Saturday’s Book: “Americanah” by Adichie

Naomi’s photos

This is an excellent book but a complex one.

The previous book I read, The Purple Hibiscus, was mesmerizing and  I was totally lost in the tale as told by a girl as she grew up. I just wanted to keep reading.

The writing here is excellent too but in this book the author seems to want to tell us more than the tale of two young people growing up.  It’s as if she has an agenda of things to make us understand. It is not enough to present what it was like to grow up well-educated in Nigeria but to be unable to complete higher education (or do something with that education), how it feels to immigrate to the US or UK and to return to Lagos, which would be the story of these two young people.

Adiche also goes to great length to describe the peers at school, the co workers abroad, the immigrants who made it vs those who didn’t and the family members, presenting their point of view on every matter as well. As if there is a need to present every possible aspect of every subject.

In addition, Adiche emphasizes in great detail a perspective I haven’t really encountered before, one of the African new immigrant’s musings on race in comparison to  African Americans who have been in the US for generations. There are some very thought-provoking passages.

It’s all very interesting but it is a long book and sometimes I felt that it was trying to encompass too much and I was sort of wishing it would move a little faster.

Nonetheless, a worthwhile read indeed.

June is “Take your Camera to Class” Month!

Sunny June
Naomi’s Photos

June.

The month school ends.

It’s a great time to look at the classroom as it is now, before thinking about changes and improvements.

It’s also an opportunity for me to answer that eternal question –

“What does a multi-level, mixed age, learning center for teaching English as a foreign language to Deaf and hard of hearing students even look like”?!

So now you can join me for a morning at work!

Oh, by the way.

I really do have a lovely walk from the parking lot in the mornings. Interesting in every season.

Have a wonderful vacation!

 

 

Warning! Your Motivational Message on Errors may BACKFIRE!

Sneak Attack
Naomi’s Photos

As a teacher of English as a foreign language I spend a great deal of energy convincing students to try to use the language, that making mistakes is actually fine and can be a great learning experience. You learn by doing and when you “do” you make mistake. Take a look at how Scott Thornbury stresses the importance of feedback on errors in his blog post “P is for Problematizing”

As a Special Education teacher I spend a great deal of energy convincing students to continue making the effort to learn English, even though it is challenging for them when they are Deaf or hard of hearing, have additional learning disabilities and more. Since I teach high-school I often meet students who have had years of discouraging experiences in the classroom.  They need to feel that the classroom is a safe place, they won’t be ridiculed for making errors and that there will be many opportunities to try again.

The following inspirational video has been floating around my social media feed. At first glance it seems fine – who could argue with a positive message like “Always rise above the criticism and stay strong”?

Feeling worthless…
Naomi’s Photos

But the more I thought about it the more I realized you could call the little video a  “fire hazard” , particularly if you teach teenagers. Dealing with errors is an incendiary subject at this age – how teens perceive their peers opinions’ of them is crucial.

The teenagers who need motivational messages the most, the ones who are most vulnerable, will never make it to the inspirational message at the end of the video. We will lose them at the part about being laughed at for making one single error, the part about how one mistake cancels out all the other good things you do in the eyes of the world.

Yes, I know that’s not the point of the video. But I also know my students.  Some will only see it as strengthening the “lets throw in the towel attitude”. Why bother making the effort to study? Why risk the consequences of making errors? Why not play it safe?

Videos can be a powerful motivational tool. But they must be chosen with care.

By the way, there’s an error in the video. One doesn’t say ” a wrong mistake”.

 

Saturday’s Book: “The Believers” by Heller

Naomi’s photos

It’s the weirdest thing.

I’m usually quite sure what exactly I like and don’t like about a book. All very clear.

Except for this book. I liked it but I really can’t put my finger on why I did.

On the back cover there is a review-comment from The Daily Mail “Funny, moving and very very true…a brilliant brilliant book”.

I don’t think the book is funny – I don’t find such a dysfunctional family funny. I am strongly suspect of the “true” aspect of it but willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Though the mother’s character is a bit much…

Yet there is something about this book. I don’t know if “brilliant” is the right word but each chapter sucks you into a scene completely. When you are  released and turn to the next chapter you find yourself not where or when you expected to be, yet it all makes sense.

I’m glad I read it.

 

Hey! “Incidental Comics” Knows Why I Blog!

Let the marbles roll…
(Naomi’s photos)

As someone whose own blog is all about connecting words and visual input, along with book reviews thrown in for good measure (or my own pleasure, to be precise), the decision to subscribe to Grant Snider’s “Incidental Comics” blog was a no brainer.

I was rewarded almost right away. There, in my inbox, was the perfect explanation of why I blog.  Actually, an explanation of why I need to blog! In a strip called “Cogito Ergo  Sum”, the last four panels sum it up beautifully ( I can’t embed it here, click on the title to see the complete original, in context with the drawings):

” I think, therefore I read.

I read, therefore I rethink.

I rethink, therefore I write.

I write, therefore I am.”

By Grant Snider

Brilliant!

Is that why you blog?

P.S  Did you notice the word “dental” hiding in the word “incidental”? Snider is an orthodontist, there could be a connection…

P.P.S – Looks like there is a lot of useful material for class, too.

 

 

 

 

A Video for an Imaginary Staff Meeting on “BALANCE”

Never enough time… (Naomi’s photos)

Note – I first learned of this video from the Film English blog, a blog well worth following.  If you are looking for an additional lesson plan for students with this video, I suggest visiting  Cristina’s blog, Blog de Cristina .

There’s never enough time at school to talk about some things. So many truly pressing issues take priority. And aren’t we are all in a hurry to get home at the end of the day?

