09 September 2007

Finland's Education - A Noteworthy Comparison

University of Helsinki, Finland

Which country wouldn’t want to be regarded as the best-educated nation in the world? During my recent visits to Finnish schools, I discovered that Finland, in fact, feels a bit uneasy about its unrivaled number-one ranking in the international PISA student assessment surveys. “Sure, we’re proud of our students’ success,” noted Esko Poikela, principal of Kotimäki School in Kaarina, during our chat in May. But Poikela also questioned, "What do the results really mean? What do they really tell us about the Finnish education system?”

In case you've never heard of PISA before, PISA stands for the Programme for International Student Assessment. It is an internationally standardized assessment of the knowledge and skills of 15-year-old students from nearly sixty participating countries in the areas of mathematical, science, and reading literacy. Finland has scored the highest overall in the first two surveys, PISA 2000 and PISA 2003. Both assessments show that Finnish students are better at reading than students in other high-literary OECD countries, such as Korea, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Finland also performed better in sciences than the two other top OECD countries, Japan and Korea. According to the official PISA 2003 report, Finland is now at same level with East Asian countries, whose performance in mathematics and science had been previously unmatched. However, many Finnish educators wonder, if not worry, where Finland will stand when PISA 2006 results are released. “We can only go down from the top,“ observed Poikela, “and then what will happen? What will that tell us about the Finnish education system?” While Finnish educators may have some reason for concern, the rest of the world has begun to view the Finnish education system as a model or, certainly, a worthwhile point of comparison.

I will expand much more on this in my upcoming article in the New World Finn journal. In this blog post, I will take the opportunity to share some general observations and comment on a few photos from my recent visits to Finnish schools. Finland's PISA success has peaked a great deal of interest in the U.S. K-16 institutions and systems, including Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, which are increasingly concerned about the rising number of students entering higher education under-prepared.

By all accounts, Finland’s PISA success appears to be a sum of factors. Some most common reasons include the equity of schools, school autonomy, highly-qualified and highly-motivated teachers (all have minimally a Master degree), the popularity of reading among all socio-economic groups, and the flexibility of curriculum, classroom interaction, and teaching methods. Also, disruptive behavior and violence are uncommon in Finnish schools. For example, Poikela recalls only two incidents of school bullying during his two-year tenure as principal of Kotimäki School, which serves about 600 students in grades 1-9 in a small town right outside a major city, Turku.

Theft in Finnish schools is also uncommon. A visible proof of Finnish schools' calm and trusting atmosphere is this photo of Kotimäki School's front yard, which shows dozens, if not hundreds, of bicycles, mopeds, and helmets unlocked in the schoolyard. I spent an entire 15-minute recess period in early May examining the bicycles and many rather expensive-looking mopeds and helmets - not one was locked! Bicycles and mopeds are a common form of transportation for Finnish students and teachers.

By the way, all Finnish students, at least through middle school, have several recess breaks during the day to catch fresh air and an opportunity to socialize and exercise between class sessions. In contrast, many U.S. schools, even elementary schools, have reduced, if not altogether given up, their recess breaks. I think it's a pity and, I suspect, not the best choice educationally.

A common feature of Finnish education system is teaching that occurs in real life contexts – a goal that is shared by many U.S. schools. Here’s a photo of Ulla Haapanen, a biology teacher in Kaarina, on one of her regular bird watching excursions into a nearby nature reserve, a familiar locale for her middle school students. The photo was taken in early May, before the nature's green summer growth.

My visits also revealed that much emphasis is placed on creating bright, spacious study environments within the school buildings. Here (below) is Ulla Haapanen in her biology classroom.

So, in terms of the PISA survey, where does the U.S. fits in? In contrast to Finland’s assessment success, the survey results place the United States at, or slightly below, the PISA average. In some areas, U.S. students rank at the end of the scale, prompting U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige in a December 6, 2004 press release to exclaim, “’The PISA results are a blinking warning light" ("PISA Results Show Need for High School Reform"). However, the United States is not alone. Many other industrialized countries, including Germany and the United Kingdom, have also received disappointing PISA results, and many of them have began to look to Finland to learn from its assessment success.

Above is a picture of a school yard of Joensuu Bilingual Preschool, where students play and learn using both Finnish and English. Natural settings, with open spaces are common features of Finnish schools. This is not a surprise to anyone who has experienced the country's expansive natural beauty. Finland, which in size is about as large as Minnesota and Iowa together, has over 100,000 lakes, and it is fair to say that much of the country resembles Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness near the Canadian border. Left is a photo taken in June near the city center of Joensuu, a mid-size town in Eastern Finland, where many of my relatives live.

Whatever the true reasons behind Finnish education system's assessment success are, I believe that Finland can serve as an informative and interesting point of comparison and model to educators, parents, and students worldwide.

Tartu, Estonia - Listen Up!

Before my sabbatical ended in June, I had a chance to attend an interesting, small conference in Tartu, Estonia. Tartu is located relatively close to my home country Finland – it took me three hours by boat, from Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia, and six hours by an express bus to reach Tartu. Tartu is the second largest city of Estonia, with a population of over 100,000. While Tartu might not be familiar to many Americans, it is a well-known historical university town in Europe. The first written records of Tartu date from 1030; the University of Tartu was founded in 1632.

