Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Posts tagged ‘blind’

IATEFL Glasgow 2017: Materials writing

As a member of the Materials Writing Special Interest Group, my IATEFL conference now normally begins with their Pre-Conference Event, the theme of which this year was ‘Nuts and Bolts: Practical Considerations for the ELT materials professional’. It was a particularly good start this year because it was also my birthday ūüôā This Storify draws together all of the tweets from the PCE.

MaWSIG logo

There are also a selection of tweets at the end of the post from throughout the conference, all connected in some way or another to materials writing.

The benefits of coaching (Daniel Barber)

Daniel recommended getting a coach to help you think through areas you want to change in your life. He set seven goals for areas that he wanted to change, then worked with his coach to help him make sure that he was committed to making these changes. One such change was to reduce the amount of procrastination he did and to help him avoid distraction when he was supposed to be focussed on his writing work. His coach makes him feel more accountable, promotes curiosity and pushes him to think more, particularly through the question ‘What else?’ She’s never satisfied with the first answer he gives, and this question pushes him to be more creative in his thinking. Daniel¬†also used a coaching journal to reflect on what worked and what didn’t when trying to achieve his seven goals. One of the main things he learnt was that in order to achieve what you want to, your main block is normally inside your own head, reflecting Timothy Gallwey’s Inner Game Theory:

The inner game takes place within the mind of the player and is played against such obstacles as fear, self-doubt, lapses in focus, and limiting concepts or assumptions.

The opponent within one’s head is more formidable than the one over the net.

As well as pushing him, Daniel’s coach also provides balance, reminding him not to put so much pressure on himself, and¬†helping him to celebrate his success. As I often say, we’re all human, and we should remember that!

In response, Jill Hadfield had some other good ideas to help you stay focussed when working, taken from some training she had participated in:

  • Find¬†out about your ‘barrier self’. This includes analysing which distractions you use just to avoid work, and which you actually enjoy. You can then work for 45 minutes, then reward yourself by doing something you enjoy. (This is a variation on the Pomidoro technique which Daniel mentioned in his talk)
  • Work on the next thing:¬†Rather than writing a long and potentially overwhelming list, just write down the next thing you need to achieve. Once you finish that, write the next thing again, etc.
  • ‘Park your car facing downhill’: if you stop ¬†working, leave yourself clear instructions for what to do next, so that it’s not as hard to start working again.
  • ‘Bring in the nearest jumbo first’: finish the thing with the closest deadline before you work on anything else. This will reduce the stress you put yourself under.

Daniel wrote up his talk for the MaWSIG blog.

Optimizing the author-editor relationship (Penny Hands)

Penny has worked as both an author and an editor. She was prompted to find out more about how to improve the relationship between the two by an author who told her that the first time they’d received feedback, they cried. I know that I’ve sometimes found it difficult to respond to feedback without either crying or raging first, especially when I’ve put a lot of work into something which turns out to not be ‘right’ in some way. As Penny said, crying may sometimes be an inevitable part of the feedback process when you care so much about something. According to a survey she did, positive words related¬†to working with an editor included helpful,¬†supportive, communication and¬†collaboration, and negative ones were things like¬†frustrating, struggle¬†and even¬†nightmare!

Here are some of the tips which Penny and audience members shared:

  • Mutual respect is important. You’re working together for a reason, because the project managers believe you’re the best people to do the job.
  • The most positive relationships with editors were when it felt developmental: the editor teaches the author how to improve.
  • A Skype call between an author and editor at the start of a project can really help the relationship, as it helps you to realise that you’re both working together.
  • Feedback should be friendly and personal, but not involve over-sharing. Sometimes Skype can help here too. One member of the audience mentioned an editor who questioned their teaching experience, and another talked about inappropriate comments about the writer’s age and interests – these are definitely not the way to go!
  • Authors don’t want editors who are tentative, and they’re also frustrated by those who correct work which is already correct.
  • Good editors provide constructive feedback, rein in the author’s flights of fancy, offer positive comments and suggestions, and even a little praise now and again. Don’t just focus on the holes in the project. Examples of positive comments include: I can imagine this working with…, ¬†I’ll try this with my kids, or a general comment about the manuscript as a whole. Authors should also remember that if there’s no comment on something, that means it should be fine! As an editor in the audience mentioned, sometimes they don’t put positive comments/praise as it’s more to read, and there might not be a specific area to comment on.
  • There’s a lot less mentoring in the publishing industry than there used to be, so¬†the Society¬†for Editors and Proofreaders¬†can be a really useful organisation to join. They provide courses, mentoring and support.
  • Audience members described positive experiences where the editor and author had in jokes, sent each other pictures, and gave each other presents ūüôā
  • It’s worth giving editors feedback on their feedback: otherwise it can be hard for them to improve it.
  • Advice from authors to editors: be prompt, clear, think of it as cooperative, constructive. respect, listen and be willing to discuss feedback.
  • To deal with negative feedback, wait 24 hours to respond. Get somebody else to read the comments before you respond to them (like a friend or family member) as they have more distance.
  • Julie Moore¬†suggested setting out (maybe in an imaginary email) what you consider to be fair, a matter of opinion (perhaps because you interpreted the brief differently), and totally unjustified.
  • If you are having a problem with editors, publishers would like you to raise issues as soon as possible, preferably directly with the editor rather than going above their head. (For me, this is true of all problems – the sooner you start to deal with, the sooner they’ll go away!)

One of the best things I’ve got out of being a member of MaWSIG is meeting editors, and hearing about the experiences of authors and editors. It’s made me realise that editors are people too (!) and that we should all be pulling in the same direction. It also helped me to get in touch with the editor for my own ebook,¬†Richer Speaking.

To find out more about what it’s really like being an editor, you can take a look at the Catch the Sun blog. I’d also add the LibroEditing one. You can read Penny’s write-up of her talk on the MaWSIG blog.

In conclusion:

What makes the relationship successful is both sides being comfortable to challenge each other, while both are ultimately prepared to give way.

I think that’s probably a lesson for life too, not just author-editor relationships!

A short introduction to negotiating contracts (Chris Lonsdale)

These are very general tips which I found useful, sometimes from Chris and sometimes from the audience.

