Wednesday 28 November 2018

Testing, testing, don't question the testing.

There is testing at KS1 (6 and 7 year olds) and at KS 2 (10 and 11 year olds). There may well be 'Baseline testing' for four year olds coming down the line soon. Secondary schools often feel that that the KS2 tests are not valid or reliable so they administer their own tests - often along the same sort of lines. In between, and beyond, there is inevitably a huge amount of teaching to the test which - to spell it out - frames knowledge and frames how children think about knowledge because of the questions being asked.

These questions have to have right/wrong answers or one version or another of multiple choice questions. This is because the DfE demand 'comparable outcomes' as if this is a pillar of democracy. In fact, it's an instrument of control: teachers, pupils and parents are drawn into the seeming significance of these tests as measures of children, teachers and schools and whole communities. The tests' supposedly unquestioned ability to measure what is significant is constantly put to one side. The testing, what is tested and how it is tested is forced upon us as being supposedly and unquestionably meaningful and useful.

In fact, as teachers and professionals will tell us there are many significant ways of dealing with knowledge, ideas, thought and feeling., some of them much more significant than the simply right/wrong ones. What's more, children and school students don't all have to be constantly assessed or indeed assessed in ways that are instantly marketable(ie the data) or used for 'comparative outcomes'.

High stakes, summative testing leaves no room for children or society to question the validity of reducing knowledge (and children) to people graded solely according to a right/wrong system of thought. They/we 'become' a grade that's based on this right/wrong way of thinking. And we are forced or conditioned to accept this grade as a final statement about ourselves - even though the test leaves much of who we are, how we think, how we work with others outside of the test, outside of the door.

I find that if I query the basis of a question on a test, or a test as a whole, there is always someone who will come back and 'explain' that the given question is in fact 'reasonable'. (You can find an example of this on the comments thread following my article about using a poem for last year's KS2 SATs 'Reading' paper. I've replied to the person with this:

"If you think 
a) that high stakes, summative assessment is appropriate for all 10/11 year olds, 
b) if you think that that has to be linked to league tables and the instant fate of a school and its staff 
c) if you think that this sort of thing has very little deleterious effect on teaching, pupils and the framing of what we mean by knowledge, what we mean by children's thought, what we mean by the development of thought in young people 
and d) if you think it's appropriate to ask children questions which are methodologically and intellectually wrong but that's ok for sake of being able to deliver 'comparable outcomes' to those in authority, - then the question you're referring is indeed 'reasonable'. 

The whole history of power in society is full of 'reasonable' acts within which are coercive, punitive policies designed ultimately to sustain that power and not to benefit the mass of people held within that power. It is vital within such systems that they produce an elite which quickly adopts and justifies the system that has enabled them to become the elite."

Ironically, within private education and in the homes of people who don't think like this - for whatever reason -, other principles are used - enquiry, discovery, fostering curiosity, stimulating informed interpretation, dialogue, questioning, invention ('creativity') and emphasis on the arts - music, drama, dance, drawing, painting, 3-D play and using holidays as a time to explore and discover history, geography, biology ('nature') in playful ways. It's schools that are being prevented from doing these things while - yes Ok we can call ourselves 'Middle class' parents - are doing these things anyway. Guess who are the big losers in all this? The ones who have to stick with the strait-jacketed - 'learn this and regurgitate it identically tomorrow' children.

I am amazed, delighted and in awe of teachers and schools who struggle against this strait-jacket, who fight like crazy to include as much of this other kind of curriculum in they work. I'm lucky to meet many of them every week in workshops, conferences and in the schools I visit.

Frequently, they have found ways to work against the demands of the testing regime, they suspend the curriculum for e.g. a day a week, or a week per term. They do e.g. 'whole school texts' which teachers explore in many different ways at the same time working across disciplines, using the creative arts and so on. We need to hear much more about schools and teachers doing these things. 

Sunday 25 November 2018

'Genealogy' - you say 'tomato', I say 'tomato'. Rules and variations in English.

I asked on twitter how people pronounce 'genealogy'. Do people pronounce the middle syllable like the name 'Al' or as 'oll'? It split about 50:50 across several hundred. Some simply said that they pronounced it in one of the two ways. Some gave the 'rule' that 'explained' why they pronounced it their way.

