Articles and presentations
My first steps in teaching and immigration
I have been teaching English since 1991. I started my career in Simferopol, Ukraine, and taught private lessons when I was a student. Later I started teaching English at the junior high school. I also worked as a translator and taught Business English at a university. In 1999 I emigrated to Israel and continued teaching at junior high and high school. Now I am an English Coordinator at Beit Ekshtein high school in settlement of Rupin. Beit Ekstein is a chain of Special Education Needs (SEN) schools in our country that use Learning Technologies (LT) in teaching.
Like many immigrants, I had ups and downs in my teaching career. Mainly I faced a culture shock at the beginning, and sometimes I was at a loss because I did not know what to teach and how. I had worked at quite a lot of schools before I was employed by Beit Ekstein in 2006, where I still work. I realized that I was good at teaching kids with specific educational needs, so I started looking for ways to develop professionally in SEN and started finding contact with other teachers like myself. Step by step I got used to many new things, attended some local conferences, and took numerous in-service and online courses. Finally, in 2009 I became the English Coordinator at our school.
The chance of a lifetime
In summer 2014 I found out about IATEFL by chance and decided to participate in its conferences. I applied for the 49th conference in Manchester and forgot about it almost immediately. I lack words to describe how excited I was when in November 2014 I got an email that my proposal had been accepted. I realized that it was the chance of a lifetime and decided to go to Manchester in April 2015 even though I had to pay for the flight and the hotel myself. Presenting at my first international conference was one of the best things that could have happened to me personally as well as professionally.
The results of the conference exceeded my expectations. I met Marjorie Rosenberg, David Crystal and some other organizers and made friends with colleagues from all over the world. I am still in touch with them and I have realized that IATEFL is a great place to make international friendships. In addition, when the conference was over, I received numerous offers to publish my articles in different magazines, with the result that I have made about ten publications in three years. Moreover, my salary in school has increased due to publications and presentations.
Recently I joined TESOL. I have not attended any conferences in the USA yet but I hope to do so one day.
My further professional development
After my first IATEFL conference in Manchester I participated in both international conferences and local ones, including SIG [Special Interest Group] events in different parts of Europe. For instance, in November 2015 I attended the Learning Technologies (LT) SIG conference in Dublin. I have benefited not only from meeting great educators from all over the world, but from webinars as well. I have taken some international courses, including CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). My short articles have been published in IATEFL Conference Selections. When I presented on ‘Building fluency and comprehension in dyslexic readers’ in Glasgow in 2017, my session was filmed so you can watch it if you want to.
I have applied for a scholarship three times but I failed. Finally I wоn the LT SIG Diana Eastment scholarship last year and my dream came true. Since I am a member of LTSIG, the main requirement of this scholarship, and participate in the SIGs a lot, I realized that I had a chance to win. In addition, my presentation at Brighton 2018 is going to deal with using LT in teaching SEN students, so I am going to share my experience with colleagues from all over the world.
I was very happy to become a scholarship winner. It is going to be my fourth international conference, so I won a scholarship on the fourth attempt. I know that it is possible to win a scholarship only once, but it helps a lot because flying and staying in the UK is quite expensive. Besides, I am highly motivated to give a brilliant presentation and to mentor those who are going to present for the first time.
What is my advice on how to win a scholarship? First of all, don’t give up. If your speaker proposal or article for publication has been rejected, try again. Ask your colleagues and IATEFL consultants for help, attend webinars, take courses and you will improve your skills. If your proposal has been accepted, but you still have not won a scholarship, try again next year. Practice makes perfect. In my case being a member of some SIGs, such as LTSIG, IP & SEN SIG (Inclusive Practices and Special Needs), YLTSIG (Young Learners and Teenagers) and others, helped me to win the scholarship later. In general, my advice is – get involved, take a chance, never give up in case of failure and never stop in your professional development.
Next year I will not have the right to apply for a scholarship. Nevertheless, I am not going to stop attending IATEFL conferences, even if it is quite expensive. Since I am an English Coordinator, I should train my co-workers and share new materials and ideas with them. Besides, they sometimes refer to my publications while doing research and I am sure that my articles help them to succeed in their careers. I am sure that we, teachers, learn from each other a lot.