University of Tartu, founded in 1632

To a tourist familiar with other European locales, Tartu resembles a charming medieval Italian or Spanish town, with narrow, windy cobble-stoned streets and interesting architectural features and medieval churches (like the Tartu Cathedral shown on left). Unlike its comparisons, Tartu is still recovering from the neglect of Soviet rule. All over the city, buildings are being renovated, largely with EU restoration funds, and like Tallinn, which has experiences rapid “clean up” and modernization, I predict that Tartu in five years will have many more beautifully restored buildings, along with ultra-modern office buildings similar to those that have changed Tallinn’s skyline, and most of the rundown, cluttered alleyways and backyards will have been replaced by modern parking lots and tidy street cafes and restaurants.

I was lured to Tartu by the city’s reputation as an old, respected university town and by the international Conference Alerts website, which I had been checking regularly prior to my sabbatical leave. I spotted an alert from the small International Association for Citizenship, Social, and Economics Education organization, whose conference title, “Constructing Curricula for International Understanding: Challenges for Citizenship, Social, and Economics Educators,” promised an opportunity to learn more about my sabbatical theme, internationalizing curricula.

The networking opportunities in Tartu didn’t disappoint me. The conference introduced me to many new, interesting contacts from England, Scotland, Sweden, Japan, and Estonia, among others. In the photo on the right, I am joined by a Swedish colleague on the left and an English colleague on the right. Our day trip across the Russian border in a small mini-van, with participants from eight different countries, was an unforgettable experience – notably thanks to the Japanese participants’ eagerness to sing karaoke (mostly old Beatles tunes) as we strolled along windy, narrow Southern Estonian highways. However, I found the conference program less relevant to my teaching. The presentations focused far more on the subject areas, such as methods of teaching economics, than ways to internationalize the curricula – which should have been the conference theme. Thankfully, my frequent discussions with international colleagues made the trip worthwhile.

The Estonian participants, in particular, opened my eyes to different ways of teaching and learning. They tend to view education from their former rulers’ (the Soviets’) perspective – more as a hierarchical, authoritative experience, where the professor talks and the student listens. One of the Estonian professors noted that he feels much more comfortable with this approach than the more democratic, collaborative Western approach. He commented, “In Estonia, one person speaks and everyone listens; in Western universities, everyone speaks and no one listens.” Well, I must admit that this made me think about the collaborative teaching methods many of us in the U.S. and many other Western countries employ to inspire student participation and thought. Certainly, there are many times when we learn a great deal through dialog with others, but how can we better utilize the moments when “everyone [just] talks and no one listens”? How could we learn to listen better? I suspect that in both approaches, true thoughtful, deep listening is not adequately encouraged and taught. After all, haven't we all witnessed - and been guilty of - moments when one speaks, yet no one listens? Thanks to my Estonian colleague, I am curious to learn more about the art of listening – both from the teacher’s and the student’s perspective. Having recently accepted an interim dean’s position, I am also interested in discovering and practicing better ways to listen to faculty and staff needs and ideas.

Strolling along the streets of Tartu in late-May heat, watching the city renew itself through ongoing, rapid building renovation, I felt a sense of personal renewal…. We can, and we should, open our eyes and ears to different ways of doing things. How can I “renovate” my thoughts on teaching and learning? What can I learn from my new international colleagues?

Listen, that’s what I can do. Listen, and I hope, learn from it.

A summer evening rock concert in Tartu's medieval town hall square - the times are changing!

26 May 2007

The Arctic Norway in May

Sunbathing in the Artic Norway in mid-May - not just a vacation

My blog has been inactive for a little while since I have been traveling in Europe, experiencing global contexts firsthand. Traveling is, of course, still one of the best ways to learn about other cultures. A visit to a different culture always involves active learning as we engage ourselves through seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and speaking, often in situations that inspire, if not demand, our keen attention, challenge our limits, and surprise - and sometimes even humble - us with new insights and discoveries.

Although I have traveled a great deal over the years, I am constantly amazed at how much one learns from any new travel experience, at any time, anywhere. My recent visit to University of Tromsø in the Arctic Norway is a perfect example! Admitedly, I had been joking about a May visit to the Arctic. Why experience snow in May? Why seek the ever-present company of seagulls? Why give a lecture at the northern most university in the world? Why sunbathe wearing a Russian fur hat?

Many of the answers can be found in the following photographs: The Arctic is incredibly beautiful in May. The Arctic waters provide flavorful fish and whale meat. Even the seagulls provide eggs for breakfast (just remember to boil them for about 20 minutes!). And the best and most magical of all, the midnight sun appears in mid-May and rewards the Artic region with constant sunshine for weeks and weeks. Why not visit the Arctic Norway in May?

Finnish sisters Hanna and Minna against the backdrop of Norwegian Arctic beauty

Welcoming the Midnight Sun at a writer's hut overlooking a fjord - it stayed this light most of the night!

A chilly, tranquil Arctic fjord

One of many old fishermen's houses

A fishing village in the fjord

Cod on a rack

Beware of reindeer - we saw plenty!

Every fjord reveals a treasure

No kidding, this picture was taken at midnight on May 18!

