The Cornflour Test

Hand, Hands, Smudging, Create, ChildrenIt used to be one of my favourite science lessons – cheap, easy and fun: give the kids a bowl, some cornflour (I think Americans call it cornstarch) and a jug of water.  Tell them to try mixing the cornflour and water slowly and they’d get a nice, smooth liquid. Tell them to hit the mixture with the spoon or try beating it vigorously and it would splatter them with goo and/or become a slimy solid.  ‘A non-Newtonian liquid’, I’d tell them; ‘a thixotropic substance’   from the Greek thixis, “the act of handling” and trope, “change”.

So why am I reminiscing about my teaching days?  Because it’s just occurred to me (with a little help from my Guides) that our lives are – like the cornflour goo – thixotropic.  The way we handle them changes the way they work in exactly the manner described above.

 

20170222_150446As regular readers will know, last year I started up a very small cottage industry with one of my sons, making steampunk-style miniature figures, gadgets, dolls’ house rooms and jewellery.  He set up an online store.  I started a blog to link to it.  It all looked very promising and there has been plenty of interest.  Sales, though, have been almost non-existent.  The stock was piling up and we were getting disheartened.  20170119_085337So, encouraged by my other son and daughter, I’ve spent the last few weeks madly learning new tricks (difficult for an old dog) – attempting to master Instagram, creating a new business page on Facebook, approaching museums, shops, magazines… and generally running myself into a state of anxiety and frustration.

Yesterday I stopped.

I turned off the social media and tuned in to my Guides.  “What am I doing wrong?” I asked.  “I’m trying to create my own reality.  I can’t push any harder.  Whatever I do, it’s making me feel bad and it’s not having any appreciable results.”

I felt the smile they sent me.  Into my mind they placed the memory of that science lesson.

“I’ve been bashing the goo, haven’t I?” I exclaimed, as realisation flooded in.  “That’s why it has blocked up.  I need to slow down, to go with the flow, to drift lightly and follow all the synchronicities that come along.  As simple as that.”

‘As simple as that,’ my Guides agreed.

So maybe old dogs can learn new tricks after all.  I may never master the intricacies of Instagram, but in future I will apply the Cornflour Test to the way I move towards my intended goals.

Commercial Break

Wordpress, Blog, Blogger, BloggingMy blog empire is growing…

I have, for several years now, used this site – Looking at Life – to do exactly that.  I’ve told anecdotes from my own life, and those of others close to me; I’ve explored metaphysical themes in all manner of directions; I’ve ranted about education and its shortcomings in our society; I’ve shared the ups and downs of my creative endeavours, whether renovating the cottage or making models.

During those years, I’ve been fortunate enough to attract an ever-growing range of followers.  Thank you.  It’s great to have you along and I’ve enjoyed exploring your sites as much as reading your comments on mine.  Several of you I now count among my friends, despite not having met you in person.  I’m aware, though, that the range of subjects covered here won’t be to everyone’s taste.  For that reason, my blogging has split off in three directions.

Fractal, Spiral, Geometry, PerceptionLooking at Life: I will attempt (no promises, mind!) to keep this blog site for my explorations of all that LIFE involves – and by ‘life’ I mean every aspect of existence as a conscious being, whether physically present on Planet Earth, travelling through dreams or ‘alive’ in other realities.  I will also continue, from time to time, to muse upon the wonders of A-Thought (autistic thinking), remote viewing and other psychic abilities on this blog.  This will remain my ‘main’ site because this is where my heart and soul are based.

 

 

20161111_162239Steampunk – Shrunk!:   https://steampunk-shrunk.com/ This is my latest venture.  Please head over there if you’d like to follow the back-stories of the tiny, dolls’ house sized characters I’m fabricating for the shop my son is running online.  Each figure will have his or her own post and a link to their pages at the shop.  There will also be articles about the process of making the models and anything else related to that aspect of my life.

 

 

 

 

 

Book, Exposition, Composition, PolandOpen the box:   http://opentheboxweb.wordpress.com   This is my education blog.  I’ve given it very little attention recently, having put all my educational energy into planning lessons for my own pupils, but once full health is restored and energy levels repleted, I’ll carry on adding free resources to that site.

