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

“Identifying Patterns of Behavior” & a Comic Strip

Would you sit or hike?
Epstein Family Photos

 

Some of my students have begun studying  the story “Mr. Know All” by Somerset Maugham. The higher order thinking skill we focus on when teaching  this story is known as “identifying patterns of behavior”.

The comic strip , “Patterns” by Grant Snider, combines the topic of  patterns with some great vocabulary for advanced students. The drawings are a big plus, of course.

I purposely did not mention the story “Mr. Know All” itself on the worksheet that I prepared. I teach in the format of a learning center and the students don’t all do the worksheet at the same time. They haven’t all progressed to the same point in the story either. This way the students can focus on the thinking skill itself, while I connect the skill to the story when each student has reached a suitable point in the plot.

The worksheet can be downloaded by clicking on the name below.

Patterns of behavior

Saturday’s Book: The Tobacconist by Seethaler

You can’t hide for long…
Naomi’s Photos

I have mixed feelings about this book.

One hand I certainly have patience for “slow-moving books and I prefer books that don’t feed you every bit of information with a teaspoon.

I also think it is a clever idea to have an imaginary character having conversations with Freud in Vienna on the eve of  WWll.

However, some things really annoyed me.

The main character’s infatuation with a woman who doesn’t give him the time of day is one of the  important influences on Franz ( the main character) on the path to growing up and truly seeing what is happening around him,  I understand that. However,  the amount of detail and the length of the descriptions were way more than necessary. It’s as if the author to lost for a while.

While I’m willing to accept that Franz was sort of a simpleton who achieved an awareness, I found the mother’s letters harder to believe in. They didn’t fit.

In short, this book has some annoying parts, especially in the middle section but does have some interesting parts as well.

I’m quite hesitant about recommending it, there are so many other books I would rather recommend. If you have it available, read it, but don’t make an effort to get a hold of it.

Myths & Tips: Using Electronic Dictionaries in the Classroom – Part Five

Are we there yet?
Epstein family photos

This is part five of  a series in which I share my experience based on working daily with electronic dictionaries in the classroom with my Deaf and hard of hearing students.  I hope that other teachers may find my experience with Deaf and hard of hearing students useful. To read more about the background for these posts, click here.  

Note: This is a “two Myth & Tips” post!

1) Myth – The electronic dictionary is “The Great Equalizer”. “Equalizer” as in now that all the students can use them, teachers no longer have to accommodate students with special needs.

I believe that it is wonderful that the act of using an electronic dictionary in school will no longer label a child as “one who needs accommodations”.  Some students do not mind but I have certainly encountered students who refused to use the electronic dictionary because they did not want to be perceived as being different. The new policy also solves the problem of those who felt that using an  electronic dictionary would help them yet were not permitted to use one.

All students may now be allowed to use the same tool, but the manner in which they learn to use it effectively may not be the same.

Some of the students with a learning disability may need more explicit instruction of basic dictionary skills. For example, some students waste precious time by looking up names. If a name happens to be similar to a word with a meaning the student will be led astray. It helps these students to review the use of  capital letters and practice  identifying names of places /people.

All students need to be encouraged to form a habit of  looking at the screen of the electronic dictionary before hitting the “enter” key in order to make sure they are actually looking up the intended word and not gibberish. However, some students need more encouragement and explicit modeling than others in forming this useful habit.

I have found it worth spending time on  convincing struggling high-school learners that it actually matters (matters to them!) whether or not one just blindly copies off a translations from the dictionary instead of stopping to check whether it is a noun or a verb. I emphasize the three words most students think they know well “name” “shop” and “play” and patiently let them complain a bit (or a lot!) about English being an annoying language that has more than one meaning for some words. Complaining contributes to memory! Here’s a simple worksheet that I use for starters. It’s meant to be done in class with a teacher. It is not self-explanatory (I snuck in a mention of Shakespeare, doesn’t hurt!).

noun vs verb exercises 1 and 2-1p0k6b7

If you have a Deaf or hard of hearing student in your class, you may encounter the following: a student uses the dictionary beautifully, finds the correct translation, yet is still baffled by the word. To read more about that, click here. 