A humbling moment: wearing Russian fur hats to stay warm at midnight

Main street in Tromsø, Norway
Besides admiring the Arctic Norway's geography for its remarkable beauty, I also discovered that the region is an opportune location for online teaching. My presentation titled "Quality Online Education: A Shared Responsibility" attracted good attention and feedback from a variety of sources, from enthusiasts, skeptics, and curious newbies alike wanting to learn more about online teaching. University of Tromsø offers some online courses, but so far, there appears to be more enthusiasm for expanding the online programming than actual works in progress. I also witnessed some understandable, but I think largely unfounded, nervousness about the potential negative impact of online education on the unversity's traditional course offerings. These are the same concerns we faced in Minnesota about 8-10 years ago and soon afterwards discarded as largely unwarranted concerns. I think a major Norwegian university that attracts students from a wide, remote Arctic region (just see the pictures!) would be wise to invest in more e-learning. I understand that more support services, especially for students, would need to be created, but I trust this could be done. I encourage my colleagues in Tromsø to keep exploring e-learning opportunities and to solicit feedback from those of us who have already been involved with e-learning for many years. Let's keep these global connections alive!

Sharing about e-learning

19 April 2007

Made in China: Mardi Gras

In my previous post, I mentioned an excellent resource, a documentary titled Made in China: Mardi Gras (Sundance, 2005), which I plan to use in my College Composition course to inspire and prepare first-semester college composition students to compose an argument essay about the human impact of globalization, as shown within the context of a documentary that follows the trail of Mardi Gras beads from China to New Orleans.

Made in China: Blouse

I suggest some of the following preparatory steps and resources for teachers planning to use the documentary for an argument writing assignment:

Suggested guiding questions:
  • What is globalization, and how does it impact product manufacture and sales?
  • Who produces goods for the U.S. market and where?
  • Why do more and more U.S. companies manufacture and source products overseas, and why do U.S. consumers purchase these products?
  • Why do overseas factories welcome U.S. customers and investors?
  • What are the working conditions at foreign factories producing goods for the U.S. market?
  • Why do factory workers in foreign factories work under the current conditions?
  • What role, if any, does gender play in the U.S.-overseas production chain?
  • How are artifacts/products embedded with social and cultural meaning? How and why does a product become disposable?
  • What are the economic and social impacts of globalization?

Suggested teacher resources:

Suggested Opening Activities:

"Made in China" Label Search
Ask students to check their clothes, shoes, and other personal items to look for “Made in China” and other product labels, and ask them to record the names of all countries printed on the labels. Use pins or masking tape to record the countries, along with the number of items, on a large world map (which has been placed on the wall or taped onto the whit board). Without further commentary, ask students to proceed to the next step.

Reflective Writing
Give the following instructions to the students: What does our map, with our notes, tell us about global trade? What do you already know about today’s global trade and its impact on people in the U.S. and other countries? What are your personal assumptions about “Made in China”?

Have students share their thoughts with the entire class. Write their main points on the board in two columns: global trade and “Made in China.” Ask the students to summarize what they already know about global trade and what their assumptions are about “Made in China” products in particular.

My complete lesson plan, which is available upon request, suggests two follow-up assignments:
1. An oral presentation, by groups of 4-5 students, summarizing and analyzing the motives and conditions of one category of people shown in the documentary and proposing one argumentative thesis statement about their topic. The students will get to choose from the following: The party crowd in New Orleans, the New Orleans businessman, the Chinese factory owner, the young female factory workers in China, and the families of the factory workers in China
2. An argument essay, expressing and supporting an opinion on some specific aspect about the human impact of globalization, as shown within the context of the documentary Made in China: Mardi Gras.

By the way, the documentary has also been used as a resource by many other disciplines, including sociology, history, and anthropology.

15 April 2007

"Made in China" - Visible Globalization

Why study China? It’s the future, right? But what does that really mean to us – and how can we get a good handle on such a broad topic in our classrooms?

Made in China: Box 2

At a recent Minnesota Humanities Center seminar titled Made in China: Economy, Environment, and Globalization, the seminar's leader David Davies, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Hamline University in Minnesota, suggested that it would make the most sense for us to study the underlying forces of “Made in China” products and product labeling. Why? Because we all have something made in China. Just ask the students to check the labels on their clothes or the items they own! What better way to show that China matters – that China already has a strong presence in our lives.

As we teach about the underlying – and often invisible - forces of today’s vast and fast-paced globalization, we could, Davies suggests, explore the relationships that already exist between homegrown companies and China. Minnesota students might have very little idea that many prominent local companies, including Hormel Foods, Medtronic Inc., and the Cargill Inc., have a strong presence in China, producing goods for both American and Asian markets. Davies questioned the relevance of studying the popular “hot” issues of sweatshop and child labor. Why study the anomaly, he asked, explaining that most U.S. factories in China are clean, well run, and law-abiding. It would make more sense, according to Davies, to examine the underlying motivations for Americans and Chinese to do business with one another, the forms in which such two-way exchanges manifest, and the economic, social, and environmental effects of the exchanges. For example, why do the Chinese welcome U.S. companies and why are the U.S. companies interested in working in and with China? Why does one U.S. company (such as Wal-Mart) decide to open retail shops in China while another (such as Target) has decided against it? How do U.S. companies and their Chinese partners and employees adapt to globalization?