The 'Al' rule is that the person was pronouncing it the way it's written. The 'oll' rule is that the person was pronouncing it according to the 'ology' rule. 

'Pronouncing it the way it's written' is a highly problematic thing to say about anything in English because syllables often have at least two ways of being pronounced - often more - and this one is clearly another. 

Meanwhile, saying that a word should be pronounced a certain way "because analogous words with the same Greek-in-origin suffix but spelled differently" is hardly a 'rule'. 

So, I think we're left with 'variation'. Some say 'al' and some say 'ol'. Fine by me. 

How to do some things that go towards helping children 'own' literacy

I tend to frame my talks about literacy, reading for pleasure, poetry and the like around the idea of 'how to help children think and know that literacy belongs to them'. One starting point for me is thinking about my own childhood and what it was that my parents, my brother and school did to enable me to think that I could write anything, anytime, that I could change and adapt anything anytime. That I could play about with voices, registers, moods, tones, plots, forms and even if I wasn't very good at this or that kind of writing, I still felt that was entitled to do it. 

Much of it came from my parents and brother who read to me, gave me books, told stories, admired others who could tell stories. They were also writers and editors and broadcasters themselves. They played records and 'tapes' (remember them?) of people who performed poems, stories, anecdotes and informal stories. They encouraged me to give my own writing a go, whether that was stories, poems, 'sketches', plays and formal writing for things like Geography and History. They were also people who could speak several languages, some well - some just only a bit, so I heard a lot of French and German spoken, but also quite a lot of Yiddish, Latin and even bits of Russian. And language itself was often talked about as something that was interesting, or odd, or amazing. I could go on. And on. The point is that I was very lucky - absurdly lucky - to get all this. And there was a tone to it all that I treasure: the language and literature of the 'greats' - Shakespeare, Chaucer etc was not held in greater esteem than the carefully crafted jokes and performance of someone like Peter Ustinov or a friend of the family, Solly Kaye, who could tell Jewish jokes to roomful of people at a party. Meanwhile, my brother who was a great mimic could 'do voices' in ways that meant, in effect, he was 'snipping' or 'grabbing' the variations and types around us, bring them into the home and playing with them - and then mingling them with something like the Molesworth books which did the same in writing with the types from smalltime Public School.
(I've written about this in my autobiography 'So They Call You Pisher!' (Verso Books) which I can now see (having written it!) was a way of uncovering how we mix the Education we get in school and college with the 'education' of a very different kind we get at home and with our friends.)

All this added up to a sense of entitlement and ownership around language and literature, around 'orality' and literacy. In retrospect, I can see that a good deal of my work in schools, colleges or with my writing has been devoted to passing on as much of this as I can manage whether that's through performances in schools, libraries and theatres, through radio, through what I write and how I write it, or through workshops with children or teaching in universities. It is all in its own way about the idea that language belongs to all of us. It isn't owned by a small elite group no matter how entitled they might appear to be. 

I think that the work we do around Reading for Pleasure are crucial in this matter. Reading for Pleasure - where children (or any of us) browse, choose and read, browse, choose and read is a crucial plank in the process of owning literacy. Here are three links that can help with this:

But I also ask questions about what has happened to the way successive governments have asked children about reading - comprehension, in other words.

I think that the obsession with right and wrong answers (so that children and teachers can be assessed) is a process that results in taking away from children and school students a sense that literacy belongs to them. At the core of this is the insistence that 'understanding' of texts can only be assessed by asking the kinds of questions about 'retrieval', 'inference', 'chronology' and 'presentation' etc at the core of SATs in Primary Schools. These deny the processes of 'interpretation' that all of us do when we get the chance to look at books in the ways that are created when we really do 'read for pleasure'. 

Interpretation involves us letting the free flow of emotions in reaction to a text actually matter, it involves us bringing our own personal experience and memory into understanding what's going on; it involves bringing in our 'repertoire' of texts that we have read, seen and heard, it involves us feeling free to ask questions of a text as and when they crop up, it involves us having a go at answering these questions, and it can involve investigating a text to find connections between things, and find patterns of sound and meaning. 

