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

“There is Nothing Wrong with Their Eyes & WE Don’t READ With Our EARS – So No Problem, Right?

Naomi’s Photos

Well, I’m afraid not.

In many ways, we actually do read with our ears.

But then you actually KNOW that – the points mentioned below will getting you nodding in agreement.

Oddly enough, it’s the connection between this information and the difficulties many hard of hearing or Deaf students have when learning English as a foreign language, that seems to be less obvious to teachers.

One of the most frequent comments I encounter is: “There is nothing wrong with their eyes, is there? So there should be no problems with either vocabulary acquisition or writing skills”.

It doesn’t work that way. Let’s look at the following points you are familiar with, in the context of a child with a hearing loss:

Let’s take a look!
Naomi’s Photos
Reading comprehension skills are affected by knowledge of vocabulary (duh…)

Children in the EFL classroom are first taught to listen, speak (and even sing!) in English before learning how to read the language.  This is an attempt to imitate the natural order of language acquisition of a mother tongue.

Auditory input!

However, a child with a hearing loss in the EFL classroom faces a complex situation:

Cannot hear/see on the lips all the sounds teacher is saying

(especially if the children are singing & clapping, not to mention remote instruction!)

SO

Needs knowledge of the language to fill in the gaps of message that has been missed

BUT

Lacks the necessary knowledge of the new language needed to do so

AND

Has trouble acquiring the necessary knowledge

BECAUSE

Cannot hear/see all the sounds teacher is saying

This leads to many Deaf and hard of hearing students lagging behind significantly in the process of developing their vocabulary in English as a foreign language.

Is it a greehouse?
Naomi’s Photos
Reading comprehension skills are affected by general knowledge (“duh” point no. 2)

Think of a greenhouse. An actual greenhouse.

Now think of a Deaf or hard of hearing students who didn’t hear the advertisement on TV (which is left on for hours in some homes) for winter greenhouse melons or his mother exclaim that the greenhouse tomatoes are not as tasty as the summer ones.  This child may have completely missed the word greenhouse when the teacher warned the students never to enter one on a school trip.

“Incidental learning” – children born without a hearing loss are exposed to more language in context than they are explicitly taught!

THEN…

Our imaginary student learns about The Greenhouse Effect at school and learns the word in a context of an environmental issue.

But then  – confusion!

Faced with a reading passage on the future of farming, describing some ultra-modern greenhouses, the student has no idea what they are or where the ozone layer fits into the information. Some students go as far as to “forcibly” insert irrelevant facts known from the lessons at school because it makes more sense to them.

Gaps…
Naomi’s Photos
Reading comprehension skills are affected by the level of knowledge of students’ first language (“duh” point no. 3)

The teacher is using the context of going on an imaginary camping trip to introduce new vocabulary items in class. One of the words is causing a problem – the word “damage”.

When asked to give an example of how a student could damage her cell phone while camping, a student replied:

“She could lose it”.

Losing a cell phone and damaging it, are not the same thing.

However, simply translating the two words into the student’s mother tongue wasn’t clear enough.

It turns out that the student, in her mother tongue, only uses words such as “break”, “destroy” and “lose” and doesn’t really know what “damage” means in her first language either.

Babies begin hearing in the womb before they are born. After birth, It often takes time for a child’s hearing loss to be diagnosed, particularly when the hearing loss is not severe or profound. Some children develop amazing language skills in both their mother tongue and English as a foreign language despite the time lost during what is often referred to as “the critical period for language acquisition”.

But many others grapple with the consequences of these language gaps all their life.

In many ways, we actually do read with our ears…

 

Time for a Book! “Memorial” by Brian Washington

Things go around in unexpected ways… Naomi’s Photos
Memorial by Brian Washington

What an unusual and powerful book. I’m still thinking about it weeks (and several other books) later.

I never imagined that a book written with so many understatements brief acerbic sentences, along with generous use of the “F” word, would convey so much in such an engrossing way from page one.

Unlike some reviewers I encountered online, I believe that the central idea of the book is not really about the relationship between the two main characters, Benson and Mike. The book highlights how much working out your own identity and your relationship with your parents / your parents’ perspective, is needed in order to form your own long-term, stable relationships.

The book begins with an unusual situation that draws you right in – I just wanted to know more! The morning immediately after Mike, (a Japanese American chef at a Mexican restaurant in Houston) brings his mother (who just arrived from Tokyo)  home, he flies to Japan to look for his estranged father who is dying.  This means that Mike has left his stunned mother and his lover Benson ( a Black daycare teacher with a knack for reaching out to “troubled” kids) alone together in their small Houston apt…

A very interesting read!

