When was the last time you stopped reading a book after a few pages just so you could savor the beauty of the writing?
Well, this is the book to make you stop and pay attention to “the how” as well as the “what”. They must be teaching the opening chapter of “Deacon King Kong” in creative writing classes. What a way to introduce the characters and the setting!
The setting is a public housing project in Brooklyn N.Y in 1969 with a variety of characters living/operating there.
The pace is fast, there is a well-balanced combination of humor, drama, romance, and serious commentary on society and race in the United States.
What a unique book! You could call it an eco-fable, as I have encountered many reviews that do so.
There IS a mythical rain heron (and some pretty unique squids!) but otherwise, the book is certainly not mythical or a fantasy book. The reality it depicts is completely possible – greed, corruption, and power most certainly affect the environment. Naturally, consequences follow.
Everything is cleverly told, in such a way that holds you tight until you reach the end.
So don’t try to read too much about the book before you begin it!
I found the strong women, who are the pivotal forces of the plot, to be fascinating.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ozeki
This book took hold of me and wouldn’t let go of me until I had reached the end.
Even when I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue reading.
The book has many things going on – some parts are fascinating, some uplifting, some heartwrenching, and some parts totally mystical. Oh, and there’s quantum physics too!
The characters are so real and “alive” that I was extremely disturbed by the parts depicting the bullying at the Japanese school that teenage Nao went through. As a teacher, I was even more horrified at the school’s role in the situation.
Note that my gut reaction just shows how powerful the writing is – you feel you know the author and her husband (who live on a remote little island) personally. You become part of their growing involvement in the lives of Nao, her extended family, and her grandmother/Buddhist nun. Zen is certainly an element of the story. The past is just as alive, in the form of an uncle/kamikaze pilot…
There is a lot going on. More than I mentioned.
First and foremost, it’s a good story and I enjoyed it.
How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
“Review” is the name of the game, right?
Especially when you are planning for the first weeks of a new school year.
Even more so when you taught a set of “chunks” or “collocations” during an unpredictable previous school year, in which the pandemic messed with your teaching.
Particularly so when you are teaching Deaf and hard of hearing students who always need vocabulary items practiced intensively as they lack exposure to the spoken language.
I wanted my review exercise to emphasize the context in which the “chunks” are used.
I needed the task to be suitable for face-to-face teaching in class or for remote learning.
I wanted to shake things up a bit. The students had a whole series of tasks last year (which you can find by clicking here: 400 WAYS TO RUN OUT OF MILK – VOCABULARY & DISTANCE LEARNING) so I changed the approach a bit. This time the students aren’t required to write a sentence including the target “chunk” or complete the target chunk – they need to complete the context in which it is used.
The number of books in this post is easy to count – three.
The number of lies told… that’s a different story. What purpose do these lies serve?
Oddly enough, the one book that promises you close encounters with liars is the only one in which I believe you are supposed to focus on the so-called lies and not look beyond them.
I’m not completely sure as I could not bring myself to finish“THE LIAR’S DICTIONARY” by Eley Williams, even though I read more than half of it.
The book focuses on bogus definitions inserted into dictionaries to combat plagiarism, known as Mountweazels, There IS a plot, two socially awkward lexicographers in different time periods (one lying about having a speech impediment), one inserting invented words, another trying to discover them years later, and a bomb…
Basically, the book is supposed to be for people who delight in words. It’s supposed to be clever.
The question is how many soliloquies on words, their synonyms, their place in a sentence, and the aptness (or lack of it) for expressing the right meaning, can you stand on a single page?
I DO enjoy language and words, but I felt lost and bored. Too much cleverness for me, I’m afraid.
Perhaps it will work for you.
The opening sentence of “My Mother’s Son” by David Hirshberg, is:
“When you’re a kid, they don’t always tell you the truth.”
The book is presented as a memoir, so for most of the book, I thought I was encountering exactly the sort of “lies” one would expect from a “coming of age” story. The author takes us back to the world of his childhood, in 1950s Boston and introduces us to his family, their business partners, friends, and neighbors. All immigrants, most came over before the war, sharing a common “otherness” – Jewish, Italian, Polish, and Irish immigrants. As the young Hirshberg grows, he uncovers more and more truths about his family history, spanning three generations and his own identity.
