After two weeks of school, we’re moving back to remote learning.
It’s a very stressful time with many uncertainties.
However, there is one thing I know for sure – I will need lots of materials! Personally, I find creating teaching materials is somewhat comforting. It is something I feel I have complete control over while focusing my thoughts on pedagogy and being creative.
I’m sure you know what I mean.
So, what am I sharing?
I don’t have a single picture of a woodchuck but here is a garland of ways to practice 25 “language chunks”. All “chunks” were taken from our Ministry of Education’s advanced word list, known here as “Band 3”.
Note: The “extra special task” is the last one…
I am making a concentrated effort to practice “chunks” intensively because looking these up in the dictionary is more complicated and can easily lead the students astray.
Two sets on Quizlet
The Vocabulary 400 Project – Chunks (English-English)
Chunks in Context – A letter which is a “teaser” for a video
This task uses some of the chunks in context while having the students pay more attention (well, a little more…) to the spelling. The students also answer a few questions to make sure they are actually reading the text. At the end of the worksheet, they are given the link to the video.
If I hear another recommendation for a “really great Edtech Tool” that happens to be “just what I need to help me go back to school in the new reality of a pandemic”, I will SCREAM!
“Scream” virtually, that is. I don’t scream – I write blog posts.
I have no doubt at all that many of these recommendations are excellent and teachers find them helpful. Educators around the globe are doing their best to be helpful and share everything they know and I’m truly grateful.
But whoa, slow down.
I can’t “digest” that much.
Going back to school this year is particularly stressful with all the Covid-19 safety precautions. I already have a number of Edtech Tools up and ready to roll and am going to focus on making the most out of using them with the students. Overload is a danger – I feel the need to keep it simple and straightforward.
Okay, okay, I also listened to the podcast because I had a lot of boring housework to do – timing is everything…
So, what was one of the things that Christopher Nesi from House of #EdTech said?
Christopher Nesi said: “KISS the students” – KeepIt Simple, Silly!!!
As far as I’m concerned, everything he discussed related to the content of the lesson itself holds true regarding the tools used for blended learning or online learning – keep it simple! A small number of tools that both the students AND the teachers can master well may prove to be more effective. It will certainly improve the teacher’s level of “sanity”. KISS the students and the teachers too! Hey, “sane” starts with the letter “s” too – maybe we should add it to a teacher’s version!
I’ll leave you with one more thing Christopher Nesi talked about:
“Walk in your students’ shoes”.
While we can never really walk in another person’s shoes, now is a good time to think about what I do know about where my students are “really from”.
Forgive my reposting – now is the right time for it.
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My students spill out of taxi cabs each morning, rubbing their sleepy eyes after early morning pick-ups, napping or texting through the traffic jams on the long way to school.
Some are from homes where no one gets up before they do, to see that they leave without breakfast and have packed nothing but party snacks in their school bag for the long day…
Others are from big hugs and best wishes for their day at school, armed with the knowledge that someone is interested in knowing how the day turns out.
They are from blindingly new cell phones, complete with accessories, screens lighting up their lives, from shame masked by annoyance at teachers who insist on such unattainable things otherwise known as pencils and schoolbooks, knowing notes to parents will go unheeded.
Some are from a lifetime of dodging communication pitfalls, guessing meaning from partially heard sentences, tiring easily by the necessity of being constantly alert, at home and at school. From relief at coming to a school where they are no longer the only student with a hearing aid in the entire school – always conspicuous, sure that whispered conversations are about them.
Others are from a world full of hands in motion, sailing confidently in a sea of visual vocabulary from birth, signing their pride to be Deaf and their frustration with the world which doesn’t use Sign Langauge, while resenting school organized efforts to create shared experiences between hearing and Deaf peers.
Teenage students of mine come from long trips abroad with their parents during the school year, from dealing with the anger of the same parents for then doing poorly at school, while trusting these parents to bully their teachers into forgetting about the missed material, evading the demand for buckling down.
