Saturday’s Book: “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World” by Murakami

I am having such a good time with this book!  It’s one wild ride and I don’t want to get off! Can I have a note to stay home from school tomorrow and keep reading, please?

Tyson Seburnt recommended this book to me on March 12, 2011 (the kind of info you have when you are a blogger!) but the library didn’t have it. They do now!

This book is an early Murakami book, from 1985. I find that info significant on two counts. One is the attitude towards computers.  It’s a fascinating  futuristic vision from the point of view of people just beginning to enter the age of computers. B.t.w,  I didn’t own a computer till about five years later! The book reminds me at times of “The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, “The Big Lebowski”, and quite a few others. I didn’t read the blurb till today (as I’ve written many a times, I am wary of blurbs) and there it says the book reminds one of Kafka. Which would make sense for the author who later chose to write “Kafka on the Shore” ( which I enjoyed) but somehow, for me, Douglas Adams comes to mind first.

The other reason I find the year of publication significant is that the book IS different from his later books. I’m not sure I can define it, but there are repeated themes in his later books that I haven’t yet found here. And I like that. I read in the New Yorker a story taken from his last book (by the author!) 1Q84 and it felt awfully familiar. I don’t feel particularly interested in reading it. But this one? I have no idea what wil happen next!

Thanks for the recommendation, Tyson!


IATEFL Dreams Fading Fast

Photo by Omri Epstein

It’s been six weeks since I first requested to attend the IATEFL conference during the school year, following the acceptance of my speaker proposal. The speaker acceptance document  has the name of the school on it and I included it in my request.

I was told that the proposal must go through 3 stages in the hierarchy of my superiors. The final green light must come from the head district’s office. Nobody told me that getting the document through those stages would be like taking on a fourth job – a job that I am obviously not qualified enough for.

The general attitude seemed till now to be “the right way to apply is for us to know and you to guess”. FOUR times my application was returned from second base to first base because something was incorrectly presented. Not only was I not told (till the fourth time) what the problem was, I was also not informed that it had been returned. Endless phone calls led me each time to the discovery of my application’s status.

Still I persevered. After the fourth time I was told, by phone, that all was in order and that as we speak my application was being delivered by hand to the head office.

When I called that office a week later to try and find out how long it would take to receive an answer (and who would inform me that there even was an answer) I was told that no such application had reached the head office.

That’s it. I can’t continue calling people every two days. I don’t even know how to continue after being told that it was being delivered when it wasn’t. I have no flights and no accommodations. I’m trying to have a life here and a fourth job wasn’t in the bargain.  I plan to continue working at this school, and in the national school system, for at least another 10 years. I can’t make a “big stink” over it.

Other interesting things are happening in my life. Building my first online course with Edmodo. Have left my Pilates class in favor of a larger gym which will enable me have both yoga classes and aerobic activity – I spend a lot of time working but not nearly enough being physically active… I feel relief since deciding not to run after these “bases” anymore.

I haven’t cancelled the session at IATEFL yet. I DID set something in motion. It would be awful if I got a letter of approval right after I cancelled. Still, I can’t delay much longer. I think I will wait two weeks.

Perhaps it is for the best. I’m so exhausted (and somewhat hurt) that perhaps I wouldn’t be putting my best foot forward at the conference. More importantly, I need to decrease stress. No wonder I’m so excited about my new Yoga class. I’ve only had two lessons so far but there is something very relaxing about it!

Complimentary Activities to “Design Your Own Soap Opera”

Sandy Millin’s post describing how much her students enjoyed a “Design Your Own Soap Opera” lesson reminded me that I hadn’t shared any of my activities related to Soap Operas.

I really dislike Soap Operas. But, perhaps because I was determined not to let this show, I ended up creating a whole unit on the topic for my weak learners, high school students. A huge percentage of them adore the genre. In Israel the influence of Spanish speaking soaps has been very strong, so the programs are known as “Tele-Novelas”.

Here are trivia questions that serve as the lead-in activity. Students first guess the answers and then learn the correct answers by matching the questions to the answers on the next page.  Most teens are shocked to learn that some “soaps” have been on air for years and years! It seems to me that every year fewer boys are embarassed to say that they watch these programs too (the material was written 10 years ago).

