One of the great things about teaching the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken” to my Deaf and hard of hearing students is that they have some very powerful examples of “standing at crossroads” in their young lives. These are times when they had to make a decision and knew they would not get the opportunity to come back and try the other option.
For example, some of my students faced a dramatic choice at the end of junior high school (9th grade) – whether to study at the high-school close to their home along with their old classmates and continue being the only hard of hearing /Deaf student in the whole school, or to commute an hour or more to a high school that offers strong academic support and a peer group. That’s a SIX day a week commute!
On the other hand, many of my students find it harder to take in the aspects of the traveler’s dilemma that are stated in the poem itself. Not only can the traveler not take both roads and won’t come back another day, but both roads are actually just as fair, have been worn about the same. Even worse, the traveler can’t see what lies ahead as the road bends in the undergrowth!
I want my students to pay attention to all that too.
The students should be engaging in a meaningful way with words from the Ministry’s word list while they are learning the poem. I firmly believe in integrating the practice of the vocabulary items on the list with the teaching of the literature program. ***
I then created The Dilemma Activity, which can be used in many ways. While it can be used as a worksheet, I preferred to use index cards (or sentence strips) as I find the activity suitable for acting a bit of dramatic flair!
The students are presented with the situation:
A traveler is happily walking along a road in a yellow wood when the roads diverge (“along” is a word on the word list).
He/She doesn’t know which road take and needs advice.
The traveler now needs to hear suggestions and respond accordingly. “Suggestion” is also a word on the list!
There are 7 suggestions to be given to the traveler, each one on a separate card. The suggestions are numbered and must be read in the correct order. The responses are not numbered, and the students must match the correct response to the suggestion.
For example, here are the first two suggestion cards.
Why don’t you take both roads?
So take one road today and the other road another time.
And the matching responses:
I can’t takeboth roads because I’m only one traveler.
One road leads to other roads. I doubt I will ever come back. I have to make a choice.
The imaginary advisor is losing patience with the traveler, and by the time we get to the last two suggestions, exasperation should be clearly expressed in intonation and body language!
6. Don’t be so nervous, just choose a road. What difference could it make?
7. I give up – I can’t help you. You will sigh when you think about this in the future but choose a road NOW.
The matching responses are:
6. It’s possible that my choice will make all the difference. That’s why I am nervous.
7. You are right, I will sigh. But will it be a sigh of regret or relief?
You can download all the sentences related to the activity here:
At first, I thought it was an isolated phenomenon.
I tried to hold on to that thought but I really can’t ignore it anymore.
The number of students who don’t have a working computer at home is rising steadily.
And they don’t seem the least bit perturbed by that fact.
There have always been some students who didn’t own a computer, but that was clearly due to their family’s economic difficulties. In many such cases in the past, wonderful teachers and administrators were able to get a hold of computers for these students thanks to various donations. The students were glad to receive these computers – it was clear they really wanted to own one.
But now I hear the following more and more often:
“We have a computer but it stopped working and we never got it fixed. Nobody wants to use it anyway, every member of the family has their own cell-phone”.
I talked to a student about the issue the other day and she tried to show me that everything the school system could possibly want CAN be done on the cell phone.
I am not convinced.
We have two computers in our English Room. They are in use most of the day. The students have tasks in their Edmodo groups which require written answers and literature papers which some students choose to type (they are allowed to hand in these papers in handwriting if they wish). All of these require that the students use WORD (and PowerPoint!) installed on the school computers.
I now find myself teaching students how to toggle between languages on the keyboard – which used to be an absolute basic thing to know about using a computer in this country! They hit Caps Lock as a solution and then don’t understand why they can’t access sites that require a password that is case-sensitive.
Naturally, when you are only using the Caps Lock the text won’t progress nicely from left to right instead of right to left, especially if you are using numbers or bullets. That also causes problems when I point out they have forgotten a word and then the students can’t seem to add it in the right place.
Students also don’t align the text and the issue of spacing is completely ignored…
Today a student called me over to look at his work and I saw he had totally ignored the red and blue markings that “WORD” used to indicate errors.
There certainly still are students who know their way around a computer way better than I do but their number seems to be steadily decreasing.
So, is teaching word processing skills something I’m supposed to be adding to my curriculum for next year?