This can be structured as a set of questions which we can put to children and school students in ways that encourage them to talk, investigate, speculate and share. To be clear - I am  not saying that this is the be-all and end-all of all criticism, or that it is a sufficient way to produce great answers at e.g. GCSE or A-Level or Degree Level investigation of texts. I am saying that these questions are a good place to start with e.g. primary school children, with KS3 school students, or indeed with anyone by way of entry into texts of many kinds. What's more, in my experience of working this way, many of the themes or ideas that we feel that we have to teach about texts are raised by this investigatory approach, so they provide a basis or a platform for, say, work on 'context' or 'language'. 

The set of questions are:

1. Affect: Is there any part of this story, poem, play ('text') that you were moved by, found funny, horrific, weird, scary, spooky...? Why? How? 
2. Experience: Is there any part of the text that reminds you of anything that has ever happened to you or anyone you know? Why? How?
3. Intertext: Is there any part of the text that reminds you of any other text you have ever come across? Why? How?
4. Interrogating: What questions would you like to ask of anyone in the text? Or of the author or imagined author? Having collected these questions together, can you answer any of them? If you can't, how can you go about finding them out?
5. In every text, particularly in literature, there are 'secret strings' that run through it. These are the linked sounds, themes, motifs and images of a text. Can you be 'detectives' and find any of these? Remember any link you find will be a link if you can say why and how? 

How you frame, adapt or rewrite these questions is up to you. How you organise your class to do this is up to you. You may find that one way to do it, is to treat the first three questions as ideal for discussion in pairs. The fourth question can begin with pairs then move to whole class, a collection of all the questions, and then seeing who can answer any of them, taking the questions one by one. You might want to set up hot-seating as a way of answering some of the questions in which the class interview e.g. the author or  one of the protagonists about motives, purpose, meaning etc. A great way to do number 5 is to have a copy of the piece in front of a group of children or school students and they draw the strings on the piece itself, with the explanations alongside. 

I am not claiming that this method is a totally sufficient way to handle all texts. What I will claim is that it acknowledges that people who read - no matter what their age is - respond to texts and understand them with who they are. This set of questions lets that person in, so that interaction can begin. In my experience this encourages an engagement with these processes of 'comprehension' (if that's what it is!) and encourages what I've been talking about in relation to 'ownership' of literacy. 

I have written about these matters at greater length in three self-published booklets:

"Poems and Stories for Primary and Lower Secondary Schools"
"Why Write? Why Read?"
"Writing for Pleasure"

I wrote these originally for my students on the MA course I teach on. These students are mostly classroom teachers and librarians. The MA is 'MA in Children's Literature' at Goldsmiths, University of London. 

(You can find the booklets on my website:

in a book published by Walker Books:

"What is Poetry?"

(Also on my website or available through bookshops.) 

By the way one of the main reasons why I have done my poem and story performances on YouTube is also about 'owning' literacy. That is, I thought that what children, parents and teachers could do is a) look at the videos for their own enjoyment; b) find the written versions of the poems and stories that I am performing c) make up performance of their own d) write poems and stories of their own. 

This is the 'virtuous' circle of listening, talking, reading and writing: the more we do of it, the better we get at it. I believe very strongly that poetry, song and performance of all kinds are a great 'bridge' between speech and writing. They provide reasons and motives for why we might want to write and read. 

I have started to talk about these things on my YouTube Channel: 'Michael Rosen for Teachers':

Friday 23 November 2018

Grammar: Why we all speak 'incorrectly' - even the Secretary of State for Education

There's an illusion that posh people or people in authority speak 'correctly' or that they speak 'standard English'. (Please note that I wrote 'speak' there not 'write'.)

Just for fun, I made notes while Damian Hinds (Secretary of State for Education) was talking on the 'Today' programme this morning. Like all of us, as he spoke, he revised what he was saying. If you transcribe this into writing, it is not 'correct' even though as you listen to it, it sounds 'correct'.

For example, he is someone (like all of us) who repeats what he says e.g. words or phrases like 'are', 'in', 'it'll be', 'to', 'it's', 'we want' and 'that'. He is also (like all of us) someone who has a little phrase which he repeatedly slots in in front of nouns and verbs. In his case it's 'you know' which he says as 'y'know'.