Adolescent students of mine are from dependence on parents to navigate the world for them, from apron strings tied with double knots, cell phones bridging the distance, tightening the knots that need to be loosened.
My students are from a belief that I always know where they are really from.
Additional Title: When I’m creating content on the computer and my students are using a cell phone…
I have no idea how often I’ll be meeting my students in person at school at the beginning of this year or teaching them online. I’m not sure anyone knows at the moment. My best bet for creating new materials seems to be creating ones that can be printed out and used in class or used online. Having something ready comforts me a bit amidst all this uncertainty.
Therefore I’ve decided that it would be very helpful for me to begin the school year with some texts that are divided into chunks and include glossaries. I have found that struggling learners also appreciate having the text in a “box” and, in cases of multiple-choice questions, having the question above the distractors underlined.
Part One – Creating the Glossary
Just like any student, I DID remember that I had once learned how to create a glossary, but many years have passed since then and I had no idea how to do it.
It turns out that creating a glossary in WORD is very easy. Here is a close-up of part of a text and the glossary: (Note: instructions for creating a glossary can be found at the end of this post along with downloadable files of this particular text).
Looks really respectable right? Not a messy jumble of words in a box under the text!
Part Two – The OOOH Discovery
I was totally taken by surprise when I accidentally discovered that once the glossary was created, hovering with your mouse over the word brings up the glossed translation without you having to shift your gaze to the bottom of the page! Having the translation appear above the word as you read is far less disruptive to the flow of reading!
It looks like this (note the little text box above the word):
Isn’t that convenient?
I was very excited! I was sure that once my students learned how to take advantage of this they would appreciate this feature. I do not recall ever hearing about this in any Ed-Tech talks I have attended.
Part Three – The First OH NO! Discovery
As I always do with any worksheet that I create and share with students and other teachers, I saved the document as a PDF. It’s a common practice used to avoid having your students mess up the text as they are working on it.
That cool feature of the glossed items hovering above the text that we’ve been discussing? Itdisappeared completely.
The feature does not work when saved as a PDF document.
Part Four – The Second OH NO! Discovery
I asked myself – how often have I seen students ruin or erase part of the digital text they were working on? The only relevant experience I’ve had is when students used to work on the classroom computer. Almost all my worksheets on these computers have remained in WORD and I’ve had very few cases of students accidentally erasing the exercise or distorting the text. Since the originals are saved it has never been “an issue”.
I decided to try using a WORD document with the students, without saving it as a PDF file.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to try it out with two students who came to school for the second round of national exams that we had recently.
When they opened the document on their cell phones, not only did the “cool feature” not work, the entire glossary disappeared! No little numbers and words on the bottom of the page at all.
The glossary looked great on the students’ cell-phones when I sent it to them as a PDF file.
Part Five – Current Plans
My original goal was to have a text with a respectable glossary that would be clear on whatever device the students are using. That goal has been achieved.
I will save the WORD version of the worksheets on the classroom computers. The students do not have WORD installed on their phones but the classroom computers most certainly do. At least those who work in class will benefit from the extra features.
Naomi: “Thank you, Notebookfor meeting me today, even though it’s your summer “hibernation” time”.
Notebook: (grumbling) “I don’t understand why you had to bother me! You have been renewing my contract automatically for the last 35 years and there have been no complaints about my performance in your classroom. So why are we wasting my rest time?”
Naomi: There’s no polite way to say this so I’ll just cut to the chase – I’m afraid I can’t renew your contract this year until you define exactly what it is you actually do. In what ways can you be useful to students today, in these uncertain times of a global pandemic?
Notebook: (sputtering with anger) “WHAT“?!! How dare you even ask me that? Students have always needed notebooks! And they always will. Even those conceited computers haven’t diminished our importance! Haven’t you read that when students physically write things down in their paper notebooks they remember the material better? Maybe you should spend your summer reading educational research material and learning something instead of needlessly disturbing my hibernation time.You can’t possibly be thinking of firing me!”
