Saturday, February 19, 2011

The first novel of surrealism

Thanks to Alliance française d'Auckland I've been reminded of André Breton and his novel 'Nadja' which made the first novel of surrealism and as such has been known in history of literature. It's Breton's birthday today and Alliance française has announced 'Nadja' the book of the month - neat! I haven't been reading much poetry and fiction in recent years, but surrealism has always been my favourite - although not the radical ones. I loved the Paul Eluard's poems a lot, and Breton as well.
By the way, I have always been amazed how French people can easily pronounce the name 'Nadja' in the right way, with a clear 'dj' , not as 'dz'. That's worth noticing and praising. It may be that the accent on the last syllable (as it is in most of the French words) just makes it easier to pronounce the 'dj' sounds properly, as different from all those who, as soon as they see the 'dj' spelling tend to pronounce it as 'dz' even not asking how it should be pronounced. Well, that's probably enough on spelling and (mis)pronunciation of names - let's go back to André Breton and his Nadja!
I do love Alliance française d'Auckland ! Here is their text in English and French:

The Book of the Month
Nadja, d’André Breton
Published in 1928, Nadja is one of the most famous books by André Breton. Written a few years after Manifesto of Surrealism, the theorist text which explains the intellectual basis of surrealism, Nadja is a very surprising autobiographical text which tells the story of a meeting. André Breton meets a mysterious young woman who chose to wear the name of Nadja, “because in Russian, it’s the beginning of the word hope, and because it’s only the beginning”. The relationship between Nadja and Breton becomes a real example and an incarnation of the surrealist theories. With Nadja, Breton reaches a poetic world over reality.
The book is composed of three parts. First is the context: Breton describes the literary games that his friends of the surrealist group play, and explains what a revolutionary art to him is. Breton then begins the diary of his relationship with Nadja. The book ends on passionate lines dedicated to a woman Breton calls ‘The Wonderful One”, Suzanne Muzard, the mistress of Breton’s editor Emmanuel Berl. Breton met her after Nadja and felt love at first sight for her, which she reciprocated. The book can then appear as the itinerary of a man for whom art can’t make sense if it’s not motivated by love.
If you read the book, don’t feel lost because the contents seem strange: it is not insanities, it is surrealism.
Nadja, d’André Breton
Publié en 1928, Nadja est l’un des ouvrages les plus connus d’André Breton. Ecrit quelques années après Manifeste du Surréalisme, le texte théorique qui posait les fondements du mouvement surréaliste, Nadja est un texte autobiographique surprenant qui raconte la rencontre entre André Breton et une jeune femme mystérieuse qui s’est choisi le prénom Nadja « parce qu’en russe, c’est le commencement du mot espoir, et parce que ce n’en est que le commencement ». La relation de Nadja et Breton se révèle être une sorte d’exemple réel et de mise en pratique des principes surréalistes. Grâce à la jeune femme, Breton accède à un monde poétique au-delà de la réalité.
Le livre est composé de trois parties. Il commence par une mise en contexte : Breton décrit les jeux littéraires auxquels se livrent ses amis du groupe surréaliste, et en quoi consiste pour lui une révolution de l’art. Breton raconte ensuite, sous la forme d’un journal, sa rencontre et sa relation avec Nadja. Le livre se conclut sur une dédicace à celle que Breton appelle « La Merveille », Suzanne Muzard, la maîtresse de son éditeur Emmanuel Berl, que Breton avait rencontré peu de temps après Nadja et pour laquelle il avait éprouvé un coup de foudre réciproque. A travers ce livre, le lecteur suit donc le parcours d’un homme pour lequel l’art ne peut avoir de sens s’il n’est motivé par l’amour.
Si vous lisez ce livre, ne vous laissez pas déstabiliser par ses propos qui peuvent sembler décousus : ce ne sont pas des insanités, c’est du surréalisme.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


On 26 April each year I remember Chernobyl. Otherwise I tend to forget the dates but this one is not hard to be remembered. On the tenth anniversary we even organised some kind of demonstrations (quiet, normally). Seems weird now (I certainly wouldn't do it now, no matter where I live).  It was some odd 13 years ago. Chernobyl happened 23 years ago.  Have we forgotten it? Are we allowed to forget it,  no matter be the accident the result of an experiment, low maintenance or ignorance? There has been a lot of controversy around Chernobyl because at the time when it happened the information was suppressed by the government officials. How many people have actually died, how many have been affected? Chernobyl is an on-going tragic story. It was the worst and the deadliest accident among all nuclear power incidents in the world. The accident with the longest lasting impact on the environment and on the health of population in the affected areas.