To be clear, I'm not saying there is anything wrong with this. It's just the way we all speak. We do this a lot, a bit, or not very often, depending on e.g. how stressed we are, how relaxed we are, how prepared we are, and so on. Interesting that Hinds was probably only stressed a very small amount - at least he sounded very confident, he was talking about things that he was obviously very familiar with, and of course he was aware that he was talking on radio. Even so, his speech was full of these revisions, hesitations and repetitions.

Accounts of language that children in primary schools have to learn, leaves out or marginalises the things that I'm talking about here. They are seen as trivial or irrelevant. That may be the case, (though I don't think so) but leaving them out has the effect of leading people to say or think that 'posh people speak 'correctly' while the rest of us struggle along in our 'incorrect' ways, speaking local or 'sectional' dialects and slangs.

Thursday 22 November 2018

Review (tasty one, actually) by the English Association: 'Uncle Gobb and the Plot Plot'

Uncle Gobb and the Plot Plot, Michael Rosen, illustrated by Neal Layton

Bloomsbury ISBN 9781408873946 £10.99

The cover of this book reproduces and excerpt from a Guardian review describing Uncle Gobb and the Plot Plot as ‘story telling anarchy’ and I really couldn’t put it better myself! This hilarious, often irreverent tale of Malcolm, his friends and the dreadful Uncle Gobb is the third in the Uncle Gobb series and presents an ultimately predictable good defeats bad ending, but what a journey we go on to get there. Rosen’s carefully crafted language jumps off the page as readers join him on this fantastical tale which again intertwines everyday classroom debates and dilemmas with appearances of a body-building genie and a ‘dread shed’ doubling as a rival school where IMPORTANT FACTS (not my capitalisation!) are taught. Within the highly humorous plot Rosen also skilfully gets in a plug for the Sure Start initiative ‘now closed’ and a poke in the ribs of the National Curriculum’s preoccupation with conjunctions… And all this is punctuated by a pair of bemused weasels. As I read, and guffawed at, this book my mental image was of Michael Rosen’s highly flexible face reading the text - with its mixed fonts and textual variance – out loud. Rosen has again presented a language-rich, laugh-out-loud tour de force which continues to ‘save his place’ amongst the forerunners of contemporary children’s writers. Recommended forY2 upwards both as an independent read and as a treat for teachers who enjoy a good read-aloud Rosen at the end of the day!
Laura Manison Shore, Senior Lecturer in Early Years & Primary Education, UWE, Bristol

There Must Not Be A General Election - so the MPs will vote for stuff they've spent months telling us that they don't believe in.

It looks like in the choice between the government collapsing (because they can't get the deal through the Commons) and signing up for something that people don't believe in, many of both the Leave and the Remain MPs from all parties are going to back the deal. In other words, all the MPs' brave words of 'principle' that we've spend months and months listening to (from both sides) are going to be dumped for one reason: prevent a General Election happening because there is the possibility that Labour might win.

Maybe I've misread the runes on this, but that's what it looks like at the moment. And these great people of principle will dress it all up as another great principle that they are 'flexible' and able to compromise 'for the sake of the British people'. 

Pass me the sick bowl.

Monday 19 November 2018

Book about my relatives and Nov 20 anniversary of deportation from France

I'm doing a book for children and young people about the 'disappearance' of my father's uncles and aunts in World War Two. My father never knew what happened to them, but I've pieced it together. People who've read my memoir, 'So They Call You Pisher!' will know the story but that's too difficult for most children to read.

So, now I'm doing this book with Walker Books and it's a mix of prose and poetry with pictures and maps. I felt that it needed one more poem and so last week I wrote this as if I'm talking to my father's uncle Oscar 'Jeschie' Rosen. A couple of weeks ago I posted up a picture on Facebook of me at the Memorial in Paris where his and his wife's name (Rachel) are engraved. Tomorrow (November 20) I'll be there to commemorate the departure of Convoy 62 from Paris Bobigny Station to Auschwitz, which was the town where he was born. They were within just a few days of being saved by an Italian guy (Angelo Donati) who had requisitioned boats from Nice to North Africa. Oscar was a clock- and watch-mender. I'll be able to read out his and his wife's name and say a few words.

What did you think,
as you and Rachel
sat on the floor of the cattle truck
as it left Paris?

