Category Archives: Day by Day in the Classroom

But Seriously, EFL Students, Meeting a Cow Will Help You Prepare for Your Exams!

The sea of knowledge is vast… Naomi’s Photos

I can’t possibly teach my students everything they need to know.

I couldn’t do that even before the pandemic granted me the pleasure of teaching students who haven’t studied without disruption for the past year and a half. Students whose studies may be disrupted yet again in the near future…

What DO my students need to know?

This question has an obvious answer, considering the fact that I’m a teacher in the national school system and we have a curriculum to follow.

So there’s plenty of familiar material that needs to be taught.

However…

There’s an additional factor to consider.

Let’s shed some light on this… Naomi’s Photos

I feel that the pandemic has widened the gap between my strongest students and my weaker ones.

And believe me, it’s not because these strong students (most of them, there were a few exceptions)  studied English on their own!

You also can’t claim that the students who are profoundly Deaf, from Deaf families,  whose primary mode of communication is Sign Language were benefitting from watching movies in English without subtitles or following the lyrics of songs in English (the latter is very difficult for hard-of-hearing students to do as well).

One of the things that I have noticed about these strong students is that they are super observant and make connections.  All sorts of connections!

They pay attention to words in English on packaging, clothing, bumper stickers, computer games, and websites they use.

But it’s much more than that.

I notice everything!
Naomi’s Photos

When the stronger students watch the same movies (or T.V programs) as their classmates, they garner useful information, even when the quality of some of the movies is questionable. From a film about aliens landing on the White House lawn and snatching the US President, they recall all the other references to the fact that the capital of the US is Washington DC and not New York ( as some of my students think… )

They take note of the fact that in the opening ceremony of the Olympic games, athletes from Greece always head the parade regardless of alphabetical order and want to know why.

When encountering a reading passage on their national exam “Next Stop: Mars?” or perhaps about “Trash in Space” the stronger students can visualize scenes from various movies they have seen (such as “Apollo 13” “The Martian” )  and computer games they have played as aids in understanding the texts, despite the complex vocabulary.  They recognize the symbol of NASA and know what it refers to.

Some of the stronger students had even seen footage from the International Space Station and even from the rover “Curiosity” when they read the news online.

The strongest students are more curious than their classmates.   When reading a text in class about “invasive green parrots” or “Piano Stairs  – The Fun Theory”, they will use Google to see visuals without me telling them to do so.

GENERAL KNOWLEDGE IMPACTS READING COMPREHENSION!

So many gaps…
Naomi’s Photos

The gaps in struggling students’ general knowledge about the world hinder their performance on reading comprehension tasks regularly.

This has always been true.

However, before the pandemic, I had more time to discuss background information for every single reading passage with them.

The gaps in general knowledge are most striking when it comes to texts related to environmental issues.  There are many such texts in our practice books and exams.

It’s one thing if the students don’t know that it’s very cold in Canada and that Amazon is a name of a company that delivers products, and that drones can be used to do so (all my students know about Ali Express!). It is much more problematic when the students haven’t a clue no about the connection between cows and the environment (actually, I’ve had students who didn’t even know cows could graze on a pasture – they assumed cows were only raised in enclosed spaces). Think of a reading passage on the topic of environmentally friendly meat substitutes…

They need to know that satellites even exist before reading about trash in space.

Wild animals in the city… A Jackal
Naomi’s Photos

Forget satellites – a few of the struggling students are unaware that wildlife exists outside of a zoo or the continent of Africa. A text about the problems that arise when wild animals live in the city is harder to make sense of when you can’t visualize such a situation.

So…

Remember the ongoing problem called “lack of time in class”?

I’ve begun creating short homework  (or independent-work-in-class-time) tasks for my students in which the students watch a short video (VISUALS!) about a topic related to an environmental issue and then answer a few lower-order comprehension questions just to make sure they have paid attention to the main points of the video.

My students are getting these videos WITH SUBTITLES in L1.

It’s very simple.

These videos are too challenging for my struggling learners in English.

