Category Archives: Day by Day in the Classroom

Being Sniffed At & Getting a Nod – Blog’s 7th Birthday!

Moonstruck…
Naomi’s Photos

Funny how things work. My blog was “sniffed at” and  then mentioned on a list of recommended blogs in the same week! A week which just happened to lead up to this blog’s SEVENTH BIRTHDAY!

The other day I met a teacher who said he has a blog. A blog about a very specific topic, totally not EFL or language related. When I said I also had a blog, he wanted to know what it was about.

And I hesitated.

What is the blog about?

It’s not only about teaching English to Deaf and hard of hearing students.

It’s not only about teaching English.

Sometimes it’s just about being a teacher.

Or even about being a book-lover.

So I hesitated.

Then I replied “It’s about education”.

He looked at me as if he were holding back the words “yeah, right”, sniffed in disdain and walked away.

I can see it from his point of view. How worthwhile could the blog be if the blogger has trouble answering the simple question “what is your blog about”?  “Education” is an extremely broad topic…

Define “bright”…
Naomi’s Photos

“Ha!” I thought to myself and smiled. Time works in my favor here, because I happen to know that not knowing what the blog is about works. Seven years have gone by and writing on the blog still helps me put my thoughts in order and reflect.  685 posts have been posted and read by people, even though 98% of my readers do not  teach English to Deaf and hard of hearing students. I’ve even passed the 2, 030 mark in Twitter followers…

Then, this!

On the English Teaching professional website, Chia Suan Chong posted an article called “ELT Blogs to follow in 2018” and included “Visualising Ideas“!

I feel honored to be mentioned among such fascinating bloggers and I truly recommend checking out their blogs!

I would just like to say thank you to all the readers of this blog!

Seven years have gone by but I’m not going anywhere.

I intend to stick around.

Isolating Rote Memorization of Vocabulary – An Informal Classsroom “Research”

Reflecting on comparing and contrasting…
Naomi’s Photos

The decision to frame my long-term classroom observations in the format of an extremely informal “research” was inspired by a post by Leo Selivan on ELT Research Bites – a collaborative initiative to bridge the gap between researchers and practitioners.

Research Questions

a – How far can a student advance in terms of reading comprehension exam levels in EFL,  based solely on rote memorization of vocabulary, with little to no comprehension at all of the texts?

b – Do students who memorize discreet vocabulary items very well, but have little or no comprehension of the texts,  perform better on exams than students with poor retention of vocabulary but with better  comprehension of texts?

Terminology used

Rote memorization – Students who spend time successfully memorizing lists of isolated vocabulary items along with their meaning in L1.  Memory measured by number of correct translations of aforementioned word lists and the frequency in which the student turns to the dictionary during an exam.

Degree of comprehension of texts

Students degree of comprehension of the texts on the reading comprehension sections of matriculation exams is assessed in two ways:

a – The number of correctly answered reading comprehension questions that require use of a higher order thinking skill in order to answer them.  Particularly the skills of “cause and effect”, “comparing and contrasting” and “identifying different perspectives”.

b – Conversations in mother tongue with the student about the text after the exam. Such conversations are intended to help the student understand the errors made.

Reflecting on reflections…
Naomi’s Photos
Participants

Six high-school students, divided into two groups. All students were born with a moderate to severe hearing loss but  either cochlear implants or hearing aids help them significantly. They all speak clearly and can communicate (at least one-on-one) using residual hearing and lip-reading. Only one of the six does not know sign language at all. All students have been my students for two to four years. Both groups are current students who are also similar to many generations of students I have taught over the last 30 years.

Group one – Three students who have strong vocabulary retention skills. They are hard workers and they can memorize a word list for an exam perfectly.  All three have very poor language skills in the language of instruction at school (a combination of Hebrew and sign language when needed) which is not their L1.  They all come from families who speak other languages, two of which are immigrant families. Two of them come from families with limited education and all three were not exposed to direct language enrichment at home (which is recommended when raising a child with a hearing loss). Their writing in Hebrew is poor with many errors. They can write, in high school, sentences such as this  “See accident in ambulance man hospital ”  in Hebrew. Their general knowledge is dismal, extremely limited.

Group two –  Three students who have significant difficulties in remembering the words provided for exams. While their language skills in L1 are also in need of improvement, they are far better than those of the first group. Their vocabulary in Hebrew is richer, their writing is better and their general knowledge is significantly wider. Two of the students come from educated families.

Through the looking glass…
Naomi’s Photos
Method

The performance of both groups were compared on  three of the four levels of external matriculation exams given in Israel – Modules A, C and E. The grades were compared and conversations about the texts held in Hebrew and sign langauge.