Naomi: (counts to 10) Notebook, calm down and stop shouting at me. I don’t want to fire you. I believe in the connection between the physical motion of writing and memory. But let’s face it. Things have changed. When the pandemic hit the country and we suddenly shifted to distance learning without prior planning, we didn’t use notebooks at all, because none of our students had them. They were all left at school. Then, when we started going back to school in small groups we had some students writing in their notebooks one day and using the computer the next when they were learning from home. It was very confusing and caused problems. You can call the computers “conceited” or anything else you care to, but if you don’t define exactly what your new role will be in a school year that could be constantly transitioning between learning-in-class and distance learning, you will find yourself hibernating for long periods during the next school year! So I repeat the question – what is that you are good for? How can you still be useful for our Deaf and hard of hearing students?
Notebook: (after a long pause) “Grammar. Students write grammar rules, sample sentences, and their answers to grammar exercises from their books in me”.
Naomi: Now that’s something that can go directly into your new contract. Here we have a situation where you, the notebook, and the distance learning computer system can seamlessly complement each other without actually communicating with each other.
Notebook: (Brightening) Really? How?
Naomi: You enable students to practice grammar but also serve as a storage place for rules and examples students might want to review before an exam. In class, students can use their notebooks. If they are learning from home, they can have the reference material on their computer systems and links to online grammar exercises. The exercises available in class and at home do not have to be identical, as long as they practice the target topic. Students need to be taught to access the reference material on their school’s computer system. Our students need to learn to use the “Backpack” function on Edmodo for this purpose”.
“We’re making progress! What’s next, Notebook?”
Notebook: Students doodle, draw hearts, tear off bits of paper, make paper balls…
Naomi: True. But that wasn’t in your old contract and certainly isn’t going into this one. NEXT!
Notebook: Essay writing.
Naomi: Sigh. This one is trickier. We’re going to divide this section of your contract into two parts – notebook use for students studying at the lower levels vs. higher levels.
Students writing at the paragraph level or very short texts that can be completed in less than a lesson (leaving time for corrections) can use their notebooks. They can then practice writing different passages from home using our Edmodo (which offers built-in extensive word processing functions! No installing required!) or shared documents (student /teacher share) on Google Docs. Whether we learn in class or at home they will still have sample passages that they wrote available to them.
However, advanced students writing essays of 120 -140 words will continue to be required to type up any essay they write in their notebook. In fact, some students became accustomed to writing their essays directly into the shared documents before the pandemic hit. It is simply so much easier to work on the many corrections to their writing that our students need which take more than one lesson.
You must admit it, Notebook – long essays with many corrections get very messy and hard to read clearly in you!
Notebook: (dejectedly) Surely you need me for the students’ “Literature Logs”.
Naomi: (cheerfully) You should be pleased with this part of the contract! I’ve begun breaking down the tasks students need to do for each of the literary pieces we study into separate small items – each item appears separately on the Edmodo. So one column may be titled pre-reading, another item “page one of LOTS Questions”, “practicing comparing and contrasting” or “Bridging text and context”. If we are in class, and the student completed a certain task in the notebook, I just have to note that in the Edmodo. It doesn’t have to be uploaded to the computer system, I can grade tasks I checked offline. The tasks done during distance learning don’t have to necessarily all be done directly on the Edmodo site either – for some students and certain sections I’ll be using Google forms with an add-on that turns the results into a Google Doc.
Cheer up, Notebook – It’s quite possible to do part of the tasks online and part in their notebooks, and you know that some students are very attached to you!
Are we done?
Notebook: You forgot to mention the topic of vocabulary.
Naomi: Thankfully, that’s one thing the pandemic hasn’t interfered with. We will continue using Quizlet and Edmodo for vocabulary practice, leaving the student to decide for themselves when and how often to use their notebooks for this purpose. You know that some students certainly prefer their notebooks while others emphatically do not.
That wraps it up, Notebook! You see, now we can confidently say that you are all still needed in our class, whatever may come next year!
Now go and hibernate in peace! I will try not to bother you!
