Posted in Uncategorized

Why Teenagers Struggle with Metaphors

So, I saw this poster on similes and metaphors:

It has four sections: definition, purpose, quick memory tip, and examples. But here are the three examples for metaphor:

According to the poster’s own definition, a metaphor is “a comparison between two things that are nor alike and replaces the word with another word.”

Some examples I used when teaching my students are Shakespeare’s “Juliet is the sun.” Looking for something more familiar? Try Katy Perry’s “baby, you’re a firework.” And sure, while “the toast jumped out of the toaster” is an implied metaphor comparing toast to something that jumps–a frog, or a person, it’s not a good example for learning metaphor. And as for the others, what two different things are possibly being compared in “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse” or “I told you a million times to clean your room”? Nothing. Because they’re not metaphors. They’re hyperbole, which is totally different.

Today’s lesson? Students struggle with metaphor because people who are supposed to be teaching it don’t even know what it is. Oh, and Your Dictionary is a terrible resource. Don’t use it.

Posted in Good Ideas, Tabletop Teacher

Feeling the End of the Year

Making mondays manageable

It’s May. Which means that I have been frantically locating graduation cards and gifts for my handful of seniors, and that I have such a bad post-testing burnout that I am actually putting more energy into plans for next year than in finishing out this one. It also means that I am spending most of my prep hour watching TED talks on education. One of my favorites so far:

What really stood out to be about this was “the default answer is yes.” I thought about how this would apply in my classroom. My first thought was that my students would say, “can we just play on our phones today?” And this, of course, makes me cringe. Of course, who knows? Maybe that would actually work out. My second thought was that my students have learned just how much I like games. So many a day, they say, “Can we play a game today?” And often, I do say yes. What if I always said yes? Actually, that sounds like a great class. And it sounds like a class that both myself and my students would enjoy. And speaking of games… here’s another TED Talk.

What’s interesting about this guy is that his voice is the reverse of his educational journey. He sounds bored with himself until about halfway through.

So my goal for the end of the year? I’m going to be play testing a what I am calling an RPC–Role Playing Classroom, which I am running through a powerpoint slideshow.

From RPC 1.1
I playtested version 1.0 with a class a couple of weeks ago, and what I learned is that the story doesn’t have to be that different. They’re still students at a school. Only now they have superpowers. And there are ghosts.

I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Posted in Poetry, Tabletop Poetry (and Other Artforms)

30 in 30 Day 14: Things They Don’t Tell You in Teacher Training

Things They Don’t Tell You in Teacher Training

for Ian, Jeremiah, and Ezequiel

They don’t tell you
that playground altercations
will include such topics as
whether boys can shout
“no girls allowed”
on the bouncy car,
pushing too hard
on the swing set
and who gets to be
a cheetah lizard.
(and for that matter,
they do not tell you
what cheetah lizards are.)

They do not tell you
that seven year olds
can act as mature
as seventeen year olds
especially when you bribe them
with bubble gum.

Or that seventeen year olds
can act as mature
as seven year olds
especially when
you ask them
to put away their phones.

They don’t tell you
that high school students
can’t read clocks either.
Or write in cursive.
Though they do know how
to tie their shoes.

They don’t tell you
that kindergartners
also swear.
Or that they use swear words
in proper context.

They don’t tell you
that ninth graders
like band-aids just as much
as first graders
but they are less responsible
about where they put stickers.

They don’t tell you
how to teach consent.
They don’t warn you
about the boys who will try
to touch female students
even after the girls have said no.
They don’t prepare you
for the crying kindergartner
who just had a boy
pinch her bottom.

They don’t tell you
where to draw the line
on student-teacher confidentiality.
They don’t tell you
whether you should report
remarks from students
of teachers’ favoritism
on the basis of gender
or race.

They don’t recommend
that you open up
about your own problems
with depression.
They don’t tell you
how your students
may find inspiration
in the fact that you are alive.