Results
  1. On the lowest level, Module A, (roughly the equivalent of an A2 level on the CEFR scale ) the students from the rote-memorization group had  errors in questions that required any sort of comparison, inference or understanding a different point of view. They also had significant difficulties in understanding why their answer was wrong. Here’s an example

The text in the reading passage stated that Max was on a ship carrying gold. Pirates came to the ship and Max was afraid. He then jumped overboard. The question asked about the reason why the pirates came to the ship. These students replied that Max was afraid of the pirates or that he jumped overboard. They believed they were correct because they could point to that in the text.

However, there are not many questions that require higher order thinking skills in Module A . The students in the rote memory group preformed as well as or better than the students in the other group because they were able to translate the text with less effort.

2. On the next level, Module C, (more or less similar to the level B1 on the CEFR scale) there are  more questions that require higher order thinking skills. However, the texts are much longer. The students with poor vocabulary retention skills had to use the electronic dictionary much more frequently and had more trouble finishing the exam on time. Some of them felt tired and got discouraged fairly quickly.  In the beginning both groups scored badly but group b understood the cause of their errors better.  With time both groups improved their grades with group A (rote-memory) lagging at least 10 points behind, but certainly passing the exam with grades of approximately 70 (55 is considered a passing grade).

3. On the third level, Module E,  (more or less level B2 on the CEFR scale) most questions require quite an in-depth understanding of the text.  Higher order thinking skills are needed in order to answer many questions. Both groups fail the exams at this level at first but the rote-memory group do not improve in any significant way.  The other group finds the exam very difficult but the grades improve steadily during the school year. They do not achieve more than average grades, however.

Who’s there?
Naomi’s Photos
Conclusion

My very informal classroom “research” indicates that the ability to memorize well large  numbers of discrete vocabulary items can enable a struggling student to achieve moderate success on Modules A and C, despite extremely poor language skills and severely limited general knowledge  This does not hold true for Module E. However, since a student can fail module E and still be eligible for a full matriculation certificate, this is very significant.

In addition, at the initial stages of the year, the skill of memorizing vocabulary  enables the students in group A to do at least as well if not better than their peers in group B. It also gives them a sense of pride and achievement. However, those in group A are not usually able to hold their lead.

I believe that rote memorization has a significant place when working with students struggling with very poor language skills despite it’s known drawbacks and limitations.

Team Work, Book Clubs & a Podcast – A Comment

Aren’t ideas always depicted as lights that are turned on?
Naomi’s Photos

While the title of Tyson Seburn’s fascinating post is “Serial Podcast for Extensive Reading”, I was only able to focus on the novel idea of using transcripts of an incredibly popular podcast tale for a book club when I read the post the second time.

The first time I read the post I was totally floored by the team work of Tyson’s staff and how a team can promote an instructional goal. Working with the constraints of time and not overburdening the staff, they set up a virtual book club program to promote extensive reading across the board, including all students and teachers. It is more than just a division of labor.

The pigeons’ staff room?
Naomi’s Photos

If you think the expression “floored” is a bit dramatic, consider the following. I’m currently working my way through a book called “The Power of Teacher Teams” by Troen & Boles. It talks about how truly good teacher teams not only help lessen the load of the individual teacher but actually improve students’ academic achievements. Sounds wonderful, right? Reading Tyson Seburn’s post had me fantasizing there for a short while that our multi disciplined staff of special education teachers could promote extensive reading in the students’ mother tongue in such a manner. An art teacher, math teacher, history and civics teacher should also be able to promote reading, right? Many Deaf and hard of hearing students do not like to read. Reading improves academic achievement across the board, so every teacher should be on board with this goal. At least in theory…

Unfortunately, the book scares me completely. While writtten in a very readable manner, it makes it clear that it is REALLY hard to get a staff of wonderful teachers to work efficiently together to achieve goals across the board like that. It involves organized sessions devoted to working on team-work skills, preferably having an outside instructor to get everyone to see that it actually matters and could be done.

Unaccessible…
Naomi’s Photos

One of the nice things about people who write blog posts is that they are perfectly happy to answer questions and one can simply write to them. Tyson Seburn confirmed that his staff had also had specific team training sessions.

Sigh…

Anyway, to get back to the question related to using transcripts of a podcast for a book club – I’m all for it. A podcast such as Serial offers a compelling narrative and rich language , with the added bonus of general knowledge.

