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

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…
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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
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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!

 

 

The Pandemic Can’t Stop Me from Traveling Through Books!

Stuck at home…
Naomi’s Photos

 

While my passport and suitcases may feel that I have completely forgotten about them,  I have been “traveling” around the world. As a matter of fact, I’ve even been “traveling” through time!

So where have my books taken me?

I’ll answer briefly even though my brevity isn’t doing justice to some of the books. I read much more than I can post about these days!

The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak – Istanbul,  (Arizona & San Fransisco too)

Many thanks to Ruth Sheffer for introducing me to this book.

I was so intrigued by the unusual style of storytelling in this book that I went on to listen to her excellent TED Talk “The Politics of Fiction”.  If you are wondering if you should give the book a try, listen to her talk (I haven’t heard the other talks yet) https://youtu.be/Zq7QPnqLoUk

The way I see it, this is a book about the buried secrets of the past affecting the present whether we unearth them or not. It’s a tale of two families, spanning generations, one Armenian and one Turkish, and their intertwining fate amid the backdrop of a historical tragedy one side tries to forget while the other never will.

The sounds, smells, and food in Istanbul play a prominent role in the book and the cast of characters (mainly women) is varied and beguiling. Ancient traditions coexist with the 21st century.  The people are so real that I can easily imagine a movie version of it.

I’m glad I read it!

Heat…
Naomi’s Photos

“One of Them: My Life Among the Maasai of Kenya” by Eti Dayan – Kenya

What an interesting book!

The odd thing is that what makes the book so interesting is that the first part of the title isn’t really what the author says in the book! At the time of publication, the author, Dayan, had been living with the Massai of Kenya for 15 years, spoke their language fluently, and took part in community life.  Nonetheless, Dayan emphasizes throughout the book repeatedly that she is not nor will she ever really be a Maasai. Yet it is exactly her frank portrayal of the challenging process of learning and understanding along with her reflections on the Western culture that make the book illuminating. The descriptions in the book are vivid and detailed. Dramatic changes to society unfold and Dayan doesn’t shy away from grappling with difficult issues and realities of life in that area.

“The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart” by Holly Ringland – Australia

At first, I was impressed by the author’s use of flowers to tell a tale of a woman torn apart by her family history/secrets and was interested in the plot.  However, the more I read the less I liked the book. It became too much like a “soap opera” for me. I found myself saying (to myself!) “Oh, come on” or “Really?” far too often.

Nonetheless, I actually finished the book (got my sense of closure!) despite not being quite sure why. I guess I should be giving the author more credit than I am – just not the right kind of book for me.

Empty…
Naomi’s Photos

“There was a woman” by Yael Neeman – Israel

I listened to this audiobook in Hebrew. I believe it hasn’t YET been translated into English. I haven’t read the one that has been translated yet.

This book pretends to be about one particular person but I would say that it is really about “the second generation” – the lives of children of Holocaust survivors.  This particular woman tried to erase any memory of her existence.  The book is constructed as an attempt to reconstruct the story of this woman’s life through a patchwork of interviews with people. Naturally, when each person strives to explain their connection to the woman who “erased herself” they tell about their own background.

While I found the book to be a bit too long, I enjoyed it.

Really?!
Naomi’s Photos

“Conversations with Friends” by Sally Rooney – Dublin

I listened to this book as an audiobook. The narrator had a lovely Irish accent.

That’s the best thing I can say about the book.

I gave it a good chance before giving up on it.  I found it immensely boring. I know the author is hugely successful. Perhaps I’m too old for a book presenting every thought and minute action of a woman in her 20s and a few others. Lots of alcohol and cigarette smoking in the rain.

Nothing happens.

Not a book for me.

 

Expressing Your Opinion – Revisiting the “Holstee Manifesto Lifecycle Video”

From “Lifecycle” to “lifestyle” Naomi’s Photos

I first learned of the Holstee Manifesto video on one of Sandy Millin’s blogs: (Almost) Infinite ELT Ideas back in 2012.