 

I look forward to virtually meeting you at one or more of my blog sites in the future.

Didn’t know I had a petard, and here I am hoist with it

Grenade, Bomb, War, Weapon, DangerI had to look petard up: a small bomb apparently.  As for being hoist on/by/with it, we have Shakespeare to thank for that one.  All I knew was that it meant, roughly, to fall into one’s own trap, and that I’ve certainly done this week.

Embarrassed, but trying hard to be authentic, so…

Allow me to explain.

A few weeks ago I was asked to take on a pair of new students – young brothers who shared a genetic condition with their mother.  “Multi-systemic” I was told, so the effects of this syndrome involve skin, joints, brain and just about any part of the body you can think of.  The words ‘complex learning difficulties’ were also mentioned.

To be honest, I was almost at full stretch before these lads appeared on the scene.  Planning two lots of lessons in maths and English tailored to their particular mix of strengths (very high intelligence) and challenges, as well as homework each week would, I knew, take at least an entire day.  Then there was the teaching itself, which I could only just slot in amongst my other young pupils.  Everything logical in my mind was screaming, “No, don’t do it!  What about that work/life balance you wanted?  You are past retirement age, you know.  And this lady wants you to work on right through the summer holidays.  When will you get to see the family?”

But the kids were lovely.  Finding ways of working around their difficulties would be fascinating – previously uncharted territory, the type of challenge I thrive on.  They weren’t fitting into schools.  Their constant pain and exhaustion, as a result of the syndrome, was too much for them when combined with a normal school day.  The mother, though, was being threatened by the authorities for not providing sufficient education.

I said, ‘Yes’.

Of course I did.

Writing, Boy, Child, Student, KidFor a couple of weeks it went fine.  Yes, I did end up doing lesson prep all through the weekends but they seemed to be progressing well and I was enjoying working with them.  Then this week they appeared full of smiles but without homework.  A casual ‘lost it somewhere in my room’ from one and ‘I didn’t realise you wanted me to do that’ from the other.

Inwardly I was irritated.  The homework sheets had taken me ages to prepare.  The work I’d planned for this week followed on from what they were meant to have done.  Their mother had particularly requested homework.  It was meant to protect her from being taken to court… and blah, blah, blah.

Outwardly, I smiled, suggested mildly that maybe they could try to get it done for the following week and carried on.  The lessons went fine and I went to bed that night feeling very happy.

Oh I know at least one of my readers knows exactly what’s coming!

I woke up the next morning to a text from the children’s mother.  Both of them had told her I was ‘grumpy’ during their lessons.  She wondered what was wrong.

I was mortified.  The lessons had (I thought) been lovely – lots of laughter and progress.  Was I just a delusional old bat?  Had I ended up like those elderly lady teachers I remembered from my own school days – miserable and past it?  Was it time to stop and give up – to sit in a rocking chair knitting all day?

I flashed a quick message back, saying I had been disappointed that they’d not bothered with the homework, but wasn’t aware of being grumpy about it; that I’d tried hard to keep the work lively and enjoyable and so forth.

Then I sat and thought.

Why was I choosing to be so upset by this?  Why had this incident shown up in my life?  What did it have to teach me?

The reply came almost at once, in a further message from the children’s mum.  She hadn’t wanted to upset me.  She just felt she had to be authentic and tell me their reaction.  It wasn’t my words or actions they had reacted to, it was my feelings.  They were, she added, extremely sensitive and picked up on the energy people projected.

Heart, Love, Idea, Light BulbAh.

Got it.

That heart-based telepathy thing.

So I thanked her – and the universe – for providing me with that reminder.  I told her about my last blog post, on exactly this subject, and promised to attempt to be more open and authentic in future.

See what I mean about being hoist with my own petard?  This communicating-from-the-heart business is not easy.  I’m glad to have these two young teachers.  Like all good teachers, they’ve appeared just as the student is ready 🙂

 

Communication – another way?

Face, Soul, Head, Smoke, Light, SadI’m aware that I’ve gained a few new followers recently – thank you so much and welcome to my ramblings and wonderings – so I thought it might be a good time to briefly explain the William connection before launching into another post about him and autistic spectrum perception.