  • Negotiation isn’t an ‘extra’ – it’s key to running a business in an industry where costs need to be minimised. Sometimes companies will offer you less than the maximum they’re willing to pay because you might just accept it (I don’t know why this had never occurred to me before!)
  • Remember that you’re always negotiating,¬†not just when you’re in the middle of a negotiation. It’s all about building a relationship with the person you’re negotiating with.
  • As freelance writers, we have every right to negotiate: we’re businesspeople. Sometimes this is difficult for those who were originally teachers to remember.
  • Negotiation doesn’t just have to be about money. It can also be about clauses in a contract, deadlines etc.
  • Don’t feel pressured. Ask for time to consider your response.
  • A lot of audience members recommended joining the Society of Authors. They have really helped a number of people with negotiations.

Creativity, collaboration and coursebooks (Julie Norton and Heather Buchanan)

Julie and Heather did research with publishers, asking how authors fit the bigger picture in publishing, what makes a good editor, and what publishers are looking for from authors, prompted by a quote from Santos (2013:93) “Publishers’ views are rare in the literature”. Everyone involved in the process needs to be more aware of what’s going on. They also quoted Barfield: “Collaboration creates something more than you can achieve alone.” But managing collaboration on a project can be extremely complex, and the editor is a lynchpin. One project they heard about in their research involved over 450 individuals!¬†Interpersonal skills are¬†a key part of collaboration: communicating, negotiating, trust, and thanking.¬†Authors (each person?)¬†can collaborate on¬†many different aspects of a publishing project, for example, but not only:

  • Concept of product
  • Visiting markets/teachers
  • Selection of artwork
  • Choosing the title/cover
  • Involvement in the piloting process
  • Audio recordings
  • Proofing stages
  • Marketing and promotion

I had no idea that authors could be involved in so many different areas – it might be something to consider when negotiating contracts in the future.

What does creativity need? For Maley and¬†Bolitho it’s¬†time, unpunished risk-taking and more. For¬†Wallas (1926) the four stages of creativity are¬†preparation, incubation, illumination and verification. Jill Hadfield (2013) says there are two kinds of thinking: chaotic and ordered, and they interact in the ‘chaosmos’ (a great word!) Some of the problems with being truly creative in materials though are the fact that you have to meet the brief and the issue of market expectations. In their research, Julie and Heather discovered that more experienced writers are more ready to abandon an idea and start from scratch if it looks like it won’t work, whereas less experienced writers will try for much longer to get something to work before they choose to abandon it. Editors want authors to have ‘spark’, but this can be difficult to pin down, and hard to show if you are writing to a tight brief.

Creativity can also be about ways of working, for example in the creative ways that experts can make ideas simple and accessible. One of Jill Hadfield’s ideas for this is 5-3-1: force yourself to come up with five possible ways to do something/five possible ideas, choose three to develop further, then choose the one you’ll use – this gets your creative juices flowing more than just going with the first idea. Another creativity framework from Jill is to write two lists of ideas, e.g. topics and activity types, then choose two that aren’t normally connected. This is based on Kerslake’s idea that creativity comes from the collision of two usually unrelated frames of reference. That’s how the fairytale dominoes activity in Intermediate Communication Games [affiliate link] was born – one of my favourite activities!¬†Dorothy Zemach¬†talked about a fiction writers’ facebook group where everybody writes as much as they can in a given period of time (‘sprints’), for example an hour, then reports back on it. Because you’re working at the same time as the rest of the group, there’s some accountability, but it also forces you to be creative because you don’t want to be the one person who hasn’t written anything! Phil Bird¬†said that he finds it easier to be creative when bouncing ideas off another person in the same room than via Skype or email. All of these ideas came up during the discussion that formed the last part of the presentation – I often think this is the best part of any presentation, and know that I should factor in more time for this in my own sessions!

Tweets from other sessions

An alternative definition of PARSNIPs (normally the areas which rarely appear in coursebooks, i.e. politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, -isms, pork) and one I prefer:

On principles for materials writing:

Tips for new authors:

The next few tweets are from Dorothy Zemach‘s session on self-publishing ELT materials:

(The ELTFreelancers website)

On accessibility, and gaps in the market:

(and this is one of the reasons I wrote my Rethinking the Visual series – making it up as I went along!)

Special guest host Scott Thornbury talks to Angelos Bollas about representation of LGBT people in teaching materials, and the impact that can have on LGBT learners.

(for more information about Field’s views on listening materials, take a look at my listening and pronunciation post from this year’s IATEFL)

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Rethinking the visual, again

Last summer I had the immense pleasure of meeting and working with M, a nine year old from St. Petersburg who spends her summers in Sevastopol. I decided to blog about her classes because I found it very difficult to find information about how to teach a 121 class with a young learner who was almost completely blind, and hoped my posts would help others. Teaching M required me to approach lessons in a completely different way and the result on my blog was the Rethinking the Visual¬†series. If you’d like more background I’d recommend reading them first.

This year I was back in Sevastopol for four weeks to do a CELTA course, and I was very happy when, on my first day at school, M and her mum came in to see if she¬†could have classes for the summer. They’d just arrived in the city and didn’t realise I was there, so there was¬†lots of hugs and laughter¬†ūüôā

The first lesson we had was based around a present I’d bought her just one week before at the Casa Battl√≥ in Barcelona, without knowing if I’d see her or not.

This is the only picture I can find of the gift – a braille picture of the house. I was so excited when I saw it and bought it instantly because I’ve never seen anything like it before (please let me know if you have and where I can get others!) M really enjoyed exploring it, and we revised some house vocabulary. Using the palm of her hand I showed her where Spain is in relation to Crimea and where Barcelona is in Spain. We also talked about Gaudi.

Over the next four weeks I had eight one-hour lessons with M, and I was very happy to see how much difference another year of school has made to her reading and writing abilities. Last year she vaguely knew the letters in braille, and I needed to refer to my list often to confirm which dots she needed to make some of the letters. She can now read braille pretty fluently, and write it confidently. We wrote down new vocabulary in every lesson, which is a big difference from last year, and she could still remember where Barcelona is and who Gaudi was at the end of the month.

