All posts by Naomi Epstein

Hi! I teach English as a foreign language to deaf and hard of hearing students in Israel and am a national counselor in this field. http://visualisingideas.edublogs.org

One Pandemic – MANY BOOKS! Thurbon, Grossman, Gaiman, Castel-Blum & Patchett

Diving into a book!
Naomi’s Photos

Note: The book I began reading on the very first day of “Sheltering in Place”, The Time of Our Singing by Powers has its own post (click on the title to view it).  It took me time to read all 642 pages of it! Since then my pace of reading has picked up (even though I am physically back at school!) because I’ve begun listening to audiobooks when I do the housework in addition to reading books (printed or on Kindle) when I’m resting. All audiobooks thanks to the LIBBY Program at the library.

Since I’m already in the middle of TWO more books, I gave up on the idea of having a separate post for each book.

So here goes!

It’s a long, harsh journey…
Naomi’s Photos…

 

The Shadow of the Silk Road by Colin Thubron

Thubron is a great travel writer! Not only does he know how to draw a reader in with his vivid descriptions, he includes DIALOGUES. Thubron, who was in his early sixties during his rough backpacking journey, speaks Russian and has a basic command of Mandarin. He presents us with conversations with people living (or barely making a living, sadly) in every single spot he visits, thus combining history with the present day.  Well, more or less the present day. The travels took place at the beginning of the 21st century, and things have changed since then in some respects. Double time travel – 20 years ago and centuries ago!

I enjoyed it!

Just PUFF!
Naomi’s Photos
Stardust by Neil Gaiman

This is a fun book, particularly if you listen to it as an audiobook, read by Neil Gaiman himself. He’s a wonderful reader who brings to life the wide range of characters he created for adult readers, both in the traditional English countryside and beyond THE WALL in FAIRY. FAIRY is a land in which witches, unicorns,  ships that sail the skies, dangerous trees, wicked spells and so much more all exist alongside the human world we know.

A fun book, a change of pace from usual reading material, but part of the time what I enjoyed more than the plot was listening to Gaiman’s delightful use of language.

Mixed emotions
Naomi’s photos
Life Plays with Me by David Grossman

I read this book in Hebrew but I’m positive that it will soon be translated into English. Grossman has won much international acclaim and his books have been translated into many languages.

To be more precise, I listened to it as an audiobook. The reader was WONDERFUL!  The combination of the writing that had me completely riveted along with the amazing reader left me feeling as if I were perched on  Gili’s shoulder, with the ability to hear her thoughts. Gili is the character who tells the story of her family, as she knows it, as she felt it and as she learns more about it.  The events that took place in the post-WWII years in the Serbia /Croatian region had a profound effect on the characters and their descendants.

I found the book and the main character, the 90-year-old Vera, very moving.

I really recommend this book!!!

Pyramids…
Naomi’s Photos
An Egyptian Novel by Orly Castel Blum

I was somewhat disappointed by this book though am not sorry that I read it.

The topic is an interesting one but the book feels uneven, with parts that held my interest along with parts that felt unnecessarily long and not particularly connected.

The parts I enjoyed reading were about the different hopes and dreams of  Jews immigrating from Egypt to Israel and what happened to those dreams afterward.  Most of what I had known of the Jewish community in Egypt came from Egyptian writers.

However, the parts relating to the character (who is only referred to as “the eldest daughter”, to emphasize her identity crises) and her inability to “find her way” felt interminable. It was unclear why she suddenly became the main character of so many chapters of the book – in previous chapters the point of view shifted between various characters and was more engaging.

Can’t let go of that house…
Naomi’s Photos
The Dutch House by Anne Patchett

As may recall, Patchett is one of my favorite authors. This is a good book, all her books are good,  but on my personal ranking of books written by Patchett, this one is close to the bottom.

As always I enjoyed the way her she gives you personal drama while staying away from “soap opera” tear-jerkers or predictable endings and there were certainly some twists that I did not see coming.  But at the center of the story is a house, While I agree that it is a very unusual looking house with unusual things inside and it certainly has an important role in the story, I grew tired of hearing about it. Perhaps I don’t watch enough period dramas…

By the way, I used the word “hearing” and not “reading” because I listened to this as an audiobook, read by Tom Hanks.  Hanks is a fine reader but this isn’t one of those books that listening to it adds an extra element of enjoyment (such as listening to Trevor Noah narrate his own book “Born a Crime”!)

Happy Reading!