In the first attached document you will find the trivia questions. The questions are in English but the multiple choice options are in Hebrew. For the students for whom this was written, it worked  as a better lead in activity this way. I could use ridiculous answers to interest them (such as ” these shows teach you how to sing with soap in your mouth”). The questions can  be used without multpile choice options or you can make your own options, suitable for your group.

In the second attached document you will find the matching answers. All in English!

(A click on the images will enlarge them)


Trivia Questions
Trivia Matching Answers

Saturday’s Movie/Book: “Cloud Atlas”

Last night we had a “family movie night”. It gets so much harder to do things together when sons are so big (over 18) and busy. So when both sons were available and interested in seeing the movie “Cloud Atlas” we ate supper and trouped off to Cinema City Multiplex.

The movie is an adaption of a book by David Mitchell. I read about the movie when it was being made, sounds like one of the toughest books to adapt – 6 different stories that take place in different periods of time. Different but connected.  When you watch it at first it is difficult to understand the connection (I understand that in the book the stories are presented in a linear fashion but in the movie you get bits from each), but the fact that the actors are the same helps emphasize the repeated themes.  And the themes are important here – freedom and human rights.  This puzzle-like characteristic of the film actually made it an excellent choice for a “family film”. On the ride home we had lots to discuss, pointing out how cleverly details and hints apeared in the different segments.

I was really concerned about the length of the film – 3 hours!! But it is visually AWESOME and is very well paced so it wasn’t as problematic as I feared. Though, as much as I enjoyed the film I think it would have worked just as well a half an hour shorter.

Did I say I’m a big fan of Tom Hanks?

Saturday’s Book: ” Home” By Julie Andrews

I like reading autobiographies better than biographies. I’m not so interested in an objective discussion of someone or an analysis of a person. If I find a person interesting I’m interested in her (or his) personal point of view.

Somehow, all the memoirs that have left their mark in my memory, except for one, were writtten by women. (Prof. David Crystal’s “Just a Phrase I’m going through” is the exception. I read it after I had heard him speak in Jerusalem over two years ago and enjoyed it very much). Two examples that come to my mind first are Katherine Graham’s riveting “Personal History” and Madeleine Albright’s “Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War” .

Julie Andrew’s childhood is also one intertwined with war. She was actually sent to live in London (from the countryside) in 1939. When she was finally evacuated it was to the countryside directly in the path of the bombing… She tells of a childhood in which she had to grow up quickly – appearing on stage at an early age and having to be the responsible adult when her mother (and step father) were certainly not keeping up with their responsibilities. Always amazing how someone can appear on stage fearlessly yet have so many fears in “real life”.

I grew up with the soundtrack of “Mary Poppins”. In those days there was no VCR or DVD so I hadn’t seent the movie often but I had the record! I loved Dick Van Dyke too, by the way. And then of course came “Sound of Music”.

She writes without self pity and without being “shmaltzy” of her memories. The book has a subtitle “A memoir of my early years ” so I don’t know if she gets to the part describing what must have been a traumatic experience for her – not being able to sing anymore. Haven’t finished the book yet so don’t know where exactly she leaves off.

A Tiny Comment on “Connection Between Practicing Music and Language”

“Remember: The amateur works until he can get it right. The professional works until he cannot go wrong”.

Photo by Omri Epstein

I took note of this quote from Julie Andrews (who had an amazing voice and took singing lessons for years) because I had just read Jeremy Harmer’s blog post entitled “Is  there any connection between practicing music and practicing language”

In my experience, as soon as students “get it right” they leave…


Sailing Away in 3 Different Directions with EDMODO

Photo by Omri Epstein

I first learned about Edmodo from Sandy Millin’s detailed post back in June, 2011. Yes, that was quite a while ago but till recently I hadn’t had any real incentive to experiment with it on my own. Tools I had already mastered were enough for me.

All that changed after I had taught my first course to 38 adult students in a private language school and had agreed to teach another such course.   I was determined to ERADICATE some of the problems I had encountered the first time around and I can’t thank Sandy Millin enough for discussing Edmodo with me. The course ended last night and here are a few problems I DIDN’T HAVE:

“Let there be light!” Photo by Omri Epstein

1) No student claimed that he didn’t know which assignment he was supposed to have done (or that I never said it needed to be done). Edmodo shows the students very clearly, both in a written list and in a graphic representation which assignments are waiting to done, which have been completed and how they were graded. Complete with comments!