The explosion that burst out in reactor 4 of the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine, early on April 26, 1986  continued with the lethal fire that lasted for ten days. Tons of uranium fuel, plutonium and other radio-nuclides were blown into the atmosphere in the range of three miles. The most affected states of  then Soviet Union were Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Later the winds blew the radioactive debris northward across Europe. Contamination was widespread and in many directions. In the report prepared by 35 scientists for the Forum Chernobyl Conference in 2005, it was stated that the releases of radio-nuclides were large, in form of gases, condensed particles and fuel particles. The radioactive cloud went to high altitudes. It was detected throughout the Northern hemisphere, as far away as the Great Britain.

Although different sorts of radio-nuclides were released from the Chernobyl power plant, it has been estimated that the overall radiation was 90 times deadlier than  the radiation caused by the nuclear bombs dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. For several years the official sources of the Soviet Union claimed that ‘only’ 32 people were killed in the Chernobyl disaster. Later the death of 254 people was admitted. After the fall of the ‘iron curtain’ in 1991 more facts about Chernobyl became available to public. However, the real truth about Chernobyl will never be fully revealed.

 According to the World Health Organization which relies on the report prepared for the  Forum Chernobyl conference in 2005, approximately one thousand on-site reactor staff and emergency workers were heavily exposed to high-level radiation on the first day of the accident. Among the more than  two hundred thousand emergency and recovery operation workers exposed during the period from 1986-1987, an estimated twenty-two hundred radiation-caused deaths can be expected during their lifetime.

 The Forum Chernobyl report also indicates that an estimated five million people currently live in areas of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine that are contaminated with radio-nuclides due to the accident. About four thousand cases of thyroid cancer, mainly in children and adolescents at the time of the accident, have resulted from the accident’s contamination. As a comparison, in all three most affected states, until 1984  there was on average one reported case of thyroid cancer on one million children.

 According to the Children of Chernobyl Charitable Fund, the average birth rate in Belarus decreased 25 % in comparison with the year 1985. One in five births of those reported are normal. Most are not reported. The spreading diseases, CCCF reports, are chronic diseases of upper respiratory tracts, chronic otitis, atopic dermatitis, bronchial asthma and notable growth in children’s iron deficiency anemia. Malignant growths in the vascular eye-capsule and suffering from retinoblastoma has increased in these regions  two and a half times. In a research report of the Institute of Belarusian Academy of Sciences  it is stated that every second inhabitant of the Hoiniki District in the Gomel region (17,800 people) was examined at the Institute. This study revealed that 93 % of the tested individuals were ill.

 International experts have estimated that radiation could cause up to about four thousand eventual deaths among the higher-exposed Chernobyl populations. This includes emergency workers from 1986-1987, evacuees and residents of the most contaminated areas. This number contains both the known radiation-induced cancer and leukemia deaths, and a statistical prediction based on estimates of the radiation doses received by these populations.

 Furthermore, the World Health Organization has attributed much of the post-Chernobyl desperate situation in affected regions to ‘mental health’ issues linked with poverty and ‘lifestyle’ diseases. Following the Forum Chernobyl report, WHO has pointed out that alongside radiation-induced deaths and diseases, the mental health impact of Chernobyl can be labeled as ‘the largest public health problem created by the accident’ and has partially attributed this damaging psychological impact to a lack of accurate information.

 No doubt, the consequences of Chernoby will last for long and all its victims will most probably never be identified. However, it is important for future generations not to forget the lesson learnt from this tragic event.

(I published this article on Helium last year)  









Quelle connerie la guerre

More than two months since the last posting -  too busy with reporting on the pilot study, statistics, working on the wiki for French senior classes, started the data collection for the main study, etc, etc. However, I've decided to carry on, at least from time to time, maybe even more than that. We'll see...

Today was ANZAC Day -  memories, thoughts, everyone talking. On a radio programme yesterday  many were calling and telling the stories of their families, fathers, uncles, grandfathers, relatives ... and nearly everyone said: the men who returned from war hardly ever or never talked about it. Nearly everyone said that. That's it. Those who know what the war is and who went through it, they don't talk. Those who don't know they talk. 

I copied Prévert's Barbara and embedded the video on the wiki for students. Here is an English translation, better than some others I have seen.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wikis in collaborative writing

I haven’t created a wiki yet (hopefully will, as soon as possible) although  I have contributed to the wikis other people have done. According to all that I have seen so far, wikis are obviously a great tool which can really help students not only to learn, make progress and see the progress,  but in this way wikis can  assist  them to become more aware of their own learning. This is, I think, very important and in this regard  I see a huge role of wikis: it is their contribution to the process of enabling students to become independent learners.

However, I don’t believe that wikis alone will ‘push’ our learners into the deep sea of learning: in order for that to happen the content  should be good,  too. Wikis certainly will be more motivating a tool than a traditional text-book or work-book, for example, but in my opinion it is also very important to use the wikis for activities that are motivating, engaging and worthwhile. So, what matters, as much as the tool itself, would be  the  activities/tasks suggested, the topics suggested/chosen, the instructions/guidelines and help provided by useful references, etc  (apparently, the same as in a f2f classroom).

