This is part three of my second blogging challenge, in which I experiment  with and reflect on some of the small changes recommended in John Fanselow’s “Small Changes in Teaching, Big Results in Learning” .  These challenges are a way for me to keep honing my teaching skills.

It may be old, but new to me!
Naomi’s Photos

In the book, Fanselow brings up the issue of how the method of reading – thinking – speaking (without looking at the text) may seem to be just a tool for practicing dialogues, but that’s not its main use. The more I use the method now in class the more I understand what Fanselow means when he claims that it helps develop reading comprehension, vocabulary, syntax and more. I’ve just spent several lessons reading 120 word opinion compositions with three Deaf students in this manner(going for what we call their Module G matriculation exam soon). All three commented on how they felt focused on details of the composition and how it led to meaningful discussions.

Note – These students are Deaf so I had to write what they said as they spoke, so we could discuss it. In the book Fanselow has different suggestions for writing and other variations which I have not yet tried.

In any case, I was eager to try the method for practicing speech in pairs or small groups. It is very challenging for me to work on speech in my mixed level learning center. Not only are the students levels of English and academic abilities wildly different, their level of hearing and communication skills vary dramatically as well.

So here’s a Buncee Creation (thanks to Arlene Blum for introducing me to Buncee) to visualise the situation.



Saturday’s Book: “Educated” by Tara Westover

The ties that bind us…
Naomi’s Photos

This was my third book of my audio-book treat.

Thanks to the combination of the excellent (as always!) reader and the author’s beautiful prose, the backdrop, characters and events were extremely vivid.

Too vivid at times. Honestly.

It’s an amazing story of how a girl who never went to school until she began college at the age of 17 graduated from Cambridge and the Harvard with a PhD.  And no, it’s not that she participated in a wonderful home schooling program…

I am, naturally, fascinated by what makes a person study on her own despite hostile conditions and to see the effect education has on a person’s life.  This story is certainly fascinating.

However, this woman had some extremely difficult experiences while growing up. Some passages in the book were very hard for me to listen to. From what I’ve seen in the media,  people are comparing the book to The Glass Palace. I would also compare the book to The Color of Water.  While there are certainly many similar elements (the desire for education is one of them!) I felt there was one major difference, though I could be mistaken.

In this book I felt it was a wonder that the author, Tara, was even physically alive to make it to college. Her extreme survivalist family literally placed her in physical danger on more than one occasion. Not to mention physical abuse.

If I had read a print version I may have skipped a few lines here and there, in the really rough spots.

I recommend it, but perhaps its best not take the audio version for this one.


This is part two of my second blogging challenge, in which I experiment  with and reflect on some of the small changes recommended in John Fanselow’s “Small Changes in Teaching, Big Results in Learning” .  These challenges are a way for me to keep honing my teaching skills.

New constructions
Naomi’s Photos

I had heard of “Read and Look Up” before encountering this book, but never tried it in class. The rationale for having the students not recite a text mechanically while reading it from the page is clear and simple, that wasn’t what stopped me from trying it. It’s intuitive too, I can feel it on myself – a person can’t really focus on  comprehension and process the vocabulary, syntax and content presented in a text while focusing on reading aloud, particularly in a foreign language. It’s perfectly possible to read aloud from a page nicely without understanding what you have read.

What I hadn’t understood at all before reading Fanselow’s explanations and suggested activities is that reading a sentence (or two) silently, pausing and then looking at someone  before saying the words is not simply an exercise in memory and parroting! Now that I had something concrete to “hold on to”, I started trying some of the variations presented in the book , inventing additional variations along the way to suit my own students.

Having a ladder helps!
Naomi’s Photos

The “Advanced” Student – An Individual Lesson

10th grade student, top-level, hard of hearing, but in a quiet, one-on-one setting, can hear fairly well with her hearing aids. She speaks clearly too.

I gave the student, whom we’ll call R., an unfamiliar text written as an opinion essay on whether high school should be required to volunteer in the tenth grade or not. I had no idea if the activity I was going to try was suitable for such a strong student as R. ,but this was a text I had wanted to use in any case. I gave R. no explanations, just asked her to read to herself a sentence or two, turn over the page and say what she read.

R. did as I asked.

She replaced some words with others as she spoke.

I was delighted!

I praised her, explaining that replacing words was wonderful and told her that I wanted us to examine together what exactly she was doing.  I pulled out scrap paper and a pen and asked R. to begin again and wrote down every word she said. The situation amused R. –  she was speaking and I was the one writing furiously.

