Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Shpeekin' Inglis. (B2 or not B2.)

It's several weeks since I wrote a post and in that time, I haven't really read anyone else's blog or even thought about blogging. Blame Facebook! So many of my friends from blogworld are now Facebook friends too and when life is a bit hectic,then a quick scan of status posts makes me feel like I'm still in touch.

But here's a brief round up....

  • Romy's performance, which wrote about in my last post. 
  • Hot on the heels of this incredible production, we had end of term exams; 
  • Ruy had archery competitions - where he walked off with one 3rd and two 1st prizes. 
  • And my students at work had their English B2 exams.

And here's some detail, as much for me to remember it all by as for a blog post in its own right...

The exam preparation was quite time consuming for me as we did the Trinity syllabus, which is very interactive and requires a lot of extra input from the teacher! (At least, this teacher seemed to put in a lot of extra hours....there is always a lot to learn.)

B2 indicates the level of English that a foreign student has to reach in order to study at an English University. And I have been preparing a class of 10 people from the offices and research department in the factory where I am working. It's been very interesting, to say the least, teaching a group of adults who have different backgrounds, different experiences of learning English but who have close and friendly working relationships with each other. Our classes - held over the lunch break twice a week - have occasionally been utterly rowdy!

I know from teaching teenagers and younger children that I've always had a sneaky soft spot for the noisy, energetic individuals who liven up proceedings - or sometimes disrupt them - and who keep you on your toes. I could name several that I will never forget and I was delighted the other day to bump into one of them, who will be about 16 now, I think. When he saw me, instead of the usual polite greeting that I occasionally get from ex-students, he opened his arms wide and gave me a big hug and said how happy he was to see me! Made my day.

Teaching adults is different. But my B2 class has been very different! There's a great phrase that sums up how it's felt teaching this lively and disparate group of people - it's been like herding cats! We have had since mid-February to start the work, which is in two main parts - written and spoken, with the emphasis on communication. The written part took place at the end of May and a few people had problems with the timing...nothing we can do about that now! The spoken part consisted of preparing a portfolio of three writing tasks done in different styles - letter, report and creative - and which can be corrected as many times as needed before submission. The teacher can't directly correct but can indicate where mistakes have been made. The final results were, in my opinion, really well done and I was pleased with everyone's efforts. At the actual interview, students go in individually and converse with the examiner for about 12 minutes. They have around 4 minutes to talk about a subject or topic of their choice. My group had an incredibly wide range of topics - from a disastrous honeymoon to producing specialist plastic film products; from a childhood in France to a childhood in Transylvania; and from the guitar to business planning! In addition, they had to talk about their portfolio, including asking the examiner some questions and leading an interactive session to find out details of a strange or unusual situation that the examiner introduces.

The examiner was in for quite an afternoon!

The date for the interview was 25th June - which just happened to be my birthday - and my students were due in both before and after the lunch break. There were three - and I picked the three that might be most nervous - before lunch and they arrived all together and definitely nervous. The other six were after lunch. (One person chose not to enter the exam, but had been in our classes - if you wonder where the 10th had gone!) But I'd met the examiner beforehand - a very sweet, gentle and rather eccentric (at least so she appeared to the Spanish folk) retired FE teacher, who spoke slowly and calmly and very clearly - and so I was sure that my students wouldn't have a problem. And the first one emerged smiling broadly. Then my only dubious candidate went in - she'd been very busy and rather stressed for a few weeks previously and I felt her speaking had actually deteriorated, rather than improved and I was a bit concerned. However, she too emerged with a big smile and a huge sense of relief. She said she surprised herself with how fluent she had been! And the final morning candidate left the room, more than 12 minutes later, and punched the air with delight!!

I went with the examiner and my friend from the Academy for lunch in the park - a glorious spot in full view of the castle. The examiner was enchanted with the place and sweetly anxious to know how the candidates seemed to be when they left the exam. I told her that they seemed to have enjoyed their conversation and felt that it had gone well. (Maybe it would help in the results, maybe not!!)

