Friday, 30 October 2009

George Clooney in Abruzzo!

The delectable George Clooney is filming in Abruzzo. He is currently filming "The American" in Castel del Monte, one of my favourite and most beautiful villages in the whole of Abruzzo.

Guess where I'd like to go over the weekend? Castel del Monte is only an hour away from home. It's a beautiful journey through rugged mountain scenery, traversing the spectacular National Park of Abruzzo. Yes, I really would like to see George Clooney in person. I wonder if that is going to happen? I'll keep you posted!!

A Parade of Witches
I have discovered that tomorrow evening on Saturday 31st October, there is going to be a "Night of the Witches" Halloween parade in Castel del Monte. This looks like a fun event! The people of Castel del Monte are hoping George Clooney will attend. Must get K to definitely take me there tomorrow!!


There are some excellent Halloween ideas for lessons and videos from Tech ELT Blog.
There are some great Halloween Ads from the English Blog.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Olive Oil Cultivation 2009

Our olives have been pressed at the local olive mill and we have been to collect the olive oil today. The label said "L'inglesi" 22kilos. This relates to 24 litres of pure extra virgin 100% olive oil. We are very proud olive oil cultivators. This is our third harvest. First year: 4 litres, 2nd year:18.5 litres, 3rd year 24 litres. The trend is going upwards so I suppose this is very good news. Mother nature has played a great part in cultivating the olive trees as opposed to any natural expertise on our part. The lady at the mill said the olives were "heavy" this year, due to the huge amount of rainfall we have had in Abruzzo recently. The local word is that it's not been a good year generally throughout the region. As of this afternoon, our barrel is full and we are looking forward to savouring the contents in the many months to come.

We spent 2 and a half days in lovely, warm sunshine, picking the 50 out of 60 olive trees. 10 trees are still very young and so did not produce anything. Maybe next year.

A difference in Colour

This is a photo taken today of the freshly pressed olive oil on the left and last year's olive oil on the right. The difference is in the colour and texture. The fresh olive oil is much darker, cloudy and stronger smelling. It's a fabulous smell. The older version smells much sweeter and is very light in colour and of course, just as delicious.

These 2 small glasses of our oil on a balmy late afternoon represented the past and the present. Here was our vintage 2008 alongside our new -born 2009. It was indeed a moment to savour. We can only wonder how the 100% extra virgin olive oil is going to mature over the following months.

Transhumanza time again!

Our dirt track road was full of sheep making their way slowly across the fields going to lower pastures for the winter. This is known as Transhumanza. We met the very same sheep about 5 kilometres away on our way home from errands. There were 4 Isabella look-a-likes protecting the sheep. These Maremma Pastore Abruzzesi dogs are renowned for fiercely protecting their flock of sheep from wolves and other predators. They are usually a white colour and very tall.

Below is a picture of our very own Pastore Abruzzese.

An English "gentleman cat" in Abruzzo having the time of his life on the balcony today.

Hyla Intermedia
This is a frog I spotted on one of the olive trees I was picking yesterday. It is called an Italian Tree Frog. I was shocked to see a frog on a tree! I thought that only happened in Latin America. I had no idea that there were tree-climbing frogs in Europe. I have learned something new! It was very small and the colour was an exceptionally vibrant green. This first shot was taken by K at the height of the day. I love the symetry as the frog has tucked its leg in to minimise its profile.

This picture was taken at dusk as the frog was preparing for its night-time soiree and so you can see its legs unfolded. I love its big sticky toes used to stick onto the tree trunk! It reminds me of some alien from a 1950s sci-fi film!!

Monday, 26 October 2009

An Awe-Inspiring Abbey

Yesterday we went on a trip to visit the 9th century Abbey of San Liberatore within the Abruzzo Majella National Park. It was less than an hour away from home. I had been inspired by a post called "Five go to San Liberatore!" by the excellent and informative Blog.

Everything was as described in the posting. I was most impressed by the beauty of the ancient abbey. The entrance was imposing and beckoned us in.

Inside, we marvelled at the beautifully intricate mosaics on the floor. We looked at the ancient frescoes on the walls. We were the only ones in the abbey and it was blissfully quiet and spiritual. Lost in thought, I was transported back in time, centuries ago.

A Stunning Walk

We slowly made our way out of the abbey and then went on an amazing walk around the building, through dense forestation and stunning natural scenery. It was hair-raising in parts due to the recent heavy rain making the walkway rather slippery. We passed through lush vegetation, wooden bridges crossing cascades of water. I felt as if I was back in the Venezuelan Amazon Jungle!

