by Karen Eini
an interview with Rachel Arenstein
by the 9th grade students
by Adele Raemer
Email Exchange Project
A collaborative Internet
project called the Monster E-mail Exchange provides an ideal example of
an authentic language activity that can be used to enhance classroom textbook
The monster project focuses on writing
skills to communicate a drawing of a student-created monster into a detailed
written description. Students from cooperating schools read these descriptions
which have been sent via e-mail and duplicate the original drawing
as closely as possible. All students in the project experience both
the role of creator of an original monster drawing and description, as
well as recreating the monster from their e-mail partner's written description.
At the end of the project, both the original and duplicate drawings are
digitized and published on the web in the Mind's Eye Monster Galleries
so that participants can see the resulting drawings for comparison and
evaluation of their work.
The monster project has a positive element
of "cooperation and success" built into its design. Each student
in the project essentially wants his partner to successfully redraw the
monster as closely as possible to the original. Thus, each writer is motivated
to write an accurate description to help his reader to "see" or envision
the monster. The monster descriptions expose EFL students to vocabulary
that they have, for the most part, previously learned in the formal textbook-classroom
context. The project demands that they use this learned vocabulary and
produce a drawing that reflects their understanding. The actual reading
of the descriptions and redrawing of the monsters is, therefore, an authentic
form of assessment of vocabulary and reading comprehension. Also the fact
that the students play two roles--that of receiver of information, in order
to recreate the monster; and that of producer of information, in
writing their own descriptions for their monsters--enable them to fully
exercise their skills and reflect their knowledge and understanding.
The site designed for this project is user-friendly,
well designed and has plenty of explanations and timetables that help participants
plan accordingly. In terms of equipment, participants need either a scanner
or digital camera and access to an Internet connection. Even if there is
only one Internet connection, an overhead projector can be used to show
the final results of the monsters side-by-side.
Partners are encouraged to write introductory
letters to each other and it is helpful if the teachers involved specify
the levels of English of their students so that native speakers in the
project will be more sensitive to their readers’ level. Classroom preparation
before the actual exchanging of monster description could include:
With proper preparation, careful planning
and communication between partner teachers, and efficient time management,
this project is an excellent experience for the EFL language learner and
teacher. A sample of Monster E-mail Exchange can be seen on-line
the reading of monster stories
monster dictation drawings
review of body parts and adjectives
the building of a classroom monster
dictionary that could include such words as scars, horns, fangs, fur, claws,
Rachel Arenstein is making her 'dreams come
true" in Maalot. ETNI News talked to Rachel about how she began working
with her elementary school students on computers, e-mail and the Internet,
and where she is now!
ETNI NEWS: Many readers think
that you walked into a computer lab set-up "to die for"...tell us the history
of what you have and how you got there.
Rachel: Until June 30, 1998, we
had thirty 286 computers without hard disks. In the library we had an additional
four computers, two of which had modems and were connected to an ISDN telephone
line. The 30 computers were on a network and the main use was drill-type
programs via Rama 2. I was working with twelve students on four computers,
which was difficult, to say the least.
Last November, we were advised that we
had been accepted into the Machar 98 project and that we would be getting
56 computers. The procedure is that schools receiving over 50 new
computers will get them over a period 2 years.
Many meetings and discussions were held
as to how best use the computers. It was finally decided to put twenty
in the old computer room and three in the science lab and one in the teachers'
room. After looking at many programs, the school decided to take
the Sal Patuach from Matach. This means that nearly all their programs
are available for use before a final descision is made after a year.
ETNI News: Can you describe
your hardware, software and technical support?
Rachel: Our school became
computerized through Machar 98 over the summer 1998 holiday. This
meant that we returned to a new computer room with 20 state-of-the-art
computers, a projector and a flat bed scanner. The computers are on a network
with an NT server and are connected to a frame relay line, which means
that we have instant 24-hour connection-- all of which sounds wonderful!