I discovered this book accidentally and jumped to conclusion that it was a memoir, as portrayed. I was reading it as one. I knew that the major events depicted, such as JFK’s election campaigns, raising money for children affected by Polio at baseball games, neighbors going off to fight in the Korean War certainly happened.
But the book is a novel.
In fact, during the last section, the narrator “discusses” with the reader the question of how much of his tale is true, and what is the nature of truth in matters such as family history. Does it matter if events happened in one way or another?
It’s not the author’s fault that I spent time trying to look up the island he writes about…
While some passages are too long and repetitive, overall I enjoyed reading the book and found it interesting.
The major lie told in “Klara and the Sun” by Kazuo Ishiguro, is told to a daughter by her mother, not to a son.
And here the sun plays a role in the story, it is both life-giving and the one who lets you see reality clearly.
Klara, who is an Artificial Friend, tells the story.
I won’t tell you any more about it. When reading a book by Ishiguro It’s best not to know anything about the book in advance. Let the author drip in the information, uncover the secrets and expose the reality of the life he is depicting in his own unique way.
The writing is riveting, it’s a difficult book to put down.
As always, it’s a thought-provoking read. Sometimes it takes an AI to make you think about humanity, life, and love.
When I asked Debbie about her experiences teaching EFL to high school students during the pandemic, she showed me a wonderful short story she had written. The story presents the reader with the humorous-yet-so-realistic experiences of the “the superheroes” of the entire English Department at the high school. Debbie shared it at the final staff meeting of the school year.
Debbie kindly gave me her permission to share an excerpt from the story here.
The first thing that I want to say to the entire staff is: WELL DONE!!! WE DID IT!!! We managed to get to June 2021, and WE SURVIVED!
So, let me tell you a story: the story of The Great Battle:
Once upon a time, on September the 1st, 2020, a group of superheroes set out on yet another step of their quest. These superheroes had many hidden talents and powers like: eyes at the back of their heads, the ability to distinguish perspectives and uncover motives, vast knowledge of obscure grammatical rules, and more. They could catch negative energy, change it and shoot it back thousand times as hard while converting it into positive vibes. These superheroes could even read minds, they could move kids without even touching them (aka telekinesis) and shut up even the most talkative pupil with their piercing icy stare!! They were endowed with endless patience, bladders which never need emptying like camels, voices which could rapidly change in volume and tone and they were as tough as steel. They were fierce!!
These heroes stepped bravely into the unknown, armed with books, markers, and overflowing bags, into a classroom with real live pupils in it at the Mekif Yehud Gym. (I say gym because we shlepp so many kilos around with us as we go up and down a trillion steps each day – working all our muscle groups as we complete our full daily workout).
Anyway, we locked eyes with our shiny new boys and girls in the arena (aka the classroom) with the knowledge that we would conquer all, had so much to give, and knew exactly what punishments we would dole out if they were late for class, did not do their homework, etc. We were mighty. Us warriors had no idea that we were doomed…we would have to face new challenges ahead:
Winter was coming:
And then came the craziness: banished to planet Zoom
with black boxes instead of sweet smiling teenage faces
with pupils whose default mode was on mute
with pupils who have the audacity to know how to operate a computer better than we do
and the worst was Zooming with an unstable Internet connection, dressed from the neck down, not in strong armor: but in our pajamas….
So, we developed new superpowers: the ability to identify a pupil by his ceiling fan or window. We adapted our investigative powers when pupils logged in under false aliases. We learned how to ignore messy closets and unmade beds. We became wizards at spotting plagiarized essays from the Internet.
We even learned that Zoom is not only a verb, but an adjective and a noun too…. (For example, yesterday I zoomed with my class. Our zoom or zoomification (if you speak American English) was fantastic. I am all zoomed out now!!! How often do you zoom? And in Present perfect: I have been zooming since the Pandemic, etc.)
But back to the story. Finally, after huge struggles and the worst battles were fought and won, much sweat and tears were shed, and the art of awakening knowledge and creativity under such unique circumstances was mastered, we were allowed back into our physical classrooms for a second round – it was like we had never taught our classes before. We had to learn their names all over again and learn how to differentiate between our pupils simply by their eyes above their masks….
We then relaxed a little…
We began to slowly realize that we had come out on the other side unscathed….
Naomi: Vicky! From “noooooooooooo” to “wooohooos” with emojis sprinkled in – I’m so glad you agreed to talk to me about teaching adults remotely during the pandemic.
