Teaching Spanish, My Way

It’s not everyday that one happens upon a book on foreign language pedagogy in one’s library.  When I saw Teaching Spanish, My Way it surprised me that it would be something my library would carry.  Most libraries don’t carry books about teaching unless they are connected to a college.  I’m always looking for ideas to spice up how I teach, especially for my Spanish classes.

I had really high hopes for this book. Alas, they were two high. The opening chapter gives the author’s, Dee Eldredge, philosophy of teaching.  It’s clearly meant for community or liberal arts colleges.  Any high school or elementary teacher would have had a class on the topics that Eldredge addresses.  Eldredge is sometimes patronizing in his tone regarding what “good” teachers should and shouldn’t do.  It becomes humorous at some point, waiting to here what new shade he’s going to throw towards the “bad” teachers.

He then launches into a 100 page explication of Spanish language and grammar rules.  This is definitely something you should read if you need a cure for insomnia.  The odd thing about the inclusion of this chapter in the book seems to convey Eldredge’s feeling that most Spanish teachers have no background in Spanish language and culture.  For me, as a high school Spanish teacher, it seems that Eldredge feels his collegiate colleagues aren’t well versed in these topics.  So ultimately, this isn’t a book for high school teachers.  If you’ve been certified to teach Spanish, you’ll know all of this already.

Eldredge means well, there was a lot of organizational problems compounded by poor writing. I liked best the historical analysis of the development of the Spanish language and liked least the 100 pages of Spanish grammar rules. This is more of a skim-to-read-what-you-want sort of book not a cover-to-cover read.

Saga, Vol. 6

I’m glad I met the Saga series last year.  Each time a new volume comes out my wife and I race to see who can get a copy from the library first.  I’ve enjoyed each volume in its own right, but as the series has progressed I’ve noticed that instead moving the plot forward, the last several volumes have settled in on one or two characters andSaga given us a more in-depth look at their development and motivations.  Sometimes this works and sometimes it feels like the series has stalled.  Once the entire series is written and completed, I think it will become clear whether this works or not.

Specifically to Volume 6, it felt like Saga meets Orange is the New Black. 90% of the plot happens in a detention center which creates some interesting conflicts.  There’s also an interesting character whom we met in the middle of her shower (it wouldn’t be Saga if there wasn’t some random nudity).  I’m interested to see where they’re going to take this character.  It’s one of the developments I can’t wait for in Volume 7.

This is the first volume where we meet Hazel as her own character. She’s aware of her precarious position but still has that ability children possess to recognize the good in people. I’m really glad they included Hazel’s teacher in this volume.  I feel that teachers don’t always get a chance to appear in literature unless it’s in a negative light.  The relationship between Hazel and her teacher is dynamic. I hope this isn’t the last we see of her.  I can’t wait for volume 7!

What Do You Do With A Problem?

Previously, I related that I had read a book given to me during a meeting by colleague, the 1st grade teacher.  Just after reading, What Do You Do With an Idea?, while I was still amazed by how good it was, she pulled What Do You Do With a Problem? from her bag and told me if I liked the former, I’d really like the latter.

Just as with the first book, this second one personifies “problem” by making it a shape withProblem legs.  The same boy from the first book is in the second, and he encounters the problem without looking for it.  The problem won’t leave him and as his frustration with the problem grows, the illustrations become darker until there’s no color, it’s just black and white.

Once again, the illustrations not only add to the telling of the story, but almost tell a story of their own.  Because so much of children’s literature blends illustration with print, I think that Kobi Yamada should be considered a stable in classroom libraries.

Sometimes the toughest thing about a children’s book is how to convey abstract ideas about life. The author and illustrator for this book have figured out a powerful formula for achieving that goal. Giving the “problem” a body and having it interact with the protagonist gives readers a visual understanding of the characters’ relationship that accompanies the writing. The use of color adds a layer of depth that again cues the visual sense into what the underlying idea is.

What Do You Do With an Idea?

IdeaOne advantage of working in a Pre K-12th school is that I get to hear about good books at all levels.  As the meetings began at the beginning of our pre-week began (all you teachers out there know the drudgery of such meetings), I ended up next to the 1st grade teacher.  She was really excited about a new book. She pulled it out of her bag and told me I had to read it right then.

This wasn’t a hard choice because the leader of the meeting was doing the “so tell me about your summer” shtick, so I cracked the cover and dove in.  What a good choice I made.

This is a great book to not only capture the reader’s interest and get his/her mind thinking about their relationship with ideas, it also creates a rich environment within which to discuss the the readers’ responses.The premise of the story is that there’s a boy who finds an idea.  Except that unlike in our world, an idea in his is a real thing.  In fact, it looks like an egg with legs.  He doesn’t know what to do with this idea that keeps following.  Ultimately he works out what to do with the idea.

