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.

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.

 

A Fairytale Finale

English: Ballet shool Deutsch: Tanzklasse

A true story, this – and if not stranger than fiction, it at least has more or less all the features of a fairytale.

Those of you with long memories, who have been following my blog for quite a while, may remember the Tale of Tuesday.  Tuesday (her real name, for once, as I’m sure someday she’ll be famous) was a young girl I taught here in Somerset until a year or so back.  My job was to teach her maths and English.  It wasn’t always easy, as sitting at a table writing was the hardest thing in the world for her.
“I need to MOVE!” she’d say, so there would be several breaks in a lesson when she was allowed to waft around the study, arms and feet stretching and waving wildly, before settling for a bit more learning.

All she wanted to do – and I truly mean ALL – was to dance.

Her ballet teacher told her parents  how talented she was.  She advised them to try for a place at a ballet school.  So it was that, in the spring of last year, Tuesday was accepted at one of London’s most prestigious (and expensive) ballet schools.  Now she was not from some wealthy, upper-middle class family.  The cost of moving to London, paying rent there and covering her fees would have been prohibitive at the best of times but this, it turned out, was the worst of times.

No sooner had Tuesday got her place, than her father was diagnosed with cancer.  He is one of the most focused people I’ve ever met, and thinks the world of his daughter.  He’d been quite prepared to work all hours to fund her place, but his health deteriorated very fast and things became incredibly difficult.

So do you believe in magic?  Friends rallied round, a crowd-funding appeal was set up and somehow – none of us are quite sure how it happened – the rent, the fees and the cost of all the extras a young dancer needs were paid month by month.  I know that some of my blog followers were kind enough to contribute to her fund, so heartfelt thanks to them.

Those were hard and difficult days.  Her mother was worried sick each day.  Her dad was battling his illness and still trying to work when he could.  Tuesday struggled to fit in with a class of children from very different backgrounds to herself.  When I met up with them in London last Christmas things looked bleak.  None of us knew what would happen.

Bridge, Wood, Forest, Woods, Tree, TreesTime for a sprinkling of fairy dust now, though.

The ballet school discovered the desperate situation the family were in.  They also discovered that Tuesday was an outstanding dancer – one they wanted to hold on to.  They offered her a bursary, so that she could keep attending for free.  Her dad was moved to one of London’s best hospitals specialising in cancer, so that he had access to pioneering treatment and expert care.  He’s still with us.  Tuesday began to earn the respect of her classmates and to fit in far better.  By the summer, things were looking up.

Every Christmas, the school puts on a performance of The Nutcracker at a small London theatre.  When I discovered that Tuesday had been chosen to dance Clara – the leading role, I knew I had to go and watch.

As in all fairy tales, though, there are twists and turns in the plot right up to the end.  The theatre was closed at very short notice and it seemed the show would have to be cancelled.  I did tell you it was a prestigious school, didn’t I?  There were friends in high places and somehow or other they were given the run of one of the most famous theatres in London’s West End for a day.

Statue of Anna Pavlova on the dome of the Vict...

Thus it was that I found myself sitting in the royal circle, watching the most magical production, while the little girl who had twirled and glided around my study just a year or so before was giving an immaculate performance and capturing the hearts of everyone in the audience.

The ballet school had thoughtfully sent a car to pick her father up, so that he would be able to watch.  During the interval Darcey Bussell – one of the UK’s most celebrated ballerinas – introduced herself to him and told him how brilliant Tuesday’s performance was.

I just could not have been happier and prouder as I watched Tuesday take her curtain call and accept a bouquet of flowers with poise and grace that belied her tender age.

On the tube going home, I overheard a couple discussing the show.
“That little girl who danced the lead,” said the man, “What a future she has ahead of her!”
“She was splendid,” agreed his partner.

She was.

 

 

 

 

Thinner than blood?

Blood, they say, is thicker than water.  Maybe so.  Sometimes, though, the thinner, more watery relationships can show a surprising strength and tenacity.  Ours has.

Wondering what might have happened if… is a fairly pointless occupation, but I do sometimes find myself considering how my life and William’s would have been, had he not, at the tender age of six, joined the class I was teaching and had his mother not, almost immediately after that, developed breast cancer and slowly and sadly passed over just a few years later.