Did you think of the watches
and clocks you had mended ?

Did you think of the tiny springs
and wheels?
You with your magnifying glass
in your eye poring over the works
so that a Monsieur or a Madame
could tell the time,
correct to the exact second?

Did you think of the smell of the sea
and the push of a boat against
the waves?
How you and Rachel
would stand on the deck
the wind in your faces
as you sailed away?

Did you look
through the gaps in the slats
on the side of the truck?

Did you see farmers in fields?
Women selling clothes in a market?

Did you call out?
Did you push your hands through the gaps?

Did the night come creeping in?
Did you see a light from a window
where people sat and
ate their evening meal?

Did you see in the dark
horror on Rachel's face?
Did she see horror on yours?

Did you shut her eyes?
Did she shut yours?
Thinking of children
who shut their eyes to make
the world go away?

And then
behind your eyelids
did you think of the cattle
that had once stood in the truck
as they were taken away
to the slaughter-house?

Monday 12 November 2018

The War of Corbyn's Coat

If Corbyn’s coat is wrong,

the others’ coats must be right.

The dead cannot see coats.

Day cannot see night.

Hurrah for the warriors of the press!

We know what rocks their boat:

at the sight of a million dead,

they quibble over Corbyn’s coat.

Let us praise famous coats,

worn to mourn the dead of war;

worn by those who lead us

as their bombs slay even more.

It’s not his coat they hate.

That’s not really their cause

What gets up all their noses?

He opposes all their wars.

Let us imagine the day -

or it could perhaps be night.

The politicians start a war

and no one turns up to fight.


 1 wrong Corbyn coat = bad man;
Therefore 1 good coat = good man.
Trump wears a good coat.
Trump = good man. 

Tomorrow’s lesson:  
SS Officers’ lovely leathers.

Thursday 8 November 2018

Macron and the rehabilitation of Pétain, Vichy and my relatives

News is coming in of the French President's intention to rehabilitate Marshal Pétain, nominally for his World War One record but these things are symbolic. Pétain led the Vichy regime which collaborated with the Nazis in WW2. He and his regime helped the Nazis deport some 74,000 Jews to their death (as well as co-operating in the killing of some 2000 others in France). My father's uncles were deported to Auschwitz because of Vichy's collaboration which involved drawing up lists of Jews, creating a network of camps to incarcerate Jews, seizing their possessions, enforcing the wearing of the yellow star and putting up signs saying 'Enterprise Juive' (Jewish business).

As well as this collaboration with European genocide, Vichy arranged for the forced labour of 250,000 French workers to work in German factories and on German farms. It created the 'Milice' an armed militia which went to war against the French Resistance carrying out summary executions in fields, streets and houses.

To commemorate Pétain in any way is an outrage and an insult to hundreds of thousands of people.

On November 20, there will be the ceremony at the Memorial of the Shoah in Paris to commemorate the departure of Convoy 62 to Auschwitz from Paris on that date which was the train that took my father's uncle and aunt. I will be there with Emma-Louise Williams and it has suddenly become a highly political matter. I've been asked to say a few words at the ceremony and I'm wondering whether the Foundation which runs the Memorial have made some kind of public statement about Macron over this.

Tuesday 6 November 2018

Here are 3 links to help you put in place Reading for Pleasure policies.

Link 1:

Link 2:

Link 3:

It's not about levels. It's about the drama of the book meeting the life-drama of the child

The other day I heard myself say to a teachers' meeting that rather than worry about a child's 'level' or supposed 'lack' of knowledge, think of how a book or poem might relate to that child's psychodrama. Pompous I know. But I kinda believe that.

What I meant is that every one of us, no matter our background, no matter what 'level' we have been put on, lives a life that is in its own way a drama. Books and poems and plays are dramas. When we read or view the two dramas (our own and the one in the book or poem or drama) intermingle. We relate them. This applies whether we have read 100s of books and have education pouring out of our ears, or if we are 6 years old and been designated special needs or whatever. We all have that drama of how we relate to the world and to other people. This is what we bring to books, plays and poems.

As authors or teachers it's our job, then, to think of the psychodramas - in the child/children and in the books, plays and poems and figure out how these intermingle and inter-relate.

That's what I meant when I heard myself say that.