Bright eyed and bushy tailed…
Epstein Family Photos

2) Myth – A teacher can be “an island”.

No!!!!!!!!!!

There’s no way one teacher can know everything about every feature of every model of dictionary AND have a full bag of tricks, tips and worksheets ready for every type of learner on her /his own.

If you have been reading these posts you will see that I haven’t covered everything and certainly don’t know everything.  Thanks to Dorian Cohen I now know that at least one of the newer models includes an “example” button, which will let you see the word used in a sample sentence. Older models didn’t have that and I hadn’t noticed it myself. Jennifer Byk wrote about issues related to color of letters, size of keys and teaching phrasal verbs. I’m looking forward to the dictionary worksheets she’ll be sharing.

Share what works for you and benefit from what others have learned and are sharing. Break free from the walls of the teachers’ room by joining the professional online groups on ETNI mail and the various Facebook groups. Be a member of ETAI – electronic dictionaries are a hot topic now, I’m sure we’ll see helpful information in upcoming conferences, mini-conferences and in the ETAI forum.

Don’t forget the counselors that are available, especially if you are teaching students with special needs. Information is your best friend!

Have a wonderful school year!

 

 

“The Dilemma”: Using Electronic Dictionaries in the Classroom – Part Four

Naomi’s photos

Note: The decision to post this series at this time is based on the following two facts: 

  • My Deaf / hard of hearing students and I have been working  with electronic dictionaries on a daily basis since the very first models were sold. The students had special accommodations that permitted the use of these dictionaries.
  • This will be the first year that all 7th-12th grade students in the school system will be allowed to use electronic dictionaries. Many teachers are currently expressing interest in the subject. I hope that these teachers may find my experience with Deaf and hard of hearing students useful. 

This is not a “myth -tips” post but rather an attempt to present the different aspects of a dilemma that arises when using electronic dictionaries in class. Since there is no “right” way to deal with these questions, I believe they should be discussed by the staff in each school. These issues must be addressed.

Naomi’s photos

I believe that it is each student’s responsibility to acquire and bring his /her dictionary to class. Especially in high-school. Taking responsibility is a life skill that we want to foster, but it goes beyond that. We want students to recognize that their dictionary is a tool they need to have with them, just like a calculator for math lessons, because it is helpful and makes a difference to their studies. It is part of them taking ownership of their studies. 

But…

While the price of the approved electronic dictionaries has gone down significantly thanks to the change in policy, we all know that some students will  not be able to afford to purchase one. Will you allow students to share dictionaries during lessons? What happens when there is an exam? These questions must be discussed by the staff.

Some schools may choose to purchase a few electronic dictionaries for such students to use. Sometimes donors will help. It may seem like a good idea to place these dictionaries in the English Room or English Closet, where students can access them easily during a lesson.

But..

Naomi’s Photos

Who will be allowed to use these dictionaries? Will you tell student K., who happened to forget her dictionary at home today, that she can’t have one because her family isn’t considered “needy” while student D. can use one because of his family’s level of income? To avoid labeling students in such a manner a teacher might allow any student who needs an electronic dictionary to take one for the duration of the lesson. Not only does the teacher then have to worry about whether or not there will be a dictionary left for the student who can’t afford one (especially if the quantity is small) , but a new problem presents itself. The larger the number of  school-owned electronic dictionaries  available for use  during the lesson the larger the number of students who stop bringing their own dictionary to class completely. ..

Naomi’s Photos

So…

I prefer to have any extra electronic dictionaries obtained for such students come from the counselor’s office, not the English Room. The student signs a “contract”  promising to care for the dictionary and return it at the end of the school year. Then the students become responsible for a dictionary, as was discussed above.

But…

There may be too few electronic dictionaries to lend to students who need them. Sharing may be necessary. Staff members should discuss how this will work.