First published at the IATEFL blog
How to motivate kids with learning disabilities to study online
Covid-19 pandemic has caused a real revolution in education. In spring 2020 everything moved onto online communication, for instance work meetings, lectures and regular lessons. Besides, remedial teachers had to teach kids with learning disabilities (LD) online. Some of the most common LDs include dyslexia, expressive language disorder, reading processing disability, and attention deficit disorder. Thus, teachers had to find all the possible solutions to convert their teaching to remote online options. According to the research, distant learning with the help of online boards, such as Zoom, Miro, Wakelet, Socrative and others, is supposed to catch students’ attention and make them interested and motivated (Newton 2020). They provide teachers and their students with a wide range of eye-catching materials, such as highlighted pieces of text, pictures, videos which enhance their spelling, general understanding of the material and enlarge their passive and active vocabulary. Besides, online lessons can enhance the process of learning English and develop such important skills as collaboration and leadership.
Key words: online teaching, learning disabilities, motivation, collaboration.
Why don’t LD students want to study online?
“Teaching an online course requires different methods from the traditional classroom, so teachers must adapt or develop their skills to the online learning environment” (Cooper 2016). Due to the coronavirus pandemic, schools in many countries had to conduct lessons online. Many kids and their parents do not accept this idea and complain that it does not work well. There are some reasons why schoolchildren refuse to study online.
One of the most widespread stereotypes of teaching kids online is a lack of concentration. Parents think that kids, especially the LD ones, often get bored because they are very distractible and cannot focus in front of the screen. Many students have missed a lot of lessons just because they “have forgotten” or just “don’t have enough strength” to study. Besides, they often complain that poor internet connection does not enable them to focus on the lesson. Sadly, all the forenamed circumstances are often true.
No doubt that even in regular classrooms LD students often misunderstand tasks, make a lot of mistakes, give irrelevant or inappropriate answers, or refuse to answer in order to escape mistakes. Moreover, they often miss deadlines and submit their work, such as book reports and projects too late. Nevertheless, in the right hands, the process of teaching online can be an excellent opportunity to learn how to cooperate with peers and teachers. “Instructors can raise concerns about a student’s performance and recommend that the student talk with his or her advisor, at which point the student may make his or her learning” (Kelly 2020). Thus, teachers should provide their students individual consultations during their individual tutorial sessions in their regular timetable, so that they will discuss what disturbs them to study better and find the solution.
If the instructional materials present a barrier to student learning, you must adapt the materials to allow students greater access to the online information to be taught. According to Lenz and Shumaker, these adaptations may involve changing the content of the materials (the nature or amount of information to be learned) or changing the format of the materials (the way information is presented to the learner). Thus, in the first case, if you still use traditional textbooks and exercise books, you can reduce the number of exercises to give during the lesson and devote more time to demonstrating the material with the help of visual tools on the smart boards, such as Miro and Wakelet. Since LD students have a right to some extra time, they can do two exercises instead of three or four. In the second case, changing the format of the materials can be done in accordance with the level of the learners and the difficulties they face. You can create your materials using smart boards so that they will do the tasks online rather than in their textbooks or exercise books.
According to O’Hanlon, one of the main secrets of teaching LD students online is using “combined components of direct instruction (teacher-directed lecture, discussion, learning from books) with components of strategy instruction (teaching ways to learn and study skills).” The main components of this instructional model include:
* Directed questioning and responses
* Control of task difficulty
* Use of technology
* Teacher-modeled problem solving
* Small-group instruction
* Strategy cues
The research claims that instructions and questions should be short and clear so you will not lose your students. Moreover, many LD students “have strengths in spatial or visual modes of conceptualization and that visual displays of information, such as graphic organizers, may help these students to organize and recall verbal information, enhancing their reading comprehension” (Kim et al. 2004, 106). I have also noticed a substantial effect of illustrations and other audio-visual online materials on the reading comprehension of students with learning disabilities. In order to make non-readers read and develop their cognitive skills, I download such materials on Oxford Owl Reading Books and Free eBook Library which are suitable for Zoom, Miro, and Google Classroom.