“My Name is Red” by Orhan Pamuk

RED!
Naomi’s Photos

This is a VERY special book – absolutely fascinating.

I’ve read other books by Pamuk and found them interesting but this one is “an experience”.

Be warned that it’s a “slow read”. Oddly enough this is not because the plot advances very slowly (though I admit, the book could have been a bit shorter…) but rather due to the fact that there are so many important details and an abundance of characters. The reader needs to stop and take it all in!

Mind you – characters are not limited to human beings in this book.  I never imagined a coin or a drawing could be so alive!

The story takes place in 1591, in the Ottoman Empire.  While it is a “whodunnit” murder mystery, the book vividly presents the tension between East & West as expressed through the role of art and artists. The complexity of finding the balance between artistic freedom and religion, of the desire to create vs the need to do things as they have always been done, how art reflects the relationship between God and humans.

One of my favorite parts was the presentation of what dreams are good for and how to use them!

Pamuk doesn’t glorify the past – life expectancy in those days sounds short and violent…

In short – read this book when you have time to savor each detail and let it take you on its journey.

Enjoy!

Saturday’s Book: “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennet

Naomi’s Photos

This is the first time this has ever happened to me on Edublogs – I spent an hour writing a 300 word review and it all disappeared suddenly. The site froze and POUF.

It’s gone!

In short:

This is a really good book. It draws you in from page one.

My criticisms are minor.

The writing is superb, the story is powerful and the issues thought-provoking.

The book deals with racism, with “passing” as white, with gender issues. Lots of mother-daughter issues.

It mainly deals with reinventing one’s life in very different ways.

It’s engaging and I recommend it!

On “Round Teachers” and Round Batteries

Round…

*** Note: A downloadable letter for students on the topic of batteries for electronic dictionaries can be found at the end of this post. The letter is in Hebrew.

The latest buzzword at our school is ROUND.

Reopening schools under the conditions deemed necessary due to the pandemic is a very complex thing, requiring things no one is used to.  Therefore, all of us teachers are asked to be ROUND.

Repeatedly.

Round – Round – Round

Personally, I think the imagery could be improved on.

Obviously, we teachers are supposed to be “rolling with the punches”, hence we need to be round.

But round things can easily roll away and get lost.

Round things aren’t particularly known for being flexible.

Aesop’s fable about the oak tree and the reeds comes to mind when we are looking for flexibility in challenging times.

How about “going with the flow”?

Go with the flow

 

However, since ROUND it is, let’s talk about round batteries and “round” teacher behavior when the lack of the aforementioned becomes a problem.

Round Batteries

All students today from 7th grade onwards may use an electronic dictionary on their EFL exams. Many students use these dictionaries during the lessons too.

All is well during the first year following the date of purchase, as the two most common models I see used today come with batteries that usually last more than one school year.

But then – the shocking revelation!

The dictionary isn’t “ruined” and you don’t need to buy a new one.

I suspect that it’s not just my Deaf and hard of hearing students who find the concept of a device that isn’t rechargeable totally incomprehensible. Particularly if one of the models requires (oh horror of horror) LITTLE ROUND BATTERIES…

“Wait a minute”, you say.

“One of the models can be plugged into an electrical socket, remember? ”

To which I must reply:

“Schools are obliged to do many things for the students. Providing rooms with multiple  desks close enough to electric sockets during exams is not one of its obligations.”

There’s no way around the round objects – they are needed.

Even in times of a pandemic, batteries are really easy to purchase. They are sold in a great many stores, including those which are deemed essential and always remain open.

A fact that is neither here nor there for those kids who have never replaced a battery in any device in their young lives!

AND WHAT ABOUT THIS PROBLEM?

At work…  (Naomi’s Photos)

Take a moment to think about those “model students”, well organized, responsible, and industrious, whose dictionary suddenly stops working in the middle of an exam.

A stressful situation indeed.

“Round” Teacher Behavior

“Round” as in being flexible and not dealing with the same problem in the same way with all the students.

Some of the points mentioned below are good for everyone, others are for certain students.

One

Show the students that the Oxford electronic dictionary displays the state of the battery when you go into the menu. Show them what AAA batteries look like.  I DON’T CARE IF THEY SAY “DUH”! I’m even tempted to add pictures of stacks of batteries by a cashier at a supermarket but haven’t gone that far yet…

When you announce a date of an exam, send the students a picture like this on your platform of choice as a reminder.

