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Category archive: Literacy

Sunday July 20 2008

Today I was at a party, and talked with a lady who teaches/helps to run/is involved with this school, which is run by this enterprise.

She expressed extreme pessimism about computers in education.  She said that pretty much all the vast amounts of money spent on computers in education so far has been wasted, and that all further expenditure on computers will likewise be money down the drain.  They spend enough time staring at screens as it is, without them being encouraged to stare at yet more screens when they ought to be learning things.  Computers do not encourage concentration.  They destroy it.

As for me, I don’t know.  Really, I don’t know.  I’m just passing on what she said.

If you want an old-school school, hers sounds pretty good, and there are still places going spare.  She talked about the Synthetic Phonics stuff that I have already researched, and clearly knew her stuff.  She has been asking around about a similarly good approach to maths, but has not yet found how that ought to be done.

She also said that during the last year or so, regular state schools have maybe been making some actual progress in the literacy department, what with the literacy hour, and with word getting around about Synthetic Phonics.  This despite the obfuscations spread by the government, who don’t want to admit how wrong they have been in the quite recent past.

Saturday July 05 2008

Last night I chanced upon a really interesting BBC4 TV documentary, fronted by Huw Edwards, on the subject of Sunday Schools. 

This blog liked it too:

It’s not just learning the words to Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam, says Huw Edwards. Early pioneers rocked the boat by teaching poorer children to read, and football clubs like Everton owe their existence to the religious classes.

Mention Sunday school today and many will think of an institution that feels fusty, cosy and quaint. Some might even feel outright hostility. But others remember kindness, rich storytelling and singing - happy memories of some of the best moments of childhood.

This remarkable movement, founded in 1774 with the first class held in a house in Gloucester, has had a deeply radical effect on British society. In the early days, it was seen as dangerous and subversive to give the tools of literacy to the lower orders. In Victorian times, Sunday schools helped shape future MPs, women teachers and a large number of the current Premiership football clubs.  And well into the 20th Century, Sunday school students parading at Whitsun could turn out in their thousands, bringing city centres to a standstill.

I daresay not all pupils will remember Sunday School quite as fondly as the talking heads reminiscing in this show all did.  But a convincing case was made that Sunday Schools, in their time, made quite an impact on the life of the nation, most of it beneficial.  The sheer kindness of these places came over very strongly, which meant a great deal to children who, especially in the early days of Sunday Schools, were typically working for pay and not much of it, for the other six days of the week.

For another response, go here.

UPDATE: It’s being shown again Sunday night (July 6) at 8pm.

Thursday July 03 2008

Continuing with the first comment on this that I quoted the beginning of below, and continuing with the theme of higher education as a British export industry, the final paragraphs of what “illuminatus” says go like this:

The wider cult of the metric is of great concern to me and is also starting to creep into HE too. Stories published this week about degree inflation and pressure on academics to wave through international students whose grasp of English is so tenuous as to be pretty much non-existent are just small indicators that the era of the comprehensive university is upon us (trust me, I work in one). Ed Balls is not unique, just the latest in a long line of education ministers who has covered their ears and whistled so they can’t hear the concerns of those of us in the education system telling them some rather uncomfortable truths about education policy and its implementation.

In the words of Albert Einstein: not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

He’s talking about these stories.  Further evidence, I suggest, that Terence Kealey is wrong about the alleged continuing excellence of universities, but right that universities should retain their independence, and preferably have it strengthened.  Instead, that is to say, of becoming “comprehensives” living in a state of perpetual political derangement and deterioration.

Monday June 30 2008


Pupils are being rewarded for writing obscenities in their GCSE English examinations even when it has nothing to do with the question.

One pupil who wrote “f*** off” was given marks for accurate spelling and conveying a meaning successfully.

Key question: how much have they been rewarded.  Well, I would say that 11 percent just for “Fuck off!”, with 3.5 percent extra for the exclamation mark is somewhat excessive.  On the other hand, “off” is a word that frequently gets spelled wrongly, as “of”.  But, on the whole, I don’t favour swearing.

Other examining bodies said that their marking schemes would not reward such language. Edexel said: “If the question was ‘Use a piece of Anglo-Saxon English’, they may get a mark, but if they had just written ‘f*** off’, they may get sanctioned. If it was graphic or violent they may get no mark for that paper.”

Opposition spokesman Nick Gibb said:

“This is fucking ridiculous.”

No.  What he really said was:

“It’s taking the desire for uniformity and consistency to absurd lengths.”

Says Coffee House: You couldn’t make it up, and in order to demonstrate that things ain’t what, correction: are not as, they used to be, also links to this.  Charles Pooter gets all post-modern about it.

Thursday June 05 2008

Yesterday at mad housewife:

My son started surfing the net aged 2, on the Cartoon Network games site. He taught himself to read from reading the net, when his school class was still trying to memorise the alphabet. When he was still an earlyish reader, he learned everything from youtube, which is fantastic for those with less striking literary talents, like my daughter (I would say she is dyslexic, but she doesn’t like being “dys” anything), who finds out almost everything by searching google images first.

Their internet (in the UK) has been down due to storms for a few days, but today it came back up. I’ve never appreciated the internet so much! said D, listening to the latest pop songs and looking up the names of a couple of TV presenters to tell me about. Wow, I’ve got so much email! said Son, who has made a new “email friend” of one of his school chums.