The software package includes the Sal
Patuach from CET, Office 97, Explorer and Netscape Communicator and an
anti-virus program. The computers were purchased through CET, which
means that they provide our technical support. A phone call to Tel Aviv
means that the technician arrives within 48 hours usually. We have
noone onsite (except me) to deal with minor programming problems.
I find this frustrating as I am sure that a short course of 28 hours could
teach at least 3 teachers in school how to cope with these problems without
having to rely on an outside person all the time.
ETNI News: Can you describe
how your role at the school has changed this year as a result of the new
Rachel: I am now responsible for
CMC (Computer Mediated Communication) in school as well as teaching English.
This year I am on sabbatical so am only working 10 hours, all of which
are spent in the computer room.
A decision was made in Maalot this year
that all schools were to concentrate on achievement levels. In our school,
this means that every fifth and sixth grade class has one hour per week
of CALL. In addition, I have groups of fifth and sixth grade students for
Internet and CMC studies again one hour per group.
ETNI News: What is your present
program and how did you build it?
Rachel: I spent much time
considering all my options for planning my own program. I was also involved
in general school policy decisions regarding the computers. It soon became
obvious that as most teachers lacked any computer skills, the computers
would continue to be used mainly for closed programs. By these I mean programs
that require minimal computer skills, usually clicking on correct answers
or dragging them to the correct part of the screen. These programmes do
not use open tools like Word.
Some teachers decided to use Matach projects
that required use of a word processor and e-mail. I have become the unofficial
technical person for that project.
ETNI News: What was your biggest
Rachel: I decided that I wanted
to avoid all closed programs if that was feasible. I followed up
all suggestions for projects that were posted on the ETNI list and spent
many hours surfing through sites to see what might be suitable. I
realised very quickly that the level of English required to cope with the
easiest sites was in many cases beyond the ability of my students.
I had thought that the Too Cool For Grownups electronic newspaper
would be a great site for the kids. Some of them managed to struggle through
a few lines but for most of the class it was impossible. I have now
chosen a few projects and each class has their own.
ETNI News: Tell us about your
- One sixth grade class is involved
in the CET M@il Me project. This is an email project which requires
correspondence with a school abroad. The accompanying site has great
ideas for teachers and games and worksheets for the kids. It encourages
the kids to use English in a real situation. The kids are enjoying
it and our first letters are in the planning stage.
- Two classes--one fifth grade and
one sixth grade--are building virtual portfolios. We are using the
Netscape Composer to write them. Each student has written an identity card
as the opening page.
The fifth graders' portfolios will be teacher-guided,
in that we will choose the work to go into the portfolio. We are using
Beginners' Files in school and the book has portfolio exercises. Some of
these will be done on computer instead of in a notebook. In addition I
have prepared a list of tasks based on the textbook. The pupils are required
to choose four of them. The sixth graders are allowed far more choice.
They are given guidelines for writing. For instance, in the textbook Changing
Channels, there is a conversation in a shop where one of the characters
buys a t-shirt. For the portfolio, I asked the kids to write a similar
conversation. The stronger pupils chose a picture from the Clipart collection
and wrote a conversation around that. The less able students used a template
from the workbook. The sixth graders will also write mini projects based
on subjects in the class book and use Internet as their source for information.
- Another fifth grade class is involved
in the Monster E-mail Project. This meant that we had to draw and describe
monsters and then send the descriptions to a parallel class who did exactly
same. Each class has to draw the others monsters according to the descriptions
- My Internet groups center round
teaching basic skills such as simple searches, saving and use of material,
and e-mail. The e-mail sessions were great. I sent letters to all
the pupils in English and asked them to reply. This meant that they
had to write in English as well as using email. I am hoping that
the kids will prepare projects using Power Point. Although these
will be written in Hebrew, many of them will be based on information found
ETNI News: We understand that
your school is involved in unique work with the students in a nearby Druze
Rachel: Fifteen sixth grade
students are involved in an e-mail project with a nearby Druze village.
The project is in its second year. The two groups correspond in English
on basic topics- myself, my school, my town. In addition there are
real meetings. This year we have decided to build a joint site on the Olive
tree. The site will probably be in three languages- Hebrew, Arabic and
ETNI News: What are your biggest problems?
