The Hardest Part…

I’m hosting my first ever Intro Hebrew tutorial tomorrow. The idea is that students in the college’s Intro Hebrew course can show up for some extra help with whatever they’re struggling with. The class is using Pratico/Van Pelt, Basics of Biblical Hebrew (the same text I learned on), and they’re just starting the chapter on adjectives in class tomorrow. So these students are still pretty much brand new to the Hebrew language. I’m trying to remember what it was that I found hardest at that point in my studies. Probably it was syllabification and vocalization (I still have trouble with vocalization sometimes). I’m interested to see where people are struggling tomorrow.

So for those of you who’ve done some Hebrew, what was the hardest part for you? Where was the learning curve the steepest in your novice Hebrew days? And for that matter, what kinds of things do you think students would find valuable in a tutorial?


Good Writing…

Alan Lenzi has a funny little post on a writing exercise for his fresher* class.  As he notes, the kind of uber-structured writing he is forcing them to do is “boring and formulaic” but it’s also the only way to get people to write well.

Writing is one of those things that people, for whatever perverse reason, think you should be able to just sit down and do well.  You hear all kinds of nonsense about writing “from the heart” and how writing shouldn’t be structured.  The fact is, however, that good writers are like good musicians.  The only way to make free, improvisational, artistically expressive music is to practice fundamentals until your fingers bleed.  Nobody picks up a guitar and “just plays” jazz improv.  Thousands of hours of practice go into “just playing.”  Same deal with writing.

Want to be a good writer?  Then go read Alan’s post, and practice until your fingers bleed.  Only once you can work through a pedantic exercise like the one he’s designed are you ready to “just write.”

This is a point driven home particularly well in my single favorite book on English grammar, Constance Hale’s Sin and Syntax.  Learn the rules, and then learn how to break them.  That’s what great writers do.

*I’m picking up on the British use of “fresher” instead of the gender-exclusive “freshman” you find in NA.  HT to Mark Goodacre.


My father-in-law put me on to this great site called TED (Technology/Entertainment/Design…though they’ve branched out into other disciplines now). It has short presentations on all sorts of topics (from world poverty to physics) given by experts and public figures, some of whom are rather well known (e.g. Michelle Obama on education). The best part? They’re all absolutely free. I’ve only tapped bits and pieces so far, but what I’ve seen has been very interesting indeed. The catch-phrase for TED is “Ideas Worth Spreading.” Seems to me spreading interesting ideas is a practice worth pursuing.

Personally I’m going to start with this presentation by Alisa Miller on modern news-media, and then this presentation by Ken Robinson on creativity-centred education.


Well I’ve listened to both talks now. Miller’s was short and she clearly felt a little nervous, but her point was excellent and her visuals particularly drove it home. What she said, in a nutshell, is that the American news-media is almost entirely worthless if one wants to know anything apart from whether or not Britney Spears is sticking with her current diet. This is something I already knew, but it is always worth repeating.

Robinson’s talk was quite a bit longer, almost 20 mins, and was exceptional. His presentation was funny, engaging, and (most importantly) powerful and pursuasive. His point in a nutshell is that we need to radically rethink the way that we approach education. One of the most important and telling truths that he pointed out is that in the modern education system the “best” product that an education can produce is a college professor. Speaking as a doctoral student and somebody who someday wants to be a college professor, this is a very bad thing. It’s not that college professors are not valuable, it’s just that being good with (a very select and narrowly defined part of) your brain should not be the gold-standard for worth in young people (or any person). Performance in school is one of the primary ways that we evaluate a person’s worth in our culture, and with our school systems designed as they are we are doomed to underevaluate brilliance in children who are great at something other than mathematics or language. In any case, this lecture in particular is worth your time.


Bryan Bibb has a link to this excellent essay on pedagogy and the concept of learning.  There are any number of striking and intriguing bits in the paper, and I strongly encourage you to read it whether you are a teacher, student, or anybody else for that matter.  Which parts jumped out at me most strongly?

“Intellectual growth has been characterized as the progression from ignorant certainty to intelligent confusion” (15).  I don’t think I know anybody with an advanced degree or similar expertise in their field who would disagree with that statement.  The whole section in which this quotation is found is about how our attitudes to knowledge and learning change and develop throughout the educational process.  Very interesting stuff.

The other bit that hit me really hard was a the point-by-point comparison of A and C students right at the end of the paper.  There are two tables on pgs. 24-25 that compare the skills, attitudes, and habits of successful and unsucessful students.  After reading these I would suggest that these tables aren’t just about students, but in many ways could be re-applied to a variety of other social situations (the workplace and the home for instance).  What struck me most about these comparisons is that C students generally see themselves as victims and tend to take on passive roles.  This is especially notable in the second table.  Passivity is a major component in every “unsuccessful” box on that table.  This drives home an important truth that I think a lot people generally, and not just students, need to reflect upon.  Your education, your job performance, your family life…you have the ability to affect all of these things.  I’m not so naive as to suggest that these social situations are totally within a person’s individual control, but it’s equally ridiculous to think that they are totally out of our control.  Your boredom with your classes, your complaints about your teachers, your whining about your boss or your co-workers, these are all things that you have the ability to affect.  They are, to some degree, your responsibility.  You will never find, in other words, an A student who doesn not take responsibility for her own education.  You just won’t.

In any case, read the whole article, particularly if you’re an educator in any capacity.