We observed the ebb and flow of the water right in front of us. Sometimes slow, sometimes frenetic. Just like the flow of life.

During our walk, we came across this sign in Latin. Can anyone enlighten me as to the meaning?

We saw some very interesting sort of fungi on this tree.

After our delightful walk we followed the recommendation from the "Five go to San Liberatore!" blog post and walked the short distance up to Le Chateau de la Mer. Unfortunately, it was closed. It is situated in a stunning location high up with a view over the abbey. Not to worry, we will definitely be going back one day to sample its delights!

An Abruzzese Luncheon

We made our way towards home and we saw a sign for "La Cascina Restaurant", which offered "typical Abruzzese" homemade food. We couldn't resist and so we stopped and had a late lunch. It was a very good choice! We had a fantastic meal consisting of spaghetti carbonara, delicious mixed grill with salad and homemade chips, and then last but not least, a wonderful Tiramisu. The price was reasonable, the portions were huge.

Absolutely replete and happy, we made our way home, marvelling at the lovely day we had had. We spotted this unusual tree below and K took this interesting photo.

All the photos above were taken by K. Unfortunately, I mislaid my camera in England. I miss not being able to take my own photos!

Monday, 19 October 2009

A "False Positive"

"Robot Boy" (found on Flickr Creative Commons Licence Content)
I had never heard of this terminology before. Something positive which was false? Something false which was positive? With sinking heart and a feeling of shock, my blog was deleted from the blogosphere by a Blogger robot a week ago. Eleven months of personal work vanished into thin air - into the ether. Just as my blog had started off, out of nothing, so my blog literally disappeared and became nothing once again.

An Encounter of a Robotic Kind
Blogger robots had decreed that Janet's Abruzzo Edublog could be a "Spam" blog. I had had a foreboding message come up on my dashboard warning me of impending doom. "Your blog will be deleted in 20 days unless you submit a report". Now, to tell you the truth, it was pure fluke that I had actually gone into my Blogger "Dashboard" area. I never go into it. There is usually no need for me to be there. So, I pressed the "submit report" button. A message came back to me saying that Blogger robots would be investigating my blog to check whether it was spam or not. They apologised for the inconvenience caused by the "false positive" and I was duly asked to wait 2 days for the human verification process. I waited 2 days. Nothing. I waited 3 days. Niente. I waited 4 days. Nichts. I waited 5 days. Nada.
Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa
Those 5 days were long ones. Very long ones indeed. I had messages of support and sympathy from my Twitter stream, my colleagues and friends. I was going to wait for 7 days and then start a new blog from scratch. This thought filled me with some sadness at the loss of my blog and also some sort of unknown emotion at the thought of a completely new venture. Luckily, as swiftly as it had been "locked", my blog was "unlocked" overnight and it suddenly reappeared, with no explanation. The relief I felt was instant and joyful. It has taken me a little while to get back into the swing of things and write this post. But it's here now and hopefully I have learned a big lesson. Don't mess with the anti-spam "captcha" letters!!! If like me, you fail the test several times, then your blog will be investigated and possibly deleted.

The Robotisation of our Lives?
Are we heading for the robotisation of our lives? Everything we do seems to be pointing in this direction. What on earth would we do if our lives became governed by robots? My blogging life this past week depended on a "BOT" to verify me as a human. This was a bit scary.

Thank You
.........for persevering with my blog during the days of uncertainty. I will pay much more attention now to the anti-spam measures which are there for a purpose.....
Larry Ferlazzo has just posted some excellent links to the "Best Sites to Learn about Robots". Robots have been on my mind a lot recently, so it's a coincidence to have all these links in one convenient place.

My Word Mosaic
I have just learned about this fabulous tool on Jane Hart's excellent E-Learning Pick of the Day.
I have made a mosaic of my blog in the shape of a heart.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Picture Activities

Asking students to make up dialogues is always a great way to use the language you have exploited. I showed my 3 afternoon class students the example below that I had created from MakeBeliefsComix and then got them to create their own above. It took a few moments only and they told me it was a lot of fun.

Speechable is another great site for adding captions to your photos. The photo below was used to great effect as a warmer and to present and practise new language. The personal element makes it a little bit more interesting. This simple photo has a lot of vocabulary in it and is good for discussion.
Listen to some questions that I asked about this picture. Voki is a great little tool that can easily be embedded in your blog or other sites.

The photo below also from Speechable shows you how you can get your students to invent short dialogues between famous people. The pictures could be related to topics of the day.

