FORTUNATELY, we’re back to teaching at school every day – no distance learning!
UNFORTUNATELY, due to Covid, the students have missed out on many school activities, both academic and social /emotional ones, and have a lot of catching up to do this year.
FORTUNATELY, schools are intensively trying to make up for lost time – students are going on school trips and outings, experiencing workshops on topics ranging from health and safety to inclusion, and even doing volunteer work. Wonderful things! These experiences are certainly more meaningful for high school students than the additional reason their English lessons are canceled – taking exams in other subjects…
UNFORTUNATELY, I have discovered that Merriam-Webster’s definition of the musical term “staccato” is now applicable to my lessons:
“1a: cut short or apart in performing: DISCONNECTED staccato notes”
By the time we discussed the last stanza of “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost during one of the lessons that did take place as scheduled, my Deaf and hard-of-hearing students needed a review of what we talked about at the beginning of the poem…
I needed an activity reviewing basic understanding of the poem.
FORTUNATELY, I had a review ready, one which I created in 2019. In this review, the speaker solicits advice from a friend about his dilemma and then explains why he rejects the advice. You can find that activity here:
UNFORTUNATELY, The review activity is written on flashcards, housed in a box in the classroom. This means that the activity can only be done in class…
There is so much ground to cover when the students are in class…
FORTUNATELY, I just created a digital version of the activity. I now have the speaker, stuck at the point where the two roads diverge, using his cell phone to solicit advice from friends. I posted it online using LiveWorkseets, a format which is convenient for the students to access and use, even on their phones, and is easy for me to work with.
I did not make the worksheet a self-check one. I wanted the students to type in the missing sentences, so at first glance, it would have made sense just to type in the answers and let them check themselves. However, my Deaf and hard-of-hearing students often type with spelling mistakes, and then LiveWorksheet would mark a correct answer as WRONG. I simply ask the students to send me pictures of the completed worksheets.
UNFORTUNATELY, the students ended up doing the review activity in class after all…
I may have completely wasted my time but perhaps I’ll be glad to have a digital copy in the future.
I’m sighing now but I shall not be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence – I will have forgotten about it by then!
This is certainly a clever book that packs a punch.
Remember when Greta Thunberg thundered:
“My message is that we’ll be watching you. This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you. You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. Yet I am one of the lucky ones. People are suffering.”
In case you were wondering how exactly ignoring climate change/not protecting the planet steals children’s futures, Lydia Millet spells it out for you in a very clever way, using the familiar framework of well-known stories from the Bible, as told by children. You know there’s no happy ending here but you can’t stop reading…
Gripping, clever, and so scary as it is all too real for comfort.
The Second Sleep by Robert Harris
After the previous book, I was looking for something different to read next. When I saw this book by Harris I knew I would get a fast-paced tale, full of suspense, all told within a historical framework. So I just began it without knowing a thing about the book.
While the book is certainlyall of that, the history part is actually set in the future, 800 years after the apocalypse!
This time Nature recovers and survives, but the human race is having a much harder time bouncing back. Not many people survived because (as the author is wont to remind us) people who cannot produce food are only 6 meals away from starvation when technology collapses completely…
800 years later finds Britain back in the Middle Ages with an all-powerful Church who has outlawed science and technology – that brought about the end of the world, so it’s obviously evil, right?
Our heroes are, naturally, a very curious bunch who are looking for answers the Church won’t provide.
The Narrowboat Summer by Anne Youngson
There is some calming magic in Youngson’s writing style, I began to feel it by page two!
Here nature is relaxing. When you navigate a narrowboat through Britain’s canals and locks, you must adjust to a slower pace of life, with plenty of time for contemplating and looking at your surroundings. Spending time outdoors isn’t some event you plan for once a month.
No one is rejecting technology in this book or even complaining about it. Rather the necessity of making nature a part of your daily life in some way or another is emphasized as having a strong connection to well-being.
If you haven’t read anything by Anne Youngson, start with “Meet Me at the Museum”. That one is much better but I still enjoyed reading this one too.
