> Mrs. O'Neill's Blog: May 2007

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Favourite books

Neil has tagged me with this book meme.

So here are my responses to the three questions:

1. How many books do you own?

Too many. I have regular book purges because I get nervous that the house will start sinking like Glasgow University Library. Apparently this is an urban myth. See here.

2. What was the last book you read?
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

3.Five Books that mean a lot to me:

In no specific order…

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

This book taught me a painful lesson: don’t get too interested in a book. If you have read it you will know why. Let’s just say I spent a long time searching for part 2.

Emma by Jane Austen

I have been arguing for roughly twenty five years with my brother in law, Tony, about this book. Jane Austen apparently said before writing it that she was ‘going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like.’ Tony reckons that she was proved right. I don’t.

Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux

I’m ashamed to say I started to read this in order to ridicule it… Now it’s become one of my favourite books. Therese lived a completely ‘unremarkable’ and sheltered life dying at the age of 24. Her ideas about love and suffering infuriated and then captivated me. I don’t recommend it –if you are meant to read it, you will.

The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde (a short story)

I’m not sure why but I always get quite choked when I read this story. I first came across a version of it in ‘The Golden Story Book’ which I got when I was ten. Years later I discovered that it had been written by Wilde. It's a lovely story and very soothing to the nerves of a child who had been traumatised by 'The Singing Ringing Tree'. This was a 1960's TV programme of a fairytale that the BBC bought from 'Eastern Europe'. It was dubbed and presented to children. The story touched on some primal nerve...

Sick Heart River by John Buchan

I love this novel and most of Buchan’s 'shockers'. Sick Heart River is a little different. It's about a dying man, written when Buchan himself was dying. Buchan seems to me to represent the best and the worst of us Scots; filled with a love for humanity yet peculiarly xenophobic in our relationship with certain nations. Buchan's work reminds us of our history, good and bad. I'd love to see a quiz called 'Which Buchan character are you?' If you know of one do tell.

I'm not going to tag anyone -but if you are reading this and fancy writing your answer consider yourself tagged!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Out of the comfort zone, into the learning zone?

I’m just back from the second part of my Feuerstein training and I'm starting to reflect a bit on my experience. This time round we were introduced to three other ‘instruments’ for teaching thinking skills to pupils.

My overall experience of the course was very positive. I enjoyed learning about something new, and thinking about how I was actually doing that. I also realised just how faulty some of my own thought processes were. I wouldn’t have called myself a woolly thinker, but I rely heavily on what I would have called ‘common sense’. I call it ‘common sense’ –but don’t push me to define it because I probably would get into one of those ‘you know what I mean… it’s sort of like…’ conversations which Miki Gorodischer (our Israeli Feuerstein trainer) said was our attempt at making the other person do the thinking work.

If I was to sum up my experience on the course in one word I would say that it was challenging. And this challenge was presented on several different levels. The first was in the sheer effort of encountering and interpreting a lot of new terminology regarding the cognitive processes. The next challenge was sustaining attention in a classroom for what seemed like lengthy periods of time. I like to think I’ve got more stamina than my TV watching pupils – but my brain started complaining long before the end of most of the sessions.
The final challenge was in the teaching style of our trainer. Miki is wonderful and brought a cultural diversity to the course which added an extra layer of interest and drama to the sessions. For me, however, some of the aspects of her teaching style were just a little too challenging! I found myself spending more and more time thinking about how she was presenting the material and not the material itself. But hang on, isn’t this one of the main goals of the Feuerstein training? The course aims to be ‘content free’ and transferable. In other words, the methodology, not the subject is intended to be the main focus of the training.

Miki’s style of mediating seemed at times confrontational but it did make us think, and question and try to step up to the mark. I certainly mean to use some of her techniques in my classroom to provoke some deeper debate.

Please comment – especially if you have been on the course!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Pioneering Spirit and the online classroom

Several times in my teaching day I wish my pupils could work online.

Here are a few of the things I wish I could do:

Individual consolidation or revision work. We’re reading a poem and a pupil looks bewildered when you mention ‘metaphors’. It’s a piece of cake to everyone else. I direct the pupil to an interactive resource on metaphors. Better than a worksheet. They can wait until the whole class time is over or go directly to the resource returning when they are ready –they won't miss anything since the lesson is available online.

Modelling. I could highlight best practice in pupil work as and when it appeared. At the moment if I spot a good response in a pupil's work I can read it out to the class. Great for the auditory learners. Unless it's very brief and I have time for pupil to type it onto my laptop for the whiteboard -or write it on the board, I need to copy it out later.

Research. Why do we need to be the ones finding the material? Pupils could find material on the internet themselves. Talk about ownership. We would have to teach them how to evaluate that material. How useful would that be? Very useful for your entire life I imagine…

Wikis. I have discovered that wikis can’t be edited at the same time by several pupils. At first that struck me as a weakness. Now I’m not so sure. Pupils are being forced to wait on one another before they can ‘do their bit’. There’s a healthy bit of peer pressure and a sense of how we work as a team mixing here.

Absentees. Having a class website or wiki would allow pupils who are absent through illness or family holidays to keep up with the work of the class. Never again could a pupil announce that they couldn’t do the homework because they were off when I gave it out. Of course their excuses would sound vaguely familiar. Here are some real live examples from a recent attempt to use a class website.

‘My internet broke’ (sic)

‘ My brother was playing online poker and wouldn’t let me go on’

‘It’s not working on my computer’

Reality check. Thanks to Jonesieboy for posting about this article in the NY Times: Seeing no progress some schools drop laptops. David Warlick has also blogged here on what this article tells us. Any schools going out on a limb to use technology will have to deal well with the areas highlighted by this school’s experience. They will need a pioneering instinct. But it will be worth it. After all, in the world we prepare pupils for, they aren’t thinking of going back to pen and ink are they?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

House for sale in the south west of Scotland

We've finally decided to sell our house and look for something a bit more suited to our small family. This roughly coincided with finishing all the tasks we had set ourselves in the house. In the last few weeks we've done all those things that we've been 'meaning to do' since we arrived. Typical innit?

Yesterday the estate agents arrived with a board to stick in the window, and by tea-time we were sitting in the kitchen feeling self-consciously on show. There are several other houses up for sale in the village, and this means there's a 'real buzz about the place' as they say.

If you know anyone who wants to escape from the city to Scotland's southernmost village then you might want to tell them about our house. If you are in the process of selling your house please comment. A little bit of encouragement would be appreciated!

The company selling our house is Galloway and Ayrshire Properties (GAP) and you can see our house here (including a virtual tour) if you are interested!