Wave don’t tend to wait for you to plan, get ready, or even try a practice run, before making it crystal clear that you had better start swimming, NOW. OR ELSE.
I felt like the little sandpiper in the video (see below) facing the big wave when the Covid-19 virus first hit the country and the school system. Needless to say, I had not been really prepared for such a scenario, transitioning so quickly to complete distance learning with my Deaf and hard of hearing high-school students. It was quite a jolt, to put it mildly.
I don’t want to feel that way again.
I’ve been told that one can’t prepare for the unknown, as none of us imagined preparing for a lockdown or for returning to school with masks and partial student attendance.
I’ve been told that since the unknown includes possibilities ranging from no distance learning at all to long periods of it, or some combination of partial F-2-F learning in small groups, it is futile to try to plan ahead.
In short, nobody knows what kind of wave will hit the school system in the future, when it will hit and how big its impact will be.
However, now that the school year is winding down (we’re in the exam- mode-only now in high-school) I feel that I have learned some useful things over the past months.
Like the little sandpiper in the video, while I can’t face down the big wave, I believe that by identifying the problems I was faced with and asking myself what can be done about them, I will find footholds to help me find my way under an unknown next wave. It’s not unrealistic at all to imagine that that whatever does come, distance learning will be the first thing the school system returns to.
The best place to start is always from you know, right?
My first, most immediate problem was that my students did not have their books and notebooks with themat home– these are all kept in several boxes in the English Room!
I’m putting an end to that practice, even though I’ve been doing it for years and have found it to be useful with students in Special Education. Not only is it bad for sudden shifts to distance learning, but it is also not a good idea these days to have students handling other students’ books and notebooks as they rummage through the relevant boxes to pull out their personal ones.
Getting rid of the “book boxes” will bring back the problem of what to do when a student comes to class without his/her materials.
That is already a much smaller, identifiable problem that I can prepare for. Particularly as I am already in the process of learning how to expand my use of a “virtual notebook”, based on what I began doing during the distance learning. For the short time that we were back at school after “lockdown”, some students simply continued using the online notebooks while in class which made the transition between home and class much easier, at least in regards to notebooks. More information on my version of online virtual notebooks in an upcoming post.
Even if I make no meaningful progress dealing with any other issue except the one described above, I will be better prepared for what may come when the next school year begins.
The much more complex problem I had during distance learning had to do with those students who did not participate in the distance learning at all or did so extremely infrequently and inconsistently. The reasons for this lack of participation, to the best of my knowledge, are varied. I know of some, particularly girls, who took on the role of caring for the home and younger siblings. Other students come from homes where no one cares if they completely turn night into day and exclude themselves from all school-based activities (it’s worth noting that our high-school only began the virtual school day at 11:30 a.m, three and a half hours later than usual!).
These are not problems to be solved by preparing new materials or adding even more scaffolding to existing materials, which is my usual mode of action – these students aren’t coming to “the table” so what’s on “the table” isn’t the issue. So how do I even approach such issues?
Writing this blog post has helped me focus my thoughts. Again, the place to start is to examine what is it I know and what I am able to find out.
The 12th graders just graduated. I haven’t met the new 10th graders yet.
But I DO know the students who will be my new 11th and 12th graders – these are the same students who experienced distance learning during a lockdown for the first time along with me!
So it seems that a good place to start is by creating a table with the following temporary titles for each column:
Name of Student (who did not participate)
Homeroom teacher’s preference (should I just update absences on the school system or does he/she want updates regarding attendance the same day?)
Is contacting the parents a viable option (with my students, sometimes it isn’t)
Have I had the opportunity to talk to the student Face -2- Face about the situation yet?
Any insights from teachers of other subjects who teach this student?
Have I missed something?
Most likely I have.
But I certainly feel that now I know where to begin finding footholds, even under a wave.
My Deaf and hard of hearing students have their national matriculation exams in a few weeks.
For some of these 11th graders it will be their first matriculation exam, ever.
