywhere on blogosphere at the moment (including non EFL teachers whom I know). At first I thought I wouldn’t be able to particpate – it most certainly isn’t vacation time here! How would I:

1) Write 11 random facts about myself

2) Answer 11 questions about myself

3) INVENT 11 new questions

4) Tag 11 other blogggers, most of whom have been tagged already (if not several times).

It just sounded too overwhelming to me.

But then I remembered that my blog “loves” me, and will accept whatever I CAN do.

So here’s what crosses my mind when the number 11 is mentioned:

Seven on Eleven
Seven on Eleven


1. When I was ELEVEN years old we moved from a small suburb of Boston, Mass. to a distant suburb of Tel-Aviv. Big change in my life.

2. When I was TWENTY TWO years old I began working at “Shema”, the organization that supports deaf and hard of hearing students. I hadn’t even graduated from college back then. This is the framework for my current counseling job and things have changed dramatically. My hours and work mode will now have to change accordingly. BTW, this is the source of my screen name on Twitter.

3. My late grandmother (who passed away when I was 26) had a phrase that she used often: “I got there on the NUMBER ELEVEN bus”. Which meant that she walked to the location, on foot! Each leg represented a “one”, two “ones” beside each other are the number eleven!

4. When I was THIRTY THREE I completed my Masters Degree in Curriculum Development. Our second child was supposed to have been born at the end of the last semester of the second year (afterwards it was thesis writing time) but there was  a HUGE academic-teaching-staff strike and all classes were delayed. I ended up giving birth right after the beginning of the delayed semester. Twas difficult…

5. With two children we moved to our current apartment. We have ELEVEN  pictures hanging on our living room/dining room walls (it is one open space). Two jigsaw puzzles, three enlarged photographs, five Impressionistic reproductions (Monet and Van Gogh rule) and one family tree (also a reproduction). It is of my husband’s side of the family, the Epsteins, and it supposedly traces the family roots back to Spain before 1492. Back then the family name was Ben-Benishti! * Note: I admit I hadn’t counted the pictures till this week!

6. When I was FORTY FOUR I began a period of proffesional soul-searching. I had been teaching for 22 years and for a while I played around with the idea of beginning a second career. My mother began nursing school when she was 39, a fact I find very inspiring. It took me time but I realized that what I needed was to look for change WITHIN my profession, not outside it. This realization and acknowlegment of a need, eventually led me to blogging and the world of online professional development.

7. When I was a kid living in the States there were only Five & Dime stores. My first visit back was when I was 17. I was surprised to discover they had all become Seven-ELEVEN stores!

So, thank you Carol Goodey!

Saturday’s Play: “Exit the King” by Ionesco + Ionesco & “The Moth”

We saw an excellent production of the play “Exit the King” by Eugene Ionesco this evening. In Hebrew it is called “The King Must Die”. It deals with that inevitable thing that awaits us all, death, in a very interesting way. Afterwards my husband and I were comparing it to “The Never Ending Story” by Michael Ende. That ends differently of course, and is told by a child narrator, but they both have a kingdom literally vanishing in leaps and bounds (Ionesco also has comets chasing their own tails!).

The play ended with the King actually exiting into the audience!

By chance, I recently heard about Ionesco in a COMPLETELY  different manner, on my beloved “The Moth” podcasts. A hilarious, well told story about a high-school student who was told by the school librarian (OY!) that Ionesco was just what he was looking for; an unknown French author who actually was translated into English…

You can listen to it here. The other two stories are good too.

A Blog Birthday and a Bear Tale

My blog is three years old!

puffin collection
My puffin collection is growing!

Thankfully, blogs (and puffins) mature more quickly than human children do.  Despite not being able to lavish as much attention on it as I would like, the blog seems to be thriving. This is post number 377 and I have 1019 followers on Twitter (Google analtyics confound me so I don’t dare to quote numbers, but the “cluster map” of visitors looks great)! Never would have predicted that! I feel that the blog has become an important part of me. I imagine what I would post even when I don’t have time to actually do so.

This past week I had an excellent reminder of why I can’t possibly do without my blog.

Part One: On Monday I finally had the opportunity to watch James Taylor’s “Making the Most of Reading” talk at RSCON4 which I had missed at the conferece.  I found many useful ideas there but one specific strategy caught my attention in particular. It was not new to me, but James had visualised it for me. James presented a picture of a man with the surprising caption ” I punched a bear”. He then proceeded to demonstrate how students first form their own questions and then answer them when they later get the text (about a man defending his family from a bear). I had only done this  using titles of texts, not a line from the text itself (especially with a picture!), and believe it is more effective.

Part Two: On Wednesday I had a full morning of counseling work and met with several teachers. We had a long talk about reading comprehension strategies as that is a crucial topic when teaching English as a foreign language to deaf students. I brought up the idea of using a prompt from the text (preferrably with a visual aid) to have the students form their own questions before reading. Some of the teachers didn’t quite seem to understand what I meant. So, without thinking, I said: “Imagine I’m pasting a picture on the board of a man, with the caption I punched a bear”. What would you like to know about this person? This situation?”. That did it. They immediatly understood and looked at possible lines to use from the text we were holding.

I was so pleased! Not only had I enjoyed the talk but it had helped me clarify things for other teachers!

But what would I have done with this excitement if I hadn’t had my blog and PLN to share it with? My family are incredibly supportive but that level of detail is beyond them. There is no time at school between classes to share such things with other teachers, many of whom would much rather discuss other things when there is some quiet time.

A big thanks to all of you who can share in my excitement and discuss such things with me! This blog is here to stay!

Observing a Lesson in an Unknown Language

I’ve recently been participating in discussions about observation following the fascinating posts in “The Observation Issue” on the iTDi blog.

Epstein Family Photos
Epstein Family Photos

Today I observed an English  lesson for deaf  students who speak Arabic. The lesson was grammar based, on the topic of the past simple tense and the main mode of communication was spoken Arabic, with some Sign Language as well.

I don’t speak Arabic.

Here’s the thing – it didn’t matter very much.

I knew the subject matter and was able to follow the points the teacher was trying to make (she used visual aids, which helped me too).

I could observe how long the teacher spoke vs. how long the students did.

I could observe how active/passive the students were, and how engaged  they seemed to be.

I could observe how varied the activities were.

I could observe how much time was devoted to theory and how much time was devoted to using the grammar in context.

I could observe the manner in which visual aids were utilized.

I could see how well the relevant vocabulary was familiar to the students or not. Despite not understanding the students’ replies when the teacher asked “What does this word mean” I could tell if the replies were correct or not by the teacher’s reactions. Which also gave me a chance to observe her style of feedback.

I could even observe how the teacher reacted to a question from a student. Did she repeat the question, drawing the other deaf students’ attention to it, before answering it?

In short, there were a great many aspects of the lesson the teacher and I could discuss afterwards, despite the drawback of not understanding Arabic. Observation encompasses a multitude of things. Words don’t tell it all.