My backlog of book-posts isn’t getting smaller and something should be done before I forget what I have read!
So here’s a brief “3 book catch-up” post for 2019!
Journey to the Dawn by Angoff
This book was recommended to me countless times by both my parents, who read it in the 1950s, shortly after it was published. It tells the story of the extended Polonsky family, first vividly depicting their lives in a tiny Jewish hamlet in Russia, then following their journey to a slum in Boston, in the early years of the 20th century.
I’ve read scathing criticism about the characters being too “goody-goody” to be believable and that the descriptions of the hardships were far too nostalgic and romanticized. The author based the book on his own family’s similar journey. However, that didn’t particularly bother me, as I was interested in all sorts of minute details which I believe were faithfully rendered. For instance the role of the “Feldsher”, who served the community in Russia instead of a doctor and the remedies he was able to administer and the fact that in Boston the immigrants were eligible for free health care and education. As a teacher, I was also very interested in the great details about Jewish education and public education available at the time.
I’m glad I read it.
I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg
I’ve enjoyed several books by Fannie Flagg, but this one was disappointing. The story of a former, aging Miss Alabama was easy to predict, though the author did manage to throw in some unexpected details. I like the way the author always highlights characters from diverse backgrounds with warmth and respect in her books while giving you some historical background (and humor ) along the way, but in this book, it simply doesn’t come together so well.
” Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” and “Welcome to the World, Baby Girl” were so much better.
The Counterlife by Philip Roth
I discovered this book among the many books left in my father’s library. I was quite surprised since my father barely ever read fiction. Out of curiosity, I decided to read a few pages and found myself reading the whole book.
Every time I thought I had had enough of Nathan Zuckerman’s philosophies regarding people and Judaism, both in the U.S and in Israel), the book would surprise me completely. It’s called Counterlife for a reason – think of sliding doors allowing you to relive your life in alternate versions. The different versions do connect in clever ways which actually makes it seem quite believable.
It’s not a cheerful, feel-good read, but it’s a book that made me think. Although frankly, I’m not sure if I thought more about what he said or how he said it!
When I was a child people used the image of “yesterday’s newspaper” to symbolize something worthless (I haven’t heard any reference to that in a long time!) . Perhaps you think that last year’s calendars fall into the same category, and are worthless.
Not if they are repurposed for educational use!
Tell EVERYONE you know – save your old calendars for a teacher! Within two years, as long you smile and say “thank you”, you can have all your friends and relatives “trained” to save the old calendar they have just replaced for you.
I’ve been using old calendars in multiple ways in my classroom for years now and I have to admit – I’m still discovering new ways to use them!
Would you realize that the following were made from calendars if I hadn’t told you?
Take a look!
These black “clear pocket” binders are used for supplementary material for the literature program. They are somewhat old and worn. Did you notice that:
…the binders are decorated /covered by large pictures taken from calendars?
… the numbers used to designate the level of the material in each binder were cut out from the borderline sections of pages of a calendar, (the parts under/above the squares depicting the dates of a certain month)?
…the sign on the storage box which says “LITERATURE” was cut out of a stiff cardboard-like calendar, (either the top/bottom part of a page, or simply the reverse side of a page)?
I’ve posted about the importance of the “Proud of YOU!” board in our classroom. The accordion-like border for the “breaking news” section comes from the edges of a calendar. The back parts of the pockets to hold the cards the students receive are from stiff-backed calendars. As you can see, some pockets were created from a calendar devoted to space photos, others from calendars devoted to seasonal flowers and several devoted to photos from Italy. No consistency required here!
This is a brand new use of old calendars. Our new Personal Exam Folders (which I recently posted about) were confusing to navigate, even though they have a table of contents. I needed dividers that would “stick out” above the pages. These are strips cut out of calendars with lined paper wrapped around the top. These were made by two 11th grade students. In most pages (except this one, actually) the divider slides in between two pages back that are back-to-back in the plastic pocket, so you only see the top part.
Before I overwhelm you with more ideas, let me just say the following:
You can find more ways to use calendars (including one actively involving younger learners) on a previous post of mine on the iTDi blog, here: “New Uses for Old Calendars”
Full disclosure – I didn’t make most of this goodness on my own. I collect the material and ideas, define the needs, but many volunteers and students have done almost all of the actual cutting and pasting. I have two left hands!
