Visualising “Flipping for Mastery”

The teacher certainly doesn't sleep in a flipped classroom! (I took this one!)
The teacher certainly doesn’t sleep in a flipped classroom!
(I took this one!)

The basic idea of flipped classrooms is that the student is presented with information needed outside the classroom (by using tools such as videos), so that the time spent in class with the teacher will be utilized in a meaningful and most beneficial manner.

I’ve heard about this many times before. But the article “Flipping for Mastery” by Bergmann & Sams in the January 2014 issue of EL Magazine brings the idea of flipped classrooms right into the reality of my classroom, by acknowledging the diversity in class and the need for different students to get different materials. “In this model, students work through course content at a flexible pace, receiving direct instruction asynchronously when they are ready for it. When they get to the end of the unit, they must demonstrate mastery of the learning objective before they move on” (page 25).

I’ve been teaching in the format of a learning center for years, with different students doing wildly different things. Although my students need a lot of mediation (they often don’t read instructions or understand them correctly, they have trouble with unfamiliar concepts in reading comprehension texts, etc.), spending some time with some students and then others (and then back again) worked well most of the time.

Since we began the new literature program (we study 3 stories and 3 poems, authentic ones, not written for learners!) the  level of mediation needed by my students has risen dramatically. In the beginning of the year I may have started off with a fairly large number of students studying the same story, but in no time at all the students are at different stages of it. Some are brighter and more industrious than others. Some simply missed more lessons or have “bad days”. The kind when I feel as if only their bodies arrived in class.

Yet everyone has to progress until they master the piece.

I need “flipped mastery” IN class.  I feel I need more tools to mediate the literature pieces that the students can acces when working in class, so that they don’t all need my help at the same time.

But this isn’t chemistry, the topic taught by the writers of this fascinating article. I haven’t find the golden balance between materials that clarify what needs explaining without it bypassing English altogether.

For example, here’s something I’ve been struggling for several weeks now (before reading the article!).

Here Mrs.Tammy Assouline visualizes a difficult sentence for some of our Deaf students. The sentence is from “The Treasure of Lemon Brown” by Walter Dean Myers.
The sentence is:
“Greg opened his mouth to quiet the sound of his breath as he sucked it in uneasily.”Many students didn’t really understand the sentence as they didn’t think that someone could hear the sound of their breathing.


On one hand, this 10 second video would appear to be a good idea. Instead of my explaining it as each student reached the sentence, perhaps the students could have a page with QR codes (which would lead to the video) to refer to when reaching this sentence, and others like it. I could have such videos for the instructions and the complex questions too, which I spend so much time on explaining.

On the other hand, I’m afraid to open a can of worms! The students must learn to read instructions. They must try to understand the difficult question or sentences before I explain them. Some of them succeed! They won’t try when the help sheet is in front of them!

In addition, such a video is difficult to break down and connect to vocabulary items in English. Which wouldn’t matter much if I just limit it to sentences which would be particularly difficult for a deaf student to understand, like the fact that a person’s breathing could give away his location.

So, how to approach creating my mediating materials? I don’t know!

B.T.W – Very helpful tips on how to easily create multiple versions of mastery tests, since students take these tests on different dates.


Belated Saturday’s Book Post – Books & Parties!

I know I’ve invited the right people to a party when I get to discuss books without even bringing up the subject!

First of all I got a warm recommendation for the book “The Brothers Lionheart” by Astrid Lindgren. Will look for it!

One by one guests perused our book shelves and it seemed as if everyone chose to comment on the same book: “Deaf Sentence” by David Lodge. I was a bit surprised. I read it quite a few years ago, being, naturally, attracted by the clever title. It’s about a college professor who deals with losing his hearing (age related, no tragic illness tales). Parts of it are intended to be amusing.

Many of us seemed to be in agreement that while some parts of the book were an absolute pleasure to read, a few parts were completely superfluous. Still, I DO recommend the book.

What I didn’t get a clear picture about from the guests (I guess there was no consensus) was whether or not I should read other books by David Lodge. Thoughts, anyone?



Visualising Feelings about Sound

Students love it when we ask them how they feel. In fact, we all do.

It gets even better when we get information about how our choices compare to other people’s choices.

Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo I learned about this wonderful interactive activity, useful for enriching vocabulary related to feelings.

The emphasis is on sounds, which is problematic for my students. Some of them CAN hear the sounds in real life (such as a crying baby) but not on the computer. So I adapted the activity to focus on the question:

“How do you feel when you think about these things?”

Since some of the visuals used in the original link are not clear enough to understand through sight alone (it becomes clear when you hear the accompanying sound) I created a worksheet detailing the list of things to think about when doing this activity.

So far the students’ reactions have been very positive!

Here’s the worksheet and the link.

how do you feel about this

Emotions of Sound Interactive Survey from Amplifon

Emotions of Sound by Amplifon



Saturday’s Book: “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison

I was totally blown away by this book.

There was no “Saturday’s Book Post” last week because I was in the middle of the book. It seemed as if I would be breaking a spell to write about it in the middle and I certainly couldn’t think of anything but that book until I finished it. I was mesmerised.

It is difficult for me to comprehend the information added on at the end of the book, about years passing before the book was recognized. The unique writing style is evident from the first pages! Why didn’t publishers swoon at her feet when they read this first book of hers?

