Both of the following books were written by Italian authors and both are short books, printed in a small format – 162 pages / 203 pages.
Naturally, I assumed I would be reading each one quite quickly, especially as we’ve been on lockdown.
I was mistaken.
“Invisible Cities” by Calvino is a book that I had to read very slowly. In fact, I couldn’t read more than a few pages at a time. The book isn’t really a “book” in the usual sense, there’s no real story line – but rather a “procession” of very rich descriptions of more than 50 “invisible cities”. All these cities are considered to be the many faces of Venice.
After reading a description I had to stop and think – what did I just read? What was Calvino trying to say here?
Sometimes I was moved, and felt that a description was powerful, or lyrical. So many people live /work in a place and don’t really look at it – so much is being missed!
Sometimes I didn’t get the point of the description at all.
Sometimes I got annoyed that some descriptions were a bit repetitve.
I know it’s a strange thing to say, but I truly found the book to be too long. I wished it had been a series of blog posts which would send me a description of one “invisible city” a week to ponder. More than 50 such descriptions in short succession had me losing the ability to focus properly on them all.
It is interesting to note that in Hebrew this book is called “Shoelaces”. I have no idea what the original title in Italian means but “ties” is a more of a “give- away” of a clever metaphor that the shoelaces represent in the book.
This is a book you don’t want to know too much about in advance as it has some surprising parts. It’s a story about a family in a crises, over years, and is told in different ways in the books several parts. I had the book pegged one way and then it became a little different.
One one hand, it held my interest and I read it (yes, much quicker than the previous one) all the way through gladly. On the other hand, I didn’t find the characters completely “convincing” and some of the story line didn’t make sense, or rather “ring true”.
Fortunately, Couros’ post is called “Comfort in the Discomfort of Growth”. If I have “growing pains” that must mean I’m growing (aka LEARNING ) and that’s a positive thing to remind myself of.
Getting through September could have been even harder if I had been grappling with unfamiliar programs, right?
But first, let’s backtrack for a minute.
Yes, I AM a “masked teacher”!
As a Special Ed teacher, I continued teaching at school for a longer period of time, while others had been moved to remote learning. And I certainly keep my mask on in class. It’s a clear, see-through one so my Deaf and hard of hearing students can see my lips. At present we are also in remote teaching mode but I expect to resume teaching at school before the rest of the school system does.
So, over the summer I did my best to create /post material in a manner that would let students continue working whether they were in class or at home, on their phones (or in some cases, the computer).
But then technology, both hardware & software, which I have been using intensively, “unmasked” some hidden curve balls and started throwing them at me.
Where should I begin?
From the middle, of course! That will give you a “taste” of what I mean!
I’m in our learning center with eight students. One of the two classroom computers is in use. Two students are using their cell phones to continue activities they began online. The others are using their books and notebooks.
Within minutes a 12th-grade student working on his phone is annoyed. He had previously begun an exercise I had posted on Edmodo and wanted to continue working on the same task. Edmodo saves your answers automatically so it has always been easy to continue from where you left off.
At least, on the website it is easy.
The student is using the app. He has no problem accessing a new task but cannot find his previous answers and neither can I. I send him to the vacant computer – all his previous answers are right there, waiting for him to continue.
Okay, I think. Now I can work quietly with the other students, as planned.
However, to my genuine surprise, the other student who is working on the computer calls me over repeatedly. She is working on a task on a LiveWorksheet, which the students find very convenient to use. She has an additional window open – the student clicked on the link I had added at the top of the exercise, leading to a Quizlet vocabulary set, with vocabulary items needed for the task. Since she’s a strong student who actually followed instructions and had the “support material open, I did not expect any “distress calls”.
What could be the problem?
After trying to tell her how much I believed in her ability to do the task well on her own without coming over, then coming over and wasting time trying to explain sentences to her that she actually had understood, I finally discovered the source of the problem. A huge advertisement was blocking half of the word list on the set! No wonder she was frustrated – partial information is confusing! Surprisingly, we could not scroll down past the advertisement. That had never happened before!
I asked the student to use the app on her phone while working on the computer.
Meanwhile, some of the students who were “working with their coursebooks” were happily playing with their phones…
The fact that the bell rang and we all went home didn’t mean that there weren’t additional curveballs in store for me. Ones that came before I had time to deal with the ones that had just been pitched my way.