William is a young man in his mid twenties, whom I met almost 20 years ago.  He began as a pupil in a class I was teaching – a class for kids with speech and language difficulties.  A set of circumstances which might be considered very strange, if you didn’t believe in pre-planned soul contracts, caused our paths to cross and re-cross in many ways, so that even now we are the best of friends.  Despite the fact that he is only able to communicate with me through text and email at present, I still have longer and deeper communications with him than with anyone else I know.

School, Teacher, The PupilSo yes, to begin with I believed my role was to teach William to communicate.  He had oral dyspraxia, which meant he had a very limited range of speech sounds.  Additionally he was on the autistic spectrum, which meant that social communication – reading body language, facial expressions, tone of voice etc. was challenging for him.  He made excellent progress, no denying that.  However at the same time, he and a couple of his classmates began teaching me other ways of communicating – ways I’d never dreamed of.

Alan could ‘beam’ states of mind into my head.  I didn’t have to be facing him, or even thinking about him, to find that I was aware that he was feeling angry, frustrated, impatient or in need of help.  Martin’s speciality was sending words to me.  I could ‘hear’ what he was saying, although no words had been spoken aloud, sometimes from across the building.  Once I spotted him and made eye contact, he’d give the briefest of nods, meaning, “Good, you got it.”

William was on another level entirely.  “I think,” he told me, rather deferentially, one morning when he was about eight, “I should tell you that I’m telepathic.”
He waited, a slight smile playing around his lips, for the full impact to sink in.
“You mean you can read my mind?” I asked, suddenly feeling horribly exposed.
He nodded, allowing the smile to break loose.

Of course the children used this form of communication amongst themselves all the time.  I’d often wondered how a bunch of kids with only the most rudimentary verbal language abilities were able to engage in imaginative games, with each of them understanding their role perfectly.  Once William twigged that I was sometimes able to pick up snippets of their telepathic communication, he took it upon himself to tutor me in these skills, although never overtly.

It’s subtle, this hidden communication – infinitely so.  By comparison, spoken language is crass and imperfect.  Our labels and descriptions, no matter how extensive our vocabulary, are often open to misinterpretation or simply inadequate to convey our true intent.

Having spent a lifetime closely observing children of all ages, and in particular watching my own three and my two grandchildren develop language, I firmly believe that all humans begin life with the subtle, non-verbal language.
“Oh, she understands so much of what we say,” parents will tell you as they cradle an infant in their arms.
Maybe. I suspect the tiny person is understanding far more of what the parent thinks. I also believe she is using this telepathic (for want of a better word) skill to communicate her needs to the mother. Most would not put this at more than a ‘close bond’ between mother and child.  What, though, if it’s something far greater?

Learning, Telephone, To Call, AlarmOnce they had learned to speak clearly and to follow the conventions of conversation, my little students more-or-less ceased using their telepathy.  Our society places great value on effective spoken and written language.  The children – Will included – worked diligently to improve these.  I was busily congratulating myself on our success and only dimly aware of what we had lost in the process.

As I’ve said, though, this was a soul contract, and although the children  went their different ways and I moved back into mainstream teaching, William and I still had far more to teach one another.

We stayed in touch.  Sometimes we’d have long, rambling, fascinating conversations that would last for hours, and I’d be amazed at how brilliantly he’d picked up the ability to speak.  At other times, though, he’d withdraw for days, weeks or even months at a time.  Conventional language caused too much stress and the best I could hope for was a single word text to let me know he was still alive or a ‘beamed’ impression of his state of mind.  Not great, usually.

Now it’s come full circle.  Yesterday, William sent me a draft article for inclusion in his second book.  It’s a stunner.

He begins by explaining how it is for people on the autistic spectrum to attempt to learn social communication.  Ruefully, he says:

Having to learn such skills is generally very difficult and time consuming. An analogy may be learning a second language which for the vast majority, autistic or not, is again very difficult and time consuming. And even then, few who learn a second language can match the fluency and competency of a native speaker whose language skills developed naturally as part of growing up.

He bemoans the fact that, despite this, the non-autistic population expect perfection from those challenged in this way.

