Saturday’s Book: “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman

I ENJOYED  every minute of this book! What fun!

I read it in a week. Slightly less. Just what I needed! Captivates from the very first page.

My youngest just received Neil Gaiman’s latest book “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” as a gift. I told him I had heard it mentioned a lot and expressed interest in reading it. He recommended I read this one first. He says its his best.

The cover calls it a children’s book. It didn’t bother me.  There’s plenty of references and puns I bet kids don’t get, clearly for adults! Just one question though, do all British books have to have a part with a mean teacher/governess in it? Or at least that seems mean in the beginning (this one turns out to be special, unspurprisingly.)? I read a lot of Enod Blyton when I was a kid, not to mention a host of others.

Anyway, I enjoyed it so much I consulted with my son, who had also finished his book in less than a week. I thought I might break my own rule about not reading two books by the same author in a row, even if I really like the author (I usually enjoy the second one less). It’s tempting to have the new book in the house. He advised against it. I quote: “The Ocean book is good, but different and not quite as good as the Graveyard one. You’ll enjoy it more if you wait for a few months”.

I’ve decided to take his advice.

A Tiny Notebook Story

2013-10-06 13.34.46

Recently, my youngest son finally organized  the school-related things he had left in his overstuffed drawers (he graduated high school about a year and a half ago!).  He found several notebooks that were only partially used.

I ripped out the used pages and took them to class. I had a vague idea of using them for scrap paper. We use scrap paper for many things in our English Center and always need more.

For some reason I placed them in the cupboard.

One of my 17 year old deaf  students is obsessed with rules. He wants a rule for everything so that he can learn it by heart and do well (he thinks!) on the reading comprehension exams. He battles constantly with the fact that the same word can be translated a bit differently in different contexts even if both translations are similar in meaning. He finds it difficult to be flexible and  put together the words he has translated so that they make sense. He takes it as a personal affront when he discovers there’s another word in English to express a concept he already has mastered a word for.  He wants English reading comprehension exams to turn into something he can memorize the rules for and complains that I’m not giving him long lists of rules for every possible combination of words and phrases he could encounter in a text.

Yesterday, when he expressed frustration at me for not having giving him a list of all the possible “look” phrases (we have the most common ones hanging on the wall in class) I had an inspiration.  I went to the cupboard and gave him one of the notebooks.

“This is just for you. It will be your rule book. Whenever you encounter something that you feel you want the rule for, you can copy it into this notebook. You can keep it here, on this shelf, in the classroom”.

He was so moved! It was amazing.

A slightly used notebook became the center of a “special moment” with a student!

Now to see what he actually does with it. It will be interesting to follow.

Saturday’s Book: “This Town” by Mark Leibovich

The full title is: This Town; Two Parties and a Funeral (plus plenty of valet parking) in America’s Gilded Capital.

I wonder if the title is meant to remind you a bit of the movie “Four Weddings and a Funeral” so as as to convey humor.

There IS humor in the book but it isn’t what I imagined it would be. I’v made it to page 115 and am thinking of bailing out. I’m bored.

I chose to read it becasue the book (hardcover, BTW!) basically fell into my lap. I thought it would illustrate how lobbyists in Washington operate, in a behind-the-scenes kind of way. I imagined examples of proposed bills and then all the changes they go through as they are subjected to the pull of different pressure groups. I guess I imagined something similar to “The West Wing” TV show I used to watch.

It’s not.

The parts where the author sticks with one person for more than a page and a half are more interesting – how did a person get to be in the position he/she now holds can be intriguing. But so many pages seem to be an endless parade of names (yes, I have heard of some of them even though I don’t live in the States) and ENDLESS OVERKILL  of superlatives. The phrase” no one understood this better than her/him” (or its equivalant) doesn’t fare well when it is repeated.

A Video Instead of a Curse Word

In all the courses I have studied related to normal and abnormal language development (for my degree in education of the deaf) and those related to second/foreign language acquisition (my degree in EFL) there was one point on which there was perfect agreement. The only situation in which new vocabulary is remembered after a single exposure is when the exposure is truly memorable. That is why curse words are picked up and retained  so easily!

Since I can’t create a memorable experience in the classroom for all the many (oh, so many!) vocabulary items my deaf and hard of hearing students need to know and don’t, I’m turning once again to a video to do the job for me. Perhaps I’m not utilizing more than a fraction of what the video can be exploited for, but a “memorable experience” is what I need it to provide.

I encountered this short video on Jamie Keddie’s inspiring blog Lessonstream, a lesson entitled “An Unusual Recipe” 


Here is the video

There are three different worksheets.