The main problem she still has is that of all children her age (and many adults too!): spelling.¬†Whenever M wrote down new words I always tried to elicit the spelling from her, and she had about an 80% hit rate. During one lesson she asked me about how to know if a word is spelt with ‘c’ or ‘k’. It happened to be the first lesson when I was being observed by A, the teacher who has taken over from me for the rest of the summer. Between us we came up with sets of words to help M remember some spelling rules.¬†I thought we’d come up with most of the c/k rules during that hour, but kept coming across more exceptions or ‘groups’ during the rest of the month – the rules are so much more complicated than you can come up with off the top of your head!

M’s¬†school had lent her two books for the summer, Mary Poppins, and another of short 1-2 page texts accompanied by exercises on topics such as dinosaurs and Tutankhamun. Some of our lessons were spent reading the short texts, with M spelling out any words she didn’t know. We would then take the exercises and answer them orally, and I would try to expand her world knowledge wherever I could. After reading a text about the jungle, she was particularly excited to discover I’d lived in one¬†for four months¬†and asked me lots of questions about the experience. I used her hand again to introduce her to Borneo.

Most of the texts were accompanied by a project, although I don’t think they were designed with visually impaired students in mind. Her school wanted her to do one of these projects as part of her summer homework, but it was difficult for her parents to help her because they don’t speak English. M chose a project about dinosaurs. In it, she needed to find out about different dinosaurs and put together fact files about them. The problem is that she still doesn’t know how to use a computer, so the only ways she can do research are if she is lucky enough to be in a braille library (do such things exist? I assume they must somewhere!) or¬†if someone else does it for and tells her about it, which is what we did. I went on to a dinosaur site and tried to give her as much autonomy as possible by getting her to choose the ones she wanted to find out about and tell me exactly what she wanted to know – I tried to work as a search engine rather than doing the work for her. The project also said that she should draw or find pictures of the dinosaurs, but we ran out of time to do that, so I hope her parents will be able to help her with that.

M really wanted to find¬†a girl in the UK to chat with. She’s ten¬†now and was looking for someone of a similar age. I have a thirteen-year-old cousin so have put them in touch. They’ve sent each other a couple of voice messages. M was very excited by the exchange and is looking forward to having a proper Skype chat with¬†my cousin. If you know a ten-year-old girl with a B1 or higher level of English who’d like to chat with M, let me know and I can try to put them in touch.

The biggest challenge with the lessons this year was that they were at school rather than at her house. In the third lesson, when we were in our third different classroom, I gave her a tour of the school, showing her where all of the rooms and doors were so she could find her own way around and had a better idea of the size of the rooms and school. It was interesting for me to see how being in a different environment affected her confidence initially, and how much more comfortable she obviously felt once she knew the layout of the school.

I did get to go to her house one day though, for pancakes and home-made cake with her family. We explored their garden, full of home-grown fruit and veg, and played with her two little sisters, the older of whom was trying to teach me Russian by pointing at a picture of a unicorn and saying the word repeatedly until I said it back to her ūüôā She was also singing ‘Let it go’ when we arrived, but only knew that line. Films and songs are certainly powerful – she’s four!

I’ve really enjoyed teaching M again this summer. I have no idea when I’ll be back in Sevastopol, or if I’ll be in Saint Petersburg at some point, so I’m not sure if or when I’ll see M again. I really hope I do because she is one of the¬†fastest learners I’ve ever met. She’s already B1 (intermediate) in English, and has just started learning Spanish. I’m sure she’ll be an interpreter one day. I’ll watch her progress with great interest, and I hope I’ll get to teach her again at some point.

Integrating everyone in your classroom

There are a lot of wonderful blogs out there, but sometimes it can be a bit hard to find what you’re looking for when you need it.

I found this when I started teaching a student who was almost completely blind, which is why I wrote my Rethinking the Visual posts. I also came across English With Kirsty, and was happy to get help from her with my classes. She later wrote a post called The Inclusive Classroom with tips on working with blind and partially sighted students. In the first part of the 22nd July 2015 episode of the Teflology podcast one of the podcasters talks about how he integrated a blind student into his classroom.

Naomi Epstein writes one of my favourite blogs. She teaches deaf and hard-of-hearing students, and shares lesson plans and reflections on her teaching, among many other things. Some of the categories which you might find useful are:

Matthew Turner wrote about his experience of integrating a deaf student into a communication class on the iTDi blog.

Chris Wilson has collected a set of dyslexia resources on his blog. He’s also written about how dyslexia affected his own language learning. This website simulates the experience of reading with dyslexia. The Dyslexia Daily site contains useful advice and resources, as does the Dyslexia Online Toolkit(thanks for recommending these, Chris). Julia Shewry shared her experience of teaching students with dyslexia on the BELTA blog. Jon Hird did an excellent presentation at the IH AMT conference in 2016, including lots of practical tips for adapting materials and has also shared 10 ways to help dyslexic students in the classroom.

Joanna Malefaki has written about how colour blindness affects her life and her teaching, from which you can gather suggestions about what (not) to do to help colour-blind students in your classes. She also pointed me in the direction of the Colour Blind Awareness YouTube channel, particularly the Rainbow Song, which is the first time I’ve really understood how different the world looks to someone who’s colour blind.

Looking at various areas, Educators Technology has a list of recommended iPad apps divided into apps for dyslexic learners, autistic learners, visually impaired learners and learners with writing difficulties. Marie Delaney’s book¬†Special Educational Needs¬†contains useful tips for working with a variety of learners. Finally, Leo Selivan shares¬†8 things he has learnt about Special Education Needs.

Three students chatting

Image taken from ELTpics by @yearinthelifeof under a Creative Commons 3.0 licence

I know there must be many other posts out there to help you integrate more students into your classes, so what have I missed?

I’d particularly like to know about helping students with ADHD as I’ve recently had a trainee with it and I didn’t know enough about it to advise them. All help appreciated!

Update

There is now an IATEFL Special Interest Group dedicated to Inclusive Practices and Special Educational Needs.

Rethinking the visual: week eight

This is part of a series of blogposts about my lessons¬†with M, a very enthusiastic nine-year-old girl. She is¬†a pleasure to speak to, and knows a lot of English. She’s also almost completely blind. Each lesson is one hour, one-to-one, at her house.