Rachel: It all sounds great but
there are a lot of challenges. Some kids have no computer skills
at all and need individual attention. Fortunately, the kids are very willing
and able to help each other. It also means that some students who
are weak in English but do have computer skills can shine and be stars
for a change. I have to draw a line between what I am supposed to
teach, and what the kids want to learn. For instance, the kids would
happily spend several lessons choosing the backgrounds and pictures for
their work. In a regular computer lesson, I would have no problem
with that--but they are supposed to be learning English. I have decided
that if they complete a given exercise then they can spend a lesson looking
The Monster Project was way to hard for
the kids. The descriptions were very difficult for them to write. I have
just received the descriptions from the States and realise that they will
almost have to be translated for my students to cope with them.
Another problem is keeping pace with creative
ideas to engage thestudents. When I am out of ideas or worksheets,
there is the excellent Go On Reading programme from CET.
Another concern is teaching the students
how to work with computers, and cooperate in project work. The students
resent any time in the computer room not spent on the computers. As this
is the only place I meet with them it is unavoidable. Some aspects of all
the projects have to be discussed before the work can begin. On the
whole the kids know this and see that the quicker they are cooperate with
me, the faster they will get to the computers.
The biggest problems are undoubtedly those
of a technical nature. It is very irksome to find that even the most
basic tools are missing and have to be downloaded from the net. I
have no experience of network management so it is all trial and error.
Slowly but surely I am finding my way around and discovering where to download
files (the network drive as then the setup files can be opened on all computers);
where to keep backup files (on the d: drive so material will not be affected
by problems on the c: drive; and not be affected by that drive being reformatted);
and how to reconnect computers to the network. They always
become detached when you want the kids to save work (Murphy's Law!).
ETNI News: Do you think students
are improving their skills in English through use of computers? Has
their motivation changed?
Rachel: There is no doubt
in my mind that the computers, and particularly Internet, are great tools
for the teaching of English. First, the kids are having to deal with real
English in a real situation, whether it is finding information or writing
letters. They are more willing to struggle with English in
order to find information about their favorite subjects.
I have no problem with them looking
for information on the Hanson Brothers or Leonardo di Caprio. The
main thing is that they are reading or scanning English--and English that
is real, not especially written for them. I have in fact prepared
worksheets that require them to scan sites for information on pop groups
or film stars.
Internet is a great motivator. The pupils
are also motivated to write in order to prepare home pages. And they
exhibit more motivation in reading to find information.
Another problem is teaching basic computer
skills. The students have to understand the structure of a computer in
order to save their work ( and find it again) and to save pictures which
are to be inserted into their work at a later time. These skills
have to be taught in Hebrew. They are worthwhile skills that the students
will always need and use, but it is not strictly English so, I get a guilty
twinge when I teach them.
I am finding the whole experience challenging.
Seeing how far I can push my own technical knowledge. Helping solve my
problems as well as other peoples, and most of all, pushing the kids.
They are willing to work way beyond lesson time if what they are doing
interests them and it would seem that computers are interesting.
school at Ibleen -
written by the 9th graders
In October 98,the gifted school at Ibleen
opened for the seventh, eighth and ninth grades, for pupils who have passed
the special exams for gifted pupils.
We are 80 pupils studying topics such as
English using computers, mathematical thinking, film making, diseases,
science and technology.
Mr Husam is the head of the school, which
has its classes on our free day, Friday.
We come to Mr. Elias’s “college” every
Friday.Some of the subjects are optional and this is what we like so much
about that school. The classes are more interesting and taught in
a different approach than in our regular schools. We prepare projects on
topics that we wish to research and there are no exams.
From a personal viewpoint I see myself
privileged to be an English teacher at Ibleen gifted school . I teach
all the lessons in the computer lab and I try to find activities on the
Internet which will improve their written proficiency--we started a keypal
project with students their age from America and some pupils are in the
process of building their homepages.
If you have any ideas, comments or thoughts
I'll be glad to hear them, so E-mail me: