Category Archives: On Education

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

Anka Zapart online!
Anka Zapart, BKC IH, Moscow

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

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

NOOOO!
Naomi’s photos

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

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

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

We shall prevail! Naomi’s Photos

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

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

I’ll be back!
Naomi’s Photos

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

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

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

The honey pot!
Naomi’s Photos

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

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

 

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

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

The Unthinkable or About choosing to stay online with VYLs.

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

I was in a state of shock!

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

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

The students weren’t turning on their cameras.

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

You can’t teach sign language via a chatbox.

Tami at the computer in our English Room

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

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

Two!
Naomi’s Photos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I couldn’t let my students down.

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

A good teacher knows when to ask for help!

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

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

Time to get to work!
Naomi’s Photos

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

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

Some amusing dialogues:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

From Judy Blume to Hessler – Musing on Reading about Teachers

Naomi’s Photos    Point of view

Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret.” by Judy Blume is certainly not a book about a teacher and a teaching career.  It’s a young adult book about growing up and figuring out one’s identity.

However…

It depends on how you are reading it.

There are those times at school when I have really long days and I need some quiet time to recharge around noon. At least once or twice a week I drink my tea in the classroom instead of going to the staff room and read books from our tiny class library. It’s an eclectic collection of graded readers and books at wildly different levels, composed of books that were donated or ones I’ve picked up at “free-book-corners” at the municipal library.

Now that I’m working my way through the Blume book (I must have read it when I was about ten years old but that was a long time ago!) I find myself zooming in on a minor character in the book with a running commentary in my head. The character is, of course, the teacher, Mr.  Miles J. Benedict, Jr.

Really, Mrs. Simon, (aka Margaret ‘s Mom), did you have to groan when Margaret said she had a first-year teacher?  And claim that there is nothing worse? Couldn’t you have kept that thought to yourself? How about giving the new teacher a chance?”

“How did you manage that impressive feat, Mr. Miles J. Benedict, Jr.? The entire class didn’t write their names on their quizzes, as an attempt to pay you back for changing their seating placements in class after they misbehaved. Not only didn’t you say a single word about it, but each student also got the correct quiz back with his /her name on it! What classroom management technique did you employ here? Was it the fact that you had samples of the students’ handwriting from the first day of class when you asked them about themselves? How did you stay so calm?”

I haven’t finished rereading the book yet. My apologies to Margaret but I do hope there will be more about how the new teacher goes through his journey of coming into his own as a teacher in the remaining chapters. There is something fascinating about “seeing” the process as told through the eyes of a student, not as reported by a teacher.

The only problem is that Blume’s book is a work of fiction. Could a teacher really do that handwriting trick and stay so calm? What do you think?

Naomi’s Photos

Peter Hessler’s “River Town – Two years on the Yangtze” is a completely different kind of book. Put aside for a moment the truly fascinating aspects of the book related to history and life in a remote place in China in 1996, this isn’t a “Saturday’s Book Post” review.  In this book, not only does the American Peter Hessler write about his experiences teaching English as a foreign language in a small teacher’s college in China, but he also relates what it was like to study Mandarin, in China, from a teacher who spoke no English.

The interplay of language and culture is what makes Hessler’s experiences particularly worth discussing for teachers. Take the issue of praise vs. criticism as an example. How criticism is delivered, how much, how often and how severe it is employed as a tool, is related to culture. Teachers everywhere encounter students bringing different cultures and behaviors from their respective homes into the classrooms. Even if the differences are not as extreme as Hessler describes.

Interestingly enough, Hessler’s book is also a book about a young person trying to establish his identity as a person worthy of respect, especially outside the classroom’s walls. In China, according to the book, the teacher is always respected inside the classroom…

I read for pleasure and to broaden my horizons and most of the books I read have nothing to do with teaching.  But I must admit that there’s something fascinating about examining the roles of teachers in books and how they are perceived. I can’t exactly put my finger on the reason for it.

Can you?

Does it matter if the reason remains elusive?

Here’s to reading and books!

 

 

ONE TWEAK AT A TIME: REFLECTING ON FANSELOW’S TEXTBOOK FOR EFL TEACHERS – 4. Active Listening

This is part four of my second blogging challenge, in which I experiment  with and reflect on some of the small changes recommended in John Fanselow’s “Small Changes in Teaching, Big Results in Learning” .  These challenges are a way for me to keep honing my teaching skills.