And then…

What about the student who owns an electronic dictionary but due to his /her particular learning disability has serious difficulties with organization and often forgets his dictionary at home (or perhaps can’t find it in his school bag among his chaos because it is so small)? Such a child may need the dictionary  even more than other students do. If the teacher just leaves this kind of student to take responsibility for his/her dictionary completely  on his /her  own, the student’s progress may be seriously impaired. Sometimes a good friend in class can be enlisted to remind such a student to put the electronic dictionary in a specific school-bag pocket at the end of every lesson. In other cases, involving the school counselor could be the way to go.

There is no right answer to these questions. These are all issues that arise and need to be addressed by the staff members of each school.

 

 

 

 

Saturday’s Book – “Human Acts” by Kang

A human act from a different part of the world.
Epstein family photos

All the accolades I have read about Kang’s skills as a writer are justified. The writing is unique, the perspective highly unusual.

If it hadn’t been for the writing I wouldn’t have made it through the first two stories, or chapters (because the stories are connected). Perhaps scenes would be a better way to describe them.

However, the topic of a particularly brutal massacre of a student uprising in South Korea (1980) is horrific. Kang’s skill in bringing the emotions straight to the reader made it explosively powerful.

It was too much for me to read any more than those two chapters. Tragic. Kang has won my respect as an author but that was all I could read.

Myths & Tips: Using Electronic Dictionaries in the Classroom – Part Three

Take it slowly, relax! Epstein Family Photos

Note: The decision to post this series at this time is based on the following two facts: 

  • My Deaf / hard of hearing students and I have been working  with electronic dictionaries on a daily basis since the very first models were sold. The students had special accommodations that permitted the use of these dictionaries.
  • This will be the first year that all 7th-12th grade students in the school system will be allowed to use electronic dictionaries. Many teachers are currently expressing interest in the subject. I hope that these teachers may find my experience with Deaf and hard of hearing students useful. 

MYTH – Everything we used to teach about using a dictionary is now useless.

First of all, using an electronic dictionary does not exclude use of a printed one, and there are many students who will still benefit from knowing how to use a printed one.

In addition, while it is true that it is no longer necessary to know the alphabet well or where to find head words when using an electronic dictionary,  most other skills remain relevant indeed!

Naomi’s Photos

Tips: Start with the most “critical” points

“Critical” as in the ones I find lead to the most common errors, at least when working with struggling learners.

  1.  “S” & “ies” –  Whether we are talking about the plural “s” or  one that has been added to the third form singular verb,  you must remind the students repeatedly to “drop the s” before looking words up (and “es” / change “i” to “y). They must get used to doing that.

I stand by this statement despite the fact that the latest models of the electronic dictionaries are much more sophisticated than the ones we used in the past. There are now words which students can type in as they see them in the text and the dictionary will lead them to the right answer.

For example, If the sentence reads “He buys apples every day” the  dictionary will now lead you to the definition of “buy” in the         suitable context even if you type in “buys“. However, in the context of the sentence ” She flies to London every month” , not changing the verb form to “fly” informs you that “flies” is the theater term for the area above the stage for storing scenery. I admit, I did not know that. True, taking advantage of the arrows will lead you to a more suitable translation but struggling learners tend to use them less than I would like.

2. Suffixes “er” “est”  – The same principle.  Type in “bigger” or “smaller” and you will now get a suitable translation (believe me, this was not so in the past!). However, if you type in healthier you will be directed to “healthy.

If you type in “unhealthy” you will get a suitable translation. But if you type unhealthiest you will be redirected to unhealthy.

Note – To the extent that I have seen, the prefixes “un” and “re” typed in along with the word seem to lead to the desired result.  I am referring to the latest models.

*** Being able to identify a word as a noun or as a verb before looking it up is (of course!) a powerful dictionary skill which enables students to find the most suitable translations.

More on that in one of the future posts in this series.