During the seminar, Davies made a rather provocative parallel between the images of Sam Walton used in Wal-Mart’s advertisements and inspirational posters created for the company’s Chinese consumers and employees and the propaganda posters of China’s former leader Mao Tse-tung, showing both wearing caps and socially appropriate suits, with the right hand raised to a fatherly wave. Perhaps partly in jest and partly to provoke us, Davies introduced the term Wal-Mao” to us! Whether one accepts his “Wal-Mao” theory or not, a comparative study of the images could lead to interesting class discussions about cultural values and symbols, the nature of cultural exchanges, and other underlying forces of globalization.

The seminar also introduced me to an excellent recourse, an award-winning documentary titled Mardi Gras: Made in China (2005), directed by David Redmond. The documentary makes thought-provoking observations of the global ramifications of the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans. The focus is on the Mardi Gras beads, made in China. The documentary reveals interesting contrasts between the Mardi Gras partiers, a New Orleans businessman who imports beads from China, a Chinese factory owner who produces the beads, his young female employees, and their families in rural China. Since the documentary includes some nudity typical of a Mardi Gras celebration (e.g., bare breasts and bottoms), it may need to be edited for younger viewers. However, I find the 80-minute documentary a very compelling way to make the invisible forces of the “Made in China” phenomenon visible to my students.

11 April 2007

NAFSA Webinar on Global Competence

Today a few colleagues and I had an opportunity to participate in the first session of the 2007 Professional Development Webinar Series hosted by NAFSA: Association of International Educators. As stated by the presenters representing three institutions, the objective of today's webinar was two-fold: (1) "to list and describe the salient characteristics of three aspects of global competence" and (2) to "describe at least two strategies other than traditional study abroad for achieving global competence."

I found the webinar's opening observations about global competence very interesting. The presenters stressed the importance of developing and combining three kinds of global competence in our students: knowledge, attitude, and skills. Not only should our student gain facts and understanding of global issues, but they should also develop the ability to see global issues positively, from a perspective that is different from their own, and then be able to demonstrate their knowledge through foreign language skills, interpersonal skills, and task performance.

However, many of the practical applications mentioned by the presenters from Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Illinois, and Purdue University were, honestly, not very practical to much smaller two-year community and technical colleges like our institution, Lake Superior College. All of these institutions have large international education departments, with adequate funds and staff to initiate and support large-scale internship and research opportunities for their students and, in case of Georgia Institute of Technology, an institutional International Plan that requires and supports each department to integrate a degree-long international education plan. Yet, in small dozes, some of the ideas could work on smaller campuses, such as providing increased opportunities for language study. I could see great possibilities for offering more language courses online. Also, short-term internships might be possible for students in certain programs.

I am particularly curious about granting qualified students some type of global competence certification, with a designator on their diploma. At this point, I am not sure how much importance such designators actually carry. I suspect that a global competence certification would not have a great influence on a student's ability to gain employment, but what impact would it have on an individual student's self-awareness as a global citizen? And how would providing global competence certifications impact the institution's culture as a whole?

Obviously, each institution must select global education approaches that fit the institution's culture. As a common challenge, the presenters called for democratizing cross-cultural learning by encouraging us to seek ways to provide global education opportunities to all students, also those who "stay behind." In short, we must integrate global perspectives and issues to our curriculum plans not only through a greater variety of learning abroad experiences but also the rest of the curriculum.

09 April 2007

Typing Foreign Letters

Ää Üü Öö

When we are in contact with students, other people, places, and texts from different cultures, we often encounter words and names that contain characters that don't exist in our own language. What do you do when you are using a U.S. keyboard and need to type a word with a Swedish å, a Portuguese ç, a Finnish ö, or a French ÿ?

Some simply ignore the special characters while others try to memorize keyboard shortcuts. Since I often write in my native Finnish, which uses the characters ä and ö, I have tried many methods. For many years, I simply ignored the special characters, especially in emails and other casual correspondence. This, however, resulted in many amusing words and even some not-so-amusing misunderstandings. Then I installed a Windows keyboard layout, but that also had its problems, often interfering with my ability to type normal letters.

A few years ago, when I bought a new computer, I decided to search for another option. Through an Internet search, I discovered a website created by Tomasz P. Szynalski, a Polish translator, teacher, and web designer. Based on an idea he got from a Russian keyboard on the Apronus.com site, Szynalski created useful text boxes, or editors, for French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish. He even created a text box for IPA phonetics symbols, which types English pronunciations of English words as they appear in English dictionaries. This could be an excellent tool for many ESL and foreign exchange students!

How do the text box editors work? Each text box allows you to type characters that are specific to the language without having to use a special keyboard. You can edit your text in the box and then copy it to your email message, blog posting, or word processor, just as I have done in this blog entry. According to Szynalski, we can thank "the miracles of Unicode and JavaScript" for these tools! Personally, the text boxes have made my life a lot easier, and they have also inspired me to be more sensitive to the correct spelling of foreign names and words.

Obviously, Szynalski's text boxes don't help everyone. Another option, which I haven't tried personally, involves the use of keyboard stickers, like those described on keyboardstickers.net. I'd also be curious to learn about other solutions, as I am committed to trying to type every student's name correctly, especially in online courses, where the written word is the primary form of communication.