Personally, I stopped listening to Serial very quickly. I do not like the true crime genre and do not watch such TV shows either. But that’s just me. So let me run the Douglas Adams  group in the book club ….

The “Magic E” Telephone – A Spin-off

Sunbirds certainly “talk” a lot! Naomi’s photos

When I read Teresa Bestwick’s short post titled “Minimal Pairs Telephone” I immediately knew that a variation of this would be a hit in my classroom.

The fact that it is such a  simple activity to prepare and that the activity is so easy for the students to understand makes it even more appealing.

In addition, it’s fun! Especially with the twist I added.

Teresa used minimal pairs. That’s out of the question when working with students who don’t hear well. The difference between words such as “fit” and “feet” is very hard to hear and to see on the lips.  So I decided to practice the “Magic E”. The words with the magic E have longer sounds and are easier for the students to hear and see. And there is a nice rule one can use.

Since I teach in the format of a learning center, I could not do this activity on the board with the whole class, the way Teresa did it. I needed this activity to be up on the wall to be done individually or in small groups during the week. So I used 10 index cards, and attached them to an existing activity board (little pockets for flashcards).

Magic E Telephone

 

Above each word there is a number, zero to nine.

First I asked each student what  the difference is  between the words that look mostly similar (hat /hate). They all noticed the letter “e ” at the end. I explained about the Magic E and its effect on pronunciation and said the words out loud. Then I informed them that I was going to say my phone number, but in words!

You may be surprised, but it isn’t so simple to think of a number and then say a word. I found myself wanting to point to each word and it goes slower than rattling off numbers. Try it!

Close up of Magic E Telephone

Then it was the student’s turn.  To make it more amusing, I asked the students to fold their arms and not point at all and just read off the words of their phone number. I pointed to each word I understood and they had to nod if I had understood them correctly. If they didn’t pronounce the word correctly they had to repeat my example.

The students loved it! I love it! It was great fun for them trying to meet the challenge of not pointing and not getting confused and they all tried hard to say the words correctly. I’ll see how many repetitions we can manage of this activity before moving on to the next one.

Two anecdotes:

One student got a new phone with a different phone number just before school. He could not recall his new phone number. I told him to use his old phone number. The student came back to me later in the day and said he found his new number and asked to repeat the activity!

This year I only have three students who are profoundly Deaf from Deaf families and don’t usually use their voice very much. I had planned in advance that any student who wanted could opt out of a speaking activity and learn to sign the vocabulary items in ASL (American Sign Language) instead. They wanted to speak the words too and did create a difference between how they said the words! No one else would understand their speech, that’s for sure, but even for Deaf students speaking helps retention.

A TEACHER’S “PERIODIC TABLE”: 3. Lines

Full Title  – Pondering the “Periodic Table of Teacher Elements”  that make up a teacher’s life.

There are all sorts of lines…
Naomi’s photos

The spark for this series of posts was ignited by reading the book “The Periodic Table” by Primo Levi. That book is unique, fascinating and powerful. These posts do not even attempt to hold a candle to the book, which I highly recommend reading.

Nonetheless,  the idea of exploring elements that make up a teacher’s life took hold…

If my claim that “lines” are an absolutely basic element of every teacher’s life took you by surprise, ask yourself the following questions:

  • When you taught the alphabet, did you draw lines on the board yourself or did you have one of those boards that have a section with lines? Are you capable of writing on the board in a straight line? I can’t…
  • Which behaviors do you draw the line at in class? Do you allow chewing gum but draw the line at using the cellphone?
  • To what degree are you required by the administration to toe the line in class? How much leeway do you actually have to decide what you teach, when you teach it and to add your own “flavor”?
  • What are your lines of communication with your students / parents / the administration?
  • How is your classroom organized? In straight lines? Traditional columns and rows?
  • What are your strategies for drawing the line between your private life and work? How do you shut the door on something that worried you at home and give your students your full attention in class? Or vice-a-versa?
  • Lines can become blurry, sometimes…
    Naomi’s Photos
  • How do you navigate that fine line between using humor in the classroom and ensuring that not a single student leaves the lesson feeling insulted?
  • Do you feel a student is out of line when he /she asks you whether or not you fasted during the holiday or if you are pregnant?
  • Do you let students get away with lines such as “My dog ate my homework”?
  • How often have you tried desperately to fit  some important phone calls into a ten minute break between classes, only to be told to hold the line? Then they say they’ll call you back, but of course, you can’t answer the phone because you are teaching?!
  • How much time do you spend online for work purposes?
  • How often do you say (perhaps feeling exasperated) in class “Pay attention to the line numbers!!! “.