Later, he begins to consider the reason computer-based language is easier for ASP people to manage:

Man, Notebook, Continents, Binary, CodeMany autistic people demonstrate a good level of competency with computers – likely to be linked to their operation depending on clearly defined protocols and mathematics, things which are very different to how social communication and interaction works.  Most communication between people which occurs via computers is in a written format, offering a greater similarity with the clearly defined operating protocols of a computer, since written communication often takes a more formal and literal interpretation of language than face to face communication.  This also removes the need to attempt to understand body language and tone of voice – things often problematic for those with autism.

Only in the final paragraph does he allow his thoughts to wander into that other type of communication – the early ‘telepathy’ and our more recent forays into ‘remote viewing’.  William isn’t certain that either of these terms fully encompass or describe what is actually taking place.

[ASP people] have a naturally different method of accomplishing [communication].  What exactly that method is I don’t believe is fully understood at present by either autistics or non-autistics.  I don’t believe the correct words have been attributed to autistic matters to describe or explain it properly.  I suspect at some point this will be achieved and hopefully will allow for autism to be harnessed to it’s full potential and remedy the blindness of so many.

I hope so, William.

 

We are still compiling The Words of William Volume Two.  Volume One is available via Amazon as a paperback in the UK, Europe and North America and as a Kindle edition worldwide.

 

 

Positive steps

darkmarked: ”Down with this sort of thing!” ”Careful now!” Father Ted This feels much better!

I’ve been moaning on about the state of things in education for weeks now and doing my own Father Ted-type protest.  (You’d have to have seen the sitcom to know what I’m talking about, but some will know and love it as I do…)

That kind of negativity didn’t sit well with me, though.  It got even worse when the TES published a short article I’d written some weeks ago and still more people started wringing their hands and demanding to know what could be done to stem the flow of cramming-junk-education-into-small-kids-for-political-purposes.  That, of course, is the important question.

So now I’ve stopped protesting and done something positive instead.

Taking my WordPressing skills to their limits, I’ve create a new blog to provide free – and freeing – resources to stressed teachers, disillusioned and worried parents and, of course, home educators.

I only started it last night and already have my first follower!

If you’re interested in ‘this sort of thing’, do head over and take a look.  It’s very small and modest so far, but I’m hoping to grow something lovely, as well as keeping the metafizzing going over on this site, of course!

Here’s the link.

 

 

Down with Education: Bring Back Educetion

No, it isn’t a typo.  There’s a subtle but world-changing difference, you see, in the vowel.

Education comes from the Latin educare – to bring up or train.

Educetion (which I’ve just invented, of course) is derived from the Latin educere – to lead out, to draw from.

See the difference?  In the first, we have malleable individuals who can be trained in whatever way those in authority prefer.  In the second we have innately wise people who, with a sufficiently nurturing environment, can develop and hone their own skills, perhaps in entirely new ways.

Let me give an example of educetion from my own childhood.

Long, long ago, I sat in in a grammar school classroom ready for the first art class of the year with Mr Sutcliffe.  Our group was studying art as a ‘relaxation subject’, timetabled in as a break from the many hours working towards academic A-levels.

Bob Dylan, Musician, Joan Baez, Singer, 1960S, ComposerMy classmates and I had, for the past couple of months, been vicariously enjoying the Summer of Love, via our transistor radios and magazines.  The times, as Dylan had foretold a few years before, were a-changin’.  We were sixth formers now.  We felt ourselves to be groovy and trendy and hip – yet Mr Sutcliffe was about to do something so shocking, so daring, so different, that we would walk out of that room as changed people.

No paints.  No pencils or pastels even.  Just Mr S at the front of the class, holding up a magazine advert for washing powder.

“Persil Washes Whiter!” he boomed.
We stared in confused silence.
“Than WHAT?” he demanded.
He seemed to require a response. We glanced at one another.
“Than – other brands, sir?” one boy suggested, nervously.
“Does it say that?” Sutcliffe snapped back. “Is there proof?”
“No,” we mumbled.
“No,” he agreed, his voice returning to its usual friendly, comfortable tone.
“No.” He sighed sadly. “And yet – just because of things like THIS,” (shaking the magazine page accusingly) “millions of people spend their money on this product rather than another.”

