To teach and to decide

In a healthy community, elders teach, adults decide.

In a sick society, adults teach, elders decide.

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A change of subject

In the past, this blog was a diary of my experience as a teacher in Denmark.
From now on, it will contain philosophical articles regarding politics and ethics.
All articles will appear here as translated into English from my mother tongue, Italian. Please forgive me if my translations into English will not always be 100 per cent accurate. The original Italian language articles can be found here.

Alberto Cassone, May 2020

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Italian Language at Gug Skole

Last week Gug Skole in Aalborg organized a “Language week” and asked me to teach Italian language and culture to volunteer students for 20 hours.

My 14-15 year old Danish students – Kirstine, Ida, Katrine, Kasper, Thor, Laura, Victoria, Frederik, Cecilie, Camille, Mathias, Daniel, respectively re-named for the occasion Cristina, Ida, Caterina, Gasparre, Dio (…), Laura, Vittoria, Federico, Cecilia, Camilla, Mattia, Daniele – learnt how to cook (and eat) some italian dishes:

(I don’t have any picture of the spaghetti al pomodoro e basilico we cooked but, trust me, they were tasty and al dente….)

and how to make some “italian gestures” :

The students were also taught the history of Italian popular music (ItalianMusicHistory) and, of course, some basic features of Italian language. One morning we got a bit deeper into the concept of “Italian identity” for one hour while another day we dedicated two hours to the analysis of “national stereotypes”; but, for the rest, I tried to make it all as fun as possible.

They also got a chance to watch two beautiful Danish-Italian films, “Italian for beginners” and “Falkehjerte”. In the end, it was a good experience for all of us. 

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Martin Luther King – I have a dream

Some days ago I wanted to introduce the “I have a dream” speech to my Danish 5th graders (12-13 years old) during their english language and culture class. But, how do you do that? It is such an important subject, but, on the other hand, they are young and not all of them have such skills in english oral comprehension as required to match the challenge.

First of all, of course, I had to study the whole speech carefully. In order to do that, I decided to write down my own transcription of the video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbUtL_0vAJk

While doing so, I realized that the speech is a masterpiece in the art of rhetoric. It is full of powerful repetitions (“anafora”) and is shaped as an exciting “crescendo” – despite its emotional and sometimes visionary content, it manages to be perfectly coherent, logically structured and truthful. These qualities allowed me to divide the whole of the speech into “sections”, each section being a unit both logical and rhetorical, defined by the presence of certain repetitions of words, expressions and ideas:   Speech_Sections

The creation of these sections allowed me, then, to plan a class presentation of the video during which I could stop many times and put the focus on selected expressions and ideas. This way, the pupils wouldn’t have to understand much of the speech on their own, but they would be “guided” through its oral comprehension and the understanding of its motives, contents and aims.

In order to “implement” the presentation, my first idea was to write selected parts of the oral text on the video through Windows Movie Maker; but, unfortunately, my computer is so full it can’t stand any complex video operation any longer. Therefore I resolved to create a power point:  IHaveaDream, planning to move as swiftly as possible between it and the video.

After the presentation, the pupils would get a printed transcription of the speech, containing some additional infos (about MLK and his fight) and a final set of questions, to be answered partly in class, partly at home:  Activity_Text

For technical reasons, I didn’t get the chance to show this presentation to the class yet, but I’ll be able to do it next week. See you soon!

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National stereotypes

Recently, during my English language classes, some of the students have argued that “Italians love their mums more than they love their women”. Furthermore, some of them appeared to think that we “are gay” and/or that we “are stupid”.

Fascinated by such a smooth emergence of clever stereotypes, I devised the following 90-minute-lesson on the hot subject of “national stereotypes”:        ………………………………………………………

after starting with a brainstorming on Italy, Denmark, France, England and Germany (food, footballers and cars played the main role in the activity), I briefly showed this website: http://alphadesigner.com/project-mapping-stereotypes.html?ref=nf and these two “maps” (“Europe according to the US”; “Europe according to Germany”) extracted from the same pages: 

After commenting the “maps” all together, I told the joke: “In heaven, the cops are British, the lovers are French, the food is Italian, the cars are German, and the whole thing is run by the Swiss. In hell, the cops are German, the lovers are Swiss, the food is British, the cars are French, and the whole thing is run by the Italians” and asked the pupils to “complete” it by introducing the Danes in it (see: JOKEactivity), both in Heaven and in Hell.

