Distance Learning – The Importance of Blank Spaces

Not quite the same…
Naomi’s Photos

When I was first “thrown” so suddenly by the pandemic into a situation where I had to work on reading comprehension via distance learning with my Deaf and hard of hearing students, I used online worksheets consisting of multiple-choice questions a great deal.

There is no doubt that sometimes such a worksheet is EXACTLY what is needed.

For example, take the following old reading comprehension exercise of mine which I updated into an online worksheet –  Identifying the Main Idea
My goal is (yet again, and again and again) to try to show the students that they have to read the distractors of a multiple-choice question very very carefully. Distractors often include information that is factually correct but is not the main point at all.
A Self-check multiple-choice online worksheet is absolutely the way to go in this case.

I love it when a student complains that the worksheet must be wrong – surely the main idea of the short video involving a blind man must be “It is important to help blind people”.  That fact is true but it is NOT the main idea here  – that’s the kind of discussion I want to have!

Here is the link to the worksheet

https://www.liveworksheets.com/bs385563yd

When you need to leave empty spaces…
(Naomi’s Photos)

However…

Sometimes the value of the learning task is greatly diminished by having multiple-choice options.  Such as in cases where the answer is fairly obvious, and having options makes the question ridiculously easy.

More importantly, when enriching students’ vocabulary is part of the goal of a particular task, having them write out (or type) the answer on their own forces them to pay attention to the word a bit more. Many formats of online exercise do not enable copy /paste, the students actually have to type in the words letter by letter.

An unexpected difficulty can arise here.

Even though it is quite possible to have the students type in the correct answer and keep the worksheet in “self-check” format, I have stopped doing so.

For the answers to be considered correct the students have to type the answer in EXACTLY as you typed it in. If they wrote the correct answer but inadvertently added a space, used the wrong symbol in the keyboard in the word “don’t ” (a very common error that my students make), added or missed a comma,  their answer will be marked as WRONG! 

Many of my students really don’t respond well to that sort of situation.

You lost me…
Naomi’s Photos

So, as in the worksheet you will see here, I leave all the blanks for the students to type in the answers empty, without a self-check answer. The students then send me pictures of the screen or screenshots and I check them.

I have the luxury of having small classes, but it is possible to send them a document to self-check their work if you find it more applicable to your teaching situation.

Here is a link to a task using abbreviations commonly found online to introduce some phrases, while watching a lovely video that was a huge hit a few years ago.

I’ve included an answer sheet below the link.

The Present

Answer sheet: Utilizing the gift of texting Answer sheet

I hope everyone goes back to teaching in class soon!

Distance Learning – Reading Comprehension: When “DUH” Questions Beat Explaining

Making connections
(Naomi’s Photos)

In order to do well on an exam involving a reading comprehension passage, a student learning English as a foreign language must do more than look up translations of unfamiliar words, right? He/She has to THINK about what is being asked and notice the relevant details in the text, right?

Those are certainly  “DUH” questions for any EFL teacher.

But even back in the “good old days“,  before Covid_19, when I used to meet my Deaf and hard of hearing high school students face to face, getting students to really examine the reading comprehension questions carefully, to notice all the helpful hints “hiding in plain sight” in the text, was one of the issues I spent a great deal of time on.  Every time the students and I worked on a text I would highlight certain points, leaving others for another lesson, careful not to “flood” them with too much information at once.

Now that we’re in “distance learning mode”, not only do I have to find ways to adapt my usual explanations to this new way of studying, I also have to contend with Google Translate. Students certainly use it and I can’t blame them.

But I want them to think about some aspects of the text!

Stop and think!
Naomi’s Photos

So I prepared a guided reading comprehension task in four sections. It is modular so different students can do it at their own pace. I used LiveWorksheets so that the task would be online with interactive options.

The first stage was getting students to look carefully at the title, the first sentence, and all the names and numbers in the text  Students need to be reminded to take advantage of the useful information gained from this simple technique. This was achieved by showing them only this information in the first part of the guided task.

The next two issues I wanted to tackle were much more challenging. My Deaf and hard of hearing students tend to ignore instructions and explanations in general.

And I want them to really READ the questions.

So I kept the explanations as short as I could and just wrote them in L1 (Hebrew).  If someone wishes to translate the Hebrew used in these exercises into Arabic (or any other languages) I would be delighted to provide assistance and post additional versions of these tasks.

More importantly, I used L1 as the first step in making the students examine the multiple-choice questions more carefully. I translated the questions into Hebrew but left out words in the questions.  The students must fill in the missing words, using the translations. They choose from three options.

