Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict

The Chasm Between the Offline and Online People

It’s a chasm between the happy people who can go offline, take a break from work, and the others, who live online, and hardly separate their lives from their careers. Those poor broken people, like me, who developed the online life alongside hightech and startupism.

A huge gap. One of the main differences is the instant ability to create a conversation. As an online person, I can always find online people to talk with and brainstorm with about professional items, revelations, findings, questions, apps and websites, tools and platforms. People who are online and share my passion will always be happy to share and receive. I go on Facebook or Twitter for most of these conversations. I get instant reactions or comments and this feedback is wonderful, as it demonstrates the value of the new shared information. One feels like a valuable part of society, an appreciated contributor to the community.

And then, there comes school. With your closest community of teachers. Your co-workers. You want to benefit this private, initial community, first of all, just to discover that – wow! Only in certain hours, please. Don’t share whatever you did or come across as soon as you discover it.

Really? What if I forget later?

I have to draw some conclusions. One is that a career in teaching is demanding enough, way beyond school hours, without me constantly looking for innovations, new solutions, optional pathways. It is so completely different than my previous career in startup: working 24/7. Damaging my sleep cycle. In a constant race to find the solutions or information as soon as possible. Right now! Yesterday!

The second conclusion goes to choosing the right platform for information sharing. Apparently, the teachers’ Whatsapp group is only for sharing jokes, birthday greetings and administrative news. No tools and ideas, please. Email is something most teachers would rather not see at all. There’s the internal school communications system, but archive, sorting, and search aren’t too efficient.

So, if it is not instructional meetings, it should be a dedicated web page.
So coming up next – this web page.

Until that is set, let’s try to make it through a Saturday without work.




Success for Struggling ELL Students

I made a conscious choice last year to teach the class for the struggling 7th grade ELL students. Normally, I was told earlier, if you get 1-2 students of the 10-12 students to advance to a higher level ability group – it is considered a success. I got 7 out of 15 to advance, and those who are left with me, are also nowhere near they were when they started the school year.

Working with this group of students was exhausting and demanding, yet the most important and satisfactory work I have ever done, not only in teaching. I chose this case study as my basis for investigating the factors contributing to success with struggling ELL students. This was my final research project in my studies for my Masters in Teaching degree at Levinsky College, Tel Aviv, one of the leading institutions for teacher education in Israel.

I think it is important to share my work, and even more important – to continue this research and expand it. I would like to have more teachers like me, and not just in Israel, contributing from their experiences of what works and what doesn’t and why – to generate a living breathing and useful database of actual solutions and real methods for this enormous collection of challenges. Please get in touch if you are interested in joining this initiative.

My project is in English and you can read it here.


Download here: 2019Factors_of_Success_ELL_Struggling_Or-Tal-Kiriati

#ISTE19 – Here I come!!

Next Wednesday I am flying to Philadelphia! There is a double excitement for me in this long trip from Tel-Aviv: I’ll get to visit my brother and his family who live in Philly, as well as participate in the ISTE annual conference. ISTE is the “International Society for Technology in Education”.  The annual ISTE Conference & Expo “serves as a forum for exploring and exchanging ideas about education technology with educators from around the world. The event attracts more than 24,000 educators and education leaders, and includes keynote speakers, hundreds of sessions, and a massive expo where vendors can show off the latest ed tech products and services.” (thank you. Wikipedia). Not used to tooting my own horn, I have to express my appreciation to the organizers of the event for including me in the 200 members leadership events. This made me very happy.

I’ve been involved in #edtech and innovation in education for more than 15 years now. I manage the EdtechIS group on Facebook and the Edgames Meetup page. Those started when some of my friends said I am posting too many posts about these topics and “not everybody is interested”. Somehow, today, most of the Facebook friends I have are interested in technology and innovation in education.

For those readers who don’t know me, my journey with education started with #edtech and only recently (4 years ago) I joined the ranks of teachers, discovering that this is one of the best things I have done with my life. I am making a much bigger impact as a teacher than I had done when I was the financial reporter of one of the major daily newspapers in Israel, with daily leading headlines. The “doing” is here. The dozens of kids I refer to as “my kids”, whom I love, appreciate, support, push and pull. This is it.