It’s impossible to tell how the world will change when every child has access to a laptop with internet, but I’m absolutely sure it will be for the better. Kids turn into adults. It’s hard for most of us even to imagine how we’d be now, had we grown up with that kind of knowledge-power.

I don’t think I necessarily agree about this being an automatic good.  Knowledge is power and power can be used to do bad.  But, the world will change, I do agree about that.

A mad housewife commenter supplied this link.

Monday May 12 2008


If you are going to make classical references, best you spell ‘em correctly.


Which supplies some party political balance for this.

Although, this particular gaff is not really about someone being unable to spell.  I mean, Jason Whatsisname can spell Argonaut.  He just didn’t.  I often make such mistakes here, and then either correct them if I spot them, or if someone else does.  Or not.  So this may really be about the tendency of internet stuff not to be “proof-” read (note the printing origins of that phrase) properly.

On the other hand, I suspect that the Labour person who miss-spelled (which is another whole spelling argument - see the comments in my earlier post) excellence as excellance really did semi-think that that’s how excellence is generally spelt.

So, maybe not balanced after all.  Which might be either because Guido is a sneaky person, or because Labour people actually are worse at spelling than the Conservatives.

I think I am glad about this, not because I hate literature and art and all that, but because I love it, but a lot of them don’t:

For generations, the study of literature has been a pillar of liberal education, a prime forum for cultural self-examination, and a favorite major for students seeking deeper understanding of the human experience.

But over the last decade or so, more and more literary scholars have agreed that the field has become moribund, aimless, and increasingly irrelevant to the concerns not only of the “outside world,” but also to the world inside the ivory tower. Class enrollments and funding are down, morale is sagging, huge numbers of PhDs can’t find jobs, and books languish unpublished or unpurchased because almost no one, not even other literary scholars, wants to read them.

I can still remember a one-to-one lesson (more of a conversation really) which I did with Smart Girl (who is Smart Boy‘s sister) in which we discussed how she might set about choosing a boy friend.  One way, we agreed (and I think we really did agree – I honestly don’t remember this as just me telling her and her staying quiet), to check out boys is to put them through ordeals, of the sort that happen to Young Men in Literature.  As Author, she would put her Young Men through dramas and disasters and triumphs, and her Young Ladies would thus be able satisfactorily to choose between them, on the basis of more than mere charm and good looks.

If they wrote about things like that in Literary Criticism, maybe people might want to read it.

The author of the piece quoted above thinks literary criticism needs to become more like science.  I suspect that this belief is more like the problem than the solution.  The desire to produce “theories” of literature is, I feel, the problem.  But his point is that these theories can and should be tested.  It is worth reading, as we bloggers say, the whole thing.

Thursday May 01 2008

My main duty at Kings Cross Supplementary is one-on-one teaching of pupils who are perhaps inconvenient to fit into the two big classes - because they are too old, young, clever and impatient, slow and quiet, whatever.  For those who particular like the personal attention that these sorts of lessons bestow, they can also be used as rewards for good conduct in the regular multiple-pupil lessons.  If all I do is a bit of child-minding while the Real Teachers are able to get on with their Real Teaching a bit more smoothly, well, that’s a contribution.  And of course I try to do better than that.

One of the techniques I am refining is the use of paper in these one-on-one classes.  At the end of the class I like to gather up all the bits of paper that the pupil and I have both been writing on or doing sums on and present them to the pupil.  Do with them whatever you please, I say.  Perhaps show them to your parents, to show them what you have been doing (and what they have been paying for).  The children all seem to me to have more than enough homework on their plates, and besides, I am too idle to be bothered with chasing up and marking such homework.  I like to do the lesson and then say to them, that’s it, you’re free to go, no homework, hope you learned something, hope it wasn’t too annoying, etc. etc.  And, here are all the bits of paper we used up.  These are covered in such things as diagrams, writing by them and next to it the same thing by me (often better written but not always), lists of things we (alright: I) talked about, scribbled down by me.  Last Tuesday it was the titles of Shakespeare plays, written out for a ten-year-old girl who wants to be an actress.

Although, as I say, what they do with these bits of paper is entirely up to them, I like to think that some of them do look again at some of these often unruly, sometimes multi-coloured screeds, and thus that some of the lessons referred to on them are reinforced.

I quickly learned that mere scrap paper, i.e. paper blank on one side but with the rest of my scandalously opinionated life on the other side of it, is not suitable for this purpose.  What if a parent read the wrong side?  (Most of my store of scrap paper dates from my time as the Libertarian Alliance pampleteer.) Luckily, blank paper is now as cheap as it has ever been.

Giving them the paper at the end
How important is good spelling?
A sledgehammer to skin a flagship
Steven Malanga on whole-language versus phonics
Fancy way to learn the alphabet
Small Boy is definitely being educated
Education through rugby
Getting better at teaching Small Boy
Learning by assisting
Irina Tyk says beware snakes
Butterfly Book in short supply
J. P. Rangaswami - gracious in victory
Bad education?
Why Gerald Hartup deserves an especially Happy Christmas
Dyslexics are more likely to own their own companies
Choices and consequences
Woodhead on GCSEs and on centralisation
It’s not the Sun wot done it
Handwriting is essential if you want to add words to pictures and for doing maths
Iliterate slebs
In praise of the pencil