Why Don't Students Like School is an easy read, presented in pretty terse chapters with a few illustrations and tidy recaps. I often mentioned this book to my students this year and hope they weren't too horrified at how long it took me to read the entire thing: after racing through the first two chapters (outlining two big cognitive ideas) I slowed considerably as I found some of the ideas got a little repetitive and at times a bit less striking. There are two big ideas I'm taking away from this friendly book: the difficulty in 'transfer', and Bubbe psychology.
Massingham defines 'transfer' as the ability to use a concept or skill in a new context. He uses the example of a student who has just learned how to measure the area of an envelope, but is stumped when asked to measure the area of a desk. For this student, the two items are just too different and the student cannot transfer his/her skill of measuring area from envelopes to desks. Transfer is not easy to achieve but in my science classes I try to develop this by using different diagrams and models than the ones students learned from, so that they hopefully they can stretch their mind to recognize what is similar and different.
Bubbe psychology, Massingham explains, is when psychology (or any research I guess) takes a simple intuitive idea that your grandmother ('Bubbe') always knew about and gives it a fancy complicated name. We see this all the time and I love that Massingham gives me a term to use for it!
Thanks to Dr. Jamie Wehrli for recommending this book. It's aimed at a broad audience and high school students as well as teachers may well enjoy reading Massingham's friendly prose.
I was introduced to playwright and novelist Larry Tremblay through his novel Obese Christ a few years ago, a disturbing novel about good and evil - with an emphasis on "evil".
With The Orange Grove, Tremblay, a Québécois francophone, revisits the question of faith, this time with a story set in a world that is all too real and familiar. Identical twin brothers Amed and Aziz live with their family in a quiet village in a generic war-torn country. After a bomb kills their grandparents a group of religious insurgents come to the house asking for revenge (an eye for an eye) and for the ultimate sacrifice (death for martyrdom). But who, between Amed or Aziz, will wear the belt of explosives and be the sacrificial lamb? Years later, as part of a theatre project, the surviving twin, now living in Montreal, must confront a life-long secret and free himself from the grasp of his past.
The contrast between the slow and poetic prose of the text and its unbearable acts of violence create a strange and very rewarding reading experience. In the words of its author The Orange Grove "is a universal story told simply, allegorically, an emotionally immediate and important subject." A must-read for all students.
The book was translated in at least six languages, won several awards and has been made into a play in French.
In 1915, one of Kafka’s most celebrated work, The Metamorphosis first appeared in print. The novella was originally written in 1912; however, with the onset of a world war that had engulfed global affairs, its publication was delayed until October 1915. Along with many of Kafka’s work, The Metamorphosis is recognized as the icon of twentieth century literature. Ironically, the manuscript was never intended for publication; it was written as a diversion from Kafka’s writer’s block while writing Amerika, his incomplete novel published posthumously in 1927. Now, in contemporary literature and media, The Metamorphosis remains as one of the most commemorated works, its influence evident in modern works such as David Cronenberg’s most prominent horror film The Fly and tv series The Human Centipede.
The Metamorphosis opens with Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman who wakes up and finds himself transformed into a large insect. Looking at the clock, he realizes that he will miss the train for his work. Yet, due to his mutilated body, he is unable to maneuver himself out of bed. When his transformation is first revealed to his family, the reactions are of horror and disgust. For the most of the plot, Gregor is a recluse in his room, fed by his sister, Grete Samsa, who forces herself to the job out of duty rather than concern for her tormented brother. The family, with their breadwinner no longer able to provide for them, sinks into poverty. Meanwhile, Gregor grows more comfortable with his new body, climbing the walls and the ceiling for amusement. Noticing such changes, Grete persuades her mother to move the furniture out of the room to allow him more space, which Gregor finds greatly distressing. He scuttles to save a picture on the wall of a women dressed in a fur hat. At the sight of her monstrous son, Gregor’s mother panics and passes out. Gregor runs out of the room into the kitchen where his father, who assumes that Gregor had attacked his mother, throws apple at him. One sinks into his back, causing a serious injury. As the plot further progresses, the family grows increasingly tired of Gregor. Listening to their complaints, Gregor decides rid his family of his presence, and slowly decays into his own death.
