Saturday’s Book: “Don’t Call it Night” by Amos Oz

It’s not surprising that I’m reading this book because a friend recommended it. Isn’t that what happens when you talk to people about books?

What I find amusing is that the friend who recommended this book by an Israeli writer (originally written in Hebrew) is Vicky Loras, my Greek / Canadian friend currently living in Switzerland who read the book in English!

I’ve read quite a few books by Amos Oz, but not recently. After his mind boggling autobiography “A Tale of Love and Darkness” (which is not an easy read, by the way,  but so very powerful) I sort of felt that after reading such a book the author’s other works would pale beside this one.

This book was written 10 years before the autobiography (which came out in 2004) It isn’t as good as some of his other books but is still very good. I think one of the things I enjoy best about Oz’s books is that he deals with the enormous complexity of relationships without a need to resort to techniques I despise – techniques such as “your uncle is really your father”, etc.

If Vicky enjoyed it then I’m sure the translator was good (I’m reading it in Hebrew). The (impolite word of your choice) editors of the Hebrew edition (1994) are required to supply a title in English on the back side of the front page. They wrote : “Don’t Pronounce it Night”. Happily the translators dealt with the title better!

Poll Results: Are Good Spellers also Good at Math?

On July 12th, following a great #eltchat on the topic of spelling (great summary of chat here) I posted a poll related to the connection (or correlation, but this isn’t a proper research!) between being a good (or poor ) speller and being good (or not) at math. The question was based on my assumption that that both spelling and math require analytic skills, something I notice in the classroom. It was also based on the fact that I was an AVID reader from an early age, yet did not pick up spelling intuitively and have always had trouble with math.

Photo by Roni Epstein

I must have struck a chord because teachers reacted (both on the blog and off it) very emphatically to the issue, regardless of their opinion.

I would like to point out that the two questions on the poll DID NOT examine teachers’ opinions on the issue but focused on personal experience. The questions were:

1) Were you good at spelling when you were a child?

2) Were you good at math when you were a child?

33 EFL teachers answered the poll. I  tried to advertise the poll in #matchat as well but did not receive any responses from math teachers.

In addition, one research citation was helpfully provided by Dorit Renov. She also informed me that, at least in the past, one had to have high grades in math in order to be accepted to the University Linguistics Dept. Lingusitics is not spelling yet I believe that it is worth noting.

First a brief look at the research and then the poll results themselves.

The research is called: ” Predicting Spelling Scores from Math Scores in a Population of Elementary School Students with a
Learning Disability”  by Christopher B. Wolfe

In the research a connection between math skills and spelling is found under certain conditions:

“…at low levels of spelling and arithmetic skill, such as those found in some students with a learning disability, children are accessing a similar ability to complete the tasks. ” “…the finding of a mathematics/spelling relationship lies outside reading
skill. Scores used in this study were obtained from children who exhibited a significant reading disability and had not yet received an instructional intervention that targeted this skill. Therefore, even with little or no ability to read, a relationship exists between aspects of spelling and mathematics performance.”

Photo by Roni Epstein

The responses of 13 teachers supported the poll’s assumption. Five of the thirteen teachers, as children, had trouble with both spelling and math. The other 8 teachers were good at both.

Obviously, the responses of the 20 other teachers did not support the poll’s assumption. 15 of the 20 teachers were good at spelling but had trouble with math. Only five teachers were good at math but had had trouble with spelling. Two of those reported that they had a learning disability.

As was pointed out in the comment section, the poll questions are very general and do not relate to issues such as the phonetic difference between specific languages or the effects of learning disabilities. Though it is interesting that the one research found during this poll was related to learning disabilities.

In any case, it is interesting to note that only 13 of the 33 teachers who participated in the poll were good at math as children. Perhaps the poll question should have examined the connection between being an EFL teacher and math?



Saturday’s Book: “The Railway Children” by E. Nesbit

Someone mentioned this children’s book to me a few days ago and I was immeditaly flooded with a memory of pleasure. I remember very little of the plot of the book but have a distinct memory of LOVING it and reading it more than once.