Time to work!
Naomi’s Photos

In addition…

I asked the students “DUH” questions about the questions, before going on to answer the questions.

A student who will happily skip an explanation won’t skip a question.  There are all sorts of examples but here is the most obvious one:

Line 18 mentions “the astonishing qualities” of Manuka honey. Give one of these qualities from another paragraph.

  • Line 18 is at the ________(beginning)___________ of paragraph 4.
  • The answer to this question __(can not be )____________ from paragraph 4.
  • Will reading paragraph 4 help me answer this question? ___(No)____
  • The words “give one of” refer to the fact that there is ____(more than one answer) __
  • The word “astonishing” refers to ____ (something surprising)

And even more “DUH”…

The students are exposed to the reading passage itself slowly, as relevant.  At certain points, I erased some words in the reading passage,  which they have to fill in using the multiple-choice options. There are no translations, but the words I chose to delete and the options which are given make the correct answer EXTREMELY obvious. But actually stopping to choose these simple words caused the students to slow down and look at the text more than many would have done.

You will find the links to all the sections below.

I hope you find the exercise useful!

  • Note: The text used was taken from a 2008 “Bagrut” exam for Module D.  Not all questions appearing in the original exam were used. 

Manuka Honey Part One

https://www.liveworksheets.com/yg213631go

Manuka Honey Part Two

https://www.liveworksheets.com/gp225895gk

Manuka Honey Part Three

https://www.liveworksheets.com/bi286224mk

 Manuka Honey Part Four

https://www.liveworksheets.com/rn287684jh

Distance Learning – Practicing Wh questions in Context with Struggling Teens

Somewhere, over the rainbow,, life is “normal”
Naomi’s Photos

My Deaf and hard of hearing 11th and 12th-grade students should have been about 3 weeks away from taking their national final matriculation exams.

That was before COVID-19 of course.

Assuming that at some point the students WILL be taking these exams, we will continue to teach online after this holiday break.

My students who struggle the most, going for the lowest level of the exams, need a lot of practice with answering Wh questions about short reading passages.

When I say short I mean short.

“Short”
Naomi’s Photos

These are students who don’t do much without me sitting with them. Distance learning is hitting them the hardest. It will be more effective to use shorter passages.

So the exercises I am sharing below are “self-check tasks” of short texts with questions for reading comprehension.  Only Wh type questions.

In addition, I really want to emphasize the connection between the correct answer and the “Wh” question word used.  So each of the following exercises has two versions. One is a standard “answer the question” version. The other version includes the answers, but the question words are missing.

I hope you find these exercises useful!

 

Reading Ads Practice Paper One

Reading Ads Practice Paper One (b)

Reading Ads Practice Paper Two

Reading Ads Practice Paper Two (b) 

Reading Ads Practice Paper Three

Reading Ads Practice Paper Three (b)

 

Visualising School During “COVID-19 Times” – A Photo Pause

Thursday, March 12, 2020

The last day of school before shifting into “COVID-19 Time.

Leaning on the whiteboard

I had received this “Keep Calm and Carry On” sign as a gift a few months ago and hadn’t known what to do with it. I updated it and leaned it against the whiteboard, over the “How often” card.

Wasted effort.

Hardly any of my high school students came to school that day. Most of those who did come,  left early.

By noon,  the only students who could be seen in the empty hallways were those in the photos on the dozens of posters for the 12th graders’  final theatre productions.

Performances scheduled for dates that disappeared off the school calendar all at once.

Friday, March 13, 2020

 

No school today. The immediate future is so unclear that I manage to ignore it for most of the day. It’s SPRING – flowers everywhere!  A short walk around the neighborhood does me a world of good. I’ve dreamed about not working Fridays for years!

Sunday, March 15, 2020, and THE ENTIRE WEEK

PANIC!

Courtesy of puppeteer and teacher at our school, Ruth Levi (Naomi’s Photos)
All our material is in the classroom! Students can’t use this now…

So we’re supposed to begin teaching via the Internet immediately, right?  I’m all for it, but if I may ask:

How? Which platforms? When? How much? How often? Graded or ungraded? What about our final exams?

And what am I supposed to do about the fact that ALL of the students’ books, notebooks, practice material, readers (and much more!) is in the classroom?!

No “do the exercises on page 58  and send me your answers” for this teacher.

So far away from the students! (chairs on top of upturned desks in the schoolyard ) Naomi’s Photos

** I am so grateful to all the support I got from the school, my colleagues, publishers who are sharing material online and all the teachers around the world posting helpful information and advice!

Time and scheduling  take on new meanings

Whose schedule are we on – the teenagers or ours?
Naomi’s Photos (text in the photo from “Count That Day Lost” by George Eliot)
Student hands in an assignment at 23:05 pm! But what a wonderful answer!