The first one (entitled “red”) is simply intended to highlight the difference between “like” and “look like”. This confuses many of my students and we encounter it frequently in the material we use in class.

The second one (entitled “blue”) adds the word “real”. At first I wanted to add both “real” and “really” but most of my deaf students don’t differentiate between the two terms in L1. In addition, I find that even if they don’t translate these words accurately they still comprehend the meaning of the sentence they are in. As these students have such small vocabularies and there is so much to work on, I decided to “pick my fights” and not work on the difference between the two words.

The third one (entitled “green”) is for my small group of strong students. My stated goal is to practice vocabulary related to comparision (they have to watch another video as well), though I’m not really sure this was the best way to do it. Despite the fact that one should pick the material that fits the learning goal and not the other way around, I didn’t want these students to be the only ones who didn’t have an activity with the film. Not all these students have done it yet, so we’ll see.

western_spaghetti_red     western_spaghetti blue western_spaghetti_green


In any case, except for one girl who said the video was boring, the students liked the video! Whether or not they remember the vocabulary items remains to be seen.

It’s Saturday: Yikes! “The Book Thief” is now a movie!

We were at the cinema today and saw a trailer for the new movie based on the book “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak.


It was so powerful, so cleverly written, I couldn’t put it down. It deals with painful issues related to WWll from a perspective not often told. One of those books that I feely truly deserve all the positive superlatives publishers like to place on book covers.

The trailer worried me. I know a movie can’t (and shouldn’t) include everything that was in the book but the trailer looked as though the movie could be shmaltzy and shallow.

I’m afraid that the movie might be disappointing and even spoil a bit of the effect the book has left on me. I think I will wait a while, read reviews and see what my bool loving friends have to say. Then I’ll decide whether to see it or leave the images in my memory alone.

Sometimes Labels (GASP!) DO Help


Epstein Family Photo
Epstein Family Photos

This is what we special-ed teachers fight for and something in which I firmly believe. Each child is unique and we need to discuss how to reach & teach each one. Labels are most frightening in terms of expectations, as we fear a child’s progress may be limited by low expectations due to the label ascribed.

However, sometimes complete denial of labels can be harmful both for the students and the teacher.Labels give information. Information regarding problems to expect and years of experience of useful strategies on dealing with these difficulties. Information that won’t be available if a teacher doesn’t know to look for it for fear of labeling the child (the parents’ fear and that of the school system).

Having clear, consistent classroom routines, knowing not to take it personally when student misreads social cues or reacts badly to an unexpected event benefits both the student who exhibits traits on the Autism Spectrum Disorder and the teacher.

Preparing in advance 10 ways to explain/demonstrate new information in small chunks can make all the difference to a  mentally challenged student. Not to mention to the teacher’s reaction to the student.

Knowing that a student exhibits uncooperative behavior in group work and class discussions because he/she has a mild hearing problem can prevent a student from getting a different label – problematic.

Labels can be dangerous for a student in terms of suffering from low expectations and prejudices. Ignoring labels completely entails risking the students academic progress (not giving the teachers the tools to enable the students to fulfill their potential) and of students being percieved simply as “problematic”. It’s a thin line, but one that should be addressed in schools.

While we teach children, not labels, we teachers need to be armed with tools that answer our students needs. And for that, we need to know which tools to employ.


Saturday’s Book: “A Suitable Boy” by Vikram Seth – Final Curtain


Longest Novel Ever?
Longest Novel Ever?

Who was it that called my reading of this book “epic reading”? Apt!

It is a very good book. I like tales that are told from different points of view, that give me information about what is going on in the world that the characters inhabit. I like the way he depicts characters, so very real, not one sided or simplistic. The female characters are fascinating! I wasn’t able to predict the twists of the plot, a fact which is very important to me in a book. The story is interesting on so many levels. The love stories aren’t standard ones. The friction vs. the friendships that exist when people of two different religions live in close proximity seem as relevant today as the 1950s era they depict.

Nonetheless, it IS too long!  When the plot of a book moves into “end” mode (when the tension is at its peak before everything begins to fall into place) I often spend more hours reading than I should (ignoring any tasks that I can get away with). This section of the book was riveting. However, this section of the book was the last 450 pages! I admit, that I did spend many more hours reading at the end…

I feel a mixture of pleasure at having read the book and relief at having finished it. I stopped reading my magazines completely and I missed them. I barely read my friend’s blogs either.

In short, READ the book but WHEN YOU ARE ON VACATION!