Sunday, 31 March 2013

Inglese Pronuncia: La Lettera ‘H’ (In Italiano)

Mi è stato gentilmente chiesto da un blogger chiamato Lori Kay Smith se potesse tradurre alcuni dei miei cattedre in italiano per i suoi lettori. Durante il processo, Lori ha aggiunto più note per gli italiani insieme a mio testo che sono molto utili.

Ecco il risultato della nostra collaborazione: Prouncia Inglese: La Lettera 'H'

Il suo blog ha molte lezioni meravigliose su grammatica inglese in italiano/inglese che sarebbe molto utile per gli studenti di tutti i livelli. Lori ha studiato Italiano nel 1984 e ha lavorato come un insegnante dal 1999, organizzando lezioni di Conversazione e Grammatica personalizzate per tutte le età. Lori vive a Firenze. 

Trovate qui il suo Blog

Where Do I Stand?: Being a Newbie at a Mosque | Sarah Ager

Although I've been a Muslim for two years now,  it might surprise you to hear that I still have no idea what to do in a mosque. In fact, when it comes to mosques I might as well be a complete newbie. I get myself all in a nervous muddle not knowing where to go, what to do or when to do it. 

I hadn't been going to any of the small repurposed buildings used as mosques in Bologna because there were either too far away, had no spaces for women or you got the feeling that a huge hoo-hah would be made (with a lot of be-grudging huffing and puffing) as the space was provided for you. I'd only been to a sports hall in the suburbs for Eid prayer and that was about it. 

Then huzzah! and Alhamdulillah we discovered a mosque not too far away which is lovely, shiny and new. The main selling point was that the women's section has a huge plasma screen TV so you could see the imam speaking (in Arabic and Italian) and the women wouldn't miss out on anything. I was so excited when I heard the news that I contacted my new friend Nameera and organised to meet there.

Source: Imaan & Beauty
The Comfort of Carpets 

After waving my husband goodbye, I was ushered into the women's section and knelt down next to my friend who (thank goodness) was able to show me the ropes. I was delighted to find myself a clean white space with a deep burgundy carpet. The design on the carpet allocated each person a space to pray on so there isn't any bumping or jostling. 

Nameera informed me with a Cheshire cat grin on her face that the carpets smelled amazing. I looked at her rather quizzically to which she responded, 'it's not always the case. This mosque might give you a ridiculously high expectation of all carpets.' Indeed, I'd heard horror stories of people coming up from bowing only to find things stuck to their forehead ranging from leaves to other items which I'd rather not care to mention. 

The Practicality of Segregation

I'd always had issues with segregation in Islam before I converted. My mum being a Christian minister meant that I'd grown up in an environment where women have an active role in religious life and part of the joy of being in church was the feeling of community that everyone was together sitting side by side. Of course, sexism rears its ugly head in all communities but at least in this area, gender wasn't an issue. Therefore the very idea of separation tends to raise an conflict inside me. 

I'd never fully understood the logic behind segregation until I was actually in a mosque and I saw the practical reasons why you'd pray separately. If they didn't all belong to the same gender, you'd be very distracted by the sea of bottoms bobbing up and down! 

Prayer is a very intimate act, and the Islamic way even more so, if you consider that you're prostrating yourself physically in front of many people. So just as I'd always use a women's bathroom facility, I'm very thankful for that separation of the sexes as far as prayer is concerned.

The Vulnerability of Praying in Public

Prayer in Islam is not just a spiritual act, it's also highly physical. I like to imagine that old Muslim men and women must have very limber joints in comparison to the relatively sedentary christian way of praying!

Getting into the 5 daily routine was (and continues to be) quite a challenge for me because unless I was saying a prayer aloud in congregation, my prayers were usually silent and spontaneous in my head as thoughts occurred to me. 

Shyness when it comes to praying in front of others is quite a significant challenge for me to overcome. It even took me a long time to feel comfortable praying in front of my husband without feeling self-conscious. There's a significant element of trust involved because you're incredibly vulnerable when you pray and at a mosque you're surrounded by people you don't necessarily know and that makes me rather apprehensive. 

When I arrived at the mosque not knowing what to do, Nameera helpfully advised me to pray two rakat (or in my simplified way of thinking 'two down, two up'). I dilly-dallied around hesitantly for a while watching what everyone else was doing but then eventually I got down to doing it and I felt so much better once I'd prayed. I think it'll take a while to feel completely at ease with just arriving and praying straight away even though you don't know everyone in the room. 

If I'm honest, probably my main fear is that I'll do something wrong. To be fair, I could see in the corner of my eye that a little old lady, who had been watching me with great curiosity ever since I'd walked in, was continuing to glance over as I prayed and so my fears of being watched were not completely unfounded. Luckily the lady was adorable despite the fact that we didn't speak a common language. 