The Commander
(Not a pigeon, I admit, but still suitable)
Naomi’s Photos

“I led the pigeons to the flag” – do you know how many American first graders, native speakers, solemnly recite that each morning while pledging allegiance to the flag?  As William Saffire presents it in 100 Years of The New York Times: On Language :

“The most saluted man in America is Richard Stans. Legions of schoolchildren place their hands over their hearts to pledge allegiance to the flag, “and to the republic for Richard Stans.” With all due patriotic fervor, the same kids salute “one nation, under guard.” Some begin with “I pledge a legion to the flag,” others with “I led the pigeons to the flag.”

Fanselow’s section on Active Listening reminded me of this article, because he focuses on understanding how difficult it is for native speakers to understand / repeat / write  correctly words they aren’t familiar with when they hear them. Then he highlights the question: what are learners of English as foreign language actually hearing when we model  language? Is it what their teachers expect? Or are they blithely leading pigeons to the flag some of the time?

Not what you expect…
(Naomi’s Photos)

I’m so glad I read this section of the book too. Obviously, I can’t comment or try the suggested activities as they are not suitable for my classes of Deaf and Hard of Hearing students. But Fanselow answers the perennial question that teachers, who have a hard of hearing student in their regular English class often ask:

“Why does my hard of hearing student do so much better in his/her other subjects? When I have a conversation with him/her outside of class the student seems to understand me well! Perhaps the student needs to listen harder?”

You can’t “listen harder”.  The hard of hearing student understands you better in his/her native language because he knows the language better.

Fanselow doesn’t mention this in his book but I would like to point out the issue of acoustics. Poor classroom acoustics doesn’t help anyone and is certainly a big problem for a student who doesn’t hear well. Acoustics affect the teachers as well!  Here is an extremely short  (and teacher friendly!! ) Buncee presentation with some useful tips that could help make your day less tiring and make a significant difference to students: “The Sound of an “English Room”.

 

 

Weighing In on “Weighing My Words” – A Comment

In class it sometimes seems that the answer to all questions is “cat”… Naomi’s Photos

It may very well be  that “all the world’s a stage” but somehow it seems to me that the stage is actually a classroom. Not only does life give me “private lessons” on a daily basis (with no “opt out” option… ) everything I learn seems to connect to being a teacher and to my own classroom.

The latest case in point is a lecture I recently attended, supposedly having nothing to do with the classroom. As you may have noticed, I’ve become fascinated by genealogy research since I received those letters from  pre-war Poland and began my Who Were You, Dora?” series of posts. It was a panel on historical writing  from different perspectives with the famous historian Deborah Lipstadt and the historical-novelist Rachel Kadish, moderated by Ilana Blumberg. It was fascinating  and I enjoyed hearing both speakers. I would happily attend a much longer lecture given by each of them!!

Ilana Blumberg, Rachel Kadish, Professor Deborah Lipstadt

Frankly, I hadn’t heard of Rachel Kadish before the talk. I made the effort to go to the lecture after a long day at school, just before national matriculation exams, because I had wanted to hear Professor Lipstadt speak – it was worth it! However, it was actually some of Kadish’s words that have been “dancing” in my head all week.

First of all, Rachel Kadish referred to a quote which I later found online, attributed to E.M. Forster “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”

Isn’t that a great answer to the perennial question – “why do I blog?!

The open window
Naomi’s Photos

I often write comments on education-related blog posts that I read. Only through writing can I clearly work out what is it exactly I agree or disagree with, or which elements will be useful for me in class. That’s why I also reflect, in writing, on handbooks for teachers in my blogging challenges. Finding the right words, or “weighing my words”  helps me define my thoughts.

I was so surprised to learn, following the lecture, that Rachel Kadish had a speech impediment when she was a child. It certainly isn’t noticeable today. In an article by Kadish in the New York Times called  Weighing my Words” she explains what words meant to her as a child and ponders the connection between those experiences and her becoming a writer.

As an EFL teacher of Special Ed., examples of real people who manage to turn a problem, which made them miserable as children,  into an advantage later on in life are important. It’s particularly helpful to encounter such examples in contexts that are not given in some teachers’ in-service training course.

Leave a footprint   Naomi’s Photos

We teachers need to transfer a great deal of “positive energy” to the students, particularly those who are having a rough time of it. That means our “inspiration banks” must be filled often, from a variety of sources.

Oh!

And what about the book “The Weight of Ink” by Rachel Kadish?

I haven’t read it yet. Planning to get it as an audio-book for my birthday. So a review of that will come later on.

 

 

“Teacher, why won’t the new kid play with me?” – Inclusion in the Classroom

Are you ignoring me?
Naomi’s Photos

It is so easy to imagine the situation, because we’ve encountered it. The children are curious about the “new kid in class”. Someone asks “the new kid” to play, but he doesn’t respond. It seems to the children that he is ignoring the invitation and that angers them.