Regardless of what might have been, those things all happened.  I believe that’s the way all three of us – at soul level – planned it.

I was destined to devote many years of my working life to helping children with speech and language difficulties and autistic spectrum perception communicate with the rest of us, and many more years helping this one boy in particular.

Scrutinizing facial expressions

William was a child with a formidable intellect, an enhanced sensitivity which made ‘normal’ sounds, tastes or smells virtually unbearable, a gift for strategy bordering on brilliance (he was the school chess champion at 7, thrashing talented 11-year-old opponents – and me! – with consummate ease), marked telepathic skills, a smile that would melt the hardest heart and hardly any comprehensible spoken language.  While he would spend endless hours contemplating life, the universe and everything, watching Star Trek and devising codes and cyphers, he was totally baffled by everyday life and found other children particularly puzzling.  He couldn’t read facial expressions or tones of voice.  He could follow only the simplest of verbal instructions and idioms or sarcasm threw him into a meltdown.

I was fascinated – totally hooked – by this intriguing little kid, long before the tragedies in his life threw us together.

I did my best.  I befriended and supported his mum, did what I could to help the family – taking the children out to give the parents some time together or sitting with the mum so that Dad and the boys could have some afternoons doing normal family stuff together.  My head teacher came and read stories to the class once a week, so that I could give William some individual time to draw pictures, talk through his fears, his nightmares, his frustrations and fury.  A strong bond started to form between us.  Inasmuch as he could trust anyone in those days when his world was falling apart, he trusted me.

Later I’d visit his mum at the hospice.  We talked through what was to come and she begged me to stay in touch with him and keep caring and helping him after she’d gone and after he’d left my class.  I promised.

Teen, Teenager, Boy, Teens, MaleCaring was never a problem.  Helping often was.  There were times in the years that followed when we got along amazingly well together.  We shared many interests – chess, train journeys, a fascination with cosmology, time travel, past lives and the like.  There were times when he retreated totally and refused to speak to me.  There were times when he wanted to talk on the phone for hours every night.  There were dodgy mates and dangerous situations.  Adolescence is something of a tightrope for even the most well-adjusted boy.  Add in difficulties reading social situations and hidden motives, family rifts (he didn’t get along well with his new step-mother), childhood trauma and residual speech difficulties and you have a drug-pusher’s dream client, a bully’s perfect victim and someone guaranteed to swell the coffers of the local off-licence.

Falkensteiner Cave, Cave, Caves PortalI carried on doing my best.  I made it plain that I’d be there, whatever happened, and somehow – even when I’d more or less given up all hope – he’d eventually drift back into my life, start to share his amazing and original ideas with me again, and I would keep them safe.  There would be strange predictions about the future, diagrams of the cosmos, theories about anything from life after death to interdimensional portals.  I kept them in old journals, on scraps of paper and in all manner of files on my hard drive.  It felt important.

What happened to William, and all those words, will follow.

To be continued.

 

 

 

 

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

Minglish!

English: William-Adolphe Bouguereau's La leçon...

Sam and I invented Minglish.  I teach him for an hour a week after school and as we only have that short time to build up his skills in both maths and English, I sometimes have to find ways of combining the two in a single piece of work.  Minglish is – obviously – a hybrid of maths and English.

Right now, I’m being tasked with teaching him his four times table, improving his reading skills and expanding his vocabulary so that he uses more exciting and adventurous descriptive words in his creative writing.  I’ve spent most of today dreaming up a way of combining the ‘three rs’ in a way that should appeal to Sam (inasmuch as the four times table ever could).

Since that leaves me little time for blogging, I thought you might like to join Sam on the adventure I’ve planned for him.  Hopefully as, over the next few weeks, he reads the words, finds suitable vocabulary to fill the gaps, answers sums and memorises the numbers, he may make progress in all three targets.  Not exactly the style of teaching I’d choose, left to my own devices, but needs must when the National Curriculum drives.

If you’re an educator or parent, feel free to copy or adapt, although a mention of the originator would be kind and obviously passing it off as your own work or making a profit from it would not.