The next day we moved to remote learning. A student, whom I’ll call N. , sends me a message complaining that I didn’t give him the Quizlet set needed for the tasks. I go and check the Quizlet class and he’s certainly a member of the class. I send him a direct link to the set via WhatsApp (which he can access without any missing words, thankfully). He claims he doesn’t have this set in his app (he does have a different set I assigned though). He starts sending me pics of other sets he finds, of classes he isn’t a member of!
At some point, it dawns on me that he is going into “other recommended sets by the same teacher” which appears below the set he sees, instead of swiping right to see the additional sets in his class.
I quickly understood that the student with a very old phone and no computer (who doesn’t install apps) needs the original WORD version of worksheets, not the PDF version which is a much better choice for almost everyone else. But I ran into trouble with the rest of the class regarding a particular section on one out of a whole series of worksheets I had created.
This task required the completion of a few words inside a short text. How do you do that on a document saved as a PDF file?
When a student wrote to me asking how to fill in the missing words I admit, I was surprised. I hadn’t noticed this potential distance learning problem. My immediate solution was “Write the missing words on a piece of paper, take a picture and send it to me”. Fortunately, later in the same remote lesson, another student completed the task on her cell phone, with the missing words placed in the task. She kindly made a brief video showing how she did that, along with permission to share it – having students solve problems like that is wonderful!
I couldn’t teach in these crazy times without the wonderful Edtech I currently use.
Even “wonderful” can still be hard. I’m learning too.
Even when I “get the Edtech right” – teaching nowadays is HARD. And it’s O.K to say that out loud.
Everything seems so vivid in my mind (a week after completing the book!), the characters, the sights, sounds, and smells, that I feel as if I had seen a movie!
True, neither books nor movies convey smells, but it seems that the end of the 19th century (actually, 1893, I believe) in the Wild West, particularly the Arizona Territory, wasn’t a place that smelled washed and clean. Lack of water and drought certainly served as a powerful excuse, though that was certainly not the only source of smells in this book.
But clarifying THAT statement would be a big spoiler.
I am well aware that I don’t tend to write too much detail about the plot of a book in my posts and that some of you go off to read summaries of the book elsewhere. I strongly urge you not to read to much about it in advance. The book starts slowly, but as the plot unfolds in surprising twists and turns the pace becomes quicker and quicker until the final, unexpected “showdown”.
You don’t want to ruin the experience.
A person needs to know that it is a Western, but not a traditional Western. There are strong, interesting female characters featuring prominently in the book, along with male characters you would expect to find in a Western and those you wouldn’t.
The book relates to actual, historically documented events that occurred, and feels well researched, down to the details, including the dialect and phrases of the period. However, at the same time, not everything in the book is grounded in reality…
I have some good excuses for the current backlog. The books here are only part of it – another post coming shortly!
In August I was either (happily) doing things away from my computer or madly trying to create a great deal of teaching material that would help me deal with going back to school “COVID Style”.
But let’s step away from all that now and talk “BOOKS”!
Pastoralia by George Saunders
Pastoralia is the name of the book and of the first short story in this short story collection.
It is the best one. It is engrossing, surprising, and gave me the same “punch” as reading another George, George Orwell. The tale is set in a weird theme park where modern people are supposed to live/act like cavemen for extended periods of time, in a desperate attempt to make a living. As the relationships and actions of the characters involved (the “cavemen”, the park directors, their family members) unfold and become dramatic, we find ourselves staring at a picture of aspects of American modern society, absurd yet very real and familiar.
It’s not that the other stories aren’t good. I would have enjoyed them more if I had read each one month apart. The stories are different from each other, especially “Sea Oak” (full of surprises!) although “The End of Firpo in the World” also deserves a proper mention. That one could be used for discussions in training educators, and in parenting sessions (Yeah, I’m a teacher. Where were you, school, with this kid?!).
The trouble with reading George Saunder’s stories one after another is that while the events from one story to the next are totally different, the main characters have a lot in common. I’ve also read (several years ago) Saunder’s “10th of December” which is a good collection, but I had the same problem.
I don’t think I read the last story in either collection…
Nonetheless, let me make it clear – I do recommend reading this book!
