Monday, January 31, 2011

Only Albanians in Albania during WWII

A while back I got all excited about the book, The Grand Mosque of Paris by Karen Gray Ruelle, about Muslims in Paris during the Second World War who put themselves at-risk by helping Jews escape German persecution.

So, I went looking to learn more and came across Besa: Muslims who saved Jews in World War II by Norman H. Gershman (940.5318 GeB 2008).  This is an incredible collection of short, true stories of Albanian Muslims who also risked their lives to help Jews and others in danger from the Nazis.  Albania was the one European country that had more Jews living in the country after the war than before.  This comes down to ‘besa’, a code of honour, unique to Albanian Muslims 

Besa, means literally “to keep the promise.” One who acts according to Besa is someone who keeps his word, someone to whom one can trust one’s life and the lives of one’s family.
                            (from website: Besa Code of Honour)
Each two page spread in the book includes a short narrative written by a family member and a photographic portrait of descendents of the people involved.   Eloquent, simply told stories tell of the generosity and personal sacrifice made to help Jews and others during the war.

I was gripped listening to a CBC Radio segment  last fall that highlighted a travelling exhibition featuring the portraits and the stories of the Albanian Muslims who live by besa.  From this story I learned that the mayor of Tirana did not hand over the city’s Jews to the Nazis’ but insisted that there were no Jews, only Albanians, living in Albania.  Just one of many stories.

The book is wonderful.  The Current’s story featuring the exhibit is gripping.  This is a story that needs to be more widely known.  I'm glad to have the opportunity to share.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Guest blogger - Ken Dyer

Ken Dyer, a former student from the University of Calgary's teacher preparation program, teaches English to university students in China.  He continues his ruminations on teaching English in a foreign country.  In this blog, we learn about how he gets to know his students and how this impacts his teaching.
I am often asked how well I know my students; do I know all of their English or Chinese names?  The honest answer is, I don’t get to know them on a personal level very well.  In my own defense, I usually teach 200-250 students per semester across six classes, and I’m terrible at remembering names!  I do remember faces quite well and can greet students from many years ago, but without attaching a name to that greeting.

I know some teachers make seating plans and demand students stay in the same seats all semester long.  Because I teach at a university I don’t feel the need for such strict rules when dealing with young adults.  In addition, my students want a “Western” experience not the stringent kind of teacher they have grown up with.  Imagine if your university teacher had told you to sit in the same seat for the semester – you would think they were nuts!  Also, because seats are bolted down, a tardy student would have to ask others to move to get to their assigned seat, which seems too silly and inconvenient to me.

Though I don’t get to know my students personally I do get to know their English level to a high degree. I do this by walking around the class during listening activities to see how the students are doing and to see which questions give them the most trouble.  This is very valuable when discussing the answers to the questions and explaining what went wrong or what skills are needed to catch the right answers. Many of my students have commented that I don’t stand or sit in one position for long.  Maybe this is a result of teaching elementary kids or maybe I am just a bit hyper! 

When there are speaking activities, I listen to each group or pair of students to see how the discussion is coming along, what words are misunderstood and if any interesting points coming out.  After this, we will have a brief discussion about problem areas or any unusual or tangential ideas that came up, At times this can lead to a whole new topical direction.

As I stated in the last blog, I make my own class booklets so the units are relatively set for the whole semester.  This has both benefits and drawbacks.  On the plus side, students can look ahead and are encouraged to go through the lesson to review vocabulary leaving class time to learn new words.  This also assists me in preparing my lessons and having the whole semester planned out in advance.  On the negative side, it is not as flexible as I might want and we are forced to follow a set path, to a certain degree.  However, if something goes awry or some new topic or concerns arise, I can easily deviate from the booklet.

 You may recall I mentioned the term ‘organic’ in a previous blog.  The most important thing I learned when teaching children was organic teaching You have to get a sense of where your students are, what they understand, what mis-steps, on my part or theirs, have taken place, and what pace to teach at.  Even though you have a curriculum to follow, or I have my set lessons to go through, if the majority of the students aren’t right there with you, then you can’t go further.  You have to stop, go back a step or two, correct the problem or clarify the situation and move ahead in a slower more step-wise manner, so that you can be sure the concept, task or project is truly understood.

