I’m teaching the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken” to a large group of my Hebrew-speaking deaf and hard of hearing 10th and 11th graders. It’s in the curriculum.
I find it to be a puzzling situation. On one hand it seems absolutely insane to teach it to most of these kids. I’m not exaggerating when I say that most of them only know two to four words in the entire poem. Even a word that seems familiar to them such as “sorry” isn’t in the right context as they only know it to mean “please forgive me”. Even though we did a pre-reading exercise which included translating the really difficult words (such as “undergrowth” “hence”) they didn’t know most of the other words either and couldn’t even begin to read any sentence of it on their own.
On the other hand, this poem is about dealing with dilemmas and making choices. We did a pre-reading activity on how they solve problems and many of them were interested in that. The vocabulary exercise I gave on those really hard words had them match the Hebrew translation to a simple definition in easy English, so there was reinforcement of vocabulary, just not of the vocabulary of the program. In addition they learned a bit about metaphors, how to infer something and about the poet. Some of the pupils actually said they find the poem related to life!
However, to answer the low order reading comprehension questions (which were in English they could handle) they relied mainly on the translation of the poem. Since I foresaw that, I made sure they had to copy out lines of the text to prove their answers otherwise they wouldn’t have looked at the poem itself at all!
I wonder if I could have achieved the same effect by having all these nice activities and tasks in English, about a poem written in Hebrew?! So, is it worthwhile to teach authentic poetry without vocabulary?
Since my success with cardboard signs that say “TEST” (which the kids place on their desk when they take an exam) I’ve been trying to replicate the effect with other kinds of signs. These signs worked really well because they are in use in context. Most of the kids rememebr the meaning of this word when they see it in texts (most – in special ed. it is never everyone).
I’ve had signs, or labels, on things in the classroom for years but most pupils ignored them until I gave them a homework assignment about them. However, that was almost three months ago, I doubt the vocabulary stuck.
This week I had some pupils who come in for volunteer work (In israel all 10th graders must volunteer, so some come to my class) make signs stuck onto colored popsicle sticks of common things I say in class. Phrases such as “Look it up” or ” It’s a name” or ” Patience please!” I say these things in Hebrew or Israeli Sign language. My thought was that I would hold up the sign instead of saying it, in the right context. Thus the pupils would connect the sign with the words. The signs generated some curiosity but I haven’t managed to use them! They sit in a colored container on my desk but I’ m never at my desk when I need them! Theoretically I should have them hanging around my neck!
This book is marvelous for both the family and the classroom. My boys love it! Each page is devoted to a letter of the alphabet (sometimes a double page). There is a huge amount of amazing drawings of things beginning with that letter, some easy to spot, others requiring some effort. I don’t think we ever found everything on some of the pages!
For pupils in class with small vocabularies I supply a brief word list for every page and they look up the words in their dictionaries and then find the pictures. Works very well!
If you imagine two 10th grade students, Karen is the tutor and Tom is being tutored. Karen is a weak, struggling student and Tom is on 10th grade level and has just begun working on “connectors”. We have a designated table at the corner of the English room for the sessions.
1) Karen welcomes Tom to the table.
2) Karen “quizzes” Tom on the pack of flashcards. Each flashcard has English on one side and Hebrew on the other. Karen knows all the answers because they are written on the side of the flashcard facing her.
3) Together they count how many words Tom knew and mark it in the tracking sheet, in column A (they write the date, too). See sample tracking sheet here:
This method has had an INCREDIBLY positive impact on acquisition of vocabulary in my classroom this year! And the beauty of it is that it is versatile and can be adapted to the needs of different learners and classroom settings!
I heard a lecture about the system and read about it here:
With the help of the endlessely patient coordinator at the other side of the world, IN AUSTRALIA, we began the sessions in which pupils meet once or twice a week with a teacher’s aid, or another student acting as tutor. Together they practice vocabulary items using flashcards and track progress according to a set meeting structure we learned. The student tutor can be a very weak student as the answers are all on the back of the flashcards! The weak students are thrilled to be able to act as tutors.
In addition, each student works on the same words once again during his /her weekly session with the speech and language clinologist.
We give out certificates every time a student triples the number of words he/she knows, not when a certain number has been reached. The progress is marked on charts, in color.
How exactly does it work? More about that in the next post!
Many pupils have dificulties in remembering or even accepting the fact that a word has more than meaning. With deaf students it is often a bigger problem, especially in a foreign language!
The word “save” is an example of a problem that I haven’t found a solution for. They all know, or rather KNOW that the meaning of “save” is the manner in which you prevent your data from being lost on the computer. And that’s that. Then they encounter sentences with other meanings of save they go off in wrong directions.
Regarding the word “test” I found a creative solution (well, at least with most of the pupils. Some remain in “don’t confuse me with the facts” mode). In Hebrew the word “test” in its English form has come to denote the driving exam for one’s driver’s license. Every other kind of exam is referred to by its Hebrew name. And thus I found references to driving appearing student’s work in totally unrelated contexts! I made cardboard signs for my pupils and whenever they take a test in class I place the sign “test” on their desks. There has been a dramatic improvement with remembering the meaning of this word!
But what about “save”?
Teaching English as a FOREIGN language to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students