This video is far too useful to be forgotten.

The Holstee Manifesto Lifecycle video is short, suitable for teens, and can be used with the sound off. Though I must say that if your students don’t happen to be Deaf or hard of hearing like mine are, the music is a  welcome addition.

The video ties in nicely with the topic students my students are working on –  writing essays that express an opinion. It is chock full of statements that are easy to get students to respond to.

Turn on the light in their heads! Naomi’s photos

I really enjoyed the students’ comments. They seem shocked at the idea of not looking actively for the love of your life. They agreed, in theory at least, that if you don’t have enough time you should stop watching TV. They also supported the idea of trying to change things. One student thought that “sharing your passions” was a bad idea, passions should be kept private. I’m going to ask him and see what he understands “passions to mean”. “All emotions are beautiful” was criticized and jealousy was cited as an example of an ugly one.

One statement seemed to strike most of the students as stupid – “Getting lost will help you find yourself”!

I have revamped the old worksheet I made – it has been updated and is now a LiveWorksheet. You’ll find it below, along with the video itself and a link to the Holstee website with the text version of the video. In addition, I highly recommend checking out other suggested ways to use this video in class  – you will find them in the comment section of Sandy Millin’s post, as mention before.

Thank you, Sandy Millin!

Enjoy!

https://www.holstee.com/pages/manifesto

The link to the worksheet:

https://youtu.be/QDmt_t6umoY

 

“I’ll miss too much ‘school’ if I come to school tomorrow”. Things Students Never Said Before Covid-19

 

Missing Out…
Naomi’s Photos

1. “I’ll miss too much ‘school’ if I come to school tomorrow”.

A student explaining why he won’t be attending our English lessons at school tomorrow along with his  Deaf and hard of hearing peers. His “hearing” classmates are still studying remotely and he studies quite a few subjects with them.  He needs to stay at home in order to attend his online lessons.

Do you mean I have to actually DO something?!
Naomi’s Photos

2.  “Really? I have to THINK about what makes sense ON MY OWN”?

A student puzzled as to why she had lost points on her exam. She answered a question incorrectly after translating the word “plane” as a flat surface instead of an aircraft, despite a very clear context of travel and hints such as “….while on the plane to England…” The exam took place in class and the student had an electronic dictionary. The student admitted that far from my watchful eyes, during “the remote learning days,” she had been relying on Google to translate complete sentences instead of adhering to the “one-word-at-a-time” rule that I enforce in class.

Post flight mode
Naomi’s Photos

3. ” I have a piece of paper from the airport that says I don’t have to be quarantined, so don’t worry”.

A student who arrived in class directly after returning from an extended holiday in London the night before.  England was about to change its tourist status to RED because of the surging number of Covid 19 cases, which would make quarantine mandatory. However, my student returned 48 hours before the status change, armed with a document claiming that he could proceed with life as usual. This was at a time when the rest of us weren’t  even supposed to go to a neighboring city! As you may have guessed, I did not feel reassured by his document.  Thankfully, it’s been three weeks since then and we all  appear to be healthy.

Wait for me!
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4. “I was about to join the volleyball league when Covid 19 started”.

A student’s response after being asked to use the target chunk “about to” in a sentence.

Social distancing
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5. “Corona”

A student’s response (actually an incorrect response”) when asked to create a list of things that are important to do carefully.  This led to a great conversation with the  student regarding the need for a verb and the danger of jumping to conclusions when seeing the word “careful”.

It is interesting to note that not a single student mentioned anything related to the virus under the heading “Things I try to avoid doing”.  No “hugging friends” or “forgetting to take a mask”.

Tasks shown in picture  from this worksheet: https://www.liveworksheets.com/hu1281226qi

They are all here!
Naomi’s Photos

6. *** We are HAPPY to be at school!!!

This is not something most have my students have expressed in words or in sign language (though a few actually have done so), but are nonetheless showing us daily.  They are delighted to be back at school! Attendance has never been so consistently high, including the students with a rich history of absenteeism. Those who are unable to attend for some reason are notifying us in advance with a sorrowful tone.

