A Tale of Two Rivers

Wednesday:The re-constructed Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames

At the headquarters of Ofcom in London on Wednesday this week, attending a summit on digital media literacy. With representatives from the UK governments, curriculum bodies and qualifications authorities from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the discussion was lively and thought-provoking, but of course just scratching the surface of a very complex issue. Reassuring that, with our re-definition of literacy in the cover paper for Literacy and English in Curriculum for Excellence, we really do seem to be ahead of the game.  From there to catch day two of the Scottish Learning Festival at the SECC on the Clyde. The Festival

Looking east along the Clyde from the Crowne Plazza

Thursday:Looking east along the Clyde from the Crowne Plazza

reminds us how significant Scotland is right now in leading learning and defining the curriculum for the 21st Century. A highlight for me was Neil Winton’s seminar on using Wikis in the classroom to improve literacy. Neil is PT English at Perth Academy and truly inspirational, but in a “feet on the ground” kind of way. If you are interested in empowering your pupils to take control of their own learning you could do a lot worse than to check out what he and his department are doing using this free technology.


The Sun Was Shinning through the Dinning Hall Window

A fixassion with the rools of spelling is plasing two big a burden on our young peepil and hoalding bak there progress. Who says so? None other than John Wells, Emeritus Professor of Phonetics at University College London and president of the Spelling Society (read the article at Times Online). It’s enough to have Lynne Truss choking on her cornflakes! Professor Wells’ argument is that since the rules of spelling are so complex in the English language, children in English-speaking countries are at a distinct disadvantage, and it would make much more sense for all spelling to be phonetic. On the other hand, David Crystal, honorary professor of linguistics and author of “Txting:the Gr8 Db8“, believes that any attempt to change the rules of spelling or grammar by decree is doomed, and that changes will come from the “bottom up” ie through popular usage. One thing that is not in doubt is how baffling and illogical the English language is, as amply demonstrated in the following poem:-

Scenes on a Playground – English Orthography Illustrated

A letter addressed to: John Sharp, Friends’ School, Park Lane, Croydon, 7th Mar. 1844

‘Twas a fine winters day – their breakfast was done
And the boys were disposed to enjoy some good fone;
Sam Sprightly observed, “’tis but just ½ past eight
“and there’s more time for play than when breakfast is leight,
“and so I’ll agree that so cold is the morning,
“We’ll keep ourselves warm at a game of stag worning;
“I’m Stag” – with his hand in his waistcoat he’s off,
And his playmates are dodging him round the pump-troff.
Sam’s active but still their alertness is such
That ’twas not very soon ere one he could tuch.
The captive’s afrailed with jokes, buffets laughter
By a host of blithe boys quickly follows aughter.
But joined hand in hand their forces are double;
Nor for jokes or for buffeting care they a bouble.
All’s activity now, for high is the sport,
Reinforcements arrive from the shed & shed-cort.
More are caught & their places they straightway assign
At the middle or end of the lengthening lign.
To break it some push with both shoulder and thigh,
But so firm is the hold that vainly they trigh;
Oh! ’tis broken at last, now scamper the whole
To escape their pursuers & get to the gole.
All are caught now but one of the juvenile hosts
And he, a proud hero, vain-gloriously bosts,
But hark! the clock’s striking & then by the rules
They must quickly collect for their several schules.
We’ll leave them awhile at their books & their sums
And join them again when the afternoon cums.


Now dinner is over – “Sam Sprightly,” says he,
“Let us form a good party for cricket at thre;”
Says Joseph, “I wish you’d begin it at two,
“For after our dinner I’ve nothing to dwo.”
But Thomas would rather ’twere fixed an hour later
Because he’s on duty as dinning room water;
And so they agreed to meet punctual at four,
On the green just in front of No. 1 dour,
& they thought they should muster not less than a scour.
Sam goes on recruit, “Will thou join us my hearty?”
“Yes” says Richard. “I’ll gladly make one of the pearty.”
“And William must join, he’s a capital bowler,”
“He’ll have finished his work by that time as bed-rowler.”
“Come Joseph, thou’ll join” – but Joseph languidly said,
“I can’t for I’ve got such a pain in my haid,
“I think I should find myself better in baid.”
“There’s Alfred”, says Sam, “I know he will choose.”
He said he was sorry the pleasure to loose,
But he was appointed to black the boy’s shoose.
They next ask a boy of more sober demeanour,
But he too’s in office – they call him knife-cleanour,
“Well Jim thou’ll go with us.” “No, asking thy pardon,
“I’d rather by far go and work in the gardon,
“For there we get pay – perhaps a nice root,
“Or what I like better – a handful of froot.
“So you’ll not enlist me – I’m not a rectoot.”
“There’s Charles.” but alas! poor unfortunate wight,
He’s confined to the lodge, – he regretted it quight.
Tho’ Frank’s a long lesson of grammar to learn,
He’ll set it aside not to miss such a tearn;
Some join in the party – but some are too busy.
One does not like cricket, it makes him so dusy.
But now there’s enough – so says Sam, “Now my boys,
“Just listen to me – don’t make such a noys;
“The High field’s the place – & I do not despair
“If the teachers we ask, they will let us play thair,
“So while I get the bats & the ball I propose,
“That Alfred or Richard or somebody gose,
“And presents our request – making this a condition,
“We’ll all be good boys if they grant us permition.
“Here’s the ball & the bats – just look what a beauty.
“Well Taff, what reply from the master on deauty?”
“Oh! granted” – “That’s right – that is capital news;
“Indeed I knew well they would never refews.”
So now they’re at play – and I think you’ve enough
Of such spelling, such rhyming, such whimsical stough,
And therefore lest you gained from my verse should inveigh,
I’ll bid you farewell, leaving them to their pleigh.

John Smith, Akworth Yorkshire,
from the library of Sir James Pitman, K.B.E.