More thoughts on reading for pleasure

Reading for Pleasure for all cannot be achieved by one agency alone: not schools alone, not libraries alone, not voluntary organisations alone. It has to be a many-headed Policy from all these.

Every voluntary initiative about reading for Pleasure is welcome. But it’s not enough to reach all. It needs to be a cultural in-school and out-of-school Policy.































Btw I’ve sat face to face on different occasions with four Education ministers: Balls, Knights, Coaker, Gibb plus Culture Minister Hodge trying to convince them that Reading for Pleasure needs to be ‘Policy’ and I’ve totally failed to convince them.

The problem is that ‘reading books for Pleasure in your spare time’ was never made part of ‘education’ so no one makes it ‘policy’. But every research on it shows that education is enabled by RfP in spare time! It needs to be policy so ALL can benefit.

I notice on the comments thread after my article about reading for pleasure in the Guardian how soon it attracts the ‘blame parents’ lobby. Do they think the state shouldn’t do education? The RfP argument is that RfP should be part of education! Not a voluntary annexe to it.









It’s not a matter of implementing one thing. It’s about a cultural policy

Teacher librarians, librarians, children's librarians, school librarians, the school library service, the YLG, the SLA, librarians, librarians, librarians. This should be the backbone of in-school and out-of-school education.

What we read and how we read as children is not trivial or 'childish'. It's these books that contribute to our patterns of thinking, dreaming, hoping, fearing, yearning for...and of course our patterns of reading and understanding the printed word for the rest of our lives.

Meaning is also conveyed through ‘prosody’ - the rhythms, sound-patterns, repetitions, variationsbin the musicality of a Text. Dickens uses this a lot when distinguishing between the discursive ironic narration and the poetic descriptive one.

Parents who share picture hundreds of picture books with their under-5s enable their children to make cognitive leaps through trying to interpret the logic and meanings suggested by the unstated differences between the pictures and the text.

Reading for Pleasure works because books work. Books work because they invite interpretation = the play of speculation, reflection, prediction, affirmation, surprise, deduction, analysis, wonder, empathy, fear, hope, horror, sensuality, conceptual thinking, memory...and more.

The big irony of recent educational change is that parents who, at home, can use 'progressive' non-cramming educational methods of: cooperation, invention, discussion, children doing planning, investigation,discovery, interpretation bestow huge advantages on their children!

It’s not simply a matter of ‘teaching children to read and write’. There is the question of who owns literacy. Who leaves school thinking that they own literacy, that writing is something that they own and control and use in many different ways according to their needs? How can we help children own literacy? Publishing and performing, whole school texts, suspending the curriculum, open interpretation using questions like 'what in this text reminds you of something that has happened to you or that you have read or heard?' 'what questions would you like to ask anyone in the book? Or the author?'

The best help you can give for writing (schools or wherever): imitation, invention, investigation, interpretation and audience. Ie saying ‘we can write like that, make stuff up, wonder why, discuss and share.’

The danger [irony alert!] of silent reading is that it doesn't provide instant data, it provokes thought and interpretation and when it provokes talk, this quickly leads to higher order thinking, independent of direct instruction.

It needs to be 'policy' because we want it to be 'reading for pleasure FOR ALL. Like health used to be done by charities but it meant not everyone got it. Reading for pleasure should simply be part of education ie what we all do.

My point in the article about Reading for Pleasure is one of policy. Given that it's now been shown that RfP has huge benefits for those in education, I'm asking why not bring people together (another point of the article) to work out how to make RfP part of education?

But when I say 'education' - I don't only mean 'schools' - I mean in-school and - just as importantly out-of-school. This needs to bring together the kind of thinking that goes on inside the voluntary bodies with those in education.

The comments thread following my article in today's Guardian about 'Reading for Pleasure' is full of parent-blaming stuff, which in effect says, 'Well, there's nothing you can do and there's no point in doing it.' Why do people do that?

Reading works to enable us to think because when we read we make comparisons between life and the book, between the book and other books, and between things in the book. These acts of comparison are at the least a first step towards making generalised and/or abstract thoughts.

Reading for Pleasure works because books work. Books work because they invite interpretation = the play of speculation, reflection, prediction, affirmation, surprise, deduction, analysis, wonder, empathy, fear, hope, horror, sensuality, conceptual thinking, memory...and more.

