Monthly Archives: October 2014

when muck means more

What could this be a drawing of? Three guesses:

p68 patricks drawing

Patrick, 4yrs

Ignore the blue arrows for now. They were added to describe various parts of the picture and we’ll find out more about that in a mo. But what do you think this drawing is about? Patrick is 4 years old. He’s gone to a lot of effort. He’s not merely scribbling. Can you recognize anything?

His name, for starters. To the bottom left, we can see ATI from Patrick and an attempt at a P before the other letters. This is encased in green, so it’s a unit in itself.

The yellow elements constitute a single unit. Same goes for the orange units (we’d say they were crosses, at a first glance) and the purple section in the middle.

Any ideas?

Have you noticed how well organized this piece is: the yellow elements are deliberately placed around the purple element at the centre. The orange crosses are not a slip of the pen; they are too controlled. And I’m sure they are precisely where Patrick wants them to be.

There’s a clue in the title of this blog entry. Still no ideas?

Well, hold on to your socks:

p68 patrick sewer works 4yrs

Sewage works: a child’s perspective. source: DECOPRIM Project. University of Luxembourg, 1997.

Patrick has drawn a sewage plant after watching a programme about one on TV.

I’ll start at the top and work clockwize:

i) Ausgang der Leitung, wo das Wasser wieder sauber herauskommt: exit point of the pipes where the water comes out, purified

ii) Hier entsteht Schaum: this is where foam is made

iii) Toiletten, durch die das Abwasser in die Kläranlage gelangt: toilets via which the sewage enters the sewage works

iv) Momentane Darstellung des Names: current depiction of his name

v) Leitung der Klärange: sewage pipes

vi) Krokodil, welches in der Kläranlage wohnt: crocodile who lives at the sewage plant

Admit it, you’re impressed! Here, as on many other occasions, we would be unable to decipher young children’s texts without their aid. What we would be inclined to dismiss as scribble is in fact a young child’s highly elaborate means of assimilating the world around him. A host of skills are on display here, including:

maths: specific number of toilets

science/technology: how the different components of a sewage plant fit together

language: Patrick explains the various aspects of his picture

technical drawing: this is a plan of a sewage plant

writing: Patrick adds his name to his work

culture: we have a depiction of how a specific culture treats water. I didn’t see the programme myself, but I’ll take Patrick’s word for the crocodile and assume the film he watched was of a sewage plant in a tropical country. What’s that dark purple place in the middle of the crocodile, Patrick? I hope he hasn’t gobbled up anyone!


‘If the culture of the teacher is to become part of the consciousness of the child, the culture of the child has to first be in the consciousness of the teacher.’ (Bruner)

‘prendre un enfant au sérieux est aussi une forme élémentaire de respect qu’il faudrait essayer de faire renaître en classe’ : to take the child seriously is also a basic form of respect which we should try to revive in the classroom (Zepp)

‘Effective education is developmental. It builds on the skills, knowledge and experiences that young children acquire in their homes and communities prior to coming to school and while they are in school; it extends and broadens those skills and knowledge in developmentally meaningful ways.’ (Genesee)


What do you want to be when you grow up, Patrick?

now I’ve learned my ABC, next time won’t you sing with me


Anyone out there who learned their alphabet in groups of three like this, hands up.

Not me. That’s why I was so taken with this picture. I learned my abc the British way.

This alphabet was written on a public wall. A tunnel. No school near or far. Does that make it graffiti?

What I can’t know:

is this an example of sticking to the rules or of breaking them?

surprise, that’s the great thing, it keeps the old tissues open (Donald Barthelme)

So many ways to learn your abc. Chalk to the wall (above). Nose to the page:

16-12-2001alphabet 16-12-2001alphabet at school

Eyes on the ceiling (jump! maybe you’ll catch one!):

and song:

some quick notes (from my preparation for an article entitled A Song A Day: Work, Rest or Play?):

a) oral dimension to literacy is more than mere talk;

b) primacy of oracy over literacy (we even listen to songs prenatally); young children often learn to sing their abc before they learn to write it;

01-07 songmusic

A BCD E FG HIJ K L MN OPQ R ST UVW the notes written (composed?) by a 5-year-old show us how to sing the alphabet

c) song = less sensitive to social class thus a fairer/more egalitarian means of knowledge transmission, tho;

d) to which extent is the choice of song class sensitive???

e) songs with young children often involve kinaesthetic elements (i.e. using your body as a tool for making signs and thus creating an awareness of space/directionality in the run-up to writing);

f) harness the emotive component to learning;

g) may sensitize the learner to diverse (and simultaneous) semiotic means, e.g. music, writing, verse, picture;

h) may involve a host of interactional partners and break/interrogate the parent-child dyad so prevalent in the West;

i) oral texts like abc in nursery school are sensitizers: if the children were able to read them, they’d probably be beyond the cognitive level the texts were trying to train;

k) song = collective as opposed to collaborative learning encounter for young children;

l) constitutes a situation in which language is not only the vehicle but also the goal of learning. i.e. it is both means and end;

m) frequently belong to a cultural canon, i.e. they are the songs you should know in order to identify with the dominant culture;

not forgetting:

n) domestic teaching strategies (song generally being first encountered at home) are relegated and marginalised when transferred to an institutional setting, as are;

o) the socio-cognitive implications of such (domestic teaching) strategies. Songs tend to disappear from the classroom once real school starts;

p) song, as is true of any form of talk, in its multifaceted nature, does not lend itself readily to closed categories such as work, rest or play;

q) question: How admissible are canonical texts in today’s multi-ethnic classroom?

r) uncritical transmission of the values of the dominant culture have those transmitting the skills acting as mere cultural dopes, perpetuating existing thought patterns and discourse, thus ultimately missing an opportunity to

s) jump? maybe you’ll catch one. Better still, let’s make/wake/shake up?