But first, may I ask :
How many years have you been teaching?
I have been teaching for 24 years, ever since I was a student at university. It is a funny story, as I had never imagined being a teacher – I had wanted to become a lawyer for as long as I remembered myself up to that point! However, missing a window of a 0.25 mark in the entrance exams sent me to teaching school and I am so happy about this “accident” (I hope my students are too!).
I had absolutely no experience with Zoom before the pandemic, only Skype – some of my students from Greece wanted to continue learning with me after I had left Greece for Switzerland in 2009, and we used that tool. Zoom wasn’t so hard for me, and I think it is a really practical tool. With some of my private students, we have decided to continue teaching remotely, as it saves them from commuting to come to me.
Nonetheless, there were some initial difficulties. Bad internet connections were pretty rare but when they happened, they could become quite an issue.
In addition, in large groups, some people would be too shy to turn on their microphones to ask something, so I encouraged them to use the private chat function in order for me to answer their questions.
Most importantly, not seeing or hearing the student’s reactions was quite the challenge! It still is sometimes.
Wait a minute – didn’t your students turn on their cameras?
The policy at our two business schools where I teach part-time was for all students to have their cameras on at all times. Even so, some students chose to keep them off for their own reasons. I would check in on them every now and then to see if they were okay.
A useful technique that I adopted, is what I call “surprise questions“. I use it to check if everyone is still participating! The questions I ask are for everyone, the students just don’t know the order in which they will be asked to answer…
Can you give an example of something you did that made “life” easier?
Maybe not easier, but more pleasant! I encourage my online students, especially in groups, to go ‘wooohooo’ or clap loudly when they like an activity we are doing, or even say ‘noooooooooooo’ if they don’t like something. So far, the ‘nooooooooooo’ has been used only for fun and to make us laugh!
It is always funny when the students decide to use gifs or emojis to express what they want to say or give feedback. Of course, I take advantage of this as a language moment, so they have to explain why they used the emojis or gifs – sometimes they are from tv programs that I had no idea existed!
Thank you for sharing your experiences, Vicky! May teaching remotely in the future become a tool you use when appropriate, but not a necessity…
For me, learning how to use Zoom was the easy part.
I’m good with technology and mastered the necessary technical skills quite quickly.
However, teaching students majoring in chemistry remotely, without a laboratory – that was the challenging part!
I see that you want to hear about “chemistry experiments without a lab”, but wait a minute.
There were some basic obstacles to overcome.
At first, there was a time limit to a Zoom session. Chemistry lessons are typically scheduled for three consecutive hours, so logging in and out of links was inconvenient and time-consuming. Fortunately, once teachers got access to unlimited sessions, that was no longer a problem.
Then there was the issue of “the whiteboard”. As a chemistry teacher, I don’t simply write words on the board – diagrams, and drawings, calling for all sorts of shapes, are frequently needed. I quickly discovered that using a mouse to draw on the “Zoom Whiteboard” was really inconvenient. Drawing on a little whiteboard (like a child might use) and holding it up to the camera wasn’t a great improvement, but I did that until the digital graphics tablet ( which I ordered, “out of pocket”) was delivered. That enabled the students to see what I was drawing directly on the screen.
Cameras, you ask?
My 12th-grade students had studied with me for an entire year before the pandemic, so they were more cooperative when it came to turning on their cameras. But with the 11th graders, I needed to be more emphatic.
In order to emphasize the importance of eye contact, I made sure to completely stop screen sharing when someone asked a question.
When we talk to each other we look at each other.
So, back to the painful topic of EXPERIMENTS…
The students could not participate in active experiments. Many of the students were at the stage where they were supposed to be designing and conducting their own research experiments in the laboratory. I was supposed to bemoving around the room, assisting and guiding as needed.
The students were supposed to be learning by doing.
During remote learning, I showed them videos of experiments. The students then had to spend hours writing detailed reports of experiments they hadn’t experienced themselves. This affected the students’ ability to really pay attention to details as well as their motivation. Such a report can take several hours to write.
At some point, we got permission from the Ministry of Education to ask the students to conduct an experiment at home. That was a complex experience involving frustration on both ends. When a student encountered a problem I couldn’t simply approach and immediately identify the problem.