AND…

I don’t want to spend time teaching vocabulary items such as “satellites” or even “factory” when there is such a large number of basic and frequent words/phrases these students do not know.

The dictionary will tell them what a satellite is in L1.

What I am concerned about is that the struggling learners will know what THAT word is denoting when they see the translation.

Note: For some of my students, Sign Language is their mother tongue. I hope to add a version with sign language for each video during the school year – I have asked for assistance in this matter, so I’m quite hopeful.

Here is the first video, in English.  Perhaps it will be helpful to you as it is.


Here is the file with Hebrew captions. This is not a one-to-one translation, some captions have been edited for brevity and clarity. I’m trying to get a message across!

If you create captions in other languages for this video, please let me know!

Here is a link to download a copy of a Google form with “very unsophisticated” questions to ensure attention to the points I wanted.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1Cr1IAGESBVJOT0dbVT3Hs4tFXz0KljLZ4JCwUezK6TY/copy

I’m currently working on the next video!

So, Teaching in a “VUCA World” Calls for a Business Model? Bring It On!

The way forward is unclear… (Naomi’s Photos)

I admit it.

Although THE PANDEMIC has been wreaking havoc on our lives for over a year and a half, I had not known there was an acronym out there that described the situation we are facing as teachers in the school system.

An acronym derived from four different words.

Words matter.

Defining a situation and looking at its components enables us to find footholds and add pegs to hold onto.

And then move forward.

As a teacher feeling concerned about beginning another school year in the shadow of the pandemic, I am certainly interested in a model for dealing with a difficult situation, even if it comes from the business world.

VUCA stands for:

volatility // uncertainty  // complexity // ambiguity

The following “definitions” are quotes from What VUCA Really Means for You” by Bennet and Lemoine.

The suggested responses are my adaptations of their business recommendations.

unstable…
Naomi’s Photos

 VOLATILITY

“The challenge is unexpected or unstable and may be of unknown duration, but it’s not necessarily hard to understand.”

The challenges posed by teaching under “pandemic conditions” are no longer unexpected but they certainly are unstable.  We could be teaching in-person in class one day and remotely the next.  Many students could be absent due to illness and quarantine or perhaps the students will be divided into groups again. And we certainly don’t know how long this unstable situation is going to last!

     The authors’ business response works well for education:                “… devote resources to preparedness…”

LIGHTBULB MOMENT for STRESSED TEACHER SELF 

Even though I may not know what a day of teaching will look like at any given point, the time I have already invested in creating digital versions of my classroom materials means that I AM somewhat prepared for an unstable new year! True, I haven’t digitized all my material yet, but continuing to do that is certainly a clear-cut achievable goal that will have a positive impact.

Can it be righted?
Naomi’s Photos
UNCERTAINTY

“Despite a lack of other information, the event’s basic cause and effect are known. Change is possible, but is not a given”.

Gathering information about the pandemic (aka “event”) itself isn’t really a helpful option for a teacher,  since the school management and others don’t know when there will be a lockdown or new restrictions either.

However, if we focus on the authors’ emphasis on sharing information, the connection to education becomes clear. Invest in building/strengthening your ties with other teachers  – what are they doing? Did it work?  Do they know what you’ve been doing?  Even the things that didn’t work? We are not alone!

Sharing equals strength.

LIGHTBULB MOMENT for STRESSED TEACHER SELF

Yes, I will probably be frustrated and even VERY FRUSTRATED at times during the upcoming school year.  It’s unavoidable. When it happens I must remind myself that I do belong to quite a few online groups for teachers, so if no one at school has time to talk to me about it, someone is out there who does have time to listen and discuss.

But before anything else, my first response should be to BREATHE!

Many things to take into account… Naomi’s Photos

COMPLEXITY

“The situation has many interconnected parts and variables. Some information is available and can be predicted but the volume and nature of it can be overwhelming to process.”

The authors recommend building adequate resources to address the complexity (and bringing in specialists, but that’s not realistic in this case …).