Monday and Tuesday

We had an extra lesson on Monday this week because I’ll be very busy next week (more on that later!)

About two years ago I bought a cheap external keyboard to use with my laptop, and I brought it to Sevastopol with me, but have only used it two or three times. I decided that since I never use it, I would give it to M, and we could put braille letters on it as she suggested last week.

Putting braille letters on the keyboard

We spent most of both lessons doing this, as the first time M wrote the numbers they were backwards – she was writing from left to right on her slate and I didn’t notice until I cut up the paper. When you write braille you do it from right to left as you’re writing on the back of the paper, meaning that you can read it from left to right when you turn it over. This meant we had to do the letters twice. We also listened to chapter 8 of Alice in Wonderland.

As I left on Monday, M walked me through their garden to the gate, as always. As we went, she told me about a little song she sings for her sister, which ends with tickling. This¬†reminded me of ‘Round and round the garden’, an English nursery rhyme. I taught her the words and the actions, and sent her a recording of it:

She repeated it to me various times through the week, and did it with her mum, dad and grandma in varying mixes of Russian and English while I was there. I think she likes it ūüôā

Thursday

When I arrived M’s mum showed me that they had worked together to put plastic braille letters onto the keyboard, as the original paper ones we’d tried were moving and were not very easy to read because the dots kept being flattened. It looks much clearer and easier to use now!

M playing with the plastic braille letters on her keyboard

M and her mum tried to tell me about a story they’d been watching that day, but M didn’t know how to translate ‘–ļ–į–Ľ–į–Ī–ĺ–ļ’, but we eventually worked out between us that it’s the Russian equivalent of the story of the Gingerbread Man. I’ve just watched a lovely 12-minute version of the story, with pretty simple Russian which I managed to understand most of ūüôā I tried to explain what gingerbread was, but without an internet connection to show M’s mum a picture or get a translation it was very difficult. M’s mum drew a picture of¬†–ļ–į–Ľ–į–Ī–ĺ–ļ for me, which was very useful for finding out about it after the lesson.

After her mum had left, M asked if we could finish listening to¬†Alice in Wonderland, so that’s what we did. In the final two chapters, there was the trial scene, where the king is judging whether the Knave of Hearts was guilty of stealing tarts. M asked why there were twelve¬†creatures in a box, and I thought I would have to explain the concept of ‘court’, ‘judge’ and ‘jury’. It turned out that M already knew all of those words, yet again amazing me with the breadth of her knowledge. The only thing she was unfamiliar with was ‘trial’. As I played the story, she said some of the lines in Russian and/or English as she remembered bits of the story and predicted what was about to happen.

To finish the lesson, M asked if we could do some typing. We connected the keyboard to my Mac, I opened TextEdit, switched on VoiceOver, M started typing, and the computer didn’t say anything! No idea why, but thankfully unplugging the keyboard and plugging it in again worked. As you can see, although I tried to encourage her to produce some words, M¬†was mostly just playing with the sounds and exploring the keyboard:

x                            dfhfhfhasd as           sssdffdjkldfjkldfkljdfkjl;dfkj;djkldjkl;dfs;jkdfs;jkfdjs;kfdjs;kfdjsk; fdalskdjfl;a M_______ jjssss sad b,,,,,,……………………… ……..d..d……….c       assd jasfasfssssffffff fbvbbbbmmm  sadafssadasdddfvvbbbnnnghhhh jffvvv ffrfvrfvc     fcvrtgffff     dceedxced djw djdjdjdjidij dijd ditch lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll   vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv jt65555 ;

zxccvbnm

iikkiki k ki

s sans an hjinskl  sandyffjkl  sa sandybm,.x zmx qwertyuiop[ qqwertyuiopasdfghjklzxcvbnm,.zzz

At this point, I noticed a couple of problems with¬†putting braille on the keys. Braille is read using the index fingers on both hands simultaneously. If you’ve never seen this done,¬†this video shows children who are using braille at an American primary school. It shows¬†them reading at various points, for example at 1:20.¬†This means that M uses her index fingers to find the keys. I can see that she may rely on this rather than attempting to remember where the keys are to ultimately use¬†her muscle memory for touch-typing. It’s exactly the same as a sighted person ‘hunting and pecking‘. I’m not entirely sure how to combat this without someone standing over her and making her use the correct fingers for each key until she can remember them. I only have a couple more lessons with her though, so I can’t be that person. At the same time, having braille on the keyboard will give her more independence as she starts to use the computer. She’d done some typing between our lessons on Tuesday and Thursday, and listed all the words she’d typed:¬†sad, busy, bee, M______ (her name)…¬†It’s clearly something she enjoys being able to do.

It was also hard to get M’s attention at times as she was completely focussed on the voice from the computer, especially when it was reading the parts where she’d written the same letter repeatedly. At one point, I unplugged the keyboard and asked her to stop typing for a minute to listen to me so I could teach her how to use enter/return to get a new line.

Friday

M told me ‘Round and round the garden’ again, and then ‘I very like it’, so we revised the chant ‘I like it a lot’ from week five. She remembered it without any trouble, but it was a good opportunity to go back to some of the chants and see what she could remember. The related grammar is all in her passive memory, but she needs more exposure to natural English and explicit correction to get them into her active memory.

We spent the rest of the lesson playing with the first conditional because it’s one of her ‘favourite’ mistakes. I explained the rule for its construction (very badly), using an example from¬†Alice in Wonderland: “If I eat from this side, I’ll be bigger. If I eat from this side, I’ll be smaller.” I told her it’s different to Russian, where you use the future in both parts of the sentence. I thought it was best to provide lots of practice and memorise some correct sentences, rather than dwell on the rule for too long, so I taught her a song.

Singing Grammar¬†[affiliate link]¬†is a Cambridge University Press book by Mark Hancock which aims to teach children English grammar through songs. The first conditional song, ‘If you’re feeling lonely’, is meant for teenagers, but I thought it would be OK for M, and it turned out there were only three concepts I needed to explain: ‘desert’ (v), ‘by your side’ and ‘my door will be open wide’. I played the whole song, then we worked through it line by line and verse by verse with M repeating the lines and me correcting her and clarifying any language as necessary. Here’s a short¬†clip of the process. No copyright infringement is intended with the clips of the song you hear. Hopefully you can just about her M singing along in the background.