168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam
The title is great clickbait but resist temptation.
Don’t read this book.
While the author only lets the word “lazy” slip once, it resonates pretty loudly in the book. It’s not clear whether she studied human nature or Mr. Spok’s Vulcan character.
While I do agree with certain very specific points Vanderkam makes, I reject her overall attitude completely. Not everything you do is about excelling. You do not have to focus only on the hobby you are good at and hone it to perfection – it’s perfectly fine to enjoy dancing or playing the guitar even if you are truly bad at it. Or just dabble in photography…
Your volunteer work is worthwhile even if you happily remain the one who carries the boxes of donated clothes for years and don’t even think about joining the board of trustees.
Worse, Vanderkam floored me when she was talking about children and the home. Was she living in a different world from mine? To be fair, she truly emphasizes the importance of parents spending time with their children. No argument there.
How can she discuss managing to stick to your rigid schedule dividing work time and parent/child time, while ignoring the mornings when your mind is mush because you were up half the night with a teething baby, a sick child, or one who just has nightmares? Sleepless nights for so many parents are more than twice-yearly events that playing catch up over the weekend can solve all issues.
Then there’s the part about food.
I am truly respectful of anyone who makes a conscious decision to rely heavily on ready-made frozen or tinned food as meals. Everyone has to balance his/her life choices, I can understand that. However, calling such food healthy and nutritious is beyond my comprehension.
In short – skip this one and read the next one.
Atomic Habits by James Clear
Unlike the previous book, I felt that this book was very relatable.
No wonder so many people recommend it, particularly to teachers! I see many quotes referring to it.
James Clear presents his methods for creating habits (or breaking bad ones) in small steps with realistic examples. Not only does he not expect you to constantly have lofty goals, but he also emphasizes the process. I had never realized how much focusing on the process (as opposed to just the final goal ) could serve as a motivating factor.
Throughout the book Clear repeats and summarizes his four principles, again and again, highlighting how they fit together. I found this to be helpful.
I haven’t had a chance to try out anything in class yet. Or actually, perhaps I have, at least to some degree. While Clear focuses on what you do for yourself, the book “Switch” by Heath and Heath discusses some of the same points from the perspective of making the habit/ behavior you hope your employees/students do be the easiest choice available. In that respect, I think the books complement each other.
I also enjoy Clear’s brief weekly newsletter – reminds me of what I have read.
It seems I don’t have to worry about falling into the veteran teacher’s trap of thinking that I’ve seen/heard it all.
I have my students to thank for that!
When your student repeatedly fails to log onto the classroom website, you’ve looked at her username, reset her password twice, tried typing the details in yourself (on two different browsers), and rebooted the computer, check the underscore!
I now know that it is very easy to miss the fact that a student has chosen to use a double underscore in her username (or was it a typo? We’ll never know).
When launching into your standard “pre-poem-teaching” conversation with a new student about invisible barriers, stereotypes, and racism, your student suddenly shuts the book firmly and declares (in mother tongue):
It is not right to judge people by the color of their skin. That’s what the point of this poem you want me to learn is. See? I learned that. We’re done here.
When this happens, try to remember to close your mouth after your jaw drops…
The Draw of a Drawing
When you decide to add a drawing which you “created” in three minutes* to a message in the class WhatsApp group instead of using a carefully chosen humorous photograph (which you took yourself using a real camera!!) and then a student who never reads messages actually comments on it, don’t get insulted!
It seems that among the countless photos a student scrolls through, a drawing stands out a bit more.
Who knew? I can’t draw so I certainly didn’t know…
It’s very easy to choose a character and then edit it using the menu. I go into the site from my phone (though you can use a computer), save my “creation” to my phone and send it off. I didn’t download anything, I just use the “Blush” option. Play with it!
I just feel pretty much the same about both books.
“The House in the Cerulean Sea” by T.J. Klune and “Britt Marie was Here” by Fredrik Backman
Both books have a basic plot that is clear from the beginning and it isn’t a spoiler. You know that the main character, a person who lacks self confidence, is ignored by everyone and leads a limited existence, will learn to spread his/her wings.