As far as I’m concerned that means dividing the work of creating a large number of resources that cater to students with different needs.   The instability of the situation doesn’t end when the school day is over, it affects our daily lives. Sharing and dividing the work are the only antidotes I can see to feeling overwhelmed.

LIGHTBULB MOMENT for STRESSED TEACHER SELF

This is something I need to work on more.  The pandemic isn’t going away tomorrow – this is a call for action!

Connections…
Naomi’s Photos

AMBIGUITY

“Causal relationships are completely unclear. No precedents exist; you face ‘unknown unknowns.”

No precedents.

I have never taken an in-service training course on teaching in a situation in which the normal progression of a school year is so frequently disrupted for such an extended period of time – that situation is so unprecedented that I couldn’t even imagine it until it happened.

Causal relationship?

  • Will the students retain vocabulary when they learn online and have GOOGLE TRANSLATE at their fingertips?
  • Will having the students write their answers on paper and then send me pictures of it force them to really look at the words in the sentence carefully despite using translation programs?

I don’t know.

The business advice here is spot on but not so easy to adopt.

Which net is better? Naomi’s Photos

The authors recommend EXPERIMENTING – thinking carefully of strategies that could solve issues, trying them out, and learning from the results.

To some extent, we all do it. What else can we do in such a situation?

However, this requires dealing with failure and learning from it. I don’t know how it works in the business world, but as a high school teacher, I find experimenting to be a safe and useful approach in a limited way.

Yes, the students responded well to acting out a poem in class – Do More of That.

No, the students did not seem to really engage with vocabulary when I used a certain word puzzle, nor did they particularly enjoy it – Don’t Do That.

But high school is a setting with high-stakes standardized exams. You don’t have a lot of wiggle room.

In addition, in order to learn from results,  experiments should be planned carefully.  Some outcomes are difficult to differentiate from others – how do I know if it is because of a certain strategy I tried?

LIGHTBULB MOMENT for STRESSED TEACHER SELF

So here’s something in my life that the pandemic hasn’t upset. I’ll continue to try, from time to time different ways to practice vocabulary or work on a text or anything else.  That’s what I’ve always done.

Finding something that hasn’t changed is comforting too.

Don’t you think so?

 

 

 

 

How many “Chunks” can a Comic Strip Chunk? With no Help from a Woodchuck?

How did he respond?

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

“Review” is the name of the game, right?

Especially when you are planning for the first weeks of a new school year.

Even more so when you taught a set of “chunks” or “collocations” during an unpredictable previous school year, in which the pandemic messed with your teaching.

Particularly so when you are teaching Deaf and hard of hearing students who always need vocabulary items practiced intensively as they lack exposure to the spoken language.

So…

Work within the boundaries Naomi’s Photos

I wanted my review exercise to emphasize the context in which the “chunks”  are used.

And…

I needed the task to be suitable for face-to-face teaching in class or for remote learning.

In addition…

I wanted to shake things up a bit. The students had a whole series of tasks last year (which you can find by clicking here:     400 WAYS TO RUN OUT OF MILK – VOCABULARY & DISTANCE LEARNING) so I changed the approach a bit. This time the students aren’t required to write a sentence including the target “chunk” or complete the target chunk – they need to complete the context in which it is used.

I used this friendly (and free)  comics creator.

Make Beliefs Comics

  • Note: All “chunks” in this task were taken from the Approved List of vocabulary items for high school, known as Band Three.

 

Chunk review with comics from naomima

DON’T BOX ME IN! TEACHERS WHO “BENT” THE ZOOM SQUARE – Debbie

Debbie Ben Tura, Yehud Comprehensive High School

 

When I asked Debbie about her experiences teaching EFL to high school students during the pandemic, she showed me a wonderful short story she had written. The story presents the reader with the humorous-yet-so-realistic experiences of the “the superheroes”  of the entire English Department at the high school. Debbie shared it at the final staff meeting of the school year.

Debbie kindly gave me her permission to share an excerpt from the story here.

The first thing that I want to say to the entire staff is: WELL DONE!!! WE DID IT!!! We managed to get to June 2021, and  WE SURVIVED!