The Solidarity of Being Shoulder to Shoulder

As it was Jummah (the prayers on Friday afternoon which are obligatory for men to attend) the prayers take a slightly longer fancier form. The ladies all stood up and moved to the front of the room where they formed a line standing shoulder to shoulder. The little old ladies fussed as they organised us younger muslims and it wasn't until my friend Nameera leant over and explained, 'you need to be touching so that there's no space for Shaytan (Satan) to get in between you' that I understood why. 

I tried my best to stay focused but I have to admit that I was rather distracted as I was observing what was going on and trying to work out where I was in the rakat because my normal rhythm was thrown off kilter. When it was all over I felt so exhilarated to have been to Friday prayer and so chuffed that I couldn't think of anything better than a kebab to commemorate the event! 

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I'd love to hear responses from you. 
Have you ever been to a mosque? 
Have you had similar experiences? 

I'd also like to tag Nye Armstrong (Iloveelhassan) and Heather
(Delusional Mom) to hear their first experiences in mosques. 

★     ★     

Related Links:
Karima's Crafts Tutorial for a Felt Muslim Doll Praying
My Dad's Mosque Visit in Derby

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Die! Die! Die! Misunderstandings and Mistakes When Learning Italian

I was recently asked to write a guest post for the cool sounding League of Expat Writers at Leaving Cairo about some of the difficulties I faced when I first moved to Italy. The result was the curiously named: 

Leaving Cairo is a great resource for expats who want to read about others' experiences in different countries and find out travel information and hopefully you'll find something that sparks your interest or tickles your funny bone too!  

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Lessons My Mother Taught Me

Nothing beats a pair of freshly ironed underpants

My mother is well known for championing the ironing of socks. Most people wouldn't even think of ironing socks but it has to be said, now that I don't bother to iron my own, I do feel the difference and miss the smoothness and sheer luxury of a well ironed sock. 

My mum's particular forte is the ironing of pants (in the comic British sense of the word). Oh so many cold winter mornings of my childhood were staved off by the presentation of freshly ironed pants and socks before I trundled off to school. That warmth made all the difference in the soggy drizzle of the Welsh valleys! 

Never transfer locusts from a box to a bucket

Once upon a time, a lizard found its way onto our Welsh mountain-side doorstep and became our new pet. Mum would dutifully go out into the garden and find spiders to feed Lizzie the lazily-named lizard. One day, we decided Lizzie deserved better than backyard creepy crawlies and upgraded her food to a box of locusts. 

To this day, I cannot fathom the logic of what happened next. I can only imagine that my kind-hearted mother felt sorry for the bugs squished together in a tupperware and wanted to give them space to roam freely before being unceremoniously eaten by a reptile. My mum wanted to elevate the locust from a battery-style insect in a box to a free-range insect in a roomy bucket. 

It's almost needless to say that before the lid had even been fully opened, a fountain of over a hundred insects leaped for freedom! All I remember was a shrill 'Quick! Get out! Close the door!'  and the next thing I knew I was barricaded on the other side of the door listening to the screams, bangs and general pandemonium of my mother in her futile effort to catch the locusts with a broomstick. 

For months, we'd hear the sound of crickets in the kitchen or sometimes they'd even jump out at us when we opened the food cupboard. So, let that be a vital lesson for you all!  

Thunder is no match for a mother's jumper

Heavy rain always reminds me of the time when my family were stranded at Beachy Head during a thunderstorm. Suddenly the heavens opened accompanied by flashes of lightening and the boom of rolling thunder. Mum instinctively gathered me and my brother to her and bundled our heads under her brightly coloured jumper in an attempt to keep me warm and safe, like a bird nestling its chicks.  

We still got thoroughly soaked of course and to be honest, we couldn't really see where we were going with the jumper impairing our vision and mobility rather substantially... but I certainly felt loved in the damp glow of that neon jumper. 

Afterwards, my mum led the search for the nearest toilet and then promptly dried us and all our items of clothing (including the recurring theme of pants) under the electric dryers until we were nice and toasty once more.

★  ★  

This irreverent homage is partly due to the fact that I realized it's impossible to put into words how much I owe to my Mum and to thank her fully for the sacrifices she's made for me through the years. 

My prayer today is that my mum knows just how much I love and appreciate her even though I may not be able to put my feelings into eloquent words and even though there are many miles between us. 

I pray for all those who are away from their mothers or children at this time and that where we're unable to verbalize or show our affection, God is there to surround our dear ones with love and keep them safe. 

★  ★  

What eccentric advice has your mum passed on to you? 