Below are some of the thoughts from the members of the Book Club:
The novella’s title ‘metamorphosis’ refers to the change an organism such as a caterpillar undergoes to emerge as a butterfly from its pupa. Accordingly, in the novella, Gregor Samsa turns into what most translators write as an ‘insect’ or ‘bug’. However, the novella’s title serves an ulterior purpose beyond its literal reference. In the plot, Gregor does change form, turning into a horrendous bug; however, his personality remains largely unchanged. Many of his human qualities such as the conscience and self-awareness remain intact. Gregor himself is desperate to retain his human qualities, evidenced from his distress when his sister and mother tries to take away the furnitures that he associated with his life as a human. His physical and emotional attachment to the photo is also symbolic of his strife to remain ‘human’. Meanwhile, there is another character who also undergoes visible change, emerging as a mature and attractive woman by the end of the plot. Undoubtedly, the individual is the protagonist’s sister, Grete Samsa. Initially, it is revealed to the readers that Grete and Gregor share an intimate bond, which is the reason why she volunteers as Gregor’s caretaker. However, as the plot further unfolds, the readers witness Grete’s ‘metamorphosis’. Her affection towards Gregor starts to diminish and she comes to regard her job as a burden rather than a good act of love. Yet, she enjoys the new position she holds in the family given by her new responsibilities that depict her as an ‘adult’ over the weak and fragile girl she was reckoned to be. Eventually, she grows to resent the role as Gregor’s caretaker and suggests to get rid of him. At the end of the novella, her parents remarks how Grete has grown into a pretty young woman whose time has arrived to find a husband, thus completing her ‘metamorphosis’ into an adult. Likewise, the title carries a rather negative connotation unlike the elegant image of a butterfly emerging from its pupa. Perhaps, by doing so, it was Kafka’s intention to expose the unlovely and rather revolting nature of the human species.
In the novella, the motif of alienation pervades the mood. Throughout the plot, the room is Gregor’s prison, isolating him from his family and the outside world. The alienation is also represented through the emotional distance between Gregor and his family, who refuse to directly confront him. For instance, Gregor hides under the bed when his sister enters the room, afraid that his appearance would scare off her like it did to his parents. Consequently, Gregor’s life becomes devoid of human interaction. Perhaps, the alienation is symbolic of Kafka’s own emotional distance to his father, whose forceful character and little appreciation for his son’s creative side had him painted as a tyrannical and narcissistic figure. The influence his father had on Kafka is evident in many of his works – The Metamorphosis being an example.
From a book discussion with Mia Kwon, Flavie de Germay, Nicolas Julian and Lenoy Christy
Title: What If Everything You Knew About Education Was Wrong
Author: David Didau
Call number: PRO 370 DID
Reviewer: James Wehrli, Ph.D., Upper School Economics teacher, June 2017
On my very short list of favorite education readings (including Why Don't Students Like School, The Knowledge Deficit, and "Building Evidence Into Education"), this book might very well be added. It is most effective when it knocks down or calls into question long-held (false) beliefs in education, a field which has been held to a very low bar with regard to supporting its "research" often with little more than anecdotal evidence, common sense, and zealot faith. Books like this, which draw heavily on cognitive psychology findings, are trying to reverse this hundred-year momentum.
Didau, a long-time English teacher and more recent administrator, divides his book into four sections: "Why we're wrong" discusses the cognitive biases that have led the teaching profession astray on issues, such as the learning styles myth, group work ("Feel free to have your students work in groups if you must, but don't pretend there is sufficient evidence out there to support your preferences being foisted on others"), and lectures ("….on the whole, the teacher will be the most expert, knowledgeable person in the room. Expecting them not to share their knowledge and expertise is just silly.").
"Through the threshold" discusses how cognitive psychologists believe learning does take place (invisibly, gradually, and by forgetting) and does not take place (linearly and easily). The "What could we do differently?" section is refreshingly the shortest since so many education books (and consultants) claim to have all the answers. The main lessons to be learned are that learning should be "deliberately difficult," concepts should be "spaced" and "interleaved" with others, assessing and self-testing should increase, and feedback should be reduced (yes, reduced).
"What else might we be getting wrong?" is the final section of this lengthy and extensively cited book (the appendices, "Data by the numbers" and "Five myths about intelligence" are also worth reading). Among other topics, Didau brings to light the problems surrounding other sacred cows, such as formative assessment, lesson observations, differentiation, and praise.
Though on the whole this is a very readable book, sometimes the author might overestimate the background knowledge of the average reader. Fortunately, there are many works cited that can help fill in some of the gaps. Some parts of this book can be read piecemeal, but most effectively might be reading chapters and discussing them with others who are also open to the many counterintuitive messages the book has to offer.
Author: Terry Pratchett
Call number: F PRA (ff)
Reviewer: Chris Friendly, Upper School Social Studies and Psychology teacher, June 2017
Good characters make good books. Funny characters make terrific books. Add in relevant themes and a fantasy world where anything can happen and does, you get Terry Pratchett's Discwold series of unputdownable books. They combine the British humor of Douglas Adams with stories revolving around feminism, justice, love, politics, gods, magic and a luggage chest of sapient pear-wood with a hundred legs and a grumpy attitude.
Title: My Brilliant Friend
Author: Elena Ferrante
Call number: F FER
Reviewer: Mario Chioini, US Librarian, June 2017
If upon hearing the name Naples you get the urge to call your best friend, and take Italian lessons it probably means that you have succumbed to the charms of Italian literary sensation Elena Ferrante (pseudonym) and her Neapolitan Novels series.
The story of a friendship is never a straightforward story to tell. It may be for that reason that Ferrante decided to spread hers over four books. The tetralogy is about the life-long friendship of Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo.
