I too read “The Little House” series by Laura Ingalls Wilders avidly as a child. I think I read the entire series three times before the age of 10. I tried several times to create a “china doll” out of clay for the mantlepiece at a family friend’s art studio (even though I have never owned a mantelpiece!). When someone mentioned the word “Calico” I thought of the dresses from the book, not cats. The “older-me” later watched the TV series with the neighbor’s children who would come to us after school. The names of the family members have been etched into my brain.
I had assumed that this book would interest me as I would learn more about Ingalls Wilder’s real life compared to the one she portrayed in the books she wrote. I had no expectations regarding anything else.
I learned far more.
Fraser (who shares the name Caroline with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s mother) ties in the in-depth research into the family’s history with the history of the United States in a clear and engaging way. The historical context not only highlights what happens to the family but echoes current events.
Seriously. What is going on in the U.S.A today is complicated, but some of the origins of it seem clearer after reading this book. If you were wondering why STARVING people refused help from the government’s New Deal in the 1930s, you need to go back to the late 19th century.
For example, scientists of the day warned the government NOT to encourage settlers /homesteaders to settle in the Dakota territory. It’s not that these scientists were concerned about the rights of the Dakota Indians (it doesn’t seem that anyone was…) but they clearly laid out information that the climate and the soil were not suitable for farming wheat. But those who sought to reap benefits from the westward move (both in the government and out of it) scoffed at scientific information and advertised ads tempting impoverished people looking for a break: “The rains will follow the plough”.
Does scoffing at information from scientists sound familiar?
Well, guess what. The process of farming where the thin topsoil took forever to form caused severe droughts, horrific fires, and widespread starvation. The same government now reminded the starving people that government is not about supporting the people as pioneers are self-sufficient…
There was a great deal more going on than a simple tale of” the small pioneer family that went West and overcome all problems all by themselves because they worked hard and lived off the land. Even Laura’s origin family and her married one survived only thanks to additional non-farming work. While Laura herself first turned to writing columns in farming newspapers as a means of supplementary income, she continued to promote the myth that living completely off a farm income was within anyone’s reach…
The only part that I found difficult to read in the book was the far too lengthy details regarding the daughter, Rose. She is an inseparable part of the story of how the “Little House Books” were written, but this part of the book was tedious.
Otherwise, I was fascinated!
Oh, and I had never heard the origin story of the Japanese version before! Who knew!
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.
This book was a “YES” “YES” kind of book with two “but” “but”s.
I knew almost nothing about the book when I began reading, just that it was advertised as a book that people who love books and believe in the power of words would enjoy reading.
That certainly caught my attention!
It’s a wonderful story about storytelling and about “Doors” (with a capital D) which really do appear in some form in every story when you start to think about it. It’s a tale where words have power and young people strive (naturally, against all odds) to write (write = create) their own life story, the way they want it to be. There is a clear message that being “different” isn’t a bad thing. It’s a book full of different worlds, unusual places, characters and exotic objects all described in rich detail.
The book has even been shortlisted for the Nebula Award!
No, I’m not going into the plotline. Trust me, you don’t want to read more details about it in advance – let the story unfold at its own pace for you!
So, with all these compliments where do the two “buts” come in?
Well, there can be too much of a good thing sometimes. While I delighted in the rich descriptive language, the amount of metaphors and similes used in this book is staggering! Sometimes I wished the author would simply let a character complete her/ his action or have a quiet moment without it being compared to anything…
The other comment has to do with length. I believe the book would be even better if it were a bit shorter – there are certain points where I felt the storyline got bogged down a bit.
My students spill out of taxi cabs each morning, rubbing their sleepy eyes after early morning pick-ups, napping or texting through the traffic jams on the long way to school.
Some are from homes where no one gets up before they do, to see that they leave without breakfast and have packed nothing but party snacks in their school bag for the long day…
Others are from big hugs and best wishes for their day at school, armed with the knowledge that someone is interested in knowing how the day turns out.
They are from blindingly new cell phones, complete with accessories, screens lighting up their lives, from shame masked by annoyance at teachers who insist on such unattainable things otherwise known as pencils and schoolbooks, knowing notes to parents will go unheeded.