 

The upside of spending hours on the challenges of suddenly shifting to distance learning completely


Naomi’s Photos

Rising to the new challenges that the sudden shift to distance learning requires is so time-consuming that it has left me with a lot less free time to follow the news and worry.

But best of all is a new kind of connection with the students  – they realize that we are partners who need to navigate our way together toward the goal of keeping up their schooling.

They admit to missing school!

And I miss them too!


*** Memories of the empty schoolyard in the past.

Naomi’s photos
Brilliance in the schoolyard

Saturday’s Book: “Brooklyn Heights” by Miral al-Tahawy

Looking for tea and sympathy…
Naomi’s Photos

This was the last book I took from the library before we shifted into “Corona Mode” and the library locked its doors.

It is another good example of the kind of book I never would have known about without the help of a librarian!

This is a book about people who don’t belong, particularly women who don’t belong (though not only women). It is told from the perspective of a woman from a strictly conservative Bedouin family who lived in a small town in Egypt, in the Eastern Nile Delta.  Not only are women relegated to specific, limited roles, but the Bedouins are considered outsiders in the village.  Then there is the Coptic woman who is honored but is even more of an outsider.

The book moves between flashbacks of childhood in Egypt to life in modern-day Brooklyn Heights, where we meet more outsiders, Muslim immigrants from different parts of the world who dreamed of a new life in the USA, but their dreams were never realized.

Tahawy writes beautifully and I enjoyed the vivid depictions of the life of the main character, Hend,  in Egypt. However, I was disappointed with the parts relating to her life in Brooklyn. Nothing seems to happen, nothing goes progresses or regresses or anything. It seemed as if the author had only caused Hend to immigrate to present more “outsiders” while abandoning Hend’s tale.  It’s rather depressing, depressing without it being part of a way to move forward. Or backward – frankly, I was quite concerned that Hend would commit suicide.

Nonetheless, I do recommend reading this book -there are many fascinating parts.

 

 

Visualising a Discussion Prompt for Students on Studying Habits at Home

Humor helps!
Naomi’s Photos

Suddenly, everything changed.

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.

I hope you find the video amusing and useful!

Wishing you all the best of health!

How to Make Homework Less Work – Download by clicking on the title
 

 

Double Book Post: “The House of Spirits” by Allende & “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Owens

Nowadays art museums are on the sidewalks!
Naomi’s Photos

I enjoy a book that is so engaging that it “takes me” to another place and time period – the best way to travel while staying at home, right?

At first I thought both of these books were giving me that experience.

But I discovered that to be a mistaken assumption.

Only “Where the Crawdads Sing” kept me completely absorbed in the tale of the life of  Kya, a girl who was abandoned as a child and grew up in the marshes of North Carolina. The descriptions are so vivid, that this totally unfamiliar (to me! ) landscape is brought to life.  There are also some very interesting facts about nature, which are cleverly woven in to match the plot without slowing down its progress.

Perhaps not every turn of events is totally believable but that really didn’t bother me a single bit. I went with the currents and let the author lead the way.

Certainly, a great book to read when you aren’t supposed to leave the house!

Distortions…
Naomi’s Photos

I was pleased when I began “The House of Spirits”, I’ve enjoyed several books you could define as “magical realism” and was completely prepared to go wherever the author wanted to take me. Particularly as I don’t know much about Chile and it’s history and felt much more interested in that compared to what is going on in the world nowadays.

The book follows the life of the Trueba family,  clearly a “larger than life” family, a rich family complete with daughters possessing unusual qualities, old women with unusual skills and unfamiliar superstitions,  uncles with schemes for getting rich who manage to die twice and more.

Great!

Wikipedia says the book follows the lives of four generations of the Trueba family. I had to consult Wikipedia because I abandoned the book after generation three hit puberty.

I couldn’t take it anymore.

It became very repetitive.

Very repetitive.

There was way too much focus on the unsavory character of Esteban (who married into the family) and endless extremely detailed descriptions of his cycles of sexual desire and senseless violence.

So many disasters befell Esteban that I hoped the story would continue at some point without this character, (you know, move onto the next generation?) but he was invincible.

I read more than half the book and then quit.

Goodbye Esteban!

**** I’ve almost finished another book – post coming soon!

 

Online Teaching for Students Who Never Read Instructions

We’ve got the students, without the classrooms
Naomi’s Photos

“If all else fails, read the instructions”.

I don’t know who actually said it first, but it seems that a great many people invest a great deal of effort in proving the veracity of this old adage.