Şş æ ð Ăă

06 April 2007

Minnesota Humanities Center

If you live in Minnesota, or nearby, I recommend you to explore the professional development opportunities offered by the Minnesota Humanities Center (formerly Minnesota Humanities Commission) in St. Paul, Minnesota. Year round, the center offers evening and weekend seminars on a variety of cultural and global topics at a very reasonable cost and free lodging, in very nice hotel-like rooms, for anyone who drives to St. Paul from some distance. On occasion, the center schedules events at other Minnesota locations, including Duluth.

While most of the seminars are aimed at K-12 instructors, the materials can easily be adapted to college-level courses. The courses are taught by professors and other subject experts from a variety of public and private institutions, including Macalester College, University of Minnesota Twin Cities, St. Olaf College, Carlton College, and Hamline University, and the weekend seminars can also be taken for optional Hamline University graduate credit in Humanities, also at a reasonable cost. The weekend seminars tend to be somewhat lecture-heavy, but you can count on receiving a great deal of useful information and resources.

So far, I have attended two of their seminars, one titled The Art of the Cold War, which included fascinating information about Soviet poetry, propaganda posters, and fine arts as well as a field trip visit to the magnificent Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis. Another seminar, titled Immigrants/Citizens in France, gave a wealth of information about the impact of North African immigration on French society and culture, including rai music and contemporary Arab-French films and literature. This seminar introduced me to the Inch 'Allah dimance (Inch' Allah Sunday) film featured in the earlier Character Analysis Exercises.

Next week I will be attending a seminar titled Made in China: Economy, Environments, and Globalization, expecting to gain - and then share - more useful resources for globalizing literature and composition courses. Stay tuned!

31 March 2007

Copyright Concerns

Today I decided to make this blog public (though not yet searchable by Google, but that could change too). Like many instructors who consider posting their work on the web, I experienced a healthy doze of paranoia as I considered the "safety" of going public with my new resources. Yet at the same time, I realized that any student taking one of my online courses could download and share my materials. I suppose I also worried that my peers would judge me out of context. However, aren't we always at the risk of being judged out of context?

To ease my mind, I decided to examine copyright laws. I ran across two helpful websites: Copyright and Fair Use hosted by Standford University Libraries and the U.S. Copyright Office website. On its FAQ's page, the U.S. Copyright Office answers the following question: “How do I protect my sightings of Elvis?” Could it get any better than that? Somehow, my question about going public with this blog no longer seemed silly and, oddly, no longer mattered. While you will find no Elvis here, you'll find a few new assignments and resources to globalize first-year college composition and literature courses, as the blog sub-title promises.

Thanks to my colleague Lawrance for suggesting the literary phrase "The Importance of Being Earnest" for the statement in the right-hand column. I think it captures the true spirit of appropriate sharing of work!

27 March 2007

Harbor City International School

Photo of and by Harbor City International School, published with permission

This blog entry does not contain an assignment, but I'm identifying a potential resource. Today I had an opportunity to tour Harbor City International School, a small public high school in Duluth, Minnesota, with an emphasis on global citizenship and the international perspective. As I am working on globalizing my curricula, I am interested in learning about the school's philosophy and teaching methods and the possibility of sharing ideas about curricula and projects. The school's mission seems very similar to the mission of my former school (for grades 5-12), Tampere Teacher Training School, which is one of many UNESCO Associated Schools in Finland.

Sharing the same goal of globalizing our English curricula, my friend Ted Anderson, English teacher at Harbor City School, and I will begin to exchange ideas and, I hope, make some realistic plans for collaboration. Personally, today's visit was a good reminder that we have many good resources and like-minded colleagues right within our own communities.

25 March 2007

Global Poetry in Text & Video

The Poetry International Web, a worldwide forum for poetry on the Internet, maintains a substantial "Camera Poetica" catalog of authors reciting their poems on video.

This simple exercise was created for my Modern World Literature course, which I usually teach online. Similar exercises, pairing texts with audio and video images, could be used in any online or face-to-face literature course.

Photo taken at the Old St. Augustine Village, Florida

"Camera Poetica" Assignment

(1) Read the poem.
First read the poem “Siberia” by Belgian poet Bart Moeyaert, who has studied and published in the Nederlands. Please, don’t view the video clip yet. Read the poem twice for better understanding.

(2) Reflect in writing.
After having read the poem, respond to the following prompts:

  • Make a list of words of phrases that capture your feelings and values about the poem.
  • Make a list of words or short phrases that capture the feelings or values of what you think the author was trying to express in this poem.
  • Give a plausible explanation for each feeling word or phrase listed above. In other words, what in the poem or in your personal experiences caused these feelings?
  • Why do you think the poem is called “Siberia”?

  • (3) Play the video.
    Then, using the same Internet link, listen to and watch the video clip of the author reading his poem in Dutch.

    (4) Discuss the video.
    In your small group, reflect on the following: What impact did seeing and hearing the poet read his work out loud have on you? Did it add or take away from your original experience with the poem? Explain.

    (5) Summarize the experience.
    Summarize your “Camera Poetica” experience in one word: ____________. Then write a paragraph explaining why you chose this word.