Some are from a lifetime of dodging communication pitfalls, guessing meaning from partially heard sentences, tiring easily by the necessity of being constantly alert, at home and at school. From relief at coming to a school where they are no longer the only student with a hearing aid in the entire school – always conspicuous, sure that whispered conversations are about them.
Others are from a world full of hands in motion, sailing confidently in a sea of visual vocabulary from birth, signing their pride to be Deaf and their frustration with the world which doesn’t use Sign Langauge, while resenting school organized efforts to create shared experiences between hearing and Deaf peers.
Teenage students of mine come from long trips abroad with their parents during the school year, from dealing with the anger of the same parents for then doing poorly at school, while trusting these parents to bully their teachers into forgetting about the missed material, evading the demand for buckling down.
Adolescent students of mine are from dependence on parents to navigate the world for them, from apron strings tied with double knots, cell phones bridging the distance, tightening the knots that need to be loosened.
My students are from a belief that I always know where they are really from.
What a great title that rings so true – we aren’t one thing all our lives and that’s it. We change, we evolve, we “become”. I became a woman, a teacher, a wife, a mother, a blogger, a “dabbler” in photography, just to name a few. Who knows how many more things I will become in the future. A great point to make at the start of an autobiography!
The part that fascinated me the most in Michelle Obama’s tale of “becoming” is the part about her childhood and education. My mother had felt that section was too detailed but I was so interested in all of it. One one hand it highlighted the powerful role of parents who prioritized education for their children despite hardships and fostered curiosity and literacy skills. On the other hand, it also highlighted the frightening aspect of “lack of opportunity” and plain “luck”. Michelle Obama’s mother fought hard to get her daughter tested, out of classrooms where she wasn’t learning anything and into better educational programs. And Michelle Obama worked extremely hard to excel in these programs. But what if she had been born a few years earlier? When there was no program that accepted talented inner-city children? Or was just as talented but didn’t secure one of the limited places? What if a child with her abilities had remained stuck in a classroom where no real learning was taking place?
These points are highlighted sharply in the story of an inner-city high-school Michelle Obama visited while she was The First Lady. The students couldn’t physically make it to school on some days because they were so afraid of the gang violence going on in the streets. She discussed the fact that education can be a “ticket out” but it isn’t so for everyone.
There are too many children out there who are left behind!
In short, I admired Michelle Obama even before I read the book and I found many more reasons to do so after reading.
I’ll be interested to read about what she “becomes” next – she can do and be whatever she decides to be.
I visualize most of my teaching work as a bridge that can lead the students up to the point where they are able to take the last steps alone and be independent. The students take the hand that I have offered and we walk together. That’s why I quote this poem so often on my blog!
There is a problem when it comes to these students.
A BIG problem.
These students aren’t even on the bridge and many of them won’t simply take my hand and let me show them the way. In fact, they have to prove they are right in saying they unable to learn and won’t succeed by resisting help. It’s as if they haven’t heard the maxim “If you are in a hole, stop digging”!
I believe my first job is to get such students on the bridge.
Reading Comprehension strategies are useless to a student who won’t try.
The students know they are weak students, don’t lie to them or praise them in a way that isn’t true. RIG THE SETTING FOR SUCCESS, BUT DON’T LIE! Make sure there is “evidence” as to why the student was praised.
Here are some of the things I do in class to get the students to “step on the bridge” and feel that it is worth giving reading comprehension tasks a try:
I create very simple basic texts on the board from some “tale” a student in class shares. I write the tale in English, even if the student tells it almost completely in mother-tongue (eliciting words from the other students as much as possible). I focus on expressing a sincere interest in what happened to the student. Like this text, for example:
What Happened to Sara This Morning?
Sara got up at 06:15.
She left the house at 07:15.
Sara didn’t take an umbrella.
When Sara arrived in Yehud it was raining hard.
Sara got wet.
Sara wants to call her Dad.
By erasing words, having students fill in the relevant missing words on the board in response to basic “WH” questions, I get the students to focus on the text and the words. They know the answers because they were involved in the process of creating the “text”. I finally erase the ENTIRE text and ask WH questions about it. The students can deal with it!