What are the oddest memories you have of your mum? 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Art of Italian Queuing

While Brits feel that they have the monopoly on orderly queuing, Italians can surely claim the award for simply hanging around waiting for something to happen. When a Brit queues, generally speaking there is an expected end to that queue: either you can see the amount of people in front of you or you have a rough idea of the time it will take to be your turn. This isn't the case in Italy. Here, a queue is often open ended, a state of being with no foreseeable end. Either you're expected to wait with your numbered ticket in hand or you're ordered to come back the next day (sometimes both!)

Let me take you the bus stop as an exemplary microcosm of Italian queuing etiquette. At an Italian bus stop, people wander up and down and drift in and out of a non-existent queue. It's more of a random cluster really. Today for instance, I had been waiting for the bus for about four minutes when an Italian lady nonchalantly tottered past me and plonked herself into prime position to get onto the bus. No one took a blind bit of notice. 

This is the land of the opportunist. 

Back on the other side of the Channel, this outrageous behaviour would have earned her several shaming 'tuts' which would no doubt have led to the lady retreating to the back with her tail between her legs. Indeed, in England, I wouldn't dare leave my allocated spot, mainly for fear of the patronizing phrase, 'did you know there's queue??' when I returned. I have been programmed by British customs to keep a mental list of who has arrived first and who has therefore merited the honour of entering the bus first. Without this order, society would surely collapse. 

That being said, this apparent disorder if far less stressful than being under the watchful eye of Brits actively seeking out queue-jumpers to chastise. Which leads me to wondering: is it possible that chaos can be calmer than order? 

What are your experiences of queuing in Italy, Britain or abroad?
Can social etiquette ever be a hindrance? 

Sunday, 3 March 2013

How to Avoid Shouting and Shushing in the Classroom | Sarah Ager

Having a well planned lesson is wonderful (see previous post), but the best laid plans of mice and men fall to pieces when your students begin to shout, scream or squeak (the latter being surprisingly common). 

I try to avoid shouting at all costs, even though that's incredibly hard sometimes. It takes a lot of control to speak in a slow but firm manner. However, if you remain calm, the children (in theory) should  become calmer too. If you shout, the children usually feed off that energy and become more frenetic. Whereas keeping your tone of voice light and breezy can sometimes diffuse the atmosphere if children are starting to bicker with one another. Adopt a hands-up policy and stick to it. If you respond to the children who shout out, they'll continue to do so. Do be careful to keep an eye on children who've had their hand up in the air for a long time though, if their arms have become floppy then you should shuftie over to them and help them or they'll feel ignored.

Strategic Whispers

When my students are chattering away to each other during a lesson and they ignore or don't hear an instruction, I've taken up whispering softly as a way of getting their attention back. Usually the other children notice and instruct the chatty students to be quiet so that everyone can hear what I'm saying or the children who are nattering wonder why the room has suddenly gone suspiciously quiet. This is also effective because when someone whispers, it's almost an instinctive reflex to whisper back. I had a particularly noisy class this week and so I carried out a class reading activity completely through whispering until the children had calmed down enough to finish the lesson at a normal volume. 

If a child shouts or shrieks for no apparent reason, I usually shimmy up to the board and remove a point without saying a word, the other children notice and usually freeze in case I remove a point from their column. This way, the children tend to silence themselves rather than me having to tell them to be quiet.

Avoid the Shh of Snakes in the Classroom (source)

The Dreaded Shh Cycle! 

There's a possible drawback of children policing themselves as it can invite the dreaded shh! cycle. Sometimes 'shh' can be louder than the noise you're trying to remove. I've found that it's better to say 'silence please' in a low tone rather than a shrill shh because children copy what I say and so if I shush, they start shushing each other and eventually it sounds like I'm teaching them parseltongue! 

It can be difficult to get into these habits for both the children and yourself as a teacher. But it's worth the effort. For example, with several classes of mine, it's got to the stage where when I go to photocopy something, leave the door open and I don't hear a peep from the children because they know that if I return and there's silence, everyone gets points, praise (and I do a little victory dance to make them all laugh).

Stickers and Stars Work Like a Charm

Ah that reminds me, I also include a points system at the top of the whiteboard as an incentive for good behaviour (the children have learned the rules - an automatic three points for bringing homework for example). Most children respond well to a points system but avoid this strategy if there are children who have problems with over-competitiveness as it will only fuel the flames and could be more hassle than it's worth.

Getting The Right Consistency

It's important to be consistent in everything you do and to explain to the children why you do things the way you do. If you have consistency, the children know where they are and what is expected of them. If you explain why, there's a greater chance that the children will respond because the instructions are not simply arbitrary. It's a hard slog but it really does reap rewards. Even though teaching children can raise your blood pressure at times, my favourite lessons have been the ones where the children have responded to instructions and they may have been a hiccup but we were able to get back on track and restore the peace. 

