There was a report on the radio this morning, unsurprisingly, about the great writer Amos Oz who just passed away. A passage from his book ” A tale of Love and Darkness” was read. The reporter chose a passage describing the author’s meeting with Ben-Gurion.
It’s a great passage but not one I remember at all.
Other scenes from the book left strong impressions in my memory – memories not only of what was written but how I felt when reading them.
I remember the descriptions of the books, or rather the significant presence of BOOKS in Oz’s childhood. How much these books meant to his father, how painful it was for his father to part with them.
I remember the tragedy of his mother’s life and the complex relationship.
I remember how befriending children his age was complicated when growing up as an only child among angst, silences, great minds of the period and books.
I remember his struggle to forge his own way, his own identity.
I remember it took me a long time to read the book – it is not a quick, light read.
But I’m so glad I read it.
I was browsing my blog to see if I had reviewed this book in the past. I hadn’t because I began my blog in December 2010.
My blog turned eight this month and I had forgotten.
My mind is elsewhere this year – full of memories…
“Incidental learning” as in picking up vocabulary that wasn’t taught explicitly in class. Or an expansion of that – vocabulary items that were introduced in class, being reinforced in an unplanned manner outside the classroom walls.
“Incidental learning” as in the Deaf student who showed me the word “racist” in a comment on a website after the word “racism” was introduced while teaching the poem “As I grew older” by Langston Hughes. (Happy Teacher!) Or the Deaf student who worked on a text related to online shopping which included a reference to “Amazon”. She was sure it was a reference to the Amazon River, which she had learned about in Junior High School. No one in her family had ever ordered anything from Amazon and any casual conversations she might have encountered in the hallway or on the bus mentioning “Amazon” were not heard.
In short, Deaf / hard of hearing students need extra exposure to words in class. Repeated exposure to vocabulary items (mainly in written form!) in context and lots of practice!
With that in mind, I’ve been examining the Ministry of Education’s words list for high school students for ways to count and increase the number of times I use words from the list in context, in writing.
And I have formulated a plan.
Or at least a way to begin.
Refreshing a small unit I prepared from the elementary school vocabulary list (see below the horizontal lines) helped me decide what not to do for the high school students while sticking to a “re-entry plan”.
For the unit for elementary school, I chose a random set of 20 words and word-chunks from the list which I felt I was able to effectively place in a meaningful, visual context (I used two words not from the list as well). Then I created a visual lead-in activity (slideshow), a short film without dialogue that ties the items together, then the same film again with questions using the vocabulary items, ending with a Quizlet word set to practice with.
For the high school students, there is no need to choose a random set of words to begin with or to create the context. I already have a context that I spend a great deal of time teaching anyway – the pieces in the literature program.
Not only do I know exactly which pieces I will be teaching over the next three years, I also have no particular interest in creating activities that don’t tie in with the literature program and could take up time that I don’t have.
There are some vocabulary items on the list, such as the word “poverty”, that stand out. These are words which I will put under the category of Across The Board – words I can use in many (or even most!) of the poems and stories I teach. Roger and Mrs. Jones from “Thank You, Ma’am”, are poor, as are characters in “The Treasure of Lemon Brown” and “A Summer’s Reading”. The concept of poverty can also be related to poems such as “As I grew older” and “Count That Day Lost”. I’m keeping a special eye out for those words at the moment. I haven’t thought of a good title for the words that are relevant to only one piece yet…
So, what’s my first step?
I’m about to begin teaching the stories “Thank You Ma’am” by Langston Hughes and “A Summer’s Reading” by Bernard Malamud. I’ve started off by comparing the word list to the former story. Here are the “Across The Board” words that I have identified as relevant to this story:
poverty / trust* / to struggle* / to escape / an offence / an entrance / an exit / a promise / literature / racism / to steal / tone / setting / share / witness / to survive / theme / to threaten / in return for / the main thing / to blame / to bear in mind / youth / get away with / it resulted in
Only “trust” and “to struggle” (out of the above list) are in the text of the story itself, though the word “escape” does come up frequently when discussing phrases such as “make a dash for it” that appear in the story. “Escape” is, naturally, also a very useful word when teaching a Summer’s Reading, but I’ll get to that story in another post.
Madam / God / Kitchen – these words are both in the text and on the list, but are “story specific”.
The next step is to go over the questions, activities, and exercises I have for this story. I have begun checking which questions I would like to rephrase or change so as to ensure that the items from the above list will be used.
FOLLOW THIS SPACE!
1) Here’s the list of vocabulary items FOR THE TEACHER:
That’s not fair!
2. Here is the lead-in activity for the students. It must be done BEFORE watching the film.
This is one of those times when I say; “Forget the students!”
I actually eagerly sat down at first to read Kevin Stein’s free book (PDF or Ebook) “Just About Life” because I did have students in mind at first. Kevin wrote this collection of short stories (fiction) with controlled vocabulary and length, (as he explains in his post) and his intended audience is English language learners in Japan. I’m currently particularly interested in different ways to bring vocabulary lists to life in meaningful context due to changes in the structure of our exams.
But all of that will come up in other kinds of posts. As I said, this post isn’t about teaching.
I found that I enjoyed reading the stories myself, not just as a teacher.
