THE FLENSBURG FILES

A German-American-Multicultural online column

In School in Germany: Lessons in Small Groups

people having meeting inside conference room
Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

When I write this post, our country is in the midst of reopening our schools and businesses. We had been on lockdown since mid-March of this year due to the spread of the Corona Virus and its potential of infecting hundreds of thousands and killing thousands without any notice. In retrospects, this virus is nastier than the Spanish Flu, which happened over a century ago, lasted two years and featured three waves- the second of the three was considered the worst. The reasons are the symptoms that are sometimes unrecognizeable and the high rate of person-to-person infection. Handshakes, breathing, coughing and just simply close contact could lead to a Corona infection.

As we continue to return to a normalcy that the majority of us wanted but it’s being considered the normalcy that may have set off the spread of the virus, we are seeing some of the restrictions that may become the new permanent norm, even if a vaccine is created beforehand. For some, it may be a blessing as we take a few steps back and consume less, while at the same time, have fewer people at an event than before.. Look at the schools for example. While children are asked to wear masks and refrain from activities that require physical contact and close quarters, class groups are being cut in half, from an average of 23-32 students in a group to as low as eight and no more than 12. Teachers and parents are wondering why some students cannot sit with their friends in groups to meet and study. Educators are wondering if this is efficiency where a large group can bring forth effective teaching in the classrooms while creating a jam-packed schedule to ensure that students are able to fulfill the requirements given to them.

Speaking from personal experience as a teacher of English, having small groups would be more than beneficial. When I started teaching English at a Volkshochschule (Institute for Continuing Education) in 2001, I had a pair of English classes, where students could come in and speak English for 90 minutes, choosing topics that they wish to talk about. Almost all of the sessions we had produced a lot of meaningful conversations where students learned from each other and from the teacher. As many as 8-10 participants were in class. While I dealt with one pole of the spectrum, the other pole was when I taught groups of 25-30 students at a pair of high schools in Thuringia and one university in Bavaria. From these two extremes, I can only say positive things about small group teaching.

 

Some advantages of small group teaching include:

    • More intensive work- This doesn’t mean working through all the points in one topic as fast as possible. It has to do with working on each point in detail so that people better understand the topic.
    • More individual contact- Even in times of mandatory distancing to avoid getting infected with the virus, individuals can receive more attention and help with problem areas than in large groups. This can be done with the teacher or through small group activities.
    • More interaction- It is a foregone conclusion that when you have smaller groups, students will have a better chance at learning and interacting in class, regardless of the style of teaching used in class. With large groups, teachers are restricted to mostly frontal-style instruction which will takeaway the students ability to join in the classroom discussions.
    • More fruitful learning- Through a combination of frontal teaching, individual work and group work, students have an opportunity to learn more and exchange with others, while the teacher has better opportunities to explain concepts better and in detail.
    • More attention in class- Through small groups, the number of distractions decrease substantially. At the same time, it allows the teacher some flexibility to introduce techniques to maintain the attention span of the students. After an average of 30 minutes, the attention span decreases rapidly and with that, a sharp increase in the number of distractions. Therefore teachers need to be aware of this and vary their techniques to encourage better learning.
    • More flexibility and creativity in teaching- As mentioned under interaction, the more varieties of teaching you carry out, the more flexible you are and the more likely the students will enjoy your classes than if you only have frontal style teaching and in large groups. Even lectures in university halls in front of hundreds of students tend to become boring after a certain time.
    • More efficiency– If you wish to finish the topic as quickly as possible, then this would be another reason for having classes in small groups. However it depends on the content of the topic.
    • Less chances of getting sick- This is one of my key points here. When you have large groups, the chances are more likely to get sick than you do with small groups. This has to do with the fact that with larger groups, there may be more people bringing a virus to spread to others. In small groups, the chances of that happening are close to zero. That is unless we have a large-scale pandemic as the Covid-19 here. From my personal experiences, I’ve been sick eight times when teaching in large groups. In small groups, the number has been zero- all within the past decade.

