A Tiny Notebook Story

2013-10-06 13.34.46

Recently, my youngest son finally organized  the school-related things he had left in his overstuffed drawers (he graduated high school about a year and a half ago!).  He found several notebooks that were only partially used.

I ripped out the used pages and took them to class. I had a vague idea of using them for scrap paper. We use scrap paper for many things in our English Center and always need more.

For some reason I placed them in the cupboard.

One of my 17 year old deaf  students is obsessed with rules. He wants a rule for everything so that he can learn it by heart and do well (he thinks!) on the reading comprehension exams. He battles constantly with the fact that the same word can be translated a bit differently in different contexts even if both translations are similar in meaning. He finds it difficult to be flexible and  put together the words he has translated so that they make sense. He takes it as a personal affront when he discovers there’s another word in English to express a concept he already has mastered a word for.  He wants English reading comprehension exams to turn into something he can memorize the rules for and complains that I’m not giving him long lists of rules for every possible combination of words and phrases he could encounter in a text.

Yesterday, when he expressed frustration at me for not having giving him a list of all the possible “look” phrases (we have the most common ones hanging on the wall in class) I had an inspiration.  I went to the cupboard and gave him one of the notebooks.

“This is just for you. It will be your rule book. Whenever you encounter something that you feel you want the rule for, you can copy it into this notebook. You can keep it here, on this shelf, in the classroom”.

He was so moved! It was amazing.

A slightly used notebook became the center of a “special moment” with a student!

Now to see what he actually does with it. It will be interesting to follow.

8 thoughts on “A Tiny Notebook Story”

  1. This is a lovely story, Naomi. I often make use of stuff we have lying about at home. When I do ‘What do you think this could be?’ by sticking things in a bag and letting students feel them through the plastic, I just go to my partner’s office and pick up things from his desk. I get wonderful objects like gears and hose clamps and so on. Works really well when I have engineers in the group. I also used a stuffed animal I got from Philadelphia (the Philly Phanatic, the mascot of the Phillies) as my assistant for years. He was so loved by my students that they made a new outfit for him. I will have to post the photo to FB. One group even bought him a companion because I had written an exercise with ‘Phil’ and ‘Richard, his friend a gorilla.’ Watch for them on FB!

  2. I’ll certainly want to know what he’ll actually do with it! The kind of student you describe has always fascinated me. I am just curious what goes on in their heads, why they need to categorise, systematize and find rules for everything – perhaps I am like that myself deep deep inside or maybe craving for order is just human nature.

    Certainly, it’s no help when learning a language. As a wise man once said, “language is not maths” so you can’t have rules for everything. You just have to explain certain things because that’s just the way it is.

    Have you thought – as a “counter-measure” – of asking him why certain things said in Hebrew might not make sense to an English speaker? For example, why does every item of clothing have to have a different verb that goes with it? Or why does Hebrew have two words for “know”? I find it baffles over-analytical students so much they stop asking you questions about English – well, at least for a month or two! 🙂

    1. Leo!
      Thanks for your insightful comment!
      I have tried going down that path. Many of my special ed students find seeing someone elses point of view a very difficult thing to do…

  3. Hi Naomi and Leo,
    I know there’s lots of controversy as to whether or not learning styles exist but this certainly sounds like the ‘Expert Investigator’ in one of the models I use. Sometimes they just need to be given an answer that makes sense to them and they go on with what they need to do. I have students ask me questions like this all the time and I tell them that if they can give me the reason the three pieces of silverware (spoon, fork and knife) each have a different gender in German then I will find an answer to their question. They then relate this to the idea that not everything is logical and often stop asking. Another situation came with a student who asked after we sang ‘She’ll be coming round the mountain … and We’ll all eat chicken and dumplings … ‘And what type of dumplings were these?’ We then used that to talk about what type could go with chicken and that satisfied her.
    Good luck with this Naomi. Sometimes they can really challenge us to also have to think outside the box in order to give them an answer.

  4. I love the term Expert Investigator, Marjorie! I agree, we must go where the student leads us.
    Deaf children often have a hard time accepting the fact that synonms exist in L1 too. Sometimes the answer to WHY is only BECAUSE…

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