In relevant cases, send this explanation to the parents of students who use this model.

Two

Show the students the little round batteries CR2032 (two) needed for the  “Babylon -Texton” electronic dictionary.

I  have not located a battery indicator on this model. In addition, a small screwdriver is needed in order to replace the batteries.

I’m still looking into the question of which additional tools can be used to do this ( a coin doesn’t seem to work) and whether I should keep a little screwdriver in the English Room for this purpose.

Any suggestions?

Sometimes you have to grow up… (Naomi’s Photos)
Three

There’s a thin line between helping a student in times of need and “learned dependency”.

Some students really, truly, need you to give them a dictionary (or batteries) for the exam because of their dire home situation. Particularly in times of a pandemic.  Not that I have enough for them all… But I don’t make a fuss.

These students are often the ones who don’t say a word and don’t ask for anything.

Then there are the students who are just “testing the limits” – they won’t do anything about their dictionary unless it “bites”.

I hand them a printed dictionary if they show up for a test without a working dictionary. They hate that.

You may not be “on to them” the first time it happens but by the second time…

However…

A teenager who presents himself as ” such a poor thing“, who is unable to purchase batteries because they are not sold in the store right next door to his home (true story!) is a call for action!

I found that asking the homeroom teacher to send a message to the parents can be very effective in some cases.

Even if it results in having a student complain that “because of me” he had to spend  15 whole minutes walking to a store one afternoon!

Here is a downloadable letter for students:

Dictionary letter for students PDF

 

What do you do? Share your “round” advice!

 

 

Three Books Related to “Doorways”, by McGuire, Greer & Yu

Ok, it’s a gate, not a door. And it looks like windows. It will do!
Naomi’s Photos
“Every Heart a Doorway” by Seanan McGuire

One of our sons recommended I read this book after we both read “The 10 Thousand Doors of January” by Harrow. He liked McGuire’s book better.

I myself have mixed feelings about both books.

This book has doorways that lead to other worlds but the story takes place in this world.  A world where teenagers who have spent time in other worlds and desperately want to return there, are stuck, unable to find the right portal again. Their parents, who don’t know what to do with them, have sent them to a special boarding school, where they meet each other.

At first, I was quite enthusiastic about this book as the reading flows and the movement between present-day reality and the descriptions of truly interesting “other worlds” was quite engaging.  The names of the worlds were of interest as well (compared to some of the names in Harrow’s book). The angst of being a teenager and the struggle to find your place in the world is certainly portrayed cleverly.

However, the book then morphed into two things which I’m less fond of, and left me with no desire to continue reading the series:

a – a “whodunnit” crime mystery

b- a classic boarding school tale of a small band of kids or teens who form a group, supposedly the oddballs of the school but always end up saving the day…

Nevertheless, the book is worth reading and I’m not sorry to have read it. In addition, it is always a pleasure to share book experiences with family members.

Will you still love me when I’m going on 50?
Naomi’s Photos
“Less” by Andrew Sean Greer

This showed up on my LIBBY account as an available audiobook just when I needed a book to listen to.

All I knew about “Less”  in advance was that it had won a Pulitzer Prize. I must admit that at first I went and checked again that it really had won the prize, as it took me some time to figure out what was going on in this book.  My first impressions were that there didn’t seem to be a plot at all!

But once I realized that “Less” is also about “doorways” and “coming of age” (except this time the age to contend with is turning 50!) I started enjoying myself, particularly as the audiobook reader was so good at presenting the colorful characters that appear in the book.

Arthur Less is about to turn 50 and the man he loves has invited him to his wedding with another man. Each stage of his comic journey (not laugh aloud comic but full of misadventures and comic characters)  around the world (his excuse for not attending the wedding), he basically sheds layers of his fears, beliefs, and insecurity while moving toward a new stage in life.

And…

Just so you know (without it being an actual spoiler):

There is a very real, actual  (an ancient, thick) door the writer goes through at the climax of this story, so “doorways” are not just metaphorical in this book.

Together doesn’t mean “the same”.
Naomi’s Photos
“Interior Chinatown” by Charles Yu

It is fortunate that I had this book as an audiobook (once again, courtesy of Libby!) as the talented reader helped me deal with this book. It was somewhat of a struggle for me.

