Random Thoughts

about reading, writing, teaching and anything else that interests me

Follow up on my cloze activity

I had written about the cloze activity I did made using Olga Sergeeva’s instructions.  We actually did it this week in class, and the students were able to read the text and insert the correct words.  Of course, I gave them the words to choose from, so that made it pretty easy for them.  I think I will next try doing this as a listening cloze, omitting just the verbs Sergeeva says are the most common in conversation.  That should be more challenging but very worthwhile!  I’ll let you know how it goes.  The most difficult part right now will be finding the listening.  We only have 1 week of class left, so I am running out of time.  But if it doesn’t happen with this class, there is always the next one — which starts in 2 weeks!

July Reading

When I look at the list of books I read last month, I am amazed!  How did I do anything but read?  But actually, none of the books I read were all that difficult to read.  They were more what you might call “beach reads” than serious reading.  That isn’t to say they weren’t great reads, though.

Again, I only read 1 non-fiction book: Roller Coasters, Flumes, and Flying Saucers by Robert R. Reynolds.  It was the story of the company that created most of the rides for Disneyland and many other amusement parks.  It was a read fun read.  I was fascinated to see how intimately Walt Disney was involved in the development of the rides.  I went to Disneyland in 1957 and, while I don’t remember much, I do remember some of what they talked about in the book.  These guys were real pioneers, inventing much of both the rides and the production process for them.

Now for the fiction:

This was an excellent story and very well written.  I was caught up in it from the beginning.  The characters — even the bad guys — were very well written and like able. I will read more in this series.

A professor becomes a cop while on sabbatical.  Pretty unlikely, I thought, but a good story nonetheless.  And then I discovered that it was actually based on a true story!  Written by the professor/cop and a cop turned professor!  I highly recommend this book!

I had started this book before and put it down.  Then after reading Louisiana Hotshot by Smith, I decided to try again.  And I am glad that I did.  It is a Louisiana kind of book, for sure.  Very twisted, filled with larger than life characters.  I am hooked!

What do you do when your beekeeping rival is found dead in your hives?  You investigate, of course!  This was a fun read.  It is another series I plan to read more of.

The story in this book was very good.  The writing made it hard to read, though.  Just the fact that people who worked together every day always referred to each other by title and last name — Deputy Coroner Shillings, for example — was enough to make me put the book down several times before I finished it.  But I did finish it.  And I am glad I did.  As I said, the story was very good.  And the characters were interesting.  I plan to read another book in this series to see if Benzaim got better with dialog as she has more practice.

This book left me a little unsettled.  I am all for flawed heroes, but I wonder if Jake isn’t almost too flawed.  It was a very good book, and I really enjoyed it in spite of that, though.  I haven’t read anything else by Zafiro yet — although I have another book on my ereader.  I will definitely read this next one soon.

This was a dark, complicated story, but I loved it.  Part of the reason, I know, is that I am still in love with books about the West.  If you are a fan of Longmire, you’ll like this book.

I loved this book!  It reminded me of Lindsay Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge books.  It was a fun story.  The characters are all fascinating!  I will definitely read more in this series!

I read two pieces of shorter fiction:

And finally, I listened to two audiobooks from Librivox:

  • Chessmen of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

As you may have noticed, I have listened to a lot of the John Carter novels by Burroughs.  I enjoy them.  I have to say that I really enjoyed this one.  It was one of the best I have listened to or read so far.

  • Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott

I have this book downloaded to read as well as having downloaded the audio version.  I have to say that I would probably never have read it if all I had was the “book” version.  I can now say that I have “read” it, though.  The only problem was that I didn’t have the drawings that accompany the text.  The reader described them well, but it wasn’t quite the same as looking at them.  Now that I know the story, I think I may actually read the text version of it.  I think it would be worth my time!

So that was my month in reading.  It was a good one.  As I start teaching new classes in a couple weeks, August may not be as good.  Oh well…

Why do we always see the negative?