“Wow”, I thought to myself as I moved between the students who were working individually on their reading comprehension tasks, “this student’s error is a classic mistake! Here is a great opportunity to remind the class of the dangers of ignoring parts of speech and the importance of using the dictionary wisely”.
So I called everyone’s attention to the board. In my 12th grade class of Deaf and hard of hearing students, all comments for the whole class must be made while standing by the board where everyone can see me, and I can write-up the words and sentences as needed. The students are used to me pointing out errors in this manner. They know I absolutely never ever make fun of a student. I also thank the student for giving us this opportunity to pay attention to some point. Since this happens once with one student’s error and then with another, the students are all well aware that they are all “in the same boat”.
The source of the problem was the word “felt.” One word led to multiple errors.
“I felt certain that my second attempt would be successful”.
The student had forgotten the meaning of this irregular verb so he looked up the translation in his electronic dictionary.
However, he did not pay attention to the fact that he was looking for a verb and that the electronic dictionary first presents translations that are nouns.
The student wrote down the noun meaning of the word “felt” (as in a type of cloth) which in Hebrew is a three-letter word “leved”.
The electronic dictionary does not use diacritics and the student understood those same three letters to mean a totally different word in Hebrew, “levad”, which means “alone”.
Therefore, the student could not understand the sentence in the text.
A textbook error to be presented to class, right?
Or, as it turned out, an excellent example of how explaining too much can totally confuse students and introduce other mistakes!
I should have just reminded the students of how to pay attention to the syntax and look up the word “felt” as a verb and left it at that.
When we looked at the meaning of “felt” as a noun it turned out that not a single one of those students knew what the material felt was. I didn’t have anything made of the material felt in the room to show them and none of the students were wearing anything made of felt (it’s a hot country, you know!). I started trying to explain. The only example I could think of at the moment was a “felt jacket”. I’m sure if they had touched the material it would have been familiar but they simply did not have a word for it in any language they used.
The fact that I had also been trying to explain how the first student had made an error with the meaning of the noun as well, confused the students even more.
No, there were no “felt jackets” mentioned in the sentence.
Yes, yes, I agree, jackets, made of felt or any other material cannot be lonely, so it is ridiculous to use the word lonely in the context of a jacket except that aren’t any jackets in the sentence.
Sometimes less actually is more – explain less!
The sentence remained on the board when the next class came in.
I simply pointed to the word “felt” and reminded the students how they could (and should!) know the word is a verb even if they forget it’s meaning.
No “lonely felt jackets” were allowed into the room!
Watching the footage of the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris yesterday was really difficult – so very sad.
Like countless others, I found myself thinking of Quasimodo, the main character in Hugo’s famous book “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and of Walt Disney’s animated film, who spent his life living at the cathedral.
Quasimodo’s thoughts or feelings interested no one. You might say his voice wasn’t heard. Speaking of hearing, you may recall that Quasimodo was deaf, a hearing loss caused by being in close proximity to the church bells on a permanent basis.
Deaf…hmmm… I can imagine Quasimodo being a student of mine… I would like to believe he would be “heard” in our classroom.
Luckily, Jennifer Gonzalez channeled such thoughts of mine pertaining to alternate realities into the infinitely more practical realm of the classroom and staff room in her post “The Magic of Validation” (thanks to Adam Welcome for pointing the way!).
I mean actual reality. Gonzalez takes the somewhat abstract sounding concept of validation (which we’ve all heard about before) and breaks it down into sections, including why validating matters,how it is done and why we resist validating. Her examples could be taken from almost any classroom or staff room.
Schools are a place in which conflicts arise – diffusing conflicts before they escalate into unnecessarily explosive situations with “negative snowball side effects” is a highly relevant skill.
We need to hear Gonzalez’s reminder, again and again (and spread the word!) that validating a colleague’s feelings does not mean you agree with his/her opinion and are now going to do everything her way. Validating a student’s opinion does not mean you have to be “touchy -feely“: “Okay, validation doesn’t have to look and sound like you’re in a therapist’s office. You can develop your own style. It can sound tough, it can be quick…”
If Gonzalez can quote her gym teacher, I can quote my gym teacher too (I’m most certainly not doing CrossFit, by the way!): “I know this exercise is hard for you, Naomi. That’s exactly why it is important for you to keep doing it!”
