Saturday’s Book: “Spanish Charity” by Abraham B. Yehoshua

The choice of picture on a book’s cover is never accidental. Yet I belieive it is the first time I’ve read a book that uses the picture on the cover (Roman Charity by Matthias Meyvogel) as a starting point for the story.I found myself going back to the cover several times to look at details I hadn’t noticed.

This author is an expert at quickly drawing the reader into the story. You begin with an aging film director, who was invited to Santiago de compostela (Spain) for a retrospection of his films, studying the painting in his room. Before you know it you realize there is a connection between the old city, the world of cinema, the painting and, of course, the hero’s life.

All that’s left is to find time to read, relax and see how it all unfolds!

Comment on “Are YOU Intentionally Creating a TED in Your Head?”

Photo by Iddo Epstein

References to TED Talks come up over and over again when ELT teachers interact, whether online or at conferences. Without having conducted a proper poll, it seems to me that teachers watch talks on a wide variety of topics and do not limit themselves to those directly related to education.

This brought me back to Bill Ferriter’s post on The Tempered Radical blog: “Are YOU Intentionally Creating a TED in Your Head?”

Am I?

Bill Ferriter writes:

“…when we are building our own learning networks using social tools like blogs, Twitter and Facebook, we need to intentionally reach beyond the thinking of leading educators.”

The way I understood his post is that paying attention to people from outside your field is good for you. Really good for you. Social media makes these people available.

So what about the TED in MY head?

For starters, I follow The Tempered Radical blog. While Ferriter is most certainly an educator, he’s not an English language teacher. He posts about many issues that on the surface aren’t relevant to me as a teacher, such as the problems of the American Education System, which I am not a part of. Yet his blog is fascinating and thought provoking.

Then there are two blogs I follow who actually are written by language teachers but teaching English / Spanish isn’t the focus of their blogs. “Humbly Human” and “Be the Change” are blogs that inspire, blogs that remind me to smile. The only problem is that they haven’t been posting recently – where have you gone, you two lovely ladies?

And that’s it.

All the many blogs I follow are closely related to ELT. While it’s true that sometimes I will find a recipe for a carrot cake or poem spreading its wings for the first time on some of these blogs, they are blogs focused on teaching English as a foreign language.

Theoretically, I could subscribe to the blogs of some of the authors I post about every Saturday. Some of the writers I enjoy so much in the New Yorker magazine have blogs too.

Except that I can’t.

Those of you whose blogs I follow know that I’m a dedicated follower. If I tweet about a post that means I have read it. I’m blessed with a diverse PLN that has a lot to give.

Oh, and I work too.

Listening / watching TED talks is not something I do on a daily basis. The TED in MY head will also have to mainly remain a thing that happens occasionally when the time is right to follow a link and read a different kind of post entirely. That does happen and it’s great when it does.

Are YOU creating a TED in YOUR head?

The Boat Paradox – Pondering the “DOGME Teach Off”

Photo by Iddo Epstein

I find it fascinating to follow Chia Suan Chong’s detailed descriptions of her “unplugged” lessons during this “Dogme Teach Off” challenge that she is taking. Chia describes her impressive lessons in such a way (including pictures of the white board and a sense of humor!) that it is the next best thing to being a fly on the wall in her classroom.

Now that we are up to day 6, I’ve begun wondering.

Remember “The Boat Paradox”? How many parts of a boat can be replaced and one can still call it the same boat?

If I take these lessons as a sample of how a series of Dogme lessons should unfold, which elements can I change and to which extent (still keeping a skilled teacher like Chia, of course!) while expecting a reasonable degree of success?

Chia is teaching quite a small class. I wonder, would these lessons would work as well with 18, 25 or 40 students? 40 students is not a hypothetical number, my colleagues in “regular” classes have 40 students!