04-03-20 tutti frutti fun script. IIJPG

t) and take the lesson with us long into life:

u) ‘I’m tone deaf.

Mum and Dad would read and sing to me. I used a snippet from one of Dad’s in Darklings. At the end of the Starman scene, p.35 – ‘would you like to swing on a star’. Records were a big deal in our house, there was always music playing… I’ve still got my Giant Golden Mother Goose – 367 illustrated nursery rhymes and I used to read it over and over. I revisited them when Bibi was a baby and toddler. We had two old nursery rhyme videos playing constantly, we’d sing and dance for hours. My writing owes a lot to all of this:

i imagined myself & i was sugar basin meat muffin gutted hamster hidey hole moose knuckle mother of all souls

& i loved the leather lollipop

& i wore the three inch fool


he imagined himself & he was lady dagger lizard lobster apple-headed melon baster x-rated cannon supreme

& he loved the gutted hamster

& he wore the velvet glove


i cut my teeth to find you & i found blood

i crawled in circles in the garden & i found mud

i looked up at the sky & i saw more sky

i crept outside myself & i did not die’

(Penny Goring)

v) as I was saying:

w) jump;

x) maybe you’ll catch one;


z) … surprise, that’s the great thing, it keeps the old tissues open (Donald Barthelme)


Staying alive: mother-tongue maintenance abroad

How can you help your children to keep their native language alive when they are born abroad and spend little time with mum and dad? An English family living in Luxembourg tells me one way they go about it.

When Eleanor was five so she was between the two Spillschoul years
00055 Erm, I got a, I arranged for a teacher to come across from England, who lived with us for a month in the big summer holidays
Erm, we ran an English summer school (laughs)
00056 That is what she was telling me about, Lucy?
That’s right, summer school Lucy! (laughs)
Right, right! And her cousins attended as well, it was in Henley
No, it was here, but she-
Lives, she comes from near Henley
00057 Oh, right, okay okay
So she lives in the vicinity of my family
Right, right
In England
And I think she’s even taught once at the school where her cous- Eleanor’s
00058 Cousins, erm, go to school, which is the Oratory, and, that was a, for Eleanor, that was a fantastic success that month when Lucy was here. I got together
00059 Eleanor plus another five native English speakers attending Luxembourgish schools, who, five of them, I think we within 6 months of age and one as a little bit younger and
00060 She went through, every day, a couple of English phonics with them and really tired to get them enthusiastic about reading and writing in English, and for some reason
00061 Eleanor was just at the exactly it was it came at exactly the right point for her and you could really see how her English blossomed over over that month it was wonderful

ELEANOR JUNE 01 2010 2

ELEANOR JUNE 01 2010 3

Okay. Erm, actually I’m gong to pick your brain because you could give me some
00077 Information that I haven’t yet collected. Can you tell me how, erm, Luxembourgish Spillschoul, how that functions. What do the children do? Do they really mainly play or do they, are they…
00078 Generally introduced into the world of print? Do they have writing activities and so on, erm, or is it
I think I can get you, erm, the folder in a minute
Oh alright
Of her of
00079 That she did. I would say it’s more pencil control
That they do during that time. I think the older ones, they do their letters
00080 As well they I think they do some elements of letters, phonics and sounds, but it’s, it’s quite basic. I would say the, especially of the 5-6 year olds
00081 Erm, that it’s not as fast as you would expect for that age group in the UK. But for me that was fine. It meant that I really felt as if I had this window of opportunity
00082 Especially with Eleanor being so motivated, to focus on establishing her reading English and writing English before she was getting the German so that that
00083 I felt that was and ad- a delay that I could use to our advantage
Right, right, right

from my fieldnotes: language maintenance when living abroad.

If at first you don’t succeed…


09-01-13 III (4)


09-01-13 II (4)

try again

09-01-13 I (4)

Katja’s in the 2nd year of French maternelle (i.e. nursery school/Kindergarten). The teacher explains the objective of the exercise in red:

-learn the gestures of writing

-write one’s forename in capital letters

The worksheets are numbered so that Katja’s progression may be charted (essai 1 / attempt 1, essai 2 / attempt 2). All the worksheets are done on the same day as part of a morning’s writing activity. Attempt 1 starts off well. Katja’s concentrating hard… she wants to get her letters right and we can see the corrective measures she undertakes. After a while she appears to get tired. On the second worksheet, the 4th and 5th attempts to write her name show her frequent editing of the letter A and she writes the letter T twice. She’s probably tired, but she’s still doing her best to get it right.