We sat, mesmerised, while Mr Sutcliffe went on to demonstrate, clearly and convincingly, how we – the unsuspecting public – were constantly duped by advertisers, politicians, the media and anyone else with a vested interest in manipulating our minds.  He showed us how colour, design and typefaces created a desired attitude.  He showed us how empty words and clever phrases would place ideas in our minds.  He entreated us to stop and think and avoid being led blindly into behaving as They wanted us to.

“You are wise, intelligent young people,” he said, his voice almost cracking with emotion.  “You have the wit and the ability to make your own choices, to decide whether or not you believe what you are being told.  Be critical.  Be wary.  Be sceptical.  No one has the right – or the ability – to tell YOU what to think!”

Mr Sutcliffe had put his job on the line – even back in those liberal, relatively unmonitored times.  He had not given us an art lesson.  He’d given us educetion.  He’d shown us that we were not empty vessels to be filled with facts and instructions, but autonomous people with the ability to make our own choices.  Such behaviour was unheard of in those days.  We were being trained to be obedient little consumers; that was how capitalism worked.  We were being trained to believe those in authority; that was how politics worked.

Today, of course, things are very different.  Advertising is (somewhat) regulated.  Conspiracy theories and debunking explode from the internet in every direction.  Students in schools are taught critical thinking skills and encouraged to form their own opinions… aren’t they?

Call me sceptical and cynical and so forth if you like, but I was taught by Mr Sutcliffe.  I’ve learned to smell a rat.

Exam, College Students, Library, ReadingThe tide is turning.  Times are a-changin’ again.  Our leaders – fearful that their authority, and even their purpose, are being eroded – are fighting back.  They are being very clever about it, too.

The British education system is being overwhelmed by Junk Learning.  It is imposed by the government.  It isn’t in the National Curriculum – that would be too obvious.  It’s in the tests they are imposing on our children.  If schools want to survive, they need good test scores.  To get good test scores, the teachers must teach what will be tested.  It’s no accident that there has been a sudden leap in the amount of difficult, obscure and downright pointless material primary school children – as young as six – are required to learn and regurgitate on cue.

A recent study found – unsurprisingly – that a group of university academics, even when they were allowed to confer, were unable to complete the tests being given to 10 and 11-year-olds this year.  Needless to say, the stress caused to teachers, parents and children is utterly unacceptable.  Thousands of English parents are planning to ‘strike’ and keep their 6 and 7-year-olds out of school next Tuesday to show their displeasure at the test system.

Man, Suit, Leave, Marker, Text, FontSo why is it there?  Well, I venture to suggest, there are a finite number of hours in the school day.  The more of those hours that are devoted to the rote learning of pointless grammar and complex arithmetic, the less are available for educetion.  Children who are not given the chance to develop their innate talents and creativity, not encouraged to consider alternative viewpoints, not allowed to have any choice in what they study or how they study it will grow up believing themselves to be successes or failures, based on their ability (at the age of eleven) to identify a prepositional phrase or a modal verb or to multiply a fraction by another fraction.

How much easier will it be to manipulate such citizens, broken by a harsh, unreasonable and destructive system, than those who have been empowered to think and reason for themselves?

Guidance…

Well that was unexpected.

A request from a potential new Facebook friend.  The name’s distantly familiar.  So is the face, when I take a look at his profile, and those dim bells clanging at the very back of my mind are telling me he’s somehow connected to the school I worked at, before everything changed.  His profile says he’s from my old town.  Slightly bemused and curious, I press the Accept button.

An hour later, the young man messages me.  He’d been a student teacher at the school for a few weeks, it emerges, while I was working there.  We’d chatted several times in the staff room.  I feel slightly less embarrassed now that my recall was somewhat dim.  In the intervening years, he’s moved around the country, married, had children and is now back there and doing my old job – teaching Year 6 at the same Essex school.  Somewhat synchronous…

He tells me about life there these days.  Sounds ghastly – endless new initiatives imposed by clueless, reactionary politicians, ‘special measures’ imposed on the staff, ‘academy status’ whatever that is – more and more control from above, obviously – and packs of disaffected kids prowling the building and contemplating escape.  I suddenly feel very safe and cosseted by my present easy lifestyle.  Also mildly guilty for getting out when I did.