Or maybe issues such as “balancing all the ways a teacher should ideally be meeting the students’ needs” simply seem obvious to everyone. No point in discussing obvious things, is there? That’s what blogs are for – I shall hold an imaginary staff meeting. Perhaps you’ll join me?

Different Strokes, different colors, different needs…
Naomi’s Photos

At my imaginary staff meeting, everyone is sitting comfortably,  sipping their favorite beverage and not worrying about the time (I did say imaginary…)  I would begin by showing the following powerful video. Without uttering a single word, this video manages to be truly moving and to raise several issues worth discussing. I’ll settle for discussing the following one.

Alike short film from Pepe School Land on Vimeo.

In what ways do teachers strive to keep the balance in their classes between letting students express themselves and learning the material that must be learnt? On one hand, when watching the video, it’s truly heartbreaking to see the child’s creativity being snuffed out. The child literally loses her colors! On the other hand, we are doing children a big disservice if we don’t teach them how and when to follow rules. If you don’t learn to form your letters in the standard, accepted way, no one will be able to read what you have written. If you don’t learn the importance of coming to class on time (because perhaps you stopped to watch your street musician) you may have a hard time holding a job in the future.

We like to think of book reports or projects as opportunities, or outlets, for students to express themselves, but is that enough? I teach in the format of a learning center, which enables students to get up and move around during the lesson, and do a little “happy dance” if they need to. Which is something I’m pleased about but I don’t think that’s the point either.

A balancing act…
Naomi’s photos

If we return to the video for a minute, think what would have happened if the teacher had responded differently to the little girl’s drawing. Perhaps she could have said that she would create a folder for the child’s lovely artwork so it could be kept and admired but now she also needs to practice her letters. Otherwise no one will be able to understand what she writes. In other words, the teacher tries to get her to see the point of what she is asked to do, gets her on board with the rationale.

Isn’t understanding the point of what you are doing a critical step in taking ownership of your learning? Then, perhaps, it would be much easier to find the balance between academic learning and self-expression. It is, of course, easier said than done. Teachers have to prepare students for high stakes exams. Sometimes the reason for doing something is “it’s on the exam…”

Then again, perhaps the whole take away from a teacher’s perspective should be that making the student feel noticed and special can make a world of difference. It can let her keep hearing the violin play in her head!

What would you say if you attended my imaginary staff meeting?

 

 

Belated Book Post – The People of Paper & People of the Book

People of Metal…
(Naomi’s Photos)

Would you believe I found two books with such similar titles on the same visit to the library? But the similarities pretty much begin and end with the titles.

It is my understanding that  “The People of Paper”  by Plascencia is supposed to present an innovative form of writing.  Well, I’m afraid I’m not progressive enough to enjoy it. Large portions of the book are written in columns, with each character’s point of view appearing in a different column. I was prepared to accept reading like that for a few chapters, until the author went overboard, as far as I was concerned. New characters were added, remembering which character was which grew confusing and time frames jumped between different character’s tales (or between one column to the next) and I got totally lost.

I abandoned the ship.

On the other hand, People of the Book by Brooks is very easy to read. It’s historical fiction and each time frame is clearly distinguishable. The book is rich with details, in fact it seems ready to be adapted for the screen. You have everything Hollywood usually wants.

Which leads to  my main problem with the book. It is basically a good book but I dislike it when you can tell the author had a kind of checklist of “Hollywood” elements that need to appear in the book – sex must be brought up at regular intervals, unknown fathers, the mother who basically sacrificed her child for her career, etc. And while I’m all for “girl power”, I found some parts regarding the female heroine in every single period a bit hard to believe, particularly the really ancient times.

Nonetheless, it was an interesting book and I would recommend it.

Let’s Hear it for The-30s-CAN-ROCK Teachers!

Aren’t the flames a bit TOO high?
Naomi’s photos

No, I’m afraid this post is not about all you truly wonderful teachers who are in their 30s.

Nor is this post about finding educational lessons in the comedy show called “30 Rock” . I actually tried but I couldn’t find anything on the theme of “keeping the flame alive”. All I found was this and it simply won’t do…

” Can I share with you my world view? All of humankind has one thing in common – the sandwich. I believe that all anyone really wants in this life is to sit in peace and eat a sandwich” (Liz Lemon, 30 Rock).

So, lets just pack the sandwiches in the lunchbox (along with a salad and an apple, please!) and head on to school to talk to those teachers around the world who have been teaching for more than 30 years and are still going strong!

What is the secret?

I prefer this version of “flaming trees” (Naomi’s Photos)

The organizers of the upcoming ETAI conference have once again given me space to present pearls of wisdom from teachers around the globe, this time  on the topic of “How to Keep Motivated after 30 years of Teaching”!

I need everyone’s help with this one! Even if you aren’t a member of this select group of teachers and can’t answer the ultra short questionnaire below, I’m sure you know someone whose words of wisdom should absolutely be on it. I would appreciate if you could share the link or bring up the questionnaire in the teacher’s room.

Replies are limited to only one sentence.

I may exercise my right as the organizer and add two sentences… Yup – you guessed correctly. I’m a member of this select group myself!


https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdh-T-6GOKbuKSxik_ZacjuznHWUa6sKHTzo_BvyZV8xbBw-w/viewform?usp=sf_link

 

 

Saturday’s Documentary – “Houston, We Have a Problem”

Take a good look!
Naomi’s Photos

Honestly, just watch the trailer and see if you can figure out how to watch the documentary. To say much about this in advance is a spoiler.

Our whole family just watched it at the Docaviv Documentary Film Festival and it is fascinating. We’ve been talking about it all evening – it is so cleverly done! It brings up the issue of what makes us believe what we believe, combining a take on former Yugoslavia and today’s media quandary… We keep noticing yet another detail used to prove a point.

Worth making an effort to watch!

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