Problem-solving in the online classroom.
No child left behind! Education leaders are tackling the unexpected challenge of providing distance learning. According to C. Seale, “Distance learning has the strategic advantage of making it easier in some cases for teachers to pinpoint specific academic struggles.” Therefore, due to the modern smart boards, teachers can make their lessons effective and help their students to complete the school program in accordance with the national curriculum. In Israel and many other countries, the national curriculum requires developing students' listening skills, enlarging their vocabulary, improving their spelling and grammar, developing their writing skills, and developing critical thinking. For successful online learning, teachers need to provide students with a task that should be interesting, and success-orientating and require students to interact with each other. Sharing the same screen content, such as a virtual textbook, picture, video, or chart, enable your students to see exactly what they are supposed to do. Avoid too complicated online instructions that might cause confusion, misunderstanding, and leaving the virtual classroom. Besides, the lesson must be built on the previous material they have learned recently, and now they are ready to learn something new.
In order to prevent difficult situations, you need to be creative. As Einstein once said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun”, it is an essential aspect of teaching. Being a creative teacher means that you need to be an actor, a singer, or an artist in order to entertain your students. It means that you need to “solve problems, think up new ideas, and have insightful “eureka” moments” (Brann 2017). For instance, if your students get bored you should offer them a game, a song, or a film that contains vocabulary, grammar, or a topic that your students are learning currently. Therefore, you should have 2-3 lesson plans in store. Besides, you can play a piece of background music to catch their attention, to help them focus while working in pairs or groups, or as a sign that it is time to start or stop the activity.
If you teach in elementary school, you can play a “switch on – switch off” game which has become very popular on Zoom. Thus, you can offer them to switch off their cameras and ask questions, such as: “Who has a cat or a dog at home? Switch on your cameras if you have a dog. Great! Now I want you to switch on your cameras if you have a cat”. Then ask them to comment, for example, “Dan has a cat, and Jane has a dog. But Mary doesn’t have any pets”. For junior high and high school students you can prepare a similar game based on more complicated questions, including English Literature. Creative teaching is also important because in this way we can help our students to believe in themselves and to be more confident in learning. (Smith 2017).
Studying and developing essential skills.
Undoubtedly, teachers who work to help students achieve their goals may struggle in the distance learning environment. But there are countless apps that can help educators gather the necessary information in a distance learning environment. “To define success, presume that every single student has the necessary support to participate in distance learning.” (Seale 2020). Online teaching supposes not only academic achievement but learning all the necessary skills of the 21st century, such as:
* active learning and learning strategies
* critical thinking and analysis
* leadership and social influence
* debate and negotiation
Schools today provide a lot of material that can be found online and might be necessary for their projects and homework. Step by step, the ability to choose and analyze leads to academic achievement. So, students can set their own educational goals for distance learning and follow them at their own pace. At first glance, it seems complicated to learn such skills online, but educators can help them with clear instructions and doing work that must be submitted before the deadline.
As it was mentioned above, creativity is very important not only for teaching but for studying as well. The online classroom increases motivation empowers learners and helps them to develop a sense of excitement and self-esteem. You can encourage your students to create their activities and share them on such smart boards as Miro, Google Classroom, or Socrative, depending on what you choose for them. Teaching is much less important than focusing on whether and how students learn and create tasks themselves (Seale 2020). Making their own activities based on the material that has been learned currently is not only an excellent way for students to create innovative products using technology but also a powerful tool to increase their motivation, creativity, and autonomy. Many students are good at technology and may be interested in preparing their materials and sharing them with their classmates. In this way, they will get an opportunity to express themselves.