Origin by Dan Brown
Once you have read a book by Dan Brown you know what you are getting into when you choose to read another one, the structure is the same. It was an enjoyable audiobook to have for an August spent more at home than usual, though too long (over 19 hours!). I enjoyed the first part more, especially the detailed descriptions of the Guggenheim Bilbao museum. At some point, Brown slows down the plot too much with his lengthy explanations. In addition, as someone who has taught Asimov’s story “True Love” many times, I was not surprised one bit by the ending.
Sometimes, a Dan Brown is what you need for your mood and you get what you expect to get. That’s a good thing.
The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen
Sweet is an understatement. AN UNDERSTATEMENT.
I read it because I was in the mood for “sweet and comforting “(before going back to school) and it was a free Kindle book from Amazon.
After two weeks of school, we’re moving back to remote learning.
It’s a very stressful time with many uncertainties.
However, there is one thing I know for sure – I will need lots of materials! Personally, I find creating teaching materials is somewhat comforting. It is something I feel I have complete control over while focusing my thoughts on pedagogy and being creative.
I’m sure you know what I mean.
So, what am I sharing?
I don’t have a single picture of a woodchuck but here is a garland of ways to practice 25 “language chunks”. All “chunks” were taken from our Ministry of Education’s advanced word list, known here as “Band 3”.
Note: The “extra special task” is the last one…
I am making a concentrated effort to practice “chunks” intensively because looking these up in the dictionary is more complicated and can easily lead the students astray.
Two sets on Quizlet
The Vocabulary 400 Project – Chunks (English-English)
Chunks in Context – A letter which is a “teaser” for a video
This task uses some of the chunks in context while having the students pay more attention (well, a little more…) to the spelling. The students also answer a few questions to make sure they are actually reading the text. At the end of the worksheet, they are given the link to the video.
If I hear another recommendation for a “really great Edtech Tool” that happens to be “just what I need to help me go back to school in the new reality of a pandemic”, I will SCREAM!
“Scream” virtually, that is. I don’t scream – I write blog posts.
I have no doubt at all that many of these recommendations are excellent and teachers find them helpful. Educators around the globe are doing their best to be helpful and share everything they know and I’m truly grateful.
But whoa, slow down.
I can’t “digest” that much.
Going back to school this year is particularly stressful with all the Covid-19 safety precautions. I already have a number of Edtech Tools up and ready to roll and am going to focus on making the most out of using them with the students. Overload is a danger – I feel the need to keep it simple and straightforward.
Okay, okay, I also listened to the podcast because I had a lot of boring housework to do – timing is everything…
So, what was one of the things that Christopher Nesi from House of #EdTech said?
Christopher Nesi said: “KISS the students” – KeepIt Simple, Silly!!!
As far as I’m concerned, everything he discussed related to the content of the lesson itself holds true regarding the tools used for blended learning or online learning – keep it simple! A small number of tools that both the students AND the teachers can master well may prove to be more effective. It will certainly improve the teacher’s level of “sanity”. KISS the students and the teachers too! Hey, “sane” starts with the letter “s” too – maybe we should add it to a teacher’s version!
I’ll leave you with one more thing Christopher Nesi talked about:
“Walk in your students’ shoes”.
While we can never really walk in another person’s shoes, now is a good time to think about what I do know about where my students are “really from”.
Forgive my reposting – now is the right time for it.
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My students spill out of taxi cabs each morning, rubbing their sleepy eyes after early morning pick-ups, napping or texting through the traffic jams on the long way to school.
Some are from homes where no one gets up before they do, to see that they leave without breakfast and have packed nothing but party snacks in their school bag for the long day…
Others are from big hugs and best wishes for their day at school, armed with the knowledge that someone is interested in knowing how the day turns out.
They are from blindingly new cell phones, complete with accessories, screens lighting up their lives, from shame masked by annoyance at teachers who insist on such unattainable things otherwise known as pencils and schoolbooks, knowing notes to parents will go unheeded.
Some are from a lifetime of dodging communication pitfalls, guessing meaning from partially heard sentences, tiring easily by the necessity of being constantly alert, at home and at school. From relief at coming to a school where they are no longer the only student with a hearing aid in the entire school – always conspicuous, sure that whispered conversations are about them.
Others are from a world full of hands in motion, sailing confidently in a sea of visual vocabulary from birth, signing their pride to be Deaf and their frustration with the world which doesn’t use Sign Langauge, while resenting school organized efforts to create shared experiences between hearing and Deaf peers.