Hana Tichá has had a couple posts lately that have touched on this subject, but today’s prompted me to actually write.  She describes a situation all teachers can recognize: running into a student years after you had them in class.  What does the student do?  Ignore you?  Go up and start talking to you?  Hana says:

I obviously prefer the latter scenario because it makes me believe that I made my mark in a student’s life; it makes me believe that I once mattered to a student. The other scenario, on the other hand, makes me feel embarrassed, ignored and unappreciated. In such a case, I tend to accuse the student of utter disrespect and total ignorance.

I will admit to feeling much the same way.  I tend to take it personally when a former student doesn’t recognize me — or acknowledge that they recognize me.  As a teacher, I want to have made an impact on my students.  If they don’t recognize me, I feel bad.  If they recognized me but choose not to acknowledge me, that is even worse.  What did I do wrong?  Was I a bad teacher?  I must have been.  I must be.

And that, as Hana points out, is the real problem: my own feelings of self-worth.

Hana looked at the situation from a different perspective: that of herself as the student.

For some unknown reason, I remembered how I had reacted when accidentally bumping into a former teacher of mine. I would either look away, pretending I had never seen him before, or I would smile broadly and say ‘Good morning’ merrily.

The fact that I would sometimes choose to look away had nothing to do with disrespect, dislike or ignorance; it had nothing to do with a particular teacher at all. It had a lot to do with my own self-esteem.

When I spotted an old teacher of mine long after school, the first thing that I pondered was whether he actually remembered me. It flashed through my mind that he had probably taught hundreds of students throughout his career and I concluded that he couldn’t remember us all. I deduced that I was probably one of those faces he could no longer recognize in the crowd and I decided to look away, robbing the teacher of the opportunity to show that he actually remembered me very well.

I have always seen myself as the person others forget.  Why would anyone remember me?  I expect to not be remembered, and I am seldom proven wrong.   As a result, I often turn away from people I know and, as Hana says, deny them the opportunity to show that they do recognize me.  Or, if I am being more honest, to maybe be reminded of how we know each other.

But I also deny myself the opportunity to demonstrate to these people that they have had an impact on my life, whether they remember me or not.  That to me is even sadder.  Because they probably would like to feel appreciated every bit as much as I would.

So thanks, Hana, for another thought-provoking post.

More on cloze activities

I have been playing around more with Notepad++ and making cloze activities for my students.  The first one, which I will probably do with them tomorrow, is a simple reading with only four present tense verbs removed.  There are, I think, 15 blanks for them to fill in.  I want to see if they can read and figure out the missing word from context.  I know I have done activities like this in the past but probably never with students at such a low level.  I am interested to see how it goes.

I didn’t follow Olga Sergeeva’s instructions exactly because I couldn’t make sense out of her regular expression string.  I just searched for each of the verbs I wanted to remove and did it manually.  And it was fine because there were only 4 verbs.  If I had been doing the 12 verbs she talks about, it would have been more work to do it the way I did this time.

I just looked at Sergeeva’s post again and copied the expression string and the explanation for it into a document so I have it on hand when I want to try this again.  It didn’t look so daunting this time.  I even tried it with another reading and it worked fine.  But I don’t think my students are ready for this one yet as we haven’t studied past tense yet really.  And 12 verbs is too many for them to get from context, I think.  I could be wrong, though.  I guess I’ll know more after I give them the first one I did.

I think what I will do instead is I will create my own string for just present tense forms of the verbs and see what happens.  That is probably the best thing to do at this point.  I like the idea of focusing on the 12 verbs she wrote about because they are so common in spoken English.  But with these particular students and especially since I am talking about a reading cloze, I think I need to limit it more than she did.

I am glad to be back teaching ESL and having this opportunity to learn from others.  I have missed that!

I learned something cool today!

