Tag Archives: On Education

Notes for teachers on “How To Steal Like An Artist” By Austin Kleon

Austin Kleon wrote a brilliant piece (with great visuals!) called:


He refers to his post as “notes on writing and drawing”. I’d like to point out how they are also notes for teaching. I’m following his post point-by-point (the points are direct quotes, the photos are by Gil Epshtein)

1) Steal like an artist.

By Gil Epshtein

Great teachers don’t constantly strive to reinvent the wheel. They read, listen and talk to other teachers and let their students benefit from a wealth of accumulated experience and creativity. The great teacher uses whatever strategies and ideas are useful and suitable and makes sure to go where these can be found!

But what the teacher has heard can’t and shouldn’t be used exactly as it was presented. Each class is different and adpating the material is a creation of something new! As Austin Kleon says: “Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of previous ideas”.

2) Don’t wait till you know who you are to start making things.

by Gil Epshtein

There is no magic formula. It isn’t only people who have written coursebooks or teachers who have taught for more than 7 years who can suggest material, strategies and innovations. Just like we try to tell our students not to be afraid to make mistakes, teachers must not be afraid to experiment with the ideas they have!

3) Write the book you want to read.


By Gil Epshtein


Which for teachers is:

Find / collect /create the materials needed for teaching the way you believe it should be taught.

4) Use your hands.


By Gil Epshtein


Don’t let issues such as “crooked lines” or being able to draw only “stick figures” dissuade you from making and using your own materials and games. When they are tailored for YOUR class, then they are worth more than commercial material!

5) Side projects and hobbies are important.


By Gil Epshtein


Having hobbies are not only important for teacher’s sanity – they can lead to great things to do in the classroom. There are many blogs out there in blogosphere by teachers who are incorporating their love of movies, animals, photography or what not into their teaching!

6) The secret: do good work and then put it where people can see it.

By Gil Epshtein
By Gil Epshtein

As stated in point one – we learn by communicating with others, so share your work too! Go to conferences, write for your local jounal, write a blog, TWEET or whatever works for you!

7) Geography is no longer our master.


By Gil Epshtein


The teachers in your staffroom may not be interested in sharing but you will always find teachers online who are! it’s called building a Personal Learning Network. This blog is a testimony to the growing number of teachers I have found that enrich my teaching experience from the comfort of my home!

8) Be nice.

By Gil Epshtein

If you liked a recommendation – say so. If you didn’t, you don’t have to use it but that doesn’t mean you have to “trash it”! Communities support and encourage!

9) Be boring. It’s the only way to get the work done.


By Gil Epshtein


Which for teachers is:

Take a deep breath and deal with the boring, administrative side of teaching. Every school has technical demands which are boring and not always logical. But if you don’t stay within the framework of the school requirements you won’t have a job and then won’t be making an impact on anybody!

10) Creativity is subtraction.


By Gil Epshtein


Austin Kleon says “Devoting yourself to something means shutting out other things”.

For those teachers who have found their “online PLN” I take that to mean : Beware of Gold Rush Fever! There are SO many interesting things going on out there that one has to remember to study and adopt new things in small chunks, accepting the fact that you can’t possible take in everything that is being offered to you. You will have to ignore some and focus on really making the most of what you have begun experimenting with before taking in more new ideas.

I’m sure there are other lessons to be learnt from Austin Kleon’s post, but those are my ten!

Seems you can cloud your tweets now too!

htweet cloud

Looking at this “tweet cloud” this way is not the same as looking at it online – the bubbles expand and you can read the whole word inside each bubbles (bubble sizes reflect frequency) . If you want to do that you can go Tweet Topic Explorer

It was interesting to compare my blog cloud to this one. This time I’m happy with the size of the word “students”! And of course you can see some of the people I’m corresponding with – but there are others too ! Lucky me! Hope no one takes offence! The topics are varied and I’m quite happy with the results!

Inclusion: A Comment on Tom Whitby’s: “A Third Rail Education Issue”

Tom Whitby has a very interesting post on the issue of Inclusion.

This is an extremely complex issue. A look at my classroom highlights some of these complexities.

Deaf and hard of hearing students at the high-school where I teach are placed in regular homerooms, but the time they actually spend learning with their hearing peers is compleltely individual. Some learn all subjects except gym (and homeroom hour) in the self contained small classes, with special teachers (by subject matter) situated  in the school, while other study varying degrees of hours a week with their homeroom class,   depending on the subject. There are 70 deaf and hard of hearing students and approx. 1, 700 hearing students at our school.