As you can hear, M is a big fan of ‘Smoke on the Water’ by Deep Purple. She’s mentioned it a few times in the lessons, and I’m going to try to prepare some activities with it for our final lesson together in a couple of weeks. This clip demonstrates¬†a fairly typical exchange between us, and shows how excited she gets by some things ūüôā

After the song, I used the ‘superstitions’ activity from page 74 of the original edition of¬†700 Classroom Activities[affiliate link to the second edition]. I explained the concept of superstitions by using the example of ‘If you break a mirror, you’ll have seven years bad luck’. We exchanged a few English and Russian superstitions using the prompts from the book.¬†M told me that if you are sick and you hug a black cat, it takes your bad energy away from you and will die. If you hug a white cat, it will give you positive energy. (At least, that’s what I understood!) This superstition doesn’t appear on this fairly comprehensive list of cat-related superstitions though – has anyone else heard of it? It was interesting to hear about different superstitions in our two cultures, and a very good way to finish the week.

Side note

While trying to find an example of braille reading, I came across ‘How blind people write braille‘, part of an excellent series of YouTube videos by a man called Tommy Edison, who has been blind since birth. I particularly like ‘Best things about being blind‘ (especially around the 1:00 point), ‘Intangible concepts to a blind person‘ and ‘Questions for sighted people‘. He’s also known as the Blind Film Critic¬†and I’ve just subscribed to both of his channels ūüôā

Rethinking the visual: week seven

This is part of a series of blogposts about my lessons¬†with M, a very enthusiastic nine-year-old girl. She is¬†a pleasure to speak to, and knows a lot of English. She’s also almost completely blind. Each lesson is one hour, one-to-one, at her house.

Tuesday

I promised M last week that I would bring English money to the lesson today. She was very excited when she took the purse out of my bag. I had three notes: ¬£5, ¬£10 and ¬£20, and ten coins, including 2p, 20p, 50p, ¬£1 and ¬£2. We started with M feeling the different coins, talking about how they were different. I taught her to identify each of them, and she was surprised to learn that some English coins aren’t round. When she first touched¬†them, she only felt the faces, not the sides, and it took her a while to understand what I meant when I asked her if the coins were circles. She had a lot of trouble counting how many sides there were on a 20p/50p piece, and it was easier for her to count corners. I challenged her to find coins that were the same: there were four 20p, two 2p and two ¬£1 coins. I also asked her to calculate how much money she was holding at various points.

With the notes, M compared the sizes of the three: if you’ve never seen English money, each note is progressively bigger, so there’s a noticeable difference between the size of each. She then took out some Ukrainian money, and told me that English money is bigger.

For the last fifteen minutes of the lesson, M told me about food that she liked, including honey-flavoured chewing gum. She doesn’t use ‘You shouldn’t…’ for prohibitions, like not swallowing gum – she replaces it with ‘You don’t…’.

Thursday

The director of my school had spoken to M’s (non-English-speaking) mum to tell her more about the Cambridge Flyers exam and to find out the answers to a few questions I had about M’s reading and writing, particularly about whether she could use a computer. The first few minutes of the lesson were a three-way conversation between M, her mum and I talking about what the exam normally involves and how it might be different for M – we’re still waiting to get the exact details of the format of the braille version of the exam. It turns out that M can’t really use a computer at the moment, and won’t have school lessons in this for another couple of years. I asked if it’s OK for me to do some typing work with her, and her mum said that was fine. When she was at school, she’d had a typewriter-based touch-typing exam where the students were blindfolded to make sure they were doing it properly, so she appreciates the value of touch typing!

Fingers touch typing

Photo taken from ELTpics by @acliltoclimb, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license

Once her mum had left, M and I talked about being blind again. She has only ever been able to see light and dark, and has a friend who has always been completely blind, and has difficulty understanding what it means to see. She tries to explain it to him as your brain being a computer and your eyes being two screens, but she says he doesn’t understand that. Every time M tells me things like this, I appreciate how lucky I am not just to be able to see, but to understand the concept of seeing too. It’s impossible to understand how much being (almost) fully sighted has influenced my life, and it’s easy to see why videos like this, of a boy hearing his dad’s voice for the first time, can be so striking.

We spent the next¬†thirty¬†minutes or so¬†playing with the keyboard on my computer. I taught M where the home keys (F/J on my QWERTY keyboard) are, and what the other keys in the home row are (ASDF with the left hand; JKL with the right hand – no semi-colons yet!). I did this by putting my¬†hands into the right place and getting her to feel their position, then putting her hands in the same place, and showing her how she can find the home keys herself because of the small raised bit on them. She typed a few letters herself based on my dictations, and also by having her hands on top of mine while I typed simple words so she could feel how I move my fingers to press the right keys. We typed the words ‘sad’ and ‘lead’, as well as strings of letters. She was very excited by the whole process.

We tried to use the Mac Voiceover¬†screen reader to get it to read what she’d written, but I discovered it doesn’t work with all of Microsoft Word, only the menus.

Finally, M wrote the order of all of the letter keys into her notebook in braille. She suggested that we put braille stickers onto the keys¬†to help her remember the positions to start off with, which I think could be a good idea. I have an external keyboard which I don’t use very often, so I might prepare that for her.

Friday

M started the lesson by telling me a Halloween story, but I can’t remember why! It was all about a woman who liked to eat children! One of the new words which came up was ‘rug’, because she used to hide the children in a hole under the rug (I think!)