That’s the best part of this whole crazy situation.

Do you have examples of things you had never heard students say before the pandemic hit? Share them in the comments!

Oh, The Past & The Present Time: “The Pull of The Stars” by Emma Donoghue

Spooky…
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Today is October 31, 2020.

This book takes place over three days, October 31, November 1, and November 2.

But, obviously not in 2020.

The year is 1918, just before the end of the first World War. The setting is Ireland, mainly Dublin.

A year in which a pandemic is raging, ravaging the population.

The Spanish Flu.

Certainly a  “timely book”!

Frankly, I knew absolutely nothing about the book when I began reading it. During the first week of August, I noticed that our Libby library service had some new books, including this one. I added myself to the waiting list without bothering to see what this book was about or read reviews because of the author. I’ve enjoyed reading several of Donoghue’s previous books.

The audio version was well worth waiting for  (3 months!). The excellent reader is clearly Irish herself – not only does she read the book with the relevant accents, she sings the “ditties” that are heard and even moans along with the women in the  Maternity/Fever “ward”. You can feel the stress levels rising and ebbing along with the reader’s voice.

Hope…
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In the book, we see the world through the eyes of  Nurse Julia Powers, who has already recovered from the flu and works in a TINY makeshift hospital “ward” set up so as to distance the women who have caught the dreaded flu from the rest of the expectant mothers.

You may pause here and ask (what I asked myself when I realized the time and the setting of the plot) “why would I want to read about a pandemic when I’m already living in the time of one”?

Because…

The book is about SO MUCH MORE than illustrating the reality of that pandemic and making one feel grateful for all that we do have going for us in this wretched 2020!

It’s a book about not doing things the way they have always been done simply because they have always been done that way. It’s about the need to fight for a society that doesn’t just look after a  small percent of its members. It’s about strong women, lost children,  rules that don’t make sense, and more.

While this book is a work of fiction, “historical fiction”, one of the main characters, Doctor Kathleen Lynn, was a real person. The endnotes about her are very interesting.

A word of warning, particularly if you aren’t familiar with books by Donoghue – the book starts slowly, with many medical and procedural details given. The pace doesn’t stay slow.

I felt that the characters were so real (the audio version helps with that, I think!) that I now find that I miss the characters!

Final note:

Emma Donoghue wrote this book BEFORE she knew anything about the current pandemic, even though it was published after the pandemic had begun.

As I said, what timing!

400 Ways to Run Out of Milk – Vocabulary & Distance Learning

Forgotten / Naomi’s Photos

Full disclosure one – As a teacher of Deaf and hard of hearing students, I am back at school part-time (the rest of the school system is not back yet). Since many subjects are being crammed into half the hours, my high-school students are not getting anywhere near the required number of English lessons a week at school. So, the Vocabulary 400 Project has been relegated to distance learning.

Full disclosure two – I haven’t figured out all of the 400 ways to run out of milk yet, but I’m working on it.

Figure out“? “Run out of“?

Both of these chunks are included in our Vocabulary 400 Project  – an attempt to provide online exposure and an active way to engage with 400 advanced vocabulary items taken from a list supplied by the Ministry of Education.

So, why discuss milk?!

So what does it say here?
Naomi’s Photos

For me,  the chunks “run out of” always brings to mind “milk” first, even though I have often run out of both “time” and “patience” in the classroom over the years.

The activities I have been creating for the Vocabulary 400 Project attempt to help the students forge such automatic connections between the target words (or chunks) and vocabulary items that go with them, via tasks only using reading/writing.

I say “attempt”, as in “hope”, because my students’ lack of exposure to oral input (little to no incidental learning from other sources) make such a goal even harder to achieve than it already is.

The word “achieve” is on our list too.

Here are links to online worksheets from the project.

The first two worksheets are brand new.

NEW!
Naomi’s Photos

The others have been updated – I learned “the hard way” that providing links to Quizlet Sets on the worksheets is a very BAD idea. It seems that only people who sign into accounts on Quizlet can see the complete list of vocabulary items.

