Archive for the ‘learning’ Category

Michael Lewis

Eliza

When I realised L would be away for Michael Lewis’s talk in Manchester, I offered the spare ticket to Gabe. Later it occurred to me that Eliza had expressed an interest in studying psychology, so proposed she come with me. She was never more than lukewarm about the idea and said she thought it would be “weird” for a child to go. Finally, on the day of the talk, she agreed to come with me to the Manchester University lecture hall. 

As she feared, it did seem she would be the only child in an audience of students and adults. But I spotted a girl of about her age sitting with her mother – five minutes later I turned and saw the mother pointing Eliza and me out to her daughter. 

Lewis spoke about his book on Kahneman and Tversky, two Israeli psychologists, for an hour, providing long fluent and entertaining answers to five or six questions from the presenter; and then took audience questions for 30 minutes. I found it fascinating. Even more rewarding was that Eliza was just as positive, to a degree that probably surprised her. We chatted about the talk all the way home, swapping examples and stories Lewis told that had interested or amused us. She also declared that she would definitely opt to study psychology for GCSE.

Robin

Robin seems more settled at school, but generally adrift and prone to be unhappy. News stories, or things he reads or hears about upset him. L came home early from book group when he called her distraught about an article reporting that Stephen Hawking said the world would be destroyed in 600 years. 

More prosaically he is struggling to make an impact in his football team. For the first time, he’s spending as much time off the pitch as a substitute as he is on it. He is being played in different positions – striker, central midfield – having played wide left for most of last season, but hasn’t really convinced the coaches anywhere and is convinced that he is unpopular with one of the coaches.

Gabe

Gabe is thinking about university. He has been considering which universities he might wand to apply to, studying lists of top institutions. Oxford, Durham, St Andrews and Edinburgh are in his thoughts. I pointed out that the work experience he must do next summer may become important for his application statement. We identified places he might work at that would demonstrate his interest in history: local university history departments, museums and places of historical interest. He has written a few emails, received a few refusals, but not yet got on the phone to chase up an opportunity.

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Seven, seven, seven..

Robin

In the final week of Robin’s first half-term of secondary school, L and I attend an evening meeting with his form teacher. The girls’ PE teacher fulfils too many stereotypes of that subjects’ teachers – drowning in the shallow end of education. But she’s enthusiastic about Robin: he plays in the school football team and he’s academic. She shows us a table of his progress, with scores extrapolated ‘by a machine’ for GCSEs in five years time. Sevens across the board – A’s in old money.

Robin broods when we tell him this news. He’s unhappy. Why don’t they think he’s going to get eights and nines (A* and A**s)? It’s early days, we say. To be told you’re going to get sevens already is amazing. He looks determined.

Gabe

Gabe’s acquisition of a hi-fi system to enable him to play his vinyl is proceeding slowly. Having sold the record player he received for his birthday, as well as his X-box, he bought an upgraded record player and an amp. They were not compatible and so, when he next had money, he bought a pre-amp. That came without an output cable. Soon, he will have bought that, which leaves the connection to his speakers. Until that combination is sorted he will listen with his headphones, but for the time being, his vinyl stays ensleeved.

Eliza

Eliza has visited the world war one battlefields. She left by coach late one night, returning three days later. One hundred years ago many servicemen returned shell-shocked and unable to relate their experiences in France and Belgium. Eliza had no such trauma, but other than acknowledging enjoying visiting the trenches and the chocolate shop, she’s giving little more away.

Prom night

Gabe

The day of Prom night began with me visiting the Co-op to buy four cans of cider. These were for Gabe to take to the before- or after-party, because alcohol was out of bounds at the real Prom, held at the Hilton Hotel in Manchester’s tallest tower. There they visited the cocktail bar with the glass floor on the 23rd storey. The after-party, back in Sale, continued until about 2am. Gabe returned, having enjoyed the prom, sober and offering a non-specific account of what had happened.

Robin

Robin had one of the dozen larger speaking parts in the year 6 play: The Pirates of the Curry Bean. He was Admiral Hornhonker, an incompetent sailor, who had achieved his rank through nepotism. Robin earned plenty of laughs for his foolish comments and was clearly enjoying himself on stage. He even had a tap-dancing routine. He also wore a particularly fine Admiral’s outfit rustled up by his Mother.

Eliza

Eliza’s school report reinforced the positive messages at her year 8 parents evening. She had good results across the board, with positive feedback on conduct and effort. As with Gabe, the three subjects where her results were particularly strong were history, French and English. Comments about her wide general knowledge surprised us a little, but maybe she knows more about the outside world than she lets on at home?

Braces (at last)

Eliza

“When are you 14?” asked the Greek orthodontist.

“November,” Eliza replied.

“Well, we had better get on with it,” concluded the orthodontist.

Eliza gave a look that said, ‘FINALLY!’. This is either her third or fourth orthodontist appointment in between which she has been batted back and forth, without anything being done to correct her crooked front teeth. But this time there is urgency and action. It takes under 10 seconds for the orthodontist to affirm that the wonkiness of her upper incisors qualifies for NHS care. By the time we have returned to the reception desk, a further appointment has been requested – for the following day.

Eliza is back at the surgery in not much more than 24 hours. This time, she leaves with braces across her four upper front teeth. The braces will stay for six months, re-aligning those teeth. After that, she will wear upper and lower jaw plates for up to two years.