Then he totally amazes me.
“I read your book,” he says.

Available in paperback and Kindle editions

Really?  I can’t imagine anyone in Essex reading my book.  He tells me it inspired him and that he now has a totally new attitude towards education and is considering getting out of the crumbling system and educating in other ways.  He’s been on a Forest Schools course.  He’s thinking about working for a local wildlife trust and using that as a base for educating.

Good grief!  What did I write in that book?  It’s been a long while since I read it, so I take it off the shelf and have another look.

It most certainly isn’t about education, or how to educate.  It does have a rather teacherly style, though.  Re-reading it makes me wince slightly.  Did I really explain a multi-dimensional universe by instructing the reader on how to make a paper model?  It reads like the script of a 1980s episode of Blue Peter, for those who know what that is.  And yet it kind of works…

English: 42, The Answer to the Ultimate Questi...

What I was trying to do, when I put it together, was to write a book about the meaning and purpose of Life, the Universe and Everything which avoided all the wafty new-age psychobabble, mystical ramblings and cliches, (How DO you insert an acute accent on WordPress??) that were so prevalent when it was published in 2012.

The video game analogy is hopelessly overworked; the style (in an attempt to draw in a ‘youth’ audience) veers much closer to patronising than I’d now wish, yet it still has a sort of raw charm and honesty, I suppose, and a few ideas and insights which I haven’t seen expressed anywhere else.  Not a complete waste of time, then.

So how the young man discovered it and chose to read it, I’ll probably never know, but I’m all about encouraging everyone, myself included, to move out of the comfort zone and into newer and greater experience.  That appears to be – so early indications are suggesting – what 2016 is all about.

And what is the message for me?  There definitely is one; it says so in the book:

These synchronicities act like a sort of mental sticking plaster and are strong enough to hold the two of you together; to keep you talking and interacting until you both get the information or experience that you need…

Is this episode telling me to stop faffing about and to get on with writing the next book… and making it better?

Probably.

 

Education, education, education (repetition for emphasis)

What follows is based on the English (not British – this aspect of leadership is devolved to member countries) education system.  It would be interesting to hear how my experience compares with that of people in other countries, though.

A friend has recently transferred her nine year old son from the private to the state education system.  Her comments surprised me.
“I’m amazed,” she said, “how much this state school involves parents. I’ve been sent a pack of information about what they will be teaching my son this year and how I will be expected to support him in this. In the private sector, you just pay your money and they get on with it. You have no idea what they’re doing.”

Having spent all my working life in the state sector, this difference had never occurred to me.  It might go some way to explain how a succession of government ministers and their staff (almost all privately educated) know an embarrassingly minute amount about how children learn, what they need to learn and generally, as a headteacher friend remarked, ‘where the children and childhood are in all of this’.

So why am I off on another rant?  Well although I washed my hands of the system some seven years ago, I’ve been tutoring individual boys and girls ever since.  I basically teach what their parents ask me to.  If they are home-educated, I work on open-ended projects that interest the child, along with skills they will need in everyday life.  If they are in school, I help them to catch up with or understand whatever parts of the curriculum they are struggling with.

Duncan (10 years old) is already stressing out about the SATs tests he will be made to sit next May, before transferring to secondary school.  He’d asked me to tailor this year’s lessons to help him get through the tests.

students-377789_1280My heart sank.  I taught Year 6 (age 10-11) for many years.  Loved the kids; hated having to spend so much time teaching to these tests, rather than allowing the wonderful, vibrant, enthusiastic young people in my care to make discoveries, to explore different viewpoints and to find their passion.  Still, I owed it to young Duncan to help him cope as best I could, so I decided to update myself on the way SATs work these days.

The mental maths test has gone.  At first I was pleased for Duncan – rapid mental calculation is not one of his strengths.  Then I thought on.  Surely being able to work out how much two or three items will cost in a shop or whether the ‘special offers’ on display will save or cost us money is a useful life skill…  so teaching and even testing it makes some sense.  No, there are now three long written papers.

