Wednesday, 14 May 2014 08:17Imagine how it felt on a real ho-hum of a morning to open this missive from far-off Estonia, the beautiful country bordering the Baltic sea.
#1"So what are your students reading?" I write back. And the next morning...I get another email.
Hello...I am an English teacher from Minnesota, living and teaching in Estonia, Europe. I am using your book-club questions to help my students discuss what they are reading for my "home-reading" assignments. Thank you so much—they have really helped my students get more out of their reading.
#2Who is this guy? I wonder. "Who are you," I write"... and what are you doing in Estonia?" His name is Parry...and next morning, I get a 3rd note!
My sixth graders have read some graded readers, Around the World in 80 Days, Last of the Mohicans, some sports books about soccer players and so on.
Older kids are interested in the pop literature of the day—the Divergent Series, Lord of the Rings, Hunger Games, The Fault in our Stars. Some kids read biographies or non-fiction as well. They do a mostly good job of summarizing what they have read, but then have difficulty discussing anything further—that is where your questions have really helped us out.
I teach at a private school in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. The school, or kool, is called Rocca al Mare ("rock by the sea") and it is right next to the Baltic Sea in a beautiful forest setting. I am from Minnesota but have been living in Estonia for almost 9 years. I have family here now and have no plans to return to the U.S. anytime soon.
Most of his kids, Parry writes, are quite fluent in English—speaking and writing with relative ease. It's an "A language," which means they begin learning it in first grade. They're also influenced by the Internet and TV—often inserting English words into sentences when speaking in Estonian. Or they'll take an American verb and "Estonianize" it.
Estonia is so small that language-learning is extremely important, says Parry, even in everyday life. Many people can speak 3, 4, even 5 languages, sometimes fluently. Starting in the 3rd grade, students can also choose a "B language"—French, German, Russian, or Spanish—and later can add a "C language," which at that point includes Finnish.
A favorite movie of mine, I tell him, is The Singing Revolution—how Estonia gained independence from the Soviets in 1991. They literally sung their way to freedom. It's a gripping, powerful story.
He knows the movie. "Estonians are very proud of how they won their independence that time. Summer 2014 is the next Summer Song Festival, which is held every four years; you might find videos of past song festivals under the title Laulupidu, which means song festival in Estonian."
Then he ends with..."Of course, Estonia's freedom is very fragile: it has never been free as a nation for any long period of time."
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