So, let me tell you a story: the story of The Great Battle:

Once upon a time, on September the 1st, 2020, a group of superheroes set out on yet another step of their quest. These superheroes had many hidden talents and powers like: eyes at the back of their heads, the ability to distinguish perspectives and uncover motives, vast knowledge of obscure grammatical rules, and more. They could catch negative energy, change it and shoot it back thousand times as hard while converting it into positive vibes. These superheroes could even read minds, they could move kids without even touching them (aka telekinesis) and shut up even the most talkative pupil with their piercing icy stare!! They were endowed with endless patience, bladders which never need emptying like camels, voices which could rapidly change in volume and tone and they were as tough as steel. They were fierce!!

SUPERHERO!
Naomi’s Photos

These heroes stepped bravely into the unknown, armed with books, markers, and overflowing bags, into a classroom with real live pupils in it at the Mekif Yehud Gym. (I say gym because we shlepp so many kilos around with us as we go up and down a trillion steps each day – working all our muscle groups as we complete our full daily workout).

Anyway, we locked eyes with our shiny new boys and girls in the arena (aka the classroom) with the knowledge that we would conquer all, had so much to give, and knew exactly what punishments we would dole out if they were late for class, did not do their homework, etc. We were mighty. Us warriors had no idea that we were doomed…we would have to face new challenges ahead:

Debbie in class, when “teaching with masks” was not necessary!

Winter was coming:

And then came the craziness: banished to planet Zoom

with black boxes instead of sweet smiling teenage faces

with pupils whose default mode was on mute

with pupils who have the audacity to know how to operate a computer better than we do

and the worst was Zooming with an unstable Internet connection, dressed from the neck down, not in strong armor: but in our pajamas….

Define: LOCKDOWN!

So, we developed new superpowers: the ability to identify a pupil by his ceiling fan or window. We adapted our investigative powers when pupils logged in under false aliases. We learned how to ignore messy closets and unmade beds. We became wizards at spotting plagiarized essays from the Internet.

We even learned that Zoom is not only a verb, but an adjective and a noun too…. (For example, yesterday I zoomed with my class. Our zoom or zoomification (if you speak American English) was fantastic. I am all zoomed out now!!! How often do you zoom? And in Present perfect:  I have been zooming since the Pandemic, etc.)

Living with the Pandemic
Naomi’s Photos

But back to the story. Finally, after huge struggles and the worst battles were fought and won, much sweat and tears were shed, and the art of awakening knowledge and creativity under such unique circumstances was mastered, we were allowed back into our physical classrooms for a second round – it was like we had never taught our classes before. We had to learn their names all over again and learn how to differentiate between our pupils simply by their eyes above their masks….

We then relaxed a little…

We began to slowly realize that we had come out on the other side unscathed….

We survived!

Don’t Box Me In! Teachers who “Bent” the Zoom Square – Vicky


Vicky Loras – Privately Employed Teacher & Ph.D. Researcher, Switzerland

 

Naomi: Vicky! From “noooooooooooo” to “wooohooos” with emojis sprinkled in – I’m so glad you agreed to talk to me about teaching adults remotely during the pandemic.

But first, may I ask : 

How many years have you been teaching?

I have been teaching for 24 years, ever since I was a student at university. It is a funny story, as I had never imagined being a teacher – I had wanted to become a lawyer for as long as I remembered myself up to that point! However, missing a window of a 0.25 mark in the entrance exams sent me to teaching school and I am so happy about this “accident” (I hope my students are too!).

I had absolutely no experience with Zoom before the pandemic, only Skype – some of my students from Greece wanted to continue learning with me after I had left Greece for Switzerland in 2009, and we used that tool. Zoom wasn’t so hard for me, and I think it is a really practical tool. With some of my private students, we have decided to continue teaching remotely, as it saves them from commuting to come to me.

Daily Commute…
Naomi’s photos

Nonetheless, there were some initial difficulties.  Bad internet connections were pretty rare but when they happened, they could become quite an issue.

