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Memory, Making Meaning, and Appositive Phrases with Borges

Borges 1“To think is to forget differences, generalize, make abstractions.” – Jorge Luis Borges

It is with this quote, and this particular lens on memory, that we began our first major assignment in English class. The quote comes from the short story, “Funes the Memorious,” by Jorge Luis Borges. Bores, a staple of Argentine culture, is famous for being a pioneer of magical realism, a truly South American genre of literature, where he explored the themes of memory, dreams, and infinity.

The goal of this lesson had two parts. The first was to help students truly understand Borges complex theme where the thought process of a character with a perfect memory is explored through conversation. The character, whose memory is so perfect, he can create new symbols for every number, learn languages perfectly from simply reading a book, and reconstruct entire days perfectly in his mind. However, after much conversation, it becomes apparent that, according to our narrator, “he [was] not very capable of thought. To think is to forget differences, generalize, make abstractions.”



Borges 2In true Borges fashion, the perfection, memory, becomes an infinite perfection, leading the reader to ponder the many possibilities and tragedies associated with an infinite memory. In doing so, Borges leads readers to consider how we should remember our pasts, with what type of lens and with what level of perfection. This question is one that we will constantly reconsider as we learn about Argentine culture and past through literature.

“My memory, sir, is like a garbage heap.”

The second goal was to help students become better readers and writers of complex sentences. Borges used very complex sentence structures throughout his work to emphasize his themes and create tone, and although these sentences make his work difficult to read, they created a perfect learning opportunity for us.

To achieve these learning goals we set about to write our own Borges style stories, stories where a narrator comes into contact with a character with an ironically tragic perfection. Additionally, to prove their mastery of complex sentence structures, students were required to include examples of sentences using appositive phrases.


Borges 3Lucky for us, the actual café where Borges used to write is only four blocks from our school! How could we pass up an opportunity to write our stories in the same setting as the famous author himself. The café, La Biella, even has a life-size statue of Borges himself sitting in the café.

We began our first day at the café with a conversation on why Borges may have used so many long sentences in his work. Students were able to determine that it must have something to do with his theme. They worked through the first paragraph noticing that he uses repetition of the word “memory,” a work that he states, he “has to right to utter.” Why would he repeat this? After throwing around some ideas and gaining to input from me, they were able to conclude that he does it to reveal that the narrator has been affected in some way by his meeting with Funes, the character with perfect memory. The narrator is attempting to capture Funes’ style of memory within his own narration of this meeting. Also, the narrator uses long sentences with appositive phrases as a structure to include as many details as possible, similarly to the way in which Funes may have remembered events. Additionally, students noted that Borges creates a “dramatic” tone with his constant use of punctuation to break the sentences’ flow.

Borges 4After some practice with appositive phrases, we set about to work on our own stories, stories that began, as Borges did with, “I                                    him (I have no right to utter this sacred verb, only one man on earth had that right and he is dead),” and ending by revealing the tragedy of this perfection by stating, “I suspect though, he was not very capable of               .”

Below you will find links to the original in addition to the student voted, best stories form the 9th and 10th grade classes. In their own way, the students themselves are doing as Borges suggests, by forgetting his original story and molding their own stories to fit his format, they are thinking. They are forgetting the original and making a new meaning from the memory of his work.  I hope you like them as much as I did.

“Funes the Memorious” by Jorge Luis Borges

10th Grade:

Yuan Yuan – “The Dreamer; The Invention of Heaven”

Alejandro – “Listen”

Hannah – “Maurice the Imaginary”

9th Grade: 

       Paul – “Guillermo the Calculator”

       Cameron – “Caleb”

       Sydney  – “Plato the Brave”



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First Days, Team Building, IB Learner Traits, and English Class in the Park

These first few days at TGS have been some of the most rewarding days I have experienced as a teacher. I’m so proud of both classes for the work they have put in, and the positive impression they have made on me within the first week. While I would love to carry on, rant, and rave about how the below picture represents what I believe to be some of the best English class learning moments, I know that the students voices will be both more entertaining and provide a greater insight into what they gained from this experience. Below you will find a compilation of student voices taken from the 9th and 10th grade English forums.