My Brilliant Friend tells the story of their youth and adolescence in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples during the 1950s. Narrated by Elena, their story is also one of a city in search of a modern self in post-war Italy. (see Elizabeth Lefevre's review below) Elena and Lila are intelligent, curious and like school but only Elena sees education as a way to escape her life while Lila prefers to continue working in the family business. Like most real-life relationships theirs is complex and not immune to challenges, doubts, jealousy, misunderstandings and a whole lot of introspection.
While the pace is at times a bit slow and you have to keep the long list of families and characters within a hand's reach My Brilliant Friend is a vivid coming-of-age story peopled with characters who are real and touching.
Note: The Neapolitan Novels was made into a 2-part play and a TV series is said to be in production.
Title: The Neapolitan Novels
Author: Elena Ferrante
Pages: 4 books
Call number: F FER
Reviewer: Elizabeth Lefevre, Upper School Art teacher, June 2017
The four books of the Napolitain Series, written by Elena Ferrante kept me interested until the end which I knew would not be resolved yet hoped would be. Like a great meal with no desert! Or a movie with no real ending. The conclusion is very important. To leave a mystery is discouraging after getting to know the characters so intimately. Almost like a liaison without closure.
Surprisingly I did not register the very first chapter of the first book either. I must reread it. I believe that this might be due to the complexity of that first chapter. So many different people to meet, I kept getting lost on who was who.
That being said ….Elena's character's questioning and introspection lead us to an analyzation of people that is nonexistent today. There are not many people who live where they grew up and can have the depth of place and people that Elena describes. The story comes to life through the time period of post WW2 Naples and its political and industrial events. This is also interesting for someone who knows very little about that time in history. Events are described as if they are actually happening. Elena writes so well with a prose so beautifully constructed that even when parts of the novel seem long it does not matter. I often felt that I would like to quote some of the things she said.
I suppose that the novels left me hungry for the same type of communication. I could not put them down. This happens in older films, where the dialogue is interesting, complex and beautiful not just a few words with not much depth. People are watching more and more series on TV so that they can feel a connection to people. We live in a fast world with no time left for relationships and where communication is done with text messages…. What a pity!
Title: Behold the Dreamers
Author: Imbolo Mbue
Call number: F MBU
Reviewer: Maryama Antoine, Upper School English teacher, May 2017
Reviewer: Maryama Antoine
The huddled masses of Africa yearn for the American lifestyle: its opportunities, its decadence- but how far will they go to get it? Where does one draw the moral line when desire peppers survival? These questions are at the core of Imbolo Mbue's debut novel: Behold The Dreamers. It is a heartfelt story that images the struggles and hopes of those for whom the statue of liberty still stands as shining beacon and the disappointments of the established where fractured marriages crumble under the pressure of golden handcuffs.
It is the tale of Jende Jonga and his wife Neni and their lives as immigrants from Cameroon in New York city. It is also the story of Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers as the banking institution shakes in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, his attractive wife Cindy who drinks a little too much and the children gone elsewhere in search of truth.
Imbue samples from the top and bottom of American society and interweaves the lives of these two couples in order to make her case about corruption.
If you are looking for superb writing, sentences worthy of a frame - this novel may fail you. It is nonetheless a good read, profound and riveting in the pace it keeps and its lessons about class and immigration in America.
Title: The Girls
Author: Emma Cline
Call number: F CLI
Reviewer: Filipa Pavic, Middle School English teacher, May 2017
Have you every wondered why anyone would ever join a cult of their own volition? If you do, you will enjoy Emma Cline's novel The Girls. Set in the 1960s, the story follows the life of teenage Evie Boyd who is longing for friends and a sense of place. She becomes infatuated with the dynamic and beautiful Suzanne who is able to lure Evie into the clutches of an infamous cult.
As one reads the story, it is easy to understand why Evie was mesmerized by Suzanne and the offerings of her group given how well the story was written by Cline. The use of flashbacks and descriptive language kept the reader engaged and curious. One learns the final outcome of the cult in the initial pages of the novel but only at the end does Clive weave through the lurid details. The anticipation of the 'event' keeps one hooked! It is evident that the book is an allusion of the notorious Manson Family and the description of the cult leader mirrors that of Charles Manson. A compelling read for those looking for a well told story and for those interested in culturally significant periods in American history.
Title: While Glaciers Slept
Author: M Jackson
Call number: 551.31
Reviewer: Sofia Camacho Ferral, Senior student, April 2017
While Glaciers Slept by National Geographic researcher and expeditioner M Jackson is a powerful memoir in which she draws parallels between personal grief and her scientific experience as a glaciologist. Focusing on change, the story tells how a change of climate, whether within a family or out in nature, can have devastating effects. Jackson breaks down the complexities of her research to a more understandable narrative in which her parents' death and glacial findings are intertwined, allowing the reader to understand the urgency of climate change on a very human level. M Jackson's beautiful and powerful images of her work in the field, along with her accessible prose will help every reader understand her message.
Jackson teaches us that science is not just a catch-all term, but a symbol of valiant steps taken towards a specific goal. Regardless of whether or not science is of interest to you, While Glaciers Slept will definitely give you a fresh and unique perspective on scientific research and what it means to us as humans.