I had been afraid of reading Morrison for years, afraid of her “depressing” subject matters. And she does make it clear at the onset that no hapy end is to be found in THIS book. But I found myself desperate to know “how and why” and to sink into the magic of the way she handles words. I’m ready to tackle each and every one of her books, just two weeks after being afraid them. A special thanks for my online book loving friends for reccomending this title. I needed that push to take the plunge.

I’m so glad I did.

A Moment of Distraction – 2 Perspectives

I took this one!
I took this one!

I have never, EVER, lost a student’s exam.

I came awfully close this week.


Student H.’s test wasn’t in the binder that resides in my school bag, where the completed tests go, waiting to be checked.

At first I wasn’t worried. Since I teach in the format of a learning center, students take tests at different times. Some students may be taking a test while others are studying.  Some students take their tests in sections, on consecutive days. It has happened to me before that instead of placing the completed test in my “home” binder I put it  back where it came out of – the classroom “prepared tests” binder (arranged according to levels).

It wasn’t there.

I checked all the places it could logically be.  In “wrong” sections of the classroom binder.  In the student’s personal classroom folder (each student has one on a table in class)

Binders for personal folders
Binders for personal folders

Not there.

We’ve been working in class on the thinking skill of “identifying different perspectives” (part of our literature program).  I’m always influenced by what I’m currently teaching in class so:

I fought down the panic. I said to myself :

“You have been a teacher for almost 30 years. You KNOW the missing test HAS TO  be in class. Go home and stop and thinking about it. Tomorrow begin the search again, refreshed, and then you will find it” (that was yesterday).

I’ll call that the “wise old teacher’s perspective”.

Today I went through all the places the test couldn’t possibly be. 

And I found it.

It was in the binder for tests which had already been checked and were waiting to be returned, FILED UNDER THE WRONG LEVEL!

I checked it and the student is non the wiser.

And then I panicked.

Tonight the perspective of “old teacher” has taken over. I have to keep track of tests for the next 12 years, I can’t start “losing it” now!

I think I’ll go and get some sleep. No matter how I interpret “old”, it’s been a long day.

Tomorrow’s a new day.


Is My Blog Killing my Conference Experience?

A speaker proposal form for the upcoming ETAI conference has been sitting in my inbox for over a week.

By Gil Epshtein
By Gil Epshtein


I don’t know what to write on it.

In the past I presented at many conferences. It was my chance to share the things that were on my mind, the projects I was working on or materials I had created.  I usually attended one a year (occasionally two) so I basically had a whole school year’s worth of experience to use for my talk. Very few of the people I met on a daily basis were interested in what I was doing so these opportunities were meaningful.

Now everything flows directly from my classroom to my blog (successes and failures).

Don’t get me wrong! I am under no illusion that everyone who attends our conferences reads my blog, far from it! But consider these examples:

* I thought of a talk presenting ideas for using short videos without dialogues. That’s something I am very involved in. However, all the videos I have created activities for are up on the blog and have had a lot of hits from viewers from Israel. I assume that teachers who could use these activities in class have access to computers and are more “tech minded”. These teachers are usually the ones who would have seen my postings on our mailing list.

The solution would be, of course, to offer some new video-activities, and create a mix of old and new. Unfortunately, I don’t create “on demand”. When I find something that fits in with what I need at a particular time, I create, try out in class and then share. I don’t know if I will be creating any (or how many) video-activities before April.

* The link to my COMPLETE presentation at RSCON4 conference, on the topic of homework as a tool for individualizing learning for struggling teens and adult,s is available at the conference website (linked to from my blog). The term “complete” means that not only is the slideshow there, you can hear the entire talk. In addition, homework is a “less” powerful tool when you have (as many of my colleagues at the conference do) 5 classes of 40 students per class. The underlying power of the system is based on the assumption that the teacher actually checks the tasks. Even when they are created “properly” (as in “easy to check”) this is no simple matter with very large classes. I did it for three courses, (ONE course at a time!) when I taught  adult classes of 38 students and it was demanding indeed. So I rejected this topic too.

To make a long story short, all my presentations from recent years (including the ones in Hebrew!) can be found online.

Perhaps I should forget about presenting for now.  My blog lets me share all year around, 24/7.  I”ll just go to the conference, enjoy some lectures and volunteer at the registration desk.



Saturday’s Book: “Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism” by Temple Grandin

One of my first thoughts when I began listening to this book was: “Really? I call MY blog VISUALISING ideas?!!  She visualizes in a most amazing way”!

The descriptions of the way Prof. Grandin can flip through the images in her brain and see how her designs will look and operate and foresees the problems in advance is an example of one of the fascinating parts of this book. In fact, the parts that I was riveted to were the personal ones, where she shares her own personal experiences of how she learned (with the help of others) to excel at what she could do and live with what she was unable to do.

Yet this book isn’t a memoir, which I actually thought it was. There are parts which are absolute academic reading material and go into scientific (often repetitive) detail. The level of detail in which she discussed medication, for example, was too much for me. I wasn’t treating the book as a textbook. I WAS interested in the information related to education, language development and thought but I listened to in small pieces, as it was so like a textbook.

In fact, though I really recommend the book, I don’t recommend listening to it as an audiobook. Don’t get me wrong, Grandin isn’t the narrator – she says herself that her own voice lacks the intonation most speakers use.  The reader is wonderful! There are some repetitive passages which could easily be skimmed over if I had been holding the printed version.

I’m glad I finally had a chance to read the book, I had heard of her many times and seen her TED Talk.