Monday, December 31, 2012

On the 10th day of Christmas....

Rodez, Place Foch, Dec. 31 2012
I wonder why her shadow looks like "The Thinker"?

...I had some minor preparations to do for the New Year's Eve party, or "réveillon," that we are going to. 

As I posted two years ago on my "old blog," I'm not too big on this celebration. Too long, too late, too much a time of year when I am usually too tired.

But since this year I have had longer Christmas holidays than usual, and also we didn't spend any time travelling, we both felt up to accepting the more or less standing invitation we have to celebrate New Year's with friends here in the village.

I think they know we are both pretty frazzled these days, so I got an easy but pleasant food task -- buying cheese and the wine to go with it.

For the bottles, I went to my favorite wine merchant's, La Cave Ruthène, and then I went uptown to buy cheese at another favorite Rodez place, Chez Marie

Chez Marie is a fab address and Marie is a fab person. Not only does she sell the best cheese in town, but her little shop, right behind the cathedral, is also a "cheese restaurant" with great food at reasonable prices.

I feel a New Year's Resolution -- no, intention, coming on. During the week, I have got to get out of my work neighborhood and into the town center more. Because, as my daughter just pointed out to me a few days ago, downtown Rodez is a very pleasant place.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

On the 9th day of Christmas...

....I delved into two very different types of books.

After taking about a 3-week post-DELTA Module One break from reading books about English Language Teaching, I decided to go back to the basics with Jim Scrivener's Learning Teaching.

I had already read some chapters from it, but with the emphasis on practice that is coming up in DELTA Module Two, I thought I would go back to the beginning.

I really love this book. First, the new edition has the Millau Viaduct on it, so that can't be bad for someone who lives in Aveyron.

Second, Scrivener has a way of dividing language teaching stages into such easily comprehensible steps. He never seems to get preachy or dogmatic, and slips in the occasional bit of classroom reality by making statements along the lines of "at this point, you may want to stop the activity because your students are tired of it."

I think I am going to try to read, or re-read, the whole darned thing before going to my first DELTA Module Two session in...10 short days.

But all work and no play does not a vacation make. After spending the afternoon "learning teaching," I settled down to read in one of my Christmas presents:

I would have loved to have gone to the Edward Hopper show that's happening at Le Grand Palais until January 28.  But it looks like it probably isn't going to happen...then again...I just saw that it's open until 10pm on Thursdays, and I will be spending one night in Paris on January 24!

I'll see if I can squeeze it in. If not, the book is a lovely replacement.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

On the 7th and 8th day of Christmas...

...reality struck in the form of a good look at what is awaiting me in the Cambridge DELTA course, Module Two.

I think I had been so obsessed with trying to pass Module One -- results are in February, so I'm not crowing too soon -- that I hadn't really looked that much into Module Two.

Today, I really plunged into the description in the official handbook.

All I can say is that it looks tough. I just finished an initial "reflective" paper...due date December 30th, they show no mercy! And I will be back in Strasbourg for a 9-day session very shortly -- departure on January 10!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

On the 6th day of Christmas...

...I will be shamelessly materialistic and write just a bit about one of my Christmas presents. 

Despite my interest in communications technology, I was late to the smartphone game. But for Christmas 2012, I said good-bye to this...

...and hello to this:

I couldn't be happier! This is a really great gift that should make 2013 a lot more fun. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

On the 5th day of Christmas...

(Image source:

...I was going to brag a bit about "how much I had got done today."

But somehow it didn't really feel like that much.

In the meantime, through Twitter I ran into a very thought-provoking post from my old blogging buddy My Inner French Girl.

It was thinly veiled as "best wishes for the holidays," but it was actually about the multitude of online organizational tools that we can now use,  whether they really help us pare down our "to-do lists."

I haven't used a lot of those tools, but I have also given up on a tight paper system. I guess I'm 'twixt and 'tween.

As I commented on her post, I remembered that in the 80s, I had proudly adopted a Day Timer. I used it religiously, seemed to race through my "to-do lists," and have never felt so organized since.

Was it the Day Timer, or is it just the times that have changed?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

On the 4th day of Christmas... actually was Christmas!

So, if you celebrate it, Merry Christmas to you!

If you're reading this, I have probably already wished you a Merry Christmas via some other form of social media, likely Facebook or Twitter.

Have you noticed how present they have been this holiday? It seems like I spent almost as much of the day answering Facebook messages, keeping up with Christmas tweets,  and looking at other people's Christmas pictures -- not to mention writing old-fashioned emails --  as doing my own Christmas stuff.

I'm not saying this is a bad thing! It's just part of life now, and I suppose I'm happy it's part of mine.

Monday, December 24, 2012

On the third day of Christmas...

...I got a heck of a lot done! Last-minute food shopping, all of the gift wrapping, and some house-straightening.

Now I had better get to cooking! Our Christmas Eve dinner will be simple and has become our family tradition:

Starters: foie gras and saumon fumé on toast

Main Course: boudin blanc (see above), sautéed apples, and steamed potatoes

Dessert: A fancy bûche de Noël purchased from a local pastry shop

I love this meal because it is so easy to cook that the evening really feels like a true holiday!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

On the second day of Christmas...

