12 May 2011

May shorts

City Hall, January and May
Visit my classroom. In addition to my college-level listening comprehension class this year, I've been teaching an exam-preparation class for the Unified State Examination in English. (A bit more about the exam here.)

In parallel with the exam's structure, our classes feature exercises in listening comprehension, reading comprehension, grammar, vocabulary, essay-writing, and letter-writing. While we were away in Samara and Buzuluk, I put together an online class session with two elements (listening comprehension and reading comprehension) for those who couldn't come to the make-up sessions I offered to substitute for the classes missed because of my absence. Here's the lesson--feel free to send me the answers to the questions so I can compare your English to that of my students!

The sample lesson doesn't include the grammar and vocabulary exercises that my students so look forward to--so I'll include a couple of them for your pleasure. (Click on the thumbnail at left. Same source as the reading exercises in the lesson above--Afanasyeva et al., Practice Exam Papers for the Russian State Exam, 2010 Revised Edition.)

Every class also includes audio comprehension exercises based on music. I write lines from song lyrics on the board, with lots of missing words and phrases that the students attempt to fill in while listening to the songs. (Sorry, I don't remember who first gave me this idea, but we've enjoyed it a lot.) Of course the students put up with a fair amount of blues material, widely interpreted--from Robert Cray to Eva Cassidy to Layla Musselwhite--but also from other sources, such as The Kills, The Fray, Arbouretum, Sarah Masen, Rea Garvey, Oasis, Fountains of Wayne, Weird Al Yankovic, Aretha Franklin. Sometimes students suggest songs to use--one student suggested the Beatles' "Drive My Car." Yes, the Beatles are still acceptable, and not just "Yesterday," which I've heard far more often here than the rest of my life combined.

Got suggestions for us? We need songs in English, with the voice track distinct and not drowned out by the instruments, and content that's conducive to classroom discussions.

When we got back from our trip beyond the Volga, the first time I logged back online, my operating system told me that the new version of Ubuntu Linux, 11.04, was ready to download. Even when everything is working perfectly, I always find upgrades irresistible, so I accepted the upgrade and waited eagerly to see how Ubuntu's controversial new Unity desktop would look.

Ever since Mike Slothower at River of Life Friends Church first convinced me to install Ubuntu instead of Windows, I've been somewhat nervously promoting Linux to anyone who starts complaining around me about Windows. When people told me that Linux is for geeks, I tried to point out gently that the subject wouldn't have even come up if they'd not been complaining about some irritating aspect of their present system. But, to be honest, I also remembered that as a new user three years ago, I had to do a certain amount of troubleshooting with audio and USB peripherals to make my new Linux installation happy. Fortunately, each succeeding version of Ubuntu has been less geeky and more intuitive than the previous.

The latest version of Ubuntu, 11.04, has that new Unity desktop that takes some getting used to. If you don't feel like getting used to something new, you still have the choice to log in with the "classical" GNOME desktop, which has windows and menus that still work more or less like a very streamlined version of MS Windows. Unity reminds me a bit more of Mac OS desktops. Instead of the traditional hierarchy of menus, and status-bar links to open windows and applications, the Unity desktop is radically simple, relying on a disappearing "Launcher" bar that includes the most important applications along with any applications that are running at the moment. It also includes folder-opening and application launcher icons. If you click on an application icon in that bar, it starts (if it isn't already operating) or it reveals all open windows related to that application. You can also cycle through open application and folder windows with a combination of keys. This is the only thing that caused me trouble at first. I kept searching for window links in a status bar that no longer has them--that space is now used for the main menu of whatever application is "in focus"--before learning to use the Launcher and the keystroke cycler. Now that I've made the transition, the whole thing seems a lot faster and more fun than traditional desktops.

desktop with Launcher bar
see all open windows at once
see an app's active windows

I think Ubuntu had already left the land of hobbyists for the general user long before this new version, but now I'm sure of it. However, if you want an even more user-friendly installation, I still recommend a refinement of Ubuntu known as Linux Mint. I use Ubuntu on my home box, and Linux Mint on my laptop, and have no problem hopping back and forth between the two.

Friday PS: Blogger.com has been offline (or rather in read-only mode) for hours. I wonder when I'll be able to publish these profundities!

Friday evening, 21:54 Moscow time: Blogger says it's back. Let's see (poised to push "publish post")....

Righteous links:

soul midwife: "Certain Women." "I have a church that I attend that is my public place of worship. I belong to that group and they belong to me. But my personal church is certain women and men--who I meet together in various upper rooms, cell phone calls, emails, living rooms, offices, retreat spaces and wait and listen to God."

"Praying to Saints."
Am I sometimes embarrassed by it, by the mawkishness, sentimentality, folk-religion verging on folk-magic, gaudy, tawdry, excessive messiness of it all? Yes, I am. The rational, reasonable side of my brain wants to tone it all down, and have a proper, seemly, correctly-based practice in accordance with the strictures of theology and with a biblical verse pinned on like a badge....

And that’s the part of my brain that hears an uncomfortable echo of “Could not this ointment have been sold at a great price, and the money given to the poor?” in the way I’m thinking and reacting to these sobbing, slobbering, running after signs and miracles people who sell their beads and make novenas and have sure-fire prayers that never fail, but contingent on being published (usually the one that begins “O most beauteous flower of Mount Carmel”) – all those people the latchet of whose sandals I am not fit to undo. I knew already about my inner Pharisee; here I have discovered my inner Sadducee.

Martin Kelley appointed editor of Friends Journal. Best wishes to Martin, who was the first person to send me encouragement at the very beginning of this blog, nearly seven years ago.

"The most important woman in Chicago journalism...."

"The Divided Memory of Victory," Sean Guillory.

"Fifty Years Later, Minow Reflects on 'Vast Wasteland' Speech."

Vintage photographs of Moscow, 1909. (Thanks to The Moscow Times.)

Ana Popovic and her guitar--enjoy her extended solo...

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