 

 

With the extensive use of home office combined with the computer being one of the key cornerstones of every household, small group teaching can also encourage learning and doing individual work at home. What is required is a teacher being the facilitator and helping the students out when needed. Homework is made available either by the teacher when in school, through an online platform or through a special online mechanism. The student does the work and the teacher can review it either in class or by sending back the work via e-mail. I’ve worked with this mechanism during the lockdown at my school and my daughter has received classwork and other forms of instruction through an online platform at her high school. If one takes the time to learn how the system work and tries it out, online learning combined with small group teaching opens a lot of doors to learning for all.

While costs and issues with a lack of personnel are a universal problem, these are short term problems that can be solved by getting used to the system. Having dealt with small group teaching for the second month now, I can only say that small group teaching is more effective, healthier and more beneficial than having large scale lectures and classes with 25+ students. While students can see their friends at any time and anywhere and lectures can be held online, it is a foregone conclusion that a school with a classroom size of 20+ students will become a thing of the past.

If we want to be serious about containing the spread of Covid-19 and preventing future viruses from dictating our society, we will have to change the ways we conduct ourselves. While we have a lot to do to make it happen, we must start small and let things grow and go into place. While small group teaching is a start, it is one of many that will put the pieces together in a puzzle that will promote less in life instead of more. When we do that, we will have a more efficient and enjoyable lifestyle to have.

My two cents on this topic.

FlFi10

Christmas Genre: The Green Book

Segregation. A term that regrettably should not have been coined and listed in the dictionary. Yet it has been, because of years of history where whites were degelated to their worlds and blacks (or being more politically correct, colored) to theirs. A place where only whites could have the fancies of hotels, restaurants, restrooms and schools where the colored had the run-down facilities. A place where even a world-renowned artist, like pianist Dr. Don Shirley, feels like a loner not being accepted anywhere in society because of race and social background.

 

That is until he meets a person who opens his eyes to a world that he had never knew existed. One where he is accepted after opening up.

 

If there’s a comment that marks the start of this film critique The Green Book, it would be this: “It doesn’t take a genius but courage to change people’s hearts.”

While this comment came towards the end of the film, it definitely sums up the motive of Dr. Don Shirley’s trip to the Deep South- the southeastern corner of the United States, a region that has a storied history of slavery and segregation of blacks; a region where despite intervention from Washington in terms of war (The Civil War) and laws (including Lincoln’s Emancipation declaration, and Martin Luther King’s Equal Rights Movement), the gap between the white society and the society of the colored people still exists to this day.

The setting of the story was the last couple months of 1962, less than a year before Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech and its subsequent Civil Rights Laws that followed by 1964.  It featured two very different characters from two contrasting worlds. In one world, there’s Dr. Shirley, the pianist who plays like a genius and with passion. He lives in “his own kingdom” above Carnegie Hall, rather spoiled because of the performances in rich settings and high expectations. Playing with only the Steinway piano is a fraction of the high-end life he was used to, whereas his passion for classical music is bordered with the popular culture presented by his chauffeur and body guard, Tony Vallelonga (a.k.a. Tony Lip), the other main character of the story.

Unlike Dr. Shirley, who is sensitive but a philosopher and psychologist with patience, Tony Lip is a very colorful character. Lip is a chauffeur who is unemployed after Copacabana closes for repairs. He had been in a brawl with two members from a mafia who harassed a woman during the concert His ability to annihilate “unwanted” guests, combined with his colorful and sometimes emotional interaction with people in general and creative strategies to either persuade others to do something they don’t want or reject offers that are fattening were the primary reasons why Dr. Shirley hired him to be his chauffeur and bodyguard for the tour in the Deep South. Tony Lip is Roman Catholic and has an extended family, all living in the Bronx, and all who have a passion for Italian culture and baseball.

Dr. Shirley hires Lip to take him through the Deep South where despite his musical performance that impresses the communities they visited, he deals with several forms of segregation that were typical in reality but none that the characters have ever seen before.

