This book tries to be a combination of a historical account and a modern courtroom thriller.
I enjoyed it up to a point.
I’m interested in history, the Roman Empire is certainly a fascinating subject and Cicero’s unlikely rise to power is truly a worthy subject. However there’s a great deal of detail designed to make the book sound like an episode of Boston Legal (or some other modern show about a law firm) and by the last third of the book I found it tiresome. That probably says more about me than about the writer’s skill, I’m less interested in the back room wheeling and dealing for votes. Shorter would have been better.
Nonetheless, I can see myself reading more of the author’s historical novels. He certainly makes a world long gone seem real.
Fanselow certainly knows how to attract a veteran teacher’s attention. That is no small matter. As an EFL teacher of Deaf and Hard of Hearing students I don’t actually expect authors to be familiar with my specific classroom setting. I’m used to adapting everything. However, I do need strategies that are applicable for teachers in the national school system with a full work load.
For starters, there’s the title. I never would have chosen a book for my blogging challenge that called for “overhauling your teaching”! “Small Changes”, one “tweak a time” – now we’re talking.
Now forget the title. Take a look at this from the foreword, which Amazon lets you read for free without purchasing the book (No, this is not one of those blogs that has the blogger earning money from clicks on Amazon…):
“My suggestion is for you to be as skeptical about your present practices as the alternatives I urge you to try.”
“…you must not only not believe anything I say but anything anyone else says. Do one of your usual activities, make a small change and compare the effects, over and over and over.”
Fanselow is offering me a “win – win” situation.
A small change leads to better results? Win!
The old way gets better results? Now there’s a reason and a rationale for doing things this way. Win!
Join me on this blogging challenge as I experiment in class, starting off with the effects of “Read and Look Up” on my students!
Do you know how sometimes you feel sorry when you reach the end of a book you are reading and ” miss” the characters for a while?
By the time I finished reading Alias Grace I was glad to say goodbye to the characters and to have them out of my life.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe it’s a very good book. Atwood’s writing is, as always, riveting. I though it was incredibly skillful how she took the information available from printed sources about this true murder case / trial and filled in the gaps so convincingly. The characters she depicts seem very much alive, as is the period in which they lived. Sad times, unfair times, in which there was scant attention given (if at all) to a great number of people’s well-being. That’s putting it extremely mildly.
I’m glad I read the book but also glad I have finished it and can move on.
” Understand, that I am younger and therefore all the troubles influence on me so strong. I must confess that I am not at all ??? Each little thing oldnesses me I don’t know what it is. Perhaps it will pass when all things will be better”. (Written byDora Volovelsky, Brest, March 1939, Perished in Ghetto Brest).
Note: For information regarding the “Who Were You, Dora?” series of posts, click here.
We know for a fact that Dora’s life, so tragically, did not get better at all and ended very badly indeed. That fact is always there when we look back into the past.
Since there were no “better days” in her future, I am drawn to learning about what “better days” were like in earlier times, when Dora was a child. She was born in 1920. The Jewish communities in Pre-War Poland were very literate and had many newspapers. Three years of issues of the local newspaper for the community in Brest, (where Dora grew up) Brisker Wochenblat בריסקער וואכענבלאט are available online on the Historical Jewish Press Website. Issues from 1928 -1930.
The ads are what attracts one’s eye immediately, especially as they are far easier to understand (I can’t read the articles in Yiddish). There were a variety of ads, such as advertisements for banks (there was more than one), doctors, clothing and shops that sold shoes. There were ads for plays and performances. However, a few random ones caught my eye in particular while virtually flipping through the advertisements in these newspapers. Here are some examples
Driving lessons, easy and quick
I wonder who was able to afford such lessons in 1928 and who even had a car.
Carmel Wines, Kosher for Passover, imported from Eretz Yisrael, wine and cognac. They claim it’s tasty! Make sure to get only the original brand with the two “scouts” with the grapes!
