Category Archives: Day by Day in the Classroom

Negotiating A NEW Work Contract with THE NOTEBOOK – Planning for the New School Year

Asking difficult questions
Photo by Gil Epshtein

Note: This is part two of a series on preparations for a new school year full of unknown parameters. For part one click here: Looking for Footholds UNDER the Wave – Planning for the Next School Year

Naomi: “Thank you, Notebook for 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?”

Seeing things as they are… photo by Gil Epshtein

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?

New challenges to surmount
Photo By Gil Epshtein

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?”

Define: “Doodling”
by Alice Axelbank

Notebook:  “Doodling”.

Naomi: What?

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!

“Describe a person you admire…” by Gil Epshtein

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!

Photo by Gil Epshtein

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?

Hopeful…
Naomi’s Photos

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!

Looking for Footholds UNDER the Waves – Planning for the Next School Year

What now? Screenshot of a small sandpiper facing a big wave, from Piper by Pixar, see below

 

Big waves coming right at you can be very scary.

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.

Trying to see what lies ahead… Naomi’s Photos

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?

So…

Time to work!
Naomi’s Photos

My first, most immediate problem was that my students did not have their books and notebooks with them at 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.

HOWEVER…

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.

For some, offering “honey” simply isn’t enough…
Naomi’s Photos

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?

Little Steering Wheel… Naomi’s Photos

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.

It’s a good feeling.

Now watch the video!

 

How to do VERY BADLY on your final exams!


Naomi’s Photos

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 for FUN – It’s Towel Day!

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.

So I chose the “holiday” TOWEL DAY!

Here it is!

Book titled 'How to Celebrate 'Towel Day''Read this book made on StoryJumper

 

 

Returning to the Classroom, Covid-19 Style – A Photo Pause

Mixed emotions
Naomi’s photos

 

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 respected professions in the world? Right, huh?

Honey makes the medicine go down…
Naomi’s Photos

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.

What DO the doctors say?!!  Naomi’s Photos

Smile?

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.

Sunny? It’s going to be “a scorcher”!
Naomi’s Photos

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!

 

Distance Learning – The Importance of Blank Spaces

Not quite the same…
Naomi’s Photos

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!

Here is the link to the worksheet

https://www.liveworksheets.com/bs385563yd

When you need to leave empty spaces…
(Naomi’s Photos)

However…

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.

You lost me…
Naomi’s Photos

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.

I’ve included an answer sheet below the link.

The Present

Answer sheet: Utilizing the gift of texting Answer sheet

I hope everyone goes back to teaching in class soon!

Distance Learning – Reading Comprehension: When “DUH” Questions Beat Explaining

Making connections
(Naomi’s Photos)

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!

Stop and think!
Naomi’s Photos

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.

Time to work!
Naomi’s Photos

In addition…

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. 

Manuka Honey Part One

https://www.liveworksheets.com/yg213631go

Manuka Honey Part Two

https://www.liveworksheets.com/gp225895gk

Manuka Honey Part Three

https://www.liveworksheets.com/bi286224mk

 Manuka Honey Part Four

https://www.liveworksheets.com/rn287684jh

Distance Learning – Practicing Wh questions in Context with Struggling Teens

Somewhere, over the rainbow,, life is “normal”
Naomi’s Photos

My Deaf and hard of hearing 11th and 12th-grade students should have been about 3 weeks away from taking their national final matriculation exams.

That was before COVID-19 of course.

Assuming that at some point the students WILL be taking these exams, we will continue to teach online after this holiday break.

My students who struggle the most, going for the lowest level of the exams, need a lot of practice with answering Wh questions about short reading passages.

When I say short I mean short.

“Short”
Naomi’s Photos

These are students who don’t do much without me sitting with them. Distance learning is hitting them the hardest. It will be more effective to use shorter passages.

So the exercises I am sharing below are “self-check tasks” of short texts with questions for reading comprehension.  Only Wh type questions.

In addition, I really want to emphasize the connection between the correct answer and the “Wh” question word used.  So each of the following exercises has two versions. One is a standard “answer the question” version. The other version includes the answers, but the question words are missing.