Any ideas what they may be?  Use this mindmap below and list them, there are more than what the six points are mentioned:

Segregation

Note: This mind map can be used at the beginning of the film as well as at the end when listing the examples of segregation that Dr. Shirley and Tony Lip witnessed in the film.

Inspite the differences between the two there were many reasons why Dr. Shirley hired Tony to do the job. Likewise there were just as many reasons why Tony took it on, despite the fact that he would be on the road in “No Man’s Land” for two months, away from his family in the Bronx.  An activity below will give you a chance to look at the two characters carefully and help answer the question of why this arrangement took place.

Tony Vallelonga (a.k.a.) Tony Lip Dr. Don Shirley
 

Profession:

 

 

His character:

 

 

 

His weakness(es):

 

 

 

The reason(s) for taking the job as Dr. Shirley’s chauffeur?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Profession:

 

 

 

His character:

 

 

 

His weakness(es):

 

 

 

The reason(s) for hiring Tony Lip to be his chauffeur?

This can be done after the scene when the two characters are on the road and have stopped at their first concert.

 

But most importantly, we also have the Funnel-Theory, where certain elements merge into one and the differences the two characters have become non-existent. Here we have two different Funnels- the classic one and the reversal one.

funnel

reverse funnel

With the second one it has to do with finding common values which led them to becoming friends in the end.

The Green Book does have an underlying meaning as it goes beyond receiving the tour guide for blacks. It has some grave differences between black and white society that goes well beyond the food and the lodging. It has to do with the mentality that existed in the Deep South and the struggle to accept the values that had been ingrained in the fabric of their culture during that time. A lot of the underlying divisions seen in the film exist even today in the US, but also in other countries, where minorities are sometimes treated as second-class citizens.

Yet the Green Book takes place at Christmas time, where in the end, after breaking down the barriers, both Tony and Dr. Shirley became best friends and were accepted in the other’s culture. It opens the pages to something new and opens the hearts of many that welcome new people who just want to be included and part of society, despite different backgrounds. The film does both- eliminates the barriers and opens the door to new cultures which we can accept and embrace. It’s something we should take with- even beyond the holiday season.

 

 

The Teacher: Past, Present and Future

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This pic is dedicated to all the teachers out there, who have been in the profession for decades and are about to pack it in and enjoy their retirement, as well as those who are in the profession. It definitely speaks for itself, especially if the teacher has made a tremendous impact on the lives of many, by sharing stories, experiences and the know-how to others, who will surely carry on where the other leaves off. All with one goal in mind: Making a difference in the lives of others.

This goes well beyond what is depicted here. To the person who shared this pic, thank you.

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Why German is a beautiful language

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Picked up this rather interesting set of “word-for-word” translations going from Germany into English with both the literal as well as the actual meanings from one of the German facebook sites. Something to ponder, or even laugh about. Whatever type of humor you have. 😉  Enjoy! 😀

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The Characteristics of a Great Teacher

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What is a great teacher? What makes a teacher great? What is typical of a great teacher? If there was a secret ingredient to being great, it would be great to know about it. Yet if we knew, and we would try and follow it like textbooks, life would be boring, both in the classroom as well as on the street. Perfectionism would bring out the worst from those who strive for it and those who rebel against it. Life as a teacher would be portrayed as inflexible, intolerant and inhumane.

What is a great teacher? Can we follow the footsteps of those who had once ruled the hallways and classrooms of our school? Or read about their lives as we stumble across them on the sidewalks through monuments and Stolpersteine? Or reminisce about the teachers of our time growing up, over a beer or wine at a class reunion? Some say that our teachers set great examples and play a role in our development, but only a few remain close friends for life.

What makes a teacher great? It’s about what you learned from the teachers you had in school; from those who were close and helped you succeed. It’s about learning from your own personal experiences, remembering the stories told to you while growing up, embracing in your own faith, and developing your passion for the job. Molding it together and being prepared to share them with others.

