Saturday’s Mystery: Who were you Dora? Crowdsourcing Q.2

Dora is the one in the black dress.
Dora is the one in the black dress.

Note: This is part two of a new Saturday series, in which I, with crowdsourcing help, try to unravel the mysteries hidden in previously unknown letters written by my mysterious step-great aunt Dvora /Dora before and during WWll in Poland. For further explanations see previous post.

In the first quote, Dora writes that she graduated from high-school on May 31, 1938. My question was whether it was reasonable to assume that she was 18 – was that the age that people graduated back then as well?

At the moment I do not have an answer but I would meanwhile like to thank Baiba Svenca and Beata Gulati for looking into this question.

Today’s question relates to a word I  can’t make out – something Dora received as a graduation gift. Perhaps YOU can figure it out?

In the second part of the letter to New York, dated May 31,  1938,  Dora writes (in English, using a dictionary at times, mistakes left as they were) of her bleak prospects for her educational future. Her unknown gift is mentioned at the end:

” But now I have nothing what to do with myself, till today at least I had an occupation and now what I have to do? To study in the university I have not money and also a place, because in Poland Jews are not accepted willingly at the university. Besides this it is not safe because each day I can get with a stone in the head. My studies must remain only a dream.

… How do you do? In America must already be hot. Do you bathe this year in the river? Becasue I did not take any bathes here is almost cold… I got a beautiful veticule from Bluma’s friend the day when I passed the examination. “

Here’s a screen shot of her handwriting. Perhaps it says “reticule”? It doesn’t look like an “r” and that’s a very odd word (which I just learned of now, as I write) but that would mean a type of handbag, perhaps. What do you think?

unkown word from letter

Musings on Memory Palaces in the Language Classroom

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

Every now and then I encounter the memorization method commonly called “Memory Palace”,  though a more precise name would be “method of loci”.  “In basic terms, it is a method of memory enhancement which uses visualization to organize and recall information” (Wikepedia). This current round of musings on the topic was sparked by reading the book “Moonwalking with Einstein – the art and science of remembering everything” by Joshua Foer.

First of all, I’d like to point out that the book is not a self help book, in the style of books with titles like: how to improve your memory in 10 easy steps. It is an interesting, accessible read about how memory works and what we know about it and how memory-athletes train their memory. The  techniques are discussed as well, of course.

And here’s the first point – it’s not easy. Learning how to build a memory palace, learning how to place what you want to remember in different locations in the structure (resting on the armchair, dripping wet in the shower, etc.) and then strolling through the palace visually in your memory to retrieve the information, is not something you can easily begin doing. It requires training and practice. How and when exactly would such training take place in the classroom?

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

Which leads to the second point – are the skills needed for successful acquisition of a foreign language the kind of information we want to store in such a manner? Isn’t this method most suitable for facts, or discrete items? If I were a history teacher, I’d me much more enthusiastic about classroom applications. If my students could visually walk through their “palace” on their test and remember all the important events & dates leading up to World War Two, for example, that would a useful skill indeed. I don’t know how useful it would be outside the classroom (even Foer discusses this issue) but it certainly works for standardized testing.

But what information would the students store in the EFL classroom? The only thing I can think of are lists of words of even collocations. Unfortunately, in my classes of   Deaf and Hard of Hearing students I repeatedly see students who have memorized a great many words but do poorly on reading comprehension tasks and exams, while others (using a dictionary) do so much better. And in classes where conversation in English is practiced, I can’t imagine someone pausing, strolling through the memory palace to locate the collocation needed, and then resuming speaking.  That doesn’t seem to be the way we should think about language.

Do you agree?

On a personal note – the method for remembering numbers by using letters is really helping me in my own life. Since the Hebrew language has an ingrained letter-number match, I didn’t even have to learn the corresponding letters given in the book, I just needed to apply the method! Now that’s an easy strategy to use!

Saturday’s Mystery: Who Were You, Dora? Crowdsource Q. 1

Dora by car
Dora by car

I usually post about books that I read on Saturdays, but for a while I would like to share & enlist your help with unusual reading material I am totally engrossed in at the moment.

Through a combination of the wonders of the Internet and sheer luck, I am now in touch with distant relatives whom I hadn’t known about. Not only is it wonderful to get to know such nice new relatives, I have now received letters and pictures related to my family from Poland (today Belarus),Israel and Argentina, dating back to the 1930’s, all the way to 1940.