    24 March 2007

    Middle Eastern Writers

    My Modern World Literature students keep asking for more information about and writings by Middle Eastern writers. Since I teach the course most often online, I like to give my students as many online sources as I can find, without having to ask them to purchase an additional textbook. However, if you're looking for a textbook on Middle Eastern writing, Literatures of the Middle East by Tony Barnstone and Willis Barnstone (Prentice Hall, 2003) seems like a great option. The book covers texts from the antiquity to the present, extending beyond the scope of my Modern World Literature course, but it includes all of the writers and some of the works listed below.

    These are some of the new resources that I will be adding to my Modern World Literature reading list. Many of them could also be used in other literature, or perhaps even composition, courses.

    Nawal el-Saadawi (1931-)

    Nawal el-Saadawi, a well-known feminist Egyptian writer and physician, is a prolific writer of short stories, essays, and novels. The author's official website, Nawal el Saadawi Sherif Hetata, contains some quotes that could be used as discussion or writing prompts.

    Reza Baraheni (1935-)

    Reza Baraheni is an Iranian Turk who writes in Persian. He is a leading novelist, poet, and essayist in Iran. With the rise of the Islamic Republic, he was fired from his university post and imprisoned. More information about the author is available from the RAHA - World Independent Writers website.

    Selected poems by Baraheni are available at the Mah-mag - Magazine of the Arts & Humanity website, including "Nostalgia" and "Crying."

    Forugh Farrokhazad (1935-1967)

    Forugh Farrokhzad is the most famous woman in the history of Persian literature. Before her tragic death in an automobile accident in 1967, she wrote several books of poetry and worked as a filmmaker. Forugh Farrokhazad's Open Forum Website is a beautiful dedication to her work.

    A link from this website to “Selected Works” leads to many of her poems, including the following titles: “Another Birth,” “Gift,” “The Wind Will Take Us,” and “Love Song.”

    Mahmud Darwish (1942-)

    Mahmud Darwish is probably the world's most celebrated Palestinian poet. More information about the author is available at the Arab World Books website.

    The Where to Now blog at Word Press.com has posted his poem titled “The Prison Cell,” and the Angry Arab News Service website lists his poem titled “Victim No. 48.” These are the two poems by Darwish that were selected for Literatures of the Middle East.

    Mohamed el-Bisatie (1938-)

    Mohamed el-Bisatie is a member of the group of Egyptian writers known as “Gallery 68.” More information about the author is available at the Arab World Books website.

    The same website provides a copy of his short story “A Conversation from the Third Floor," which was also selected for Literatures of the Middle East.

    Hatif Janabi (1955-)

    Hatif Janabi was born in Iraq, but he has lived in exile in Poland since the late 1970s. He has published several volumes of poetry. So far the only websites I have found about the author are in Polish.

    Selected poems by Janabi are available on the Artful Dodge website (scroll down, past Mattawa's prose poems), including “Savage Continents” and “To Where.”

    Yashar Kemal (1922-)

    Yashar Kemal is one of the most popular contemporary Turkish writers and a candidate for Nobel Prize in Literature. Read more about the author at the Books and Writers website.

    Kemal's short story “Campaign of Lies” is posted on the web by the Soc.Culture.Kurdish.

    Naguib Mahfouz (1911-)

    Naguib Mahfouz is a well-known Egyptian writer and 1988 winner of Nobel Prize for Literature. Read more about the author at the Books & Writers website.

    Study questions for and a synopsis of Mahfouz'z short story “Zaabalawi” are available at Dr. Fidel Fajardo-Acosta's World Literature Website. However, I have not yet been able to find the story itself online.

    Khaled Mattawa (1964-)

    Khaled Mattawa was born in Libya, but he immigrated to the U.S. in 1979. More information about the author and his work can be found on the Artful Dogde website, including “Cricket Mountain,” "Days of 1932," "Days of 1948, " and “Selima!”

    More poems by Mattawa, including “Borrowed Tongue” and “The Bus Driver Poem,” can be found on the Web del Sol website.

    Mohammed Mrabet (1940-)

    Mohammed Mrabet is a Moroccan storyteller whose tales often portray the Maghrebi region. His complete biography can be found on the Paul Bowles Web Site.

    An audio recording of his story “The Saint by Accident” is available on the Odeo website.

    Amos Oz (1939-)

    Amos Oz is an Israeli novelist, short story writer, and essayist, whose stories often describe life on the kibbutz. More information about Oz can be found on The Jewish Agency for Israel website.

    Oz’s short story “Nomad and Viper” is available on the website of Tammie Bob from College of DuPage website. The story portrays the Arabs as “the Other” – imagined as dangerous, threatening and yet seductively attractive.

    Dan Pagis (1930-1986)

    Dan Pagis, an Israeli poet, is considered a major world poet of his generation. Pagis was born in Bukovina, Romania. During World War II, he was interned in a concentration camp for several years. He arrived in pre-state Israel in 1946 and became a teacher on a kibbutz. Pagis writes about his family on the Holocaust Studies website.

    Selected poems by Pagis are available on the ISRO Press website, including “Instructions for Crossing the Border,” “Brothers,” “Europe Late,” and “Written in a Pencil in the Sealed Railway-Car.”

    Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998)

    Nizar Qabbani is a Syrian poet and diplomat. More information about him is posted on the Damascus Online website.