Teenage students of mine come from long trips abroad with their parents during the school year, from dealing with the anger of the same parents for then doing poorly at school, while trusting these parents to bully their teachers into forgetting about the missed material, evading the demand for buckling down.
Adolescent students of mine are from dependence on parents to navigate the world for them, from apron strings tied with double knots, cell phones bridging the distance, tightening the knots that need to be loosened.
My students are from a belief that I always know where they are really from.
Many thanks to Vicky Loras for recommending this book!
Let me begin this post by making one point crystal clear:
I really really enjoyed reading this book.
I’m still thinking about it.
I’m glad it isn’t a library book (I purchased it on sale on one of the Kindle deals) because it’s a book I can see myself wanting to read again.
That’s something I don’t often say about a work of fiction. However, this book is about more than the barebones of its plot.
Plot? Since I’ve mentioned the plot, I’d like to emphasize that I’m going to share very little of the plot in this post. I was in the blessed situation of not remembering a thing about the book beyond the fact that Vicky Loras recommended it (I’ve enjoyed the various books from different genres she recommended in the past so that was meaningful) and so every detail was new to me.
This book is an epistolary novel. That’s a word I would probably not use in a conversation as I don’t like a term describing something I enjoy, reading books in the form of letters, that sounds like the word pistol. I’m very interested in non-fiction collections of letters as well. I find that people who invest in letter writing, see writing as a way to work out their thoughts and feelings. Writing can help define but also face things. I believe writing also encourages mindfulness as the desire to make another person understand often leads to noticing little details.
This is the situation in the book. Two people (old enough to be grandparents) who seem to have absolutely nothing in common, strike up a correspondence. He is an introverted, conservative Danish archeologist at a museum and she is an energetic British woman playing a significant part in running the family farm. A woman with very little free time. As you can imagine, the correspondence becomes very meaningful to them both.
When I read the first letter I was concerned that the book would descend into “cuteness” (Kitch” or “Shmaltz”) but I didn’t find it to be that way at all. Perhaps I found the age of the characters to be something I could relate to, as they thought about their adult children.
In short, it was a great read for me at a time when I’m on vacation, stressed about the pandemic situation and find reflecting, noticing the little details of life, to be something I’m pleased to think about.
Additional Title: When I’m creating content on the computer and my students are using a cell phone…
I have no idea how often I’ll be meeting my students in person at school at the beginning of this year or teaching them online. I’m not sure anyone knows at the moment. My best bet for creating new materials seems to be creating ones that can be printed out and used in class or used online. Having something ready comforts me a bit amidst all this uncertainty.
Therefore I’ve decided that it would be very helpful for me to begin the school year with some texts that are divided into chunks and include glossaries. I have found that struggling learners also appreciate having the text in a “box” and, in cases of multiple-choice questions, having the question above the distractors underlined.
Part One – Creating the Glossary
Just like any student, I DID remember that I had once learned how to create a glossary, but many years have passed since then and I had no idea how to do it.
It turns out that creating a glossary in WORD is very easy. Here is a close-up of part of a text and the glossary: (Note: instructions for creating a glossary can be found at the end of this post along with downloadable files of this particular text).
Looks really respectable right? Not a messy jumble of words in a box under the text!
Part Two – The OOOH Discovery
I was totally taken by surprise when I accidentally discovered that once the glossary was created, hovering with your mouse over the word brings up the glossed translation without you having to shift your gaze to the bottom of the page! Having the translation appear above the word as you read is far less disruptive to the flow of reading!
It looks like this (note the little text box above the word):
Isn’t that convenient?
I was very excited! I was sure that once my students learned how to take advantage of this they would appreciate this feature. I do not recall ever hearing about this in any Ed-Tech talks I have attended.
Part Three – The First OH NO! Discovery
As I always do with any worksheet that I create and share with students and other teachers, I saved the document as a PDF. It’s a common practice used to avoid having your students mess up the text as they are working on it.
That cool feature of the glossed items hovering above the text that we’ve been discussing? Itdisappeared completely.
The feature does not work when saved as a PDF document.
Part Four – The Second OH NO! Discovery
I asked myself – how often have I seen students ruin or erase part of the digital text they were working on? The only relevant experience I’ve had is when students used to work on the classroom computer. Almost all my worksheets on these computers have remained in WORD and I’ve had very few cases of students accidentally erasing the exercise or distorting the text. Since the originals are saved it has never been “an issue”.