Robin

As a cricketer Robin has shown more as a natural bowler than batsman. This season, his bowling has gone a little backwards, without, until this week, his batting compensating. In fact, despite often being requested to play twice a week – for his age group and the age group above – Robin has been a reluctant cricketer. But on Monday, he rediscovered his joy in the game, by making his first ever score of 25, which is the retirement score in under 11 cricket. He hit several fours, including one that he described as going back over the bowler and bouncing on the boundary rope.

Gabe

Gabe finished his GCSE exams, but chose not to go out to celebrate. Instead he came back home and in the evening was still in his school uniform, which he’ll never need to wear again. He reported feeling no great release from finishing his exams. His thoughts have turned instead to the results, which are almost two whole months away.

Revision

Gabe

Gabe is several weeks from the start of GCSE exams. Since the start of the Easter holiday, he has been making sincere, if not always successful, attempts to revise. He’s easily distracted by his phone and possibly misdirected in his efforts. He owns up to some anxiety and admits he wishes he worked harder in year 10. By the Easter weekend, at the close of the fortnight’s holiday, he had reached a state of near complete dependency – needing L or me to be with him for him to revise. We both put in the hours and added momentum to his studies. I found out a lot about electricity, radioactivity, French tenses, An Inspector Calls, the New Deal and enzymes. Working in tandem, L and I had an important victory: managing to convince him that he must plan before he writes. Whatever his technical frailties, we both assume his powers of retention will put him in good stead to excel in the exam room.

Eliza

Eliza is becoming an expert and loving gift-giver. Her birthday present for L was perfect. In the past she has sketched me and her together and made me an Eliza-themed collage for my wall at work. This year, as my birthday approached, she hassled me for clues about what I would like, even calling me during a work meeting. Come the day, the centrepiece of her gift was an eight verse poem about me written out on a large piece of card. It was full of her disdainful wit: “your company will occasionally suffice” is almost as kind as she can manage to be. It will be treasured and maybe responded to.

Robin

Robin’s club football season has not been as successful as it might have been. Playing wide on the left, against very tight defences, he has had little opportunity for marauding dribbling and goals dried up after Christmas. When talk turned to next season and moving to another league so the team could play on Saturday (not Sunday), his interest was equivocal. We spoke about trying other teams or clubs. Eventually, he agreed to sign on again, after his friend A – even less committed given his skateboarding fervour – relented under his parents’ pressure. Another consideration was the promise from the coaches that the current centre-forward, a difficult and troubled lad, with sumptuous football skills, would not be returning and Robin would move back to striker.

Reading age of 16

Robin

L attended Robin’s parent evening, where the news was entirely positive, if tinged with regret about his eleven plus result. A computer print-out showed he exceeded some benchmark across the full range of maths and English measures. Another showed that his reading age had climbed two years in the three months to December and another two years since then, giving him a reading age of 16.

Gabe

Gabe rarely leaves the house except for school and sporting engagements – playing or spectating. He has, though, been to a couple of parties recently and at those has drunk some alcohol. He’s not concealed the fact, nor dwelt on it, or thankfully, appeared to be any the worse for wear for it. I suspect he’s not liked it particularly, given how resistant he is to consuming any new flavours.

He did ask me ahead of the most recent party, if I could give him a bottle of something to take. Cider was his preference and so, for the first time, I bought my son a drink – not one that we shared together though. At the first mention of drinking, a couple of months ago, I had said to him that if he wanted to try beer, he should ask me. Before I had finished this attempt at responsible parenting, I realised how unappealing drinking with one’s Dad would be – the whole point was to take these early steps in the company of friends.

Eliza

Eliza’s solution to a day at home without any major plans is to bake. By choice, she would always bake something sweet: cookies, cakes, millionaire shortbread. Today, with everyone else but me out at a Man City game, she decided to make pizza. We walked to the shops to buy the mozzarella and passata. She served the pizzas sequentially: L, Robin, Gabe, with her own coming last. By the time she reached her own, she had run out of mozzarella and sent me back to the shops to replenish.

Saved until last

Eliza

Eliza’s parents evening, attended by L, Eliza and me, was an evening of almost unremitting praise. The French teacher went into Gallic excess. More English, more restrained were history, English, music (although Eliza’s failure to go to strings group on Tuesday lunchtimes was mentioned) and science. Only maths, in the person of a very dull man, failed to join in the fun. But last was best, because the RE teacher, amongst her praise for Eliza, admitted that she always saved marking Eliza’s homework for last – to give her a boost at the end of a long marking session.

Robin

On a mild March evening, Robin joined L and I on a walk around the neighbourhood to get some air and steps on our health apps. A few minutes down the road and Robin announced that he was going to give us a quiz, on the subject of.. himself. For the next 20 minutes our knowledge of our younger son was tested: favourite music, tv programme, holiday and food preferences and much else. His mother, of course, won.

Gabe

Gabe is nibbling away at the pile of GCSE assessments that fill year 11. Science practicals, music performances, French controlled assessment, cookery assessment and PE performances have all been ticked off, with the exams to come after Easter.  The most stressful for him was the food technology test. He had never completed a practical in the allotted time, but we persuaded him to practice at the weekend and prepare some of the ingredients at home. His savoury Chelsea bun with tomato sauce looked impressive. He prepared most thoroughly for the French assessment, drafting a sophisticated piece about his home town that he reproduced under controlled assessment conditions (dictionary + 40 words of notes). The interim results place him well to achieve an impressive set of GCSEs.