I tested M’s spellings of the months from last week, and she was much better. She got about two thirds of them right, and found remembering ‘-ember’ very easy. In fact, she tried to put it into lots of months!

j-a-n-u  (me: -uary)   j-a-n-u-a-r-y
f-e-b (me: it has a silent letter ‘r’ – f-e-b-r-u-a-r-y) f-e-b-r-u-a-r-y
m-a-c-h (me: m-a-r-c-h) m-a-r-c-h
a-p-r-y/e/i-l
m-a-y
How many letters? (4) j-u-n-e (took a lot to remember this!)
j-u-l-y
o-g (me: a-u-g-u) a-u-j-u-s-t (not j, g) a-u-g-u-s-t
s-e-p-t-e-m-b-e-r
o-c-t-e-m-b-e-r (me: no e-m) o-c-t-o-b-e-r
n-o-v-e-m-b-e-r
d-e-c-e-m-b-e-r

We then went on the computer again. I spent an hour on Thursday evening figuring out how to use VoiceOver, and discovered that I could write things in TextEdit (a basic text programme) and it would read them out, as well as saying what you type as you go along. I wrote a short letter for M¬†which I got it to read out. She then wrote a lot of letters, mostly using the home row of keys, and a couple of words. I had to remind her quite a few times not to move her hands from the home keys, as she would often use different fingers or put her two hands together to write particular words. I emphasised that it’s important for your fingers to ‘remember’ the letters if you want to able to type quickly, so they always have to type the same letters. This is what we wrote:

Hello M______,

Here is a letter from Sandy. If you type in here too, it will read what you write.

Do you want to learn how?

Sandy

jffjjfjfjffj ffjfjfjjff jf jkjfk llkjfggjklhffghjkl; fj jk jhjgfdslk;z;hgjkllsddaaaalallala dsaasdsddds a fd fdss d  sadsassssassa  d  ads ssad sad jsajasjas jaas a jas jjklfdss ssssdddffssfs fsdjklsdeaaaajaj kaff af d sssd a  sad jkljhsah hs hashsa hsdda has   sasaD fsa fdj sdfsaaaa d s saasd a sddsf dasmmsdfsam mmmkmmml k

  k  jmjmjmjmjmjmjmjm           jlmjmjmjmjkklkljjllllllkjj jmjmjmjmjkjjmjmjm jmjmjmjmjmjmmmmmm   m jkl  m jklm jklmjklmjklmjklm jklj j jkklnjkln mn m, mhhjjhggmmmm                       mmmm,.,m,.mmmmm jkjhnbmvfj m  mj mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm mm jkfd masha dfdfsdfsdsdfsfdsfdsfddf fd m______m j m________ j mfdsfghbbv cv dsfgertym,.lkjjklmjkljjnnnbbbvvvgggffffffdddddsssssaaa nbmnkjkl, ,,     lljhll;

M____¬†likes studying with Sandy. [I wrote this to demonstrate touch typing, and to reinforce the fact that she shouldn’t move her hands from the home keys while typing. M dictated the sentence!] ‚Äėljjj kjkljk jkljkljkljkljkljkljljkjlkjlkkjljkl

As we walked down the stairs after her lesson, M was chanting ‘J-K-L’, which is her favourite group of keys I think!

M’s parents asked about VoiceOver and I told them they can use it on the iPhone too. We managed to switch it on, but couldn’t switch it off again afterwards. I hope they’ve managed to do it by now (it’s Sunday as I write this!)

Rethinking the visual: week six

This is part of a series of blogposts about my lessons¬†with M, a very enthusiastic nine-year-old girl. She is¬†a pleasure to speak to, and knows a lot of English. She’s also almost completely blind. Each lesson is one hour, one-to-one, at her house.

On Monday M’s mum phoned the school and asked if I could push M a bit more in the lessons. M wants to have longer texts to try and memorise, for example. I’d been trying to focus on writing, as this is the skill she has the most trouble with at the moment, but I think M didn’t feel that this was pushing her enough. She’s used to doing a lot of memorisation, and is very good at it, but I think it’s important to try and balance her skills. At the moment her speaking and listening are excellent. She told me¬†that she can read in English, although she’s a bit slow sometimes – I don’t have any materials to test this, apart from what she’s written herself. Her main problem is spelling – she’s not confident when spelling words, partly (I think) because she hasn’t had enough exposure to spelling patterns, in the way that a sighted learner would see words again and again, and learn them partly by their shape. She also only seems vaguely¬†aware of sound-spelling relationships, particularly with respect to vowels.

I spoke to¬†the director of my school, and we decided to find out whether it would be possible for M to do a Cambridge Flyers exam, the highest of the three Young Learner Exams. According to the Cambridge website, it is possible to organise a braille version of all Cambridge exams except for Starters (the lowest YL exam), provided enough notice is given. We asked her mum if M¬†would like to prepare for the exam and take it in summer 2015. She was very excited about this idea and agreed straight away. This has given us a new-found focus in the lessons, but has also added a lot of things for myself and my school (we’re the only Cambridge exam centre in Crimea) to prepare. Luckily the director and the Centre Exam Manager are both very supportive, and I’m sure we’ll be able to manage!

The Young Learner Exams are mostly picture-based, which means that the braille version will be quite different to the standard version. However, I don’t know yet exactly how different. On the special circumstances page, Cambridge describe options like having a written description of a picture instead of the picture itself. The candidate can also have a lot of extra time, although exactly how much¬†needs to be agreed before the exam. M will need training in how to take the exam, but will also need to be very confident in her reading and writing abilities, which is another reason to set the exam date for summer 2015 – it will give her lots of time to prepare. I need to find out whether she can use a computer or not, because if she can, the spelling activity on Quizlet might be an accessible and fun way for her to practise spellings too.

Tuesday

M heard me take my pot of objects¬†out of my bag, and asked to touch them again. She remembered most of the words. In the process, she joined two paperclips into a mini chain, then got very frustrated because she couldn’t take them apart again. She ended up bending one of them out of shape to separate them, then trying to make it usable again. This took up quite a few minutes of the lesson, but she wanted to solve this problem before moving on. I was talking to her throughout, trying to explain/show her (by touch) how to break apart the chain, so I don’t feel like this was a waste of time, but it’s this kind of process which I think might make M feel I’m not pushing her enough – I’m not sure if she sees it as part of the lesson, or if she only feels that explicit memorisation etc activities are part of the teaching. For the other part of the revision stage of the lesson M remembered the chants I’ve taught her.

