Monday, 27 July 2009

Poetic babel

I noticed that the new Japanese edition of Green Fingers had attracted a five star review on Amazon,jp. (That's how sad authors are! Well, this one anyway.) So I translated it with Babelfish and out came this bizarre poetry. I think they understood what I was trying to do, and I was impressed that they noticed, as no other reviewer has done, that there are oblique references to 'The Secret Garden' of Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Among 5.0 five stars the garden which revives it brings, the story “of miracle”, 2009/7/2 By The free person east - you look at the review entirely Being delicate, the cover of the color tone which settles. The cutting picture which is used in you taste and are deep is. Thing “of the person who are skillful “the green finger” of title, according to the postscript of the translator to raise the plant,” it seems. If you mention “the garden”, “Hanazono of Burnett secret” and so on is famous, but the contents that your this story are the same the children and the old person recover the smiling face by the fact that “the garden” is loved. Simply, today there being just a work as expected, with ordinary means it does not go. The child who suffers from study obstacle. Sorrow of the old person who loses the destination. The parents and the heart which face to the catastrophe trouble of the children who can hurt…. The kind of part which even pathology of today's society is said being portrayed, rather harsh development continues. As for main characters elementary school student rank? Girl Kate, that younger brother microphone, and young younger sister [emiri]. Grandfather Walter of [ruizu] and [ruizu] of the friend of Kate's parents and Kate… with the place where you say. In the wind that, is conclusion of the “happy end”, “the garden which is lost” revives from interchange of the children and Walter, is released even from the suffering of each one, but as the word that “it changes “everyone… it cannot go backward the person””, displayed, “as for future thing you do not understand”, that you say, also circumstances of the children who keep accepting “actuality” keep being drawn,…. As a child book when “the conventional” story is expected, perhaps, surface saddle [u] one you are, but the spectacle of the garden which little by little displays the form and the smiling face of the children are attractive. Kate's age not to be written, because it is left to the imagination of the person who is read, remembering the familiar children, it is good reading, probably will be. It touched the everyday earth, the grass flower while passing the time of the [ru] with love, it was similar to old person Walter, the beautiful garden where the girl Kate's who keeps becoming the “green finger” story, it revived brings, importance of the thing which stands up with the foot of the self without escaping from harsh actuality through “miracle”, is made to realize. In very the children who are devoted to study and the game the story which would like to have reading. Of course, even in the adult who finishes to become tired with work and play recommendation.

A very short bicycle tour

I drove down to Wales last Thursday, left my car at my sister's house and biked off over the Black Mountains towards Hay-on-Wye. It was a lovely afternoon and I biked up narrow, tree-lined lanes by a river past Llantony Priory to the top of the Gospel Pass, where an elderly couple in a small white Romahome van offered me a hot drink.

Then I set off down a glorious descent in the evening sunlight, thinking about camping and cooking supper. I was most of the way down when I came round a bend and hit the special bike-dumping substance which had been laid in my path. The usual slow-motion effect followed as I decided I'd have to go into the hedge. I bounced off the hedge and hit the road with the bike on top of me. Anmazingly, no damage had occurred to the bike. I had a nose-bleed and various bumps and cuts on my leg, but I could stand up, and even ride the bike. So I rode to a campsite and the following day I carried on cycling towards Builth Wells.

At first I was feeling quite pleased with myself. My leg hurt every time I turned the pedals, but it was working. By the time I reached my destination it was becoming ever harder to move. By the time I'd eaten lunch (I recommend the cottage pie at the Strand Cafe!) I'd concluded that my cycle tour was over, and I had to phone my sister for rescue.

I think I am fated never to cycle up the Elan valley, which was my intention. I had to cancel a similar mission once before.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Shoals of Herring

I wouldn't want anyone to think that I'm perpetually gloomy. And good things still happen in the world of education. Here's an animated movie made by a bunch of eight-year -olds. They love singing sea songs, so we sang them in the middle of Lowestoft last Saturday. We drew a big crowd and had a lot of fun.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

What's the big hurry?

When I started teaching back in 1986 the world of the English primary school was on the point of huge changes. I had qualified as a teacher in 1977 as a member of one of the first groups to be able to take a Postgraduate Certificate in Education for primary teaching. This had previously been reserved for secondary teachers and was introduced as part of a drive to get more graduates into primary schools and raise the status of the profession and the quality of teaching. I trained with an interesting and talented bunch, and the course had its interesting aspects, too. We discussed child development and theories of education. We read Rousseau's 'Emile For Today' and John Holt's 'Why Children Fail' and Ivan Illich's 'Deschooling Society'. We read Piaget and his disciples and critics. We even learned to teach. But by the time I qualified there were almost no jobs, as we were informed by someone who came to the college to tell us about getting a job. So I started making jewellery instead, as people did back in the mythical seventies.

Ten years later I was drawn back to teaching and when I started applying for jobs my friend, Mike Ingham, recommended that I read the Plowden Report. He said it with a twinkle in his eye, and then said, echoing the ancient Chinese curse, that it was 'an interesting time' to be entering primary education.