I’m sure you can think of other examples along these lines. In the school in which I teach, I am not required to line the students up for lunch or recess, but perhaps that is a daily element for you. In any case, you are welcome to drop me a line with your comments!

Note: I use an apron when I cook for my family. It has lines on it too…

A Teacher’s “Periodic Table”: 2. Diamonds vs. Rust

Full Title  – Pondering the “Periodic Table of Teacher Elements”  that make up a teacher’s life


(Naomi’s Photos)

The spark for this series of posts was ignited by reading the book “The Periodic Table” by Primo Levi. That book is unique, fascinating and powerful. These posts do not even attempt to hold a candle to the book, which I highly recommend reading.

Nonetheless,  the idea of exploring elements that make up a teacher’s life took hold…

*** Title inspired by Joan Baez’s song: “Diamonds and Rust”, 1974.

Naomi’s Photos

Diamonds are those moments when…

… a student’s face lights up with the joy of comprehension.

… a student uses what we have just taught on his /her own initiative.

… a student is eager to learn more.

… we realize that the way we presented / planned / constructed our lesson was just what the students needed to grasp the issue and move a step forward.

Rust takes hold the minute  you decide that since that particular mode of presenting the material was such a success, you will always teach it that way, regardless of context, the years that have gone by  and the ever-changing needs of different students. If the fact that  diamonds no longer sparkle during the lessons escapes you, than the rust is truly entrenched.

Note: One good strategy for Rust Removal is to have a student teacher (a teacher-to-be) in your class.   The need to explain why you do what you do is a terrific rust detector.

Additional Note: Attending  a teacher’s conference will enable you to meet other teachers who also swear by their methods for mining for diamonds. Taking in some of that collective knowledge provides powerful rust-removal polish.

Final NoteDiamonds are also those moments in the hallway (and outside of school) when the students are happy to see you…

 

A Teacher’s “Periodic Table” / 1. Ink

Full Title – Pondering the “Periodic Table of Teacher Elements”  that make up a teacher’s life

Naomi’s Photos

The spark for this series of posts was ignited by reading the book “The Periodic Table” by Primo Levi. That book is unique, fascinating and powerful. These posts do not even attempt to hold a candle to the book, which I highly recommend reading.

Nonetheless,  the idea of exploring elements that make up a teacher’s life took hold…

*Ink  – as in ink stains on my hands & clothes from the carbon paper I carried around in university when studying to be a teacher. The choice was between using carbon paper and letting copies of my notes circulate or me not having my notebook when I needed it.

*Ink – as in more ink stains from the mimeograph machine we used in school during my first years to make copies of worksheets. I can’t recall if those stains came out…

* Ink – as in the ink blots that appear on the Rorschach Cards that the young man I married 30 years ago (this week!) was studying back then.

* Ink – as in the ink pads for reusable stamps (proclaiming “WELL DONE” “GOOD JOB” “HAVE A NICE DAY”)  used when teaching elementary school, in a successful attempt to eliminate the endless “out-of-pocket” purchase of stickers.

* Ink – as in the ribbons of my parents’ old Olivetti typewriter which I used when needed because the school simply didn’t own an electric typewriter with an English keyboard.

* Ink – as in the change to whiteboard markers. Farewell to sneezing caused by chalkdust!

* Ink – as in the joy of opening a new package of colored pens. The color chosen to grade papers changes as the year progresses – when the ink runs out I move on to the next color…

* Ink – as in the number of pens I carry around in my purse (usually three). A teacher in the staff room invariably needs to borrow a pen for a moment, a student shows up for a test without a pen while another pen quietly resigns from its duties …

And finally:

* Ink – as in the notes-to-self on real paper, which I keep on my classroom desk. Despite using a lot of technology (educational, to-do lists, Evernote, reminders and more),  when I need to get something down quickly, especially at school , it’s got to be ink-on-paper.

What role has ink played in your teaching career?

 

 

 

 

“Identifying Patterns of Behavior” & a Comic Strip

Would you sit or hike?
Epstein Family Photos

 

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

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

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

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

Patterns of behavior

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

Are we there yet?
Epstein family photos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

noun vs verb exercises 1 and 2-1p0k6b7

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

Bright eyed and bushy tailed…
Epstein Family Photos

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

No!!!!!!!!!!

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

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

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

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

Have a wonderful school year!

 

 

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

Naomi’s photos

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

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

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

Naomi’s photos

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

But…

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

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

But..

Naomi’s Photos

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

Naomi’s Photos

So…

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

But…

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

And then…

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

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