And then they arrived....a group of my B2 students came to the park BEFORE their exam...and I could hear them clearly speaking in English, ordering a beer or four! Eeek!!!

As the examiner went back to prepare for the afternoon session, I scurried over to my group just in time for George to see my face and change his order to a non-alcoholic beer. They'd already had two.
Elena was the first of the afternoon interviews and she definitely was going to be a nervous candidate especially for the interactive session, which for her was a potential nightmare. She pushes herself hard and has put in an incredible amount of work in preparation and likes to know she has her facts clear. She has given us some unintentional laughs over the period as she's tried to be 'spontaneous' in the interactive practice.... However, after two beers, she seemed remarkably relaxed. Jolly even. And on the verge of ordering another beer! I had to drag her away and we had an hilarious twenty minutes waiting for her exam, where she never stopped talking with Toni in English. I only hoped the examiner wouldn't notice - although to me, it was quite obvious that Elena's usual somewhat formal demeanour had disappeared. Fortunately, she came out smiling, though complaining that it had gone far too quickly and that she had lots more she wanted to talk about - her topic was Equality for Women.

The next two were utterly sober and quiet and sensible. One came out not too happy but as he's from the Pays Basco and much less extroverted than the rest of the group, it was in keeping. He speaks very well but he isn't the most interactive of types - and when the examiner asked whether he wanted to ask her any questions (a cue to do so), he said, no thank you!

Whilst the other candidate was in, the remaining three from the park emerged....full of beans. Lots of beans. There has been a long standing joke about using the word 'subtle' during the classes, on account of the very direct approach of one person. He's worked very hard in softening his style of writing, which bordered on brutal, but still has a tendency to pronounce the word 'shuttle'. It was the ambition of the group to use the word at least once during their interview, so the three remaining candidates were practising. In whispers, so we didn't disturb the exam in progress. It was not reassuring, though it was very comical.

Eventually, all three had been in, done their bit and come out. Then they left to return to work. As the last one closed the door, the examiner emerged from her room. I swear she looked exhausted! And she said, 'Well they were a lively bunch, weren't they? Are they yours?' - and I SO wished those last three had still been around, then I could have said - 'THAT'S subtlety!'

The next morning, the students from the Academy had their exams and then Toni, Becky (the native English teacher at the Academy, who took over from me when I left) and I waited for the examiner to finish off and give us the feedback - and the results - from the interviews.  We were all on tenterhooks and most concerned that our students had done their best. (I was also worried that the examiner might come out and tell me I shouldn't allow my candidates to enter for their interviews in a state of inebriation.) But eventually, we had our minds put at rest. All my students passed - and a few of them passed really well indeed. Alberto - with his honeymoon story and great sense of humour - had impressed enough to get 3 As, which is fantastic.

I went back to the factory to share the news and there was much whooping and hugging and a great sense of relief. We had still to wait until late July for the results of the written exams, but as the spoken part amounts to 70% of the exam, most people feel they've made the grade. And they are also keen to continue onto the next level. I may have work for a bit longer yet.

Thank you if you've made it to the end of this quite personal ramble. I don't know who will have done, but if you are or have been a teacher, you'll understand the anxiety and concerns that you have when it's exam time. And at least I've only had 9 students!! I know that they are all pleased to have passed - one or two definitely thinking they could have done better and one or two feeling hugely relieved - but I suspect my own delight and relief almost matches theirs.

And now BREATHE! It's holiday time.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Beauty, the Beast and the Teapot

For those of you who are Facebook friends, you will know already that this week has been very important.

Two years ago, Romy's school did a performance of 'The Lion King' for the end of term and they did it in the local theatre. It is still talked about now with respect, admiration and awe. This year, the school decided they would do 'Beauty and the Beast' and as far as I remember, they held auditions for the various main parts either at the end of last year or early this year. And Romy auditioned for the part of Mrs. Potts and she got it. She was rather nervous about auditioning and she had to learn quite a few lines of dialogue and sing the well-known song from the show. But she did it.