There used to be one paper that tested mathematical skills, while a second (calculator permitted) checked the ability to use those skills in more inventive or open-ended ways.  The calculator is now banned.  Well obviously.  Although almost every member of the population carries a mobile phone which includes a calculator, our children are being trained not to use it.  Oh dear.

I turned to the English tests.  These are being changed for the coming year.  All I could find were some sample questions showing the type of thing they will now be asked.  Here’s one for your consideration:  (aimed, remember, at children of 10 and 11 years old)

Tick one box in each row to show whether the word before is used as a subordinating conjunction or as a preposition.

Sentence                                                                       subordinating conjunction    preposition


 

We left the cinema before the end of the film.

The train ticket is cheaper before 9:00 in the morning.

I brush my teeth before I have breakfast.

 

I’m in my sixties; I’ve been a teacher all my working life; I’ve held posts as Head of English, English Co-ordinator, school librarian and so forth… and I have NEVER needed to identify a subordinating conjunction, far less compare it to a preposition.  I’ve yet to find anyone who has.

In case you’re clinging to the hope that my country’s government still has some semblance of a grasp of what education is about, and has just made that one rather glaring mistake… sorry to disappoint you, but here are some more extracts from the same document:

Fill in the gaps in the sentence below, using the past progressive form of the verbs in the boxes.

Rewrite the sentence below so that it begins with the adverbial. Use only the same words, and remember to punctuate your answer correctly.

Which option correctly introduces the subordinate clause in the sentence below?

Which option completes the sentence below so that it uses the subjunctive mood?

I could go on.

blackboard-156494_1280I spent much of my time as a teacher, trying to help children cope with the very complex spelling patterns in a language with so many roots, dissuading them from using text speak in their written work and explaining that ‘we was‘ or ‘could of‘ were not standard English.  This was in one of those rare areas of the country where almost all the children had English as a first language.

I can imagine the increased levels of stress that parents, children and teachers will suffer to jump through this latest set of ridiculous hoops.  What I can’t imagine is what goes on in the minds of the people who set such an inappropriate, boring and irrelevant curriculum.

Depressed now.  Need some light relief.  Please don’t watch this video if you are offended by bad language or simply don’t get the English sense of humour; otherwise go ahead and laugh or cry, depending on your mood.

Video of Fascinating Aida’s Ofsted song

A Little More than a Like?

‘It’s Lucy’s birthday’ Facebook tells me.  It asks whether I’d like to send her a greeting.

Lucy was in one of my primary school classes long ago – the first of many classes of 10-11 year olds I taught.

An interesting age group, that.  Somewhere between child and adolescent.  Somewhere between being the big ones at little kids’ school and the little ones at big kids’ school.  Somewhere between being revolted and fascinated by the opposite sex.  Somewhere between trying to look cool and disaffected, and having an absolute thirst for knowledge.  Quite a challenge, all in all, but it was still my favourite age group, and Lucy’s class was – by and large – one of my favourite classes.

So I clicked the ‘Write on Lucy’s timeline’ button and discovered that she is now 24.  I sent a little message, wishing her a great birthday, and thought no more of it.  Later in the day, though, I found she’d replied.

“Thank you,” she said, “but it will never be the same as when you wrote it up on the whiteboard.”

Happy Birthday

For a moment I was puzzled.  Then I remembered.  Yes, I DID do that!  I used to keep a note of the birthdays of every child in my class.  Then, when their big day arrived, I’d go in before school and cover the classroom whiteboard with a large, multicoloured message, decorated with flowers, balloons or whatever I felt would appeal to that child.  The rest of the class would see it as they came in and all – even the ones who didn’t know that child particularly well – would wish them a happy birthday.  A lot like what Facebook now does, I suppose.

I was amazed that Lucy had remembered that simple act over a decade later, especially when I’d completely forgotten.

Life’s like that, though, isn’t it?  We do the simplest of things and sometimes – just sometimes – they can have an effect that will last and last.

Happy Birthday, Lucy!

