Sunday, 30 November 2014

Hurrah! A first place in the HKSMSA. How we did it

I had a wonderful piece of news from one of my students today: she had won first place in one of the poetry reading categories of the HK Schools Speech festival.

Here are some of the reasons why:

1: She knew her poem. This sounds basic but it is easy to forget words under stress unless you know them back to front, inside out and upside down! Choose a poem which offers you scope.

2: We talked about the meaning of the poem. Unless you understand the theme and story of the poem, it is almost impossible to convey the meaning.

3: We worked and worked to add variety of pace, pitch and volume. A poem is a conversation between the poet and the audience which is interpreted by the reader. Make your listeners want to happen by adding colour.

Most importantly, she practiced! A lot.

A wonderful student who worked incredibly hard and received an excellent reward. Even if you don't win, entering the competition with the three key steps in mind will ensure that you have learned a valuable lesson and acquired some skills which will last forever.

Monday, 30 June 2014

How to ace the HK Schools' Speech Festival (HKSMSA)

We have had a few requests for lessons at Brandon this week which have reminded me that the HK Schools' Speech Festival is on the horizon again! I did my first speech festival a LONG time ago but the general concept hasn't changed.

Here are a few things to be thinking about:

Classes - there are so many options to consider. I particularly like teaching Bible Speaking as I feel that, to excel in this area, the speaker really needs to understand the verses in question. The HKSMSA website has the syllabus up already: Have a look here for the different classes

Get the right piece! It sounds obvious but last year at Brandon Learning Centre, we had five students who came in with incorrect versions of their poems. The source of the poem is specified in the HKSMSA syllabus. If you choose prose reading classes, you will also need to get hold of a copy of the book.

Memorisation - once you have your piece, the first step is to understand the texts. The second step is to memorise it. Memorisation without meaning might mean that your child begins with confused phrasing.

More ideas to follow... have fun choosing!

Friday, 13 June 2014

Reflections on a life: The Spoon River Anthology

The Spoon River Anthology is a fascinating collection of poems by Edgar Lee Masters. The conceit is simple; the poet moves through a graveyard and the lives and regrets of villagers are told in poetic form. Each poem has a clear voice and the interplay between the characters is fascinating.

Amongst the most moving poems for me is that of George Grey. The narrator speaks of the anguish caused by his lack of engagement. Fear of failure or hurt holds us back and can prevent us from realising our potential and achieving happiness. Any enterprise we undertake will have the potential to go wrong but it is from our mistakes and experiences that we achieve actualisation.

George Grey - from Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters

I have studied many times 
The marble which was chiseled for me— 
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor. 
In truth it pictures not my destination 
But my life.     
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment; 
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid; 
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances. 
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life. 
And now I know that we must lift the sail  
And catch the winds of destiny 
Wherever they drive the boat. 
To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness, 
But life without meaning is the torture 
Of restlessness and vague desire— 
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.


Sunday, 1 June 2014

Common Entrance - the fun starts now!

For all of our Brandon (and non-Brandon!) students who are about to start their Common Entrance exams, some last minute advice:

1: Take a deep breath, panic will only make you feel overwhelmed

2: The night before your exam, pack your pencil case. Don't forget that you will need calculators for some non-maths exams, including biology.

3: Review your notes. Put your books away and relax by reading. Don't be tempted to go online, computer games will only stimulate your brain and prevent rest. Get a good night's sleep.

4: Before the exam, review your notes again, take a deep breath. Off you go!

5: During the exam, draw a line through mistakes rather than using Tippex and remember to show your workings.

Good luck!

Thursday, 15 May 2014

The imperfection of perfection - reading to children

I have just acquired a copy of Muriel Young's 1967 recording of Jellyco the Magic Budgerigar. I had the record as a child and have always wanted to hear it again. The story is simple but magic lies in the sound or Mrs Young's voice.

The spoken word has a power of its own. Even over the hiss of a record, you can hear every word clearly and become enmeshed in the world of the story. I was fortunate, as a child my parents read to me daily and I grew up listening to Radio 4 ( Research has formed links between reading to children and their emotional, health and academic development.

You don't have to be a Shakespearean actor to create a special relationship between your family and books. Try the following:

1: Go to a quiet area of the house
2: Make sure that you will not be disturbed or distracted
3: Throw yourself into the world of the book: use voices, change your pace to create excitement
4: Have fun!

 If you are looking for ideas, UK charity Booktrust (Link to the Booktrust website) and HK charity Bring Me a Book Link to the Bring Me a Book HK website have some excellent reading lists. If you are looking for a charity to support, both do sterling work with families who may need guidance in developing a reading habit.

This is a wonderful undertaking and will create a special relationship between you, your family and the spoken world.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Fight the Stupids! (and support independent bookshops)

I have just finished listened to a fascinating interview with Timur Vermes on BBC Radio 4's Frontrow programme (the heaven of getting Radio 4 wherever you are!) His book, Look Who's Back , a satirical novel in which Adolf Hitler returns and is stunned by the modern world, is definitely one I will be reading. One of the interesting points which arose from the interview was that his publisher had suggested that the language of the book was too complex and that it should be simplified. The gist of Mr Vermes's response was: there are some jokes in there but why shouldn't readers have to work to get to them?

New Orleans is particularly rich in independent book sellers and the slogan of one, Maple Street Book Store is "Fight the Stupids!" In a world filled with reality television which reduces our humanity and creates caricatures which convey of the worst of the human condition, it is wonderful to know that there are people fighting against the tide of ignorance!

If you are in New Orleans, take advantage of the independent book shops before they vanish. They are a haven, staffed by people who live to read and offer a carefully curated collection of books. The evening talks give the opportunity to listen to and meet authors who would otherwise might be in accessible. I heard a gripping talk by Richard Campanella on his book Bourbon Street which taught me more about the history of this multi-layered city than I would ever have gleaned from guidebooks.

Fight the Stupids!

Maple Street Bookshop, New Orleans

Octavia Books, New Orleans

Garden District Bookshop, New Orleans

Heywood Hill, London - my favourite place in London!

Kitchen Witch Cookery Books - an Aladdin's cave (and try spice mixes made by the incredible Philipe)

Monday, 31 March 2014

Spring has Sprung!

"Aprile is the cruelest month" according to Chaucer who had clearly never spent March in Louisiana battling the howling winds! Today, however, all the misery is forgotten as spring appears to be making a guest appearance after a weekend of truly miserable rain (I volunteered for Hogs for the Cause which degenerated into a mud bath within minutes of opening. Fortunately the turnout was incredibly good and the barbecue was nectar of the gods.

I spent a wonderful morning discussing Chinese culture with the bright students of Isidore Newman School and emerged into brilliant sunlight which made me think of the last lines of ee cumming's poem "if i have made, my lady, intricate" which sum up the creeping of delight into the psyche;

if i have made, my lady, intricate

if i have made, my lady, intricate
imperfect various things chiefly which wrong
your eyes(frailer than most deep dreams are frail)
songs less firm than your body's whitest song
upon my mind-if i have failed to snare
the glance too shy-if through my singing slips
the very skillful strangeness of your smile
the keen primeval silence of your hair

-let the world say "his most wise music stole
nothing from death"-
you only will create
(who are so perfectly alive)my shame:
lady through whose profound and fragile lips
the sweet small clumsy feet of April came

into the ragged meadow of my soul.