I felt they needed a reminder of the “do’s and don’ts” of taking such exams. I felt it would be more effective and certainly more interesting to present the advice as ways to do poorly on the exam (or worse!) instead of suggestions and warnings.
Therefore, this slideshow is NOT intended for students to review on their own. It is meant as a way to go over important points with the students before the exam.
As always with my students, I tried to present these points in a visual manner, to enhance clarity.
NOTE: The tip regarding “sections on the exam that you don’t have to do” might not be relevant for teachers of students who do not get accommodations due to their hearing loss.
Wishing all our students the best of luck on their exams!
Just before THE pandemic broke out, I was asked to present something about a holiday in a creative manner. It was for a great in-service course for teachers I took with Debbie Ben Tura on the topic of creativity in EFL Teaching.
YAY! Schools will resume teaching “normally” as of tomorrow at full capacity.
OMG! Schools will resume teaching “normally” as of tomorrow at full capacity.
Note: Full capacity at the high-school where I teach is about 1800 students.
It’s a ROLLER COASTER! Last-minute decisions, conflicting and incomplete information – teachers and school administrators can be ready for anything, adapt to whatever is needed at a moment’s notice, right? Isn’t that why educators are one of the most respectedprofessions in the world? Right, huh?
I say “YAY” because I’m thrilled to teach the way I was meant to teach – being with the students in the same room! A lesson in which we can all focus on the task at hand, with all our resources available, leaving technology to be used when, where, and how we want to use it, only when it serves our purpose.
A FACE-to-FACE lesson where we can smile at the students as they enter class, compliment one, encourage another who seems to need it even though no word was spoken, or even just silently point to the whiteboard where the dates of the national exams are written when they ask for the umpteenth time.
Did I say “smile“?
What about THE MASKS?!!
If it is safe now to have so many students in one place for an entire school day, in close proximity, why isn’t it safe for them to ride on a school bus to school? The students won’t come without transportation and the drivers won’t bring them at half capacity.
Who is actually going to come tomorrow? And the day after? And what about those who don’t? And those students and teachers who really can’t return?
Have medical professionals, epidemiologists, been consulted during the “thoughtful process of planning” the reopening of the school system? The fact that I’m looking for a “rhyme and a reason” may be highly Quixotic of me but knowing that doesn’t help me sleep any better.
Is wearing a mask for a full school day at all feasible?
Thanks to an administrator at school I got a mask with a clear plastic window so my Deaf and hard of hearing students can see my lips. Can I spend a whole day with a piece of plastic over my mouth?
I guess I’m going to find out.
The principal sent a recommendation to spend breaks outdoors as much as possible, so as to avoid crowding in the teacher’s room. Students should go out as well.
Unfortunately, the first serious heatwave of the year has just begun. It’s a scorcher worse than our usual seasonal ones. The weather forecast for the area of our school tomorrow will be a whopping 40 degrees celsius!
For once I can foresee the future – the schoolyard will be empty!
When I was first “thrown” so suddenly by the pandemic into a situation where I had to work on reading comprehension via distance learning with my Deaf and hard of hearing students, I used online worksheets consisting of multiple-choice questions a great deal.
There is no doubt that sometimes such a worksheet is EXACTLY what is needed.
For example, take the following old reading comprehension exercise of mine which I updated into an online worksheet – Identifying the Main Idea
My goal is (yet again, and again and again) to try to show the students that they have to read the distractors of a multiple-choice question very very carefully. Distractors often include information that is factually correct but is not the main point at all.
A Self-check multiple-choice online worksheet is absolutely the way to go in this case.
I love it when a student complains that the worksheet must be wrong – surely the main idea of the short video involving a blind man must be “It is important to help blind people”. That fact is true but it is NOT the main idea here – that’s the kind of discussion I want to have!
Sometimes the value of the learning task is greatly diminished by having multiple-choice options. Such as in cases where the answer is fairly obvious, and having options makes the question ridiculously easy.