To counter the alienation of learning by just watching experiments in class as opposed to a hands-on experience I relied heavily on my most powerful teaching “tool” – enthusiasm!
My students have always said that I get very enthusiastic in class about whatever it is we’re doing. During remote learning, I made sure they felt the enthusiasm in any way that I could. I tried to get them excited about the phenomena, despite the experiments being on video. The students remarked on it too!
Do you know that we even had a competition of fun Chemistry Memes created by students? It was awesome!
Would you like to see it?
I DID want to see it.
Michal put aside her handwritten end-of-the-year notes for each student and showed it to me.
My name is Anka, I am a teacher of English as a foreign language. I come from Poland but I have wandered around a bit and for the past twelve years I have been working in Russia, at BKC IH Moscow. This is where the pandemic and Zoom found me.
The biggest problem with teaching online that I came across was the one in my head. Although over the years I have worked with all the age groups and levels, my main area of expertise (and my passion) is teaching early years students, primary and pre-primary which is all about being physically present and involved, playing with flashcards, doing craft, using realia…Doing all that online sounded like the most ridiculous idea ever. EVER.
If we had had a chance to meet anytime before March 2020, you would have definitely heard me talk a lot about the disadvantages and the impossibility of teaching very young learners online. You’d have heard me say, too that I would never do that. Never say never…
Because March 2020 happened and we really had no choice, it was either ‘sink or swim’ and, like many of my colleagues all around the world, I decided to at least try to stay on the surface, despite having very (very )little of previous experience of teaching online.
I relocated to zoom, practically overnight, learning fast and learning on the go but also realizing that this is how we do it, as teachers. We become better in the classroom, in front, and with our students, finding out what we like and don’t like doing, what works and what doesn’t. In a way, it was like any other group/ coursebook /level / area from the ‘never done that before’ category, only on a large scale.
In general, the older the students, the smoother the transition was. My teens probably didn’t even notice that the set-up was different (giggles) whereas with my primary, seven- and eight-year-olds, we needed more time for adaptation and more support and involvement from the parents. However, after the first three weeks, we had our new routine and, most importantly, the break-out rooms were under control and that allowed for pair-work and group work and more production.
My pre-primary kids were the biggest challenge but, also, probably, the biggest achievement of all. Initially, the parents refused to move online, despite a few trial lessons and demonstrations. They simply could not see how it could work with kids so young and, although it was a blow, I had to accept that. Accepting, however, didn’t mean giving in completely.
I talked about it with my administration and since we were all stuck at home anyway, with nowhere to go and not much to do, I offered my parents and my kids ‘online activities in English’. I did not dare to call them lessons and they were not obligatory. We would meet only for fifteen minutes, three times a week, to sing, to play, to do some storytelling. For my students, it was an opportunity to use English. For me, it was a fantastic chance to see how things can be done online and to experiment and to learn, guilt-free and stress-free because these were offered free of charge.
This is how we finished the academic year and when it was time to start a new level, all of my educational parents decided to continue, this time as a proper course. Some of them liked studying online so much that, much to my amazement, they were considering never going back to the offline school.
But they did, they all did and since September 2020, we returned, to our lovely classroom, to our carpet, to our flashcards and toys.
The most beautiful memories of the online time are all related to just kids being kids and to the joy of teaching them (which simply reached new levels or different levels on zoom).
Kids showing us their rooms and their treasures. Kids bringing younger brothers or sisters or pets to say to ‘Hi’ to. Parents staying near but not intervening unless we really had a problem and a hand would miraculously appear to fix the mic or the page in the book. Kids rushing to class straight from the beach, with their hair still wet or moving the camera a bit to show us the ships moving slowly on the water behind their back or to prove that there really IS a cow grazing near. Teaching a lesson on fruit, waving bananas, apples, and lemons at each other, on both sides of the screen, or running to the other room to check with mum if she really likes riding a bike…
Overall, I have to say I am proud of what we did when we were online. It was not always easy but we learned, we made progress and we had fun. Personally, I liked it more than I would have ever imagined. Impossible is nothing? Perhaps.
Note: Anka has written more on this topic on her amazing blog “Funky Socks and Dragons”:
I’ve been teaching Sign Language to “hearing” students for more than 20 years. At the beginning of every new semester, the students are always surprised when they realize that their new teacher is profoundly Deaf , doesn’t use her voice, and there is no interpreter in class. I have never needed an interpreter during these lessons. I get the students to look at me, really look at me, and then they realize that they can understand me. As I teach them basic signs, such as colors and names of animals, they are also learning about communication and inclusion.