Many thanks to Eric Cohen Books who supply English teachers with a new calendar every year. Many things were made from old calendars sent by them.
So, what do YOU do with old calendars? I’d love to hear more ideas!
It sounds like the right thing to do. It makes sense – I’m sure there are things I shouldn’t be wasting energy on when there is so much else I should be doing. But how does one eliminate those things?
Dr. Jackson talks about 4 categories:
I don’t grade unnecessary assignments or do pointless warm-up activities but the example of getting into pointless arguments with students made me pause. I actually have a problem with students who AREN’T in my lesson who keep coming into my classroom. They want to talk to me about their schedule (which seems to change constantly) or have discovered that a different class was canceled and they want to have their lesson now (even though 10 minutes have passed!). I spend precious time and ENERGY getting them out of the room! This doesn’t happen every lesson but yesterday it was a real pain! I would love to eliminate this from my day but HOW?! The other teachers on my staff are unsympathetic – I’m the one who decided to teach in the format of a learning center…
The advice is to automate these activities. Once again, I’ve caused myself a great deal of trouble by having a learning center. The school has upgraded the online system into which attendance, grades, etc. must be entered. The other teachers can link the calendar to the class group saving time when typing in the information. However, my groups on the computer are simply divided by the students’ level. The students who are on the same level do not necessarily learn with each other. Consequently, they are absent on different days. To make a long story short, I have to locate each student separately in the computerized system and it is MUCH slower. Certainly, a time consumer but a way out of it has yet to be found.
Which work to delegate back to the students? This is a very important issue and the one I’ve had limited success in implementing. Maybe I should go back and read the chapter in the book again. I’ve tried using color-coded feedback for correcting reading comprehension exercises (similar to ones given on the students’ exit exams) but it didn’t work well enough. LONG story – another post! I HAVE begun experimenting (with some students) with “flipping the classroom” and that seems to show promise!
The real teaching is supposed to stay!
At the moment I don’t know what I can eliminate from my “To Do” list – do you?
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.
Actually, it’s not just smelling penguin poo and camel poo, you have to touch hot sand and cold snow, see footsteps and maybe even feel seasick…
I was doing the “Smelling Your Way to the Second Conditional” exercise with a student the other day, chuckling at his amazement when I told him that those adorable penguins are pretty smelly when you get up close, when it dawned on me – this is the perfect post to revisit on my blog’s birthday!
My blog turns 9 on Dec 8, 2019!
The exercise I created in April 2011, designed to help my Deaf and hard of hearing students grasp the hypothetical aspect of the second conditional, shows how my access to creative and inspiring ideas “EXPLODED” once I began blogging.
I would never have had the opportunity to know that such posts (and countless others!) existed, written by creative teachers around the globe, some of whom now are part of my P.L.N (Personal Learning Network), without my blog.
So what has changed since 2011?
I now use this exercise mainly for reading comprehension, less as a “grammar exercise”. The modal “would” is extremely common in texts and many students have trouble internalizing the hypothetical aspects of its use. I find it works well with several levels.
In addition, I blog dramatically less than I used to and am seriously behind with my book posts. Yes, I am still reading a lot , but can’t keep up with posting about the books. Perhaps that has to do with the influence of another creative teacher, James Taylor, aka The Teacher James, who advocated the “Just Say Yes” attitude! I find I’ve got my finger into too many pies and don’t know what to do first…
Anyway, in honor of my blog’s birthday, here’s a downloadable link to the original “Smelling Your Way to the Second Conditional” lesson. This lesson is in full color so I don’t print it, we use it on a computer.
Sometimes it takes a colleague to make you see the obvious – I haven’t been utilizing (or should I say “milking”?) “The Kitchen” activity enough in my high school classroom.
It seems I had fallen into the trap of using a resource for only one purpose, then losing the ability to see how useful it could be for other purposes.
What a waste!
TEACHERS NEED TO BE IN TOUCH WITH OTHER TEACHERS!
Debbie Ben Tura, in her in-service training course on “Creative Teaching”, discussed the activity of bringing in various items that belong to a person, then describing an imaginary person who might possess such objects. For high-school teachers, that’s a good way to practice using vocabulary that high-level students may need for writing an essay on their matriculation exams (what we call Module G).