They don’t tell you
to buy a black dress
or to learn how to say
“I’m sorry for your loss”
in Spanish.
Because you never know
when you might need these things.

They don’t remind you
that trouble comes in threes
and each time it will hurt more
than the last.

They don’t warn you
that guns can hurt
a student body
even when they are not fired
on school property.

They don’t tell you
just how complicated
diabetes can get,

They don’t tell you
that you can feel
the full weight
of a car crash
from another town.

They don’t tell you
that if it’s your student
you may find out
via text message.

They don’t describe
the way the air grows heavy
the next day
as soon as the bell rings.
Or just how empty
his chair will look.

They don’t tell you
that you are also
allowed to cry.

Posted in Favorite Teaching Moments

Favorite Teaching Moments: The Culmination of Teaching

 I often tell people that my job as an ESL teacher is to help students find their voices. February 6 was one of those moments that I truly felt like I had succeeded in this mission.

I started writing poetry in middle school, and I started performing in high school. It was something that has been a major part of my life for years, and I was lucky because there were adults in my life that encouraged me to do this and tried to cultivate my passion for writing. So when I moved to Arkansas and made friends with another poet who started hosting a local open mic, of course I attended. Several years later, I am now in the position of the adults who were around me when I was in high school. I have a student who loves to sing, and has a beautiful voice (even the choir teacher says so). He often sings in my class. And if we have five spare moments, he’ll pull out his guitar. It’s kind of soothing, actually, to be in the classroom with him playing and singing, and one day I thought, wait a minute, I know where this student can sing!

So I invited him to open mic. I told him he would have to drive himself, but he could follow me there, and he was welcome to invite anyone else to come. It’s a free event, two towns over, which is not a lot when you live in a rural area. The students were talking about it all week leading up to the event–he was going to sing, his friends were going to come watch. He even convinced another student to do a duet with him. We made an arrangement to meet at the school 30 minutes before the open mic. I pulled up about 15 minutes early and they were already there–four students, excited faces waving to me through the window. And I got out and did the adult thing. I checked that they had a licensed driver and gave them my phone number, so if anything happened on the way over, they could reach me. And I warned them that it might be tricky to find parking. It didn’t even feel like the responsible thing. It just felt like the normal everyday, looking after your friends sorta thing. Basically, I was pretty much treating them the same way I would treat adults. And, when you think about it, that’s what high school students want, more than anything.

We arrived at the venue. I introduced them to my friend who was hosting. Open mic was small because it had been raining, and like the Assimov short story “Rain, Rain, Go Away,” folks around here disappear when it rains. I read some fiction. My friend read a poem. Another guy read several short humorous poems, which my students seem to enjoy quite a bit. Another man read from his blog. And then my students sang. The two of them together. And the small crowd liked them enough that they asked for an encore. And my student sang another song, even though he was worried he didn’t know it very well. Then we ate pretzels and chatted, and went home. But watching my kids up there on stage, I thought, I am watching them use their voices. And I guess they enjoyed it because they told me I should have them sing at my wedding. And honestly? I would enjoy that.

It was nice to spend time with my students outside of school–for us to see each other as more than just teacher and students. I hope we get to do this again. And I hope that they continue to see that their voices are worth sharing with the world.

Posted in Analog Girl vs. The Technology Monster

Two for Tuesday: Quizlet vs. Anki

Hey y’all! Today, I’m doing something a little different. Instead of my usual battle with technology, I’m going to pit two different programs against each other: Quizlet and Anki.