He couldn't have been more right. By 1988 we had the Education Reform Act which introduced the National Curriculum. The politicians said they'd tell us what to teach, but not how to teach it. We had to wait for New Labour to tell us how to teach - fifteen minutes of word level work, fifteen minutes of sentence level, twenty minutes of activities and then a plenary session - that was the Literacy Hour. And the result of that was that children did less reading and writing and talking than they had done before, and instead of getting to know their children teachers spent hours puzzling over phonemes and graphemes and connectives and feeling stupid for not understanding. There was so little time left for writing that six-year-olds were planning a story on Monday, writing the opening paragraph on Tuesday, the middle on Wednesday and the ending on Thursday, by which time both they and their teachers had totally lost interest.

The introduction of guided reading where groups of children read the same book at the same time led to the arrival a great many second- and third-rate texts produced in an enormous hurry to fit with the Literacy Strategy. These books came complete with teachers' books which gave (and still give) a step-by-step guide to talking to the children about the text in question. I won't quote them. They are astoundingly banal.

I would like to have a large sign erected at the entrance of every primary school. It would read: WHAT'S THE BIG HURRY? Children should start school later, and their experience should be utterly different to what it is now. Mary Jane Drummond give some indication of what things might be like in: Professional Amnesia: a suitable case for treatment in the journal Forum. Here's a quote to whet your appetite:

"(Susan Isaacs) (in The Children We Teach 1932) identifies the three kinds of spontaneous activity that characterise the lives of young children.

• The love of movement and of perfecting bodily skills
• The delight in make-believe and the expression of the world within
• The interest in actual things and events, the discovery of the world without

It is worth emphasising Isaacs’ use of the word ‘spontaneous’ here: she is not listing three kinds of activities that teachers should plan for, nor three kinds of learning intentions, or three sets of early learning goals. She is synthesising her evidence of what real children actually do in the world, the activities that well up from their physical and intellectual energy, and from their deep desire to understand, which is, according to Isaacs, ‘a veritable passion’ (1932, p. 113). We may also note that these activities, these three kinds of learning by doing, are comprehensive in their scope. Everything is here: the physicality of children; their interest in the world without and everything and everyone in it; and the parallel universes of the children’s imagination, the world within. Isaacs’ little list demonstrates that children’s spontaneous activities qualify them as
experts in curriculum design; they spontaneously and holistically do ‘coverage’ of their own accord – no sticks or carrots needed."

It's not just me!

Well look at this! No, not the author pursued by cows across a Swiss meadow. I mean this rare case of anecdotal evidence being backed up by research. It seems that teachers really don't read children's books. This article is from The Bookseller in 2008. I doubt whether much has changed since then. I've always been puzzled by the media representation of teachers as radicals and revolutionaries. It's certainly not the case in Primary schools. A lot of the teachers I know go to bed at 9.30. I don't think they have the energy to revolt.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

More about reading

The desire to look like a reader or a person of culture without having to read or think is not a new one. Flann O'Brien had a novel take on it in the column that he wrote for the Irish Times as Myles na gCopaleen. This book, The Best of Myles, must be one of the funniest ever written. Anyway, Myles invented the Irish Writers, Actors, Artists, Musicians Association (WAAMA) which offered a Book Handling Service. If you want an impressive library that doesn't look brand-new and unread, the service provides for dog-earing and marginal annotations at various levels of sophistication. WAAMA also offered a ventriloquists' escort service:

'A lot of the letters we receive are from well-off people who have no books. Nevertheless, they want to be thought educated. Can we help them, they ask?

Of course. Let nobody think only book-owners can be smart. The Myles na gCopaleen Escort Service is the answer.

Why be a dumb dud? Do your friends shun you? Do people cross the road when they see you approaching? Do they run up the steps of strange houses, pretend they live there and force their way into the hall while you are passing by? If that is the sort of person you are, you must avail yourself today of this new service. Otherwise, you might as well be dead.'

After applying...

'You are instructed to be in attendance at the foyer of the Gate Theatre that evening, and to look out for a tall, distiguished-looking gentleman of military bearing attired in immaculate evening dress. You go. You meet him. He advances towards you smiling, ignoring all the other handsome baggages that litter the place. In an instant his moustaches are brushing your lips.
'I trust I have not kept you waiting, Lady Charlotte,' he says pleasantly. What a delightfully low, manly voice!

'Not at all, Count,' you answer, your voice being the tinkle of silver bells. 'And what a night for Ibsen. One is in the mood, somehow. Yet a translation can never be quite the same. Do you remember that Stockholm...long ago?

The fact of the matter is, of course, that you have taken good care to say nothing. Your only worry throughout the evening is to shut up and keep shut up completely. The trained escort answers his own manly questions in a voice far pleasanter than your own unfeminine quack, and gives answers that will astonish the people behind for their brilliance and sparkle.'