Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for October 12th, 2012

The Watcher in the Pine

Posted by nliakos on October 12, 2012

by Rebecca Pawel  (Soho Press 2005)

This is classified as MYSTERY/FICTION, but it isn’t a mystery like P.D. James or Agatha Christie would write. It is billed as “A Carlos Tejada Alonso y Leon Investigation.” Pawel has written two earlier books in the series, Death of a Nationalist and Law of Return, as well as one later book, The Summer Snow. Carlos Tejada, a lieutenant in the Guardia Civil in past-Civil War Spain, also figures in these. Pawel is an American who has spent time in Spain studying flamenco; I’m not a good judge, but her knowledge of the subject matter seems profound. I learned a lot about the place and the period from reading the book, which is one reason I love (historical) fiction.

Lt. Tejada and his pregnant wife Elena arrive in the Cantabrian town of Potes (a real place, as I discovered in the Afterword), where he will be in charge of the Civil Guard. Tejada and Elena are deeply in love, but politically, they are actually on opposite sides, which gives the novel its tension. Carlos Tejada is a decent human being, a fundamentally good person, but I found myself sympathizing more with Elena, whose background as a teacher and an intellectual predisposes her to Republican ideas. (It’s kind of hard to imagine how these two fell in love, but I guess if I read the earlier books, I could find out.)

Life in Potes is a far cry from what Elena is used to, but she does her best to settle in without complaining. She tries to find ways to spend her days while her husband is dealing with shortages (of staff and materials), hostility (from the townspeople and those in his command), burglaries (of dynamite and building materials), and jealousy.  When Elena is kidnapped by the maquis (guerrillas), Lt. Tejada is forced to decide where his loyalty really lies.

A great read! I found it hard to put down.

Posted in Fiction | Leave a Comment »

Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere

Posted by nliakos on October 12, 2012

by Will Richardson (TED eBook, 2012)

Will Richardson used to be a K-12 teacher. Before that, of course, he was a student in the American school system. Now, he is the father of two schoolchildren. He also blogs about education and educational technology.  Richardson’s premise here is that our educational system was created when knowledge was hard to get, and it was necessary for children to physically go to a building where they could be instructed by those few who had knowledge (teachers). Now that this is no longer true–now that knowledge is easily attainable from almost anywhere if one is connected, and anyone can quickly find the answers to the kinds of factual questions that used to be taught and the knowledge of which was assessed (names, dates, events, math and science facts, geography, and so on)–Richardson argues that we need to fundamentally recreate the system to reflect reality. Instead of trying to do what we already do, but better, Richardson wants us to chuck the old system and re-invent school.

Richardson explains that what we used to consider literacy is no longer enough; we now need to be multi-literate, and schools need to teach multiliteracies; but right now, most schools are too busy trying to put up firewalls to keep email, YouTube, and (God forbid) Facebook out of the classroom, so kids have the whole web of knowledge at their fingertips 24/–except for the time they are in school (when they are forbidden to use their smartphones).

He believes that education “isn’t about delivery [of knowledge to children]. . . . It’s about discovery [by children and adults together].” He advocates rethinking assessment (realizing that we all depend on the Internet to find our answers, and we should be teaching our kids to do that well (i.e., to evaluate websites) rather than continue forcing them to memorize and then regurgitate canned knowledge which in most cases they will never need, and if they do need it, they can find it easily.  He cites Yong Zhao of the University of Oregon, who believes that high-stakes testing in schools takes time and resources away from where they should be and forces teachers to teach to the tests, “[thus depriving] our children. . . of a real education.” He wants to “rethink teaching”, saying that “learning, unlearning, and relearning” are the essential skills of the future (and perhaps the present). He advocates that teachers share freely what they know. He believes we need to teach students to “talk to strangers” online (safely, of course!) because it is through connecting with others that we enhance our knowledge of the world. (Students in Richardson’s high school literature class studying The Secret Life of Bees had the opportunity to interact with the author while they were reading the novel.) Teachers should be “master learners,” modeling for students the behaviors we hope they will acquire. And kids should produce work that matters (“real work for real audiences”) in place of endless worksheets that end up in the recycle bin. It should be the kids who drive learning–not their teachers. (I always wonder, though: students know what they think they should learn, but there is so much that they don’t even know exists, or why they would need to know it. Can we really assume that they can figure this out on their own?)

Richardson ends by saying, “Our kids, and we ourselves, can now carry the sum of human knowledge around in our pockets. . . . We can have teachers and classrooms with us wherever we go.” He calls on us to educate ourselves about connected learning and to try to convince others of its importance.

Posted in Education, Non-fiction, Recommended for ESL or EFL Learners, Web Technology | 3 Comments »