Just for FUN – It’s Towel Day!

Just before THE pandemic broke out, I was asked to present something about a holiday in a creative manner. It was for a great in-service course for teachers I took with Debbie Ben Tura on the topic of creativity in EFL Teaching.

So I chose the “holiday” TOWEL DAY!

Here it is!

Book titled 'How to Celebrate 'Towel Day''Read this book made on StoryJumper

 

 

Returning to the Classroom, Covid-19 Style – A Photo Pause

Mixed emotions
Naomi’s photos

 

YAY!      Schools will resume teaching “normally” as of tomorrow at full capacity.

OMG!    Schools will resume teaching “normally” as of tomorrow at full capacity.

Note: Full capacity at the high-school where I teach is about 1800 students.

It’s a ROLLER COASTER!     Last-minute decisions,  conflicting and incomplete information – teachers and school administrators can be ready for anything, adapt to whatever is needed at a moment’s notice, right? Isn’t that why educators are one of the most respected professions in the world? Right, huh?

Honey makes the medicine go down…
Naomi’s Photos

I say “YAY” because I’m thrilled to teach the way I was meant to teach – being with the students in the same room! A lesson in which we can all focus on the task at hand,  with all our resources available,  leaving technology to be used when, where, and how we want to use it, only when it serves our purpose.

A FACE-to-FACE lesson where we can smile at the students as they enter class, compliment one, encourage another who seems to need it even though no word was spoken, or even just silently point to the whiteboard where the dates of the national exams are written when they ask for the umpteenth time.

What DO the doctors say?!!  Naomi’s Photos

Smile?

Did I say “smile“?

What about THE MASKS?!!

If it is safe now to have so many students in one place for an entire school day, in close proximity, why isn’t it safe for them to ride on a school bus to school? The students won’t come without transportation and the drivers won’t bring them at half capacity.

Who is actually going to come tomorrow? And the day after? And what about those who don’t? And those students and teachers who really can’t return?

Have medical professionals, epidemiologists, been consulted during the “thoughtful process of planning” the reopening of the school system? The fact that I’m looking for a “rhyme and a reason” may be highly Quixotic of me but knowing that doesn’t help me sleep any better.

Is wearing a mask for a full school day at all feasible?

Thanks to an administrator at school I got a mask with a clear plastic window so my Deaf and hard of hearing students can see my lips. Can I spend a whole day with a piece of plastic over my mouth?

I guess I’m going to find out.

Sunny? It’s going to be “a scorcher”!
Naomi’s Photos

The principal sent a recommendation to spend breaks outdoors as much as possible, so as to avoid crowding in the teacher’s room.  Students should go out as well.

Unfortunately, the first serious heatwave of the year has just begun. It’s a scorcher worse than our usual seasonal ones. The weather forecast for the area of our school tomorrow will be a whopping 40 degrees celsius! 

For once I can foresee the future – the schoolyard will be empty!

 

Saturday’s Book: The Time of our Singing by Richard Powers

Life on the edge…
Naomi’s Photos

The Time of Our Singing is an unusual book.

It is also a very unusual review post as some of the same things that I liked about the book were also things I didn’t like about the book.

I know, that’s a very strange thing to say. I can’t recall ever writing such a sentence before.

The writing style intrigued me and drew me in right away, and kept me reading through all 642 pages of it, despite despairing at times this book would ever end. The book progresses in cleverly introduced cycles and flashbacks. This makes the reading more interesting yet at times there is too much repetition.  I kept wanting to tell the author – “Yes,  yes, I got it already, I knew that already, move on!”

The book introduces us to Delia Daley, her husband David Strom, and their three children. Delia is an African American woman whose musical career as a classical singer was thwarted early on (the late 1930s) despite her extensive talent,  due to the color of her skin. David is a Jewish physicist and professor, who left Nazi Germany just in time. His entire origin family remained and perished in the Holocaust. He’s new to the country, his English is poor. David is sure that the fact that he’s a Jew who has dealt with a generous share of discrimination overrides his being white, but American society does not see their mixed marriage that way. Each of their children has a different shade of skin color and the book examines aspects of racism in the United States thoroughly, in great detail.

Living in harmony…
Naomi’s Photos

What binds the family together is music. Or rather MUSIC. That is their life, their day, their conversations, their EVERYTHING. All three children are very talented but the eldest, Noah, has an amazingly pure tenor voice.  How this voice affects the course of the family’s life is central to the book along with the examination of the discrimination at every step of the way.