One of the reasons I love so much what I am doing it that I get to innovate all the time. Luckily I found myself working in a junior high and high school (grades 7-12) that values it, encourages and supports it. I enter school every morning into a cloud of smiling teachers. Each is innovating daily in their own way. This last year I have assumed a new role. I am not just teaching English, I am also the director of innovation and technology. Except for setting up a Google Suite for Education for the school, which seemed to me a basic starting point, I have been exploring needs and possibilities and I am planning the professional development I can offer the team next year.

This is why I am so excited to get to #ISTE19.

This week I also had my last day of studies for my Masters of Teaching degree at the Levinsky College for Education in Tel Aviv, which I enjoyed very much. Back to self-teaching now. Some of my professors thought I should consider a doctoral thesis, I said I would rather write a book. If I would, it would probably be digital. Well, #ISTE – here I come!




Learning to Say “No”.

A sad thing it is, that one of the very first lessons you learn when you enter the education system, is a lesson about exploitation. I fear it is a similar situation in many countries, but that does not minimize the feeling of anger and frustration.
There is so much that parents don’t know about teachers, and the degree of exploitation is one of them. All these negative attitudes I have experienced in the past as a parent must have a lot to do with the fact that teachers feel “if we get the minimum – we will do the minimum”.
So for example, personalized learning?? There is a big difference between preparing one lesson for 30 students, or 20 personalized programs.
Alternative assessments? It’s a lot easier to check one or two standardized tests every semester than to check and re-check personal assignments done individually 1-3 times every week. 60 checks per semester or 120 per week?


I know what it takes to be a good teacher. I know what I need to do, and how. But after receiving my first salary from the Ministry of Education – I am really depressed. The pay does not justify the extra time, extra effort and extra caring and dedication. The pay is an insult which carries a statement: we don’t care about you, teachers. We certainly don’t care about your students. The state of education in Israel is not important. We just hire a few suckers to fill in space in classrooms. When you leave we’ll get some new idealistic idiots. The students will never get to benefit from experienced and devoted teachers. And we, the well-paid ministry clerks and policymakers, we don’t care.

In light of this situation, I consider giving up my position as director of innovation, entrepreneurship and technology. While I have so much to give, and although in the super short time since the beginning of the year I have achieved already incredible achievements, I am going to say “no” to work without compensation. No more volunteering. My work is valuable.

Teaching to Learn!

The school year started a month ago, and already we’re counting almost 2 weeks of holiday time. It’s difficult enough to get them going after the summer vacation, but teaching a few days and going off to yet another vacation makes it even harder to start the learning engines, kick this school year off.

But this year is special for me. I got appointed as the school director of innovation and technology, and as such, I get full support for my innovative ideas, tech craze included.

So I started by building a google suite for my school. Single handed I am creating the users, organizational units, groups, team drives, resources with calendars and of course – the google classroom.

Here my students benefit first. I started this year teaching 2 classes of gifted students in 7th grade, and one 8th grade science-oriented classroom, which I also taught last year. All 3 classes received a google classroom right from the beginning of the year and it helped make this month a much more productive one, despite the holidays and traveling families and kids missing school.

So what do I do with the classroom? First of all, I upload all material and worksheets that I hand out in class. This benefits not only those students who have missed classes but also those scatter headed who keep misplacing them.
I add a paragraph or two about what we did in class. Do you know these students who come back from a holiday saying “but we asked, and our friends told us we didn’t miss a thing”. Well, now this line is out. What you have missed is online. Please catch up.
I already posted a few photographs of fantastic group work and class work. I think the students were so immersed in their work, they didn’t even notice I took the pictures. It’s important to reflect, privately within the classroom boundaries, that their English lesson can be a lot of fun and create this warm feeling of a unit working together.

And then, there are the assignments. So I have used several types. Before I go into the types of assignments I have created so far, let me tell you that one other thing I want to promote with my students is social learning. Taking them out of isolation when they work. So I actually suggested they consult with each other on the class stream (the front page). I also asked some students who submitted excellent work to link their work and share it with the classroom so that their peers can see and learn. I find it tremendously important to reduce their dependency on what the teacher is saying.

