Month: July 2008

Sports Day 2008

Thank heaven the weather held out. While I did not enjoy the burning heat on my face during last Friday’s Swiss Olympics (no less!), I must say it was a hundred times better than the downpour that washed out our sports meet last year. I have come to the conclusion that rain is only cool when you are in it. When you are squashed under limited shelter with more than a thousand sweaty people it is distinctly uncomfortable. And the good people from Milo were kind enough to give us fans and visors, so it was not as much of a trial as it would have been without any such implements.

 The day started out beautifully. So many students made the effort to get to the stadium on time. My husband dropped me off, and both of us were marvelling at how well-behaved everyone was as they trooped to the track. I saw three girls hopping out of the back of a lorry- probably driven by a loving father who was kind enough to give his daughter’s friends a lift. What was our reward for being on time? The chance to watch a breathtaking sunrise in the open sky over the track.

 After the attendance had been taken, a problem became apparent. Space for everyone to sit on the bleachers seemed to be in short supply. This led to all of us shifting from side to side as each new person who came along to help had a different idea about how to best accomodate so many bottoms on so few seats. Even the VPs got involved. It was a bit like doing the shuffle! Well- I got my exercise for the day!

 I loved the idea of getting athletes to take an oath to uphold the spirit of sportsmanship. In an age when we see so many of our heroes getting knocked off their pedestals by performance-enhancing drugs, players chasing the most lucrative sponsorship and advertising deals as soon as they reach the top, and most sports losing the respect of their spectators due to the emphasis on winning rather than excellent performance, an athelete’s oath is a timely reminder to all of us that sports is about so much more than it has become.

With the student commentators at the microphones, the teachers and sports leaders at their posts and the runners at their marks, the sports meet was poised to take off.

Wow you guys really run fast! I have noticed that the boys and girls have different ways of running. The boys throw their heads back and some even pump their heads forwards and back as they run. I am not sure how this helps but it seems to do the job. The girls tend to tuck their chins in, and power forward, arms and legs working furiously. I wish I could say that watching all of you reminded me of myself when I was your age, but I am nothing if not honest, and I have NEVER been able to run that fast! So I live vicariously by watching all you energetic and motivated people.

The cheering was a bit of a flop, I am sorry to say. There were a few half-hearted screams, but that is not the same as cheering, which achieves its full force when everyone joins in as one voice and roars their support for their house, their teams and their runners. I didn’t see much of that. Having said that though, I think one problem was the design of the stadium. All of you were sitting in a row, and your voices were lost in the open air. If the rows had curved more towards each other, you would have been able to make yourselves heard by all the other houses. It is a bit of an anticlimax when you have no idea you have been bombed, and are therefore unable to fire a salvo in response.

I always look forward to the competition in which all the cheerleaders strut their stuff. And this year was far from disappointing. Some of you make fantastic dancers- I was very impressed by the choreography and level of coordination. I know how hard that is to achieve. The most enjoyable items were the ones where everyone had equal focus-no stars who stood out and stole the show. After all, cheerleading is a team activity.

 Some interesting commentary by our student commentators, and I liked the way they made it interesting with their banter. I know there were a few gaps in communication between the track officials and the commentators, but it was nothing that couldn’t be solved, and any tense moments were quickly bypassed and it was back to business.

Prizegiving was very quickly dispensed with, I thought. Seeing my students up on the stands receiving their well-deserved medals was very rewarding for me, especially when I recognised those of you who work hard in class as well. I think that when you have learned how to transfer the skills you need to do well in sports over to your studies as well, you can say you are a complete sportsperson; this is because you cannot say that you are only going to perform well on the track. Being able to excel in every area of your life is what makes you stand out. This is not to say you have to be perfect. I have the highest regard for people who strive for excellence, even if excellence itself is a moving target.

I left the stadium with a sense of satisfaction, a burnt face and a heat-induced headache. Luckily Holland Village was nearby. Lunch in air-conditioned comfort followed by a restorative round of shopping put back some of the energy that (watching people) running had taken out of me.

Well done, guys. Now back to work!

Descriptive Writing- a summary

For the last 2 weeks we have been covering descriptive writing. While this is classified as a seperate text type in most textbooks, it is rare to find a piece that just describes. Description may form a part of a narrative, a recount or even an exposition, but I have yet to see a purely descriptive piece- in the sense that something is described just for the sake of describing it. I will return to this idea a little later. For now, keep an open mind, and understand that when we talk about various aspects of language, it is actually an artificial categorization of linguistic elements. In reality, we conceive, perceive and receive many different levels of language and thought at the same time.