    Qabbani has written lyrics for many songs – some examples can be heard on the same Damascus Online website (requires the Real Player). The poet’s own Old Poetry website lists 37 of his poems in English.

    Dahlia Ravikovitch (1936-)

    The Poetry International Web describes Dahlia Ravikovich as “one of the most brilliant and versatile Israeli poets."

    Selected poems by Ravikovich can be found on the same web site (use the link above), including
    “A Dress of Fire,” “In the Year to Come, In the Days to Come,” ”Pride,” and “Three or Four Cyclamen.”

    *) Graphic image from Ever Eden Design

    Global Terms

    As global connectivity, integration, and interdependence continues to increase, our students keep encountering new terms describing global activities and phenomena. I have listed just a few examples of terms that my students, both in literature and composition courses, have asked about and researched.

    A photo from my recent visit to New York City's China Town. Cultural tourism, right?

  • Acculturation - as defined by Answers.com
  • Cultural Imperialism - as defined by The Globalization Website (Emory University)
  • Cultural Industries - as defined by the UNESCO Culture website
  • Cultural Tourism - as defined by the UNESCO Culture website
  • Islamophobia (or arabophobia) as defined by the Islamophobia.org website

  • Undoubtedly, this list will grow much longer as I my students begin to work on more activities that focus on the global context.

    23 March 2007

    Global Travel Articles

    As global travel has become more popular and more possible in recent years, many more writers are hoping to make travel writing a career. Just check the web! Besides numerous articles and blogs on travel experiences, we can find travel writers offering their tips on how to become a travel writer. One well-known U.S. writer, Rick Steeves, writes in his article "How to Be a Travel Writer" about the importance of becoming "a generous teacher of travel, not a travel agent."

    Tallinn, Estonia

    About the Genre
    Travel writing is a literary form of expressing the self-definition of the author who parallels his or her cultural experience to the experiences of other cultures. Generally, the goal of travel writing is to incorporate facts and impressions that enhance the readers' understanding and acceptance of other cultures. A travel article or essay can be written in any style. According to Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature, travel literature is "nonfiction prose form that depends largely on the wit, powers of observation, and character of the traveler for its success." Yes, we like witty writing!

    About the Writers
    This blog entry contains information of critically acclaimed global travel writing by U.S. writers. About half of the essays were recognized in The Best American Travel Writing 2004 collection published by Houghton Mifflin, and the rest are included on the Outside Magazine's Literary All-Stars list on the Outside Online website. By the way, the "all star" list includes Garrison Keillor, Ian Frazier, and Jane Smiley, among others.

    Descriptions of Example Articles

    "Everybody Loves the Assassins" by Tim Cahill
    Traveling to Iran to visit ancient castles and members of an Islamic sect, Cahill discovers people who can't stop being nice. Recognized in The Best American Travel Writing 2004 collection.

    "Sandbags in the Archipelago" by Heather Eliot
    On a remote South Pacific island Eliot meets a man and explores the fine line between fantasy and reality. Recognized in The Best American Travel Writing 2004 collection.

    "Chasing the Wall" by Peter Hessler
    Hessler, Peter. "Chasing the Wall." National Geographic 203.1 (2003): 2. InfoTrac: Expanded Academic ASAP. Lake Superior College Library. 18 Mar. 2007.
    Hessler drove 7,436 miles and, in his own words, "found the good, the bad and the real great wall of China." Recognized in The Best American Travel Writing 2004 collection.

    "Gansta War" by George Packer
    Packer, George. "Gansta War." The New Yorker 79.33 (2003): 68. InfoTrac: Expanded Academic ASAP. Lake Superior College Library. 18 Mar. 2007.
    Packer, a former Peace Corps volunteer, visits the Ivory Coast in Africa, where civil war is turning the once glamorous city of Abidjan into a hellhole. Packer follows the trails of two separate gangs. Recognized in The Best American Travel Writing 2004 collection.

    "The Road to Herat" by Elizabeth Rubin
    Rubin, Elizabeth. "The Road to Herat." The Atlantic Monthly 291.1 (2003): 194-204. InfoTrac: Expanded Academic ASAP. Lake Superior College Library. 18 Mar. 2007.
    Guided by a former Taliban director of investigations, Rubin fishes with grenades and visits a notorious outlaw during her travels in Afghanistan. Recognized in The Best Travel Writing 2004 collection.

    "The Kabul Express" by Peter Symmes
    Symmes visits the 1960's and 1970's hippie trail that brought foreigners to Afghanistan. Today's Kabul is an interesting, lively mixture of NGOs, soldiers, spooky nation-builders, and freaks. Recognized in The Best Travel Writing 2004 collection.

    "A Jug of Wine (More Jugs of Wine) et Moi" by Bill Vaughn
    Vaughn writes about his long winding bike ride through southern France and tells how extreme pleasure and adventure can coexist.

    Note: If you ended up using any of these articles in your courses, please let me know how you used them and how students reacted to them.

    Researching Global Popular Culture

    Students like popular culture, but students don't always enjoy in-class or homework exercises on finding and documenting sources. I'm currently developing this new assignment for College Composition II, which taps into global popular culture resources. It could be used as an individual or a group exercise. Since it is still a work in progress, I welcome any new ideas for global popular culture terms - food, clothes, anything!


