The blog is dead, long live the blog.

8 12 2010

Ok, fairly obviously this blog has ceased to be, however my new blog can be found here. It might end up being written in English, or Norwegian, or both, the jury is still out. So long.


My blog so far

7 11 2009

blog on 7.11.09

Once Were Warriors

5 11 2009

One of the aims in the English curriculum is that:

pupils should be able to  discuss literature by and about indigenous peoples in the English-speaking world

As the VG2 (upper sixth form) pupils only get one and half hours of English each week and we have a lot to cover, there isn’t really time to read an entire book. So instead we watch a film based on a book. Yesterday we watched ‘Once Were Warriors’, an extremely powerful & moving film concerning violence, alcoholism & gang culture in New Zealand.

I remember exactly when and where I first read the book by Alan Duff; I was on a school exchange in Germany and Once Were Warriors was the only English language book I could find in my exchange partner’s house. I read it and was shocked, by the language and the brutality, but also hooked on the story and the way it was written. This book sparked an interest in Maori culture and led me to discover my all-time favourite book; The Bone People.

Incidently, Alan Duff wrote two other books following on from the original (What becomes of the Broken Hearted? and Jake’s Long Shadow), which have a lot going from them as stories, but for me Once Were Warriors stands above these other two.

Anyway, I can quote great chunks of the book at you, but I’m not so familiar with the film and enjoyed watching it again yesterday. I particularly liked a subtle detail that I hadn’t noticed before (pointed out by wikipedia, rather than the study guide I’ve been using) concerning the eldest son Nig’s facial tattoo.  Rather than getting a full facial tattoo, Nig’s face is only tattooed on one side, symbolising his mother’s heritage whilst failing to acknowledge that of his unstable, drunken father.

On the whole, the book is darker than the film. Not only do two of Beth’s children end up dead (in the book Nig does not attend Grace’s funeral and is killed in a gang fight not long after Grace takes her own life), but Grace does not know the identity of her rapist (neither does the reader, although it’s hinted that Jake is not directly responsible) and writes in her diary that she suspects she was raped by her own father. This leaves Jake homeless after Beth kicks him out. Not that one  ought to feel sorry for a woman-beating brute, but Jake is still a tragic figure, having fallen so far from who he felt himself to be (“Jake the Muss”) to a homeless outcast, questioning his own morals and actions, and having to hide in the bushes to be able to catch a glimpse of his eldest son’s funeral.

Of course, we don’t just watch films in class for the sake of it. Many pupils enjoy watching films, and exposure to the language can only be benificial, but at this point in the term it’s important for pupils to be writing assignments which can be assigned grades. As pupils are also expected to be able to,

analyse and discuss a film

that works out quite nicely. Having watched Once Were Warriors, I’ve asked the class to write an analysis of the film. You can find the assignment here.

A tricky teaching situation

27 10 2009

Ok, here’s a situation I’d like some help with for future reference, although the moment itself has already passed… Like so many occasions, I had to make an instant decision, and am now pondering about whether I called it right.

On Tuesday mornings I take a class consisting of six pupils who need extra help in English. This morning, we’d worked through various exercises and covered quite a lot of ground. Lunch time was approaching and the pupils were getting tired, so when one of them suggested a game of hangman I agreed. We played an enjoyable round, then on the second go, a pupil chose a phrase consisting of three words. Gradually we worked out that she’d chosen the phrase: [my name] are nice.

Well, she could have chosen anything, and who doesn’t like being complemented? But of course the grammar is incorrect. What to do? What I did was smile sweetly, thank her for the complement and finish the lesson in time for lunch. But now I’m wondering, did I do the other pupils a disservice by letting the incorrect phrase pass without comment? Interestingly enough, one of pupils who guessed this phrase actually ‘read’: [my name] is nice, despite the error on the board.

So, should I have corrected what she wrote? I very vaguely remember something from university, about exposure to errors in the input not affecting L1 learners since they would hear the correct version so many more times, but I don’t know if this applies to L2 learners (in my naivety as a young Linguistics students, I saw L2 language acquisition as less interesting, and somehow less “pure” than L1 acquisition, though of course the latter provides careers for a great many language teachers around the world, whereas the former takes place naturally).