I hope you find these exercises useful!

 

Reading Ads Practice Paper One

Reading Ads Practice Paper One (b)

Reading Ads Practice Paper Two

Reading Ads Practice Paper Two (b) 

Reading Ads Practice Paper Three

Reading Ads Practice Paper Three (b)

 

Visualising School During “COVID-19 Times” – A Photo Pause

Thursday, March 12, 2020

The last day of school before shifting into “COVID-19 Time.

Leaning on the whiteboard

I had received this “Keep Calm and Carry On” sign as a gift a few months ago and hadn’t known what to do with it. I updated it and leaned it against the whiteboard, over the “How often” card.

Wasted effort.

Hardly any of my high school students came to school that day. Most of those who did come,  left early.

By noon,  the only students who could be seen in the empty hallways were those in the photos on the dozens of posters for the 12th graders’  final theatre productions.

Performances scheduled for dates that disappeared off the school calendar all at once.

Friday, March 13, 2020

 

No school today. The immediate future is so unclear that I manage to ignore it for most of the day. It’s SPRING – flowers everywhere!  A short walk around the neighborhood does me a world of good. I’ve dreamed about not working Fridays for years!

Sunday, March 15, 2020, and THE ENTIRE WEEK

PANIC!

Courtesy of puppeteer and teacher at our school, Ruth Levi (Naomi’s Photos)
All our material is in the classroom! Students can’t use this now…

So we’re supposed to begin teaching via the Internet immediately, right?  I’m all for it, but if I may ask:

How? Which platforms? When? How much? How often? Graded or ungraded? What about our final exams?

And what am I supposed to do about the fact that ALL of the students’ books, notebooks, practice material, readers (and much more!) is in the classroom?!

No “do the exercises on page 58  and send me your answers” for this teacher.

So far away from the students! (chairs on top of upturned desks in the schoolyard ) Naomi’s Photos

** I am so grateful to all the support I got from the school, my colleagues, publishers who are sharing material online and all the teachers around the world posting helpful information and advice!

Time and scheduling  take on new meanings

Whose schedule are we on – the teenagers or ours?
Naomi’s Photos (text in the photo from “Count That Day Lost” by George Eliot)
Student hands in an assignment at 23:05 pm! But what a wonderful answer!

 

The upside of spending hours on the challenges of suddenly shifting to distance learning completely


Naomi’s Photos

Rising to the new challenges that the sudden shift to distance learning requires is so time-consuming that it has left me with a lot less free time to follow the news and worry.

But best of all is a new kind of connection with the students  – they realize that we are partners who need to navigate our way together toward the goal of keeping up their schooling.

They admit to missing school!

And I miss them too!


*** Memories of the empty schoolyard in the past.

Naomi’s photos
Brilliance in the schoolyard

Visualising a Discussion Prompt for Students on Studying Habits at Home

Humor helps!
Naomi’s Photos

Suddenly, everything changed.

It doesn’t matter that we’ve moved to Daylight Savings Time, we are all actually on “Corona time”.

Who knows how long this will last…

Now that my Deaf and hard of hearing adolescent students (some of whom NEVER do any school work at home) have to study from their bedrooms/living rooms or kitchen tables, I needed an amusing prompt to enable me to discuss study habits with them.

It turns out having a blog is quite useful for finding forgotten goodies. I learned of this video years ago on Sandy Millin’s Blog. 

Just what I was looking for.

I can use it with all levels because this video works best without sound and without students reading the captions.

All you need to do is watch the video and ask the students what they do. The video is very clear.

The mustard dripping on the notebook is a great touch!

Honestly, even if your students hear EXTREMELY  well, you don’t want the sound here.

I did prepare a written “companion” to the discussion because I need that with my students. I’m not sure I can call it a proper worksheet because the level of complexity is mixed. But it wasn’t designed to be done by a student working independently. In any case, I’m adding the downloadable file below.

I hope you find the video amusing and useful!

Wishing you all the best of health!

How to Make Homework Less Work – Download by clicking on the title