In both books the issue is ” the how” – more than “the what”. I particularly liked the self dialogue the main characters held with themselves in both books. In the book about Britt Marie the commentary is also delightful. In the other book the dialogues with the children are a real treat!
Both books promote inclusion and learning to see those who are different from you. Linus, the case worker, teaches others that “magical beings” (as far as I’m concerned, that reads as “children with special needs) should be respected and integrated into society. LGBQT as well. Britt Marie meets people whom society would rather not see – you miss them a bit when you have finished reading the book since you now care about their lives.
In short – well written “feel good books”.
Note: I saw the trailer for the film “Britt Marie was here” and I wasn’t pleased. Britt Marie NEVER did jumping jacks with the children, she spread her wings but in a way that was consistent to who she was. I may be judging hastily but the movie looks as if it crossed the line between “feel good” and “Kitsch”…
I can’t possibly teach my students everything they need to know.
I couldn’t do that even before the pandemic granted me the pleasure of teaching students who haven’t studied without disruption for the past year and a half. Students whose studies may be disrupted yet again in the near future…
What DO my students need to know?
This question has an obvious answer, considering the fact that I’m a teacher in the national school system and we have a curriculum to follow.
So there’s plenty of familiar material that needs to be taught.
There’s an additional factor to consider.
I feel that the pandemic has widened the gap between my strongest students and my weaker ones.
And believe me, it’s not because these strong students (most of them, there were a few exceptions) studied English on their own!
You also can’t claim that the students who are profoundly Deaf, from Deaf families, whose primary mode of communication is Sign Language were benefitting from watching movies in English without subtitles or following the lyrics of songs in English (the latter is very difficult for hard-of-hearing students to do as well).
One of the things that I have noticed about these strong students is that they are super observant and make connections. All sorts of connections!
They pay attention to words in English on packaging, clothing, bumper stickers, computer games, and websites they use.
But it’s much more than that.
When the stronger students watch the same movies (or T.V programs) as their classmates, they garner useful information, even when the quality of some of the movies is questionable. From a film about aliens landing on the White House lawn and snatching the US President, they recall all the other references to the fact that the capital of the US is Washington DC and not New York ( as some of my students think… )
They take note of the fact that in the opening ceremony of the Olympic games, athletes from Greece always head the parade regardless of alphabetical order and want to know why.
When encountering a reading passage on their national exam “Next Stop: Mars?” or perhaps about “Trash in Space” the stronger students can visualize scenes from various movies they have seen (such as “Apollo 13” “The Martian” ) and computer games they have played as aids in understanding the texts, despite the complex vocabulary. They recognize the symbol of NASA and know what it refers to.
Some of the stronger students had even seen footage from the International Space Station and even from the rover “Curiosity” when they read the news online.
The strongest students are more curious than their classmates. When reading a text in class about “invasive green parrots” or “Piano Stairs – The Fun Theory”, they will use Google to see visuals without me telling them to do so.
GENERAL KNOWLEDGE IMPACTS READING COMPREHENSION!
The gaps in struggling students’ general knowledge about the world hinder their performance on reading comprehension tasks regularly.
This has always been true.
However, before the pandemic, I had more time to discuss background information for every single reading passage with them.
The gaps in general knowledge are most striking when it comes to texts related to environmental issues. There are many such texts in our practice books and exams.
It’s one thing if the students don’t know that it’s very cold in Canada and that Amazon is a name of a company that delivers products, and that drones can be used to do so (all my students know about Ali Express!). It is much more problematic when the students haven’t a clue no about the connection between cows and the environment (actually, I’ve had students who didn’t even know cows could graze on a pasture – they assumed cows were only raised in enclosed spaces). Think of a reading passage on the topic of environmentally friendly meat substitutes…
They need to know that satellites even exist before reading about trash in space.