On one hand, this is clearly a clever book. It is told as if you are watching a “police/crime” T.V show being filmed in the fictional “The Golden Palace” Restaurant in Chinatown, getting the “behind the scenes” story as viewed by the protagonist, who is usually known as “generic Asian Man”.  By using this show, the author hammers home a message of discrimination against Asian people in the United States in general and its reflection in Hollywood.  You are made to understand every nuance of the term “Generic Asian” – not only are the individual people not visible, but people from so many different places and cultures are also lumped together as if they were one –  “Asian”.

As someone who is interested in genealogy and immigrants, I found the personal histories of the people very interesting.  While I had known a bit about immigrants from China to the West Coast, I was not aware of all the discriminatory LAWS that existed in the USA. Another thing you don’t learn in school perhaps.

On the other hand, I’m not particularly interested in Hollywood,  and aspirations of “making it” in Hollywood. I found bits difficult to get through and had fleeting thoughts of not finishing the book despite it being a comparatively short book. I felt that the message was already clear enough.

But then I would have missed the ending.

An ending that is worth reading.

Once again, I thank a library for getting me to read books outside of my “comfort zone”.

 

 

 

 

Visualising School – A Photo Pause (The Pandemic Version, 2021)

Define “Lockdown” (Naomi’s Pictures, not taken at school”).

January 2021, yet another “lockdown”.  I never imagined that we would be in this situation almost a year later.

A “Visualising School- Photo Pause” without a single picture taken at school!

Too many circles… (Naomi’s Photos)

I am a part of so many CIRCLES – I am a teacher and a national counselor. I am a mother who strives to cook healthy food for a family and the daughter of an elderly mother. I need to exercise for my body and take pictures for my soul, particularly as my circle of friends has become socially distant…

Work-Life balance has become trickier than ever with the addition of “Zoom”  meetings and in-service training courses that only begin late in the evening…

Crumbling plans (Naomi’s Photos)

 

Teaching during this pandemic is causing the very firm and solid structure of my learning center for Deaf and hard of hearing high school students to shake and blur.  I’ve been a teacher for more than 35 years now – each year I replace a story we teach, incorporate a different method of practicing vocabulary, experiment with using more dramatic elements when teaching poetry, or begin a new method of visualizing students’ progress.

But those are examples of a controlled, well-planned process of remodeling specific rooms which are part of a permanent and reliable structure. A structure that worked well!

Even the simple fact these particular students can’t keep their books and notebooks in the classroom anymore has caused an upheaval!

“Teacher Love”  (Naomi’s Photos)

“Showering” the students with “teacher love” used to be SO MUCH EASIER …

You can do it!
Naomi’s Photos
Watch Out! (Naomi’s Photos)

I know I’m supposed to be the dwarf (some of my teenage students tower over me and I’m not a short woman!) inspiring the students to believe in a “YES YOU CAN DO IT” attitude. But it’s hard to stay constantly full of inspiring energy with all that is going on in the background….

So many differences… (Naomi’s Photos)

My students have always been diverse, with different needs, learning abilities, and emotional issues.  Those have always been the “building blocks” we have to work with.  One plan never fit everyone.

Distance learning’s addition of “new building blocks” that  need to be taken into account (such as technology available to the student, a quiet space to study) when planning a lesson nowadays has complicated matters even further…

Waiting online (Naomi’s Photos)

 

Late again… (Naomi’s Photos)

Waiting for the teenagers who don’t wake up for their lessons…

Winter sun… (Naomi’s Photos)

… going  outdoors and enjoying the winter sun sounds more appealing!

Hang in there and be healthy!

 

Time for a Book: “Disappearing Earth” by Julia Phillips

Lockdown, again…
Naomi’s Photos

You know a book is really good when you keep thinking about it after you have read it, mulling over details, realizing details in the book are metaphors for more things than you realized before.

This is one of those books.

Even the title still resonates with me – there are so many ways to “disappear”…

The book is cleverly written.  There is the “official” story, about two sisters, young girls, who disappear one day, in Kamchatka, Russia. They seem to vanish without a trace.

But that is not the only story, or even (at least to me) THE story of the book, though it is certainly there and you do get your “whodunnit” satisfaction.

Using the framework of the case of the missing sisters the author introduces us to a variety of women. We peek into their personal lives – everything about them is so vivid I feel as if I had met them. Through these characters, Phillips gets across strong messages (and thought-provoking questions) about women, about their control or lack of control over their own life (control can vanish too…), about racism, corruption, nature, and more.