Then, suddenly, from one day to the next, I had to start teaching my classes remotely. I didn’t know anything about Zoom nor did I really know the students. The second semester had begun a short while before and my new classes had not yet adjusted to the way lessons with me are conducted.
I was in a state of shock!
I had no idea what to do and asked my son for help. Despite his explanations before my first lesson, I called him over urgently when the lesson actually began and asked: “Where are the students? Why can’t I see them? What are these black boxes?!”
The students weren’t turning on their cameras.
I can’t communicate with the students if I can’t see them.
You can’t teach sign language via a chatbox.
It turned out that involving the homeroom teachers and even the coordinator to get the students to turn on their cameras wasn’t enough to smooth out communication problems that never existed in my lessons before. My husband and children were also using Zoom, the internet was slow and the connection froze for a second now and then. Missing out for even a second is enough to completely miss a hand movement, and cause confusion which led to frustration for everyone. Time was wasted until misunderstandings were cleared up and progress was slow.
The addition of an interpreter to the lessons changed everything. She could hear what the students were saying and alert me as needed and could voice what I was signing when it was needed.
While I always use a lot of drama in my lessons, I found that for remote learning I needed to be extremely theatrical and invent additional games so as to hold the students’ attention. I found these lessons to be far more exhausting than the ones in school.
A funny thing happened one lesson; I was teaching and some of the students were reclining on sofas or even in bed. Suddenly I see more and more students jumping to their feet and standing as straight as they could. That’s unusual! Then I realized that the principal had joined the lesson!
I invited him to stay and learn some new signs but he had to go visit other Zoom lessons.
I have been teaching English as a Foreign Language for 49 years now and have always found that my extensive experience has served me well. I have dealt with teaching through several times of crises and had confidence in my ability to surmount obstacles.
However, I had never dreamed that at the age of 74 I would need to learn how to teach remotely via Zoom.
In the beginning, it was extremely frustrating and made me feel that my real skills and abilities as a veteran teacher couldn’t help me cope with the new difficulties. I felt that all of a sudden I had to acquire digital skills that I was not used to working with and that had little to do with good foreign language teaching.
But I couldn’t let my students down.
A good teacher knows when to ask for help!
While kind teachers on my staff at school were very supportive and helpful, they were dealing with their own challenges. The person who really taught me how to create a Zoom session, invite students and other such basics was a 15-year-old, who even made himself available for “immediate emergency assistance” when I was teaching!
I didn’t waste much time with complicated screen controls but rather focused on my old principles of insisting on discipline, manners, and lots of effort on the part of the student. That’s what kept me going. I wouldn’t give up on the requirement to see their faces on the screen, rather than black squares. I expected them to enter class on time, answer questions, and do their homework. It took my 12th graders, who had been studying with me since the beginning of their 11th grade, time to realize that it was “business as usual”. The moment they accepted it, we had great lessons and they did very well on their national exams. Quite an achievement in times of a pandemic. In a letter that they wrote to me at the end of the year, they thanked me for insisting on quality studying, not giving up on anyone, and teaching the way they were used to learning in class. They specifically emphasized that even when learning via Zoom, they felt that we maintained a personal relationship, mutual understanding, and the feeling that I am always there for them.
Eventually, I can honestly say that I was proud of them for cooperating and proud of myself for managing to master skills that were so new to me. The 12th-grade students were so generous in helping me cope with digital problems that arose throughout the lessons.
However, teaching the 11th-grade students, who were as new to me as I was to them, was a more challenging story. They had a hard time getting used to my “old school” teaching and I had a hard time realizing that in addition to teaching the material, I needed to teach my students how to study in my class. I sometimes had to convince a parent who was there, watching the lesson that I knew what I was doing. In the beginning, I felt as if there was a candid camera in the room…
Some amusing dialogues:
Why can’t I see your face on the screen – – – – – The internet isn’t working around town (very inaccurate!).
Why are you wearing your pajamas to the lesson? – – – – – I really chose my most beautiful outfit!
Where is your homework? – – – – – – My cat ate it up.
Looking back and judging by the results, this experience was meaningful too.
Teaching English as a FOREIGN language to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students