Who are ‘they’?

It’s a joy to be spending a few weeks with precious little gifts, Matan and Shai, one blonde, calm and smiley, the other dark, energetic and curious. Perhaps they’ll grow to have much in common, but I think they will always be very different.

The local cousins have seven children between them, aged from 2 to 16, each one so different from the next, it’s hard to believe they are related. They have varying interests and strengths, some have discovered their passions, some find school tedious, each has their own unique learning story.

All of which reminds me of a question I often ask: Who are ‘they‘?

You hear about ‘them‘ frequently, in the things their teachers say…

‘They’ struggled with this.

‘They’ won’t be able to do that.

‘They’ don’t get it.

‘They’ are a talkative bunch.

‘They’ are an interesting group.

‘They’ are a tough class.

They can, they can’t, they do, they don’t…

There is no ‘they!’

Every learner has her own way of constructing meaning. Each one has something valuable to contribute. Each learns in a different way. Each has talents, challenges, interests, needs and a personal story that matters.

Stop lumping ‘them’ together in one generalisation.

And leaders, your teachers are not ‘they‘ either!

Learning at its best…

I am utterly inspired my Monika Hardy’s Innovation Lab. Learn more about it here and here.

These students are following their passions and learning independently through global connections. This is kids really taking control of their learning and my attempts in the classroom seem to pale into insignificance…

Sam wants to learn Hebrew. He knows the alphabet, is working on the grammar and needed someone to help with pronunciation. A chance tweet from Monika was picked up by someone who follows my blog and knows I’m a Hebrew teacher. And here we are today…

Dean, Matthew and Jay in Melbourne, Australia, learners of Hebrew as a second language at a Jewish school, are sharing their knowledge with Sam in Colorado, a Christian who would like to be able to read the bible in its original language.

After the first session…

Sam: I liked it. I really liked it.

Matthew: I think it’s fantastic that we are getting the opportunity to teach, so others maybe can benefit from what we’ve learned ourselves.

Jay: It was great in the sense that we can share our learning all over the world and it’s not limited just to the classroom!

Monika: The boys literally looked like they were trying to peak into a window.

Ed: I have used the title of this post before and I’ve no doubt I’ll use it again and again. The boundary is shifting.

It’s about the learning…

I’m writing midyear reports.  Looking back at comments from last year, I notice an interesting development. This time last year, web 2.0 tools were still quite new for me.  I was excitedly experimenting with new and different ways of expressing learning. On some reports, I wrote things like, ‘X enjoys expressing her learning through technology’. A year later that seems to me like saying she enjoys writing with a pencil! It’s not about the technology…

It’s about the learning…

Last week in my Hebrew language class,  students were given a choice how they wanted to spend their learning time. Other than a few tasks that required completion,  the students  needed to be effectively practising all their second language skills in any way they liked.  We started by discussing potential problems that might arise in such a setting and students provided possible solutions in advance.

During the double lesson, there were students practising the new vocabulary by playing a card game, while another group was huddled around a computer adding to a Voicethread. As students left, they showed newcomers how to make sure they changed identities and when to start recording.  Some students were engaged in a writing task using newly learned vocabulary. Others sat in pairs with stopwatches, timing each other’s reading. Some used the iTouch to interview each other, using the voice memo, while others created Hebrew comics using Toondoo.

Everyone was focused and engaged.  Learning was student centered. Students used their second language in a variety of meaningful contexts. They practised not only their language skills but a whole range of trans-disciplinary skills such as communication, collaboration, creative thinking, independence and time management. Learning was taking place at all stages of the AMT model described in a previous post.  Some students were working on acquiring skills, some were using their skills in a meaningful way in the learned context and some were transferring their knowledge to other contexts.

Some tasks involved technology and others did not.

It’s  about the learning…

What’s in a word?

As a PYP school, our approach to learning is through inquiry.  It’s often challenging to make second-language learning inquiry based, and we teachers are always experimenting with different options. (We’re inquirers too!)

Today’s task was simple.  Instead of giving a new Hebrew vocabulary list, with English translations, I gave the words in Hebrew only. Each group received different words and they swapped with another group when they had figured out the meanings.  I didn’t give any directions, just handed out dictionaries and asked them to work collaboratively to find out the meanings of as many words as possible.

How did they work out the meanings of the words?

  • Someone in the group knew the meaning already and shared.
  • They took turns to look words up in the dictionary.
  • They changed the tense or form of some words in order to find them in the dictionary.
  • They worked out the meanings by recognising the root letters.
  • They made connections to other familiar words.
  • They traded with another group!

The task was nothing special and I’m sure it was obvious to most.  But, as always, the most interesting aspect was the students’ reflections. (They are Year 5 students)

  • It helps us learn how to use a dictionary effectively.
  • It was more challenging than just copying down the words.
  • I felt like I achieved something.
  • It was an efficient use of time (a student’s words, honestly!)
  • It was a fun way to learn words, so we’ll be more likely to remember them.
  • We found other words in the dictionary too, so we learned even more words.
  • This is a great way to learn new words as it is challenging to find the right meaning.

Making foreign language learning more engaging.