Gonzalez doesn’t talk about the numbers of students in a class. I’m concerned that class size matters. How do my colleagues who teach classes of 40 students manage to make every student feel heard? Don’t ask me – I’m a teacher of Students with Special Needs, my classes are small! Perhaps part of the answer lies in this quote from the post “The thing to remember is that validation is not necessary in all interactions…”
You see, people want to be heard. Despite rumors to the contrary, students and teachers are people too.
If only poor Quasimodo had the opportunity to be heard before it was too late …
I’ve recently come to the conclusion that there is such a thing as having too many “helpful” apps.
I’m not counting apps like ones that tell you when the next bus arrives, let you make an appointment for your doctor, record the names of students who are absent or pay for parking.
Such apps are only used when they must be used and are otherwise ignored. There is absolutely no need to spend a lot of time configuring them and interacting with them.
I’m talking about the apps that will help you organize your life, provide alternative calendars, remember things, improve your diet, make sure you get enough exercise, teach you mindfulness and bring joy to your life.
I’m not against these apps in any way – some are really good (and I most certainly haven’t tried them all!).
However, to do whatever it is they do, these apps need you to interact with them. That takes time and energy (particularly if you use each one for only one purpose). Those are precious commodities particularly as lack of time and sufficient energy for the ongoing “work-life- balancing act” are what prompted installing the apps in the first place!
Therefore, in recent months I’ve been concentrating on the two free apps I’ve been using that complement each other, along with taking advantage of more of their features. In addition, I’ve found a book that does what an app won’t do for me.
Evernote – This app serves as my memory aid. It’s a sophisticated note-taking app with a search engine. When I get a text message from a teacher (as part of my counseling job) during a 10-minute break between classes that I teach, I can look up the code number of the exam she asked for quickly. When I get to the mall I can show the salesperson the picture of the exact ink cartridge we use for our printer – I added the picture directly to the app. Most of my recipes are stored on Evernote, with the handy web-clipper.
Toodledo – I use the free version of this app as my task manager and to keep checklists for repeated tasks (things related to school that I do several times a year, lists for trips and my exercise “homework” for the week). My absolute favorite feature is adding a location to a task. When I get to school in the morning it reminds me of school-related tasks. Unless I specifically want to, I don’t see tasks I can only do at home. When I’m home, I don’t need to be reminded of tests that must be photocopied! The app can also help you track habits, but I’m not using that feature at this time (see next section!).
I certainly feel a need to develop mindfulness. How can I be truly efficient if I’m doing one thing, thinking of 10 other things and then having to redo something due to the distraction?!!
And how about just being more relaxed? Thankfully, life is good, but having two jobs, being a wife, a mom, and a daughter, trying to exercise more and spend time on my hobbies can get rather overwhelming.
Using an app to learn mindfulness doesn’t seem right. At least not for me.
Being mindful, at least the way I understand it to be, encourages spending some time “unplugged”, away from the stimulating tech. It bothers me to report to a device how mindful I’ve been.
And that’s just it. How do I measure exactly how mindful I’ve been? What if I’ve only don’t part of the suggested activity? Or didn’t really succeed as expected? Will it result in “breaking” the daisy chain or cause my imaginary tree to shrivel instead of thriving?
Like another task to add to my day.
The free downloadable book “30 ways to Mindfulness” by Rachael Roberts doesn’t add stress to my life.
Roberts is an EFL teacher, she understands how to write for teachers. Her tone is gentle, understanding and encouraging. There is an introduction and then a daily thing to try / to think about for 30 days.
Each evening I read only the part that relates to the next day. This is not a book to be read in one sitting!
Best of all, it’s a book.
I don’t report to it and it doesn’t judge me. I don’t have to measure how well I dealt with the tasks.
Some I haven’t done, others I’ve only partially done. A few suggestions I’ve been able to incorporate immediately. But I’ve thought about every single task/suggestion.
I think that’s worthwhile too. It feels that way.
I might start the book all over again when I’ve reached “Day 30”. Almost there!
One of my favorite blog posts by Rachael Roberts is “Managing to be mindful at work”(especially the last bit!). If you are interested in the free e-book, you will find info on that on the blog as well.
Once upon a time, there were telephones that had letters of the alphabet by each number.
Letters of the alphabet have numerical values too.