Take a closer look at her J on the first worksheet. The teacher writes a j in lower case in her model; a j with a dot on the top. The exercise, however, is supposed to be practising writing in upper case (i.e. capital letters). Katja knows what a capital J looks like. It has a line on the top, not a dot. Katja practises her name seven times on the first worksheet.  Take a look at the last two times she writes her name. What do we see? A dot and a line. On the one hand she appears to want to follow the teacher’s example, on the other, she wants to follow the teacher’s instructions (write in capitals). What we are dealing with here is not Katja’s inability, but with intelligence at work. The last three attempts on the first worksheet have been crossed out in pencil. They are wrong. I’d prefer to call them revealing.

Katja’s conflict continues on the second worksheet; there are less dots on the j this time and five of the six samples have a line on the top. Has Katja decided to write capitals, regardless of the teacher’s model? Nor has it gone unnoticed that the teacher’s J is more hooked on this worksheet than on the previous one (as well as considerably less hooked than on the final one).

By the third worksheet, however, Katja’s doing as she’s been told, not doing what she knows would be right. Her Js are dutifully dotted and only slightly hooked. Fifteen minutes of play-time between the second and third activities have clearly helped. Katja is focused once more; she demonstrates a greater control of space and directionality. Her As are lovely. Her Ts are straight, consisting not of one horizontal stroke followed by a vertical stroke, but of a horizontal stroke which bends into a vertical stroke. She then returns to the top of the letter with her pen to add the final part of her T in a penstroke which is visibly weaker than the left part of the horizontal line. And her Ks, well, they are coming along very nicely! I think it helps her enormously to only concentrate on a single letter at a time at this stage.

Well done, Katja!

Two weeks later, Katja’s writing her name on her own on her worksheets:

09-02 (3)

09-02 zigzag (3)

Look at her J: a capital J with a dot on the top. Very telling, in the light of what I have said about Katja’s awareness of upper/lower case.  She’s obviously found a solution. For now. The teacher’s not quite happy with the accuracy of Katja’s work; on the second worksheet and in green, she points out where Katja needs to pay more attention, i.e. to try, try, try again. Such assistance, when additionally framed by positive verbal encouragement, will no doubt bring rewards. Not sure I’d say the same about that grim-looking green face judging the child’s overall performance. What do you think? But I’ll hold back with my comments given that I don’t have a record of the conversation between teacher and child that accompanied this activity. The much coveted smiley will come later. You did your best, Katja. Your best is always good enough. You’ve shown me that you know a thing or two about letters and I’ve discovered something else:  you’re quite a little diplomat, not simply  – or always – obeying instructions, but thinking for yourself and sneaking in what you know. Keep up the good work!


butter picture by Kurt Brindley

butter poem by Kurt Brindley

source: BUTTER, by Kurt Brindley

What a delight! BUTTER is a beautifully playful way of transmitting the idea: practice makes perfect. It reminds me of the many songs sung/taught at Kindergarten that I’ve analysed over the years. Kurt’s text is a poem, I know, but yes, for some strange reason, I also hear myself singing it…This one would shoot straight to the top 10! And it even makes me hungry. What about you??

So, Dad:

what little treat do you have in mind

for a son that is so kind

learning quick and without fuss

to butter bread better than the best of us?

(PS: If you’d like to share a favourite song/poem from your Kindergarten days or one that’s a hit with your grand/children, please do!)

It’s ok to cross things out!


The tiger came to tea again and again, mostly when the child sat in her nightie on the kitchen radiator, which was where she’d get her bedtime story. Like anyone else, children love to repeat the things they like. We’re not talking about copying here. Children don’t copy. Not in my view. They relive. They internalise. They extend. This picture has many elements which do not appear on the original book cover. Written with a pencil In the top right corner of the picture there is, for example, the dedication – in French – to her family; pour mama et papa. Strictly speaking, the dedication’s in French and German (Mama is German, maman would be French).

The trilingual text to the right (smiley for English, heart for French, sun for German) provides a summary of the key statement I drew from this sample of writing: trial and error are essential to learning strategies. It’s not only ok to change your mind, you’ll probably need to do so several times. I’m not just talking about the immediacy of editing: making sure your Ps and Qs look nice. I’m talking about understanding. About layers and layers of experience which contribute to meaning making. At the end of the day, and despite the many theories out there, no one really knows exactly what sticks, how, when and why. But by the learner’s subsequent reactions, we may recover traces of what has stuck. Some time later, when reading this text, its author commented with some displeasure:

‘the to should’ve been in a different colour.’

Why did she say that? She had become aware that to tea are two words, not one, and that if she were to be consistent, these two words would each need to be represented by a different colour, in keeping with the previous words in the book’s title. We see that by revisiting the text, changes take place in the child’s mind as what she knew then becomes linked, updated, to accommodate (aspects of) what she knows now.

When the child learned that I would be coming to her school to do research with (and ultimately for) the children, her first reaction was one of horror: but mummy, you’ll see all our mistakes!

No I won’t. I’ll learn lots. And lots.