I was on WordPress looking for something to inspire a post this afternoon, and I found a really interesting article at ELT  Stories, Practicing the top priority lexis – a quick and dirty tip.  The author, Olya Sergeeva, shared her thoughts about the book Corpus Linguistics for ELT: Research and Practice by Ivor Timmis.  Then she shared her quick and dirty tip for creating cloze exercises.

First, the book.  She says:

I’m currently reading the chapter calledCorpus research and grammar, and one of the main topics of the chapter is to what extent the frequency of a linguistic feature should influence the amount of time devoted to teaching that feature. The author gives a lot of very interesting examples of frequent features that tend to be underrepresented, over-represented or misrepresented in coursebooks (examples include ‘though’, which is often used in speaking to signal soft disagreement, and conditionals, which more often than not do not fall under ‘the zero, first, second and third’ two-part conditional structures, which most coursebooks almost exclusively focus on).

This takes me back to a post the other day where I talked about the time we spend teaching things that aren’t all that important.  But I was only thinking of communication at the time.  It never really occurred to me that we were teaching structures that are not all that commonly used.  But apparently we are.

Sergeeva goes on to say:

One striking fact mentioned in this chapter comes from an article by Biber and Reppern. Apparently, just 12 lexical verbs (say, get, go, know, think, see, make, come, take, want, give, and mean) account for 45% of lexical verbs used in conversation. Biber and Reppern suggest that, since they are so frequently used in speech, these verbs require more attention in class than they currently do, judging by the coursebooks that they reviewed, and that these verbs should be used more to exemplify various grammar structures.

So now I have a take-away that I can use in class on Monday; I can attempt to use these verbs more heavily in the explanations and additional practice I give students.  It is easy and it makes sense to give them more practice with the verbs they are most likely to use regularly.

But then she shared her tip for creating cloze exercises.  It is a really simple one, but I had never thought of it before, so I was pretty excited to learn it.  She puts the text into Notepad ++, a text editor, and then replaces the words she wants students to work on with a blank.  With one click of the mouse she can replace all occurrences of the words.  In the case of verbs, you can replace all occurrences of all tenses with one click.  Pretty cool!

But I use Linux, not Windows.  And there is no installer for Notepad++ for Linux.  So I tried the text editor on my machine, Pluma.  It doesn’t seem to have the option of “regular expressions” like Notepad++ has, and I couldn’t find a way to replace more than one word at a time.  Even so, that was cool.  But I wanted to try Notepad++ because it sounded way cooler.

And it was.  I installed it using WINE, and then I tried it.  I pasted a text from VOA news in the editor.  Then I copied the command she gives in the post:


When I did that and followed all her other instructions, I had a cloze activity in which students have to insert the correct form of those 12 verbs.  It took longer to read her post than to do all the rest of it — including downloading Notepad++!

Sergeeva plans to use this cloze as part of a listening activity with students who are mush more advanced than my current students, but I can adapt it: choose fewer verbs and only focus on present tense. Not tricky at all.

So actually, I learned a lot today.  I learned about the importance of those 12 verbs (say, get, go, know, think, see, make, come, take, want, give, and mean) and I learned how to make a cloze activity with little more than the click of a button.  Or maybe a few buttons.  But it is easy, anyway.  That’s all that really matters!

What would Dumbledore do?

I found an interesting post over at Edutoipia called 7 Lessons for Teachers from Dumbledore. It was posted a couple weeks ago, but I am slow, as you may have noticed.

Katy Faber, the post’s author, says the 7 things we can learn from Dumbledore are:

Calm Acceptance

Kindness in the Face of Rudeness

Self-Deprecating Humor

Being Humble

Looking Out for Inequality

Showing Up

Being Brave

These are good lessons for all of us, teachers or not.

Faber provides quotes from the books to support her claims and goes on to discuss each of the lessons as they might be applied by us muggles.  I especially liked her thoughts on being brave:

Being brave looks like speaking up for kids and teachers and what you know is true. You have lots of experience and should have a voice in how your school works and how you can be the best teacher (or parent) possible. Trust your voice, be brave, and share it regularly. Just as Dumbledore would do.