I even read about a method in which one turns telephone numbers into letters as a method for committing them to memory.
However, when I searched online for a connection between activities using words and numbers (as opposed to words and pictures) and vocabulary retention, the only result I encountered had to do with Rebuses and rebus puzzles, which are good for activating both sides of the brain. Good to know! Rebuses are fun but hard to make…
Frankly, I was looking for justification for adapting my “Magic E Telephone”SPEAKING activity (which was based on Teresa Bestwick’s “Minimal Pairs Telephone”) to a LET’S ENGAGE WITH VOCABULARY ACTIVITY. There are several profoundly Deaf students who rarely use voice or speak at all, and rely completely on sign language for communication, in my 10th-grade class. They would feel excluded in a group activity involving speaking.
I wanted to find out if the students would still pay attention to the “Magic E” and if the adapted activity along with additional activities would help them remember the vocabulary items.
Here’s what I did:
I used the original 10 index cards and attached them to an existing activity board (little pockets for flashcards).
Above each word, there was a number, zero to nine.
I asked the students what the difference was between the words that look mostly similar (hat /hate). They all noticed the letter “e ”. I explained about the Magic E and its effect on pronunciation but emphasized the fact that the addition of the “E” changes the meaning of the word.
I then divided the students into groups of three. Each group had three tasks:
One student had to sign the word for each digit of his cell phone number. Student number two had to write down the numbers being signed so everyone could see if it matched. Student number three timed them and recorded the time. Then they switched roles.
You may be surprised, but it isn’t so simple to think of a number and then say a word or sign it without pointing! I found myself wanting to point to each word! It all goes slower than rattling off numbers. Try it!
2. Student number one presented student number two with a series of index cards. On each card, there was a “math problem” written in words, such as: “hat + hate = ?” “hate X cape = ?” on one side. The numerical solution was written on the other side.
Student number two had to solve the math equation by answering with a number.
Student number three recorded the time. Then they switched roles.
3. The same activity as before but the students answered with the word that the number denotes.
Initial Conclusions – Pros & Cons
We all had fun!
The students liked all the activities but they found the one with phone number more challenging and amusing and spent more time on that.
Students at different levels could play together.
One advanced student encountered the word “hope” in his text the next day. He asked if that was also a “magic E”!
The cards were fixed in place – the location of the words served as a memory aid. Next time cards should be shuffled.
It seems a great deal of energy spent with very few vocabulary items learned, and not particularly important ones. It was more effective as a speaking exercise when the students repeatedly had to say the word.
At least everyone activated both sides of their brains and their bodies!
There are all sorts of sophisticated self-check activities out there, ones that look stunning but seem to require artistic abilities that I don’t possess, props one needs to get a hold of (such as clear plastic covers of chocolate boxes) or are simply too time-consuming to create.
There are countless variations, such as using puzzle pieces and dominoes and many more. I truly admire these activities and their creators.
Such sophistication is simply not for me. Not anymore.
However, I did want an effective self-check exercise that I could make on my own, one which I could sneak in a few words from the Band Two Word List that students need to practice.
Particularly one which I could prepare easily.
Easy to prepare like the self-check activity involving two-sided index cards. A student begins with the card that says START, flips it over, matches it to its corresponding index card, flips that one over, and continues matching until he/she reaches the card that says THE END. If the student flips over THE END before all the cards have been matched then a mistake has been made, and he/she will have to backtrack.
I learned of this activity many years ago from Tal Papo. I’m sure many of you are familiar with it!
In my learning center for Deaf and hard of hearing high school students, the students progress at different paces. That means that each student is ready for a review activity related to the story they have just completed at a different time.
In this particular case, the story in question is called “Thank You, Ma’am” by Langston Hughes.
The word “description” ignited the idea for the activity. The word “belong” fit in nicely too. The vocabulary items “crime” and “pair” are also on the list.
Here are the corresponding sentences. Remember! The first sentence is written on the back of the card that says START! The words “THE END” appears on the back side of the card that has the last matching sentence. In other words, sentences that match do not appear on the same card!
She was a large woman with a purse. ** A description of Mrs. Jones.
It was heavy and had a long strap. It was large. ** A description of the purse that belonged to Mrs. Jones.
He looked as if he were fourteen or fifteen, frail and thin. His face was dirty. ** A description of Roger.