Answering in complete sentences is not the point! If students can answer a “when” question with “07:15” and a “who” question with “Dad” (and not vice a versa!) then I have a good reason to praise them. They are reading and answering questions!
Note: A visual explanation of how to use the disappearing text method with all students can be found in Jason Renshaw’s post, here: Going Going Gone
“Chopping” Real Exam Papers
The students know as well as I do that their final exams won’t have self-created texts on it. Bringing in a real exam paper from a previous year, chopped into “bite-sized” pieces, makes it easier to “swallow”.
Each paragraph of the text is pasted on a separate page, with only the questions related to that paragraph pasted below it. So now the text is chopped up into several short pages.
On page one there may be only one question but on page two we can show the students that THREE WHOLE QUESTIONS can be answered based on SIX measly lines!
That is much less intimidating than seeing the whole text and a long page of questions. Particularly if you highlight the “WH” question words, names and numbers in the text.
A student doesn’t need to answer all the questions to get a high-five – remember? We’re talking about students who wouldn’t even start working on a text! Lay on the praise for every question answered. Make your check marks extra big!
Divide the Dictionary Work (include the teacher!)
Many of these students gave up on their electronic dictionaries very quickly. Like any tool, you need practice in order to use it quickly and well, yet they won’t touch it. By writing unknown words from a paragraph on the board and dividing the work of looking them up, the students can be convinced to start the laborious process of typing the words they are in charge of. It is slow work for them because some students have trouble matching lower and uppercase letters and they have to copy every single letter, one at a time. However, the more they do it the easier it will get.
It’s important that the teacher shows that he/she is also contributing to the joint effort and fills in some of the translations. While it’s good for morale, that’s not the point! The teacher chooses to translate the words that have several meanings and writes only the suitable one. The students do have to learn to deal with such an issue, but only after they have begun moving along the “bridge”!
Create your own version of a “Proud of You” board!
I know that most teachers don’t have the option of having a wall devoted to praising like I do. I don’t know what you can do instead, but I’m sure you’ll think of something.
“The last few steps you’ll have to take alone” (Shel Silverstein)
*Note: This is not a commercial post and I have no connection whatsoever to any company. Just sharing the joy.
Are you fond of games which require forming words in English?
Have you found that the younger generation prefers having extra “twists” to word games, such as cards with double letters (“ed” “en”) , cards that have powers to get you an extra card , replace or duplicate a card, and even earn you extra points?
Do you like games which can be less competitive and encourage the whole family to collaborate on figuring out a word with the hand dealt to one player? Note: It can also be very competitive, it depends how you want to play it, despite Mom’s non-competitive bent…
Now bear with me for a moment.
Our son taught us the board game “Paperback” and it’s a great thing at any age for a family to gather around a table to play together. Since this game is good for developing vocabulary in the English language, I like the game even better.
But I didn’t think of traveling with it.
You know, space and weight in the suitcase, a table is needed and it takes some organizing of the piles of cards, etc.
Well, there’s an app for that.
For the first time in my life I bought a game app for the tablet.
And now the teacher-in-me is considering using the game, in app form, in class.
It turns out that the app solves more than the issue of making the game convenient to travel with ( we played on the airplane with the tablet in airplane mode) , it seems that it will also solve the following issues
* No precious lesson time wasted on setting up the game.
* The app basically teaches you the game as you play, so no lengthy instructions or learning curve required. It tells you what kind of action is required next.
* It keeps score. That might sound obvious but since points determine all kinds of perks during the game, it’s important to know how to calculate the score. I’m very bad at score keeping in all games, sigh…
* The app won’t accept misspelled words or invented words. Your offspring or your students can play independently without you worrying that they are blithely giving themselves points for nonsense and reinforcing errors.
* There is a single player mode, a student can play against a computer with three different levels of difficulty, thought frankly I haven’t explored this mode much yet.
In short, Paperback has won me over as a family game. I’m looking forward to trying it in class.
That is, if our English room ever gets those tablets we’ve been promised…
Teaching English as a FOREIGN language to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students