I spent time today reading about the author. I had no idea the book was first published in 1906! That explains why she called herself E. Nesbit and not Edith. I also was unaware that she had written such a large number of books including books for adults. I’m positive that I also read “Five Children and It” as a child but the other names don’t ring a bell anymore.

By the way, turns out the book is a Puffin Classic! LOL!

I wonder: are children today still reading it?

When Virtual Friends become REAL – Having SHELLY TERRELL over for Dinner

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve announced a standing invitation to our ELTchatters around the world – come, present at a conference (or give a workshop), tour the famous sites, and get a home cooked dinner (with friends) at my place!

This week THE renowned Shelly Terrell came for dinner. I’m still excited, post event!

Before Shelly walked in the door, while I was cooking, I was wondering about what it would be like to meet someone face to face that I had only known virtually. How different are our online personas? Would it be akward? Would the conversation flow?

I don’t have any answers to the general question but I can clearly state that Shelly is as friendly, sweet and fascinating in real life as she is online! And there was no akwardness either! For anyone!

Sara Tilleman, Micki Zaritski, Leo Sellivan, Shelly Terell, Elana Boteach and “a puffin”

I was particularly glad to thank Shelly personally for helping me REALLY start blogging. About two months after I had begun my blog, still “feeling the way”  I began participating in Shelly’s 30 Goal Project. After posting about each of those 30 ways to reflect on my carreer as a teacher, I not only learned a a great deal but became a confident blogger! Shelly was most encouraging in those early days!

Since I was the host I forgot to take a picture of the table. Know that dinner invitations to my house include such staples as cheese lasagne, corn fritters, spinach quiche, chick pea/tahini burgers and lots of salads. Dessert includes my one specialty (in the baking dept.) brownies and fruit. But I DID take a picture (afterwards)  of one of the table decorations – the “Penguin Oscar”. Shelly told me that a lot of people think my puffin symbol is a penguin anyway so that worked well!

Penguin Oscar


Saturday’s Book: “The Elephant’s Journey” by Jose Saramago

I was a bit hesitant to start reading this. Despite enjoying the previous book I read by this author (“The Cave”) it was slow reading and Saramago’s senctences can run to half a page. I wasn’t sure I was in the mood for that at the moment. But my husband said this one was different and he was right!

It’s written as if a storyteller is telling it. You can just imagine the author sitting by a campfire, the younger set at his feet and the older ones in the outer circle. He always relates to the listener’s (reader’s) point of view with digressions that sound like answers to questions. Its as if he wants to put any troubling thoughts you may have related to the story at rest. Its a tale (based on a true story) officially about an elephant’s journey from Portugal to Vienna. But there is so much more to it! Really interesting and at times laugh-out-loud funny! Saramago’s trademark long sentences are there but it isn’t slow reading at all. It is also a small book to begin with.

Look for it! I’m at the part when the elephants will soon cross the Alps. Curious…

Spelling and Math – a Poll

I’ve always been under the impression that the students who are good at spelling are also good at math.  Something to do with analytical thinking, I surmised.

At yesterday’s great #eltchat on spelling, (see an equally great summary of the chat here!) a few teachers disagreed and thought that if there is any connection at all, it is a negative connection; great spellers were not strong math students.

It seems to me to be a good idea to enlarge the sample and throw the question out into blogosphere. I would be delighted if you could take a moment and answer these two questions:

1) Were you good at spelling when you were a child?

2) Were you good at math when you were a child?

Notes from ETAI 2012: Guest Speaker Gavin Dudeney

Since we owe a big THANK YOU to the British Council for bringing fascinating guests to local events, I think it is suitable to use the title for the Pecha Kucha event (hosted by the British Council as well) : Good things come in threes

One Gavin Dudeney, three experiences for me!

The very first session I chose to go at ETAI didn’t take place. While there are sessions cancelled due to unforseen circumstances at every conference, there was some lack of clarity regardng the situation and there was no note on the door. A group of people were sitting in the room, waiting and talking and it so happened that Gavin Dudeney had joined the teachers sitting directly behind me! At conferences I must admit to being rather excited and perhaps somewhat pushy and I butted right into the conversation! Its quite exciting to meet someone in person who knows (not just virtually) all these people from #eltchat! Luckily he was very friendly and patient and didn’t look at me oddly when I came to him the next day to say that I had tweeted from his session and it was my first time EVER tweeting from a conference! But most importantly, he meant what he said when he told me to write him regarding my question relating to technology and my deaf / hard of hearing students. HE REPLIED! I don’t take such things for granted.

