Saturday’s Book: “Mediterranean Waltz” by Buket Uzuner

Our local library set up a new stand with recommended books for readers of English. This one caught my eye. I find Turkey to be a fascinating country and I was interested in experiencing it through the eyes of a female writer.

I’ve already read more than half the book (455 pages) and I am riveted and annoyed by it in turns.

The two stories AND the cultural background are very interesting. I’m curious as to how things will develop as I cannot predict anything here. I like that!

However, the way the book is written reminds me of the expanding circles created when one throws a stone into water. Uzunet returns often to the same events, telling them again but adding new details. I find this repetition irksome and at times even boring. I also dislike such frequent use of superlatives.

But the bottom line is that I have no intention of abandoning the book before I’ve read to the very end. And I guess that is what counts!


*** NOTE: Saturday’s Book is going on a brief holiday. You can be sure that whatever I’m doing, I will be reading. The books are already waiting on the shelf for me!

The Second Part of A Teacher’s Oath – A Comment

Brad Patterson posted the following question on his blog:

“Physicians have an oath, as do lawyers and politicians.  Many organizations have mottos. What about teachers?”

Now I really do agree with all the inspiring things people have been writing in the comment section of his post.


In fact that’s the reason I’m writing this comment on my own blog – there is such an upbeat, motivating feeling there that I don’t want to influence the mood…

However, I believe that whatever a teacher chooses for the first part of the oath, the second part should be as follows:

I hereby solemnly swear to remember that teaching / learning is a “two way street”. I will memorize the words of the poet Shel Silverstein who said “This bridge will only take you only halfway there”. I won’t forget that what I do in the classroom is not the sole factor influencing the students’ learning process. I promise to get up every morning and start the whole thing again so that I can say at the end of the day – I’m proud of me. I did my best.

It’s Saturday! Musings on the Dangers of Recommending Books

A few weeks ago I was enthusiastically telling some people how funny I thought the book which I was reading “The Hundred Year old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared” was.

One of the women who heard went out and bought the book.

When I met her again a week later she had read about 30 or 40 pages. “When does it get funny”? she asked. I was a bit taken by surprise as I had started chuckling by the end of page one. I said something about the hero leaving Sweden soon and meeting all these famous people and she nodded hopefully.

I met her again a few days ago. She didn’t mention the book and I didn’t ask but the conversation was akward and short. If she had just borrowed it from the library instead of buying it…

What’s nice about my blog, as opposed to such situations, is that I don’t see it as”a book recommendation blog”. I write about my own feelings about what I’m currently reading. I’m delighted when people discuss their opinions with me but I don’t feel commited to supplying a full or objective review of the book for readers.

Perhaps “funny” is the most “dangerous” word. People differ wildly in regards as to what makes them laugh. If I had discussed a heart-wrenching drama the expecations may have been clearer.

But then again, maybe not. The style of writing is very important to me and people have been bored by books I found dramatic…

Part 2: Using Google Forms for Online Homework

Here is part two (of three) of my tale describing the classroom applications of Google Docs following an ETAI conference session given by Adele Raemer.

First, an update on  part one.  It turned out that the other two teachers were accessing our shared schedule by searching for my email with the link each time (instead of accessing it directly from Google Docs) and needed a “refresher”. Nonetheless, I’m still very optimistic that they will really adopt this change. All of us having the most updated schedule at all times is simply too good to miss.

The enthusiastic response I got from the students when they saw that the  first online homework task was built as a form with a “submit” button was astonishing. The results appear immediately in my Google Docs. Till now the students sent me homework by email, often with attachments. Some didn’t like using email. Worse, a surprising number of students don’t have “office” on their computers (some seem to have only Facebook…) and I was pasting tasks into the body of the email for them. There were also issues of different versions of “Word” and tasks that wouldn’t open…

Photo by Gil Epshtein

Despite all of that I was still astonished by their response. I didn’t expect students to compliment me on building a homework task! Some asked how I suddenly knew how to do this. I told them that I studied this in the summer and basked in their momentary admiration.

Here is an example of the most recent task for one of the four homework groups. PLEASE don’t fill out the form. I’d like to see only my own students’ names on the results page!

But that’s not all. Adele introduced us to “Flubaroo”, which grades the tasks and lets you send out an email to all the students, with the results and a comment (it doesn’t matter which kind of email the students are using). Very cool and simple to use.

So, why didn’t I place online tasks using Google Forms at the top of my list?

Building every task in the format of a form requires some adjustments. At the moment it is taking me longer than creating a task using Word. There are a number of possibilities for answer formats and I have to devote thought to the right format for each question, thinking of how the answer should look.

A step in the right direction was to expand my possibilities for utilizing the forms by deciding not to use Flubaroo for all tasks.