One of the most mindboggling aspects of all of this, is that an apparition of a mystery girl has suddenly materialized in my life. I’ve always known that one of my grandmother’s biggest sorrows was that her half sister was not able to leave Europe with the other siblings in time. I knew her name was Dvora /Dora, and that she lived in Brest, Poland (today Belarus). That’s it. No picture or any other information.   Nothing. Now, like magic, I  have letters written by Dora, in her handwriting,  on my computer.  And suddenly I have a strong desire to find out everything I can about her and her short life.

Which is where all my friendly Internet pals come in. I’m sure you can help me.

Crowdsourcing question number one: When was Dora born? When she speaks about graduating high-school below, would she have graduated at the age of 18 or was it 17 back then?

In a letter dated May 31,  1938 Dora writes (in English, using a dictionary at times)

“At last I am free and write to you a letter, after such a long time of silence. The 19th May I passed the finally examination and I got a certificate of of completed secondary education (tistat zvetasa in Russia). But till today (even there passed nearly two weeks) I could not concentrate my thoughts and I was very tired. During two months I slept four hours during the night. The examination itself did not last a whole hour, because I answer only from language, history, mathematics and physics. From the rest I was free. In spite of this I was very nervous before the examination and I feared very to write {a letter}.”

So, do you think she graduated at the age of 18 and then was probably born in 1920? Or was the education system back then organized differently?

Mind boggling!

“Pizza Cat” to the Rescue!


Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

A little introductory exercise that is suitable for struggling middle school learners working independantly for the first time at the the computer – simple but not babyish.  This is their first exposure  to Edpuzzle and Edmodo (with Quizlet to come, as its flashcards can be easily embedded).

I reccomend using in “full screen” mode – then the questions and the visuals can be seen at the same time.

The  original video can be found here.

Note: The next step is The Egghunt series, which has already been posted on this blog.



Using “Kahoot!” with HOOTS of JOY and of OY

Smooth sailing Naomi's Photos
Smooth sailing
Naomi’s Photos

“Kahoot!” is defined as “a free game based learning platform that makes if fun to learn – any subject, in any language, on any device for all devices”.  Broadly speaking, the students use their cell phones as clickers and get immediate feedcack on interactive activities such as quizzes. After listening, reading and hearing countless reccomendations and creative ideas from a large number of teachers, I decided to brave the complexities of my learning center and start using it too.

HOOTS OF JOY – it IS fun, most of the kids DO like it, AND (one of the things I was most worried about) there were enough students who already knew how to use “Kahoot!” to lead the others without me having to explain. This is no trivial matter in my Special-Ed classroom – the introduction of a new activity, even a really fun one, can easily be derailed by the wrong choice of words, especially as this one involved use of the students’ personal cell phones for a class activity. I was so pleased! I WILL be using it again!

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

Hoots of OY :

I teach in a learning center for the deaf and hard of hearing. This creates a complex situation in a number of ways.

1) There is no projector to project the screen for everyone to see.  Students crowd around a computer.

Yesterday a group of students  played while the others didn’t. Just to be clear, its not that I didn’t let them all play.  Five students (11th and 12th graders ) who still had work to do for their Literature Logs, (report cards are just around the corner)  flatly refused to participate. The other five were delighted for the break in routine.

“Kahoot!” has a competitive aspect and encourages boisterous reactions. In the past, there were no cochlear implants and teens often stopped using their hearing aids. In short, I had a lot of students who were really didn’t hear anything. There was no problem with some students getting excited, loudly, over a game while others were working.

This is no longer the case. The noise level was an issue. “Kahoot” seems to be suitable for when all the kids are onboard.

Half and half Naomi's Photos
Half and half
Naomi’s Photos

2) My students can’t hear / understand me if I’m talking behind their back. If I want to comment on the question (or give a hint) they all have to turn around, away from the computer and lose time. Probably a problem that would be solved in the computer room.

3) My classes are multi-level (from students who barely read to students at the highest level) and multi grade, all jumbled up. They cannot all play with the same quiz if I desire an actual language learning experience.  Matching pictures to names of cartoon characters or brand names to their logos seemed to be the only type of thing  they could all share. I created a “Kahoot!” called “Can you identify the teacher?” with general trivia questions related to teachers on our staff. Despite using basic vocabulary, some of the weaker students simply waited for the stronger ones to translate the questions for them and didn’t attempt to read on their own.