 

Sam was wandering along the ______________ path, when a _________________ dragon swooped towards him.

“What on earth…?” _____________ Sam.

“I am Foraytes,” the creature ____________. “I have come to help you with a problem you’re having.   I have come to teach you your 4 x table.”

Sam groaned ______________.   “Thanks, but honestly, please don’t bother.”

Foraytes let out a _______________ shriek and grabbed Sam’s shoulders in his _______________ claws.  

 “I will teach you, whether or not you choose to learn!” he cried _______________.

 “Right, okay, fine,” said Sam ______________. He decided it would be best not to annoy this creature.   Miserably, he sat down on the _______________ ground.

 “Can you count in twos?” asked Foraytes, settling down in front of Sam.

“Sure – easy,” said Sam, and did so. “___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___.”

 “That will do,” said Foraytes ______________. “Now say them again, but this time miss out the 2 and every alternate number.”

This was harder, but Sam had a go: ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___.

 “Oh!” ____________ Sam.   “I just counted in fours, didn’t I?”

“Indeed you did,” ______________ the creature, with a reptilian smile. Then it pointed a wing towards the distance and said something that sounded like ‘Fort Ooze.’

“Huh?” said Sam.   “Where?”

Foraytes hopped up and down in ____________. “Say 8,” he shrieked. “When someone says Fort Ooze, you must reply 8. It’s the password.”

“Oh, four twos!” Sam ___________ . “I get it! Yeah – Fort Ooze. Eight.”

 “That’s better,” ____________ the creature. “Now go to Fort Ooze and remember the password.”

Sam thanked him and headed in the direction Foraytes was pointing. He didn’t much like the sound of Fort Ooze, but he still wanted to ______________.

“By the way,” Foraytes called after him. “Do you know Fort Ends?”

Sam thought for a moment.   “OH, you mean four tens,” he ____________. “It’s ____.”

He heard the flapping of wings as the ______________ creature rose into the sky.

Sam walked ______________ along the path leading to Fort Ooze. Eventually he came to a wide river.   The only bridge was broken and had a huge gap in the centre.

 There was a rowing boat tied to a post on his side though. Next to it was a tall ______________ box with this notice on it.

Five Oars.

Insert correct change in the slot.

 

Sam was getting used to this by now.

“I think it means Five Fours,” he _____________. He took a _____p coin from his pocket and put it in the slot on the box. The door swung open ____________ and Sam grabbed a couple of the oars and started to row across.

He tied the boat up _____________ at the other side and kept walking.

After half an hour or so, he heard something above him. At first he thought it was Foraytes again, but he looked up to see a ____________ dragon who looked much younger and more friendly.

“Hi,” called the small dragon, “Are you Sam? I bet you are. You met my uncle Foraytes, didn’t you?”

Sam managed to nod before the creature carried on, “Thought so. Can you work out how old my uncle is?   If you can, I’ll tell you my name.   Then you’ll be able to figure out my age, too. Isn’t this fun!”

Sam smiled in a ____________ way. “So your uncle is called Foraytes. That sounds like four eights. So I’m guessing he is ____ years old,” he replied.

The little dragon clapped all of its wings together. “You’re clever! Now guess my age. Go on, go on! My name is Wunfor.”

“Then I think you must be ____ years old,” ____________ Sam.

 “Oh you’re VERY clever!” squealed Wunfor. “Tell me all the bits you’ve learned.”

Sam sighed. “OK. I know Wunfor – one four is ____. Two fours, I mean Fort Ooze is ____. Then I found five oars – five fours – was ____, Foraytes – four eights – that’s ____ and Fort Ends, wherever that is, is four tens, which is _____.”

“Fort Ends is quite near here,” Wunfor told him. “Do you want a lift? I could carry you on my back, you know.   I’m ___________ strong!”

By now Sam’s legs were aching __________, so he was happy to accept a lift. They flew far above the treetops and the lands below looked like ________________.

“See that place with the four tall pine trees over there?” Wunfor shouted. “It’s called Four Trees.”

“That makes sense,” said Sam. “Is it ____ miles away by any chance?”

 “Wow! You’re magic!” _________ the young dragon. How did you know that?”

