Archive for April, 2009

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My union, the National Union of Teachers, has this weekend called for a 10% pay rise. Of course the union’s spokesman interviewed on the BBC yesterday had to admit immediately that there was no chance of such a demand being successful.  If the idea is that by starting with an unrealistically high starting position we are likely to get an increase to offset the real-terms pay cut of recent years, then I think it is a badly misjudged strategy.

Unsurprisingly, the press backlash is already underway, with the Mirror proclaiming ‘Outrage as teachers union votes for huge pay increase’, and there’ll be plenty more where that came from.

The last time the union called a strike on pay (asking for a much lower increase, before the credit crunch hit), it divided members. We lost our school union representative as a result, and now are left without an in-school rep. I supported the strike, somewhat reluctantly, feeling that there are more pressing issues, such as the anti-Sats campaign, on which public sympathy might be gained. I feel that if you are in a union, then as the name suggests, it is vital that you support the collective decisions of that union, or leave.

I think the time is coming, after 18 years as an NUT member, when I may have to leave.

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But I do tend to notice examples of spelling and grammar that might make the likes of her add another couple of zeros to the sales figures of their smugly hectoring books. Unlike the prescriptivist grammar mavens, I don’t have a knee jerk sense of outrage at the abominations committed on our language, but like David Mitchell, I’ve got to admit that the temptation to judge – if only inwardly – is there.

When I was listening to Radio Five Live yesterday, they were inviting people to send in texts about things that really annoy them. The overwhelming majority of responses were about points of grammar and English usage. One of those was a complaint about shops using ‘in store’ rather than ‘in the store’, which reminded me of this that I spotted the other week that takes that example one stage further:

11/03/2009

I can’t be sure whether that is merely a running together of the preposition in and the noun store (in a manner similar to an example recently blogged about by Carla Beard) or whether it is really being thought of as a single adverb like inside or a noun like interior.

Whatever the answer I find it difficult to think badly of a usage like this in language terms, though I have to say it did nothing to tempt me instore.

A little further along in the same shopping mall (a word I wouldn’t have used as a child incidentally, but I’m not about to get all snooty about creeping Americanisation given the apparent origin of the term in St James’s Park) I came across a rather vibrant example of a favourite issue of grammar pedants:

11/03/2009

The battle for the count/non-count noun distinction is usually fought on the ground of less vs fewer , so this amount/number faux pas (if such it be) was an interesting curiosity. I bet that hardly anyone would register that there might be an issue with that one, even it were pointed out to them. Yet still there are people who can get quite stroppy about such matters (see item 16 here, for example: and note that the editor felt the need to rush to Fowler to explain why it’s a ‘problem’). It’s the less vs fewer problem that gets people really exercised, though, leading Britain’s top supermarket, Tesco, to cop out completely (and sensibly in my view) by opting for ‘up to 10 items’ at its checkouts rather than having to choose between ’10 items or less/fewer’. Still, you can’t win with some people. The splendid Language Log has some discussion here and here about the great supermarket grammar wars, referring to up(ish)market store Marks and Spencer who offered a refund on a product whose only fault was a misplaced apostrophe (see this Guardian article). In a previous blog life I noted Marks and Spencers’ apparent ambivalence on the less/fewer point after seeing a rather remarkable example of signage hedging at their Chester branch. It seems that hedging their linguistic bets is a characteristic of the Marks & Spencer strategy if my most recent find is anything to go by:

18/03/2009

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Earlier this week, as the onslaught of spring gathered pace, I finally succumbed to the lawn-mowing and weeding imperative. I was dismayed to find that my knees, which have always worked pretty well – you know, bending in the right spot when necessary and then returning the leg to an appropriate level of straightness – hurt like hell afterwards.

It was a (literally) painful reminder of the ageing process. Something similar has happened over the last couple of days as I’ve got involved in a bit of an intellectual workout at www.literacyconversation.org, mainly in discussion with Doug Belshaw. I’ve really enjoyed the process of beginning to thrash out my own sense of what literacy is, and what it means in the context of developments in communication and learning technologies, but I’m finding it hard work. When I was a student, I’d have been able to formulate and then write about my ideas quickly and at length (as Doug is able to: he was writing 2000+ words of his Ed.D thesis while I was agonizing over a couple of posts to that forum!) but now I’ve lost the habit of thinking, writing and conversing on such matters, I’m finding that I’m exercising mental faculties that have atrophied somewhat without me realising it.

I do think it’s incredibly valuable to engage not only in thinking about pedagogy and the ideas surrounding it, but to have that thinking tested by others who are doing likewise. I didn’t realise my mind needed exercising in this way until I picked it up again.

(Just as I didn’t realise my knees were seizing up until I tried something unfamiliar with them…

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What’s the relationship between learning and doing?

My Twitter bio said, until this morning, “Soaking up learning and oozing it back.” I was thinking of a sponge that, once it’s soaked up a certain amount of water will start to leak it back out. If you hold a sponge under a tap, pretty quickly it becomes saturated and makes no difference to the rate, and little difference to the direction, of flow.

I feel a bit like that sponge. Sitting in a flow of information and knowledge, big and bloated, scarcely able to move under the weight of all this stuff, desperately trying to catch some of the things that are floating past but I’m just too full. Learning loads, but doing relatively little. Indeed, maybe doing less than I should precisely because I’m overloaded with new information and ideas. It feels like I’ve got some kind 0f e-ADHD.

I’m no marine biologist, but I suspect a living sponge is rather more active in regulating its intake, and then making use of what it takes in. Not just oozing it out, but processing it, making new things from it, using it to grow and reproduce.

Blogging (and micro-blogging) can be one way of processing stuff, both for self and others, and my early posts on this latest attempt at keeping a blog have been useful in helping me to order my thoughts and think more about sharing ideas rather than just taking them in.  I’ve been motivated to see the reality of that by some retweets of information I’ve shared that I thought was pretty mundane common knowledge. As someone once said, it is in giving that we receive.

Even though I’ve not got round to blogging on some of the things I’ve been thinking about over the past week or so, I’m determined to put that right with the breathing space of the Easter break, and hopefully get into good habits that I can continue.

(Other people in similar circumstances manage it, so why shouldn’t I?…

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