Some of the students came to the high-school from self contained classes in regular schools. Others were completely mainstreamed  till they came to us in 10th grade. Some of these transferred because of academic difficulties. Despite receiving tutoring, the older they became the harder it was to keep up with their hearing peers. Others did very well academically in the mainstreamed classroom.

Regardless of academic succes (or the lack of it) all of the students who came to us from the mainstream were lonely. Some students had hearing friends but felt, as adolescents, that their hearing friends could not understand them and be a “real” friend the way their hard of hearing peers could. Some students study most of their subjects with hearing students yet spend every second of the breaks hanging out with the other hard of hearing students.

I teach ALL70 students. This year we don’t have a single student who can deal with studying English as a Foreign Language on a high-school level with the hearing students. I know for a fact that some deaf and hard of hearing students that are mainstreamed take exams at the highest level of English and do well. But this is a minority. Studying English when the teacher talks, sings and lets the students talk in  a foreign language which is hard to lip read is a nightmare for many. The level of English of some of the pupils that come to me from the mainstream is very low.

Back to Tom Whitby’s post. He writes: “…but sometimes fairness to all, means unfairness to some.”

Now, lets look at Inclusion within the special classroom.

Some parents would rather their child be labeled as “deaf” of “hard of hearing” than other things. In recent years I have been getting pupils whose hearing problem is really the “least of their problems”. For example, a pupil who is hyperactive and when frustrated or angry by a small thing erupts in violence needs my full attention to keep him on task. What about the other pupils in the room? What about the sweet, polite girl who is really weak and needs my attention as a specialist but  I’ve  constantly got one eye on  this pupil or else “all hell will break loose” literally?

And what about the pupil who has organic problems and is sensitive to noise? Classes of deaf students are not (as you may think) quiet places. I teach in the format of a learning center. Hard of hearing students may talk too loudly. Deaf students tap their pens or their feet unaware that the noise is annoying. This student throws temper tantrums when the noise causes him to feel a headache.

Neither of the pupils I mentioned rely on sign language for communication.

I’m told that as a special ed teacher I must be “inclusive”. However, there are days which I wonder who we are being fair to with their placement.

Close Encounters of the “You are STILL teaching?!” Kind

At the supermarket this afternoon, while trying to choose the nicest carton of strawberries, I discovered that I was standing next to someone I hadn’t seen in a very long time.

She was a teacher at the high-school when I arrived, 22 years ago ( I taught elementary school before) and we were both there for about five years. Then she left the school and teaching.

Turns out that after several years of doing other things she went back to Education, is completing her P.H.D and has become involved in counseling programs involving computers.

I tell you this with the utmost respect – it’s great what she’s doing.

But then, each one of us standing over the supermarket cart, comes the inevitable comment – so you are still doing the same thing, huh?  I proudly smiled and said “Sure am!”

I don’t feel I’m doing the same thing at all!  I turned the classroom into a learning center, I’ve been experimenting with “reverse reading” and “teaching unplugged” and finding ways to use the Computer-Without-Internet in the class and more!

Since I began blogging, I’m not bothered by the fact that there are very few people I can share this information with. I just say that I’m happy to still be at the school. Here I have an outlet to share my feelings that every school year is a new year, never been a year like the previous one!

Goal 30: Sneaking General Knowledge in Through the Back Door!

This is the last of the 30 goals challenge! It has become such a part of my life that I will miss it!

Although writing about a project was suggested (and turning my classroom into a learning center is certainly an ongoing long term project which I initiated), Sandy Millin’s post relating to stamps inspired me to take this post in another direction completely.

When our boys were young both my husband and I encouraged them to collect stamps. Stamps were not themselves the end but rather a great trigger for igniting curiosity about the world we live in. As the stamp collection grew so did their familiarity with the Atlas which in turn led to accumulating information about these places and the people who live there. Long after they stopped collecting stamps they remain very curious about the world.

Many of my own students have an extremely limited view of the world. Some students, due to the unfortunate combination of having a hearing problem and a problematic family background have a dismal lack of general knowledge. The passion I have been trying to pass on to them is this curiosity about the world we live in. I don’t know if some of the students will remember any of the English I taught but perhaps they will remember that in other parts of the world it rains in Summer!