I have just created another speechable about President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize.

I decided to carry on trying to fix an initial problem I had with this particular link above and my perseverance has paid off!!

Read the English Blog's explanation of a cartoon relating to the same Obama Peace Prize theme.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

The Dogme Way

I did it! A lesson the "Dogme" way. No props, just me and a few ideas in my head. Did it work? Yes, absolutely! It was difficult to stop my students chatting. I had to interrupt the flow in order to try another activity out. In hindsight, maybe I should have let the conversation continue until the buzz had died down naturally. So, I'm not actually sure if I followed the "Dogme" rules. The night before I had read an article written by William Gomez in the English Teaching Professional magazine. called "Dog Days". The following are two activities that inspired me.

My WorldI wrote the countries from where the students were from on the board:
Kazhakstan, Switzerland, Portugal, Angola, Iraq, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Poland and France. In different nationality groups, I asked the students to find out a few things about each others' countries. After about 10 minutes, I asked them to change groups in order to find out about the other students' countries. The room was buzzing with the sound of students all talking animatedly and enthusiastically. They really wanted to find out about each other and when I asked them to stop, they continued speaking.

Me to Them
I wrote up 5 things to do with me in a circle on the board . Eg phrasal verbs, Dogme, dogs, motorbikes, perfume bottles.

I quickly asked the students to guess the connection to me and my life.
  • I love teaching phrasal verbs.
  • I was teaching the Dogme way as an experiment
  • I don't really like dogs but I have 3
  • I don't really like motorbikes and yet I have ridden about 7,000 kilometres on the back of them
  • I like collecting perfume bottles
I then asked the students to connect the topics to themselves. Again, the non-stop chatter was amazing and when the bell went, there wasn't an immediate rush to go and have lunch. I briefly asked them if they had enjoyed the "Dogme" way and the response was very positive.

Student Feedback and Involvement
For homework I asked the students to write for 5 minutes about how they felt about this particular lesson. Did they enjoy it? Did they feel bored? etc. I was delighted to find out that all of them wrote positively about the experience. So what was it that was different from a normal lesson? The only difference was not going to class with anything. The 2 simple ideas I had were in my head. The rest came straight from the students themselves. The vocabulary they wanted to know were written up on the board. as it cropped up. Nothing was pre-planned. The language all came up spontaneously. It related to a real-time need-to-know basis. As far as I could see, everyone in the class was engaged in the activity. There was a genuine interest in finding out more information about the different countries.

What did I learn?
Well, I realised that I have in fact been teaching the Dogme way without ever having called it by this particular name. The lesson was a series of opportunities to communicate without any pieces of paper or a coursebook. The main flow came from the students themselves. I was just a floating facilitator. I could easily have left the classroom and the flow would have continued. I am sure. Would it have been the same if I had left the class to get on with some grammar exercises?? I am not so sure!

The Future
Yes, I will most certainly do this again. The amount of vocabulary that came out spontaneously was a lot. New words were written up on the board and recycled. My students liked talking about each others countries, about each others thoughts on various topics. Each student was given the chance to explain open class some of the ideas which had come up. A lot of noise,but something positive came out of it. Luckily, I am not constrained by a coursebook, so I could literally throw them away if I wanted to, and use my own materials. This is a great feeling of freedom. Maybe not all teachers have this luxury.

Please refer to this previous posting here for more on Dogme.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Back to the Chalkface

I really enjoyed interviewing 16 Swiss German students last Wednesday for an FCE mock interview exam. It was a very gentle introduction back to the chalkface after a few weeks' absence. I repeated the opening instructions for Part 2 of the FCE exam 16 times. Below is one I have made up using my own photos.

You have one minute to compare and contrast these two places and say which of the two you would prefer to live in and why

Well, both pictures are similar because they show a road of some sort. However, they differ because the roads are set in completely contrasting environments. The road in the top picture is in the middle of the countryside and the photo was taken during the day, whereas in the second picture the scene is a very busy one and it is night time.
I like the fact that the place in the top picture is in a quiet and unspoilt location, far from the madding crowd. I would be able to feel free and relaxed in such a place. The view of the city at night time doesn't appeal to me because I don't really like busy places. It looks as if this road runs through a historical city and I can make out a tower in the distance. Probably a lot of visitors would come here and this city would generally be very crowded.
I personally would prefer to live in the countryside such as shown in the top photo, as the pace of life there is much slower, less frenetic and more healthy.