Shooting into the sun on the Causse Comtal
December 23 2012

On the second day of Christmas (vacation), I have actually started feeling, to paraphrase Elvis Costello, just like a human being.

One thing I'm really hoping for in these 12 rejuvenating days (well, now less than 11, but who's counting?) is to reconnect with things I love to do but haven't been doing.

Fog lingering in the foothills
December 23, 2012

Photography is one of them. I'm not the world's best-equipped photographer -- I'm very happy with my little Sony CyberShot -- but I have lost the camera habit lately. Or at least since I discovered Instagram and the fun of sharing photos with my phone.

Some snow is visible on the Massif Cantalien

So this morning, on the way to buying Christmas food goodies, I took the time to drive onto a side road, get out of the car, and take a close look at the stunning Causse Comtal area around me. Stopping to take pictures is something I don't want to get out of the habit of.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

On the first day of Christmas...

(The new shopping mall around the Géant supermarket in Onet-le-Château)

I have a glorious 12 days of Christmas holiday ahead of me, and I plan to make a lot out of every single one of them.

I also thought I might try to blog about every one, even though this will not be the most exciting of holidays for me to recount.

The past 3 years, we have taken family trips between Christmas and New Year's Eve. 

In 2011, it was Strasbourg.

You can see the quantity of blog posts per trip going down with the years. 

I blogged about Amsterdam in a series of 5 photo-packed posts. Brussels got coverage only because of our crazy luggage problems. Strasbourg...well, the lack of a link speaks for itself. 

This year we are staying right here in Aveyron, and I have very modest goals. Cooking, reading watching movies, geeking around, and doing some organizing in the house. I'll be happy if I do a little of each every day; 2012 was a stressful whirlwind, and I'm ready for some simple things.

Today's biggest accomplishment was confronting a superstore, or hypermarché as the French call them. I try to do as much shopping as possible at smaller local shops, but when it has to be a hypermarket, my favorite one in the Rodez area is Géant.

I actually enjoyed going there today -- a sure sign I'm on vacation.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

If I were a "responsible gun owner" in the USA...

(This is a slight adaptation of my longest Facebook status update ever. It got a lot of comments and fuelled a lot of discussion, so I thought I would share it here too.) 

Since Friday's unspeakable shooting incident, I’ve been reading a lot of posts and comments on Facebook  written by people who call themselves “responsible gun owners.”

Their responsible gun ownership doesn’t necessarily bother me half as much as they seem to think it does. But they have been making a lot of remarks that I find cynical, fatalistic, and just plain sad.

As most of you know or imagine, I am not a gun owner. But if I wer
e a "responsible gun owner" in the US today, these are some things I would NOT be saying:

I would not be pointing, almost gleefully, or with a weird sense of relief, to mass shootings in other parts of the world, as in “Hey, look at Norway, they have super strict gun control and they had a mass shooting that was WAY bigger than this one!” Why would I feel the need to distract attention from what’s happening in my own country?

I would not be suggesting that Americans who think the US just might need better gun control and who say so should just “pack up and move to another country,” if only because I would be just as high on the 1st amendment as the 2nd amendment.

I would not calmly and coolly be saying “Why, of course we have lots more mass shootings than other countries – we have lots more people!” It’s not like there can possibly be some sort of “quota per capita” for mass shootings that somehow makes them okay. Isn’t this one issue where we can all agree “the fewer, the better?”

I would not be spewing out “[insert names of objects] kill too, so why don’t we just ban [insert names of objects]” arguments, as in “Power tools kill people too, so why don’t we just ban power tools?” As a responsible gun owner, I would certainly understand the fundamental difference between a power tool and a gun. In fact, that is why I would proudly call myself a “responsible gun owner” but likely not refer to myself as a “responsible power tool owner.”

Finally, what I WOULD be doing is pondering what the US as a nation could do in order to avert as many of these mass shootings as possible.

Because as Americans, responsible gun owners or non-gun owners, shouldn’t we all want to be held up as an example and an inspiration to the world?

Or did I miss something in all those years of hearing about what it meant to be an American?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Out of the comfort zone 1: having students draw charts and graphs

(An apparently royalty free image from a very old blog)

Over the past few years, since I have started reading more ELT tweets, blogs and books, I have become quite conscious of the pleasures and successes associated with going out of my personal teaching comfort zone.

All right, it's not always a pleasure, nor always a success. It can't be; but than neither can be sticking to my established "teaching style," right? 

Today I tried a new activity -- for me, that is -- that now seems like a no-brainer.

If you teach business English, you have probably been led at some point to teach "how to present charts and graphs." There are plenty of ELT materials out there on it, many quite thorough and well done, and I have used them without difficulty. The little pair work activities provided usually go smoothly enough, too.

But last year, in my first-year business school class,  I wanted to expand on this point with more interesting charts and graphs, which are easy enough to come by. 