Forget satellites – a few of the struggling students are unaware that wildlife exists outside of a zoo or the continent of Africa. A text about the problems that arise when wild animals live in the city is harder to make sense of when you can’t visualize such a situation.
Remember the ongoing problem called “lack of time in class”?
I’ve begun creating short homework (or independent-work-in-class-time) tasks for my students in which the students watch a short video (VISUALS!) about a topic related to an environmental issue and then answer a few lower-order comprehension questions just to make sure they have paid attention to the main points of the video.
My students are getting these videos WITH SUBTITLES in L1.
It’s very simple.
These videos are too challenging for my struggling learners in English.
I don’t want to spend time teaching vocabulary items such as “satellites” or even “factory” when there is such a large number of basic and frequent words/phrases these students do not know.
The dictionary will tell them what a satellite is in L1.
What I am concerned about is that the struggling learners will know what THAT word is denoting when they see the translation.
Note: For some of my students, Sign Language is their mother tongue. I hope to add a version with sign language for each video during the school year – I have asked for assistance in this matter, so I’m quite hopeful.
Here is the first video, in English. Perhaps it will be helpful to you as it is.
Here is the file with Hebrew captions. This is not a one-to-one translation, some captions have been edited for brevity and clarity. I’m trying to get a message across!
If you create captions in other languages for this video, please let me know!
Here is a link to download a copy of a Google form with “very unsophisticated” questions to ensure attention to the points I wanted.
It’s difficult to define exactly what makes this book so special – it’s like the difficulty in defining what exactly “umami” is, which is something not only discussed in the book but plays a role in the story as well.
It’s a novel which mainly takes place in Mexico City. It follows the intertwined lives of the different people who live in “Belldrop Mews” (I had to look up the term “mews”!). It’s written from the point of view of several characters, some of whom are children. Their “voices” are so real, that I now miss them a bit – as if they were people I had met.
While all the neighbors are dealing with grief, this is not a “depressing” book. There are very sad moments along with ones of wonder and amusement.
More importantly, I found the combination of “voices” relating the same events, particularly the children’s voices, to be a powerful storytelling method in this context. The children questioned, wondered at, or even directly challenged the adults’ way of handling grief, and highlighted the many layers and aspects of how life moves forward after a tragedy.
And yes, there is hope, and new beginnings in this book. Slow changes for the better that start small but mean a lot (no fairy godmothers here…).
I recommend that you don’t read too much about the book in advance – it’s best to understand things as they are presented.
I really enjoy reading books by Donoghue but this is the one I enjoyed the least.
Don’t get me wrong, it IS a good book but I’m not particularly fond of the “whodunnit” format, particularly in a historical drama. The constant moving between time frames (the murder is right at the beginning of the book, it’s not a spoiler!) bothered me somewhat. When reading Donoghue I’m used to really getting to know the character and the period before such a dramatic event. Judging by the reviews online most people were not bothered by this at all!
This book, with its many musical references, might have been more enjoyable as an audiobook – they tend to sing such things when possible, Reading the afterword helped me realize the significance of the references and their relevance to the period and to the plot. I admit that I needed the explanations.
In fact, the afterword helped me appreciate the book more, as the author explains which historical facts were available to her about the two main characters’ lives (and deaths) and how she used them to create the story. I was fascinated by that part!
The book takes place in 1876 in San Francisco – a lot it takes place in Chinatown. The author’s depictions of the shameful way the Chinese immigrants were treated tied in with the information I learned from two other books I’ve recently read, “Interior Chinatown” by Charles Yu and “Disappearing Moon Cafe” by Sky Lee (this is set in Vancouver but covers a lot of the same ground as the other two).
There are still many books by Donaghue I haven’t read – I’m looking forward to reading them!
Although THE PANDEMIC has been wreaking havoc on our lives for over a year and a half, I had not known there was an acronym out there that described the situation we are facing as teachers in the school system.
An acronym derived from four different words.
Defining a situation and looking at its components enables us to find footholds and add pegs to hold onto.
And then move forward.