I decided to try using a WORD document with the students, without saving it as a PDF file.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to try it out with two students who came to school for the second round of national exams that we had recently.
When they opened the document on their cell phones, not only did the “cool feature” not work, the entire glossary disappeared! No little numbers and words on the bottom of the page at all.
The glossary looked great on the students’ cell-phones when I sent it to them as a PDF file.
Part Five – Current Plans
My original goal was to have a text with a respectable glossary that would be clear on whatever device the students are using. That goal has been achieved.
I will save the WORD version of the worksheets on the classroom computers. The students do not have WORD installed on their phones but the classroom computers most certainly do. At least those who work in class will benefit from the extra features.
I’ve read so many books in the last month or so and each one actually deserves their own post, but that has become too large a task to handle. I actually even considered not writing about the books at all but I can’t do that – this blog is my memory aid! I’m the kind of person who remembers all kinds of details about a book but cannot remember the title of the book. Since my blog dates to Dec. 2010 I’ve often used the search function to check something about a book (like the answer to the question – which of Orhan Pamuk’s books with a name of a color in the title have I read?).
So here are super short comments about many books, in no particular order:
The Island of the Sea Women by Lisa See
I just finished the book last night. I read most of it in just a few days – it’s very hard to put down. I second what many of my friends have said – a fascinating book about strong women in an unusual social situation (men are unaccustomed to physical labor – women do EVERYTHING yet their status is still lower than men) living through turbulent times on an Island in Korea. The women traditionally made a living by deep-sea diving without oxygen tanks or protective gear. Frankly, I’m the kind of nerd who would have been fascinated by the story just with these aspects, and think the book would have been just as good with the two main characters remaining friends throughout the years and we learned of the change the new generations brought about – but I know that’s just me.
A GOOD BOOK!
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
For me this was a “companion book” to The Handmaid’s Tale, filling in missing gaps, but thankfully not delivering the same “punch to the gut” that the previous book did, as the vital information is already known. It explains things in more detail.
Atwood’s writing is, as always, a pleasure and I’m so glad the LIBBY library service had the audiobook! There are several different readers and Margaret Atwood herself reading little bits of it too! Having several readers adds to the experience.
A GOOD BOOK! Only to be read after The Handmaid’s Tale.
Peony by Pearl Buck
I haven’t read a book by Pearl Buck since I was a teenager! Back then I read both The Good Earth and Letter From Peking. The pace is slow, unrushed, but I was interested in the details. The book is told from the point of view of Peony, a beautiful and intelligent Chinese bond-maid who belonged to a Jewish family in Kaifeng, China, in 1850. The impossible love story between Peony and David, (the family’s son) is told on a backdrop of the family’s conflicted reactions to the gradual disappearance of the small Jewish community and its assimilation into the welcoming Chinese society.
The kIndle edition comes with a FASCINATING afterword written by a researcher who shows how cleverly Buck used the known facts about the community that was once there to bring the story to life. The researcher then adds information that was not available to Buck and presents surprising information about the descendants and research regarding the community from 1850 till the present day.
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
The truly unusual writing style and the skill in which the story is told kept me engrossed even though I found reading the book deeply upsetting. It’s all so visually clear and the punch is strong – the things that have happened to immigrant children traveling alone across the Mexican American Border is as tragic as I understood it to be from the media. The way in which the crises is related, the approach to it, is from such an expected angle and from unexpected points of view that reading the book is truly an experience, but a heart wrenching one.
I was glad I had read it but glad when I finished it too.
Stockholm by Noa Yedlin
I’m sure this book will be translated into English soon – the television adaption of the book has been very successful.
While at times the book can be too slow, it is mostly an enjoyable comic/drama with truly clever twists and great portrayals of people and their complex relationships. The reader is introduced to five 70-year-old people who have been friends at least since their 20s. When one of them suddenly passes away quietly at home, the others try to hide the fact for almost a week, since the newly deceased character was “shortlisted ” for a Nobel Prize in Economics. A person has to be alive when the prize is announced in order to get it (though not necessarily for the ceremony itself). As you can imagine (with a whole lot you might not be able to imagine on your own) hiding a dead body leads to unexpected complications… These situations naturally cause the characters to examine their relationship with the others in the group and look at themselves.
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!
Teaching English as a FOREIGN language to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students