The first type of assignment is “prepare for our next lesson”. It’s not mandatory. I created vocabulary sets on Quizlet and shared them in the classroom page, offering that the students arrive to class prepared. I know some of them have used them. I hope in the future more students will be aware of their option to prepare for the next lesson. I am actually aiming at a situation in which students will ask me for a preparation task. That is when I know it’s working, and they are learning how to learn.

The second type of assignments is writing assignments. No more papers, please. All assignments are submitted on Google Docs, via the Google Classroom assignment page. I can give them comments and remarks for them to fix, and they can re-submit to get a better grade. The submission date is the deadline, after which they will not be able to improve their grades anymore. I can already see the impact of the re-submission process. My colleagues might think I am crazy for checking so many times the same papers. But it’s not. I use a google doc add-on called “grade proof” to help me quickly detect writing problems. In most cases, re-submit means they went over my comments and solved them. It doesn’t require too long to re-read. For me, not doing this process is the crazy thing. Over the past two weeks, of which more than one week has been a vacation, I can see actual growth and development with those students who keep aiming higher and higher. I actually don’t see the point in giving such assignments without the option to correct oneself and see how your writing improves.

The third type of assignments I tested is reading comprehension – known as “the unseen”. I use to assign chosen reading material to the google classroom of my choice. It took me just a bit to get the hang of it. Basically, the students get the passage. I looked for material with “step reading”, meaning they can either read the original article or a simpler version that will make it easier for them. Then they answer questions, some of them are multiple choice and some are written answers. I only have to manually check the written replies to complete their grade for the unseen. I already planned the 2 next assignments on this website. I think it is going to be one of the most useful sites I use.

What else? As always, I used google forms to create a “getting to know you” questionnaire. In the past, I used it for quizzes too, and I have recently learned this feature is even better this year, through google classroom.

I am going to start teaching another class after this holiday. It’s a 7th grade group that has some catching up to do. Most of the students in this class are challenged with ADHD or learning difficulties of sorts, each presents a different challenge. I am planning on creating tiny-groups for them, in Edmodo, because this is a feature not supported by Google classroom. To avoid the hassle of student registration and login I already received excellent help from Edmodo allowing me to bulk import users from our school’s domain. Let’s see how this is going to work. I am also considering using a more gamified environment for this group like Classdojo. I will have to check if it suits them. Some students in 7th grade might consider it childish. It’s a decent platform for badges and rewards, but it will not allow the small group work as Edmodo and I do not want to overload the students with too many platforms. I have tried ClassCraft in the past and I love it. However, to make it work there must be a strong enough WiFi connection in school, and right now, there is none. It’s a totally new building.

And a brand new era for us all.

My Cousin, and Organs Donation

My cousin, Daphna, an amazing woman, sister, friend, kindred spirit, passed away surprisingly last week from an unknown disease, which consumed her within days.

The shock of losing one of my very closest family members, who was younger than me, is mixed in with a level of denial, of the mind’s refusal to accept such a horrid possibility.

When asked, the family immediately consented to organ donation. The surprising fact we have discovered this past week about organ donation is how strangely comforting it is. Initially the feeling that a part of our loved one is still alive in our world. Then that strange sensation of not all is in vain.

There is no end to our sadness and pain. She left a loving husband, 2 daughters and a son. Her parents, my aunt and uncle, who can’t stop crying, and her 2 sisters who were so close. She left a gap in my life and in the lives of so many others, and it was this week we discovered just how many lives she had touched.

May she rest in peace, and we can forever treasure her smiles, her love, kindness and humor.

It’s a Movement!

I am surrounded by a fantastic community of innovative teachers. All are looking for ways to innovate, excite, do things differently, connect and share. It is the most active community I have participated in, and we’re not looking at a single Facebook group – but several.
Here are some interesting discussions randomly picked from today’s Facebook feed:

“I would like to open the new school year with an activity based on a song, video clip or fun presentation – for EFL (English as a Foreign Language) for 7th-8th grade students. Recommendations?”

“This is my first year as a teacher in high school. I will be teaching Math. I am so excited and need help – where do I start? Where can I find relevant materials?”

“Hi guys  Can anyone recommend apps or websites to do online tests ??”

“Hi all! I’m starting a new job in a couple of weeks and am looking for any ice-breaker strategies you may have for Year 10 and Year 11 students? They were very loyal to their last teacher so I think I might have a struggle! Thanks all.”