More importantly, when enriching students’ vocabulary is part of the goal of a particular task, having them write out (or type) the answer on their own forces them to pay attention to the word a bit more. Many formats of online exercise do not enable copy /paste, the students actually have to type in the words letter by letter.
An unexpected difficulty can arise here.
Even though it is quite possible to have the students type in the correct answer and keep the worksheet in “self-check” format, I have stopped doing so.
For the answers to be considered correct the students have to type the answer in EXACTLY as you typed it in. If they wrote the correct answer but inadvertently added a space, used the wrong symbol in the keyboard in the word “don’t ” (a very common error that my students make), added or missed a comma, their answer will be marked as WRONG!
Many of my students really don’t respond well to that sort of situation.
So, as in the worksheet you will see here, I leave all the blanks for the students to type in the answers empty, without a self-check answer. The students then send me pictures of the screen or screenshots and I check them.
I have the luxury of having small classes, but it is possible to send them a document to self-check their work if you find it more applicable to your teaching situation.
Here is a link to a task using abbreviations commonly found online to introduce some phrases, while watching a lovely video that was a huge hit a few years ago.
In order to do well on an exam involving a reading comprehension passage, a student learning English as a foreign language must do more than look up translations of unfamiliar words, right? He/She has to THINK about what is being asked and notice the relevant details in the text, right?
Those are certainly “DUH” questions for any EFL teacher.
But even back in the “good old days“, before Covid_19, when I used to meet my Deaf and hard of hearing high school students face to face, getting students to really examine the reading comprehension questions carefully, to notice all the helpful hints “hiding in plain sight” in the text, was one of the issues I spent a great deal of time on. Every time the students and I worked on a text I would highlight certain points, leaving others for another lesson, careful not to “flood” them with too much information at once.
Now that we’re in “distance learning mode”, not only do I have to find ways to adapt my usual explanations to this new way of studying, I also have to contend with Google Translate. Students certainly use it and I can’t blame them.
But I want them to think about some aspects of the text!
So I prepared a guided reading comprehension task in four sections. It is modular so different students can do it at their own pace. I used LiveWorksheets so that the task would be online with interactive options.
The first stage was getting students to look carefully at the title, the first sentence, and all the names and numbers in the text Students need to be reminded to take advantage of the useful information gained from this simple technique. This was achieved by showing them only this information in the first part of the guided task.
The next two issues I wanted to tackle were much more challenging. My Deaf and hard of hearing students tend to ignore instructions and explanations in general.
And I want them to really READ the questions.
So I kept the explanations as short as I could and just wrote them in L1 (Hebrew). If someone wishes to translate the Hebrew used in these exercises into Arabic (or any other languages) I would be delighted to provide assistance and post additional versions of these tasks.
More importantly, I used L1 as the first step in making the students examine the multiple-choice questions more carefully. I translated the questions into Hebrew but left out words in the questions. The students must fill in the missing words, using the translations. They choose from three options.
I asked the students “DUH” questions about the questions, before going on to answer the questions.
A student who will happily skip an explanation won’t skip a question. There are all sorts of examples but here is the most obvious one:
Line 18 mentions “the astonishing qualities” of Manuka honey. Give one of these qualities from another paragraph.
Line 18 is at the ________(beginning)___________ of paragraph 4.
The answer to this question __(can not be )____________ from paragraph 4.
Will reading paragraph 4 help me answer this question? ___(No)____
The words “give one of” refer to the fact that there is ____(more than one answer) __
The word “astonishing” refers to ____ (something surprising)
And even more “DUH”…
The students are exposed to the reading passage itself slowly, as relevant. At certain points, I erased some words in the reading passage, which they have to fill in using the multiple-choice options. There are no translations, but the words I chose to delete and the options which are given make the correct answer EXTREMELY obvious. But actually stopping to choose these simple words caused the students to slow down and look at the text more than many would have done.
You will find the links to all the sections below.
I hope you find the exercise useful!
Note: The text used was taken from a 2008 “Bagrut” exam for Module D. Not all questions appearing in the original exam were used.