            So I both modify my classes as they unfold, and also make notes about changes and modifications for next year. Sometimes I come up with new topics of tactics from side discussions or overheard discussions.  As I mentioned in my last blog, I take feedback from the ‘teacher’s report card’ into consideration and make adjustments for next year over the summer.  So there is some flexibility at a micro level - in the classroom - as well as at the macro level, in creating whole new lesson plans or revising old ones.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Evaluating for authentic voice

I  just started poking my way through Reading Globally, K-8: connecting students to the world through literature by Barbara A. Lehman, Evelyn B. Freeman and Patricia L. Scharer (372.64 LeR 2010).  Haven’t got through all of it yet and ended up jumping ahead to chapter 7, How should I evaluate global books? that has a section related to authentic voice.  This is the book for me.

If you’ve read some of my previous blogs, you know I’ve mentioned the importance of authenticity in children’s literature which ties in closely with an author’s background.  The closer an author is to being an insider to the culture she is writing about, so the understanding goes, the more genuine the story should be.

The authors include several comparisons between books, illustrating points to look for when reading global literature.  At the end of this chapter there is a two-page evaluation form with lots of thought provoking questions to help determine both authenticity and literary merit.
So, I’m setting myself a challenge.  I have long loved the book Go and Come Back by Joan Abelove (823 Ab356G FIC 2000) but since become aware and better informed about ‘authentic voice’ have felt very uncertain in recommending it.  The story is told from the perspective of Alicia, a native Isabo living in Poincushmana, a fictional village in the Amazon rainforest.  We learn about her culture as well as more about our own (North American) culture when two graduate students come to live in her village for a year.

What I love about this novel is seeing us, the ‘dominant’ culture, from a different point of view which is far from flattering.  As well, I did feel that I gained more insight into Alicia’s life.  I know that Joan Abelove is not from an indigenous group living in Peru but did live two years as a graduate student with a group very much like the one she writes about, however.  So it’s possible she may be misrepresenting some of the cultural values of this group. But how do I know?

Now with the evaluation criteria laid out in Reading Globally, I will revisit Go and Come Back and see what I can determine.

I’ll keep you posted.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Seeing meaning

A while back, the Doucette Library acquired X-Ray by Nick Veasey (778.3 VeX 2008), mostly by chance..  Hadn’t heard about it, just stumbled upon it when out on a book shopping expedition.  I do love serendipity.

X-Ray is a compilation of well, x-rays, of just about everything imaginable.  Lots of images of the human body engaged in everyday activities, from sitting at a computer or in a car, riding a bike or a bus, speaking into a microphone, or running to name a few.  Sometimes the photographer focuses on a specific part such as hands or the head.  Much of the impact of the images comes from their context or lack of context, allowing us to construct for ourselves what a picture means.  For example, a group of hands are attached to what looks to be raised arms and the foremost hand has the index finger extended while the other fingers are curled downed.  What is this picture about?

The book also includes x-ray images of everyday objects such as cars, lamps, musical instruments, a bike packed into a backpack, toys, electric and electronic gizmos of all sorts… the list goes on.  It’s fascinating to see what’s inside some of these things that we use everyday, take for granted and never look at closely.   Some of the images are simply beautiful.

I thoroughly enjoyed the section entitled Fashion.  This section looks at the human body dressed in clothes but mostly shows the clothes on their own.  What do our feet look like when crammed into shoes or boots?  The image of a foot in a high-heeled shoe shows exactly where the pressure point on the ball of the foot is but also shows all the tiny nails that are placed into the sole of the shoe to hold it together.  It looks as if this person is walking on nails – literally.

Another section of the book includes images from the natural world of plants, animals, fish, bats, insects, sea shells, which again have an ethereal quality that is truly awe-inspiring with its delicacy.

It has no direct correlation to the Alberta Education curriculum but I know this book could be used to enrich different learning areas such as health, physical education, science but most especially as an art book.  The images are inspiring.

Then X-treme X-ray, also photographed by Nick Veasey (778.3 VeaX 2010), arrived in the Doucette and a there’s whole new context to some of the same images.  This book is specifically for kids (ages 8 to 12) and is an information book about what x-rays are and the science behind them, as well as providing information about what the images show us.  The image of the raised arms and hands I described above is described in terms of the human hand from the number of bones to opposable thumbs.

This second book is more for the purpose of information, and has less emphasis on the artistic nature of the first book.  This was the strength of the first book, in my opinion, as it allowed us to construct meaning on different levels.  In terms of classroom use the first book can be used by multiple grades for multiple purposes.

Go with the first if you have a choice.