Photo by Gil Epshtein

There is importance in giving open ended questions. The fact that the answers to each question, in all their variety, will appear in one column should enable me to easily create an error correcting activity in class. At least that is the plan. In the past I attempted to copy problematic sentences from each task I corrected onto a document but that was too time consuming and even confusing.

I am simply going to have to experiment with this and see how many of the tasks I would like the students to do, can fit into the format of a form.

Next time, Part three – Google Forms and Staff Meetings

The Impact of a Conference Session on Using Google Docs

I always learn many interesting things at an ETAI conference. But now and then I hear something that turns out to have a significant impact on my day to day life in the classroom.

I know I may be writing this post too soon. We’ve only been at school for two weeks. I do have a tendency to get excited about things that don’t always turn out to be as awesome as I thought, but this is really too exciting for me to wait.

Photo by Gil Ephstein

However, in order to be on the cautious side, I’ll present the classroom applications I have found in order of my optimism regarding their permanent usefulness.

At the July ETAI Conference Adele Raemer gave a fascinating Tech-Talk. Among other things she introduced me to Google Docs. I must admit I was dimly aware that I had been missing something. But there were always other things going on… who has the time?! I guess that’s what conferences are for!

Application Number One -The Class Schedule

The deaf and hard of hearing students at my school learn some subjects with their hearing peers and some with special teachers in small classrooms. So each student must have his / her own unique schedule, depending on the number of hours in the regular classroom. Some students barely study with their hearing peers, some study many hours. Learning a foreign language is difficult for most students with a hearing problem so almost EVERYONE studies EFL in our special classroom. All these factors make our teaching schedule an absolute nightmare during the first few weeks of school.It changes a lot during the school year too, though (thankfully!) not as much.

At this time of year the schedule  seems to change by the hour as students shift their majors and make other changes. Think of the butterfly effect… It has always been a nightmare to constantly update the list (worked in pencil!) and update the other part time teachers and the head of my department.

Now, its not that I hadn’t heard of collaborative tools before. But the aforementioned people are decidedly “un-tech” minded.

Epstein Family photos

Google Docs doesn’t require creating a user name and password to a new site and then remembering what that site was called and how to access it.

Its right there in your mailbox.

And there is nothing to learn regarding how to erase a student’s name from one place and type it in another box in the spreadsheet (yes, I created the sheet with original schedule. I even color coded the boxes so one can see who’s teaching when!). I didn’t even have to stand beside them to explain how to use it.

I’m optimistic they will accept this change. In addition to all the advantages I just mentioned is the fact that I flatly refuse to accept written notes about changes and will not write any. I will not read out changes over the phone either.

Worst case scenario – Even if I do end up using it only for myself, I have just “deleted” a whole “brick” of aggravation. I’m the one who teaches the most hours and have said goodbye to those paper schedules with the heavy marks of an eraser. Hurrah!

Next post – classroom application number two, online homework!


Saturday’s Book: “In the Name of the Mother” by Erri De Luca

Any book by Erri De Luca that I can get my hands on, I read. This is third one since I’ve started this blog.

My husband brought it home from the library in Hebrew.  I don’t know if it was translated into English – Amazon only carries it in Italian.

If I had seen the name in English I might have guessed what it was about but as it was I was clueless. It has to do with the birth of Jesus from the mother’s point of view. Though, now that I’ve finished it I believe it is about giving birth in a very univerasal sense. Strange to think that the author is a man!

Its a very small book. I never dreamed I would read it in less than a week during the hectic beginning of a  school year! Its only 66 pages, the pages are smaller than normal and the print is large. And, as always. Erri De Luca is immensly readable. Wonder why this book was translated into Hebrew and at not into English (at least as far as I found on the web)?


Unrelated note: Read a great post for book lovers: “Just Let them Read Books”  .  I really enjoyed it.

Saturday’s Book: “The Book Borrower” by Alice Mattison

I really don’t know what to make of this book.  It’s as if the book hasn’t made up its own mind regarding what kind of book it is. At times I’m puzzled. For example, the main theme of the book is supposed to be the powerful friendship between two women but the friendship is described only from the point of view of one of the two women. I can’t figure out what made this relationship work like it did. There is also a bit of confusion when reading – often its not clear if a statement is something that the heroine actually said or just thought to herself.

On the other hand, at no point did I think of giving up on the book. You can see some elements of the story becoming related and I have to see how it plays out. In addition, the author surprised me. I like that in a book. One of the first story lines is related to a tragic event. When it becomes painfully clear that this chain of events will end badly the author acknowledges that the reader knows it and really doesn’t want all the gory details and takes the tale into the future (in case someone actually didn’t get it the sad event IS mentioned later on at some point).

Still haven’t finished it (my pace of reading slowed down considerably now that I’m back at work full time!). Will add a postscript when I do finish it.

Monday: Finished the book last night. I must admit I didn’t know what to make of the ending either. I was glued (stayed up until the last words were read) but was left feeling that I didn’t really understand the point which was being made. Rather a bewildering situation for me!