Saturday’s Book: “The Art of Hearing Heartbeats” by Sendker

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

If you want to call me cold-hearted and nitpicky now is the time to do so.

I was prepared to surrender myself to a legendary love story that breaks the barriers of time and distance. Romance is good.

However, I need consistency within the story. The world created in the story needs to make sense according to the story. Too many details did not adhere to this principle, at least as far as I am concerned.

I am willing to accept that an impoverished, blind, semi-orphan living in a monastery in rural Burma had access to a couple of books in Braille (left behind by a British officer) but asking me to believe he was well versed in all the classics, all of which were read in Braille from his extensive collection is a bit much. And how was the love of his life writing him letters? When exactly did she become literate? Who was educating girls, especially with a handicap? What about the daughter who was abandoned as a child, without any warning, forgives all the moment she hears about how great the love story was? I guess that’s what is called “short-term therapy”.

I think what bothered me most was the underlying assumption that true wisdom can only be found where there is desperate poverty, children die young of diseases that are preventable, a person with a mobility handicap must be carried on other people’s back and more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly willing to truly believe that there is a great deal of wisdom to be found in such places. It’s the “only” that really gets me.

I do not intend to read the second book.

Having a Staff “Pre-Mortem” Before Major Exams

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos


No, I didn’t invent the term “pre-mortem” and I don’t associate exams with life and death situations.

But it is a strategy for avoiding mistakes (or minimizing the impact of mistakes ) when one is faced with very stressful situations and national exam days are very stressful days, ripe with opportunities for all sorts of mayhem. I learned about it from Daniel Levitin’s TED TALK, embedded below. As he points out, when you are under stress your thinking gets cloudy without you realizing it is cloudy.

Obviously it is common sense to plan ahead and be prepared for exam days. I’ve had a checklist for years of things I need to do before an exam. Things such as bringing extra pens for those students who arrive at an exam without one, making sure students remember what time their exam begins, bringing food for the incredibly long day we must spend at school…

A checklist turns out not be enough.

A checklist relies on previous experience, picturing situations already encountered. It is limited to the extent of my personal experience (albeit a long one but the limit remains). It also relies on the assumption that there is a limited number of problems that could arise on exam days. I do not find that assumption to be true.

A staff “pre-mortem” to brainstorm all the things that could possibly cause trouble on exam day would tap the imagination and experience of many people. We would have varied input as to what we can do to prepare for some of the issues.

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

Some simple examples I’ve come up with when conducting my own “post mortem” of the exam day we just had:

  • In addition to being a teacher I’m a national counselor. I’m on the phone a lot with schools all over the country during exam day. I almost missed the announcement that came in about an hour after the first exam had begun that there was an error in the line numbers on one of the questions. This actually has happened before but it wasn’t on my checklist and it hadn’t occurred to me to set up a “buddy system” to make sure someone checks to see that I’ve heard  the announcement.
  • An administrator came to me after the exam had begun and requested, urgently, that I give her some dictionaries from the English room for students (not mine) that arrived without them. I did. I think, I hope, I had written a long time ago “English Room” inside the front covers. I didn’t check (cloudy thinking!). Will I ever see those dictionaries again?
  • I have no idea what I could have done about the shortage of proctors and the huge delays caused, but perhaps imagining the situation with others beforehand would have brought up some interesting thoughts…

Blogging for ETAI International Conference – IATEFL President Marjorie Rosenberg’s Acrostic

Marjorie Rosenberg

This is the  second interview of the series “Meet our Plenary Speakers” for the upcoming ETAI International Conference (July 4-6). IATEFL President Marjorie Rosenberg readily agreed to go along with the spirit of this blog (called VISUALISING ideas, remember?) and to participate in a “visual interview”.  It isn’t surprising given her keen interest in different learning styles and her  ongoing  photography contributions to the ELTpics  (photos by teachers / for teachers) project. However,  one very important fact about Marjorie relates to auditory aspects rather than visual ones  –  read on to find out how a passion for music and the opera tie in with teaching English as a foreign language!

And here it is!


Saturday’s Book: Let the Great World Spin by McCann

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

I know it sounds like a contradiction, but this book got me hooked right away yet required patience.

It’s not a spoiler to say that the book starts with a true event, a man performed a tightrope act with a balancing pole between The Twin Towers in 1974. The description is beautifully written.

Then the author moves into fiction,introducing characters.  Here you need some patience, the first story (introducing the first characters) for me was a bit long and I wasn’t sure where he was going with it. But the second one was riveting.

And then the different characters and their lives all tie in.

And there is hope, despite it all.

Quite an unusual book with beautiful language. Worth reading!

Saturday’s Book: “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” by Eggers

Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

I’m sorry.

The book is heartbreaking.

And I do recognize the talent, the cleverness (aka genius) of the style of writing. I really did feel like I was in the head of this 24  year old “kid” who was orphaned and is trying to raise his 7 year old brother.

Which is why I stopped reading the book. Being inside this young man’s head was a totally dizzying experience, one I actually felt too old for.

The book deserves to be read. But I couldn’t deal with it.