Instead of bringing in objects, why don’t I unearth “The Kitchen” picture?
Mind you, it’s the hard copy that’s been buried in a binder in the closet.
I have been using this picture for years, every single year, as part of a digital activity on our class “website” (actually on Edmodo). I use it with 10th grade students new to the topic of inferences. There’s a lot to infer here! The students respond well to the picture and particularly like discussing whether or not this woman could possibly have children (kids are always hungry – they agree with that!).
At the bottom of the post, you will find two downloadable versions of the worksheets I use, for different levels. They are called “Kitchen Red” “Kitchen Blue”.
Neither one of my worksheets was designed for my advanced Deaf and hard of hearing students, the students who need to know how to write 120-140-word essays describing a person, using a rich vocabulary.
My advanced students have never seen this picture. It never occurred to me use it with them.
Well, now is the time to get them imagining and describing!
Note: The original “Kitchen” post (with the activity related to the skill of “inference” ) was posted on December 18, 2010. It was one of the first posts on my blog, which I launched on December 9, 2010, almost nine years ago! I posted a lot in those early days – the “kitchen” post was post number 12! I’m glad I had the opportunity to revisit it now.
I was riveted! A book that was quite hard to put down!
I’m completely in awe of the way Emma Donaghue (yup, the author of “Room”) constructs the story – she manages to create what some call “a psychological thriller” while giving enough historical and cultural information to support the claim (my claim) that it feels like a historical novel
The book takes place in Ireland in the mid-1850s, not long after the great potato famine had “ended”. In a small, impoverished place, a wondrous girl seems to be existing on air – not eating but apparently thriving. It is considered by many to be divine intervention. A tough, no-nonsense English nurse, who was trained by the great Florence Nightingale herself, is sent to investigate.
As the tension builds up and the events unfold, there are rich descriptions of the way of life there, the tragic famine, and of the early days of the newly born profession of nursing.
Believe me, if you haven’t read the book yet, this is all you need to know in advance.
Lisa Wood defines a BOT as “a combination of items that could be used to help out in a sticky situation, solve a problem or respond to a need”. You know, things to use in all sorts of unplanned situations that I feel a need to plan for, such as:
Half the class is absent (taking make-up tests, flu season, etc.)
Some sort of disturbance or exciting event took place in the schoolyard/assembly hall before the lesson began and everyone is distracted.
Students have a big math test later on in the day
I want to conduct an impromptu review of a certain topic for a number of students.
I find Lisa’s SIXTEEN BOT items (some of which are completely new to me!) and suggested uses particularlyinspiring because she teaches teenagers too! I can adapt some or create a different version of them to suit my needs. Check them out!!!
It was easy to have a BOT when I taught elementary school. I needed them often in my special classes for Deaf and hard of hearing students. I always had the following items with me:
Multi faced dice with extra numbers, in different colors and shapes (dice that are used for Dungeons and Dragons!).
Coloring sheets of various kinds (coloring according to instructions, connect the dot with the letters of the alphabet instead of numbers, etc)
Colorful magazines with “find me” items pasted on the cover. The children had to locate (and write down ) the page numbers where they found the items on the list which had been pasted on the magazine’s cover, such as “a man is eating a banana”, ” a blue sofa” and “two people are talking”.
More colorful magazines for kids to cut out items from and paste in their notebooks.
Sticky tac – the gum-like substance that lets you hang any picture or page on the whiteboard (or on a table, chair, etc) and then easily remove it again.
An envelope with the names of the students so that it would be clear that students’ turn was chosen randomly.
A picture of an American baseball player to stick on the whiteboard when playing “whiteboard baseball”.
BUT WHAT ABOUT HIGH-SCHOOL?
Some of these items made the transition well to teenagers, particularly the multi-faced dice which students like. I have a few different board games (the kind with a track, start here end there) for reviewing vocabulary.
While coloring pages are out, I do have students who need to “defuse” (particularly girls, I have to admit) who occasionally prepare colorful signs and cover sheets for materials in the classroom. You can’t beat coloring for indoor relaxation.
I never had ” a question box” like Lisa suggested, but I used to have a grammar name box, following something I read by Penny Ur. I’ve forgotten about it and haven’t used it in ages. Maybe it’s time to renew it. It added spice to grammar!