Reading for Pleasure is 360 degrees. Every part of in-school and out-of-school policy has to contribute and co-operate.

Yes, and the interesting thing about fiction, drama and poetry is that more often than not, they involve some kind of marriage between ideas and feelings attached to beings ('characters) that we come to care about.

Browsing and choosing are vital and necessary starters for reading for pleasure. Just handing children books and telling them to read for pleasure is not reading for pleasure. 

Browsing and choosing teaches us about how reading can be part of our lives, how it can matter. Browsing and choosing involves special kinds of reading: scanning, selecting, picking up clues and cues. We only find out if it works when we go with our choices and start to read the rest. If it 'fails' we try other ways. 

Trial and error without fear of failure - it's a crucial part of reading and education as a whole.

Reading is one of the easiest ways in which we get hold of the strategies and procedures of continuous prose (CP). This is not just a matter of 'vocabulary'. We really need to get away from just talking about vocabulary because it makes us focus on books as if they are just self-storage places full of words in store. 

CP is very different from speech, dialogue and inner speech. CP carries the language of law, administration, humanities and science.

There is a model of reading which suggests that when we read, we take eggs out of egg-boxes - that we lift chunks of text - words etc which supposedly just  'mean x' or 'y'. (This is the 'retrieval' model.) No, what we do is yes, take eggs out of egg-boxes but we can't eat them until we cook them - boil them, poach them, make scrambled eggs. We make the meaning. 

When we read, we relate our interpretation of the text with our experience of life and experience of the texts we know. This 'comparison-making' is the central component of 'interpretation'. We do this with dialogue, but with reading it is slower and more prolonged. This is how we educate ourselves to get hold of this way of thinking. 

Monday 5 November 2018

Never mind the 'ability range' (or some such) feel the psychodrama

The other day I heard myself say to a teachers' meeting that rather than worry about a child's 'level' or supposed 'lack' of knowledge, think of how a book or poem might relate to that child's psychodrama. Pompous I know. But I kinda believe that.

What I meant is that every one of us, no matter our background, no matter what 'level' we have been put on, lives a life that is in its own way a drama. Books and poems and plays are dramas. When we read or view the two dramas (our own and the one in the book or poem or drama) intermingle. We relate them. This applies whether we have read 100s of books and have education pouring out of our ears, or if we are 6 years old and been designated special needs or whatever. We all have that drama of how we relate to the world and to other people. This is what we bring to books, plays and poems.

As authors or teachers it's our job, then, to think of the psychodramas - in the child/children and in the books, plays and poems and figure out how these intermingle and inter-relate.

That's what I meant when I heard myself say that.

Sunday 4 November 2018

A child in a school said to me,

‘Are you real?’

I said yes.

He moved away,

came back and said,

‘Really? Are you real?’

I got out my Goldsmiths college, ID card.

He looked at it and said,


How to End Austerity

How to End Austerity: 
1. Stand up and say 'Austerity is over'. 
2. Go into radio and TV studios and say,
'Austerity is over'. 
3. Rely on people in radio and TV studios 
and in newspapers to say, 
'Austerity is over'. 
4. That's it. 
5. But is austerity over? 
6. No. Goodnight.

Thursday 1 November 2018

Big Toe Nails and Hems on Trouser Legs

The design of the inside of the bottom of a trouser leg
seems to involve -
more often than not -
a hem...
which is good because this
prevents the bottom getting
frayed and no one wants a
frayed bottom
unless it's the style
which of course it has been with
plenty of trousers having frayed
back with the hem.
If you put a hemmed trouser on
without wearing socks,
this brings your big toe nail into
direct contact with the hem.
Usually this results in a blockage,
jam or impasse as the toe nail
reaches the hem.
No matter how much you bend the toe
or the foot, or shake the trouser,
the blockage remains.
The only immediate way out of the problem
is to bend down and release the hem from the
Inevitably, the same will happen with the other
toe-nail and the trouser hem on that other leg.
The solution is, as I have suggested,
put on socks first.
There is a problem with this, though:

it does mean standing around for a few seconds
in your underpants and socks.
I'm not saying this looks ridiculous
but it possibly is.