We then talked about the exam. I wanted to make sure Flyers was the right level for her, so I did the only exam task¬†that doesn’t rely on pictures (as far as I can tell). For the first part of the reading and writing paper for both Movers (the middle of the 3 exams) and Flyers¬†the students have to match definitions to words. In Movers there are six definitions, with eight words accompanied by pictures. In Flyers, there are 10 definitions, 15 words, and no pictures. There is an example for each task. I used the sample papers¬†from the Cambridge website (the Movers task is on page 37-38, and the Flyers one is on page 68).

  • I read the definitions from the Movers task, including the example, and M got every word quickly and easily without needing the word list.
  • I read the Flyers definitions, including the example. Without knowing the list of words, M got questions 1, 3, 6 and 9 right.
  • I read the list of words twice, slowly, including all of the words that she’d already matched to definitions.
  • I read the definitions again, and M could ask me to repeat the full list of words if she needed it. After this, she only had trouble with questions 2 and 10. She was also a bit confused about question 4, ‘cupboard’, because she knows ‘wardrobe’ but isn’t confident with the difference between that and a ‘cupboard’. I told her that wardrobes are for clothes, and that¬†‘Every wardrobe is a cupboard, but not every cupboard is a wardrobe.’
  • The main problem with question 2 was that the original definition ‘This is white and we put it on food. Children often like it on chips.’ can apply equally to ‘sour cream’, which is very popular in Russia, and was M’s original answer. Once she realised it was ‘salt’, she joked that about thinking of sour cream before salt.
  • The only real problem word in the whole exercise was ‘meals’, the answer to questions 10, which she said she had never heard before.

This activity proved that Flyers is the right level for her in terms of vocabulary knowledge. However, in the exam she would need to be able to read all of the definitions herself, as far as I understand, and write the answers, meaning that her spelling needs to be confident – the words will be there for her to copy, but already knowing how to spell them will make a big difference.

Thursday

M had a purse full of Ukrainian coins on her desk. They are her ‘treasures’, and she likes swapping them with her friends. When she tried to clear them up, a couple dropped on the floor. I told her where they had fallen, using ‘right’ and ‘left’ among other phrases. She mixes up the two a lot, and came up with her own method of remembering them – she got a hairband and put it on her right arm as an aide-memoire. I need to test her again next week to find out if she really can remember it.

She then asked if I could teach her how to play heads or tails. Again, I appreciated how much I learn from being able to watch other people. Apart from the fact that catching is difficult when you can’t see, there are the little things I’ve learnt from watching others – to hold my hand away from my body, to cup my hand slightly when throwing the coin (we did that rather than flicking it), how much force I need to throw it enough to flip it, to put it on the back of my other hand when I catch it… Again, all of this took about 10-15 minutes, but it was full of explanation, so there was a lot of listening and speaking practice. I promised to bring English coins on Friday, which I did, but only as far as school where I promptly left them on my desk!

Tossing a coin

I¬†gave a copy of¬†the Flyers word list¬†to M and asked her to count how many sheets there are. Multiplying that six by 120, the approximate number of words on each page, we got 720 words – I know the last page is mostly empty, but once you include the words from ¬†lower levels and the numbers, it’s probably about right. I told M that for the Flyers exam she would need to know all of the words, as well as being able to spell them. I think there are some¬†that won’t be a problem, for example¬†bit,¬†exam¬†and¬†ring, but not many. We started off with the months, including the capital letter, which I dictated for M to write in her notebook.

Friday

M told me about a trip to a children’s park she’d been on that morning. She went on a ride with her 3-year-old sister, D, and the attendant told her to “Wave if D will cry.” She then told me about¬†Treasure Island and a poisonous drink:¬†“If he will drink it, he will die.” I’d already decided to practise first conditional structures with her, and these two sentences added to the list of examples. In Russian you use a future form¬†in both clauses of a conditional sentence, and students normally transfer this to English.

I tested M on the spellings of the months. She read them first, spelling as she went. When I tried to test her on random months, she had trouble with all of them except May. She added a note underneath her list, saying ‘i’ – the letter she had trouble with in ‘April’, and ’ember’, the ending for three of the months. She also showed me how she rubs out mistakes when she writes braille.

She asked if we could listen to chapter 6 of¬†Alice in Wonderland¬†next, as we hadn’t done it all week.

That left us with only a few minutes to start work on the first conditional. I read her three examples with mistakes, the two above, plus ‘If I’ll eat this, I’ll be bigger’, and asked her to spot the mistake. She couldn’t, and I explained that ‘will’ is not with¬†if’. Unfortunately,¬†I didn’t realise until we listened together¬†that the jazz chant I’d found would actually compound the problem of repeating ‘will’ instead of solving it – I’d missed the key word despite having read it multiple times and listened to it twice!¬†I’d climb the highest mountain, etc, if you will come with me. We ended up with no time to consolidate this point. I need to look at Young Learner coursebooks to find out how they introduce this grammar normally. I’ve got a few games/activities to practise it, but I’m not sure how to show the rule clearly.

Rethinking the visual: week five

This is part of a series of blogposts about my lessons¬†with M, a very enthusiastic nine-year-old girl. She is¬†a pleasure to speak to, and knows a lot of English. She’s also almost completely blind. Each lesson is one hour, one-to-one, at her house.

[Note: if you use a screen-reader and are having trouble with the Audioboo plug-ins, there are links in line with the text. Please let me know if this doesn’t work for you.]

Our lessons are starting to be a bit more routine now, as I’ve found activities that work well with M and that she enjoys. I need to make sure that routine doesn’t become dull, but I’m also pleased to now have a set of reliable activities I can draw from.

Tuesday

We started the lesson with a spelling test, based on the furniture labels we made during our last lesson on Friday. M could read all of the words and tell me the contractions, although she couldn’t remember any of the spellings by herself.

One of M’s favourite mistakes is ‘I very like it’, so thanks to Jane Harding da Rosa, I taught her a chant to correct this, which we did with I, he, she, in the past simple and with will.

M remembered all of the other chants and poems we’ve studied, and we then spent about 20 minutes on chapter 4 of Alice in Wonderland. The title of the chapter is ‘The Rabbit sends Alice on an errand’. M’s examples of errands led on to her telling me all the different things you can buy in a newsagent’s in the UK, like newspapers, magazines, sweets and little toys. I added basic food like milk and bread, which made her laugh – she didn’t believe me at first!