“Teachers, here’s a guide for printing a full size poster on your home printer!” (Link in Hebrew).

“metacognition of writing skills : Using…students compare each others’ work anonymously….some results are very surprising. All you do as a teacher is upload pieces of writing in the system. Students then judge 2 pieces of work at a time and choose which is the best one, and repeat for the next 2 pieces etc… you can add your own model text to ensure they are exposed to an excellent piece. The idea is they discuss what makes a good piece.. I used it with introductions when teaching essay writing, we were surprised to see that the best one didn’t come from our usual best can analyse results, collect data to instruct following teaching…try it! it’s free! and very user friendly 

“Is “drilling” good practice in class? Teacher gives correct answer, pupils repeat as group, individuals repeat, group reinforces whenever the non verbal signal Is given. It was standard practice in Wales, when I trained, but does it aid progress because it helps more naturally inhibited pupils or is it too Pavlovian a practice? I don’t use it much, but significantly some pupils do It automatically. Comments?”

“Hi all, wondering whether anyone has put together a levels grid which encapsulates all 4 core skills? Trying to create something that we can work with effectively in department to replace in part the old national curriculum levels.”

This could go on and on… My point:

This international, cross border communications, advice, sharing, exchanging views and experience is giving a HUGE push to the profession of teaching. Teachers who participate are exposed not only to their own questions or findings, but to infinite amounts of unexpected knowledge and information.

This is SO exciting!!

Still, the majority of teachers in our schools are still left behind when it concerned online communications and social networks. While the connected teachers leap forward and bring the whole concept of teaching into a new era, those who don’t share, who play their cards close to their chest cannot see beyond and into the horizon.

I often meet educators who say “why should I share something I worked on?” – and the answer is simply the whole is bigger and better than its parts – share one and you will gain access to shared works of thousands. It will help you create better materials, it will empower your work and fire your inspiration.

Be a part of this movement to hack education, make it into a new living breathing creature of society.


1st Teaching Year Ends

I had no idea I would feel this way. My first year as a teacher ended and I had to say goodbye to my students, my beloved students, because next year I will be teaching in another school. I waited until the very last day to tell them. Their reaction took me by surprise. Boys and girls, 7th grade who came to hug me, or at least shake my hand. Kids telling me they are sorry I won’t teach them next year, and students saying “thank you, you really helped me this year”. One of my students said to me: “Or-Tal, I can tell you this much: if you succeeded in teaching me, you will succeed in teaching anyone”. Which was really moving. I didn’t expect that.
Over the last couple of weeks of the school year it was getting harder and mostly pointless teaching regularly. So, like most teacher I used movies and games during class.

On the last lesson I decided to go for a “BreakoutEdu” concept.

I prepared my box, with 6 locks, with a “treasure” hidden inside, and the riddles and puzzles were a revision on a year’s learning. The students were thrilled to do it. I had them run for clues around the school and school yard and busy solving grammar exercises on their very last lesson of the year.
The treasure chest held mock “flight tickets”, from 7th grade to 8th grade, and a personal “what to pack” list I prepared for each of the students. Ranging from “your sense of humor” to “patience” and more.
I gave the students my email, saying they can always contact me for help, and I am happy to say that about 15% already did that. I just love my students!

Frustration: class contract breached

My greatest frustration is this group of 8th graders who suffer from various learning disabilities.

I know that they CAN learn. I have proved it to them by teaching them all sorts of little things. But here we are, 7 out of 10 months passed, and except for one student, nothing is built. No confidence is created. No motivation. Not a hint of belief that they can cope with learning English.

What do you do with such a group? frus

On the one hand, this group is their only chance. In a regular class they will disappear and won’t get a chance. But on the other hand, when in a group of under-motivated, students, who really don’t want to study and have a negative attitude, the group fortifies their behavior.

Personalized learning, which is an approach I like, cannot make it through such a negative attitude. This is not about how much they are willing to invest in their studies or which way of learning will suit them better. We are not there yet. The important preliminary step is to form the very basic agreement, without which learning cannot happen. It’s a contract between a learner and a teacher:

I am here to learn.

I am here to teach.