Pages upon pages upon pages are devoted to rich, beautiful, and exhausting details about music. I did not find the details related to music so overwhelming when I read Vikram Seth’s “An Equal Music” as I did in this book. Perhaps another reader with a greater knowledge of classical music will find symbolism and hints that eluded me . It was the same with physics – the physicist father researches the duality of time and the author plays with this theme while cycling the plot between different time periods. Clever but sometimes I simply lost the thread of the point.

However, to return to the point I opened with – at no point did I want to stop reading the book.

I’m glad I read it but was also relieved when I reached the end.

That’s not much of a recommendation either way, so here’ a practical tip – take the book from the library, if possible. Don’t buy it. If you enjoyed it, wonderful! If you don’t like it, simply return it. That’s what I did.

Libraries ROCK!

Distance Learning – The Importance of Blank Spaces

Not quite the same…
Naomi’s Photos

When I was first “thrown” so suddenly by the pandemic into a situation where I had to work on reading comprehension via distance learning with my Deaf and hard of hearing students, I used online worksheets consisting of multiple-choice questions a great deal.

There is no doubt that sometimes such a worksheet is EXACTLY what is needed.

For example, take the following old reading comprehension exercise of mine which I updated into an online worksheet –  Identifying the Main Idea
My goal is (yet again, and again and again) to try to show the students that they have to read the distractors of a multiple-choice question very very carefully. Distractors often include information that is factually correct but is not the main point at all.
A Self-check multiple-choice online worksheet is absolutely the way to go in this case.

I love it when a student complains that the worksheet must be wrong – surely the main idea of the short video involving a blind man must be “It is important to help blind people”.  That fact is true but it is NOT the main idea here  – that’s the kind of discussion I want to have!

Here is the link to the worksheet

https://www.liveworksheets.com/bs385563yd

When you need to leave empty spaces…
(Naomi’s Photos)

However…

Sometimes the value of the learning task is greatly diminished by having multiple-choice options.  Such as in cases where the answer is fairly obvious, and having options makes the question ridiculously easy.

More importantly, when enriching students’ vocabulary is part of the goal of a particular task, having them write out (or type) the answer on their own forces them to pay attention to the word a bit more. Many formats of online exercise do not enable copy /paste, the students actually have to type in the words letter by letter.

An unexpected difficulty can arise here.

Even though it is quite possible to have the students type in the correct answer and keep the worksheet in “self-check” format, I have stopped doing so.

For the answers to be considered correct the students have to type the answer in EXACTLY as you typed it in. If they wrote the correct answer but inadvertently added a space, used the wrong symbol in the keyboard in the word “don’t ” (a very common error that my students make), added or missed a comma,  their answer will be marked as WRONG! 

Many of my students really don’t respond well to that sort of situation.

You lost me…
Naomi’s Photos

So, as in the worksheet you will see here, I leave all the blanks for the students to type in the answers empty, without a self-check answer. The students then send me pictures of the screen or screenshots and I check them.

I have the luxury of having small classes, but it is possible to send them a document to self-check their work if you find it more applicable to your teaching situation.

Here is a link to a task using abbreviations commonly found online to introduce some phrases, while watching a lovely video that was a huge hit a few years ago.

I’ve included an answer sheet below the link.

The Present

Answer sheet: Utilizing the gift of texting Answer sheet

I hope everyone goes back to teaching in class soon!

Distance Learning – Reading Comprehension: When “DUH” Questions Beat Explaining

Making connections
(Naomi’s Photos)

In order to do well on an exam involving a reading comprehension passage, a student learning English as a foreign language must do more than look up translations of unfamiliar words, right? He/She has to THINK about what is being asked and notice the relevant details in the text, right?

Those are certainly  “DUH” questions for any EFL teacher.

But even back in the “good old days“,  before Covid_19, when I used to meet my Deaf and hard of hearing high school students face to face, getting students to really examine the reading comprehension questions carefully, to notice all the helpful hints “hiding in plain sight” in the text, was one of the issues I spent a great deal of time on.  Every time the students and I worked on a text I would highlight certain points, leaving others for another lesson, careful not to “flood” them with too much information at once.

Now that we’re in “distance learning mode”, not only do I have to find ways to adapt my usual explanations to this new way of studying, I also have to contend with Google Translate. Students certainly use it and I can’t blame them.

But I want them to think about some aspects of the text!