 

 

Myths & Tips: Using Electronic Dictionaries in the Classroom – Part Two

Naomi’s Photos

Note: The decision to post this series at this time is based on the following two facts: 

  • My Deaf / hard of hearing students and I have been working  with electronic dictionaries on a daily basis since the very first models were sold. The students had special accommodations that permitted the use of these dictionaries.
  • This will be the first year that all 7th-12th grade students in the school system will be allowed to use electronic dictionaries. Many teachers are currently expressing interest in the subject. I hope that these teachers may find my experience with Deaf and hard of hearing students useful. 

MYTH – The teacher can ignore the purely technical aspects of the electronic dictionary – the students are all “digital natives” and know how to use the device immediately, on their own.

While there most certainly are students who will feel at home with any new technological device within a very short time, there are also students who are surprisingly clueless about anything digital that involves more than posting photos or messages in the current popular social platform. I know it seems hard to believe when it feels that the students’ cell phones never leave the palm of their hands, but it is true.

The models in the market today are very “user-friendly”. Nonetheless, there are some points that need to be discussed. particularly those related to classroom management and teacher’s peace of mind.

Naomi’s Photos

TIPS FOR CLASSROOM SURVIVAL

  • NAMES!!! Since there are only a few models of approved dictionaries, large numbers of students in every class will be using the exact same model of electronic dictionary. You really can’t tell them apart. It’s vital to start the year by having the students write their names on the inner side of the cover (if the model has a cover) or on the back. In my classes using Tippex (white-out) for writing is the prefered method as stickers are easy to peel off and some markers can be rubbed off. “Vital” as in avoiding unpleasant situations with students and their parents.
  • SOUND!!! For some unknown reason (to me!) devices come with a beeping sound every time you hit a key. Thankfully, this sound can be easily turned off. Just look for MENU / SETTINGS/ SOUND – OFF. This is an excellent time to enlist those “digital natives” in your class to help everyone get their beeping sound turned off. In my experience the sound  bothers most of the students (hearing and hard of hearing ) as well and they are happy to comply.
  • CLEAR – It’s a good idea to point out the “clear” key. Some students turn the dictionary off and then on again every time they type an error and want to start the word over.
  • Point out which key to use when changing languages.
  • Demonstrate how use of the arrows brings up phrasal verbs and more uses of the words. Even “digital natives” usually don’t notice that one on their own.
  • Batteries – Electronic dictionaries that I’m familiar with run on three small, round and flat batteries. They last a long time, often more than a school year. You don’t plug them into the nearest socket every day, like a cell phone. I’ve had so many students that were astonished when their dictionary suddenly stopped working. It never occurs to them it might be the batteries! Some don’t even know where batteries are sold (or is that just some of my students?).  It’s a good idea to point this fact out. 

More to come – watch this space!

Myths & Tips: Using Electronic Dictionaries in the Classroom – Part One

The real definition of “B & B”?
Bison with birds!
Guest post by Omri Epstein

Note: The decision to post this series at this time is based on the following two facts: 

  • My Deaf / hard of hearing students and I have been working  with electronic dictionaries on a daily basis since the very first models were sold. The students had special accommodations that permitted the use of these dictionaries.
  • This will be the first year that all 7th-12th grade students in the school system will be allowed to use electronic dictionaries. Many teachers are currently expressing interest in the subject. I hope that these teachers may find my experience with Deaf and hard of hearing students useful. 

MYTH – Use of an electronic dictionary will result in all students getting stellar grades without studying any English.

It is completely possible to fail an exam “spectacularly” with a top quality electronic dictionary (“spectacular” as in grades such as 18 out of 100…).

The English language is not a simple language: many words have multiple meanings, use of idioms is common and the grammatical structure of the language is often very different from that of the students’ first language. This is particularly true for students whose mother language is not based on Latinate origins or whose main mode of communication is their country’s sign language ( Sign Language is not universal – different countries and languages have their own signs.).  A student needs a command of syntax and grammar in order to choose the right dictionary entry for a given context. In addition, he/ she must be able to think in a flexible manner when translating and reorganizing words translated into meaningful chunks.

