I can’t possibly teach my students everything they need to know.
I couldn’t do that even before the pandemic granted me the pleasure of teaching students who haven’t studied without disruption for the past year and a half. Students whose studies may be disrupted yet again in the near future…
What DO my students need to know?
This question has an obvious answer, considering the fact that I’m a teacher in the national school system and we have a curriculum to follow.
So there’s plenty of familiar material that needs to be taught.
There’s an additional factor to consider.
I feel that the pandemic has widened the gap between my strongest students and my weaker ones.
And believe me, it’s not because these strong students (most of them, there were a few exceptions) studied English on their own!
You also can’t claim that the students who are profoundly Deaf, from Deaf families, whose primary mode of communication is Sign Language were benefitting from watching movies in English without subtitles or following the lyrics of songs in English (the latter is very difficult for hard-of-hearing students to do as well).
One of the things that I have noticed about these strong students is that they are super observant and make connections. All sorts of connections!
They pay attention to words in English on packaging, clothing, bumper stickers, computer games, and websites they use.
But it’s much more than that.
When the stronger students watch the same movies (or T.V programs) as their classmates, they garner useful information, even when the quality of some of the movies is questionable. From a film about aliens landing on the White House lawn and snatching the US President, they recall all the other references to the fact that the capital of the US is Washington DC and not New York ( as some of my students think… )
They take note of the fact that in the opening ceremony of the Olympic games, athletes from Greece always head the parade regardless of alphabetical order and want to know why.
When encountering a reading passage on their national exam “Next Stop: Mars?” or perhaps about “Trash in Space” the stronger students can visualize scenes from various movies they have seen (such as “Apollo 13” “The Martian” ) and computer games they have played as aids in understanding the texts, despite the complex vocabulary. They recognize the symbol of NASA and know what it refers to.
Some of the stronger students had even seen footage from the International Space Station and even from the rover “Curiosity” when they read the news online.
The strongest students are more curious than their classmates. When reading a text in class about “invasive green parrots” or “Piano Stairs – The Fun Theory”, they will use Google to see visuals without me telling them to do so.
GENERAL KNOWLEDGE IMPACTS READING COMPREHENSION!
The gaps in struggling students’ general knowledge about the world hinder their performance on reading comprehension tasks regularly.
This has always been true.
However, before the pandemic, I had more time to discuss background information for every single reading passage with them.
The gaps in general knowledge are most striking when it comes to texts related to environmental issues. There are many such texts in our practice books and exams.
It’s one thing if the students don’t know that it’s very cold in Canada and that Amazon is a name of a company that delivers products, and that drones can be used to do so (all my students know about Ali Express!). It is much more problematic when the students haven’t a clue no about the connection between cows and the environment (actually, I’ve had students who didn’t even know cows could graze on a pasture – they assumed cows were only raised in enclosed spaces). Think of a reading passage on the topic of environmentally friendly meat substitutes…
They need to know that satellites even exist before reading about trash in space.
Forget satellites – a few of the struggling students are unaware that wildlife exists outside of a zoo or the continent of Africa. A text about the problems that arise when wild animals live in the city is harder to make sense of when you can’t visualize such a situation.
Remember the ongoing problem called “lack of time in class”?
I’ve begun creating short homework (or independent-work-in-class-time) tasks for my students in which the students watch a short video (VISUALS!) about a topic related to an environmental issue and then answer a few lower-order comprehension questions just to make sure they have paid attention to the main points of the video.
My students are getting these videos WITH SUBTITLES in L1.
It’s very simple.
These videos are too challenging for my struggling learners in English.
I don’t want to spend time teaching vocabulary items such as “satellites” or even “factory” when there is such a large number of basic and frequent words/phrases these students do not know.
The dictionary will tell them what a satellite is in L1.
What I am concerned about is that the struggling learners will know what THAT word is denoting when they see the translation.
Note: For some of my students, Sign Language is their mother tongue. I hope to add a version with sign language for each video during the school year – I have asked for assistance in this matter, so I’m quite hopeful.
Here is the first video, in English. Perhaps it will be helpful to you as it is.
Here is the file with Hebrew captions. This is not a one-to-one translation, some captions have been edited for brevity and clarity. I’m trying to get a message across!
If you create captions in other languages for this video, please let me know!
Here is a link to download a copy of a Google form with “very unsophisticated” questions to ensure attention to the points I wanted.
I’m currently working on the next video!