I read a post this week about the challenges of making the teaching of grammar less boring in foreign language lessons. While I know that it’s important to teach grammatical concepts and rules, it’s the application that makes the learning worthwhile.  If the students know they will have meaningful opportunities to apply their language learning and to create for an authentic audience, they will surely be more engaged.

Our teachers explored a few such possibilities today and, while we teach Hebrew, these ideas could work for any language.

We started by looking at ways to use Power-Point to enhance second language learning.  Inserting sound creates all sorts of opportunities for the students to record themselves, thereby practising important reading and speaking skills.

  • Insert a series of images into slides and have students record a story based on the images (insert sound, select record).  This can be written first and corrected by the teacher, then read out, or students can simply improvise and tell the story right away.
  • Students select their own pictures or take their own photographs to use for their story. You can see an example in a previous post here.
  • Students work in pairs to create a conversation which they record, based on the selected images.

The slide show can be uploaded to Slideboom, or another such site, so that the link can be shared with parents and others, so that there is an authentic audience for the students’ creations.

Most of the above can be done with Voicethread too, adding the extra dimension of allowing collaboration. You can see see more detail in a previous post about Voicethread, with examples here and another example here.

  • Start with an image or a series of images and have students speak about them in the foreign language (using those newly learnt grammatical skills!)
  • The students can be added to the teacher’s Voicethread identity and everyone takes turns to talk about the image or set or set of images.
  • The students can login and add their own comments or storyline to the images.
  • Other students and parents can record comments on the final product.

If you have ever read this blog, you will know that ToonDoo is one of my favourites! We have our own school toondoospace, which is a secure, private version of the online comic creator. These were the ideas that came up in today’s session for using ToonDoo to practise language skills:

  • Students can choose one panel to create a scene illustrating new vocabulary.
  • They can use 2-3 panels to create a story, adding text bubbles, incorporating new vocabulary and grammatical constructs.
  • Several toons can be combined to create a toonbook.
  • The teacher can create the first scene of a cartoon story and save with the ‘let others redoo’ option. Students can then continue the story.
  • As above, except the teacher gives the middle panel and the students create a beginning and end to the story.

Give them a voice…

Voicethread is a great tool that can be used in so many ways, for all kinds of conversation around images.  It allows you to upload pictures or video clips (or a whole power-point even).  Once files are uploaded, users can record or type in comments.  Great for discussion, feedback, collaboration..

Here’s an example my Year 5’s made today.  Each pair chose two characters from the story we have been learning, about the Jews who were rescued from Ethiopia in Operation Moses. They then created an imagined conversation in Hebrew.  It’s not a showcase presentation! This is authentic classroom learning…  if  you listen carefully (even if you don’t!) you can hear all  the background noise,  the teacher asking for quiet so that people could record, the mistakes in their Hebrew and the technological issues which sometimes affect recording!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

And this one was created by Jocelyn’s class during their unit on fair trade. She uploaded a video and the students recorded their comments.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

See our Scopus ICT wiki for more information and examples.  Leave a comment with your idea for using voicethread.  (I will NEVER stop asking!… I know you’re there and reading… why don’t you share?)

World class…

The Year 5’s learned about Eliezer Ben Yehuda, sometimes referred to as the father of modern Hebrew, who was instrumental in the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language in the late 19th century.

The students were eager to learn more and asked many questions.  So we decided to contact the Academy of Hebrew Language in Jerusalem to try and obtain some answers.  Students wrote their questions in the discussion page of the class wiki.

Each child received their own personal answer. For instance, Toby asked how new Hebrew words are invented. Tamar from the Academy replied…

יש כמה דרכים לחדש מילים בעברית. אחת הדרכים החשובות היא לקחת שורש מהתנ”ך או מהמשנָה וליצור ממנו מילה חדשה

לדוגמא, אליעזר בן יהודה לקח את השורש ס.ע.ד  ,שמוכר מהמילה סעודה וחידש את המילה מסעדה

There are a number of ways to create new words in Hebrew. One of the ways is to take the ‘root’ from the bible or the mishna and create a new word from it. For instance, Eliezer Ben Yehuda took the root letters of the word ‘meal’ or ‘feast’, which is  ‘se’uda’ and created the word ‘misada’ meaning restaurant.

Alon Asked about other ways that words are invented. Tamar’s response…

לפעמים לוקחים מילה בעברית ומוסיפים לה סיומת כדי ליצור מילה חדשה

. למשל: מהמילה שָׁעָה והסיומת -וֹן נוצרה המילה שָׁעוֹן. גם המילה עִתּוֹן נוצרה כך

יש גם מילים שנכנסות לעברית משפות אחרות, כמו טלוויזיה או בננה, למילים כאלה אין שורש עברי

Sometimes existing Hebrew words are used, with an additional suffix to create new words, such as sha’a (hour) with the suffix -on- becomes sha’on , a clock. There are many words which enter the Hebrew language from other languages, such as ‘banana’, which has no Hebrew root!


The possibilities for genuine inquiry are so much greater, when we flatten the walls of the classroom and bring in the outside world! Share some of your own examples!