After that, I presented the core of the lesson, which can be viewed in the attached file: Activity_MainFile. It deals with common and well-spread prejudices regarding militaristic Germans, dirty Frenchmen, lazy Spaniards, unemotional Englishmen, boring Canadians, and so on, and so on….

After completing the reading and discussion of the above mentioned text, in the next (and last) activity of the lesson the danish students had to introduce in the joke the Irish, the Spanish and the Swedish: JOKEactivity

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Italian Language Class

Last Friday I taught my first Italian language class, to 12 Vodskov Skole pupils and one V. Skole teacher.

When you are about to start teaching a language to absolute beginners, you always face the same question: should I use English? And, if so, how much of it?

I decided to resort to english (to a full use of it) for the first half of the lesson, and to almost completely avoid it for the second half. I “warned” the students, from the beginning, that it would be so.

 This way, in the first half we focused on “culture” (with the help of a big map, a brainstorming activity, some photocopies from the excellent textbook “Un giorno in Italia” and this power point: Presentazione) while in the second half we practised some basic Italian language, before studying it.

 No, I didn’t write that by mistake – we really practised Italian before studying it.

 With the help of this power point: FirstLesson, we exchanged basic information in the new language. Asking swift questions, and expecting appropriate answers (not repetitions of what the teacher said, but real answers), about one’s identity, you can manage to introduce into the pupil’s mind many new language forms. To achieve this, the most important thing is to use only a few items, and to use them many times, while adding a new item only after the previous ones have been used and reused several times.

 Only at the end of this process it is time to show a grammatical “resumé” (TestodaRicordare) and a “synthesis” (Strutture) of the formal structures that we used to communicate between ourselves.

There was also some music (italian classics like “O’ sole Mio”, “Nel Blu dipinto di Blu”, and Negramaro’s modern version of “Meraviglioso”), a (also a classic) game (throwing a ball to your classmate, for example, to Frederik, while asking him “come ti chiami?” – he catches it, says “mi chiamo …..Frederik”, and throws it to another mate), and it all went well in the end. After class some students stayed there, to teach me some danish… I will never be able to say all those vowels (there are 15 of them), half of them sounds exactly the same to my italian ears (we have only 7….) (not 7 ears – 7 vowels).

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Resources

Recently I had the chance to use in the classes some very good on-line resources for English language teachers, like for example: 

http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/games/geographygames/geospy/

This is a great way to improve your knowledge of Geography (while practising English) – personally, before playing it I knew the exact position of only 7 out of 50 states in the U.S. – now I score around 48/49 every time I play! I improved my knowledge of Asia, Africa and South America as well. I recommend this link to be used with students whose English language level is not so high.

If you need to know the exact pronounciation (and to have your students practising it home or at school on a computer) of english words, together with the american english versions, check this website: http://www.howjsay.com/index.php?word=remember&submit=Submit

The British apologize more, much more than the Danes and the Italians – often ironically. And they are very creative in their many ways of doing it. Therefore, for a danish student to learn when, why and how to apologize when speaking english abroad isn´t an easy task. This website: http://www.english-online.org.uk/int3/sorry1i3.htm manages to be very exhaustive, clear and funny about the subject, providing very good practice as well (http://www.english-online.org.uk/int3/sorry3i3.htm).

Finally, a link to an English language learning game which may appeal to young students because of its setting (a world of Vampires, Zombies and other horrid, luckily non-existing creatures) and, quite paradoxically, because of the definitely old-style teaching method implied – if you make too many mistakes, you´ll die.