    1. Select a popular culture term.

    Select one of the following popular culture terms. Don't worry if you are not very familiar with the term. The idea is to learn something new while practicing your research skills.

    What or who is Manga?

    Popular Culture Terms:

    • Rai music
    • Beur film
    • Telenovela
    • Nordic walking
    • Dub poetry
    • Reiki massage
    • Manga
    • Bollywood
    • Smart car

    2. Define the term.

    Research websites to find out what the term means. Choose 1-2 credible, informative sources, and write a brief (about 2-5 sentence) definition, paraphrasing the source(s) in your own words. Do not include any word-for-word quotations. Within the definition, identify and cite your source(s) correctly using the MLA style. Print out copies of your sources.

    3. Research background & summarize.

    Decide on one additional aspect of the term that you would like to examine further - such as person, place, event, or product commonly associated with the term. For example, if your team were working on the term "salsa dancing," you could decide to research one famous salsa dancer or one famous salsa musician. Print out copies of your sources.

    Find at least five credible, informative sources on your topic, and choose the best two. Then write one full paragraph (about 8-10 sentences) summarizing the information from the two sources. The paragraph should be largely your paraphrasing of the original sources; however, use one brief direct (word-for-word) quotation. Decide carefully which words should be quoted. Cite your sources in the MLA style.

    4. Combine information & add your own commentary.

    Combine your definition and summary into one paragraph. Add your own observations and commentary. You will end up with one long paragraph that (1) defines the term, (2) focuses on one specific aspect about the term, supported by external evidence, and (3) provides your own commentary on the topic. Check your citations.

    5. Write a Works Cited page.

    Write an MLA style Works Cited page for all the sources you used (3-4 sources in total). Consult your textbook, the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 6th edition, or the library online information on documentation.

    *) This is a public domain image from Wikepedia.

    22 March 2007

    Global Film of the Month

    I Love Foreign Films, but . . .

    I don't always have time or reason to create assignments using global films in the courses I teach. However, I still think college is a great place to introduce students to films (and, of course, other resources) that provide them a cultural perspective that expands beyond the "mainstream" U.S. culture. This can be done with simple "Film of the Month" recommendations, which could be used as prompts for class or small group discussions and informal writing exercises. I used to provide all the selections for the students, but now I am relying on the students to make the recommendations, as the assignment below shows. This way the students become teachers, teaching each other and teaching me.

    The information below has been prepared for my Fall 2007 Modern World Literature Students.

    “Global Film of the Month” Recommendations & Discussion

    The following film recommendations were chosen by Modern World Literature students who took this course in Fall 2006. The students also wrote the film descriptions.

    As you can see, no recommendation has been made for the month of December. Each of you will have an opportunity to submit one recommendation to me, and the recommendation with the most nominations will be listed as the “Film of the Month” selection. I will provide more detailed information about the selection process by early November. The four top nominations will be listed as the selections for the next semester’s World Literature course, January through April.

    Since the goal of this course is to learn about less familiar cultures, the "Film of the Month" selection must portray a culture that cannot be predominately described as "mainstream" U.S. culture. In the second week of the semester, we will discuss the concept of "mainstream" culture and brainstorm some possible film recommendations.

    All films listed are available at many video stores and online film suppliers, such as Netflix and Blockbuster, as well as many libraries. Students in previous semesters have also scheduled common movie nights. Let each other know if this option appeals to you!

    The Motorcycle Diaries. Dir. Walter Salles. Sundance, 2004.
    "This film is based on the journals of Che Guevara, leader of the Cuban Revolution. In his memoirs, Guevara tells about the adventures he and his best friend Alberto Granado had as young men while crossing South America by motorcycle in the early 1950s. They encounter many interesting people, including a colony of lepers."

    The Story of a Weeping Camel. Dir. Byambasuren Davaa. Thinkfilm, 2004.
    "In this Mongolian documentary, a family in the Gobi Desert tries to get a mother camel to recognize and nurture its baby. Because the birth had been difficult, the mother resisted her natural role, and the family had to send for a musician to sooth her with music. It was very fascinating to see how the mother camel responded positively to the music. The film was made in the Gobi Desert and the families that live out in the windy and remote area are in small huts that are filled with their belongings and mementos. Although there is no voice over narration and only minimal dialog, the viewer gets a real sense of the 'simple' lives they lead as camels and sheepherders and how they are mostly removed from modern society."

    The Warrior. Dir. Sung-su Kim. Miramax, 2001.
    "In this film a group of Korean envoys is captured during a diplomatic mission to China. They are accused of espionage and sent to a remote desert to die. Eventually they make their way back to Korea, but before they reach their destination, they rescue a beautiful Ming princess and battle with bloodthirsty Mongol warriors. This action-packed film is visually very interesting."

    The selection will be determined by your recommendations and votes!

    We will have an ongoing “Film Forum” discussion using the online course discussion tool. Each month's discussion will have its own subject heading and due date, which will be listed in the forum as well as on the course schedule. In general, you will be asked to view the films and then comment freely on the recommendations and, as needed, provide relevant Internet links for support or further information on the films. In December, you will be asked to make your own recommendation – and justification - for your own “Film of the Month” selection, including a brief description of the film and complete distribution information: the title, the director, the distributor, and the year of release.

    *) Image from Free Graphics