In the corner, behind a screen, there was a gas plate and an icebox. There was a daybed too. ** A description of the room that belonged to Mrs. Jones.
He tried to steal her purse. ** A description of Roger’s crime.
A pair of blue suede _____________. ** A description of the shoes Roger wanted to buy.
She picked him up and shook him until his teeth rattled. She kicked him too. **A description of Mrs. Jones’ reaction when Roger tried to steal her purse.
She gave him ten dollars and then led him to the front door. **A description of Mrs. Jones’ actions at the end of the story.
“ELT mess”… the phrase resonates with me. My EFL classroom /learning center caters to Deaf and hard of hearing students at every possible level. In addition, I’ve been teaching for a long long time… As you can imagine, the classroom closet is PACKED! It’s not chaotic, I’m not ashamed to open its doors in front of visitors, but it is way too full to be useful! It is also harder to keep organized when it is so full.
Just like everyone else, I’ve encountered Marie Kondo’s tidying up method. My sock drawer says “thank you, Marie”! Yet I had no idea how to apply the method, even partially, in the classroom. If the basis of the method is “Sparking Joy” – how does that relate to classroom materials?
Not only does Chia Suan Chong present the reader with some practical advice on applying this organizational method specifically for ELT teachers, but the author also explains how to relate the term “spark joy” to ELT teaching materials.
So off I went to utilize some non-consecutive free periods and declutter that classroom closet”!
I ran into trouble pretty quickly.
For one thing, it seems you can’t skip stages.
Placing the stationery items back into their designated little plastic containers is not a problem to do during a free period. I do that from time to time anyway (staplers start migrating to the glue box, markers end up with the scissors, you know what I mean).
No problem. Well done!
But I can’t possibly take out all the books in the closet all at once and make a big pile. I need to teach in a classroom that doesn’t look like a big mess and I can’t deal with all the books in 45 minutes!
So, I decided to begin looking at the books on the top shelf on the right side of the closet, where I keep the books that I don’t use regularly. The plan was to start from left to right and to pull out the books that I can either give away or recycle. Then I would be able to work in small bites.
ALL THOSE BOOKS “SPARK JOY”!
Each and everyone might be just the book I might need for a certain student, who knows? I have proof, too! Just a month ago a passage from a book I hadn’t touched for at least 10 years had just the right type of short text with pictures that I needed for a student who had to get an individually tailored task.
I don’t want to part with a copy of the national curriculum from the 1980s, and I certainly don’t want to part with other books from the 1980s that had marvelous stories and passages in them. Every year I plan on creating wonderful activities with selected sections…. (I know, I know. The fact that it hasn’t happened yet is a bad sign). I have a slew of grammar books for many levels and age groups, with different kinds of explanations. Surely I need all of that, right? Then there are the “exam books”. The format of the matriculation (“Bagrut”) exams has changed many times yet it seems wise to keep the old books as some of the reading comprehension texts there could be very useful.
Did I mention that there are the new books coming in, and don’t forget the many binders full of worksheets…
Perhaps I had better wait till June to attempt this formidable task again!
What’s your strategy for dealing with the ELT classroom closet?
One of the stories that my Deaf and hard of hearing students like the most is “Thank You, Ma’am” by Langston Hughes.
I’ve just begun teaching it to a new group of 10th graders so I was very motivated to update my materials for this particular story first. As I explained in my previous post, since vocabulary acquisition often requires significantly more explicit instruction with my weaker students, I want to make sure that I highlight vocabulary that appears on the Ministry of Education’s vocabulary list for high – school students (known here as “Band Three).
I was delighted to see that there is no need to update my pre-reading exercise. I designed it to highlight the higher order thinking skill that we teach with this story -“Uncovering Motives”. Not only have I been happy with the exercise with previous classes, but the word “motive” is also on the word list!
To download the pre-reading activity click on the title below.
However, changes were made to the next part. Due to my students’ hearing problems, we can’t discuss the story properly in spoken English in class. Everything must have a written component. A worksheet of “Open Questions” help me ensure that the students have achieved a basic understanding of the story (analysis and interpretation come later).
Here is the updated worksheet. Click on the title below to download it. The words that appear on the official list are in “bold”. I highlighted them with a colored marker after printing – they didn’t show up as “bold” after the photocopying machine was done with them.