They were short, I read them quickly, but I find I am still thinking about some of the stories. The endings are thought-provoking, rather than your standard clear-cut, simple happy resolution style of stories. I’m tempted to reread a few and see how I interpret some of the endings now.
I think I liked the one related to photography best – I guess that doesn’t sound surprising!
I was saddened by the silences between people in some of the stories, things left unsaid. I was wondering if that is more of a reflection of Japanese culture in these stories. I’ve watched several Japanese movies and this is an impression I have. However, I’ve never been to Japan, so please correct me if this is a misconception.
Oh, and do strawberries have a special significance?
It rocks when teachers can enjoy what was written for students!
The first word that comes to mind when thinking of my father is the word “book”. Or rather “BOOKS!”
Books were part of who he was.
My father was a voracious reader from a very young age. He read everything he could get his hands on. Almost all the birthday gifts he ever asked for, from his Bar-Mitzvah and all the way up to his 85th birthday, were books.
These books were rarely works of fiction. My father had an insatiable curiosity about the world, – he wanted books that gave him information, that analyzed events and examined the processes that led to these events. These were reference books he needed for his work as a historian (and many books that had no bearing on his work – he was just interested in the topic) biographies of the people who made history, a variety of dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases and more.
There were always several books on his nightstand. He would read several books at once along with the three daily newspapers he read and the magazines he subscribed to.
Books didn’t have to be read from cover to cover – they were there to be at your fingertips whenever you needed to read or reread the relevant parts. My father was puzzled and dismayed by Wikipedia – he felt that books and encyclopedias must be written the way he wrote the three books that he published – products of painstaking, methodical research conducted by specialists in their field.
My father had his own unique system for unofficial “field research”. He would talk to every taxi driver, waiter, nurse, hospital orderly or falafel seller he ever met, questioning them about where they came from. He would amaze them with his extensive knowledge of towns/cities and regions around the world, whether it was Eastern Europe, Iran or the United States, or his familiarity with Arab clans and Druze history. But he was never trying to show off, my father always wanted to know more about local life, what was that person’s personal perspective of life there in the past and in the present. He found it impossible to understand how a person could go off to a weekend at a B&B on a Kibbutz or a small town abroad and come home unable to report on the number of people who live there and what their sources of income are.
If it so happened that my father had not heard of a place – well, perhaps it was time to get another book!
For a significant part of my childhood, books were our family’s main possession.
Naturally, my father gave books as birthday gifts too. Our sons received Atlases of explorers, books about inventions and Greek mythology for children. I can’t recall how old they were when they got the book about breaking The Enigma code, but the one on how the alphabet evolved tied in nicely with the process of learning to read.
Interestingly enough, the one place my father tried to get people to look beyond books was in his history classes. He always tried to get his students to see that history was not a page in a book but was a “live” thing populated by real people, who influenced history and related events according to their own perspectives.
One beloved strategy of his was to secretly arrange with two (or three) students to suddenly burst out “fighting” (with a bit of theatrical play acting if possible) in the middle of a lesson without any warning. Then he would ask the whole class to describe what they had just witnessed. The students discovered that though they had all witnessed the same event, their accounts of the event varied! This was an eye opener for them and a good introduction to many a lesson.
Guest speakers were commonplace in his college lessons – my father brought in dozens of well-known people who shaped local history. He set up a video-recording project, to document these interviews for future generations, as he was acutely aware of how the window of opportunity for interviewing these people was closing fast. He took his classes on field trips – putting history into a visual context.
On my father’s 86 birthday he didn’t ask for any books nor did he get any.
Although my father took his last breath at the end of August (two months after his birthday), I began mourning months earlier, when Alzheimer had claimed his ability to read. The father I had always known was no longer there.
And now we are left with his library. He “pruned” it several times during his lifetime, there are much fewer books than there ever were before. Nonetheless, we are still dealing with several thousand.
Several thousand – yet I’m devoting a great deal of energy in finding good homes for individual books. Homes where the books would be welcomed. One history teacher at the school where I teach agreed to come – he took about 20 books. I’ve brought a few to other teachers and to the school library. Another teacher at my school likes biographies in English and was pleased with the five books I first brought her. She didn’t want the next 20 I brought, so I donated them to our wonderful “readers-for-readers” corner in our local library. There are lots of English speakers here, I saw that the books disappeared quickly. Other books that were written for the general public, not scholars, are slowly going there as well.
I don’t know if I’ve even donated 100 books yet, it has hardly made a dent on the shelves. Scholarly reference books are harder to donate (not sell, donate!) than one thinks – libraries are concerned with space and so much is now available online.
But I’m not yet ready for drastic measures in clearing out books. Going over the bookshelves, picking out certain books for certain people does something positive for me.
The cover states (I quote): “From the author of the million-copy selling THE YACOUBIAN BUILDING”.
Not quite the way I would phrase it but I really did enjoy “The Yacoubian Building”!
Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this one so much.
Sometimes a winning format doesn’t work when you are trying to repeat it. At least for me. It’s true that there are still a host of characters from different socio-economic statuses (people who would never interact with each other) who find their lives intertwined on a backdrop of a dramatic time in the history of Egypt. But there is too much repetition, the characters seemed “flatter” with certain qualities emphasized again and again.
Perhaps I would have found it more interesting if I hadn’t read the previous book, but the characters failed to hold my interest for the full 496 pages…
Teaching English as a FOREIGN language to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students