My Deaf and hard of hearing students (ok, “MOST of’ , there are notable exceptions) prefer a different version:

“If all else fails, don’t do it .”

Reading the instructions doesn’t even enter into the equation. In  ANY language – not just in English as a foreign language!

I encourage, I point out the instructions, sometimes I refuse to help unless they read the instructions,  but without my intervention, the instructions usually remain unread.  Perhaps 10th grade is a bit late to start working on the importance of “reading instructions”, but I haven’t given up yet.

We’ve got to get the students “standing tall” and independent! Naomi’s Photos

Now that schools have closed because of THE VIRUS, I have discovered that I now have a golden opportunity (we have to be optimistic and look at the bright side, right? ) to get these students reading instructions!

Over these first crazy days of trying to adjust to online learning with my students, who are not only at every possible level there is, but  all their schoolbooks are the classroom I have learned three useful tips.

At least I’m learning new things every day!

  1. Start them off with a  task that has two parts. What needs to be done in the first part consists of an exercise of the sort where it is very very obvious what needs to be done.  Such as the following Live Worksheet, on the topic of words and phrases that I see often on national exams and confuse my students.

With a live worksheet, the students can do a worksheet online and check their answers on their own, while using content made by their own teachers. The students know exactly what to do.

**** You can see it here, but if you want to try answering it to see how it works, use the link here in green letters :  Confusing Words and Phrases

 

Confusing Words and phrases commonly seen in exams, an interactive worksheet by naomima

liveworksheets.com

2.  The second part of the exercise involves reading a simple instruction. If the students ignored it, you can first praise them for getting the first part right. Builds confidence! My own students were asked to send me translations of this completed exercise.

If your students DO send you a question, don’t answer instantly. Wait a bit. Besides the VERY important message that you want your students to understand regarding you not being on call EVERY SECOND OF THE DAY, let them look at the exercise on their own for a bit. When they don’t get an answer right away, they might actually try again. Try it!

3.  When you respond to the question, first ask them to explain exactly what was it in the instructions that was unclear to them, which part or which words. That makes both you and the students reread the instructions.

There’s a good chance that the students will now know exactly what to do.

If not, then YOU, the teacher, may realize that the instructions could be improved.

A win-win situation!

“Women’s Day”, Being A Teacher & “The Mermaid Chair” by Sue Monk Kidd

By Alice Lurio Axelbank

Yes, I admit it.

I’d much rather reflect on how the book I recently read ties in with “Women’s Day” (March 8) and what it has to do with me being a teacher, than dwell on the question of whether we’re going back to school as scheduled in two days despite the CoronaVirus.

Stressful times indeed.

Now, don’t get me wrong – “The Mermaid Chair” is a good book and I do recommend reading it.

But I didn’t think so at first.

The book seemed to start off with such a worn-out situation that I was seriously considering moving on to another book.  A woman, who supposedly has a “perfect” marriage (smart, good looking husband with a good income) and a lovely daughter, is very unhappy. She has to leave everything in order to “find herself”.  The woman does not work outside the home, she wanted to be an artist but can’t find her “voice’.

Painful fall?
Naomi’s Photos

So there I am reading the first part of the book and thinking “Really”? Leave the house, get a job, interact with people – who says that developing an independent career, a part of your life that is totally your own, has to contradict being married? Isn’t it obvious that today there are plenty of women who enjoy both? ”

I even imagined the main character becoming an art teacher working with special needs children who finds that helping others express themselves through art can be very rewarding. Particularly rewarding when you have a supportive family to come back to after some of the difficult days at school.

These thoughts led me to think about “women’s day’ and my choice of career. I will be eternally grateful to the women who fought hard to ensure that teaching was not one of the truly few respectable professions a woman could enter.

I became a teacher because I chose to be a teacher, not because there were no other options available.

As a female teacher in the national school system, I have never ever experienced any sort of discrimination based on gender, simply because the majority of teachers and administrators are women. There are no differences in salary to worry about and my opportunities to develop within the system have nothing to do with gender.

I am also fortunate to be able to come home to a family who expresses interest in what I do and perceives my job as my chosen carreer, not just as a source of family income.

The end of the day – a good time to think! Naomi’s Photos

This year, in these tense times of THE VIRUS, “Women’s Day” reminded me to count my blessings! Having a family I love and a job I enjoy are great blessings indeed!

To get back to The Mermaid Chair – the book is much more complex and far more interesting than it seemed to me to be in the beginning. I won’t give you any more spoilers, but Sue Monk Kidd writes in a very engaging way, there are story developments  I did not foresee and my “complaints” were resolved as I learned more.

I’m really glad I read the book.

 

Skip to toolbar