Stop and think!
Naomi’s Photos

So I prepared a guided reading comprehension task in four sections. It is modular so different students can do it at their own pace. I used LiveWorksheets so that the task would be online with interactive options.

The first stage was getting students to look carefully at the title, the first sentence, and all the names and numbers in the text  Students need to be reminded to take advantage of the useful information gained from this simple technique. This was achieved by showing them only this information in the first part of the guided task.

The next two issues I wanted to tackle were much more challenging. My Deaf and hard of hearing students tend to ignore instructions and explanations in general.

And I want them to really READ the questions.

So I kept the explanations as short as I could and just wrote them in L1 (Hebrew).  If someone wishes to translate the Hebrew used in these exercises into Arabic (or any other languages) I would be delighted to provide assistance and post additional versions of these tasks.

More importantly, I used L1 as the first step in making the students examine the multiple-choice questions more carefully. I translated the questions into Hebrew but left out words in the questions.  The students must fill in the missing words, using the translations. They choose from three options.

Time to work!
Naomi’s Photos

In addition…

I asked the students “DUH” questions about the questions, before going on to answer the questions.

A student who will happily skip an explanation won’t skip a question.  There are all sorts of examples but here is the most obvious one:

Line 18 mentions “the astonishing qualities” of Manuka honey. Give one of these qualities from another paragraph.

  • Line 18 is at the ________(beginning)___________ of paragraph 4.
  • The answer to this question __(can not be )____________ from paragraph 4.
  • Will reading paragraph 4 help me answer this question? ___(No)____
  • The words “give one of” refer to the fact that there is ____(more than one answer) __
  • The word “astonishing” refers to ____ (something surprising)

And even more “DUH”…

The students are exposed to the reading passage itself slowly, as relevant.  At certain points, I erased some words in the reading passage,  which they have to fill in using the multiple-choice options. There are no translations, but the words I chose to delete and the options which are given make the correct answer EXTREMELY obvious. But actually stopping to choose these simple words caused the students to slow down and look at the text more than many would have done.

You will find the links to all the sections below.

I hope you find the exercise useful!

  • Note: The text used was taken from a 2008 “Bagrut” exam for Module D.  Not all questions appearing in the original exam were used. 

Manuka Honey Part One

https://www.liveworksheets.com/yg213631go

Manuka Honey Part Two

https://www.liveworksheets.com/gp225895gk

Manuka Honey Part Three

https://www.liveworksheets.com/bi286224mk

 Manuka Honey Part Four

https://www.liveworksheets.com/rn287684jh

Distance Learning – Practicing Wh questions in Context with Struggling Teens

Somewhere, over the rainbow,, life is “normal”
Naomi’s Photos

My Deaf and hard of hearing 11th and 12th-grade students should have been about 3 weeks away from taking their national final matriculation exams.

That was before COVID-19 of course.

Assuming that at some point the students WILL be taking these exams, we will continue to teach online after this holiday break.

My students who struggle the most, going for the lowest level of the exams, need a lot of practice with answering Wh questions about short reading passages.

When I say short I mean short.

“Short”
Naomi’s Photos

These are students who don’t do much without me sitting with them. Distance learning is hitting them the hardest. It will be more effective to use shorter passages.

So the exercises I am sharing below are “self-check tasks” of short texts with questions for reading comprehension.  Only Wh type questions.

In addition, I really want to emphasize the connection between the correct answer and the “Wh” question word used.  So each of the following exercises has two versions. One is a standard “answer the question” version. The other version includes the answers, but the question words are missing.

I hope you find these exercises useful!

 

Reading Ads Practice Paper One

Reading Ads Practice Paper One (b)

Reading Ads Practice Paper Two

Reading Ads Practice Paper Two (b) 

Reading Ads Practice Paper Three

Reading Ads Practice Paper Three (b)

 

Visualising School During “COVID-19 Times” – A Photo Pause

Thursday, March 12, 2020

The last day of school before shifting into “COVID-19 Time.

Leaning on the whiteboard

I had received this “Keep Calm and Carry On” sign as a gift a few months ago and hadn’t known what to do with it. I updated it and leaned it against the whiteboard, over the “How often” card.

Wasted effort.

Hardly any of my high school students came to school that day. Most of those who did come,  left early.

By noon,  the only students who could be seen in the empty hallways were those in the photos on the dozens of posters for the 12th graders’  final theatre productions.

Performances scheduled for dates that disappeared off the school calendar all at once.