Danny Reading

 

Visual-dyslexia

Not Danny – but somewhat similar… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may remember Danny – he of the decimals and so forth.  He’s an after-school tutoring student of mine.  Coming up for twelve, still with speech difficulties and, shall we say, selective about what he gives his attention to…

I no longer teach him maths.  Reading has become the priority for our one hour a week together, since – he tells me – he is a ‘7.2’.  I’ve no idea what a 7.2 is, although I have a nasty suspicion that it could be his reading age, as tested by the special needs department.

To begin with, the reading books supplied by school looked promising – clean, attractively covered and illustrated and with easy words but age-appropriate content.  Week by week he unwillingly stumbled his way through them (“Have we DOT to do dis?”).  There was no discernible improvement.

Then the books changed.  Suddenly I was being presented with slim volumes of scantily worded and colourfully illustrated tales of ‘Ned the Greedy Dragon’, ‘Timmy the Flying Goat’ and their ilk.

“Seriously, Danny?” I remonstrated as yet another infant picture reader was dumped on the table.  “The school gave you this as your reading book?”

“I doze it myself,” he smirked conspiratorially, “I doze it ‘tos its easy!”

There followed a short but pointed lecture from me on the short-sightedness of this strategy and the difficulties that would accrue should he – as seemed more than possible – leave school without basic reading skills.

I didn’t feel I was getting through.
Danny, after all, has had seven long years to perfect his reading-avoidance strategies.  He wears them with pride.

Fortunately I know Danny well.  As I’ve discovered through our years together, motivation is everything with him.  A memory was stirring somewhere in my mind.  I recalled beginning to write a simplified version of Life: A Player’s Guide aimed at 9-12 year olds.  A short rummage around my PC’s hard drive revealed it: Coran and the Cosmic Computer Game.

English: Monitor "My Computer" icon ...
Would this story of avatar creation and computer coding in a sci-fi location be of interest to Danny?  I strongly suspected that it would.  I was also confident that he would be able to grasp – and relish – the analogy being drawn to Life.  Would the words be beyond his reading skills?  Well they were quite a way ahead of Timmy the Goat et al.  On the other had, if he were sufficiently motivated…

It was certainly worth a try.
IMG_20150529_085051 (1)First I drew up a grid, so that polysyllabic words could be written out, broken down into their constituent phonemes and blends.  (See right.)  Then I printed page 1 of the story:

 

Coran and the Cosmic Computer Game

 A brand new game! Coran was grinning to himself so much that he kept almost bursting into giggles. This was exciting. In fact it was more than exciting.

 He collected his pass and headed for the programming suite. That was where he would meet the programmer who would help him build his avatar and enter The Game.

He looked at the pass. It said he needed to go to Station 4. He headed across to the terminal and was greeted by a tall figure who sat the keyboard.

 “So, it’s nearly your birth-day, Coran,” said the Tall One, with a nod of his head.   “About time for you to do some choosing.”

“Hmm,” said Coran, thinking hard.

 Up where Coran lives, birth-days are not the same as birthdays here. A birth-day there means exactly what it says – the day you will be born!  Now that may seem odd to you, because Coran is already alive, or he couldn’t be saying, “Hmm,” – could he?

 What it means is that Coran is about to be born as a new character in a cosmic computer game. First he needs to select his avatar, which involves making loads of choices, then he will be ready to start playing The Game.

 Coran was trying to decide what sort of character he wanted to be in this game. He’d played it many times before, but this game was so mind-blowingly huge that each attempt could be completely different from all the ones before.

 “Nothing too easy,” he told the Tall One. “I want a real challenge this time. The last game was utterly boring.”

The Tall One smiled to himself and began to type the code on his machine.

“So you want a big challenge, huh?”

 “Definitely,” announced Coran. “My character will  have…”

The title was slow going.  By the end of the second sentence, though, he was reading most words without asking me to lay them out for him on the phoneme grid.  By the end he was barely stumbling on anything.  There were about three words in the whole passage I had to read for him.
He regarded me with wide eyes as he finished.  “I dort it was doin’ to tate me about a hour to read dat,” he said.
“Me too,” I admitted, and we both smiled broadly.
“Dan I read the next bit next time?” he asked.

As I mentioned, with Danny, motivation is everything.  I strongly suspect this is also true of so many of the so-called disaffected or learning-disabled students languishing in our schools.