It is hard sometimes to trust our voices after so many years of people telling us we don’t know what we are doing.  But we know our students better than anyone else, and we need to advocate for them.  We also, as Faber says, need to advocate for ourselves and our colleagues.  We need to do what we know is right even if everyone else seems to think we are wrong.

The post was a fun read for me, a Harry Potter fan.  But there was much to be learned from it.  Her conclusion, while amusing, is good advice:

In fact just today, I told my students about these lessons from Dumbledore. When something went wrong in the classroom (the technology did not work), a student simply said, “Dumbledore!” That was all I needed. I searched for what Dumbledore would do, and decided calm acceptance and patience was the way to go. I need to keep Dumbledore’s lessons in mind each day as I teach, parent, be a colleague, partner and friend.

These lessons are, as Faber indicates, valuable for more than just teachers.  They are lessons we should all try to learn no matter who or what we are.  I am going to try to remember them, to make them part of me the way they are part of Dumbledore. Some times I do pretty well, but there are other times when a reminder wouldn’t hurt!

If you haven’t read the post over at Edutopia, I really encourage you to do so.  It’s a good one.

Moving from strength to strength

All too often I find my students talking about what they cannot do in English.  They don’t know how to say something in English. They don’t understand when someone talks to them.  They can’t remember to use the grammar rules they have learned. And on and on and on.  So when I saw this post Should we focus on our STRENGTHS or our WEAKNESSES, I knew my answer:  We should focus on our strengths!

But how can I help my students do that?  I have talked to them about it a lot, but the ladies in my class seem to fall back into focusing on what they cannot do.

Sometimes I think students focus on what they cannot do because it is easier than trying to use what little English they have.  But I know that they will never learn English until they can push themselves past that.

Another post I ran across today had a link to an article 11 Tips to Help You Learn English Faster.  Basically, it was calling on students to focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses.  For example, number 2 was:

Don’t apologize for not knowing everything or “Not speaking English!” You are learning English… You are trying, right? That’s what’s important.  (See more at: http://english-tonight.com/learnenglishquickly/#sthash.RE6kO7Ra.dpuf)

Number 3 included this gem:

Listen for words you DO understand.

Number 5 had this advice:

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Fear can stop you from learning English.  (See more at: http://english-tonight.com/learnenglishquickly/#sthash.RE6kO7Ra.dpuf)

Almost all eleven of the tips in that article called on students to focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses as language learners.  So I feel pretty confident when I say that my students aren’t the only ones who have this problem!

So my job, I think, is to help them move past this and begin to turn their attention to what they can do.  I know that it can be incredibly difficult.  Although it was a long time ago, I still remember how hard it was for me to push myself to use what little Spanish I had at the time.   But somehow I managed to do it, and I know they can, too.  It will take time and a lot of patience.  And a little encouragement from me, their teacher, along the way.

Homeworks, evidences, and other dilemmas

I was reading a post over at How I See It Now about Homeworks.  The main point of the post, as I understand it, was that non-native speakers (NNS) are less tolerant of errors like “homeworks”  than native speakers are.  This was a discussion I could relate to.  My online university students like to talk about the evidences for something.  In all my life, I have never heard that from a native speaker.  But does it bother me a lot?  No.  Do I “correct” it in their writing?  Yes.

I did my MA in TESOL in a linguistics department, so I have a different view than many native speakers, I know.  (One of my professors said in class one day that any speech produced by a native speaker is correct.  I have to admit that I tend to agree with her.)  Languages are always changing.  English has no Academy to determine what is correct.  But as an ESL teacher, I have to admit that there are some things that are acceptable and others that are not.  The dilemma is how and where to draw the line.  What is truly important and what is my personal preference?

As Hana writes:

What do we do with homeworks in a student’s writing, for example? Will we accept it because it exists, or will we take it as a serious error because we have said a million times that homework is uncountable?   

