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This blog has retired — read this for more

After eight years at my various addresses, beginning on Angelfire then Tripod as my class page and then morphing into the Sydney Boys High School English/ESL site (to 2005) and then on my retirement to its current mode, I am at last ceasing to update this blog, though I will be back to update some of the existing posts and pages and to deal with comments. Thanks to all for the support over the years.

This continues though: limited entry.

See student blog — mostly password access.

I trust much on this site remains useful for some time yet, but do note links can no longer be guaranteed and for some topics you should do your own searches for the latest material.

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2010 in site news

 

Catch-up part one: some interesting sites.

1. A book, really – and a site that introduces it.

whiffling_ukcoverThe Wonder of Whiffling is a tour of English around the globe (with fine coinages from our English-speaking cousins across the pond, Down Under and elsewhere).

Discover all sorts of words you’ve always wished existed but never knew, such as fornale, to spend one’s money before it has been earned; cagg, a solemn vow or resolution not to get drunk for a certain time; and petrichor, the pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a dry spell.

Delving passionately into the English language, I also discover why it is you wouldn’t want to have dinner with a vice admiral of the narrow seas, why Jacobites toasted the little gentleman in black velvet, and why a Nottingham Goodnight is better than one from anywhere else.

I am a sucker for things like this, and you can do a lot worse than to become interested in odd and curious words, and above all in the fascinating stories that lie behind so many words.

2. A good reference site for ESL teachers

It doesn’t hurt that this site is included there! :)15 of the Best Blogs for EFL and ESL Teachers.

efl

3. Ed Tech, e-learning, e-literacy.

There are some good posts on Barking Robot. For example: Study: Children Who Blog Or Use Facebook Have Higher Literacy Levels.

Research conducted by The National Literacy Trust on 3,001 children from England and Scotland showed that schoolchildren who blog or own social networking profiles on Facebook have higher literacy levels and greater confidence in writing…

Among the key findings:

  • 56% of youth reported maintaining an active profile on a social networking site such as Facebook or Bebo, while 24% said they maintained their own blog;
  • The study also found that 49% of young people believe writing is “boring.” However, 57 per cent of those who used text-based web applications such as blogs, said they enjoyed writing compared to 40 per cent who did not;
  • 56% of youth who had a blog or profile on a social networking site (SNS) reported to be confident in their writing ability: 61% of bloggers and 56% of social networkers claimed to be good or very good at writing, compared to 47% of those who had neither.
  • A total of 13% of children surveyed had their own website, 24% kept their own blog and 56 % had a profile on a social networking site like Facebook or Bebo;
  • Social web activity was also credited with encouraging children to engage with more traditional forms of writing. Those who were active online were "significantly more likely" to write short stories, letters, song lyrics and diaries than those who had no online presence;
  • The National Trust urges that kids should be encouraged to write blogs and use social networking sites like Facebook to improve literacy levels and encourage them to engage in writing…
 

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A five-finger exercise

I published this before the 2009 HSC on my personal blog. You can’t use it, because it’s my life, but it may give you some ideas…

***

While my coachee slaved away on a Trial HSC English Advanced paper this morning I undertook to answer the creative writing question from our previous session: “Select one of the following quotations. Use this quotation as a catalyst for your own piece of writing on belonging.” I think I rather overdid the thematic side, but I was hoping to demonstrate how this rather artificial task may be done. It isn’t fiction, but that’s in the parameters given.

c) “My fondest childhood memories”

When you think about it there is a lot of truth in the old Catholic saying “Give me a child to the age of seven and I will show you the man.” By that age our sense of identity, which is so much shaped by our sense of belonging to family, home, town and country, are basically set – if not in stone, at least firmly enough that escape if needed is quite difficult.

In my case my grandfather rather than my father was the key influence. My father, you see, was rarely home, being overseas with the RAAF, so my family were living with my grandparents, and the one who had time for me most was my grandfather.

My grandfather was a retired teacher. I don’t know how he did it, can’t remember, but before I went to school I could already read and tell the time. This led to early alienation in Kindergarten. Invited in week one to “write” on the blackboard I wrote “Sydney Morning Herald” and the date. I gather the teacher was not amused and rang my mother to complain – strange as that may seem.

He was a mine of information, my grandfather, and I was a hyper-inquisitive child. Once he was gardening and I asked him: “What are snails for?” He stood up and took me round the garden, showing me snails, describing their life-cycle, their means of locomotion and their feeding habits and why, if we wanted our lettuces, he had to get rid of them. “Yes,” I replied with precocious analytical skills, “but what are they FOR?” Since the metaphysics of the snail was not something that had occurred to him he became uncharacteristically short with me and called out to my mother, “Get this bloody kid out of here!”

I never have found out what snails are for, but I guess they fit into the web of life. Even snails belong, don’t they?

Another thing about my grandfather was that he talked to just about everybody. He was genuinely interested in their lives and what they did. I would accompany him on his walks and get impatient as he stopped at this fence or that gate to chat to someone for what seemed like hours to me. I was not displeased though when he would climb over the railway fence to chat to the driver of the milk train when it was waiting at the siding for the express train to go through. There were steam engines in those days and I was enthralled standing on the tracks with my grandfather as the fireman and driver leaned down from the cab to share finer points of their trade.