The game progresses through a series of bravery, cold-bloodedness and language ability tests, covering many different aspects of the english language. It is called “The grammar of Doom” and you find it here: http://www.english-online.org.uk/games/grofdoom/advisory.htm

God påske!

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Danish history – Chapter 2 – Drink and make merry

Christian IV´s sister had married King James I of England. On two occasions Christian sailed over to London to pay her a visit. He was received with due pomp and circumstance and was personally delighted. Wealthy England overwhelmed her Danish guests with hospitality. Her guests, in return, demonstrated their ability to floor their hosts completely in certain spheres of activity such as that of drinking wine. (Palle Lauring, page 156)

In circles where expense was of no consequence the average quantity consumed was probably about ten or twelve pints per person per day – more, of course, on festive occasions. (Palle Lauring, page 151)

On “wakeful nights” the young men and girls of the village went to the church taking their beer-casks with them and danced and made merry. Night life in the church was thus not exactly Christian. In order to avoid offending the images of the pious saints on such nights however, their pictures were turned with their faces to the walls. (Palle Lauring, page 124)

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Danish History – Chapter 1

I have just finished reading “A History of the Kingdom of Denmark” by Palle Lauring. I am not planning to annoy you with boring battle dates and kings’ names, but I am going to write, from time to time, about those episodes and features of danish history which I´ll have found more interesting, or exciting, or fun, or .. whatever.    ………………….  (from page 63, Reign of Sweyn Estridson, 1047-1074): “The attitude held by the Christian Church towards the relationship between a man and a woman was something unheard of in Scandinavia. The concept of sin just did not exist in a Scandinavian mind. The woman was highly respected as such (in fact much more highly than in the rest of Europe) and morals were stricts – there just happened to be different rules. And during and after the Viking Age, Denmark, as a result of the thousands of men who emigrated, the thousands of Vikings who were slain or drowned, had a surplus of women […]. So natural indeed, that upon the death of Sweyn Estridson, no fewer than five of his sons ascended the throne one after the other, and not one of them was the son af any of his lawful wives, of whom he had three or four in succession.”

……………………..      Next history chapter will deal with young boys and girls dancing and drinking beer in the old times, with the saints turning away their faces to the walls of the church.

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Culture clash: a film

Last week I happened to watch a danish film (made in 2002, but still quite up to date) called “Halalabad blues”. Here´s a trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5DwHoqSwq4 and here´s a description: http://www.dfi.dk/faktaomfilm/danishfilms/dffilm.aspx?id=777 on the Danish Film Institute page. 

The film doesn´t analyze, but rather shows, what can happen when a man and a woman, belonging to extremely different cultures, ideologies, ways of living, want to share a life together. More precisely, the two different cultures are the danish and the turkish, and the whole thing happen (which is an important detail as well) on danish soil. Pro-multicultural and anti-multicultural, pro-immigrants and anti-immigrants ideas come up in the film, first only as a subject of conversation between friends or colleagues, but then as basic and radical issues determining actual people´s difficult choices regarding their private lives.  The film doesn´t seem to suggest any hope for a bright solution of this culture clash. I think it is a very interesting film, although it doesn´t manage to look at things from a neutral and deeper point of view – the Western culture and the Scandinavian Welfare States´ points of view clearly, although unwillingly, prevaling on the Turkish one, in the film´s original idea and conception as well as in the dialogues and in the plot development.  

I mention this film in my blog for the reason, that I belong to a culture which stands somewhere between the (often clashing) Western – North European world(s) and the South- Near Eastern world(s). I can see the good and the bad on both sides and, being I an Italian in Denmark for a cultural exchange programme, I sincerely suggest you watch this film. I think that multiculturalism is a very good thing, meaning  that different cultures merge (or at least inspire each other towards an improvement of both), not that they live on the same soil but separated or that one assimilates the other. Economic problems (foreigners coming to Scandinavia because of its wealth and of its welfare state) are a slightly different and more delicate thing. Let´s not forget, though, that much of our (Western world´s) present wealth comes from past and present exploitation of other countries. Please post a comment here if you disagree or if you want to add something to what I wrote.

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