I attended two sessions of Gavin Dudeney’s talks. In the first he talked about different kinds of digital litercies but kept us all on our toes with all kinds of questions. That was no easy task becasue the room was PACKED and people were sitting almost on top of him. The airconditioner in the room wasn’t geared for such a crowd. Dudeney seemed unruffled and simply took off his jacket

I particulary liked his emphasis that we should be interested in PEOPLE using technology, the skills people needed to know so that technology would  work for PEOPLE!

The second session focused more on practical applications. Adele Raemer, in the preceeding session, had shown us the power of  Word Clouds (among many other things!) and Dudeney emphasized this, citing research that there are advantages to students not always seeing words in straight lines. He gave us a very powerful demonstration of how having an audience (online) can help students improve their speaking skills. This time the session took place in the auditorium!

The third  experience was just watching Gavin Dudeney present and participate in the Pecha Kucha. One of the great things about ETAI is that we are all teachers sharing our work. However, I found it very instructive to see a seasoned presenter in action. I was as interested in the HOW as in the WHAT. Dudeney had all of us glued!

Good things really do come in threes!


More Notes from ETAI 2012: Leo Selivan on Synonyms

The room was packed to hear Leo Selivan’s  (British Council) talk on:

Does the word “synonym” have a synonym?

 Leo began with giving us an historical background, explaining about Latinate and Germanic influences, but didn’t get “bogged down” there. All through the session he encouraged participation and there was a lively debate regarding words that are synonyms and those that aren’t really. Part of the “arguments” had to do with the fact that  some of the teachers in the audience speak “American English” while others speak “British English”.  I was particularly interested in the debate about whether or not the words “child” and “infant” are synonyms. As a native speaker from the USA those words seem totally different to me. I knew it was used differently in French because of the movie “Au revoir les enfants” (louie Malle). In that movie the children were certainly not under the age of two!

Leo ended the talk with some practical suggestions for the classroom.

Here’s a link to a related blog post by Leo Selivan:

Two axes of word relationships


Saturday’s Book: Listening to “The Blind Assassin” by Margaret Atwood

I can’t stress enough how great a writer I think Atwood is. The powerful way in which she uses words, the way more information is slowly fed to us is keeping me completely hooked.

It wasn’t my first choice as an audiobook (you may remember that I had wanted to listen to Patchett’s Bel Canto, which I then found in the library!) because I had a misconception that an audiobook should be a comparatively “light” book. Not true! A  good reader (the reader here is excellent!) makes all those thoughts and descriptions come alive. When Iris wonders about something, you HEAR the wonder in her voice and so much more!

Really recommend this and recommend the exprience of LISTENING to this book!

The Puffin at the ETAI 2012 Pecha Kucha

The instructions were 20 slides, 20 seconds for each slide. Short and preferably amusing.


I adapted an old post of mine, “How to Steal Like a Teacher” (which was adapted from Austen Kleon’s post “How to Steal Like An Artist”. He has since turned the post into a book) and turned it into 20 slides. I thought that because I was using something that I had prepared it wouldn’t be a lot of work but it WAS and I was quite nervous.

I’ve presented in front of a large audience before but not that large and not so fast! There was no time to pause and see if everyone got the point or found a picture I chose amusing. I usually give talks without holding papers but here it seemed important to say the concise sentences I had prepared so I had index cards. I didn’t always look at them though.


Leo Selivan from the British Council was the host. He categorized the six presentations in this manner:





I defined mine as inspirational. There were quite a few “blame it on the host” ones! Most of the presentations were very funny. I settled for “inspirational”!

Leo showed a preview slide for each presentation. Here’s mine:

So, here is the slide show of my presentation. Its just the visuals, of course, but I hope you can enjoy it anyway!

How to STEAL Like a Teacher