I suppose it makes sense when you think about it but frankly, I admit that it had never occurred to me that wine was being imported in that direction in the 1920s…
This one is in Polish but the names of the dances are quite clear. I had to check what “Black-Bottom” dancing was, I had never heard of it. Once again I wonder who attended and who may have studied the ad with interest but would never be permitted to set foot in such a gathering for religious reasons.
Music Lessons – Learn to play an instrument
This must have been more common. Not only do we have “The Fiddler on the Roof” image, my own grandmother immigrated from Brest with a fiddle.
Herba soap will give your skin a great color!
According to family lore, beauty cream was really concoctions of several vegetables but perhaps a nice soap was something more readily available.
Entrance exams to the Jewish Tarbut School
Dora may have studied here but I’m not sure. In any case, seeing that they had entrance exams to the Jewish school makes me wonder where those who didn’t pass the entrance exams studied. Or perhaps they didn’t study at all? This seems to be high school, not elementary. Many didn’t go to high school in those days.
The bus to Warsaw
This ad particularly interested me for two reasons. First of all, it may have been the route to Warsaw that some or all of Dora’s half siblings took when they left home to immigrate. In addition, the ad says the bus passes through Siedlce. That is where the lovely Beata Gulati resides, the one who helped turn my journey to Belarus into a reality and the point of departure for our trip. Perhaps I retraced a bit of my grandmother’s journey without knowing it?
In memory of Dora and Nochim Volovelsky, who perished in Ghetto Brest.
This is audiobook number two of the three books I am treating myself to and it was an EXCELLENT choice as a book AND as an audiobook.
Trevor Noah is a brilliant narrator of his own tale. Trevor knows how to employ different accents and make his characters sound differently. This is the kind of book you want as an audiobook.
Noah combines his memoirs of growing up as a mixed race child in South Africa before and after Apartheid ended (hence “born a crime” – white father, black mother, it was illegal!) with historical information and background. From his unique perspective as a child who moved in different circles (he spoke 4 languages!) but didn’t seem to belong anywhere, he takes care to point out how different groups of people viewed the same events, situations or concepts.
South Africa’s borders are not Noah’s borders. He connects his personal childhood experience to a much bigger picture of our world in general. As a language teacher I would love to teach in class the chapter in the book where Noah presents the advantages of knowing four languages. Knowing languages is really a superpower – it lets you connect to people but also allows you to perceive others from a totally different perspective. This knowledge helped Noah deal with complicated situations – students could relate to that.
Hmm… I guess there is a disadvantage of having heard this book as an audiobook. I can’t quickly flip through the book and tell you which chapter it was that I’m talking about. You will just have to read the book yourself!
Students aren’t the only ones to whom Bloom’s Taxonomy (the revised version) relates to.
Just look at teachers grading finals, during exam “high season”, and see for yourself.
“Recognizing or recalling knowledge from memory.”
Remembering the ghosts of previous piles of exam notebooks during “exam high season”. Recalling that you did vanquish them and even did so on schedule (thanks to the fun activities you didn’t partake in…). Remembering not to think of the ghosts of future exam piles…
“Constructing meaning from different types of functions be they written or graphic messages…”
Constructing meaning from graphic messages otherwise known as students’ handwriting. Trying to decipher letters written in an exam notebook which form words you didn’t recognize at first because they had no business being used in the sentence they were placed in. Understanding that grinding your teeth in frustration isn’t worth it because your dental bills may exceed your salary.
“Applying relates to or refers to situations where learned material is used…”
From many years of experience you have learned that “simple” exams (testing a lower level of English, such as Module A) can be checked efficiently one at a time, on your lap, in a waiting room, a crowded teacher’s room or anywhere else. Exams at higher levels are more efficiently checked on a table where they can be slightly spread out and checked in batches, per question.
“Breaking materials or concepts into parts, determining how the parts relate to one another…”
Parts, huh? Identifying “parts” is the easy “part” . But how does a teacher fit them all in? You know, time wise?