Then all went quiet for a while before the parents were summoned to a meeting - in February, I think - to discuss costume-making. I was a bit worried as sewing is definitely not my forte! I was even more shocked to discover the hall was full to bursting with parents, mainly mums, and to find out that there would be 155 children in the play! The chaos of that meeting gave me a few negative feelings about the undertaking but was relatively relieved to discover that as Romy was a main character, I wouldn't have to make her costume.

Then towards the beginning of April, I was summoned to another meeting. This time with Puri, one of the Infant school teachers, who said I was to make the dress that Romy would wear under her teapot costume and she showed me a still from a performance of the play that had been put on in Madrid. It was a high necked, frilly white satin blouse and a long white satin skirt. Not a dress. Puri said I could buy the material and a lady who lived in the Calle Columbia would make it for me.

Now, my granny was a tailor - not a Taylor though - and my mum always made lovely dresses for my sister and me when we were little. My sister is an incredibly good seamstress and had a flair for design as well. My needlework teacher, who despaired at my dreadful attempts at school, couldn't believe Judy was my sister when she came to the school a few years after me. I never finished anything and nothing ever looked right either. I do own a sewing machine but it never worked properly and without instructions, I could never remember how to thread the thing. And I admit, it frightened me somewhat.

But I decided I would make Romy's costume myself. It was a learning opportunity and there was plenty of time to get it right.

Good job there was plenty of time!

Thinking a dress would be too difficult, I decided to make a skirt and a blouse and I began straight away by making a blouse in 'draft' (I don't even know what this would be called) using some old material and a pattern from a friend. It was too small. So I decided to make the skirt and at the market, I found some lovely, off-white satiny material that wasn't too heavy and I successfully made a skirt. It was very full and a bit bulky. I admit, but I'd made it. I went back to the market the following week to get some more material for the blouse....and they didn't have any more.

Undaunted, I bought some white satin, which is what I had been told to buy anyway, thinking to see which looked best. And I went home and made a blouse which wasn't too bad. It took me some time to make it and by the time I had finished, I could almost remember how to thread the machine without looking at the pictures in my instruction book! Almost.

But as you can see from the photo, it didn't look too good with the skirt. I wasn't happy. And there was too much material everywhere.

So I went to every shop in Alcala to try and find some more cream satin to match the skirt. Why I didn't think it would be easier just to buy some more white satin, I'm not sure....but I didn't. I couldn't find any anywhere that was just the same, so I returned to the market and bought some cream satin, that was thicker and not as nice as the original stuff but which at least was a similar colour, And quite expensive as I remember.

I decided to make a simpler style blouse and laid Romy on top of my material and drew round her.
Then I cut this out with a bit to spare and then, with great speed and confidence, I sewed it up and tried it on her. It wasn't an absolutely perfect fit, but it wasn't bad at all. Spurred on at this success, I decided to take the skirt in and have it more fitted. A doddle. I could now thread the machine and run a seam up in mili-seconds. And soon, I'd sewn the trimmings on and finished both the skirt and the top successfully - and look how beautiful my daughter looks in them!

I was quite happy when I took these in to school at the next meeting. And I was ready to offer my help if anyone needed it...but I was told that first, I should buy 4 metres of a slightly spongy material that had a satiny top layer - I'm sure it has a name but I don't know what in either Spanish or English- in the same creamy colour as Romy's costume. I was so glad I hadn't made it white! And then I had to bring it into school and they would show me the pattern and how to turn it into the teapot.
It slowly began to dawn on me that I was going to have to make the teapot part as well....