“Four Trees sounds like four ___s,” grinned Sam.

 “Well you’re going to do fine on the rest of the journey if you’re that __________,” Wunfor told Sam. “Here we are now. This is Fort Ends.”

They landed by some ruined stones.

“There was a _________ fort here once,” said Wunfor ___________, “but it ended ____ years ago. You need to keep walking in that direction, Sam.   Oh, and if you run into my grumpy Uncle Sevenforce, just shout 28 at him as loud as you can, then he will leave you in peace.”

“What if I forget?” Sam asked _____________.

Wunfor shook his head.   “Well you know most dragons breathe fire? He does that with a force seven gale thrown in, so you’d better remember!”

 Sam thanked the __________ dragon and hurried down the road. “Sevenforce 28, Sevenforce 28,” he kept muttering under his breath.

He noticed a gate across the road ahead. A very posh looking man stood next to it.

 “Hello,” said Sam, _____________. “Please can I go through the gate?”

The man had the poshest accent Sam had ever heard. “Fwar Fwars,” he said.

“Er, sorry?” Sam ___________.

 “Fwar Fwars!” repeated the man crossly.

 Suddenly Sam understood.   “Oh, you mean four fours! That’s ____.”

The man stuck his nose in the air and walked across slowly to open the gate.

“Thanks Mister,” Sam __________ and he carried on along the ___________ road.

By this time Sam was getting hungry and thirsty. He’d been travelling for ages.  He saw a small cottage ahead, with brightly coloured chairs and tables outside. There were red umbrellas over each table.   ___________ he went and sat down at one.

 A smiling waitress appeared almost immediately. “What can I get you, Sir?”

“I’d like a lemonade, please and slice of chocolate cake.” Sam __________.

“Certainly, Sir,” the waitress ___________. “Our lemonade costs six times four pence and the cakes are all nine times four pence. We also have coffee and walnut and lemon drizzle cake.”

“Your prices are very good!” exclaimed Sam, hunting in his pocket for the money. He took out ____ pence for the lemonade and _____ pence for the cake. “I’ll stick with the chocolate cake, thanks.   I __________ chocolate.”

 “Thank you Sir. I hope you enjoy your rest at the Fourpenny Café.”

 Sam had just taken a mouthful of the ____________ chocolate cake when there was a rushing sound behind him and the fiercest dragon you can imagine landed beside him.

Sam was so startled, he sprayed cake crumbs all over the table. “_____” he said, as soon as he had stopped coughing.

“So you’ve heard my name!” __________ the dragon. “Yes, I am Sevenforce. How much is the cake?”

“Er, it’s nine times four pence,” Sam said.

“Which is…?” The dragon’s eyes narrowed _____________.

____” he replied ___________. And the lemonade was six times four, which is ____.”

“Hmm, not bad,” said Sevenforce. “I may pop back for some later.   Right now I have some burning issues to attend to.” And to Sam’s relief, he flew off in another direction.

 After his snack, Sam found it was an easy downhill walk to Fort Ooze.

“Password!” shouted a familiar voice.

___” replied Sam, ___________.

 “Well remembered,” smiled Foraytes, peering down at him from one of the battlements. Let’s see what you’ve learned.”

Sam smiled. “I know how old you are, Foraytes. You’re _____. And your nephew Wunfor is ____. You have a scary brother and he’s called _____________. I had to shout ____ to stop myself getting burned by him.”

“Excellent,” Foraytes replied. “How many pence did it cost to hire the five oars?”

“Well I only used 2 of them, but 5 x 4 is ____. And I had to get past that posh bloke who said ‘fwar fwars’ by saying ____. Oh and the cost of lemonade is ___x 4, which is ____ and the cake costs ____ x 4 which is ____.”

“Superb,” __________ the dragon. What places did you see?”

 “I got a lift to Fort Ends, which is 4 x 10, which is ____. Oh and we saw Four Trees ____ miles away.”

“Congratulations.”   Foraytes bowed before him (32 times).   “Here is your prize, young Sam.”

And to Sam’s delight, the dragon gave him four wings, which fitted perfectly, so that he could fly straight home.