As a teacher feeling concerned about beginning another school year in the shadow of the pandemic, I am certainly interested in a model for dealing with a difficult situation, even if it comes from the business world.
The suggested responses are my adaptations of their business recommendations.
“The challenge is unexpected or unstable and may be of unknown duration, but it’s not necessarily hard to understand.”
The challenges posed by teaching under “pandemic conditions” are no longer unexpected but they certainly are unstable. We could be teaching in-person in class one day and remotely the next. Many students could be absent due to illness and quarantine or perhaps the students will be divided into groups again. And we certainly don’t know how long this unstable situation is going to last!
The authors’ business response works well for education: “… devote resources to preparedness…”
LIGHTBULB MOMENT for STRESSED TEACHER SELF
Even though I may not know what a day of teaching will look like at any given point, the time I have already invested in creating digital versions of my classroom materials means that I AM somewhat prepared for an unstable new year! True, I haven’t digitized all my material yet, but continuing to do that is certainly a clear-cut achievable goal that will have a positive impact.
“Despite a lack of other information, the event’s basic cause and effect are known. Change is possible, but is not a given”.
Gathering information about the pandemic (aka “event”) itself isn’t really a helpful option for a teacher, since the school management and others don’t know when there will be a lockdown or new restrictions either.
However, if we focus on the authors’ emphasis on sharinginformation, the connection to education becomes clear. Invest in building/strengthening your ties with other teachers – what are they doing? Did it work? Do they know what you’ve been doing? Even the things that didn’t work? We are not alone!
Sharing equals strength.
LIGHTBULB MOMENT for STRESSED TEACHER SELF
Yes, I will probably be frustrated and even VERY FRUSTRATED at times during the upcoming school year. It’s unavoidable. When it happens I must remind myself that I do belong to quite a few online groups for teachers, so if no one at school has time to talk to me about it, someone is out there who does have time to listen and discuss.
But before anything else, my first response should be to BREATHE!
“The situation has many interconnected parts and variables. Some information is available and can be predicted but the volume and nature of it can be overwhelming to process.”
The authors recommend building adequate resources to address the complexity (and bringing in specialists, but that’s not realistic in this case …).
As far as I’m concerned that means dividing the work of creating a large number of resources that cater to students with different needs. The instability of the situation doesn’t end when the school day is over, it affects our daily lives. Sharing and dividing the work are the only antidotes I can see to feeling overwhelmed.
LIGHTBULB MOMENT for STRESSED TEACHER SELF
This is something I need to work on more. The pandemic isn’t going away tomorrow – this is a call for action!
“Causal relationships are completely unclear. No precedents exist; you face ‘unknown unknowns.”
I have never taken an in-service training course on teaching in a situation in which the normal progression of a school year is so frequently disrupted for such an extended period of time – that situation is so unprecedented that I couldn’t even imagine it until it happened.
Will the students retain vocabulary when they learn online and have GOOGLE TRANSLATE at their fingertips?
Will having the students write their answers on paper and then send me pictures of it force them to really look at the words in the sentence carefully despite using translation programs?
I don’t know.
The business advice here is spot on but not so easy to adopt.
The authors recommend EXPERIMENTING – thinking carefully of strategies that could solve issues, trying them out, and learning from the results.
To some extent, we all do it. What else can we do in such a situation?
However, this requires dealing with failure and learning from it. I don’t know how it works in the business world, but as a high school teacher, I find experimenting to be a safe and useful approach in a limited way.
Yes, the students responded well to acting out a poem in class – Do More of That.
No, the students did not seem to really engage with vocabulary when I used a certain word puzzle, nor did they particularly enjoy it – Don’t Do That.
But high school is a setting with high-stakes standardized exams. You don’t have a lot of wiggle room.
In addition, in order to learn from results, experiments should be planned carefully. Some outcomes are difficult to differentiate from others – how do I know if it is because of a certain strategy I tried?
LIGHTBULB MOMENT for STRESSED TEACHER SELF
So here’s something in my life that the pandemic hasn’t upset. I’ll continue to try, from time to time different ways to practice vocabulary or work on a text or anything else. That’s what I’ve always done.