Now, let’s imagine that the students were all teenagers who lived close to each other and have gone to school together for years. I have tried isolated Dogme lessons myself and found that my teenagers reacted well to them. However, it would seem to me that some elements of Chia’s lessons would be problematic (or would at least be treading on treacherous waters). Teens are sensitive and very concerned with what their peers think of them. Asking a simple question about their weekend activities could be a very hard point to expand on. Particularly when you have students from very different socio-economic levels in the class. Some students might say they slept and played on the computer. Some might relate great activities they went on with their families while others flatly refuse to cooperate with the lesson as it reminds them of the glaring difference between those lucky kids to what happens in their own homes. It seems to me that the lessons such as Chia has been teaching could work well with teens with the addition of an imaginative component such as “tell the class about a great weekend you would like to have”, but I would really like to hear from someone who has taught unplugged with teens.

Taking this further, what if Chia was teaching 8 year olds? They certainly love to talk about themselves! Obviously the topics that would come up would be different, but can you sustain a series of unplugged activities at this age?

I could go on, but the point is that I’m asking these questions because I really DO want the boat to be recognizable as the same boat!


It’s Saturday! Musings about Reading Collections of Short Stories (and two pictures)

Since I just finished reading Nathan Englander’s excellent collection of short stories (see last Saturday’s post) I was reminded of my mixed feeling about reading one short story after another, particularly by the same author.

I really enjoy reading short stories. One of the many nice things about reading the New Yorker Magazine is getting the weekly short story. There are so many different authors, including short stories translated from many languages. It’s a real treat to get one a week.

However, I sometimes feel that reading an entire collection of short stories by the same author impairs my enjoyment of the stories that appear later in the collection. As varied as the collection may be, the author’s distinctive style, or use of imagery remains and leaves less of an impact on me as I read.

In addition, after a powerful short story, I need a break of a day or two before I can continue reading. In short stories, words are often even more powerful than in novels and I need time to take in what I just read. Or sometimes I almost feel afraid that the next story will dispel a feeling that the previous story has left me with. This rarely happens with novels.

Despite that, there are distinct advantages to reading such a collection during the school year. It is great when you can read a whole story “at one go”, instead of forcing yourself to stop reading in the middle of a chapter because there are things to be done.

Nonetheless, I’m glad that the next book I’m about to read is a full length novel!

Epstein Family photos
Epstein Family Photos

These were taken from our recent trip up North.

The Paeonia Mascula flower only blooms for two weeks a year. We are the southernmost point in the world where it blooms.

Those ARE Cherry Tree blossoms – right here, two hours away from home!

A Brief Tale of a Principle that Lost Its Rationale

Photo by Gil Epshtein

Since I began giving homework online almost two years ago I have established an email connection with the students.

Homework must be handed in by email. In addition, some of the students write to me when they are absent, agonizing over a test or desperate to know whether I’ve checked their tests already.

I always answer in them in English.

In class we communicate in Hebrew and in Israeli Sign-Language. The students write to me in Hebrew. I know for a fact that they paste my replies into Google Translate and read them in Hebrew.

I still write to them in English.

A student recently asked me point blank if I was aware that everyone reads my letters using Google Translate. When I replied that I was, he wanted to know why I continued writing in English.

I replied that I am an English teacher.

I’m not sure that suffices as an educational rationale for doing something. I certainly can’t supply the students with an explanation for why this is beneficial for them.

I still think it is the right thing to do.

Saturday’s Book: “For the Relief of Unbearable Urges” by Nathan Englander


and again: WOW!

I find that I need a break of a day or two after reading each story in this collection to get my breath back.

I’ve read the first four stories. Reading them goes quickly and easily but then time is needed to take in what I have just read. Time is needed to understand how Englander has brought me from here to there without me quite realizing it.

So far, the first story “The Twenty-seventh Man is the one that has left the most powerful impression on me.

But there are five more stories I haven’t read.

Haven’t a clue as to where Englander will take me next.

Certainly planning to find out!


***Note from a week later: The story “In this way we are wise” left me gasping for air as much as the “tweenty seventh man” did.