To me the answer lies somewhere in between.  I don’t worry about things like this too much in speech.  Of course, it depends on who the student is, what the level of proficiency is, and why he/she is learning English.  If I am working with someone who is at an advanced level and needs near perfect English for a job, then I would be more aware of these kinds of errors and point them out more.  But for my current beginning-level students who need English to communicate with their employers, it doesn’t seem like it is all that important.

In writing, though, I am more of a stickler.  And I justify that to myself and my students by talking about reader expectations and register.  In a formal college paper, it is expected that the writer uses standard academic English.  Anything that deviates from that jars the reader.  Too many of these incidents and the reader makes assumptions about the writer that are not positive.  So I am more of a stickler in written work.  In academia we are judged by the quality of our writing.

Later on, in one of the comments on the original post, ljiljana havran says:

Also, some grammar rules are very confusing/difficult to teach to students at pre/intermediate level, and therefore a complete waste of time: e.g. “will” and “going to” future, the difference between “must” and “have to”, the difference between separable and inseparable phrasal verbs, etc.

I almost laughed out loud when I read that because just yesterday in class I had the same thought!  We spend so much time and effort teaching things that are not really very important.  Insisting on those minute points at too early a stage only makes students hesitant to produce language.  And if they aren’t producing it, they aren’t learning it.  So when my students were struggling yesterday with try becoming tries for he, she, and it, I told them not to stress.  They know the rule, but I expect them to make mistakes with it for a long time.  And if they write He trys to go his best, they will be understood.  If they are too afraid to write anything at all, though, we have a real problem.

Thanks, Hana for an interesting post and an interesting discussion!

More praises for SparkyLinux

I know I wrote about Sparky Linux the other day, and it probably doesn’t seem like time for another post on the subject, but I cannot help myself!  I love SparkyLinux.

Yesterday I decided to try to put Sparky on my old 2009 Dell mini12.  When I got it, it came with Ubuntu.  Over the years I have tried a umber of different distros, and many of them have been OK, some have been fine, and others just didn’t work.  This machine is — Did I mention this before? — OLD.  It has a 40G hard drive and 1G of RAM.  It also has a Broadcom 4312 wireless chip that has frequently been difficult to get working in Linux.

So I ran the live version of Sparky, and everything was fine except the wireless.  I checked the forums, and sure enough, the drivers were there and I should be able to get it to work with very little trouble,  So I installed it with great confidence.

Sure enough, I had to do everything the forum said — which was really only type about 30 characters total — and the wireless worked.  But even though I had done what they told me to in order to make it work automatically, I had to start it manually after a reboot.

So this morning I joined the SparkyLinux forum and added my post to the thread about this particular problem.  I explained what I had, what I had done to get it to work, and what my remaining problem was.  Less than an hour and a half later, I had a reply that told me exactly what I needed to do.  It was another half our before I saw the reply.  I did that one last thing — again, typing less than 30 characters — and rebooted.  And wireless worked automatically.  I thanked the guy who solved my problem and logged out of the forum.  From start to finish, it took 2 hours and 8 minutes.

That is part of what I love about Linux — especially the small distros.  There are plenty of people who have had your problem before you, and you can usually find an answer already waiting for you.  And when you don’t find the answer, all you have to do is ask.   The people who run the forums really want to help you.

And, if you hadn’t picked up on it yet, I have this on on a more than 6 year old computer!  I can use it.  Granted, I can’t really watch movies on this machine, but I can do anything else I want to.  I love Sparky Linux!

Update on my writing

Well, as you may have begun to notice, I don’t seem to be writing here as much as I had hoped.  And I have almost completely stopped journaling every day.  I don’t remember when I last worked on the book.  But this short post is an attempt to change at least some of that.  Acknowledging a problem has to happen before you can work on it.  So here I am, acknowledging the fact that I have let my writing slide.  And I am going to go straight from the computer to the desk to get my journal and see what I can come up with there.  Maybe I will be able to get back with it.

Post Navigation


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 121 other followers