Finding something that hasn’t changed is comforting too.
In these times of living with a pandemic, everywhere that isn’t right next door seems far away.
Nonetheless, when I read these books I felt that they were set particularly far away, either geographically, historically, or in a magical realm.
The Night Circus by Morgenstern
A story set inside a magical, very magical, circus. Lovely descriptions, a love story, suspense, good triumphs evil. I enjoyed it, but I think it would have been even better if it had been a bit shorter.
The Convenience Store Woman by Murata
The story is set inside a Japanese Convenience store, which seems to be quite different from convenience stores I have encountered. I never imagined salespeople being instructed to shout their polite responses to customers!
While I understand that the book is presenting a critique of pressure to conform in Japanese society (at the workplace, the pressure to get married and “fit in”), to me the book is set inside the mind of a woman with “autism spectrum disorder”.
I kept wanting to say to people in the book: “Leave her alone! She has worked at this store for so many years because a predictable environment with clear-cut ways to behave in every situation feels comfortable and safe to her!”
Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon
I almost didn’t read this book as I’m not much a fan of “swashbuckling adventure” – you know, the horseriding bandits with the heart of gold who save the day? But it was a short audiobook, an intriguing setting with a great reader and I’m glad I did.
It is set in Khazaria (Southwest Russia today) and takes place around AD 950. It was a period where Judaism was more widely spread, including some of the warring factions in the region. Our two tough, dangerous, brave, and generous “bandits” are Jewish, a fact which was important to the author, as Chabon himself expands on in a very interesting endnote to the audiobook.
Aquarium by Ya’ara Shehori
Place markers of any kind are hardly mentioned in this book – the story could have taken place anywhere, everywhere, and nowhere. It was written in Hebrew and but readers of the English translation could place the story in their town just as easily.
It’s a story of girls brought up in isolation and what happens after they are no longer secluded from the world.
It’s a story of a Deaf family trying to escape the intervention of the “hearing world”, but ends up denying reality. Such denials come with a heavy price.
At first, I was concerned about some aspects of the behaviors of some of the Deaf characters and wondered how well the author had researched the subject of Deafness. But all anomalies were explained and made complete sense later on in the book. I was amused to see that the author studied Sign Language with a former student of mine!
It isn’t an easy read. There are whole passages trying to be poetic or philosophical and too drawn out in my taste. I found some parts tiresome and rather boring.
The Pier Falls – by Haddon
Each story is set somewhere else – the first one is set in Britain while the next one takes you straight into Greek Mythology.
While the writing is excellent and gripping, I did not finish the book. Besides my habitual difficulties in reading short story collections by the same author (the basic style is too similar), the stories all seemed to be about people in hopeless situations facing horrible outcomes. There’s only so much of that I can take, even if it is well written.
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
A clever, engrossing book that takes familiar fairy tale tropes (particularly Rumplestilskin) and gives them a completely new twist.
A feminist twist.
With lots of other messages.
A book supposedly set in “fantasy land” but it sounds a great deal like places I know of from history lessons (or genealogy research!). To me, it seems to be set in Lithuania, or the vicinity of, with forests lurking with danger, poor hamlets with fraught relations between the peasants and the Jews, the noblemen in the city killing each other for power, and more…
Strong women who come together, ignoring class and religion, save the day.
That’s not a spoiler – there’s much to read here (it’s a bit too long, I admit)!
When was the last time you stopped reading a book after a few pages just so you could savor the beauty of the writing?
Well, this is the book to make you stop and pay attention to “the how” as well as the “what”. They must be teaching the opening chapter of “Deacon King Kong” in creative writing classes. What a way to introduce the characters and the setting!
The setting is a public housing project in Brooklyn N.Y in 1969 with a variety of characters living/operating there.
The pace is fast, there is a well-balanced combination of humor, drama, romance, and serious commentary on society and race in the United States.
I didn’t want to stop reading!
Teaching English as a FOREIGN language to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students