  1. Time to Make Lists!   https://www.liveworksheets.com/hu1281226qi
  2.  Are you tired of staying home? Let’s Go Camping!  https://www.liveworksheets.com/tp1269637hh
  3. Let’s go camping answer sheet    400 Vocab camping answers PDF
  4. The Last Knit – Chunks in Context   https://www.liveworksheets.com/na1186961cs
  5. Chunks – Part One   https://www.liveworksheets.com/gz1180997rg
Our Padlet board of chunks

I can’t share the link to the Padlet board as it has the students’ names on it. The board is arranged in columns. The students are asked to write a sentence of their own in each column, according to the  target word at the top of the column.

How to “run out of milk”:

  • Have some milk cartons leaking all over your doormat when the delivery person places the bags from the supermarket there.
  • Feed all the neighborhood cats.
  • Make insane amounts of pudding.
  • Prepare jars and jars of overnight oats with milk.
  • Forget to buy milk.
  • Spill milk all over the counter every time you use it.
  • Bring milk to work for everyone’s coffee.

Oh, there are so many more ways to run out of milk – feel free to add them in the comment section!

 

Time to talk BOOKS! “Invisible Cities” by Calvino & “Ties” by Starnone

The best I could do for “invisible”!
Naomi’s Photos

Both of the following books were written by Italian authors and both are short books, printed in a small format – 162 pages / 203 pages.

Naturally, I assumed I would be reading each one quite quickly, especially as we’ve been on lockdown.

I was mistaken.

“Invisible Cities” by Calvino is a book that I had to read very slowly. In fact, I couldn’t read more than a few pages at a time. The book isn’t really a “book” in the usual sense, there’s no real story line – but rather a “procession” of very rich descriptions of more than 50 “invisible cities”. All these cities are considered to be the many faces of Venice.

After reading a description I had to stop and think – what did I just read? What was Calvino trying to say here?

Sometimes I was moved, and felt that a description was powerful, or lyrical. So many people live /work in a place and don’t really look at it – so much is being missed!

Sometimes I didn’t get the point of the description at all.

Sometimes I got annoyed that some descriptions were a bit repetitve.

I know it’s a strange thing to say, but I truly found the book to be too long.  I wished it had been a series of blog posts which would send me a description of one “invisible city” a week to ponder.  More than 50 such descriptions in short succession  had me losing the ability to focus properly on them all.

Naomi’s Photos

Ties by Starnone

It is interesting to note that in Hebrew this book is called “Shoelaces”.  I have no idea what the original title in Italian means but “ties” is a more of a “give- away” of a clever metaphor that the shoelaces represent in the book.

This is a book you don’t want to know too much about in advance as it has some surprising parts. It’s a story about a family in a crises, over years, and is told in different ways in the books several parts. I had the book pegged one way and then it became a little different.

One one hand, it held my interest and I read it (yes, much quicker than the previous one) all the way through gladly. On the other hand, I didn’t find the characters completely “convincing” and some of the story line didn’t make sense, or rather “ring true”.

Not sorry I read it though.

 

When Familiar Edtech “Unmasks” Hidden Curve Balls at a Masked Teacher

Unexpected surprises / Naomi’s Photos

Any illusions that I was playing it safe and mainly avoiding what George Couros refers to as “the discomfort of growth” by sticking to familiar educational technology,  have been shattered.

Fortunately, Couros’ post is called “Comfort in the Discomfort of Growth”. If I have “growing pains” that must mean I’m growing (aka LEARNING ) and that’s a positive thing to remind myself of.

Getting through September could have been even harder if I had been grappling with unfamiliar programs, right?

But first, let’s backtrack for a minute.

Yes, I AM a “masked teacher”!

Yup, that’s me, in the classroom.

As a Special Ed teacher, I continued teaching at school for a longer period of time, while others had been moved to remote learning. And I certainly keep my mask on in class. It’s a clear, see-through one so my Deaf and hard of hearing students can see my lips. At present we are also in remote teaching mode but I expect to resume teaching at school before the rest of the school system does.