In addition, in large groups, some people would be too shy to turn on their microphones to ask something, so I encouraged them to use the private chat function in order for me to answer their questions.

Most importantly, not seeing or hearing the student’s reactions was quite the challenge! It still is sometimes.

Invisible faces…
Naomi’s Photos

Wait a minute – didn’t your students turn on their cameras?

The policy at our two business schools where I teach part-time was for all students to have their cameras on at all times. Even so, some students chose to keep them off for their own reasons. I would check in on them every now and then to see if they were okay.

A useful technique that I adopted, is what I call “surprise questions“. I use it to check if everyone is still participating! The questions I ask are for everyone, the students just don’t know the order in which they will be asked to answer…

Are you talking to me? Epstein Family Photos

Can you give an example of something you did that made “life” easier?

Maybe not easier, but more pleasant! I encourage my online students, especially in groups, to go ‘wooohooo’ or clap loudly when they like an activity we are doing, or even say ‘noooooooooooo’ if they don’t like something. So far, the ‘nooooooooooo’ has been used only for fun and to make us laugh!

It is always funny when the students decide to use gifs or emojis to express what they want to say or give feedback. Of course, I take advantage of this as a language moment, so they have to explain why they used the emojis or gifs – sometimes they are from tv programs that I had no idea existed!

Thank you for sharing your experiences, Vicky! May teaching remotely in the future become a tool you use when appropriate, but not a necessity…

Don’t Box Me In! Teachers who “Bent” the Zoom Square – Michal

 

Michal Bendet, Yehud Comprehensive High School
(in conversation with Naomi)

 

For me, learning how to use Zoom was the easy part.

I’m good with technology and mastered the necessary technical skills quite quickly.

However,  teaching students majoring in chemistry remotely, without a laboratory  – that was the challenging part!

I see that you want to hear about  “chemistry experiments without a lab”, but wait a minute.

There were some basic obstacles to overcome.

You have to find a way in!
Naomi’s Photos

At first, there was a time limit to a Zoom session. Chemistry lessons are typically scheduled for three consecutive hours, so logging in and out of links was inconvenient and time-consuming. Fortunately, once teachers got access to unlimited sessions, that was no longer a problem.

Then there was the issue of “the whiteboard”. As a chemistry teacher, I don’t simply write words on the board – diagrams, and drawings, calling for all sorts of shapes, are frequently needed. I quickly discovered that using a mouse to draw on the “Zoom Whiteboard” was really inconvenient. Drawing on a little whiteboard (like a child might use) and holding it up to the camera wasn’t a great improvement, but I did that until the digital graphics tablet ( which I ordered, “out of pocket”) was delivered. That enabled the students to see what I was drawing directly on the screen.

Cameras, you ask?

I can’t see you!
Naomi’s Photos

My 12th-grade students had studied with me for an entire year before the pandemic, so they were more cooperative when it came to turning on their cameras. But with the 11th graders, I needed to be more emphatic.

In order to emphasize the importance of eye contact, I made sure to completely stop screen sharing when someone asked a question.

When we talk to each other we look at each other.

 

So, back to the painful topic of EXPERIMENTS…

The students could not participate in active experiments. Many of the students were at the stage where they were supposed to be designing and conducting their own research experiments in the laboratory.  I was supposed to be moving around the room, assisting and guiding as needed.

The students were supposed to be learning by doing.

You have to test each step…
Naomi’s Photos

During remote learning, I showed them videos of experiments. The students then had to spend hours writing detailed reports of experiments they hadn’t experienced themselves. This affected the students’ ability to really pay attention to details as well as their motivation. Such a report can take several hours to write.

At some point, we got permission from the Ministry of Education to ask the students to conduct an experiment at home. That was a complex experience involving frustration on both ends. When a student encountered a problem I couldn’t simply approach and immediately identify the problem.

To counter the alienation of learning by just watching experiments in class as opposed to a hands-on experience I relied heavily on my most powerful teaching “tool” – enthusiasm!