Having said that, I return to our weekly assignment in Collaborative writing workshop: adding up our sentences in order to make up five stories. They all turned out to be  a kind of “creative writing” pieces, deliberately or not, I don’t know. I agree that collaborative writing may have the potential to produce fantastic results in creative writing, and so have the wikis in providing the platform for collaboration. However,  I think that something was missing there.

I may be wrong and I would not like this to sound as criticism but rather as a lesson to learn from (at the end of the day, we are all learners, aren’t we?): I think that  we should have done something before we started adding our sentences. What kind of writing are we going to produce? What are our preferences (creative? formal/transactional? which topics would be interesting to explore in such a task? etc.)  Or, we could have been given pictures or a thought provoking article as a starting point.  These are just some suggestions (they can be suggestions for the use of wikis in a language class as well).

Creative writing is usually preceded by extensive brainstorming, and so is the formal essay writing. It may seem difficult to induce brainstorming among people in such a diverse  group from all different parts of the world, but wikis might be just an ideal tool for the kind of brainstorming needed in collaborative writing. So, this would be my suggestion for some future collaborative writing group task: use wikis to brainstorm the topics, ideas, negotiate them, select the best or the most inspirational ones, group them, decide on the ones suited to most participants, etc. And only then start the actual activity of  (collaborative) writing. I am quite sure that the results would be much more interesting and the activity itself enjoyable. 

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My class

We are now two weeks into the new school year and I'm just thinking of starting a blog with my French Year 11/12 class (that will be on  the School's web site since the blog feature has now been added to the School's 'my classes'. 
While I'm still getting to know my new, Year 9 students, and haven't learnt their names yet, I keep thinkig of my last year's  7th formers who left school in December. I really have fond memories of them and will never forget them as they were the first class who I took over when started teaching at Mount Albert Grammar. They were just a gorgeous bunch of kids who grew into young  adults in those couple of years. I hope they are all going to University, if not this year then next year - some of them, I already know  have been accepted to Uni - Congratulations! - and some have even chosen to study French! Unfortunately , we didn't manage to go to Paris last year as we'd thought we would, but we spent some wonderful time planning the trip together. 
I have received their external results and I am proud of them!
Well done, guys! Even if some of you haven't achieved the marks you were aiming at, don't be discouraged. You have done extremely well, you have achieved a lot in only a couple of years, in much shorter time than many other students who you were competing with at the externals. I am sincerely proud of you and wish you all the very best in the coming years. I know you are prepared to work hard to achieve your goals. And I know you are the kind of people who 'see large' and who will travel the world. Again, well done!
I am posting a photo from our small classroom party/shared lunch on the last day of school (Nov 2008). Take care and keep in touch!  

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Nadia-Veronica: collaborative writing task

In second language writing, as much as in second language teaching in general, any piece of practical advice, suggestion, idea or tip on “how to…” appears to be very important and, actually, indispensable for a language educator. Therefore I find these two articles useful and worthwhile reading even though many, or all, of these activities are updates of pre word-processing/computer lab activities that many of us have used in the classroom. In many cases, these papers seem to be “killing two birds with one stone”-- teaching keyboarding at the same time as language.

I have used these types of activities with my ESOL and Literacy (mainstream English) junior classes and now with my L2 French students. I use them in a traditional classroom f2f, simply because there is only one computer lab in our large secondary school, and I don’t get much chance to spend a decent amount of time in it (hopefully there will be more labs in future). In a pre-computer/no-computer f2f setting there are a number of variations on how these activities --minus the key-boarding skills--can be presented. However, my students do spend more hours in the lab in their Social Studies or English classes, and the students are generally highly literate in word processing (in most NZ schools it’s being introduced at primary level).

From my own experience I know that most of the activities mentioned in the two articles work well with the students and are very useful in developing their literacy skills. I presume that using a word processor would make these tasks even more attractive and desirable from a student perspective. However, in a larger classroom, it would be good to develop different levels of activities and have students work from lower to more demanding levels.

From the list of activities suggested by Renata Chylinski, I am particularly in favor of those that use highlighting to indicate different grammar structures, categories of words, or parts of a paragraph. So, my own example would be to give students a model paragraph (preferably, more than one) and ask them to identify the structure of the paragraph using different shades or some other method (underline, bold, italicize, etc). I usually teach paragraph structure to the formula: 1. topic sentence/or statement, 2. explanation, 3.example/or evidence. Having discussed the ideas, in relation to  the model paragraph, they can write their own on different topics and swap in pairs to highlight the peer’s work as a form of peer editing and pair work. 