On the other hand, so I am told, when my father at last returned from overseas my first words to him were “Get that man out of here!” (Perhaps I learned the expression from my grandfather.) To me my father was the picture on the dressing table, not this large imposter who had suddenly disrupted my life, just when I had my mother pretty much in control. What this may have done to our relationship, indeed to my father’s recovery of his belonging, I can now only guess – but it did rather colour our later lives.

You can see what a network one close relative can set up for you in those formative years. With my grandfather I explored so many aspects of my environment and he was, you could say, my map-maker. Through him were developing all those templates of background, culture and place which shape so much where “I” fits in – belongs, indeed.

There are many other stories I could tell of my grandfather. Did I mention he only had one eye? No? But that is another story.

I was 21 when my grandfather died. He had mentored me in so many ways, easing the pain of high school maths, answering my incessant questions about other countries as we browsed the atlas together, showing by example tolerance of people from other cultures, leading me (without pressure) to emulate him in my choice of career. If he were removed from my life story I wonder if I would today have the network of belongings that I now possess, modified as they may have been by other experiences and circumstances. Nonetheless, if I look for the rock on which it all has been built I need look no further than those childhood experiences with Roy C. – my grandfather.

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2009 in creativity, HSC, writing

 

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Geocities closing

I had a Geocities site beginning some time around 2000-2001. Some important elements of the English/ESL site have been stored there, but Geocities is closing in October 2009.

I have managed to rescue those posts here. You can see them in the Pages Guide in the sidebar, and also listed below. The tedious business of correcting links from here to Geocities follows!

 

geocities

Goodbye, Geocities!

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2009 in site news

 

Essay writing: Module C “Conflicting Perspectives” – the introduction

Any guide to essay writing will tell you what an introduction should do. For example:

What is an introduction paragraph?

The introduction paragraph is the first paragraph of your essay.

What does it do?

It introduces the main idea of your essay. A good opening paragraph captures the interest of your reader and tells why your topic is important.

How do I write one?

1. Write the thesis statement. The main idea of the essay is stated in a single sentence called the thesis statement. You must limit your entire essay to the topic you have introduced in your thesis statement.
2. Provide some background information about your topic. You can use interesting facts, quotations, or definitions of important terms you will use later in the essay.

In exams you need to analyse the question very carefully and decide what your major points are going to be. Then you can write a good introduction.

Outside exams, I have found, things may work a little differently. You still need to analyse the question. How else can you be sure your essay is relevant? On the other hand you can begin a draft anywhere – a middle section for example, if that has material you are confident about. The whole essay may grow, like a movie being made, out of order. Later you can fit it all together, edit for cohesion and flow, and write an introduction to fit what evolved. Or you might draft straight through from beginning to end. I have in the past done it both ways, or written an introduction first and then jumped to various sections. I almost invariably find myself revising the introduction very heavily as it sometimes contains more than it should, or your actual writing may have changed the order the introduction outlines.

In exams you can’t afford too many second thoughts! (Exams really are a rotten venue for good writing!)

I have been foolish enough to promise a “model essay” for Module C. Now beware of model essays. They are just what they say they are – suggestions. They are not one size fits all perfect essays, and they should never be learned off by heart. They may even, with the best intentions, be bad models. So read them critically and learn from them, but your essay must be YOUR essay, not mine!

The question

“When composers embed conflicting perspectives in their work they are simply reflecting the way we process events, personalities and situations in real life. To study how composers do this enhances our own responses.”  Has this been the case with the texts you have studied for Conflicting Perspectives?  Refer to your set text and TWO texts of your own choosing.

What a nasty question, but I have no-one to blame but myself. ;)

Intro 1: for Julius Caesar

It is often said that conflict of some kind is at the heart of every narrative, especially in the tight narratives needed in a play like Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. There are certainly conflicting perspectives on situations, events and characters in that play. Referring to three key scenes we will find how Shakespeare has created those perspectives. In a very different genre, the short story, a conflict of perspectives is at the heart of Ding Xaoxi’s “The Angry Kettle” (in Maidenhome, Melbourne 1993). This story shows that conflicting perspectives are not always matters of power or life and death but may create humour, which may also be seen in the conflicting perspectives embodied in the film Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. In all these examples studying how the perspectives are created does make the texts richer and  sharpens awareness of how such conflicts play out in life.