Light the way forward! Naomi’s Photos

My students have always said that I get very enthusiastic in class about whatever it is we’re doing. During remote learning, I made sure they felt the enthusiasm in any way that I could. I tried to get them excited about the phenomena, despite the experiments being on video. The students remarked on it too!

Do you know that we even had a competition of fun Chemistry Memes created by students? It was awesome!

Would you like to see it?


Naomi’s Note:

I DID want to see it.

Michal put aside her handwritten end-of-the-year notes for each student and showed it to me.

It was indeed awesome.

Don’t Box Me In! Teachers who “Bent” the Zoom Square – Anka

Anka Zapart online!
Anka Zapart, BKC IH, Moscow

My name is Anka, I am a teacher of English as a foreign language. I come from Poland but I have wandered around a bit and for the past twelve years I have been working in Russia, at BKC IH Moscow. This is where the pandemic and Zoom found me.

The biggest problem with teaching online that I came across was the one in my head. Although over the years I have worked with all the age groups and levels, my main area of expertise (and my passion) is teaching early years students, primary and pre-primary which is all about being physically present and involved, playing with flashcards, doing craft, using realia…Doing all that online sounded like the most ridiculous idea ever. EVER.

NOOOO!
Naomi’s photos

If we had had a chance to meet anytime before March 2020, you would have definitely heard me talk a lot about the disadvantages and the impossibility of teaching very young learners online. You’d have heard me say, too that I would never do that. Never say never…

Because March 2020 happened and we really had no choice, it was either ‘sink or swim’ and, like many of my colleagues all around the world, I decided to at least try to stay on the surface, despite having very (very )little of previous experience of teaching online.

I relocated to zoom, practically overnight, learning fast and learning on the go but also realizing that this is how we do it, as teachers. We become better in the classroom, in front, and with our students, finding out what we like and don’t like doing, what works and what doesn’t. In a way, it was like any other group/ coursebook /level / area from the ‘never done that before’ category, only on a large scale.

We shall prevail! Naomi’s Photos

In general, the older the students, the smoother the transition was. My teens probably didn’t even notice that the set-up was different (giggles) whereas with my primary, seven- and eight-year-olds, we needed more time for adaptation and more support and involvement from the parents. However, after the first three weeks, we had our new routine and, most importantly, the break-out rooms were under control and that allowed for pair-work and group work and more production.

My pre-primary kids were the biggest challenge but, also, probably, the biggest achievement of all. Initially, the parents refused to move online, despite a few trial lessons and demonstrations. They simply could not see how it could work with kids so young and, although it was a blow, I had to accept that. Accepting, however, didn’t mean giving in completely.

I’ll be back!
Naomi’s Photos

I talked about it with my administration and since we were all stuck at home anyway, with nowhere to go and not much to do, I offered my parents and my kids ‘online activities in English’. I did not dare to call them lessons and they were not obligatory. We would meet only for fifteen minutes, three times a week, to sing, to play, to do some storytelling. For my students, it was an opportunity to use English. For me, it was a fantastic chance to see how things can be done online and to experiment and to learn, guilt-free and stress-free because these were offered free of charge.

This is how we finished the academic year and when it was time to start a new level, all of my educational parents decided to continue, this time as a proper course. Some of them liked studying online so much that, much to my amazement, they were considering never going back to the offline school.

But they did, they all did and since September 2020, we returned, to our lovely classroom, to our carpet, to our flashcards and toys.

The honey pot!
Naomi’s Photos

The most beautiful memories of the online time are all related to just kids being kids and to the joy of teaching them (which simply reached new levels or different levels on zoom).

Kids showing us their rooms and their treasures. Kids bringing younger brothers or sisters or pets to say to ‘Hi’ to. Parents staying near but not intervening unless we really had a problem and a hand would miraculously appear to fix the mic or the page in the book. Kids rushing to class straight from the beach, with their hair still wet or moving the camera a bit to show us the ships moving slowly on the water behind their back or to prove that there really IS a cow grazing near. Teaching a lesson on fruit, waving bananas, apples, and lemons at each other, on both sides of the screen, or running to the other room to check with mum if she really likes riding a bike…

 

Overall, I have to say I am proud of what we did when we were online. It was not always easy but we learned, we made progress and we had fun. Personally, I liked it more than I would have ever imagined. Impossible is nothing? Perhaps.