Similarly, from the list of activities in Vance Stevens’ text, I have also used almost all of them in ‘pen and paper’ conditions. Some of these activities I use as speaking practice in my French classes, for example description of a picture or famous people, or cross-class interviews – with the only difference that instead of writing my students do all this orally. It’s usually quite fun. I have also tried and used different kinds of narrative based on pictures. They can easily be designed as ‘focused tasks’  in order to elicit the use of a particular grammar structure (very useful with verb tenses if there is a suitable picture-based story).

Since I am personally very much in favor of respecting the genre and register conventions, I like the type of tasks such as Writing a letter in Stevens’ article. I think it is very important for second language learners to master control over the differences between formal and informal registers in letters, speech, etc. Personal experience tells me that students at all levels usually enjoy such tasks.  

To wrap up, the two articles we have focused on this week, may give some ideas to those who teach at lower levels. Furthermore, they have helped me to revise my own ideas of collaborative writing. I have realized that actually my idea of collaborative writing has been rather limited – to the collaboration in writing essays, reports, academic papers or pieces of creative writing, but now I’ve seen that many of the ‘normal’ everyday activities I am practicing with my students are, in fact, some kind of collaborative writing. What a relief! It’s also interesting to see that these activities seem to be updates of the activities many of us used in the classroom in pre-computer days; they give a new twist to old ideas.


P.S. A bit off the track, or out of context, anyway, I’d like to comment on Renata Chylinski’s presentation of her text. I don’t know what others think but I suppose that all those “ums” are meant to be there for the sake of authenticity. (By the way, I usually use “ums” and “uhs” when transcribing a spoken text but in this article I cannot see anything else that would signal a spoken text.) To me it seems a contradiction with the content of the text – because we are still teaching our students to follow the conventional ‘rules’ of discourse, be it grammar, or genre, or pragmatics…if they are to succeed in life. Apparently, her text is exactly about that.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Nadia's Profile

I teach French at Mount Albert Grammar School in Auckland and occasionally have some ESOL students. I taught ESOL at Whangarei Girls High School a few years ago, and at some private language schools here in Auckland.  I was also teaching English part-time in Croatia where I come from and where I was a journalist in a daily paper for more than twenty years. I mainly wrote in the sections of arts and culture but was very interested in environmental issues too. Some 10-15 years ago I became actively involved in the green movement in Croatia and in the Mediterranean, took part in establishing  a network of environmental NGOs in the Mediterranean (MedForum) and was its vice-president in late '90s.

However, since moving to New Zealand I’ve completely shifted into languages, linguistics and language teaching. Currently I am working on my PhD research study in L2 acquisition at the University of Auckland.  Otherwise I have a B.A. in English and Comparative Literature, CELTA Cambridge, Postgrad Dipl. in Teaching and MA in TESOL/Applied Linguistics from the University of Auckland.  

The photo attached to this posting was taken  in very early morning hours, at sunrise  in Auckland 


A couple of days ago I was driving on the motor-way here in Auckland and there was such a beautiful rainbow in the sky, spreading its colors just over the motor-way. You have the feeling that you're going to drive exactly under the semi-circle but then, again, you can't catch it... Later, I was talking to my neighbor about it, and he emailed me these amazing photos he took himself.  
I wanted to share them with  you who read this blog and I hope you will like  the rainbow and Steven's photos. 

Fifty-word fun activity (topic 3)

Years ago, I had a class of rowdy boys who seemed to be unmanageable. Everyone, including me, complained about them. One day, a principal came in for evaluating purposes. Unexpectedly, the boys behaved themselves, were cooperative, engaged in all tasks. The principal was impressed: I even got a pay rise.

Readings on blogging

The readings on blogging suggested for this week have been really useful, particularly for the novices in blogging, such as I am. This is my start and I hope  I will establish regular blogging activities with my students (who are just coming in this week - it's the beginning of the school year here in NZ).
Now,  the readings in focus: Carla Arena's article gives us a succinct summary of advantages of blogging for educational purposes and the activities that can be done with the students. I take her points and am looking forward to trying at least some of them with my students. To me, the most powerful arguments for using blogging in class are those that stress the  importance of building a sense of community, encouraging the shy students to express their thoughts and opinions, developing fluency in L2 writing and, last but not least - I see blogging as a powerful motivational tool for students.
I found Graham Stanley's article on blogging for ELT  particularly helpful, with lots of information, explanation, definitions, suggestions - just excellent. All presented in a user-friendly way. I'm sure I will refer to this article and the web page in the future as well. 
Briefly, I am very pleased I have joined this Collaborative writing  group and in these three weeks I have already learnt a lot. Unfortunately, I haven't had enough time to explore all tools as much as I wanted to,  but I believe I can manage to do that later. I see all this as an exciting adventure!