I hope this was helpful for you and please let me know if you have any advice or tips for controlling volume levels in the classroom. My next post will be about the situations when things go wrong and you want to pull your hear out. Stay tuned!

Here's an article that I found particularly useful: Two Words Every Teacher Should Know

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Classroom Notes: Structuring the Lesson

After a particularly hectic week of teaching, I was inspired to write a series on Classroom Management which may help other teachers and those who work with children generally. My hope is that I'll also be able to pick up tips from others, from people leaving comments or links to others useful posts and articles. Drawing from experiences throughout the week, I came up with three main areas that I want to focus on:
  1. Structuring the Lesson
  2. How to avoid Shouting and Shushing
  3. Dealing with Behavioral Problems (Coming soon)

Why Should You Structure The Lesson? 

When you have a lot of children in the classroom (or even two in some cases), it's very difficult to maintain silence and keep everyone working at the same speed. One simple way of keeping everyone together is by writing a lesson plan on the whiteboard so that the children can see it as soon as they come in. When I started doing writing up the plan on the board I was really surprised by the children's positive response. Now, as soon as they arrive they immediately check out the board to see what we're doing and usually comment on it. 

Having a structure means that the children know where the lesson is going and if, for example, they are getting a bit bored of doing one activity, you can always point to the board and let them know that another activity or game is coming. This is also good for keeping you on track with the lesson because the whiteboard (and the children) remind you of where you should be. 

In fact, my children take great delight in telling me that the next activity is quickly approaching and that we're running a bit late. Incidentally this is a great opportunity for them to practice telling the time in real life situations as opposed to written exercises which tend to be off putting.

How Can You Organize The Board? 

I tend scrawl all over the whiteboard in a haphazard way when I'm teaching adults and so I've had to really discipline myself to organize the board better when I teach children.Thankfully, it only takes a minute or two to divide up the board so it isn't particularly time-consuming. 

My board usually looks something like this:

Ideas For Organizing The Whiteboard

In the top corner I write a simple timetable for the lesson. Ideally I like to get the 'serious' bits out of the way while the children are fresh and then having fun activities at the end when the children are usually more tired.

5:00 - 5:15  Game (I Spy)
5:15 - 5:45  Reading
5:45 - 6:00  Listening
6:00 - 6:15  Write new words & homework in mini book
6:15 - 6: 30 Game (Word Jumble)

Doing lots of quick activities tends to keep young children engaged better than a long activity which children might find draining (or boring). When the learners are very very young, it's a good idea to have lots of activities prepared or quick games if you run out of things to do. Young children often rush through activities (they have no regard for a plan, no matter how carefully crafted it was) and there's nothing worse than having a group of six year olds and no idea of what you're going to do them!

What Else Can You Do With The Board? 

As the children ask questions, I write the new words in a separate column on the board so that at the end of the lesson they can write them into their vocabulary book and refer to it in future lessons. I give this activity its own time slot so that the children know it's an important part of the lesson too.

I've also started writing key phrases that I know children will need during the lesson such as, 'Can I go to the bathroom please?' or 'Can I get some water please?' so that when they ask me questions in Italian, I can point to the phrases on the board so that they can ask me in English. In my experience, children (and adults) tend to use their own language when referring to things outside the classroom such as getting water or going to the toilet so you'll probably need to spend a bit more time and energy encouraging them to learn and use the correct phrases in English. 

How Can You Involve The Children? 

Children love writing things on the board. In fact, most of your time will probably be spent keeping children away from the board. But having an interactive board can be a very useful way of involving children. My children often ask if they can draw the lines on the board, write vocabulary up for the benefit of the other students or spell difficult words when they've finished their work. 

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As a side note, I often leave a random note at the bottom of the plan which uses target vocabulary and makes the children ask questions. For example, one week I wrote '6:30 Sarah goes to IKEA' which meant the children were curious and asked questions like 'why are you going to IKEA?' and 'Do you like IKEA?' In fact, the next week I could here them commenting, 'today teacher isn't going to IKEA' to each other as they came in. For me anyway, putting something silly on the plan means that the children are more likely to read it and it invites them to ask more questions and use every day vocabulary in an authentic way. 

Finally, remember that you should be flexible. Be willing to change the lesson schedule if you see that the children are finding something particularly challenging or if one activity leads naturally into another. Sometimes you'll have lessons where the children are exhausted and genuinely find it hard to do certain things, in which case, bring out the games or vocabulary exercises. If the children are particularly boisterous, choose a listening exercise that means they have to be quiet in order to listen. The plan is there to guide you, but listen to the children too. You'll get better results when you work together as a class. 

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I'd love to hear your comments below or read any posts that you might have found useful on the topic. 

Next post: How to Avoid Shouting and Shushing in the Classroom
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