I started out by reading to you a passage on Achilles the tortoise from MF&OA, while you noted and recorded various descriptive tools such as adjectives, images and actions. There was some confusion over the placement of certain phrases in these 3 categories, but by and large we were able to decide on a primary location for most of the phrases we picked out.

Then it was your turn, and I had a lot of fun walking around listening to you read to each other. Some classes came up with very good phrases from the descriptive passages they chose to read from the book, while other classes had starting problems. Most managed to get the hang of it eventually. When it came to the sharing part, again there was some variation between classes. Some classes had a very fruitful sharing session.

This part of the unit was mainly for building up vocabulary and getting you in the mood. The second part involved more explicit instruction about structure and organization- once more it was Alethia Chan and “Just Write” to the rescue as we zoomed in on 3 steps to writing effective descriptions: (a) deciding on a dominant impression (b) providing vivid supporting details and (c) ensuring logical and coherent organization. We looked at a sample essay from last year’s SA2 and noted how it fit in with these 3 criteria.

And finally came the writing. By the end of this week, all of you will have experienced the joys of sitting down and writing for 55 minutes non-stop. No excuse for writer’s block- the question was given to you a week ago. The question itself looks simple enough- describe a person or animal you love very much. But the devil, as they say, is in the details. You will need all the elements we covered in class to produce a good essay worthy of an upper secondary student.

A final note: I mentioned at the beginning of this post that descriptions rarely stand alone. Look at the essay question I gave you. Even that carries the implication that you have to explain, through your description, why you love this person or animal.

Next week we move on to personal recounts.

A Season of Ill Health

I noticed today that many of you are having really bad colds. This is very obvious because we had in-class writing sessions so all was quiet. The sniffling and sneezing were very loud in this silence! Somehow I don’t notice it so much when everyone is engaged in their usual chatter! A few easy steps are all that is needed for you to nurse yourself back to good health:

  1. Drink lots of warm water. I know it is inconvenient to have to keep letting all that water out, but it is a small price to pay for a clear head and the return of your sense of smell.
  2. Take vitamin C in any form you like. My family relies on Redoxon- which is an effervescent tablet you dissolve in water and drink.
  3. Get enough sleep. When you sleep, your body heals itself.

Take care of yourselves, ok? I feel so sad when I see all the red eyes and runny noses.

Phrase Book

I’ve checked through most of your phrase books, and while a lot of you are on the right track, some of you are missing a few details. Here are my comments:

  1. The idea is not to write your own dictionary. So please don’t just pick out the words and write down their definitions. What is needed is for you to show the words in context. This is so that when you look through the book later, you will not only take in the meanings of the words, you will also have a sense of how to use them. So let’s say you see the word “interminable”. Instead of just having an entry that looks like this: Interminable- unending; going on forever, you should have an entry that looks like this: “At first the lessons were painful to an extreme: interminable wrestling with fractions…”- unending; going on forever. Note that the word you want to define should be marked out in some way. In this way you do not have to keep going back to the source if you want to know how the word is used. The reason you should do this is because…
  2. This is just the beginning. For the holidays, I only asked you to use words from MF&OA. But now the onus is on you to keep looking for more words and phrases from more sources. Read, pick out the ones you want, show them in context and define them. It will not always be possible for you to return to the source- what if it is a newspaper or a library book? How many sources are you going to hold onto?
  3. Make sure you keep referring to the phrase book frequently. How useful it is depends on how much use you make of it. It is only going to work if you read through it every now and then, and make it a point to use the words and phrases in your own writing. If you keep this up, your active vocabulary by the time you sit for your ‘O’ levels will be truly formidable, and this vocabulary will stand you in good stead even when you leave school.
  4. Sometimes it happens that you cannot find a definition (this does not happen so much for words, but it can happen for phrases). Feel free to write into this blog or e-mail me directly to check with me. But do so only after you have done your utmost to find the answer.
  5. It may also happen that the definition you find is not satisfying, because it does not seem to match the word as it is used in the context you have identified. In this case, search till you find the right definition. Vary your sources.

Last but not least, please make sure you bring the phrase book to school whenever I ask you too, because I would like to check it once in a while to ensure that you are on the right track.