What is typical of a great teacher? It can be best described as follows:

A great teacher enters the classroom like it’s a concert at Carnegie Hall……

……..and comes away with a standing ovation at the end of class.

A great teacher shows competence in his subject and confidence in his class….

…..and never falters to those who think they are better than he.

A great teacher is communicative, humorous and open-minded….

…..and the same goes to the students if it applied correctly in class.

A great teacher always listens to the needs of others……

…..and finds ways to cater to them.

A great teacher devotes his time and effort in his subject with a passion…..

…..so that the students can do the same when learning it.

A great teacher teaches the students what is good and what is bad in life…..

……and follows these examples, both on and off campus.

A great teacher is a great storyteller……

…..and uses it to teach the students the morals in life.

A great teacher always embraces in new things for the classroom……..

……and is never afraid to part ways with the old.

A great teacher is flexible and spontaneous……..

……and never follows the rules like a textbook.

A great teacher never holds back on his opinions and truths…..

……and is not afraid of the opinions and truths from his students.

A great teacher is always creative and tries new experiement….

…..as long as he and his students profit from them.

A great teacher always makes mistakes in class……

…..and should not be afraid to admit being human.

A great teacher is also a great mentor….

….being the guiding light for those who need it.

A great teacher is always there if the student needs help……

…..whether it’s big or small, in school or outside,

….a  great teacher will always be your friend for life.

And when you have a chance to meet your great teacher- your mentor, friend and all- many years down the road, always remember what he taught you and why he got you to where you are today. After all, what he passed down to you, it’s your job to pass it down to your children of the next generation.

That is what defines a teacher a great teacher. 🙂

 

Author’s note: I had some great teachers growing up in Minnesota, but this one goes out to one who was an elementary school teacher and close friend of the family. I had her for the last two years before entering middle school and we became great friends afterwards. Many people knew her for the characteristics that I’ve pointed out here and it was through these key points where people like me took them and made use of them, both as teachers as well as parents and beyond. In her memory, this one’s for you with many thousands of thanks! 🙂 ❤ 

 

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The Use of Time Markers Part V: The Use of Past Continuous

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Before we get into this topic, I would like to introduce you to this clip of a stunning upset of Georgia Tech against Florida State in American football. Have a look at the clip and come up with some sentences using past tense.

 

While you are writing some sentences our topic for the use of time markers is solely American football. The sport was introduced in 1869 through a football game between two Ivy League colleges: Rutgers and Princeton. The game consisted of a round ball, two goal posts with an end zone each and lots of tackling. But most importantly, the rules introduced by William Leggett but later modernized by another Ivy League student, Walter Camp, would eventually be integrated into the rules used in today’s sport.  The first professional league was created in 1892, yet the National Football League came into being in 1920 and counting the merger with the American Football League in 1969, is one of the oldest leagues in the world, with 32 professional teams and one of the most watched sporting events in the world, the Super Bowl. College football in America is just as popular as the NFL due to its income coming from sponsors, promotions and through college football games, including all the bowl games- most notably: The Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Citrus Bowl, etc. It also features the college marching band, which provides their home team with a round of support.

Source: Thomson200 [CC0]
While we will get to football at a later time, have you had a chance to come up with some sentences to this upset?

Some of you may have taken the easy route and written the following down:

The kicker tried to kick the ball

The defender blocked the ball

Another defender picked up the ball

That defender ran it in for the touchdown

Georgia Tech won the game.

 

Some may have been more artistic in their sentence construction and wrote something similar to the following:

As the kicker was kicking the ball, it was blocked by the defender.

While the ball was rolling along, another defender picked it up.  He was running towards the end zone when the players from Florida State tried to tackle him.

At the end of the game, the crowd was celebrating Georgia Tech’s victory.

This is where the grammar aspect comes in. The more artistic a sentence in English is, the more you can find some spots in grammar that warrant explanation. In this case, we have the words: as, while, when and a certain specified time, plus the verb forms of was + verb with –ing.

