I know I have read a book worth reading when I’m still thinking about parts of it, several weeks and three books later.
Yes, I am way behind on my book postings again.
This is an excellent choice for an audiobook (courtesy of the WONDERFUL ) Libby library service. A good reader and appropriate accents add a layer to the pleasure!
First of all, it’s a good story, well told with a plucky heroine.
The book takes place during The Depression Era, in isolated spots in Kentucky but in many ways, this book could easily serve as a discussion for current affairs in the U.S.A.
The main character, an admirable young woman named Mary, is known as “Blue” because of a rare condition which causes her skin to be literally blue. This is true also of her parents and her “kin”, though precious few have remained alive in this impoverished place where life is harsh and racism is rampant. Being different can be a life-threatening condition.
Mary works as a “Packhorse Librarian”, traveling long distances every day to bring reading material to people who live in extremely remote places. Not only remote, but some also live entirely off-the-grid. She actually traveled with a mule, not a horse, which is better suited to the difficult terrain. The parts I liked best were Mary’s (called Bookwoman by her patrons) conversations with people who were deeply suspicious of “book learning” – how she coaxed them to try and see for themselves how the information contained in them just might enrich their lives, perhaps even improve it. Sadly, it seems that the importance of a good education today needs defending among some people today.
The roving librarian job was just one of the jobs created as part of the government “New Deal” plans to help put food on people’s plates. Starvation was no figure of speech in that area – there were families counting the number of their children who died due to starvation (not to mention the stillborn children). Nonetheless, some preferred to accept their offspring’s deaths rather than cooperate with an interfering government who was offering a salary…
The author did leave me wondering what was the fate of the planned miner’s strikes. At the beginning of the book, there was much talk about the danger of attending a union meeting and the terrible working conditions (and short lives ) of the miners. But after the miner character passes away, we don’t follow that storyline anymore.
While I can be a bit “ornery” (to use a phrase from the book) and am perfectly able to criticize some things about the book, I am certainly glad I read it and recommend it too!
Naomi: “Thank you, Notebookfor meeting me today, even though it’s your summer “hibernation” time”.
Notebook: (grumbling) “I don’t understand why you had to bother me! You have been renewing my contract automatically for the last 35 years and there have been no complaints about my performance in your classroom. So why are we wasting my rest time?”
Naomi: There’s no polite way to say this so I’ll just cut to the chase – I’m afraid I can’t renew your contract this year until you define exactly what it is you actually do. In what ways can you be useful to students today, in these uncertain times of a global pandemic?
Notebook: (sputtering with anger) “WHAT“?!! How dare you even ask me that? Students have always needed notebooks! And they always will. Even those conceited computers haven’t diminished our importance! Haven’t you read that when students physically write things down in their paper notebooks they remember the material better? Maybe you should spend your summer reading educational research material and learning something instead of needlessly disturbing my hibernation time.You can’t possibly be thinking of firing me!”
Naomi: (counts to 10) Notebook, calm down and stop shouting at me. I don’t want to fire you. I believe in the connection between the physical motion of writing and memory. But let’s face it. Things have changed. When the pandemic hit the country and we suddenly shifted to distance learning without prior planning, we didn’t use notebooks at all, because none of our students had them. They were all left at school. Then, when we started going back to school in small groups we had some students writing in their notebooks one day and using the computer the next when they were learning from home. It was very confusing and caused problems. You can call the computers “conceited” or anything else you care to, but if you don’t define exactly what your new role will be in a school year that could be constantly transitioning between learning-in-class and distance learning, you will find yourself hibernating for long periods during the next school year! So I repeat the question – what is that you are good for? How can you still be useful for our Deaf and hard of hearing students?
Notebook: (after a long pause) “Grammar. Students write grammar rules, sample sentences, and their answers to grammar exercises from their books in me”.
Naomi: Now that’s something that can go directly into your new contract. Here we have a situation where you, the notebook, and the distance learning computer system can seamlessly complement each other without actually communicating with each other.
Notebook: (Brightening) Really? How?
Naomi: You enable students to practice grammar but also serve as a storage place for rules and examples students might want to review before an exam. In class, students can use their notebooks. If they are learning from home, they can have the reference material on their computer systems and links to online grammar exercises. The exercises available in class and at home do not have to be identical, as long as they practice the target topic. Students need to be taught to access the reference material on their school’s computer system. Our students need to learn to use the “Backpack” function on Edmodo for this purpose”.
“We’re making progress! What’s next, Notebook?”
Notebook: Students doodle, draw hearts, tear off bits of paper, make paper balls…
Naomi: True. But that wasn’t in your old contract and certainly isn’t going into this one. NEXT!
Notebook: Essay writing.
Naomi: Sigh. This one is trickier. We’re going to divide this section of your contract into two parts – notebook use for students studying at the lower levels vs. higher levels.
Students writing at the paragraph level or very short texts that can be completed in less than a lesson (leaving time for corrections) can use their notebooks. They can then practice writing different passages from home using our Edmodo (which offers built-in extensive word processing functions! No installing required!) or shared documents (student /teacher share) on Google Docs. Whether we learn in class or at home they will still have sample passages that they wrote available to them.
However, advanced students writing essays of 120 -140 words will continue to be required to type up any essay they write in their notebook. In fact, some students became accustomed to writing their essays directly into the shared documents before the pandemic hit. It is simply so much easier to work on the many corrections to their writing that our students need which take more than one lesson.
You must admit it, Notebook – long essays with many corrections get very messy and hard to read clearly in you!
Notebook: (dejectedly) Surely you need me for the students’ “Literature Logs”.
Naomi: (cheerfully) You should be pleased with this part of the contract! I’ve begun breaking down the tasks students need to do for each of the literary pieces we study into separate small items – each item appears separately on the Edmodo. So one column may be titled pre-reading, another item “page one of LOTS Questions”, “practicing comparing and contrasting” or “Bridging text and context”. If we are in class, and the student completed a certain task in the notebook, I just have to note that in the Edmodo. It doesn’t have to be uploaded to the computer system, I can grade tasks I checked offline. The tasks done during distance learning don’t have to necessarily all be done directly on the Edmodo site either – for some students and certain sections I’ll be using Google forms with an add-on that turns the results into a Google Doc.
Cheer up, Notebook – It’s quite possible to do part of the tasks online and part in their notebooks, and you know that some students are very attached to you!
Are we done?
Notebook: You forgot to mention the topic of vocabulary.
Naomi: Thankfully, that’s one thing the pandemic hasn’t interfered with. We will continue using Quizlet and Edmodo for vocabulary practice, leaving the student to decide for themselves when and how often to use their notebooks for this purpose. You know that some students certainly prefer their notebooks while others emphatically do not.
That wraps it up, Notebook! You see, now we can confidently say that you are all still needed in our class, whatever may come next year!
Now go and hibernate in peace! I will try not to bother you!
Teaching English as a FOREIGN language to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students