Monday, January 17, 2011

India, again

Last fall I purchased a fair number of books from two publishers in India, Tara Books and Tulika Publishers, for the Doucette Library’s collection, primarily to support the grade 3 social studies curriculum.  I’ve not been disappointed in my selections.

I then wrote a blog about the importance of authentic voice in children’s literature and mentioned several of the books I had purchased from these two publishers.

One of the books, The Riddle of the Ridley by Shekar Dattatri (597.928 DaR 2006), really brought home to me how little we see scientists from other countries doing science.  Most often, we see North American, or maybe European scientists (and then, these are mostly white people), who do their work in many different places around the world.  A series I’ve blogged about several time is Scientists in the Field which does just this – showcase scientists at home in North America and aboard, conducting research.  I really enjoy this series of books and am not suggesting they shouldn’t enlighten us about the work of North American scientists. I’m keen that they do.

It was just that, not until I read the book about the Ridley turtles did I realize my own ethnocentric perspective.  I just hadn’t questioned what I had been seeing (and not seeing) all these years, leaving me with a sense of North American preeminence in science.  I just took it all for granted.  I love how Shekar Dattatri brought this to my attention. I am now thinking about it a lot more.

I was delighted to see a recent offering from Tulika Publishers, Why the Sky is Blue: Dr. C.V. Raman talks about science by Chandralekha and Dashrath Patel (501 ChW 2010).  This short picture book is an excerpt of a lecture given by Dr. Raman, the 1930 Nobel Prize for Physics recipient, in 1968.  In this lecture he describes what science means to him, as a way to explore and understand nature, and appreciate the many wondrous things here on Earth.
The book includes a short narrative and timeline of Dr. Raman’s life as well as a concise explanation about the Raman Effect (relating to the properties of light) and the continuing impact of his discovery today, wherever security and medical scanners are used.

This should be used in elementary and middle grade classes when talking about the importance of science, about questioning what we see around us and about the wonder to be found in how ‘things’ work.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The write stuff or…just writing stuff

Do most bloggers feel like this after reaching the one year mark – “Wow! I made it!  Who knew?”

Tomorrow will be the first year anniversary for Apples with Many Seeds.

Pretty cool year, too.  A bit of a learning curve at the start, mind you.  Much like Jack who begins to learn about, and eventually appreciate, poetry in Love that Dog by Sharon Creech, I had to learn about what goes into starting and maintaining a blog, developing ideas and just sitting down and doing it.

 Then there was the whole ‘finding my voice’ thing, kinda like Duck in Duck’s Tale by Harmen van Straaten, who, upon finding a pen, now thinks he has all he needs to write a story worth reading.  It’s about the uncertainty of the writing process.  Would people ‘out there’ find what I had to say interesting or relevant?

Though, I am unlike Michael Maxwell McCallum in Perfect Man by Troy Wilson, in one way (he must find his own ‘superpower’ and become the writer he’s meant to be), I have had encouragement from many people, like Michael gets from his favorite teacher.  (I’d like to acknowledge the Director of the Doucette Library, Barb Brydges, as a fabulous editor and thank her for continuing to correct my commas or lack thereof).
Writing this blog has turned out to be a great way to channel my passion for children’s literature and other awe-inspiring resources. I can relate to Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney and hope that the ‘seeds’ (be they pomegranates or lupines) sown here, will help anyone involved with teaching and learning find engaging materials for kids and perhaps, themselves.

                    Out of our writer mouths
                    Will come clouds
                    Rising to the sky
                    Dropping rain words below.
                    And when the clouds leave
                    The sun will shine down word
                    After word
                    After word
                    Planting our stories in the earth.
                                        (from: Word after word after word 
                                                                        by Patricia MacLachlan)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Fur, feathers and fins

The Doucette Library seems to be having a run on new animal books lately.  I’m enjoying many of them, as most have gorgeous photographs or illustrations to entice and keep my interest.

Here are a few highlights:

Anything by National Geographic is always a safe bet, especially when it comes to photographs.  I was especially captivated with Great Migrations : official companion to the NGC global television event by K.M. Kostyal (591.568 KoG 2010).  Having caught just one episode on TV, I enjoyed browsing through this one and having another visit with the red crabs on Christmas Island, Monarch butterflies in Mexico and wildebeests in Africa.  I was further induced to read more about the migrations of sperm whales and elephants.  I loved the pictures of the Golden jellyfish, too.  For high school to adult.