If the quizzes are at the right level for the weak students and they are by themselves (without their friends, the immidiate translators) I’m sure they would read the questions. Which brings me back in a loop to point number one. Some students need to play while others are doing something else…

More experimenting is called for – wait for updates!

Visualising School – Photo Pause

A teacher gets “new eyes” with camera in hand!

This week we had a national exam day, so there was a great deal of activity in the corridors in the afternoon hours. Our observers seemed rather bored by it all.  Long days at school are hard on my back so I left my camera at home. This was taken with the camera’s phone…

Spur-winged lapwings
Spur-winged lapwings


Remember the trees with the toilet paper tangled in the branches? The kite? The view between the branches of the wooden bench in the rain? All the trees have been seriously cropped!

(Last photo with my camera phone – back still bothering me after exam day…)

out the classroom window
out the classroom window


Around here, the phrase “dead of winter” doesn’t apply. Look at the colors one encounters when exiting the school’s main gate!

Right outside the school gate
Right outside the school gate
Outside the school gate
Outside the school gate


Then there is the wildlife! This butterfly absolutely begged to have its picture taken – it waited till I was ready!

The butterfly who waited patiently for the slowest photographer ever...
The butterfly who waited patiently for the slowest photographer ever…

These cattle egrets also decided to be extremely patient with me – sometimes I get lucky!

2animals Naomi aka Puffin P1060912 P1060919


Note: This is an educator’s blog, so only school related pictured are posted here. To see what this teacher comes up with when pounding the pavement of her hometown, see here:

Pounding The Pavement in Kiryat-Ono

“Everyone is a Genius” – An Adaptation

Full disclosure: I’ve never began a post this way before.

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

There’s no real reason to continue reading this post. Hana Ticha’s lesson “Everyone is a Genius” has everything you could want a lesson to include – vocabulary, grammar, syntax, discussions, general knowledge and FUN! The quote chosen has a such a nice educational message too. So why adapt it? What happened to “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”? Just go on to Hana’s post!

I had to adapt the lesson because I wanted to use it in my learning center for Deaf and hard of hearing students. Each lesson is for a jumble of  10th, 11th and 12th graders, at all possible levels. This activity is not for all them.

In addition, due to my students’ hearing problems, I would have to write out each clue, as they woudn’t be able to follow the spoken language. That would be cumbersome and time consuming.

In short, I needed a version that students could work on fairly independantly, with me guiding and helping from time to time (and then hopping of to help someone else).

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

So I typed up the lines for each letter of each word of the quote, so the students would have that information as a hint. I also added the first letter of most of the words (not the grammatical ones). I also wrote clues for about two thirds of the words. Some are very simple clues, others demand more of the student.

Here is the word document (two pages):

A Quote Challenge

I’ve done it with a few students so far. One by one (not in the same lesson). They are all students who enjoy a challenge, students who are curious.

They loved it!

Filling it in led to them asking great questions. The students tried to use “he” instead of “it” for the fish, which led to a review of the difference between  “it’s” and “its”. One very deaf student was puzzled by the word in the clue for tree “leaves” which he was positive was only an irregular verb in the past. The whole idea, naturally, of an “f” (leaf) changing to a “v” (leaves) is strange to him. Another student was sure that “everyone” should be plural but could tell that the number of letter spaces didn’t match the word “are” and figured out on her own that the following word must be “is”. The only word they all had trouble figuring out was “if”, even though they got the “will”. Perhaps I shouldn’t have a clue for it, and then it will draw more attention to the conditional form.

The students really enjoyed the detective work! However,they all needed my help in understanding what the point of the quote was. One thought it meant he shouldn’t go off on “wild goose chases” such as looking for fish on trees…

All the students who have done it so far are kind of “loners”, students who don’t always “fit in”, for different reasons. Once they got the point of the quote, they really approved!

Saturday’s Book: “Wintersmith” by Terry Pratchett

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

Yup, you are right!
It’s another one in the Tiffany Aching series.
Not quite as good as the previous ones but still very good.
As always, with lots to think about and delightful use of words.

The only thing that bothered me a bit is that Tiffany grew up awfully fast. I just convinced my 10 year old niece to read the first one. Tiffany was nine years old in that one. Now she’s thirteen going on seventeen, or am I just awfully old fashioned?

I don’t have any more of the series at home (courtesy of son) so it will be a while till I read another one. But never fear, I won’t miss a single one!