There is only one remnant of the magazines with things to find on them. A beautiful hard-cover photography book has a permanent page of items to find inserted in the front cover. But that has become part of the curriculum – it appears on the 10th-graders’ list of extra tasks to complete for the semester grade (there are six a semester, mostly on our class website), so it’s no longer a BOT.
My best and favorite high-school BOT, which I call “the disappearing eraser” (also called “reverse reading” “live dialogue” and “disappearing text”) requires no prep, just the whiteboard.
However, The word-puzzles, riddles, and particularly the once-beloved questionnaires ( you know the genre: “what kind of friend are you? ” etc.) that we used to do, lie unused in the closet. I’ve become so concerned with time that I don’t pull them out anymore. So many lessons are canceled for school activities, many students have attendance problems and with my special needs students, progress is slow on the mandatory material.
I hadn’t even thought about the pros of cons of not using my BOT material anymore. And I haven’t added new, energizing material in a long time.
Thank you, Lisa Wood’s for making me examine the BOTS!
In fact, there weren’t any theme plans at all – it just turned out that way!
It all began with the movie “Parasites” by Korean director Bong Joon Ho. There was a lot of favorable talk about the film after the Cannes film festival 2019 film (the movie won the Palm de Or) so we went to see it at the cinema.
I’m glad we did!
As someone who is very good at predicting events in movies, I found myself riveted to the screen (except for a few scenes which are difficult to watch. I closed my eyes), not knowing what would happen next. It’s funny, sad, shocking and strange, leaving one with a lot to think about. There is a lot of social commentary here from different angles – is the movie just about a poor family taking advantage of a rich one (hence “parasites”) or are the rich also “parasites”? Perhaps the role of “diplomas” and what they really stand for?
Then we discovered that another movie by the same director was on Netflix – “Okja”.
This begins like an adventure/fantasy/action film that totally glued us to the screen, it was so larger-than-life, funny, and aesthetically beautiful. After about 15 minutes into the film I was pretty sure that this movie was a Korean fantasy version of “Free Willy” except with a genetically modified supersize (truly big!) pig. A very good-natured pig, by the way.
I was WRONG.
Yes, the movie IS about saving the pig but there is so much more. Much more.
It seems to me that this is the director’s way of presenting things – starting with a funny and intriguing part, drawing you in, keeping you amused and then walloping you lots of social commentary. No one is spared – rich and poor, animal exploiters and animal activists and more.
If you haven’t seen these movies don’t read up on them – just watch them. You really don’t want spoilers!
I am also reading the book “Pachinko”, by Min Jin Lee
I don’t usually write about books I haven’t quite finished (I’m reading it on a Kindle, so I can tell you that I have read 86% of the book) but there are exceptions to every rule.
The book is a family saga over several generations. It begins with a family of humble means in Korea, in the early years of the 20th century. While it begins in Korea, the major part of the tale follows the family’s trials, tribulations, and triumphs over a long period of time as they live in Japan. There is a strong emphasis on cultural background (mainly Korean but Japanese as well) with vivid descriptions of food, dress, customs and more.
Till now I was quite happy with the book. There’s a lot I didn’t know. I hadn’t even looked up “Pachinko” until midway through the book because it hadn’t occurred to me that it was a “thing”! However, it’s a shame the book isn’t a bit shorter – this last section is getting to be far too “soap opery” for me. There is a limit to the number of generations and family members who deal with calamities and blame most of them on the fact that the poor main character got pregnant when she was 15 to someone who would not marry her that I have the patience for.
If there is something that the book presents as a common theme to both Korean and Japanese cultures is that there are no “second chances”, the sins of the fathers will haunt the descendants forever…
Nonetheless, I recommend the book.
I knew this was a “Korean Themed Month” when I sat down yesterday to look for a new vegetarian recipe to try, and the first recipe that popped up was Vegan Korean Bulgogi! Not a dish I had heard of before. I can’t really report on that though since I made so many changes as I was cooking that it morphed into something else entirely.
Here’s to movies and books that take you around the globe!
Are you familiar with those reading comprehension exercises in which students are required to read the title of the passage, then copy the sentence from the text which answers the question in the title?
Well, if this post were such an exercise, here’s the sentence you would need to copy:
“I don’t know”.