The next few weeks saw me backwards and forwards at school as we all groped our way blindly round the plan for making a teapot costume. Puri had her ideas but as I began to put them into practice, I could see they were flawed....there was a moment when I'd followed all her instructions but was left with something that was definitely never going to be a teapot! A bit of back-tracking and I discovered how to make the shape we were looking for. Oh gosh, and sewing the thing together, adding whalebone round the middle, trying to sew the wavy ribbon around the centre was SO difficult and of course, impossible to do with the machine and I couldn't get so much thick material to go through. I sewed until my fingers bled, then I had to tape them up and sew some more....

But in the end, I finished it and the beastly teapot began to look pretty good!

The school secretary had made Romy a teapot lid hat, which was fantastic and Puri made the spout 'arm' - and although this picture is rather out of focus, I think you have to agree, we did a sterling job between us. (I tried to persuade Romy to take her pink socks off for the photo but she was having none of it - she had some lovely cream and gold shoes for the performances, which matched beautifully.)

All that was left was to go and see the show.

And oh what a show!!!

For three nights, the children of Jose Garnica Salazar put on a spectacle that deserved to be seen by everyone. Hearts and souls were poured into the acting, the dancing, the acrobatics, the singing and just being part of a wonderful, wonderful show. It was very cleverly staged and the children acted brilliantly with the songs being performed to a playback tape from the film version. They had such confidence and energy and there was something for all ages to take part in. The town has a very successful acrosports group and there are several champions of Spain at different age groups. Many of the girls are at the school and they performed some very impressive routines during the show. The townsfolk scenes were lively and colourful and the Gaston character was impressively swaggery and confident for a young boy of possibly 12 years old.
There were plates, forks, spoons, can-can dancers, a wardrobe, a chest of drawers as well as a candlestick, a clock, a feather duster, a chipped cup, some amazing wolves in the forest, and touchingly, children in wheelchairs taking their part too. There were tiny children in spectacular costumes doing dance routines - and of course a teapot, an animated and charming Belle and the Beast  - and his alter ego, the Prince.

I managed to sneak in on the first night after I'd finished work and arrived before Romy had done her main part. All the songs were mimed by the children - all except Romy who was singing live. She has a nice voice, without doubt, but I wasn't prepared for how lovely and unafraid she was when she sang. And when we went to see it all together on the last night, she had gained in confidence and sang her little heart out to the most amazing applause at the end. She very nearly brought the house down.

Here are some photos from the play - I do apologise for the quality, it was so difficult to get some good shots but you can get a feel for the amazing work everyone has done.

With the wolves in the forest - aren't they fantastic!

Some of the characters in the castle - including Mrs Potts!

Lumiere, out of focus, but a lovely wardrobe and a brilliant Beast, bottom centre. Don't miss Chip, the cup on the trolley!

Another out of focus one, but with Belle on the chair.

Action shot as the acrosport girls arrive

...and the spoons, forks, plates and can-can girls join them

Lumiere, Belle, Mrs. Potts and Chip - now in human form. Just look at the costumes!

This is when the townsfolk come to storm the castle...
I took some video as well but you must forgive the awful quality. My recording is really poor as I was up in the balcony but I have to share these clips. The first one is a great little scene when the townsfolk come, with Gaston, in the red boots, to try and storm the castle and get Belle back. But they weren't prepared for the resistance!

And here is the jolly good fun scene, with lots of action on stage.

And here is Romy singing at the end of the show on the first night. It's not the very best she sang but it's the best recording I was able to make. You can't see my tears!

 And I am so happy because my mother in law was able to come down to see the show. It's a long journey from Valladolid, but she was utterly swept away by it all. Everyone in Alcala was, I think. And at the end, it was really rather special to hug the teachers and staff from the school and feel so very much a part of it all. Sadly, my mum wasn't able to come - she would have loved it too.

But the very best part of all was the pure pleasure that Romy and her school friends got from doing the shows - all the hard work paid off and they really did enjoy every minute.
Such a great experience for them.

SO - we've had a roller-coaster of a week. How has yours been?