To finish the lesson, M asked me questions about me and my friends. There were a few¬†mistakes which I’m recording here for future reference:

  • I’m ready listen.
  • on Russian
  • Where do you born?
  • Where your family live?
  • Do you miss about London?

Thursday

As I walked into M’s house on Thursday, her sister was watching¬†How to train your dragon, so we ended up chatting about it for a few minutes. M asked me a few words in Russian which I didn’t know. I tried to make notes of some of the words to look up, but this is difficult if M doesn’t know the Russian spelling. The only one I managed to find later was —Ä–Ķ–≤–Ĺ—É–Ķ—ā, which means ‘jealous’.

I had two new chants for this class, dealing with two of her mistakes from Tuesday. The first was for ‘I’m ready listen‘. We transformed it to use ‘she’s’ and ‘they’re’ as well as the original ‘I’m’.

The second was for ‘on Russian‘. We transformed this to use the past simple, as well as ‘she’, ‘he’ and ‘they’.

We were going to listen to chapter 5 of¬†Alice in Wonderland, so in preparation I taught¬†M the word ‘pipe’ (the caterpillar is smoking a pipe when Alice first meets him). I used¬†my pen and bottle lid to make the shape of a pipe for her to feel, and compared it to cigarettes, which she already knew.

It's a pipe of course! (made from a bottle top and a pen)

It’s a pipe of course!

Then something great happened: M came up with her own impromptu poem! ūüôā

I don’t want to smoke.
I don’t want to drink.
I want to be beautiful.
This is my dream.

She said it was her first poem in English, and asked if we could write it down. This took us half an hour, starting with M learning how to write her full name (including punctuation, along the lines of S. J. Millin) at her request, then how to write a title – she decided on ‘My Dream’. We wrote the whole poem¬†in the long form with no contractions, but including symbols for punctuation, thereby practising how to code capital letters, full stops and apostrophes, as well as understanding the word ‘space’. I spelt the words for M, and tried to encourage her to predict the spellings herself: “What do you think is next?” She seemed a bit reluctant to do this – I’ll try to get her to do more spelling without reading at the same time, as it’s something I think she’s not very confident with. As with most learners, she also mixes up¬†e/i/y.

Mistakes from this lesson were:

  • She must to give him a fan.
  • You will bigger/smaller.
  • If I will drink this, I will bigger.

I’d like to practise first conditionals in a future lesson, but haven’t done any grammar with M yet, so I’m not really sure how to go about it. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Friday

In our third lesson, M had shown¬†me two metal figures she has. Today they were joined by two more: a crusader knight and Saint Viteslav, a Russian soldier (as far as I remember!). This lead us on to a brief discussion about crusaders, Christians and Christianity, with M referring back to her cross which she showed me last Friday. She also revised¬†the ‘soldier words’ we’d looked at previously: helmet, shield, sword, and greaves. (I know ‘greaves’ isn’t the most useful word, but it’s easy for her to feel them on the soldier, and she asked for it!)

Taking her notebook, M read her poem from Thursday, along with the words we’d studied previously, without any prompting from me.

M told me she likes¬†mystery stories, and proceeded to tell me The Mystery of Blackdown Wood, which I’d never heard of. In the first couple of sentences she mixed past simple and present simple a lot until:

“In the past or the present?”

“Can I tell it in the present?”

“Yes.”

“Tom don’t want to go into the wood.”

“Tom doesn’t… Or it’s all the same in the past: Tom didn’t want to go into the wood.”

“Oi! Tom didn’t want…”

After that she told the whole story in the past simple without needing any more prompting from me. The only past form which gave her trouble was “They hided” instead of “They hid”. At one point she couldn’t remember a word, and spontaneously came out with our chant from Tuesday: “I know it in Russian, in Russian, in Russian. I know it in English, but I just forgot!” ūüôā

For the next part¬†of the lesson, I gave M a choice of activities. She chose to learn the names of the things in¬†pot of little objects which I’d brought along, consisting of:

  • two paperclips;
  • two treasury tags;
  • two Cuisenaire rods of each value from one to six;
  • a small white stone;
  • a plastic thing (it’s for keeping an exercise ball inflated, but I figure the word ‘thing’ or ‘thingy’ is a good term for her to learn);
  • two elastic bands.

A selection of random objects

It’s a very random collection of objects, basically consisting of everything I could find which was small enough to fit into a little pot and wouldn’t be dangerous (no pointy bits!).¬†I plan to use them to help me clarify¬†grammar with her later, although I haven’t worked out exactly how yet. Most of the objects are in pairs, as one idea I had was for me to model sentences using one set, and M to copy and modify them using the other set.

To teach M the names of the objects, she took them out and I asked her if she recognised any of them. The only word she already knew was ‘stone’, and in fact, she’s been carrying her own moonstone around for the last couple of lessons. When she picked up the treasury tags and the paper clips, she couldn’t use either of them, so I also showed her how to do that. She put the Cuisenaire rods in size order, and I told her they were used for maths, which she loves. I’ve recorded the words and sent them to her so she can listen to them again between now and our next lesson.

We listened to chapter 5 of¬†Alice in Wonderland to finish off the lesson. I showed her how to use the volume and sound controls on my Mac so she could stop it whenever she wanted to. In the end she preferred to just sit down and listen through without stopping. On a side note,¬†I’d like¬†to Kirsty Major¬†for her very useful comments about screen readers, touch typing and computer¬†use on my previous post. This inspired me to start trying to show M around my computer and give her more control over the technology.

At the end of the lesson, as has become our habit, M put my computer in its case, then the case into my rucksack. Every lesson she gets faster at this process.¬†She likes carrying my rucksack down the stairs, and won’t let me take it even though it weighs a ton!¬†When one or the other of us dropped one of the things from the pot during the lesson, M always tried to find it, and this also gave me the chance to practise ‘right’ and ‘left’ with her, as she confuses them a lot.¬†I think it’s important to get M doing as much as possible in the lesson, and avoid doing things for her. Patience is very important, as obviously in many cases it would be faster for me to just pick something up and give it to her. In the long run, this won’t help M though. As with any lesson with young learners, I’m not just teaching English. Motor skills and coordination are just as, if not more, important for M as they are for all children to learn.

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