We paused after every two sentences (more or less) to compare what R. had said with the original text. We noted which words she had replaced with others and whether they meant the same as the original or not. If not, I suggested other words she could have used. For example, she said “In the beginning” instead of “At first”, which is great. When she said “the experience has donated  far more to me” instead of “contributed” we discussed the difference between the two words.

Then R.  read (with page turned over, remember?) two long sentences verbatim. She hadn’t replaced a single word or omitted a single one. R. then looked at the text and asked:

” I used the words in the text. I don’t know other words to use here.  Can you tell me?”

Needless to say, I was happy to oblige.

Look up!
Naomi’s Photos

“The Struggling Learners” – Individual Lessons

12th grade students, hard of hearing / Deaf students who use sign language in addition to speech, their speech is not always clear, all have additional learning disabilities, poor language skills in their mother tongue.  These students are practicing for the writing section on their upcoming “Module C” final exam, which for them is a very simple, informal letter, 35-40 words long. It is a difficult task for them.

I gave each student a sample letter we had used in class before.  The students are already familiar with the format – their final exam is in three weeks! Once again I first had the student look at the text, flip over the page and then read aloud. The texts are short! I wrote what each student said and then we compared it to the original. But then (following Fanselow’s suggestion) I added stages.

Each student received the text again with a blank space instead of one word in each sentence. They had to look at that text before flipping over the page and reading aloud complete sentences. Once again I wrote what they said and we compared what I wrote with the page with the blank spaces.

Then I gave the students the same text again with more blank spaces.  They looked at it and repeated the process. When we compared the results to the page not one student asked for the original complete text, they didn’t need it.

There are two blank spaces missing after the word “almost”, which got cut off in the photo.

Finally I gave the students a blank page and had them write a complete letter on their own.

It’s interesting to note that I hadn’t expected any of the students to replace any words, as their vocabulary is poor.

But they did. A little bit.

I’ve told these students repeatedly to choose adjectives they remember so as not to use the dictionary much on this section of the exam – they really don’t have time. But some students are “stubborn” – one student always wants to write that her boss is mean but can never remember the word “mean” and has to look it up. Today she simply replaced the word “mean” with “nice”!

Naomi’s Photos

Notes so far:

*The students and I are really enjoying this.

* In the next post I’ll share my “Read and look up” experiences so far with pair work.

* In Fanselow’s book the teacher isn’t the one doing the writing but for now, at least, that tricky with my students who don’t hear each other well.

* There are more elements to the method in the book.




Saturday’s Book: “Imperium” by Robert Harris

Naomi’s Photos

This book tries to be a combination of a historical account and a modern courtroom thriller.

I enjoyed it up to a point.

I’m interested in history, the Roman Empire is certainly a fascinating subject and Cicero’s unlikely rise to power is truly  a worthy subject. However there’s a great deal of detail designed to make the book sound like an episode of Boston Legal (or some other modern show about a law firm)  and by the last third of the book I found it tiresome. That probably says more about me than about the writer’s skill, I’m less interested in the back room wheeling and dealing   for votes. Shorter would have been better.

Nonetheless, I can see myself reading more of the author’s historical novels. He certainly makes a world long gone seem real.

One Tweak at a Time: Reflecting on Fanselow’s Textbook for EFL Teachers – 1. Skepticisim 101

This is part one of my blogging challenge.

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – experiment with and reflect on some of the small changes recommended in John Fanselow’s “Small Changes in Teaching, Big Results in Learning”   so as to see how I can keep honing my teaching skills.

Small things add up…
Naomi’s Photos


Fanselow certainly knows how to attract a veteran teacher’s attention.  That is no small matter. As an EFL  teacher of Deaf and Hard of Hearing students I don’t actually expect authors to be familiar with my specific classroom setting. I’m used to adapting everything. However, I do need strategies that are applicable for teachers in the national school system with a full work load.

For starters, there’s the title. I never would have chosen a book for my blogging challenge that called for “overhauling your teaching”! “Small Changes”, one “tweak a time” – now we’re talking.

Now forget the title. Take a look at this from the foreword, which Amazon lets you read for free without purchasing the book (No, this is not one of those blogs that has the blogger earning money from clicks on Amazon…):

Look up!
Naomi’s Photos

“My suggestion is for you to be as skeptical about your present practices as the alternatives I urge you to try.”

“…you must not only not believe anything I say but anything anyone else says. Do one of your usual activities, make a small change and compare the effects, over and over and over.”