The fact is, those who are in my classroom to learn – do. And those who are not there to learn – are not learning. They might seem to be in it when we’re using the computer, but they are only there for a minimal fun and then switch to YouTube or other unauthorized activities and if caught, then immediately they have to go to the bathroom. Right?

It doesn’t really matter what their learning disability is. On my end I am willing to work with any difficulty. I invite them to share their frustration. To ask for help. I encourage them by observing their strong spots. Every child is unique, every child is a whole world of opportunities.

But despite my best efforts – the whole classroom environment doesn’t work. Not for them.

I feel humbled by an urgent need to learn. So much more to learn.

The Challenged Students Venture

Diagnosed or not, struggling students are a challenge and lucky for them I am an entrepreneur. What does one have to do with the other?

Good teachers are entrepreneurs, or at least they use entrepreneurial skills and thinking in their work.

Each lesson must include features that are aimed at recognizing a specific challenge, and hopefully discover a way towards a solution. Each lesson feels like a brand new entrepreneurial endeavor.

We teach a class of students, but each individual poses a different challenge. Very often you have to come up with solutions no one has ever thought about. Sometimes the solutions you reach have been reached by other teachers, somewhere around the world. Each solution may present a scalable feature in global terms. Unfortunately networking and knowledge of these ideas are not easily reached. Even in the online communities, information can hardly be searched for.

How about a startup, a platform gathering all this amazing knowledge and making it searchable by challenge? Having known the startup world quite well, I am sad to say, this is one startup that can really change the educational world, but this type of startups aren’t very popular, since the financial profitability is very questionable.

Not the social profitability. There’s no question there. So how should potential investors look at such a venture? Which type of investors should look at it? And through which lens?




Classroom WIKI Review, or: The Startup Nation’s Tech Denial in School

When everybody around me complemented me on my ideas about technology and games in the classroom I thought they were exaggerating. Which kid wouldn’t just love to be able to use their cellphone in class?  Wouldn’t they prefer to get email reminders over forgetting their homework? Not to mention – online exercises, where you can immediately know if you got it right or not. And these are the simple ones.

To my great disappointment the 7th and 8th graders I am teaching, at least most of them, do not embrace technology at all. In fact, the whole “extra via technology” is perceived as a burden rather than a luxury.

These kids are heavy users of Whatsapp, Snapchat, Instagram and Youtube. Ask them to check their emails, yes, this tiny little envelope at the corner of their smartphone and they look at you as if you’re talking gibberish.

I found it amusing that they thought email was simply outdated. The old people’s way of communications. They refused to understand why I do not want to Whatsapp with them (one dad recently told the teachers at school that his daughter received 500 messages in 2 hours her phone was taken from her, most of them were variation on “ha ha”…).

So, there goes my super enthusiastic plan to award my students with a package of some new learning tools.

But that’s not all: I was looking for a platform to create a class wiki. A private online space where I can give assignments and the students can submit and also ask for help and get it. I got stuck at the passwords stage. Every week I needed to reset several passwords. In the cases where the students registered themselves and I couldn’t reset, I had to create new accounts… It was a mess.2
I have to admit, both platform I tried – PBWORKS
and WIKISPACES were problematic for other reasons too. PBWORKS page design is horrid. The navigation is troubling. The text editing is annoying (you have to use “save”). PBWORKS offers a great feature that shows when your students visited your wiki. I was happy about it until I realized it didn’t register the visits correctly. A students who only visited once at the very beginning showed up as logged in yesterday, while the one who logged in yesterday, or even now in class, didn’t register at all. Wikispaces doesn’t offer this feature at all.

1Wikispaces is nicer to look at. Less messy. I love that you can create project spaces for your students. However, it doesn’t support Hebrew well enough (right to left texts). And since I always have to translate my posts – it didn’t look good to write an RTL text when it is aligned to the left. Lines got mixed and texts misunderstood.

The students were reluctant to use the new tool. Some “got it”, like this student who missed class and asked if the lesson summary will be on the wiki later. But they were few. Realizing  this is a one-way tool, I switched to “WIX” and created a classroom website with a blog, in which I post my announcements and tools. Wix is currently the fastest and simplest platform for creating your website. It has plenty of really nice designs. I don’t like that you have to log in the website editor and from there to the blog, such a long and tedious way. If I notice a typo I can’t click “edit” like in wordpress and jump right into the blog post. The comments feature is also not the best. But, it still was the fastest to produce and simplest to maintain.