Consider the following sentence:
When Dan arrived, he found out that there was no room in the car left for him. 
If a student chooses the first meaning appearing in the dictionary for every word in this sentence he will come up with a totally incomprehensible sentence. The resulting translation will appear as a jumble of unrelated words, including “left” as a direction, “room” as in rooms in a building, while “found” may become separated from “out” and be translated as founding an organization.

Knowledge is required in order to use a dictionary efficiently and correctly – using it mechanically will not improve a student’s results. Time is also a factor. It is worth noting that a student who hasn’t studied at all and looks up every single word in the dictionary will not finish the exam in the allotted time, even with an exam accommodation granting “extra time”.

The long path… Epstein family photos

TIP: Demonstrate ridiculous translations

At the beginning of the year, before exam time rolls around, choose sentences from texts you are using and write them on the board. Ask students to pull out their dictionaries, and translate the sentence totally mechanically using the first meaning given for every word, ignoring phrasal verbs and not changing word order. Discuss the results.

One lesson won’t do the trick. As students work with the dictionaries or hand in work, point out errors based on reckless use of the dictionary and have the students play detective and see if they can figure out what should have been done.  Bring up the matter when relevant, but students need this message repeated.

Unfortunately, some students need to do poorly on an exam before they heed their teachers’ warnings. Without naming names, put together  a worksheet demonstrating pitfalls students didn’t avoid on their recent exam (such as choosing the meaning of a word as a noun, not a verb, ignoring phrasal verbs and other things that will be discussed in the next posts).

More to come – watch this space!

 

 

 

 

Saturday’s Book – “Commonwealth” by Ann Patchett

Naomi’s Photos

Ann Patchett does it again.

It’s the fifth book I have read by this author and I enjoyed every single one of them!

She has a gift for storytelling that brings the characters to life so vividly but without assuming that the reader needs to be spoon-fed with every little detail explained and rehashed. I love the way she delves into rich scenes of the characters’ lives, supplying information regarding the past as needed, when it serves the plot. I also enjoy how this story about the lives of the members of two families  is told from the perspective of different family members at different time periods. Especially as it all ties in together so seamlessly.

It’s a very hard book to stop reading – read when you have some free time!

I think there are two books of Patchett’s I haven’t yet read, but I will!

Highly recommended!

Bearing Left in BEAR COUNTRY

Inviting you to unfamiliar wonders
Alberta Canada, Epstein family photos

If you, dear reader, will bear with me for a few moments, I will try to briefly explain how “bears” can baffle a tourist.

Obviously, one must grin and bear the inconvenience of long flights and jet lag with grace, if one wishes to see the wild wonders of Alberta, Canada, including a few of its bears, in person.

That is, bears that are animals. Whatever the fur color, I certainly had in mind bears that are unconcerned with linguistics.

Actual live bear in Canada, but not a great picture…
(Naomi’s photos)
Bears in Alaska (just because it is a better picture!) Epstein Family photos

However, it seems that the region is “bear country” in more than one way.

Please bear in mind, as you read this, that people in Canada have a delightful reputation of being very polite.  This politeness extends to the SatNav or GPS system that came with our rental car. It is the first such system we have ever encountered when traveling abroad that says “please”before the instructions, as in:

“Please turn right”

“Please bear left”.

For some unknown reason, “bears” were mainly invoked when turning left, not right, though not exclusively.

At first I found myself attempting to assess the angle of the turns – it had always been my understanding that for a fork in the road, or a slight veering to the left off the main road, one could say “ bear left” . But at a classic junction , with a  90 degree angle, one must “turn” , not “bear“.  However, I could not find any correlation between the characteristics of the turn to the  device’s use of “turn left” or “bear left”.

I know, no turn of any sort in this photo, but so beautiful!
Epstein family photos

Since I couldn’t bear the thought that I had misunderstood the terminology all my life I turned to Google. As far as I can ascertain, the “bear” question seems to be a cultural issue – American English vs. British English. As a native speaker of American English my understanding of the usage appears to be quite common. That’s a comforting thought.

When do YOU “turn left” and when do YOU “bear left”? When do YOU invoke bears in your driving instructions?