Grading exams, recording grades digitally, preparing review material and repeat exams, doing housework, dealing with the crowded pre-holiday shopping scene, familial obligations, meeting with friends and relatives you don’t see often enough, attending gym classes, taking pictures, blogging and sleeping…
“Making judgments based on criteria…”
Judging whether it is worth the extra weight and inconvenience of carrying the exam notebooks with you wherever you go so you may take advantage of every single spare moment to keep on grading. Evaluating the advantage of the former strategy vs the unthinkable danger of forgetting the exam notebooks somewhere…
“…reorganizing elements into a new pattern or structure…”
Now that you think you have finished grading the exams you must create another version of every test for the “retake day” . Don’t worry, management cares enough to worry about you being in danger of suffering from “hubris” due to having prepared an extra version while creating the original exams. Therefore, an extra special exam date will be added at the last-minute so don’t even dream of saying goodbye to the photo copying machine. There’s creating to be done…
HANG IN THERE FELLOW TEACHERS! THANKFULLY THERE’S SO MUCH MORE TO TEACHING THAN GRADING EXAMS!!!!!!!!!!!!
So how would you like to “meet” Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla, Alexander Graham Bell and J. P. Morgan? Or “see” the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as it is being built and “visit” the new Metropolitan Opera (it seems the old Opera House wouldn’t accept the likes of Rockefeller and Vanderbilt so they needed a new one…)?
Well, not exactly. But it feels that way!
I treated myself to three audiobooks, and this historical legal thriller is the first. The excellent narrator was able to make each character sound a little differently, which added another dimension to the book. The book is rich with details and background information and in many parts its quite easy to imagine being a fly in the room, with a front row seat to the legal battle.
Make no mistake – while there’s a lot of fascinating history here, this is a legal thriller in the tradition of any of those courtroom dramas series you happen to favor on T.V. It turns out there was a huge dramatic battle over who and how the USA would become a country with electricity. The lawyer (whose eyes you are peering through as the story unfolds) is young and dashing and of course there’s a love story too…
It’s certainly a good choice for an audiobook as the drama makes listening to it rather energizing – I got a great deal of cooking done while listening!
I understand there is going to be a movie version soon. It doesn’t surprise me in the least. I’m glad I read it before the movie comes out!
I picked it up at the “readers-give-readers” corner at our library but it remained on the bookshelf while I read other books first. Not only had I never heard of the South African author, the title and the cover weren’t particularly appealing. It clearly wasn’t what once was called a “10 cent paperback” but the book didn’t appear particularly appealing either.
As they say, appearances are misleading. I’m now ready to read any book by Brink I can find, and I understand he wrote several.
The style of writing had me hooked by page one. The main character is a former librarian and the book is full of references to other books, in addition to moving paragraphs about the degree in which books can make a difference in a person’s life.
The setting is in post-apartheid Cape Town, South Africa, though the story weaves past, distant past (there’s a ghost!) and present. All turbulent times in different ways.
And yes, there is desire, lust, love or lack of it, from different perspectives. Don’t expect any “saccharine coating” here, but there is tenderness along with reality.
Spelling, grammar, vocabulary – it is well known that these skills improve the more students practice their writing. Naturally, when students have an authentic audience to write for, they are markedly more motivated to pay attention to their writing.
In addition to all that goodness, I discover time and again that such a kind of writing leads to many other meaningful things as well. Meaningful for both the students and the teacher.
I just want to share the joy!
My lovely co-teacher just gave birth and I opened a Padlet virtual wall so that the students could write congratulatory notes for her. My teenage students like Padlet’s cool backgrounds and the ease in which they can edit and add pictures. So it’s always a good choice for me. The students were eager to wish their teacher well – no prodding was necessary. It’s good for a teacher to be reminded that the students care!
MOTIVATION – Got that covered! CHECK!
One student wished the teacher “good health and happy” so we talked about happy vs happiness. Another expressed hope that the teacher would come back next year with ” new powers”, which is a direct translation from Hebrew. So we discussed leaving “the powers” for the superheros and went with “lots of energy”. In short, the kind of discussions an English teacher expects to have, you know what I mean. Some mistakes I did not correct or point out – going over each note with a fine tooth comb would have been counter productive.