Thus, many kids like making their own videos and sharing them with their classmates. They can do it individually or in groups. Other groups can create their own materials, for example, quizzes, crosswords, word games, and other appropriate materials for the class smart board. Such online activities make lessons much different from the traditional ones in the real classroom and with textbooks and notebooks. During the lesson, you can divide the class into virtual groups, and they can exchange their materials with other groups. Later they can give classroom presentations and evaluate each other’s materials and performance. In this way, they develop the skills of critical thinking and analysis. “Asking students to analyze and interpret primary materials and timely content can boost their critical thinking and engagement” (Ralph 2020)
Besides, in this way, they learn the skill of collaboration. While in a real classroom, students meet in person, during online classes, teachers and students need additional resources to collaborate virtually. M. Hart claims that for the virtual classroom, teachers need to use the following tools to build a collaborative online learning environment:
Lesson Recording and Video Creation Tools
Learning Management System (LMS)
Exam and Assessment Software
In many countries, there is a strong tradition of the authoritarian role of the teacher and the transmission of information from the teacher to the student, and most of the lessons are teacher-centered. Nevertheless, nowadays, in Israel, EFL lessons are student-centered, and it is acceptable to challenge or criticize the views of teachers. Besides, Israeli culture has a strong oral tradition based on story-telling rather than direct instruction. Moreover, Israeli EFL teachers started teaching the subject of debate and diplomacy some years ago, and their students learn the skills of leadership, which enables them to conduct negotiations.
To summarize, we can teach schoolchildren of all ages and levels online. We can make the process of teaching and learning effectively if we keep a good connection with our class and teach them the skills of collaboration and self-discipline. Some teachers claim that there is no or very little difference between online collaborative learning and a well-conducted traditional classroom. Others think it is still challenging to catch their attention and keep them in front of the screens for 45 minutes, mainly when you teach kids in elementary school or LD ones in junior high and high school. According to the research, very weak students need drills when you teach them pronunciation, vocabulary, and spelling, which can be taught in the regular classroom and online. They also need eye-catching materials and games on virtual smart boards to keep them interested and motivated. Besides, if LD students need more time to complete the tasks, you can reduce the amount of material so that they will understand it better and do the rest of the tasks later, for instance, as homework. Therefore, you should give them tasks with self-checking options and enable them to work in pairs or small groups on Zoom. Teamwork has traditionally played a critical role in traditional schools. And these days, while many teachers and students find themselves physically isolated, their collaborative work with one another may be more critical now than ever, and it motivates them to study together.
First published in ETAI magazine in the Summer of 2020
1. Brann, A. 2017. Creativity. Is your intelligence having fun?
Cooper, S. 2016. Five strategies to improve your online teaching. https://elearningindustry.com/5-strategies-improve-your-online-teaching
Hart, M. 2020. How to create a collaborative online learning environment. https://www.owllabs.com/blog/collaborative-online-learning
Kelly, R. 2020. Teaching students with learning disabilities in the online classroom. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/teaching-students-with-learning-disabilities-in-the-online-classroom/
Kim, Ae-Hwa, Sharon Vaughn, Jeanne Wanzek, and Shangjin Wei. 2004. Graphic organizers and their effects on the reading comprehension of students with LD. Journal of Learning Disabilities 37, no.2: 105–18
Lenz, K. and Shumaker J.B. 2003. Adapting Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science Materials for the Inclusive Classroom
Newton, D. 2020. Most teachers say they are not prepared to teach online. https://www.forbes.com/sites/dereknewton/2020/03/26/most-teachers-say-they-are-not-prepared-to-teach-online/#16934f497f2c
O’Hanlon, N. 2005. Adapting Online Instruction for a Learning Disabled Audience. http://www.ala.org/acrl/sites/ala.org.acrl/files/content/conferences/pdf/ohanlon05.pdf
Ralp, M. 2020. Teaching strategies of award-winning online instructors. https://www.edutopia.org/article/teaching-strategies-award-winning-online-instructors
Seale, C. 2020. Distance learning during the coronavirus pandemic https://www.forbes.com/sites/colinseale/2020/03/17/distance-learning-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic-equity-and-access-questions-for-school-leaders/#1f09050b1d4d
Smith, A.M. 2017. Creating an inclusive classroom: raising awareness of dyslexia and neurodiversity. IATEFL 2017, Glasgow Conference Selections, p.128