Source: SteelCityHobbies, taken in 2006 for flickr and wikiCommons

 

And this is our topic today: Time Markers involving Past Continuous Form.

Past continuous functions in a similar way as with present continuous, using the “to be” form plus the verb with the –ing ending on it. The continuous functions in a way that it describes what the person is/was doing in a time frame.  The difference between present continuous and past continuous is the following:

Present continuous:

Verb construction: Is/are + verb-ing =>  is watching; are doing
Use: Activities that happen now/ at this moment

Future tense in connection with (short-term) planning

 

 

Past continuous:

Verb construction: Was/were + verb-ing =>  was driving; were walking
Use: Activities that happened during a certain time frame before or after a an event in the past tense that was finished.

 

Examples:

1. I was watching TV when you called.

2. When you called, I was watching TV

 

3. While I was waiting for the train, my girlfriend called.

4. At this time last night, I was driving home.

5. As I was backing out, the driver hit me from behind.

The third difference between the present and past continuous forms are the time markers. There, when looking at the list below, one can see that there are more time markers in the former than in the latter, whereas the in the latter, the time markers there are used exclusively, while they are rare to use in the former.

Time markers:

Present continuous Past continuous
(right) now, currently, at the moment, momentarily, these days, nowadays, at present/ at the present time/ presently, today, while, this (week, month, year), in this era/period… While, when (as a dependent clause), as, during the time…., This time/period, certain specified time: last week, a couple days ago, on 23rd December, at 9:30 last night, etc.

 

One can also say that some of the elements in past continuous can also be used for past tense, yet one needs to pay attention to the context. That means normally, past tense is the primary verb tense used for sentences, whereas the past continuous is a supplement to the main sentence. Therefore it is normal to see a past continuous being used when the time markers of while, when, as and during are used, as seen in examples in the table above. They normally do not stand out alone unless a certain time period is used and serves as a “substitute” to the past simple verb tense.

Examples:

I was walking to the grocery store last night. – Past Continuous

I walked to the grocery store last night. – Past Simple

 

I was walking to the grocery store last night when I heard a strange noise.- Possible

I walked to the grocery store last night when I heard a strange noise.- Not possible

 

When I saw the person breaking into the store, I called the police.- Possible

While I saw the person breaking into the store, I called the police.- Not possible

 

Source: Keith Allison. Photo taken in 2017 (wikiCommons)

Exercise A:  The Choice-  Look at the sentences below and determine which highlighted part of each sentence is past simple or past continuous. Identify the time markers in each sentence.

  1. Last night, our football team lost in the playoffs finals, and the crowd was heartbroken.
  2. It happened when the quarterback was trying to throw the ball and it was intercepted.
  3. The wide receiver was wide open as the quarterback was throwing the ball to him.
  4. The linebacker, who was being blocked by an offensive lineman, suddenly reached up to tip the ball.
  5. While the ball was bobbling in the air, another linebacker saw it and reached up to grab it.
  6. After he caught the ball, he landed on the ground and started running.
  7. As he was running towards the end zone, several offensive players of the opposing team tried to stop him.
  8. When he saw an opening, he quickly broke free.
  9. While he was running towards the end zone, the noise of the crowd got louder, as the fans were cheering for him.
  10. He suddenly reached the end zone and scored, as the finals seconds ticked to zero.
  11. After he scored, he collapsed and the other players ran towards him.
  12. During that time, he was trying to gasp for air because he ran so hard and so fast despite his weight.
  13. My team started crying because we were leading by one point with four seconds left on the clock.
  14. The fans of the winning team was racing onto the field as time ran out.
  15. I still cannot forget the game today, because we were so close to winning but we were facing frontal winds during the whole game.

 

Exercise B: Unscramble- Unscramble the following words and form a complete sentence using the correct verb tense (past continuous/present continuous/past simple). HINT: Identify the subject, verb and time marker first before proceeding with the sentence construction!