I haven’t tried using stamps with them (I don’t know if I could have interested my own boys in stamps today – we rarely get any letters with real stamps on them anymore!) though after Sandy’s post I just might give it a shot! But here are some ways I try to sneak general knowledge in through the back door:

* When I teach comparatives and superlatives, I write sentences such as “The longest wall in the world is in China”. Then I add,  “It can be seen from space”. The year after the tragedy of the Columbia (the mission included an astronaut from Israel), this lead to a question from one of the 10th grade boys: “How do we know it can be seen from space?” I explained that astronauts had told us about it (I know, there are sattelites too, but didn’t mention that then).  The boy then exclaimed “But all the astronauts blew up so they couldn’t have told people about what they saw!” I then shocked him completely by my insistence that there had been other astronauts before the tragedy. “But Ilan Ramon was the first astronaut in the world” he protested!

* I’m blessed by having a brother in law who is a photographer. Until fairly recently, when he moved completely to digital photography, he would give me large quantities of photos that he printed that weren’t good enough. Besides using them to cover old binders and surfaces, livening up the worn things, there are educational purposes I use them for, which I’ll leave for another post.

While rummaging through the pictures the students sometimes ask questions.  One pile of pictures happened to be from China. After seeing some pictures of huge parking lots filled with bicycles and pictures of street life, a pupil (17 years old!!!) asked me: ” There seem to be a lot of people in China. Are there more than in Israel?” We have a map of the world in the classroom and can see where the photos were taken. I particularly love it when a pupil looks at a photo and sighs, “Oh, I wish I could go there” and I reply, “you can! This one was taken right here in our beautiful country!

* I have a photography book presenting Israel from a bird’s eye view. The students have a page with sentences describing some minor element on pages of the book and they have to flip through it and write the corresponding page number. This leads to all sorts of questions. The sentence “On this page you can see animals that came from Africa” was very difficult for some students. The picture was of zebras at the Safari Wild Animal Park in Ramat Gan. They knew what zebras were and most had even visited the park. They didn’t know that they weren’t natives of the city of Ramat Gan!

I’m a long way from where I want to be – those of you who have read previous posts know that I’m often frustrated by some of the students lack of curiosity and interest in the world. But teaching English as a foreign language lends itself so well to learning about the world that I will continue to try to ignite sparks of interest! That’s my passion!

I “CLOUDED” my site too!

David Dodgson suggested making a WORD CLOUD  of one's blog.
Having seen David's cloud and Cecilia's Cloud and
Sandy Millin's CLOUD I decided to follow suit!
Here it is:

word blog cloud
I'm somewhat puzzled. Some things are obvious. The words
"goals" and "project"
are very prominent because of all the posts related to the
 30 goals project I'm participating in!

It makes sense to me that the words
"fascinating" "excited" "intriguing" appear because I feel
all these things about the new blogosphere

Family is very important to me though I suspect the word
 is fairly large because some of my Saturday's Books
have been devoted to books all the family can enjoy.

But why is the word "students' so much smaller than
on other people's blogs? I thought I had been
writing quite a bit about my students! Puzzling...

Goal 29 – Why I Didn’t Attend the “Virtual Round Table”

Goal 29 of the 30 goals challenge is “Present Your Ideas”. Which makes perfect sense since participating in this whole project emphasizes the benefits of sharing for everyone involved! I think sharing is part of a teacher’s psyche – especially those on blogosphere! We’re excited and have to spread the word!

I can’t tell you exactly what the VirtualRound Table (which took place this weekend) is because I didn’t attend, but it sounded to me like a “Sharing Fest”! LOTS of the fascinating and exciting new teachers I have recently “met” and whose blogs I follow dedicatedly participated with intriguing names of sessions! Saw some excited tweets too!

So, where was I?

Well, since we’re nearing the end of the 30 goals project I can say that the project promotes balance too. I know I did the right thing not attending, even though I was tempted.  What should I have given up? Not go to work on Friday and Sunday? Skip Friday night dinner with the extended family at my in laws? Not spend time catching up on my grading and attendance records that have to be typed  up? Not watch a movie with my husband?

Did the right thing.

Maybe next year it will coincide with Passover vacation.

Maybe there are other interesting online conferences coming up – hadn’t even known about this one till quite recently!

I plan to stick around!

Goal 26: The 30 Goals Domino Effect

Photo by Gil Epshtein
Photo by Gil Epshtein

Perhaps Goal 26 :” Support a Movement” refers to organizations like our teachers’ union, or to ETAI, which is our TESOL affiliate (SUPER conferences!!).