What is exceptional about the book is the illustrations.  The art not only reflects the abstract world of ideas and the mind of a child, but they mirror the mode of each section of the story.  Those kids who may not be able to read well or independently will be able to follow the story using what sight words they may know and the illustrations together.

As a teacher, this book is a great way to spark students’ interest in what their thoughts are for what to do with ideas and specifically their ideas.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I’m a huge fan of the Harry Potter series so I was looking forward to jumping into the world again. Sadly, this journey was disappointing. I’m going to try and not spoil a lot of things, but I can’t guarantee that it won’t reveal something you may want to read for yourself, so please continue reading at your own risk.

CursedThe story basically begins with the epilogue from Deathly Hallows.  I didn’t mind the epilogue, but, like most readers, I wanted more.  Especially because I was interested to see if Harry’s son Albus would be a Slytherin.  Being a Slytherin myself, I didn’t like how Slytherins were depicted in the original series.  I felt that having Albus be a Slytherin would be a way for Rowlings to redeem herself.  To a certain extend she does redeem herself making two of the central characters Slytherin and both of them are very complex.  Much the opposite of the Crabbe/Goyle types we were mostly introduced to earlier.

The story itself is easy to fall into. I tore through the book much quicker than I thought I would.  However, having to overlook “convenient” plot twists, over-the-top villains, and ultimately revealing nothing new of the world of HP and associates I feel let down. Rowling and her co-writers include Harry, Ron, and Hermione more than they had time to develop.  All three of them felt very flat.  Draco shows up and he’s much more developed than he was in the original septet.  I personally think it would’ve been better to leave out the major characters and allow the next generation to further explore the world and how it’s changed post-Battle of Hogwarts.

This feels like it catered to what the authors thought the fans wanted and not what would make them think or expand the world they knew. 

Running to Lose

I like to run, but I’m not big on running outdoors.  Unless it’s for an official race.  Part of the reason is that I don’t like running on sidewalks, I’m afraid of dogs, and I’m more motivated if I head straight to the gym after work.

RunningI saw this book in a book store and I thought it might be a good resource to have and a nice addition to the other books I own on running and fitness.  Specifically, I thought this was going to be specific workouts to help get runners in shape.I get bored just racking up mileage.  I like runs that are structured around changing incline and speed.  It keeps my mind active and it helps the time go by.  Unfortunately this book doesn’t have any specific workout plans other than your typical long runs, tempo runs, and speed runs.

What is a good aspect of the book is the break down of how much food affects your body and your fitness goals.  Taking each food group like sugars, proteins, carbs, vegetables and fruits, the authors explain the effects of each on runners and suggest how runners can effectively use the best of each group.  I found the suggestions very achievable and easy to remember.  They’re small things like not consuming food that has more than 10g of sugar per serving. 

After building on the food groups, they then help you decided how to put all of the food groups into a healthy diet.  They recommend recording your calories and keeping track of how much and of what you consume.  I started it for one week and couldn’t believe how little some foods had and how much others did.  It definitely made me more cognizant of the foods I was eating and helped me be more strategic regarding what kinds of food I chose to eat.

Overall, this book helped change how I look at food. This is definitely a good guide that I’d keep around my house.

Between the World and Me

There’s been a lot of buzz about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and I’m late getting on that train.  This is my book club’s latest pick and after reading it, I think the discussion will be one of the best discussions we have had.

WorldTo start off with, I think the choice to frame this book as a letter to his son was a brilliant choice.  As the discussion was framed as a discussion rather than a lecture/speech/argument, I feel that readers can access the story bringing their own experiences and comparing/contrasting them with those that Coates is describing.

Coates discusses his experience of what it means to being Black in America. He starts by discussing the idea that as Black Americans, part of the struggle has been to constantly protect your body.  Whether it was survival during the period of slavery, to Jim Crow, to the urban ghettos, Black Americans have had to fight just to keep themselves and their children safe.  Having the experience discussed in terms of safety not only gives access to others who are not Black or who have not had this experience; it creates an idea that everyone can relate to.

Early on one of the key ideas that Coates presents is that race is the child, not the father, of racism.  This both caused me to stop and think. It seems as if previous discussions of race/racism flip this idea.  It would be interesting to see what would happen if we were all to consider race itself as the foundation for racism.  It makes me reconsider marking what my race is on questionnaires.

This is a good book for discussion in that it’s a journey and you get the feeling that there’s more to come as Coates continues question. It also ask the reader to consider in what ways do they cause harm others autonomy of body and how they take advantage of “The Dream”.