All this while moving the dramatic plot forward. I was not able to predict the final chapter at all, even though I’m often quite good at doing that!

I heard the audiobook version so I didn’t have the helpful character guide I later discovered was included in the book. It didn’t make much difference insofar as understanding what was going on but for a time I did wonder if the author would ever stop introducing characters!

They really do all connect!

In short, don’t read about the book, read the book, and let it speak for itself.

I had never heard of the book but it was available on Libby so I thought I would give it a chance.

So glad I did!

Time for a Book: “Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder”by Fraser

Naomi’s Photos

This book is fascinating in so many ways.

I too read “The Little House” series by Laura Ingalls Wilders avidly as a child. I think I read the entire series three times before the age of 10.  I tried several times to create a “china doll” out of clay for the mantlepiece at a family friend’s art studio (even though I have never owned a mantelpiece!). When someone mentioned the word “Calico” I thought of the dresses from the book, not cats. The “older-me” later watched the TV series with the neighbor’s children who would come to us after school.  The names of the family members have been etched into my brain.

I had assumed that this book would interest me as I would learn more about Ingalls Wilder’s real life compared to the one she portrayed in the books she wrote. I had no expectations regarding anything else.

I learned far more.

Away from fairy tales…
Naomi’s Photos

Fraser (who shares the name Caroline with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s mother) ties in the in-depth research into the family’s history with the history of the United States in a clear and engaging way.  The historical context not only highlights what happens to the family but echoes current events.

Seriously. What is going on in the U.S.A today is complicated, but some of the origins of it seem clearer after reading this book.  If you were wondering why STARVING  people refused help from the government’s New Deal in the 1930s, you need to go back to the late 19th century.

For example, scientists of the day warned the government NOT to encourage settlers /homesteaders to settle in the Dakota territory. It’s not that these scientists were concerned about the rights of the Dakota Indians (it doesn’t seem that anyone was…) but they clearly laid out information that the climate and the soil were not suitable for farming wheat. But those who sought to reap benefits from the westward move (both in the government and out of it) scoffed at scientific information and advertised ads tempting impoverished people looking for a break: “The rains will follow the plough”.

Does scoffing at information from scientists sound familiar?

Well, guess what. The process of farming where the thin topsoil took forever to form caused severe droughts, horrific fires, and widespread starvation.  The same government now reminded the starving people that government is not about supporting the people as pioneers are self-sufficient…

Waiting for the white rabbit… Naomi’s Photos

There was a great deal more going on than a simple tale of” the small pioneer family that went West and overcome all problems all by themselves because they worked hard and lived off the land.  Even Laura’s origin family and her married one survived only thanks to additional non-farming work. While Laura herself first turned to writing columns in farming newspapers as a means of supplementary income, she continued to promote the myth that living completely off a farm income was within anyone’s reach…

The only part that I found difficult to read in the book was the far too lengthy details regarding the daughter, Rose. She is an inseparable part of the story of how the “Little House Books” were written, but this part of the book was tedious.

Otherwise, I was fascinated!

Oh, and I had never heard the origin story of the Japanese version before! Who knew!

“No longer” & “Still” – A Simple Template for Discussing Life in Times of a Pandemic

 

Living with the Pandemic -1
Naomi’s Photos
Living with the pandemic – 2
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Living with the pandemic – 3 Naomi’s Photos

 

The year 2020 may be coming to a close, but THE pandemic is still with us.

Still here…

There are now many kinds of activities we can “no longer” do but there are some things that we are “still” able to do.

I would pass on the experience of living in times of a pandemic but here’s a chance to connect language learning to a real-life situation. The word “still” and the chunk “no longer” often confuse language learners and appear frequently in the reading passages we encounter in class.

Here are three versions of the same activity.

The links lead to a LiveWorksheet version. It is not a self-check activity since, naturally, there are many possible answers. Please note that worksheets there can easily be downloaded.

It’s interesting to read/discuss the students’ answers. Some are what you expect, but not all. Students disagreed as to whether they could still buy clothes. One (sadly) claimed that there was nothing she couldn’t do if she wanted to…

I have to admit that I was pleased that some students commented on the photos. They thought that it was suitable for the figure of the young person to be the one falling out of the window.

One is simply an open template and can be used with a great variety of levels.

https://www.liveworksheets.com/ae1461332xm

The other two are for students who need far more help in writing their answers.

https://www.liveworksheets.com/lt1461327ct

https://www.liveworksheets.com/zc1397590rh

Best wishes for good health for all and a speedy return to normal!