Note: Anka has written more on this topic on her amazing blog “Funky Socks and Dragons”:

The Unthinkable or About choosing to stay online with VYLs.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Box Me In! Teachers who “Bent” the Zoom Square – Tami

 

Tami Assouline
Tami Assouline, Yehud Comprehensive High School
(as told to Naomi)

 

I’ve been teaching Sign Language to “hearing” students for more than 20 years. At the beginning of every new semester, the students are always surprised when they realize that their new teacher is profoundly Deaf ,  doesn’t use her voice, and there is no interpreter in class. I have never needed an interpreter during these lessons. I get the students to look at me, really look at me, and then they realize that they can understand me. As I teach them basic signs, such as colors and names of animals, they are also learning about communication and inclusion.

Then, suddenly, from one day to the next, I had to start teaching my classes remotely.  I didn’t know anything about Zoom nor did I really know the students. The second semester had begun a short while before and my new classes had not yet adjusted to the way lessons with me are conducted.

I was in a state of shock!

Zoom? (Naomi’s Photos)
Zoom -Shock
Naomi’s Photos

I had no idea what to do and asked my son for help.  Despite his explanations before my first lesson, I called him over urgently when the lesson actually began and asked: “Where are the students? Why can’t I see them? What are these black boxes?!”

The students weren’t turning on their cameras.

I can’t communicate with the students if I can’t see them.

You can’t teach sign language via a chatbox.

Tami at the computer in our English Room

It turned out that involving the homeroom teachers and even the coordinator to get the students to turn on their cameras wasn’t enough to smooth out communication problems that never existed in my lessons before. My husband and children were also using Zoom, the internet was slow and the connection froze for a second now and then. Missing out for even a second is enough to completely miss a hand movement, and cause confusion which led to frustration for everyone. Time was wasted until misunderstandings were cleared up and progress was slow.

The addition of an interpreter to the lessons changed everything. She could hear what the students were saying and alert me as needed and could voice what I was signing when it was needed.

Two!
Naomi’s Photos

While I always use a lot of drama in my lessons, I found that for remote learning I needed to be extremely theatrical and invent additional games so as to hold the students’ attention. I found these lessons to be far more exhausting than the ones in school.

A funny thing happened one lesson; I was teaching and some of the students were reclining on sofas or even in bed. Suddenly I see more and more students jumping to their feet and standing as straight as they could. That’s unusual! Then I realized that the principal had joined the lesson!

I invited him to stay and learn some new signs but he had to go visit other Zoom lessons.

I’m very glad to be teaching at school again!

Don’t Box Me In! Teachers who “Bent” the Zoom Square – Mina

Mina and her grandson, Noam
Mina Tzur – Yehud Comprehensive High School

I have been teaching English as a Foreign Language for 49 years now and have always found that my extensive experience has served me well. I have dealt with teaching through several times of crises and had confidence in my ability to surmount obstacles.

However, I had never dreamed that at the age of 74 I would need to learn how to teach remotely via Zoom.

In the beginning, it was extremely frustrating and made me feel that my real skills and abilities as a veteran teacher couldn’t help me cope with the new difficulties.  I felt that all of a sudden I had to acquire digital skills that I was not used to working with and that had little to do with good foreign language teaching.

But I couldn’t let my students down.

The way forward seems much harder now”       Naomi’s Photos

A good teacher knows when to ask for help!

While kind teachers on my staff at school were very supportive and helpful, they were dealing with their own challenges. The person who really taught me how to create a Zoom session, invite students and other such basics was a 15-year-old, who even made himself available for “immediate emergency assistance” when I was teaching!