Still, going back to the headline: I teach in Herzliya, which holds perhaps the highest concentration of high tech companies in Israel. I would have thought tech in school would bring at least some interest if not satisfaction. I was surprised to discover how uneasy the kids are with learning a new technological tool (email, web browsing). But even more surprised to realize parents think it is more important to spare their kids the new task then to award them with new learning tools.

I can’t help wondering where is our little “startup nation” headed. Entrepreneurship flourished here when people had to cope with going out of their comfort zone. Keep the box padded, and no one will think out of it.


Happiness in the Classroom

I love it that my students are happy in the classroom. I think when they are happy their receptors work better. I teach 12-14 year old students, and I must say, it is rare to find one thing that will make all of them happy. But there is one thing that will always bring in negative feelings: tests.

I don’t like that we base the grades of our students mainly on tests. As a teacher, when I see a student disturbing his classmates, behaving in a disrespectful way, doesn’t do his homework, mocking his friends, and at the end of the day achieves an “A” in the exam, I think that basing his grade on the exam is wrong in every educational aspect possible. 20161204_172148

At the same time, I see another student, working hard, listening, doing all her duties and more, being all around positive, team player – and gets a “B” in her test, I am asking myself what sort of message would I be sending by basing the grade on her test.

But more than that – I see how at least 80% of the students become super stressful in the test, because it means so much in term of final grade, and that stress makes me sad.

Some of them make “stress mistakes” which are really obvious. But I think that all around the system is relying too much on the tests as if this is what defines the student. Is it?

I want my students to be happy as they learn. Celebrate the joy of discovery and illumination. The darkness that comes with the tests, in their current meaning, is distracting and distressing. Not to mention, when you prepare students for tests, you do not necessarily teach them.

There are many alternative ways of assessment today. We do not need to rely so much on tests. It is obvious that if my grades would be based on a portfolio – than the hardworking student wouldn’t get a lower grade than the student who doesn’t work at all. I also would have loved to let the students check their own tests. Perhaps not call it a test at all. Use it as the tool it is: a way to better understand what we know and what we should learn better. That student who sent me a presentation he created on the topic of the test should be awarded for the great learning work, even if he gets panicked during tests.

Building a Better Dinosaur, or: Trying too Hard

I might be over enthusiastic about my entry ticket into the classroom. I could hold really simple and predictable lessons using the text book, work book and teacher’s guide book. Go from page to page, give homework from the workbook and play around everybody’s comfort zone.
It’s either I am a “broken new teacher” or the system is much more broken than I had thought. dino

I want to innovate. I am there to teach English as a foreign language, but I insist on teaching my students the language of learning. A language that forces them to work with a variety of tools. All these 12-13 year old kids who think they know it all if they have an Instagram account, but are having trouble composing an email, copying a URL, exercising log in. Am I trying too hard when I demand they use more than their notebooks to learn?

I know my fellow innovative teachers around the world might be wondering what is this all about. But the truth is, if these students get to middle school knowing only one kind of learning, and their parents know only one kind of learning, and most of the teachers in the middle school continue expertly in this one type of learning – then dragging my single class into “more than the text book” – is considered a harassment. An annoyance.

I need to ask myself am I trying too hard for my own good. If I only need to survive this year than I’d better stick with the simple tools. These lessons go very well. They are not confusing. They are not even boring. And I know I should master walking before starting to run, right? But, my main concern is that they don’t develop a learner. But perhaps this isn’t my job – to turn my students into learners. I am only expected and required to teach English.

I’ve been spending hours per week on maintaining a WIKI to support my ESL class. I add a class summary after every day I teach, and detailed homework assignments, with supporting links and files. Wouldn’t it be so much simpler to stick with the regular stuff?

I am also a great believer in the power of games in the classroom. Should I even bother with it? If all environment, including the students themselves and their parents, want to stick to the simple conventions, where is the place for innovation? Should I fight for the future of education, or let the past and present win?

Communications is KEY, in the classroom too

So I took this expertise I have – communications – and simply applied it to the classroom. We live in the “age of communications”. How we communicate is a big deal. I really wanted to speak about my  concept of education through communications at the conference this week in Boston, lead by The Communications Guy – Jeff Pulver. But I am teaching now. No time off.