VOCABULARY – SYNTAX – GRAMMAR – CHECK!
One student started to write his note saying that he hopes the teacher feels better again soon and will come back to class as soon as possible… We had a talk about the fact that having a baby is not like being sick and in any case the teacher won’t come back soon, she’s on maternity leave. I had a similar talk with a girl in a different group who wanted to write a note but claimed she only knows what to say when someone is ill. We mentioned useful phrases for this situation in L1 as well. Other students did not have this problem and even asked for pictures!
PROMOTING SOCIAL SKILLS – CHECK!
One student wrote a particularly long note. Half of the note was devoted to telling the teacher to make sure her husband takes care of the baby too. A sample sentence: “you gave the new baby for the world and father need to do something also.hahah :)”. It was a strong reminder of the student’s own “thorny” fatherhood woes and how it must be an issue close to his heart. I did not point out any errors at all on this student’s note…
INSIGHTS INTO WHAT’S ON STUDENTS’ MINDS – CHECK!
I saw one student having Google translate an entire paragraph typed in L1. I was about to protest strongly (they are not supposed to do that in class!) until I saw what she had written. The kind of “flowery blessing”, which was obviously something she had encountered at home, was important to her. “This is the right thing to say when someone has a baby”, she said with a big smile. The student would not have been able to produce sentences such as the following on her own: “That the sun on you will always shine. And your family will grow and blossom. That they sow endless love”. So I just smiled back and didn’t say a word.
LEARNING ABOUT STUDENTS’ CULTURAL BACKGROUND – CHECK!
In short, wishing someone else well, in written English, did us all good!
I needed a direct, no frills approach, to highlight my point this time.
My high school students’ final exams (internal and then national) are coming up. In between we have holidays and school trips (not to mention a slew of lectures), all cancelling lessons.
The clock is ticking.
It’s time to pick my fights – review skills most of my struggling learners have been able to employ successfully when they actually remember to keep them in mind.
What’s more, I have discovered that using the word “trap” seems to awaken a competitive streak in some of the students, so I’ve decided to capitalize on their awakened interest.
I told the students that whomever it is that writes the national final exams knows that some students have a system for answering multiple choice questions on reading comprehension tasks. A system that doesn’t require reading. These students simply look for words that look alike in the options and in the text and then choose their answer without further investigation. For example:
The Sentence from the Text
The Wrong Answer
1. Mr. Jay invested 11 million dollars in the football team.
X Mr. Jay earned 11 million dollars from the football team.
Such students see the words “11 million dollars” and fall blithely into the trap the exam writer has set. They distractor that “looks-alike” is the wrong one (“Duh”, my strong students would say, but this is not for them)!
So, I challenged the students to outsmart the exam writers and not fall into the “look-alike” trap that has been set for them.
Together we examined 8 sentences, which I have modified from actual national exams (I had to modify the sentences to make them clear when being read out of context) and corresponding incorrect answers chosen by unknown students who had forgotten about the “traps”. I didn’t worry about vocabulary – I supplied any glosses needed. The students led the activity, almost all of them were able to explain why the answer chosen was incorrect. Or, to rephrase, what caused the unknown student who picked such an answer (they, of course, would never do such a thing!) to do so.
The fact that the students were able to analyze the errors successfully with hardly any guidance on my part (mainly glossing or adding context) didn’t mean the activity was too easy.
Quite the opposite.
They seemed to feel empowered. They could avoid a trap! They weren’t going to lose 8 points over nothing!
But will all of this actually come into play when the students take their national finals?
That remains to be seen…
Here is the worksheet I used. The downloadable document contains two versions – one with the “critical” words underlined, and the other with no hints whatsoever. I used the version without any words underlined.
***Remember – this is not a worksheet for self-study. It is the discussion that matters. I was even able to sneak in a reminder about superlatives…