park 1In short: we learned that English class is “The Bomb” and is clearly beneficial for our future lives. – Isaac

Our English 10 class started off with a bang! (Well, more or less – it was a Kurt Hahn quote.)
“Expeditions can greatly contribute towards building strength of character.” We quickly connected ‘strength of character’ to the IB Learner Traits (full list: http://spot.thinkglobalschool.com/blog/view/76338/ib-learner-traits), and defined expeditions as anything outside your comfort zone. – Hannah

This trip was to a park where we explored our understandings of Mr. Austen’s class. By throwing our goals out of reach. Literally. – Rebecca

Today we furthered ourselves to this goal by going on an expedition and using teamwork to help one another literally reach our goals. A vital IB trait for such an adventure is to be balanced. We worked together to help each other reach our goals that were thrown from the

circle. Amongst us we thought of creative and effective ways to help our friends reach their goals; however we did not only help others. We were also helped by others to reach our own goal. We had to give attention in order to receive attention, yet we also had to take risks. Together we had to think outside of the box to learn ways to reach our goals. – Sydney

After discussing and brainstorming in groups, I’ve noticed that some of the IB student traits are perfect to enforce during World Literature class. For me English class represents much more than an average class, it’s a challenge. Therefore, I have to be able to take chances and not be afraid of failure. Being a risk taker in this class will give me opportunities to explore different ideas and by experimenting with my second language also understand more about it. – Alejandro

As we continued on to the next day, Mr. Austen continued his explanation on how English class is beneficial for life while incorporating all the IB learner profile traits. Communication, although easy to talk about (pardon the pun) is still a prevalent and key part to English class and life in-general. Communication is through body language, eye contact and verbal speaking. We concluded that communication was one of the most important things these days because of technology and because it is how respect is gained and maintained. – Rebecca

Reflection is also a prominent part of English class. Written reflections, of course, are obvious examples. However, we reflect without even knowing it during class. We are constantly trying to do things better by referring to what we did previously. During the team building exercise on the first day, we would see which ideas worked, and which didn’t work as well and make future decisions based on that. Having grading rubrics greatly assist in helping us grow by giving us comments on what areas we succeeded in. – Yuan Yuan


park 2One other trait that I think is emphasized in English class is open minded and confidence. Although these are two traits, I feel that they are jointly accentuated (by both parties in this case) by one thing that we are obligated to do during class in order to be heard and to improve. When an idea is shared, the rest of the students are being open minded and accepting of the fact that there are other ideas while simultaneously, the speaker is opening him or herself to criticism showing that they have enough confidence in their ideas to share them with people. This allows them to take in the feed back so that they can do better the next time around. As this continues to happen, it helps build confidence in the people who are sharing and also helps the listeners analyze ideas in order to give better feedback and constructive criticism. – Gawa

Opinions differ greatly on the topic of literature. Some people will love a certain book or poem, while others may dislike it greatly. As a class we must keep an open mind to interpretation and listen to others opinions on works of literature rather than just voicing our own opinion and blocking out others. Keeping an open mind in English class allows us to grow as a person and discover different viewpoints on a work of literature that we may not have noticed if we didn’t listen to others. – Samhaior

Being open minded is important for discovering new things about life; when meeting new people and cultures and being able to try out new things. This could result in new happenings and relationships in life. “If you want to have something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done” is a quote that I like, and that’s what risk taking and being open minded is all about. Sometimes the result might not turn out great, but at least you would have gained one new experience in life. – Liisa

Principled: As ethic is a basic need for a good human being, English class will help develop this trait by helping us to be more open to things, be more confident, respect others voices, know what’s right from wrong and groom us into not only an educated person but literate, ethical, good human beings.  – Yodsel

English class helps us expanding our knowledge a lot. For instance, when we are learning about different cultures by reading books or by discussing in class. In addition, we learn a lot about our classmates and their culture, their believes and thoughts during English classes. – Paul

The outcome of this discussion was to see the value of the lessons that will be learned in the 10th grade English class. Such lessons will become tools that assist us in surviving the rest of our lives. – Isaac

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