According to Janne Schill (Deconstructing Perspectives 2003) a perspective is “an impression that is given by viewing something from a certain position. This position, in a specific context, acts as a vantage point from which a particular issue is seen, heard, felt, or otherwise understood.” In the first scene of Julius Caesar…

Intro 2: for Ted Hughes Birthday Letters

It is often said that conflict of some kind is at the heart of every narrative, and behind and within the poems in Birthday  Letter Ted Hughes grapples with a range of conflicting perspectives, some of them internal, on the tragic outcome of his marriage to the poet Sylvia Plath. There are certainly conflicting perspectives on situations, events and characters in these poems. Referring to two poems, “Fulbright Scholars” and “Your Paris”, we will find how Hughes has created those perspectives. The movie Sylvia (2003) is especially interesting as it draws on the same situation, but the perspectives are different and the way they are created is very different. In quite another genre, the short story, a conflict of perspectives is at the heart of Ding Xaoxi’s “The Angry Kettle” (in Maidenhome, Melbourne 1993). This story shows that conflicting perspectives are not always matters of life and death but may create humour. In all these examples studying how the perspectives are created does make the texts richer and  sharpens awareness of how such conflicts play out in life.

According to Janne Schill (Deconstructing Perspectives 2003) a perspective is “an impression that is given by viewing something from a certain position. This position, in a specific context, acts as a vantage point from which a particular issue is seen, heard, felt, or otherwise understood.” In “Fulbright Scholars”…

Intro 3: for Snow Falling on Cedars

It is often said that conflict of some kind is at the heart of every narrative. This is true of David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars. There are certainly conflicting perspectives on situations, events and characters in this novel. Referring to three key episodes we will find how Guterson has created those perspectives. In a tighter genre, the short story, a conflict of perspectives is at the heart of Ding Xaoxi’s “The Angry Kettle” (in Maidenhome, Melbourne 1993). This story shows that conflicting perspectives are not always matters of power or life and death but may create humour, which may also be seen in the conflicting perspectives embodied in the film Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. In all these examples studying how the perspectives are created does make the texts richer and  sharpens awareness of how such conflicts play out in life.

According to Janne Schill (Deconstructing Perspectives 2003) a perspective is “an impression that is given by viewing something from a certain position. This position, in a specific context, acts as a vantage point from which a particular issue is seen, heard, felt, or otherwise understood.” Very early in Snow Falling on Cedars Guterson sets up one of the principal conflicting perspectives in his novel. It concerns …

 

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The hidden power of language

The idea that language shapes (if not determines) our perspectives, indeed what we may think, has been around for a long time. I have encountered examples of the phenomenon in teaching ESL and EFL (English as a Foreign Language). For example, some Chinese students and I once disputed the colour of something we were all looking at only to discover that our mother tongues cut the spectrum into somewhat different arbitrary bits in the blue/green section. The “real” spectrum has no divisions; our language imposes or constructs divisions.

So I am drawn (via the Arts & Letters Daily) to HOW DOES OUR LANGUAGE SHAPE THE WAY WE THINK? [6.12.09] by Lera Boroditsky.

For a long time, the idea that language might shape thought was considered at best untestable and more often simply wrong. Research in my labs at Stanford University and at MIT has helped reopen this question. We have collected data around the world: from China, Greece, Chile, Indonesia, Russia, and Aboriginal Australia. What we have learned is that people who speak different languages do indeed think differently and that even flukes of grammar can profoundly affect how we see the world. Language is a uniquely human gift, central to our experience of being human. Appreciating its role in constructing our mental lives brings us one step closer to understanding the very nature of humanity…

Scholars on the other side of the debate don’t find the differences in how people talk convincing. All our linguistic utterances are sparse, encoding only a small part of the information we have available. Just because English speakers don’t include the same information in their verbs that Russian and Turkish speakers do doesn’t mean that English speakers aren’t paying attention to the same things; all it means is that they’re not talking about them. It’s possible that everyone thinks the same way, notices the same things, but just talks differently.

Believers in cross-linguistic differences counter that everyone does not pay attention to the same things: if everyone did, one might think it would be easy to learn to speak other languages. Unfortunately, learning a new language (especially one not closely related to those you know) is never easy; it seems to require paying attention to a new set of distinctions. Whether it’s distinguishing modes of being in Spanish, evidentiality in Turkish, or aspect in Russian, learning to speak these languages requires something more than just learning vocabulary: it requires paying attention to the right things in the world so that you have the correct information to include in what you say.

Such a priori arguments about whether or not language shapes thought have gone in circles for centuries, with some arguing that it’s impossible for language to shape thought and others arguing that it’s impossible for language not to shape thought. Recently my group and others have figured out ways to empirically test some of the key questions in this ancient debate, with fascinating results. So instead of arguing about what must be true or what can’t be true, let’s find out what is true…

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2009 in challenge, English language, for teachers

 

English/ESL nominated

Last year English/ESL came in at #75 in the Top 100 Language Blogs 2008 on Lexiophiles. I have just been informed that English/ESL has been nominated for the Top 100 of 2009.

Phase 2: Public Voting (July 8 – July 27)

At the end of the nomination phase, we will prescreen every blog and put it into one of the four categories (see below). In each category 100 blogs will be included for voting. If your blog is on the list you can ask your readers, friends, family and whoever comes to mind to vote for you. We will provide a voting button for your convenience before the voting starts. Every person can only vote once the voting of the top 100 blogs for each category.

top100blog-logo09  Go to the link on that icon for more information.

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2009 in blogs, ESL, site news

 

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