So I found some images online of  bar graphs and pie charts about social media use, projected them on the board, and had students describe them to each other in pairs -- with a "traditional" group feedback and checking session afterwards.

I was underwhelmed. This means "it went fine." The students got involved in speaking about the graphs, but dealing with  a topic of more apparent interest to them than just describing a fictitious company didn't seem to give the activity that much added value. 

This year, I decided to go out of my comfort zone on this theme, and what constitutes that exit from my comfort zone may make some of you laugh: I had one student turn his/her back to the chart while the other one described it. 

The student who wasn't facing the chart had to draw it.

Nothing revolutionary!

Except that I myself am a pathetic artist/draftsperson, and so I myself have always run screaming from any pair work activity that includes the word "draw."

So I myself didn't think it would work well.

I thought the students who were asked to draw the chart would get frustrated and look at the board.

They didn't.

I thought the students speaking might not have the language skills to convey the content of the charts.

They did. 

I thought the students might take shortcuts, especially reverting to their L1, to get the activity over with.

They didn't. In fact, they went into such meticulous detail, almost 100% in English,  that some pairs had trouble "finishing" -- which didn't really matter.

Of course there were pairs who functioned better than others. For example, a few students got some ribbing from their partners when the "result" wasn't coming out right. But it was all in good fun.

I suspect those students are the artistically/graphically challenged ones.

I sympathize. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Singin' me some post Cambridge Delta Module One Blues

Preparing Module One of the Cambridge DELTA was truly a transforming experience, and I honestly can't wait until Module Two.

But now that the stress of the exam is over, I'm feeling a little emptied out.

No more discourse to analyze, no more definitions to memorize, no more phonetic symbols to transcriptize...

So I just thought I'd a'write me a little blues song about it all. Hope y'all enjoy it.

DELTA Module One Blues

Da DA da da DA
Da DA da da DA

Paper One, Task One
Was lookin’ pretty fun
Left out a definition
Too scared I’d look dumb
Turned out to be the right one
Now I’m feelin’ glum

Da DA da da DA
Da DA da da DA

Paper One, Task Four
I just wrote more and more
Grammar and phonetics
‘Bout spillin’ onto the floor
Laid out 60 points
Feel sure of maybe 24

Da DA da da DA
Da DA da da DA

Paper One, Task Five
It just didn’t jive
Time was a'wastin’
Went into full drive
Hey, got it all finished
I guess I survived.

Da DA da da DA
Da DA da da DA

Went into Paper Two
Feelin’ kinda blue
Thought it was simpler
Just hopin’ that's true
Got it all done with
Wrote a lotta stuff too.

Da DA da da DA
Da DA da da DA

Oh sweet Delta, Delta
You really changed my life
Used to be a great mother
Used to be a good wife
Can’t wait for Module 2 now….

(Drum roll)
To cut up my teachin’ with a knife.

Monday, December 3, 2012

SERIOUS countdown to DELTA

Tomorrow will be a long travel day, and a long revision day as well.

After nearly 9 months of  preparing the Cambridge DELTA Module One, I will finally and grimly walk into an Alsatian classroom and take a 3-hour, pen and paper exam.

The exam conditions seem almost ancient. The test can in no way be done online, or monitored anywhere but in specific test centers. 

So tomorrow morning, I am flying from Rodez to Paris to Strasbourg in order to be on-site for the exam that will start the next day at 9am. 

Preparing DELTA Module One has been an eye-opening experience. When I read the program, I thought I pretty much knew  this stuff:

  1. Theoretical perspectives on language acquisition and language teaching
  2. Different approaches and methodologies, including current developments
  3. Language systems and learners’ linguistic problems
  4. Language skills and learners' problems
  5. Knowledge of resources, materials and reference sources for language learning
  6. Key concepts and terminology related to assessment

How wrong I was! I had my own ideas about teaching English, of course, and things I had read hither and thither, but I had never put it all together.

After hundreds of hours of reading, learning terminology, and struggling to master phonetic transcription, I hope I can do so (ellipsis) on Wednesday morning.

Wish me luck...

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Inspiration in the form of a tweet

With the constant flow of information I get through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn discussions, and email, it would seem I should have never-ending sources of inspiration for this blog. 

But maybe too much information kills inspiration. At least nothing has really set the blogging fire burning again -- until today.

For a long time, I have been thinking of blogging more about teaching and especially my field, teaching English as a Foreign Language. But it seems hard to get started when so many have already gone so far with it.

Then yesterday, I ran into this tweet from fellow EFL teacher Janet Biachini, whom I have been following on Twitter for a while:

I read her post Quattro, and thought "I really should be doing something like that."

Sure, I've read plenty of educational blogs over the years. But something about how Janet simply stated her reasons for blogging, which range from "to share my teaching ideas" to writing about the region she lives in, made it sound simple. 

I can do that. And I want to, very much.

The World from my Windows may be taking a different turn: less travel, more teaching, and hopefully a lot less "I want to be blogging again but why can't I get going on it" angst.

Affaire à suivre...