So, over the summer I did my best to create /post material in a manner that would let students continue working whether they were in class or at home, on their phones (or in some cases, the computer).

But then technology, both hardware & software,  which I have been using intensively,  “unmasked” some hidden curve balls and started throwing them at me.

Where should I begin?

From the middle, of course! That will give you a “taste” of what I mean!

Naomi’s Photos

Imagine this:

I’m in our learning center with eight students. One of the two classroom computers is in use. Two students are using their cell phones to continue activities they began online. The others are using their books and notebooks.

Within minutes a 12th-grade student working on his phone is annoyed.  He had previously begun an exercise I had posted on Edmodo and wanted to continue working on the same task. Edmodo saves your answers automatically so it has always been easy to continue from where you left off.

At least, on the website it is easy.

The student is using the app.  He has no problem accessing a new task but cannot find his previous answers and neither can I. I send him to the vacant computer – all his previous answers are right there, waiting for him to continue.

Okay, I think.  Now I can work quietly with the other students, as planned.

Oh no… / Naomi’s Photos

However, to my genuine surprise, the other student who is working on the computer calls me over repeatedly. She is working on a task on a LiveWorksheet, which the students find very convenient to use.  She has an additional window open – the student clicked on the link I had added at the top of the exercise, leading to a Quizlet vocabulary set, with vocabulary items needed for the task. Since she’s a strong student who actually followed instructions and had the “support material open, I did not expect any “distress calls”.

What could be the problem?

After trying to tell her how much I believed in her ability to do the task well on her own without coming over, then coming over and wasting time trying to explain sentences to her that she actually had understood,  I finally discovered the source of the problem.  A huge advertisement was blocking half of the word list on the set! No wonder she was frustrated – partial information is confusing! Surprisingly, we could not scroll down past the advertisement.  That had never happened before!

I asked the student to use the app on her phone while working on the computer.

That worked.

Meanwhile, some of the students who were “working with their coursebooks” were happily playing with their phones…

What to think about first…
Naomi’s Photos

The fact that the bell rang and we all went home didn’t mean that there weren’t additional curveballs in store for me. Ones that came before I had time to deal with the ones that had just been pitched my way.

The next day we moved to remote learning.  A student, whom I’ll call N. , sends me a message complaining that I didn’t give him the Quizlet set needed for the tasks. I go and check the Quizlet class and he’s certainly a member of the class. I send him a direct link to the set via WhatsApp (which he can access without any missing words, thankfully). He claims he doesn’t have this set in his app (he does have a different set I assigned though). He starts sending me pics of other sets he finds, of classes he isn’t a member of!

At some point, it dawns on me that he is going into “other recommended sets by the same teacher” which appears below the set he sees, instead of swiping right to see the additional sets in his class.

Problem solved.

The way in will not be easy to find… /Naomi’s Photos

I quickly understood that the student with a very old phone and no computer (who doesn’t install apps) needs the original WORD version of worksheets, not the PDF version which is a much better choice for almost everyone else.  But I ran into trouble with the rest of the class regarding a particular section on one out of a whole series of worksheets I had created.

This task required the completion of a few words inside a short text. How do you do that on a document saved as a PDF file?

When a student wrote to me asking how to fill in the missing words I admit, I was surprised. I hadn’t noticed this potential distance learning problem. My immediate solution was “Write the missing words on a piece of paper, take a picture and send it to me”.  Fortunately, later in the same remote lesson, another student completed the task on her cell phone, with the missing words placed in the task. She kindly made a brief video showing how she did that, along with permission to share it – having students solve problems like that is wonderful!

It’s a process…

In short:

  • I couldn’t teach in these crazy times without the wonderful Edtech I currently use.
  • Even “wonderful” can still be hard.  I’m learning too.
  • Even when I “get the Edtech right” – teaching nowadays is HARD. And it’s O.K to say that out loud.

Hang in there!