How can we talk to students about those children who do want to be friendly but might not respond in a familiar way?

Erin Human knows how to present a subject in a way children can relate to. Even better, her winning combination of pictures and simple text “Social Skills for Everyone” make the infographic sideshow suitable for learners of English as a foreign language as well. And that’s a lucky break because inclusion is a very real issue that needs to be discussed in class. New immigrants , children with a hearing problem, children on the Autism spectrum and more – you will find them all in the so-called “regular” classrooms.

From Erin Human’s “Social Skills for Everyone”

 

Head over to Erin Human’s blog to see the complete slide show “Social Skills for Everyone” . Erin has kindly permitted me to share the link (given below) to download the slide show as a PDF file for use in class.

social-skills-f_26228424-xq6oa2

Inclusion needs to be discussed.

A “Zeeting” to Spark an ACTIVE Discussion on TOLERANCE

It depends on how you look at it…
Naomi’s Photos

As I have mentioned before, I’m taking  a great in-service course on using digital tools in the classroom.  “Zeetings” is the latest addition to my virtual “toolbox”.

Everyone likes being asked their opinion. Everyone! “Zeetings” lets you create interactive presentations, allowing the viewers to participate and get  instant statistics. That’s exactly what you need if you want to spark a discussion!

This is just my first presentation created on “Zeetings” and I was delighted to find that their presentation tool is almost completely intuitive to use – I added a video and the interactive questions following it without reading the instructions (I’m actually someone who does read instructions, but not this time!). I could preview my creation and easily edit out the wrinkles.

So, if you would like to have a class discussion on  the ways in which media  does / doesn’t promote tolerance toward those who are perceived as different, or would just like to raise awareness regarding  Deaf people, you may find the following helpful. In any case, the video (many thanks to the lovely Beata Gulati for sending it to me!) is a great message for Valentines Day – LOVE despite communication difficulties. Some of you may remember seeing the video on this blog in the past, as an Edpuzzle exercise, created for reading comprehension activities. I’m using the video again this way because it raises so many great discussion points (and students love it)!

Let me know if your students liked it too!

 

 

7 in 2017 – When Teaching Literature in EFL Intersects with Life

 

You know that teaching the literature component of the high-school EFL program has influenced you when…

  1. Getting a beautiful piece of artwork as a post reading task on the book “The Wave” makes you ridiculously happy…
  2. You foolishly carry too many books and papers in the hallway and manage to drop half. A few kind students, whom you’ve never seen before, help gather the scattered items. You thank them but what you really REALLY want to say is “Well, you can now count this day as not lost”! 
  3. The name of the game “Quoits” was a new addition to your vocabulary, but you are old enough to remember that “Patience” was the name for “Solitaire” when it was played with real cards.
  • Pondering age… Photo by Gil Epshtein

    4. When you reach the sentence about Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones’ icebox, it suddenly dawns on you that it might not be such a good idea to suggest that the kids talk to their grandparents for further information about ice boxes. If some of the students’ parents were once students of mine, then I’ll soon be the age of their grandparents.  I seem to have been in the classroom forever yet I never had an icebox…

  • Not a yellow wood but most certainly two roads diverged…
    Naomi’s Photos

    5. You find yourself pondering the fact that you actually took the road most taken by women, becoming  a teacher, a wife, a mother, a daughter (of parents in their “golden years”) , juggling roles while trying to exercise and blog too. Which naturally leads to the question whether I shall be telling this with a sigh of joy or regret ages and ages hence… Or perhaps the question of whether there will be anyone interested in listening…

  • A Smart Move
    (Naomi’s Photos)

    6. You have to bite your tongue every time you reach the end of the story “The Rules of The Game” – Waverly had no more moves to plot! I read “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan, I know what happened! From the moment Waverly supposedly insulted her mother, she never won a chess match again!!! Unlike Waverly’s mother, we teachers do give students second chances (and third, or more) but that isn’t something I can point out to the students because their story ends before that. Maybe it’s just as well…

  • Missing information… Naomi’s Photos

    7. You actually feel the weight of all the hours /topics cut from the national  curriculum, particularly history. Over the years more extensive background information of all sorts is needed for the stories and poems, ranging from the rise of the Nazi Movement to the fact that the early African-Americans DID NOT come voluntarily to the US as illegal immigrants who decided to stay…

Forget the students for a moment – how has teaching literature in the EFL classroom affected YOU?