The Doucette Library also picked up the kids’ version of this title: Great Migrations: whales, wildebeests, butterflies, elephants and other amazing animals on the move by Elizabeth Carney (591.568 CaG 2010).  This covers the same animals with less emphasis on text.  Information is presented in very concise blocks.  I did find the varying font sizes and colours on each page a little distracting but I’m not too sure whether kids would pick up on this or not. Again, the photographs can’t be beaten.  Suggested for ages 5-9.

One last offering by National Geographic is the Wild Animals Atlas: Earth’s astonishing animals and where they live (590 Wi 2010).  Organized by continent, the selection of animals is pretty typical of each area (i.e. Giant pandas in Asia, lions and hippos in Africa, grizzly bears and bison in North America, etc.) with information about habitat and range displayed on introductory maps.  Then there’s more detailed information on a select ‘spotlight’ animal as well as a ‘spotlight’ feature about a specific ecosystem such as the Amazon rainforest.  Far from comprehensive, I think it would be best used as an introduction, to pique interest and present information about well known animals in a geographical way.  Best for young readers, ages 5-9.

I love books that can show me the ‘actual’ size of animals (see Actual Size by Steve Jenkins). Life-size Aquarium by Teruyuki Komiya (591.77 MaL 2010 PIC BK) takes us to a zoo-type aquarium to see a variety of sea animals ranging from sea horses, penguins, dolphins to various tropical fish and Japanese spider crabs, to name a few.  The best pages are the fold-outs which show just how huge the colourful, Humphead wrasse is (it can grow up to 8 feet long!!), a close-up on the mouth of an Orca whale and the length of a walrus’ tusks.  Questions and basic facts are included as well.   The pictures will appeal to young children (ages 4-8) but they will need help with the text which is suited to older kids (maybe up to 10 or so).

My last recommendation is Orangutans Are Ticklish: fun facts from an animal photographer by Steve Grubman.  This one had been recommended on a couple of other blogs that I follow and sounded intriguing.  I especially like it for the perspective shared by the photographer as he works with each animal.  Again, the selection of animals (hippo, aardvark, kangaroo, grizzly bear, lion, etc.) are pretty typical, to appeal to young kids (ages 3 to 8).  The best feature is the simple yet creatively arranged photographs of each animal.  Check out the photos of the orangutan – it looks as if she’s dancing. The photographer does suggest that they were dancing as he took his shots.  You will learn a few basic things about each featured animal and enjoy it very much, while doing so.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Connecting resources

Over the Christmas break I had a chance to read several graphic novels.  Amongst the pile was the 2010 Scott O'Dell Award winner for Historical Fiction, Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan (823 P511S FIC) which tells the story of a farm family struggling to survive during the Dust Bowl era (1930s).

I enjoyed the read, finding the illustrations the strongest part of the narrative (dialogue fairly minimal). It captured, in my mind’s eye, how a drought-stricken and dust-ravaged community would look.  I found elements of well known photographs from this time within these illustrations, as well. 

But it wasn’t until I read The Dust Bowl through the Lens that I really picked up on the many threads of hardship that had been woven into Storm in the Barn: children suffering from dust pneumonia, families leaving homes and communities, the strain between family members, desolation over what was lost in terms of the rich wheat-producing prairies, and the desperate desire for rain. It was all here in a very accessible format.

In The Dust Bowl through the lens: how photography revealed and helped remedy a national disaster by Martin W. Sandler (973.917 SaD 2009) I saw some familiar, and many unfamiliar, photographs from this time period. The book is as much about the Dust Bowl era as it is about the development and impact of documentary photography as a way to inform Americans about the devastation occurring in the country’s heartland. The power of these pictures had some impact on some government agencies, as well as on the general public, instigating social reforms to assist the farm families who stayed on the land and the displaced families who often became migrant workers on the West Coast. 

The linear narrative of this a book clearly presents what this highly productive farmland was like before the drought and dust, how the land was damaged by unchecked cultivation, how drought compounded this damage, and the impact on people (those who left to find work elsewhere and those who stayed behind).  It’s fairly comprehensive.

Though both books focus on the American crisis, I think Canadian classrooms would find the books helpful as a counterpoint to the Dirty Thirties as experienced in Canada.  Also, these books could be read when studying contemporary droughts in Canada or other places in the world, which is a prevalent concern in today’s world.

Both books work for grades 5 and up.

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