Friday, March 13, 2020

 

No school today. The immediate future is so unclear that I manage to ignore it for most of the day. It’s SPRING – flowers everywhere!  A short walk around the neighborhood does me a world of good. I’ve dreamed about not working Fridays for years!

Sunday, March 15, 2020, and THE ENTIRE WEEK

PANIC!

Courtesy of puppeteer and teacher at our school, Ruth Levi (Naomi’s Photos)
All our material is in the classroom! Students can’t use this now…

So we’re supposed to begin teaching via the Internet immediately, right?  I’m all for it, but if I may ask:

How? Which platforms? When? How much? How often? Graded or ungraded? What about our final exams?

And what am I supposed to do about the fact that ALL of the students’ books, notebooks, practice material, readers (and much more!) is in the classroom?!

No “do the exercises on page 58  and send me your answers” for this teacher.

So far away from the students! (chairs on top of upturned desks in the schoolyard ) Naomi’s Photos

** I am so grateful to all the support I got from the school, my colleagues, publishers who are sharing material online and all the teachers around the world posting helpful information and advice!

Time and scheduling  take on new meanings

Whose schedule are we on – the teenagers or ours?
Naomi’s Photos (text in the photo from “Count That Day Lost” by George Eliot)
Student hands in an assignment at 23:05 pm! But what a wonderful answer!

 

The upside of spending hours on the challenges of suddenly shifting to distance learning completely


Naomi’s Photos

Rising to the new challenges that the sudden shift to distance learning requires is so time-consuming that it has left me with a lot less free time to follow the news and worry.

But best of all is a new kind of connection with the students  – they realize that we are partners who need to navigate our way together toward the goal of keeping up their schooling.

They admit to missing school!

And I miss them too!


*** Memories of the empty schoolyard in the past.

Naomi’s photos
Brilliance in the schoolyard

Saturday’s Book: “Brooklyn Heights” by Miral al-Tahawy

Looking for tea and sympathy…
Naomi’s Photos

This was the last book I took from the library before we shifted into “Corona Mode” and the library locked its doors.

It is another good example of the kind of book I never would have known about without the help of a librarian!

This is a book about people who don’t belong, particularly women who don’t belong (though not only women). It is told from the perspective of a woman from a strictly conservative Bedouin family who lived in a small town in Egypt, in the Eastern Nile Delta.  Not only are women relegated to specific, limited roles, but the Bedouins are considered outsiders in the village.  Then there is the Coptic woman who is honored but is even more of an outsider.

The book moves between flashbacks of childhood in Egypt to life in modern-day Brooklyn Heights, where we meet more outsiders, Muslim immigrants from different parts of the world who dreamed of a new life in the USA, but their dreams were never realized.

Tahawy writes beautifully and I enjoyed the vivid depictions of the life of the main character, Hend,  in Egypt. However, I was disappointed with the parts relating to her life in Brooklyn. Nothing seems to happen, nothing goes progresses or regresses or anything. It seemed as if the author had only caused Hend to immigrate to present more “outsiders” while abandoning Hend’s tale.  It’s rather depressing, depressing without it being part of a way to move forward. Or backward – frankly, I was quite concerned that Hend would commit suicide.

Nonetheless, I do recommend reading this book -there are many fascinating parts.

 

 

Visualising a Discussion Prompt for Students on Studying Habits at Home

Humor helps!
Naomi’s Photos

Suddenly, everything changed.

It doesn’t matter that we’ve moved to Daylight Savings Time, we are all actually on “Corona time”.

Who knows how long this will last…

Now that my Deaf and hard of hearing adolescent students (some of whom NEVER do any school work at home) have to study from their bedrooms/living rooms or kitchen tables, I needed an amusing prompt to enable me to discuss study habits with them.

It turns out having a blog is quite useful for finding forgotten goodies. I learned of this video years ago on Sandy Millin’s Blog. 

Just what I was looking for.

I can use it with all levels because this video works best without sound and without students reading the captions.

All you need to do is watch the video and ask the students what they do. The video is very clear.

The mustard dripping on the notebook is a great touch!

Honestly, even if your students hear EXTREMELY  well, you don’t want the sound here.

I did prepare a written “companion” to the discussion because I need that with my students. I’m not sure I can call it a proper worksheet because the level of complexity is mixed. But it wasn’t designed to be done by a student working independently. In any case, I’m adding the downloadable file below.

I hope you find the video amusing and useful!

Wishing you all the best of health!

How to Make Homework Less Work – Download by clicking on the title