2) No student claimed that he HAD handed in assignments and its just me that was claiming that he didn’t. True, in the first course there were only two such students and they said to me later (after I refused to back down) that since the final exam is such a “high-stakes exam” they were just trying their luck, but it stung.  Such an argument can only be used when tasks are done on paper, graded and returned. On Edmodo all tasks are handed in online and remain there.

3) I didn’t receive multiple copies of the exact same answers to a homework assignment, sometimes even photocopied copies of the same task! I won’t say it isn’t possible to do so on Edmodo but the fact is that it only happened once during the entire course. It could be argued that I didn’t notice but I teach low level students and copying is so much easier to spot at that level…

4) I didn’t come home with piles of papers every lesson and carry them back the next lesson. The number of papers multiplied since some students are absent each lesson and their papers go back home again too. This time I only carried home certain vocabulary quizzes which I wanted the  students to do in class – everything else was handed in and checked online.

5) Students can upload a profile picture. Remembering 38 students’ names was more successful this time around (though not perfect -only half of the students bothered to upload a picture.). I had a terrible time with names last course!

During the last lesson we discussed Edmodo and almost all students said that  it helped them be more organized (me too!). They also said they liked the fact that they could easily write me with questions. If it was really needed, I sometimes answered in Hebrew – Edmodo supports that too!

After working so intensively with Edmodo for the last two and a half months I have been emboldened to explore other ways it can be used. These are in the beginning stages so I will mention them briefly here – more in the future!

* As a safe platform to collaborate with other high-schools of the Deaf around the world. This project is led by the amazing Arlene Blum. We have been using a blog till now and I suggested we move it to Edmodo.

* As a platform for an a-synchronous 3 week online course for deaf and hard of hearing high-school students mainstreamed into regular classes. This hasn’t opened yet (Feb. 8)  – I’m working on it!

Someone asked me how Edmodo makes money and I haven’t a clue. It is completely free and there are no advertisements at all. All I know is that I’m glad it exists!

Saturday’s Book: “Man Walks into A Room” by Nicole Kraus

Yes, it’s me again – never had two Saturday posts before!

But it’s pouring rain outside and I also read a book this week (a short one, for a change!).

This is actually Kraus’s first book, but the third one I’ve read. My favorite is her second one “The history of love” which I read before I began blogging and REALLY REALLY liked. Then I read Great House which was not an easy read and not as good. I hesitated a bit but decided to try the author’s first book.

Its fascninating, unusual and deals with that ever troubling issue called memory, and loss of it. I still love the second book better but this is certainly worth reading. I had trouble putting it down as everything is so vivid.

Off to the library tomorrow – that was my last book!

Its Saturday! How Vikram Seth & Zadie Smith led me to Joni Mitchell

When I recently read “An Equal Music” by Vikram Seth, there were some passages that described music in such a detailed and moving way that I had to hear the piece. Most notably was the part where the main character describes playing the first part (o.k. its called “contrapunctus”) of Bach’s Art of Fugue in a concert, where each member of the quartet joins in separately.

It suddenly occurred to me that I have YouTube at my disposal and that could be a great reading companion. I listened to several pieces as I read the book, though mostly to Art of Fugue as we have it on CD and I could listen to it without the computer (looking forward to getting an ipod for my birthday!!!).

Last Sunday I got home from school late, and read a New Yorker Magazine piece by Zadie Smith (author of “White Teeth” which I enjoyed) about Joni Mitchell. How for year she never liked her singing (” a white woman wailing, picking out notes in a non-sequence”) and then how she discovered her. I identified with the first part – she’s from the period I like a lot (I’m a huge Simon and Garfunkle fan, by the way) but have never taken to her music.

Looking for a way to encourage my tired self to get going with the kitchen I remembered Vikram Seth and took out the computer. YouTube  to the rescue!

Zadie Smith recommended the album BLUE and I’ve listened to it 4 times this week. I discovered the bit she she described as sounding like “Jingle Bells” and other details she mentioned.

It was just right for me. A different rhythm from what I was used to. I can’t say I am now a HUGE fan but there are at least 4 songs from the cd I really like. Its funny to think that words on paper introduced me to music!