Marshall game go between tonight football Jackson we to and the homecoming
win of November last in Marshall last game the year
snow fans freeze whole players it the (2x) game during and (2x)
lead by 3 points Jackson when take over Marshall in the last minute
running back wide opening end zone on the first play find ball into run the (2x) into
the (2x) problems have slippery Jackson both football Marshall with during the game
players slide field go on the (3x) as around even game
players look forward game fans the (3x) to and this year
Saturday the take place warm afternoon on in game weather sunny

 

  1. (!): Two sentence construction: Bold printed words are for the first half of the sentence. Please unscramble those in the top row first before unscrambling the bottom half that is for the second half!
sloppy win last year Marshall the sloppy after game
Jackson to this look game forward win

 

Exercise C: Fill-in

Using the verb in parentheses, complete each sentence using either the past simple or past continuous. !: Please pay attention to the time markers in each sentence. HINT: Identify them first before completing the sentence.

  1. Theo _______________ the chip dip for the party when his best friend called. (prepare)
  2. Clyde’s first day of football practice _____________yesterday at the high school football field. (begin)
  3. While I ____________ busy bringing down the quarterback, a lineman suddenly ________ into me and _________ me down. (to be/run/knock)
  4. After I _________ to the ground, I sprained my ankle. (fall)
  5. Sam ____________the best football game of his career last season, as he ___________ three touchdowns, and his team won the state championship. (play/score)
  6. We _______________ to meet friends at a tailgate party outside the football stadium when we ____________ a flat tire on our pick-up. (go/see)
  7. Because we wanted to watch the Super Bowl, we _____________ a new TV three days ago. (buy)
  8. While you _____________ with that damn chick over there, we _________do all the work to prepare for the party. (flirt/have to)
  9. Jesse ____________ with her marching band at the Rose Bowl parade yesterday. We ___________ it live on TV. (march/watch)
  10. A: What ________you _________ just now? (do- question form)

B: I _____________ a pizza. Glad you __________ because I need your help. (make/come)

 

  1. A: That _______ a foul call! (to be)

B: Hey! Why are you shouting at the TV?

A: Because that quarterback was hit after he _______ the ball! And the referee                            ____________ it!  (throw/ not see)

 

  1. A: Hey coach! Why did you cut me?

B: Because you _____________the job I had asked you to do on this football team. (not              do)

 

  1. As the quarterback BJ was ________________the field, quarterback Jimmy ____________ the field to replace him. (walk off/ enter)

 

  1. As Corey __________ the ball into the end zone to score, the marching band ran onto the field. (run)
  2. The football players _________ the coach off the field while he __________ the trophy in his arms. (carry 2x)

 

Exercise D:  

Look at the following football videos. Can you try and construct sentences in past tense, using either past simple, past continuous or both PLUS the correct time marker.  As a bonus, can you find which game winner came from a college football game? 🙂

Example 1: The Minneapolis Miracle 

 

Example 2: The Immaculate Reception

 

Example 3: The Catch of the Year

 

Example 4: The Clutch and the Clincher

 

Example 5: The Big Interception

 

Example 6: The Lateral

 

Example 7: The Botch

 

Now that you had a chance to work with the time markers dealing with past continuous and its comparison with past simple and present continuous, the next order of business will be a quiz on American football, its history, culture and all the things many Europeans probably don’t know about.  The quiz on American football can be found here.  In that quiz, you can also learn more about another grammatical function in English, namely passive versus active voice.  Enjoy! 🙂

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Idiomatic Expressions with Christmas

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Right in time for the next Advent celebration to have, we have a really cool set of  idiomatic expressions that deal with Christmas, regardless of if it’s in English or German. Have a look at the Guessing Quiz and its 15 questions and take a stab at it. The answers are at the end of the article.

Good luck and Happy Holidays! 🙂 ❤

idiomatic expressions Christmas

 

flens10

FlFi Christmas 2018

 

 

 

 

 

Answers: 1. true  2.  false 3. false 4. false  5. false  6. true  7. false   8. true   9. true  10. true  11.  a.  12. b.   13. b.  14.  b.   15. b.

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