While I am most certainly learning a whole lot of other things while trying to answer this question, the digital vs paper issue actually matters and cannot be ignored.
I’ve been working on creating short homework tasks for my mixed level tenth-grade students focusing on vocabulary. Since my students are Deaf and hard of hearing, their exposure to English as a foreign language outside of the classroom is severely limited. In addition, there is never enough time inside the classroom to provide sufficient repeated exposure of all the vocabulary items students need to know
Well, it seems that the issue of supplying sufficient repeated exposure to vocabulary items is a general one. According to Penny Ur’s article “Multiple review and vocabulary acquisition through reading “teachers must make the most of the limited time available by focusing on tasks that challenge the students to actively remember a word’s meaning and produce it, as opposed to just recognizing it. Penny Ur , in a teacher-friendly way, cites research and explains how such activities, known as “retrieval activities” require fewer encounters with a word before a student can claim the word for herself/himself. The short article is full of practical suggestions.
So, “retrieval activities” are the way to go, right?
But I’m also trying to combine what I learned from John F. Fanselow’s book “Small Changes in Teaching, Big Results in Learning”, about how multiple readings of the same text promote the development of reading comprehension skills, vocabulary acquisition, syntax and more.
And I had the perfect text to work with.
Kevin Stein, in Japan, wrote (and generously posted!!) a series of short stories for teenagers, which are composed almost completely of vocabulary items from our mandatory word list. The vocabulary in the stories is mainly from the elementary level word list (band one) with a few words from the two more advanced levels. With Kevin’s permission, here is a copy of the story “How to Float” and an additional color-coded copy with vocabulary items marked according to level.
Here is the link to the Quizlet word list of the vocabulary items in the story, along with translations into Hebrew: https://quizlet.com/_6yv8lr
I began by giving the students homework tasks on paper. The students got the story in small sections, a few sentences at a time, with letters and words missing. They were required to complete the missing information with the help of their Quizlet list. The students then had to answer four simple questions about themselves that used vocabulary items from those sentences. The questions were not about the text.
*** You can find the first three worksheets at the end of this post.
I chose to use paper – as an old-timer I still tend to believe that there is a connection between hand movement and activating the brain. In addition, when creating tasks to be given on paper I did not have to worry about the copy/paste issue, which would have defeated a significant part of the purpose of the tasks – the students pay attention to every single letter making up the missing words.
The immediate benefit of using paper for the tasks took me by surprise – it taught the students how to use Quizlet, both on the technical level (now they know the word list can be arranged alphabetically, for example) and they also began to realize that when I give a Quizlet list it actually does help do the task on hand.
On the other hand, all the familiar disadvantages of giving homework tasks on paper began surfacing within a week. Besides the inconvenience of photocopying the tasks, keeping track of who got the worksheets and who was absent, it was a “great way” to quickly get to know which of my new 10th grade students copy homework from which students (it was easy to spot).
So, moving on to digital homework …
Sending a link to a Google Form via WhatsApp to my class broadcast list (not a group!!!) is easy to do. No photocopying, no absentee issue. It also enabled me to continue with the tasks on two different levels without it being obvious to other students that there is a difference. Best of all, the copying of homework doesn’t seem to be an issue anymore as the tasks require active typing of words. Theoretically, they could copy but now it takes real effort (as compared to a printed worksheet). With Google Forms, I get the answers directly, nicely ordered in columns.
I don’t know if the retention of vocabulary is better on handwritten tasks and the students are missing an opportunity.
I don’t want the students to write sentences using Google and paste them into the homework task. So, as far as I can see, I’m limited to two types of tasks – completing missing letters in words (Th_re a_e t_o s_ops…) and rewriting sentences that have been written with no spaces (Therearetwoshopsand…)
I have a student who doesn’t have a working phone and doesn’t know when she’ll get one that works. I have two students that send WhatsApp messages and use Instagram but are otherwise totally befuddled by doing anything like comparing words in the Quizlet list to a task open in another “window” on their phone (other students were happy with the shift to digital!).
NOTE: I’m talking about phones because a significant number use their cell phones for everything and do not have working computers at home.
Yes, yes, I know I’m a Special Ed teacher with small classes. But preparing both a digital form and a printed version for every task, at two levels is a bit much… AARGH!
So, which is better for vocabulary retrieval tasks – paper or digital?