Fanselow is offering me a “win – win” situation.

A small change leads to better results? Win!

The old way gets better results? Now there’s a reason and  a rationale for doing things this way. Win! 

Naomi’s Photos

Join me on this blogging challenge as I experiment in class, starting off with the effects of “Read and Look Up” on my students!

You will find that in the next post.

Saturday’s Book: “Alias Grace” by Atwood

Naomi’s Photos

Do you know how sometimes you feel sorry when you reach the end of a book you are reading and ” miss” the characters for a while?

By the time I finished reading Alias Grace I was glad to say goodbye to the characters and to have them out of my life.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe it’s a very good book. Atwood’s writing is, as always, riveting. I though it was incredibly skillful how she took the information available from printed sources about this true murder case / trial and filled in the gaps so convincingly. The characters she depicts seem very much alive, as is the period in which they lived. Sad times, unfair times, in which there was  scant attention given (if at all) to a great number of people’s well-being.  That’s putting it extremely mildly.

I’m glad I read the book but also glad I have finished it and can move on.

Who Were You, Dora? Tiny Glimpses into Life before the Holocaust through Ads

There was a time when the only one wearing yellow who was free was a butterfly…
Naomi’s Photos

” Understand, that I am younger and therefore all the troubles influence on me so strong. I must confess that I am not at all ??? Each little thing oldnesses me I don’t know what it is. Perhaps it will pass when all things will be better”.  (Written by Dora Volovelsky, Brest, March 1939, Perished in Ghetto Brest).

Note: For information regarding the “Who Were You, Dora?” series of posts, click here.

We know for a fact that Dora’s life, so tragically,  did not get better at all and ended very badly indeed. That fact is always there when we look back into the past.

Since there were no “better days” in her future, I am drawn to learning about what “better days” were like in earlier times, when Dora was a child. She was born in 1920. The Jewish communities in Pre-War Poland were very literate and had many newspapers. Three years of issues of the local newspaper for the community in Brest,  (where Dora grew up)    Brisker Wochenblat  בריסקער וואכענבלאט   are available online on the Historical Jewish Press Website. Issues from 1928 -1930.

The ads are what attracts one’s eye immediately, especially as they are far easier to understand (I can’t read the articles in Yiddish). There were a variety of ads,  such as advertisements for banks (there was more than one), doctors, clothing and shops that sold shoes. There were ads for plays and performances.  However, a few random ones caught my eye in particular while  virtually flipping through the advertisements in these newspapers. Here are some examples

Driving lessons, easy and quick
June 29, 1928

I wonder who was able to afford such lessons in 1928 and who even had a car.

Carmel Wines, Kosher for Passover, imported from Eretz Yisrael, wine and cognac. They claim it’s tasty! Make sure to get only the original brand with the two “scouts” with the grapes!
March 23, 1928

I suppose it makes sense when you think about it but frankly, I admit that it had never occurred to me that wine was being imported in that direction in the 1920s…

Feb 3 1928

This one is in Polish but the names of the dances are quite clear.  I had to check what “Black-Bottom” dancing was, I had never heard of it. Once again I wonder who attended and who may have studied the ad with interest but would never be permitted to set foot in such a gathering for religious reasons.

Music Lessons – Learn to play an instrument
July 20, 1928

This must have been more common. Not only do we have “The Fiddler on the Roof” image, my own grandmother immigrated from Brest with a fiddle.

Herba soap will give your skin a great color!
July 13 1928

According to family lore, beauty cream was really concoctions of several vegetables but perhaps a nice soap was something more readily available.

Entrance exams to the Jewish Tarbut School

June 7 1929

Dora may have studied here but I’m not sure. In any case, seeing that they had entrance exams to the Jewish school makes me wonder where those who didn’t pass the entrance exams studied. Or perhaps they didn’t study at all? This seems to be high school, not elementary. Many didn’t go to high school in those days.

The bus to Warsaw
Bus to Warsaw

This ad particularly interested me for two reasons. First of all, it may  have been the route to Warsaw that some or all of Dora’s half siblings took when they left home to immigrate.  In addition, the ad says the bus passes through Siedlce. That is where the lovely Beata Gulati resides, the one who helped turn my journey to Belarus into a reality and the point of departure for our trip. Perhaps I retraced a bit of my grandmother’s journey without knowing it?



In memory of Dora and Nochim Volovelsky, who perished in Ghetto Brest.