Quizlet and Anki are both digital flashcard programs. If you are a teacher, chances are you’ve heard of Quizlet, and if you are studying a new language, then you might already be familiar with Anki. But which is better? Well, here’s my take…

Quizlet Pros:

  • Quizlet is free
  • It is easy to make and share flashcards
  • You can embed flashcards into a web page, so others can study them without having their own Quizlet account
  • You can practice flashcards using several different games…
  • Including Quizlet Live, which is cooperative

Quizlet Cons:

  • Pictures are limited unless you have a paid account
  • You cannot add audio without a paid account

Anki Pros:

  • Anki is free and open source
  • It is a spaced repetition system (SRS)–this means it keeps track of which cards you know better and quizzes you on those less.
  • Cards are highly customizable
  • You can include pictures
  • You can include audio files
  • Sync Ankiweb to desktop and mobile apps
  • The android mobile app is free
  • You can pick to study just one side or both sides of a card

Anki Cons:

  • The Apple app costs $25
  • The program is not always intuitive (for a short while, I was not even sure how to sync my cards to Ankiweb. Then again, my tech savvyness is somewhere in the medium-low range.)
  • Ankiweb does not support importing pictures (you can study flashcards that have pictures on Ankiweb, you just can’t make flashcards with pictures on Ankiweb.)
  • If you don’t want to use the basic front/back format, making more complex types of cards, while doable, can be difficult. (But templates can be found.)

Classroom Uses:

Flashcards are of great use in a classroom setting. The best way to learn something is by testing yourself on it. You can reread the information over and over, but quizzing yourself with flashcards? Better. Especially when those flashcards are a spaced repetition system. You can have students create and practice their own decks, you can create a class deck to share or practice together. Or with Quizlet Live, you can practice in teams.

Let me take a moment to talk about Quizlet live. I’m not a big fan of Quizlet, actually, but Quizlet Live is practically worth a review all on its own. Quizlet Live splits your class into teams in which they need to cooperate to beat another team. Each member of the team sees a list of words on his or her screen, different from the list of words on the screens of his or her partners. All team members see the same definition at the top of their screen, and only one of them has the answer, so they have to communicate to make sure they click the right answer. Because if you click the wrong answer, you have to start over. The first team to 10 wins. Not only have I seen students have a lot of fun playing this (and I have had a lot of fun playing this) but some groups really team up and work together. Also, it only goes a couple of minutes, so you can play it several times in the last 5-10 minutes of class (and chances are? you students will want to play it several times.)

Final Verdict: Tie

To tell the truth, I much much prefer Anki. It’s a spaced repetition system and it’s free. If it weren’t for Quizlet Live, I would argue Quizlet is nigh worthless. Quizlet is basically the same as analog flashcards, if not more limited. For example, my selection of pictures that I can put on flashcards isn’t limited by how much money I pay. Sure, analog flashcards aren’t totally free, and if I’m putting pictures on them, I’m probably printing and gluing them, so there’s some printing costs. But as someone who has made over 1000 flashcards for second language learning purposes, I would still argue that the cost is negligible. So what does Quizlet save you? Time. And space. I haven’t actually timed it, but I would guess that it takes less time to make flashcards on Quizlet than it does to make analog flashcards, especially if you are printing and gluing pictures. And obviously, storing flashcards on a computer takes up much less space. But Anki does all of the same things–takes less time, takes less space, and lets you put pictures AND sound–for free, so the answer’s a no brainer. I use Anki for everything. I use it to practice Italian. I use it to memorize poetry. I have even used it for my students to study vocabulary.

Why then, do I call this a tie? Let’s face it, it’s mostly because of Quizlet Live (and it’s worth noting this feature is free, though has more options if you pay). But Quizlet also has other games that allow students to practice independently, and as we’ve seen from my first post. I love games. (Though honestly, Anki feels like a game to me. Probably because you can watch the number of cards you have to study that day dwindle as you practice.)

So in the end, which program is best for you depends on your needs and your resources. If you know you are going to make use of the games that Quizlet offers, than you probably want to use Quizlet. Or if you’re mostly functioning on chromebooks, and you have any desire to put pictures on your flashcards, you will want to use Quizlet (Ankiweb is more for syncing and studying your cards than making them.) But if you’re not expecting to use the games and you can download the Anki desktop app, then Anki is probably the better program for you.

Have you ever used Quizlet or Anki? Let me know what you think in the comments below.