I expect the answer in this particular case is that I’m probably worrying too much; the pupils were winding down and may not have been paying particularly close attention to what was written on the board. Plus the error in question didn’t stop a pupil from saying the phrase correctly. But I do think it’s an interesting question in general – should we ever knowingly expose pupils to errors without pointing out and / or correcting these errors? Should language teachers correct absolutely every mistake in a written piece of work, even if the content is great, or if the resulting feedback caused a pupil to lose motivation?

Blogging with students

14 09 2009

I’m about to take a big step, and start asking all three of my VG1 classes (equivalent to lower 6th form in the UK) to create and maintain their own blogs in English. It’s not exactly cutting edge, and there are plenty of teachers out there who’ve been doing this for years. But it’s new for me, so any advice would be handy.

My plan is to create a “Tutor blog” (see the British Council’s website – Types of blogs used in language teaching) for each class, which will serve two purposes.

  1. to provide a central list of each student’s blogs in that class.
  2. to provide an overview of the topics covered in each class, along with reminders about homework etc.

Point 2 may prove a little tricky, as in so many of my tasks I need to assess whether time and effort will be fruitful. I also need to make sure that I’m not overlapping with the functionality of It’s Learning; this will just cause confusion for the students.

I’ve been thinking about asking my students to blog for over a year now, and have done a reasonable amount of research into this. I’ve seen in several places the advice that a teacher who’s asking her class to blog should also maintain a regular blog themselves (or should that be ‘regularly maintain a blog’…). This is also something I’ve struggled with in the past, maybe getting the students to blog will provide the necessary motivation for this blog.

Improvements in It’s Learning

22 03 2009

The program used at school for almost everything (it describes itself as a Virtual Learning Environment) is called It’s Learning. Like anything it has its bugs, but it is also upgraded not infrequently. I found out yesterday that YouTube videos can now be embedded within assignments. Well I thought that was exciting. After all, pupil 2.0 is far more into YouTube than the most well-written text book available, no point in denying that.

A thought in the back of my head is to start blogging with pupils from next year, I guess that’s partly why I started this blog. I did consider this last August, but have had more time to think about it, plus I’ve found some examples of how to use blogs in English classes, and how to mark them.

A few thoughts

21 03 2009

I’m pondering. I do like that word: “to ponder”. As it’s a Sunday, I’m pondering about what to do in my two classes tomorrow, although I have a vague idea. This time last year, the thought of teaching based on ‘vague ideas’ would have filled me with dread; my habit back then was to write a detailed teaching plan for each lesson. But only one year later (a year and a half into my teaching career), it’s all that bit easier. Not that easy, having said that; I’m still sat here on a Sunday morning, intending to correct an endless pile of tests and essays…

Other questions on my mind currently include the summer holiday, where to go?

  • Austria again? The company’s always good & the scenery’s fantastic, but I never do that much caving.
  • Ethiopia; a new caving expedition? It would be worth it to see a different country, in fact a new continent, but it’s a big unknown, unlike Austria which is tried and tested.
  • Somewhere else? On my own? Have tried this, last summer I had a week cycling from the Dolomites to Venice. The cycling itself was excellent, but I missed company in the evening.
  • There’s always the Dales Way, failed to complete this last summer, partly because I vastly overestimated how far I could walk in the first day. But this should only take a week….

And then there’s the question of what to study?

  • More English? A part time Masters in English sounds quite interesting. But am I better improving my knowledge of the single subject I can teach, or taking on something new?
  • For example “samfunnsfag”, a mixture of geography, history & politics. Could do it part time in Hønefoss (but the deadline is coming up), could take modules as a net-based course (but this would end up costing Kr. 50,000).
  • Then there’s mentoring, something that the Norwegian Government is starting to think seriously about, in order to bridge the gap between teacher training and real-life teaching. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a mentor for the past year and a bit, and am looking at training to become a mentor myself. Not sure I have all the answers though.
  • Special-needs education. It would be great to have a better idea of how to help pupils with reading difficulties.