I had thought I would be able to get through the whole of my life without having to know more than the basic minimum about football. Then, by one of those quirks of nature that surface every few generations, my five-year-old son has demonstrated a certain aptitude for playing the game, and a great interest in watching it. So, there I am, every Saturday, nine in the morning, on the touch-line. And there I have been, recently, shouting at the telly, swearing at refs and amazed that I can say, "we wos robbed" and have grown men ask after my opinion about various games. But then, this is how children change your life and lead you to explore potential you never dreamed you had.
So, as part of our football fever we obtained a copy of Fat Les's "Vindaloo" song. I had to approach a wary student to enquire how one went about buying "singles in the top 40, nowadays", once it had dawned on me you couldn't play 45s on a CD player. Yet another example of how out of touch with reality lecturers in education are.
A CD duly purchased, we spent the weekend marching round the house shouting vindaloo. Or, as the three-year-old put it, not knowing what vindaloo is, despite living in a multi-cultural cuisine-aware family, "Me, me mum, me dad and me nan and a bottle of sticky glue". Brilliant example of how children take ownership of language and make their own sense of it, I thought. I'll use that in a lecture next term. Things got better.
Matthew's school has an excellent emergent writing policy. Matthew, being a model child, writes at every available opportunity. We have conversations about "sounding it out" and "is it uppy-umbrella next?" "No, I think it's yo-yo man." And we had a tea-time conversation that went: "What's the 'F' word, mum? At school David said about the 'F' word."
Mummy says "F" word, thinking, well, he's heard it before, in this house even. Daddy spits sausage across table, spluttering, "I can't believe you just said that, I can't believeI" Marital discord ensues. "Well, he's heard it before, he's probably heard you say it, dear."
"I can't believe..."
"If we don't answer his questions, where's he going to find out? What happens when it's a really important question. He won't ask if he can't trust us not to get angry, etc." Rounding on child: "See, Matthew, what happens when you say the 'F' word? People get upset."
Uneasy silence. Minutes pass, small child's brain grinds away, hopefully thinking about appropriate use of language.
"Mummy, I think I can spell it. It goes 'f', 'u' I Is it clever cat next or kicking king?" Maybe the school is too successful. However, this tea-time Matt wanted a work sheet about Vindaloo. Don't ask! So the last bit of the worksheet was: Who went to Waterloo?
Me, ............... (Write in the list of people in the song.) We duly worked our way through 10 minutes of "have a go", "what does it start with?" And got as far as Me, me mum, (which seemed the simplest way of rendering the dialect), me dad and me naIMatthew, tired by now of, "what do you think comes next?" Suggested "b". So we read it: Me, me mum, me dad and me nab.
Being five, Matthew thought this was very funny and wanted to know what it would say if the last sound was "k": Me, me mum, me dad and me nak.
Squeals of laughter. Ah ha! I thought, we're on to something here. Suggested we try changing the last sounds of all the people words: Me, me muk, me dak and me nak.
Once the laughter died down, Matthew started trying out his own sounds. Learning development pennies were dropping left, right and in to the vindaloo. We tried "f" and "s". Having cracked final sounds we moved on to initial sounds.
Where is a video camera when you want one? Where are David Blunkett and Chris Woodhead? I remember teaching like this. Find a topic that interests the child, wait for the right moment of child readiness, then, quick bit of teacher intervention and what can be hours spent medium and short-term planning, not to mention assessing and reporting to parents, is achieved in the time it takes the mange-tout to cook. OK, it's not entirely like that. But it brought back a bit of the old thrill and the magic of an excited, triumphant child's laughter, of his learning through interest and relevance and, because the time was right, believing he'd done it himself.
Lying in bed that night I came up with a whole host of lessons, across the primary range, based around the song. Get hold of copy, run off their energy dancing to it, then wow! Write your own lyrics, take a theme and write the lyrics in line with that. Change the rhymes around, do it as a whole class, a group, write a book, share it, make a video. (If I had a web site, as a supportive colleague, I'd let you all download it for the end of term!) Oh, and if "Vindaloo" makes number one, I want my commission.
Gianna Knowles lectures at the Chichester Institute of Higher Education