I didn’t waste much time with complicated screen controls but rather focused on my old principles of insisting on discipline, manners, and lots of effort on the part of the student. That’s what kept me going.  I wouldn’t give up on the requirement to see their faces on the screen, rather than black squares. I expected them to enter class on time, answer questions, and do their homework. It took my 12th graders, who had been studying with me since the beginning of their 11th grade, time to realize that it was “business as usual”.  The moment they accepted it, we had great lessons and they did very well on their national exams.  Quite an achievement in times of a pandemic. In a letter that they wrote to me at the end of the year, they thanked me for insisting on quality studying, not giving up on anyone, and teaching the way they were used to learning in class. They specifically emphasized that even when learning via Zoom, they felt that we maintained a personal relationship, mutual understanding, and the feeling that I am always there for them.

Time to get to work!
Naomi’s Photos

Eventually, I can honestly say that I was proud of them for cooperating and proud of myself for managing to master skills that were so new to me.  The 12th-grade students were so generous in helping me cope with digital problems that arose throughout the lessons.

However, teaching the 11th-grade students, who were as new to me as I was to them, was a more challenging story.  They had a hard time getting used to my “old school” teaching and I had a hard time realizing that in addition to teaching the material, I needed to teach my students how to study in my class.  I sometimes had to convince a parent who was there, watching the lesson that I knew what I was doing. In the beginning, I felt as if there was a candid camera in the room…

Some amusing dialogues:

Why can’t I see your face on the screen  – – – – –  The internet isn’t working around town (very inaccurate!).

Why are you wearing your pajamas to the lesson? – – – – – I really chose my most beautiful outfit!

Where is your homework?  – – – – – –  My cat ate it up.

Looking back and judging by the results, this experience was meaningful too.

“And the Number Four is MAGICAL!” A Puzzle 4 the EFL Classroom

“Crazy” Numbers!
Naomi’s photos

Did you know that the number four is magical?

You didn’t?

Well then, perhaps your students are also unaware of the magical powers of the humble number four.

So here’s a puzzle that is particularly suitable for an EFL lesson. Both the complexity of the puzzle and the language level of the discussion can be scaffolded and adjusted to suit many levels, so I leave it to you to decide whether this activity is suitable for your students.


Begin by presenting the question:

The number four is magical. Why? What makes it magical? You have to find out.

Choose a number. Any number.

12?

Sure! No problem. So:

12  is 6  / 6 is 3  / 3 is 5 / 5 is 4 / AND 4 IS MAGICAL.

Choose another number.

98?

98 is 11  /  11 is 6  / 6 is 3  / 3 is 5 / 5 is 4 / AND 4 IS MAGICAL.

200?

200 is 10  /  10 is 3  /  3 is 5 / 5 is 4 / AND 4 IS MAGICAL.

30, 000,000? (students often like BIG numbers)

30, 000,000 is 13  /  13 is 8  /  8 is 5 / 5 is 4 / AND 4 IS MAGICAL.

So…

Why is 4 magical?

Feeling mystified? The students don’t know the answer yet?

What? Where? Why?
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So…

The next step is to have your students write the figures as words on the board (or in their notebooks or a shared page when working in groups).

It should like this:

twelve? 

twelve is six  /  six is three  /  three is five  / five is four / AND FOUR IS MAGICAL.

ninety-eight?

ninety-eight is eleven  /  eleven is six / six is three  /  three is five  / five is four / AND FOUR IS MAGICAL.

two hundred?

two hundred is ten  / ten is three  / three is five  / five is four / AND FOUR IS MAGICAL.

thirty million?

thirty million is thirteen  / thirteen is eight  / eight is five /  five is four/ AND FOUR IS MAGICAL.

Why is 4 magical?

If students need an additional hint, draw little diagrams with arrows. Show them that ten is three, six is three, and two is also three.  What do the words “ten”, “six” and “two” have in common?

YES!
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THE ANSWER

The number of letters in the words is the key. 10 is 3 because there are three letters in the word “ten”.

Four is magical because it is the only number which has the same number of letters as the figure it denotes.

Final Note

This puzzle works beautifully both in English and in Hebrew. I’m very curious as to whether the puzzle can be used in other languages as well.  Please try and see – don’t forget to let me know!