Click to see a full Interview for Part Two of the Cambridge First Certificate in English exam from UK Student Life.
Click on the link to hear Part Two of the Interview exam from The British Council.

Teaching Unplugged

I have slotted in 45 minutes on Wednesday 7th October to try out teaching the "Dogme" way as an experiment. As suggested in this article on Teaching unplugged by Scott Thornbury written in "It's for Teachers" in 2001, I will walk into class with nothing but myself. No photocopies, no props, no realia and I will just see what happens. I am going to study this post here by Scott Thornbury , this interesting article from Tech ELT Blog on Dogme and Technology, and also read Karenne Sylvester's postings "The Dogma of Dogme"and "Any Given Dogme". I am just so curious about this form of teaching, which is all about flexibility, creativity, spontaneity and empathy with the learner. The teacher and students learn and develop from each other. I usually hope my lessons involve all of these factors. However, deliberately armed with mental props only, I am intrigued as to how the lesson will pan out. I need to mention at this point that I am usually very well prepared for my lessons and I like to have a "plan" of action. So not having a plan goes completely against my very essence of being the teacher I am. "In bocca al lupo" = Into the mouth of the wolf!

Friday, 2 October 2009

ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnival

I remember attending the circus a long time ago in my childhood. It was the one and only time until today. The thrill of the big trapeze act, the clowns, the fearless tightrope-walkers performing at dizzy heights. The fear intermingled with the excitement. The skill of the acrobats, the dexterity of the jugglers. The laughter, the applause, the popcorn. The huge audience in the big top, loving every moment. Priceless memories.

The Greatest Show on Earth
I was thrilled to be featured in the 13th Edition ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnival as a trampolinist! Other great circus acts include Larry Ferlazzo the Ringmaster, Karenne Sylvester the Lion Tamer, Shelly Terrell the Aerialist, Barbara Sakamoto the Acrobat, Chiew N Pang the Flying Trapeze artist, Nik Peachey Pyrotechnics and Sound, to name but only a few of the amazing acts in the circus.

Thank you ELL Classroom for organizing this fabulous show.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Ars Collaboratorium Improvisorium

I have recently been involved in a courageous "live" online exercise in improvised collaborative story-telling instigated by Chris Adams from Bits'n'Bobs/Show'n'Tell I first came across this particularly fascinating and delightful blog when "popps" first popped up in one of my comments' boxes with a comment. I was intrigued and as one does, I visited the profile page and then had a look at the blog. What struck me immediately was the fact that this blog was different, out of the ordinary and very honestly written. From the heart. I began to follow the posts and so began an online dialogue which has developed over the past few months.

Rising to the Challenge
Vicki in America, Anne in Germany, Dave in Ireland and myself in Italy took part in the 7-Day Improvisation Challenge. We suggested various challenges, some far more complicated than others! One of the biggest challenges for Chris in France was when he invited his readers to feed him lines to incorporate into the story which would be written "live" and totally improvised on Day 6. Please read how it all evolved imaginatively here. I thought Chris as the principal omniscient narrator, rose to this difficult goal admirably. The story is multi-faceted, certainly far-fetched, at times amusing, in some parts risque, in other parts, madcap, overall cohesive (apart from one tiny little bit, which I think stands out because it doesn't somehow "go with the flow" - you'll have to read it and find out for yourself) and in the reflective finale, rather poignant.

This for me was something which echoed through my brain long after the story had come to its conclusion at 9am Central Eastern European Time. The feline element in the guise of Victoria had been subtly introduced (by myself) and then successfully disposed of (by I think Chris). This cat had played a major part in the enfolding high drama in the boardroom... The writing had flowed and creativity was taken to new heights with the inclusion of this strange-sounding word. If you are asking yourself "what on earth does MOGification mean?", well, I have an idea. It must be a neologism(unless I stand corrected), created especially for dramatic effect so in this case, it must be something to do with the process of being changed into a cat?? That is my guess, anyway.

Writing ad hoc was not an easy thing to achieve and of course, not knowing when sections of the story was going to be included in different countries, was quite tricky, but despite this, I think the idea was an ingenious one and from a participant's point of view, I felt it was a challenging and imaginative creative writing activity and it worked, despite Chris' misgivings. As an experiment, it was innovative and daringly courageous. It could have been disastrous but in my view, it wasn't at all. It probably pushed Chris to the limits of his improvisation skills but he managed it skillfully, whatever he may say and think to the contrary. Bravo! Bravissimo!

I recommend you have a look at Bits'n'Bobs/Show and Tell blog. It's a good'un!