But I believe the 30 Goals project can be called a movement that promotes educational reform. I understand that a lot of teachers are participating. Doing so leads one to examine things from new perspectives and calls for more reflection than I believe most teachers usually do. I have found (as someone that hasn’t missed a post!) that it is incredibly invigorating.

Through the 30 goals twitter list I’ve “met” other fascinating bloggers who are “infecting” me with enthusiam to try out their ideas (which is one of the reasons I’m running late with these goals, I have to try out these new ideas and post about it)!

After 25 years in the proffession I can say that when a teacher gets excited about something, that teacher won’t keep it to herself (or himself, as the case may be)! And then those dominoes start falling as the message travels!

Having more  and more teachers going into the classroom feeling  enthusiatic and invigorated is a huge boon to the education system!

Thank you Shelly Terrell for setting up this project!

Goal 25 – Relationships are Built on LITTLE Things!

Goal 25 of the 30 goals challenge “Build relationshipes with them” made me smile. Good relationships are often built on little things, unrelated to curriculum. Let me tell you about the kid who:

* ALWAYS asks to use my pencil, never brings his own (17 years old, has a million health problems). I don’t say a word about it, just let him use mine every lesson!

* the shy kid with C.P. who comes to class 10 minutes BEFORE the bell rings as he sometimes needs a quiet place.

* the girl who oftens sleeps over at friends’ houses and comes to school with a ton of stuff and stores it in my classroom till the end of the school day.

* the kid who ALWAYS needs to go out for a few minutes each lesson. He gives me a signal and I let him go. We don’t even say anything.

* the EXTREMELY tense girl who is VERY stressed by math. I let her join extra math tutoring groups on English lesson time before major math exams.

*** I take the pictures at the Purim Festival (it was last Friday). I posted almost 70 pictures this year of the kids in their costumes and the festivities! I send pictures to any pupil that takes the trouble to politlely ask me for the pictures in better quality !

The Light and Dark Side of Goal 24

Goal 24 of the 30 goals challenge relates to supporting character development. An important topic and one I feel rather frustrated about.

On the light side, I’m proud to say that our school promotes volunteering for various causes. Our Purim Festival, two days ago, was also a fund raiser for a learning center for underpriveleged children. Some of the deaf students manned a stall, as they do every year. These kids are the same caring kids that volunteer for all sorts of things.

In addition, In Israel it is mandatory to put in 60 hours of volunteer work during 10th grade. In the past, most of the deaf students didn’t do it mainly because they live far away from school and have no flexibility due to the timetable of the transportation services. An energetic Lit. teacher changed all that and organized volunteer work for kids in school. My learning center is a good place for that (always posters and materials made of construction paper that need to be redone!) and till recently I had 5 kids coming in. Some do it gladly however some are sullen about it.

Some students also volunteer at the children and youth clubs that the “Shema” organization runs. That is awesome!


It’s a certain group of teenagers that are active and caring. The rest are incredibly self-centered. Worse, they lack curiosity about anything that isn’t related to them directly. The exhibit a lack of interest that sometimes drives me “up the wall”. If I sit next to a pupil and try to tell him /her a bit about the topic he’s working on many simply don’t care. So what?

One of the disadvantages of teaching a foreign language in a learning center format is that we almost never have class discussions. We don’t speak in English (discussion would have to be in Hebrew) and the levels of ability and sophistication are too wide to be bridged in many cases (we learn through reading).

Some of these students buy into the “don’t confuse me with the facts” doctrine. The most extreme example I ever had (but that was only one pupil, thank goodness!) was a student who would not be convinced that in other parts of the world it actually rains in the Summer. His classmate said that she visited Spain in the Summer and it rained on her but he refused to accept that.

With some of the students I’m still battling with respectful behavior in the classroom, never mind volunteering to help with something or being interested. If there is something that makes me lose my temper is to see students abuse materials in the classroom (tearing parts off a poster, scribbling on something, or drawing with the “white-out” I bought for use in class). A 12th grader (!!!) screamed at me last week because I insist on leaving the window partly open even when it rains because we need air in the class. She doesn’t pay any attention to her parents and she is only interested in me when she is in the mood to care about her grade. This pupil had to leave the class and was reported but that hasn’t made any inroads on her behavior when she’s annoyed in the past two and a half years.

In short, I feel that in regards to supporting character behavior, there are many pupils with whom my record is dismal.