Communications is key, yet in most classrooms it’s still the same hundreds-years-old model of one teacher “communicating to” many students. The blackboard was the first edtech which improved the communications in the classroom. Not to be confused with the 20th century’s whiteboard, or the later smart-board. Or so many other technology solutions aimed at marching the classroom communications forward.

But really, communications is first and foremost a listening-speaking-listening cycle. And while we often ask students to listen, we’re not coached to listen to the students (other then when they are tested). And there’s a lot to listen to.

I started this year with a “Getting to know you” questionnaire. It’s amazing how much head start you get when you open the year with this. I teach 7th and 8th graders English as a Second language. Being a country of immigrants, for some this is the 3rd or even 4th language – which was another important questions to answer. And that’s just one example.

I received information about the students from their homeroom teachers, and continued to take a look at those open and unprotected Facebook profiles. When the group of students who are into racing cars received from me an assignment about a teen racing driver they were surprised and pleased. When the artist was asked to use her special skills in designing flash cards she was thrilled that someone has noticed here talent. I learned that one of the students, who is a recent immigrant from Russia, has a dream: to learn programming. So I asked him and a classmate who also stated an interest in high tech to do the Codemonkey programming game in class. This got him totally devoted and also earned the respect of his classmates, who bothered for the first time to communicate with him.

It’s not easy to get through to all kids. Some are still a mystery to me. So I try to get them to talk with me for a minute or two in between classes or assignments. I will win them over eventually. I must. The thing is, what I need to teach them has nothing to do with the process I am into at this stage. This is all about communications. And it’s much deeper than the transfer of knowledge.

I think the main surprise so far was the shock of my students when I insisted on developing other digital communications channels in favor of learning. Other than Whatsapp that is.

My 7th graders seemed to think that email is old-fashioned and not needed. The class wiki, where I post the class summary, homework, links and files, is a burden to them. And while they all where extremely enthusiastic about joining the Classcraft game – only about a quarter of the students bothered to login and create their character in the past 10 days since they received their invitation. They don’t open their email, so they didn’t see the invitation. Only half of the class logged in the wiki to see the links and invitations there, the fact is not even all of those got into Classcraft. Several kids forgot their passwords – some of them learned the process of retrieving a password. Others didn’t get that idea. They seem over confident about their mastery of technology – yet this extremely simple actions are beyond them. And don’t even get me started on things like Google Docs…

I find that preparing them to properly communicate in all these channels is an essential part of their education. Since most tools are in English – I dared to add it to their English class. But then, what about the English curriculum? Looks like even these declared young innovators prefer the old ways when it comes to the classroom. The new is scary. I have a long long way to go.


First Steps in the Classroom

Bringing TONS of knowledge into the classroom the feeling I have today, after I have been teaching my middle schoolers for 2 weeks is of gratitude. I am grateful for the dialog created between me and my students. Needless to say I am grateful to the Principal for taking a chance on me. After all, teaching teachers isn’t the same as teaching kids.
Those are now “my kids”. I have 10 8th graders in a special educational needs group, and almost 40 7th graders in a regular heterogenic classroom.
These past 2 weeks, formally known as 16 periods per class, were dedicated to getting to know the students and developing what I consider the basis for further learning – their online communications skills.
I decided I need to make sure that every student has an email address first of all. There’s a general feeling among these young kids that they know everything about technology, and that they certainly know better, and that anything we teachers bring in – must be out dated. Well sorry: Whatsapp cannot replace email. Na ah.
And then – WIKIS – a class portal for them to catch up and follow on homework and never ever say that they didn’t have time to copy from the board or other lame excuses.
And opening a PDF in your mobile phone.
And registering to a service (well, the WIKI) and know how to confirm your registration.
Sure, when you go out your adult life you might go into a reality where all you have to do to access anything is scan your iris, but until then – know your environment and know how to learn to work with your environment, whatever it may be.
Learning how to learn is the core business of education. Or at least it should be.14-09-2016-20-08-12

But back to saying thanks today: Two of my quietest students in the special class shined today. They became involved and felt comfortable. Acceptance was in the air. And it felt great. And there’s no other way to describe this feeling: just that I think being a teacher is by far the most amazing job possible.

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