Tuesday, August 25, 2015


We went out for a drive on Sunday in search of gorse, and eventually found five or six bushes on a lane out past Torrance. Some of them were over 7ft tall. Most of the seed pods hadn't opened. I took them from the tupperware box I'd collected them in - maybe a hundred pods, and put them in a wee pie dish on the windowsill this morning, as a kind of unusually brutal pot-pourri. It just so happens that I've decided to work from home this morning, and I'm glad I did because I've got the pleasure of hearing the pods pop in the sunshine.

I've always wanted a hedge with a lot of gorse in it. First of all, it's unusual and attractive in flower. Secondly, its a refuge for wee birds: wrens and dunnocks, but who knows I might be lucky and get some long tailed tits. Thirdly, it's entirely ned-proof. No human can get through gorse without serious injury. The lady at the allotments who keeps bees told me that someone had taken the top off her bee-hive during the course of last winter, and the bees had died of cold before she found out. The polis told her that people are known to hide stashes of drugs in beehives, and that would explain it. She told me that whoever had done the deed had managed to scramble through a hawthorn hedge to get to  the hive. Ha! One day I'm going to get a beehive and I'd like to see anyone trying to get through a hawthorn and gorse hedge, the blighters.

NB: the popping gorse seed pods were firing the seeds all over the sitting room.  I've put a transparent plastic shower cap over the pie dish to catch them.

Friday, August 14, 2015

I can report that you can't hot compost with a load of tall nettle stalks. It's incredibly difficult to break them up with a hoe or a spade, as they take on the consistency of rope. The heap did warm up in the middle somewhat: about 25C when the Glasgow evening ambient temperature was around 15C. I turned it last night to find an ants' nest. I hope they move back in to their upturned home, because I suppose they'll likely help break it down. Anyway, I'm going to leave it be for now, maybe mix it with the horse shit when I get it - that should heat it up enough to kill the seeds. And I'm reluctant to burn good organic matter.

But speaking of burning, I have no choice with the mountain of old, rotten timber that's growing as a I collect it from the area that's been used to keep wood, broken glass and rubbish. I've come across a big sturdy plastic fish-box, and I put the broken glass in there, en route to the skip, which I think I've largely been responsible for filling. Once the council have been and emptied it, I've got numerous old doors, sheets of glass, and God knows how many more fish-boxes of broken glass to go in. And that's before I start emptying the old shed prior to dismantling and burning it.

I did briefly consider salvaging the old shed. But a brief survey the other night suggested it would be futile. It doesn't seem to have any kind of coherent framework, or any kind of coherence, actually. It's a collection of doors, both wooden and glass, panes of glass, sheets of aluminium, odd bits of wood, all apparently tacked together piecemeal over decades. I don't know what's been going on with the floor, which slopes from front to back at gradient of 1:3. I wonder if the original builder of the shed just built it on a slope, not giving a shit? Or has the ground washed away over the years?

The whole garden is bizarre in its topography. From the very top at the south end, to the very bottom, there's a very gentle gradient, maybe 1:40. But someone has put a terrace a two fifths of the way down, (to the right of the central plateau in the diagram):

That's (very roughly) how it would look in section, down the path, running south/north. The rise near the middle is where (I'm guessing) there once stood a greenhouse running east to west across almost the entire plot, (the central path only starts north of that). There are the remains of foundations and a path up the middle. My plan for the winter is to dig up those remains, salvaging what I can of the bricks to lay paths. And then get it all levelled out, so that there's a path running the whole length south to north down a very slight slope. Also, that section is down the middle. To the north east, i.e. the left hand of that section and stepping moving back, where the shed and the gate are, it drops down a couple of feet. And there are other mysterious mounds and depressions, especially on the north end. 

Or to put it another way, it's as if the greenhouse foundations are a kind of island in a landscape which has a sinking, hollow, hungry feel to it. I want it all nice and level, (it's an allotment, not a Capability Brown job), and fed, fed, fed with shit. But as I've said before, shit's another blogpost entirely. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Research Proposal for Admission to EdD Programme at Strathclyde University, October 2015

Can the New Standards in Education be used for English Language Learners in a non-immersive environment? The Common Core State Standards and young English Language Learners in China, a case study.

Throughout the non-Anglophone world, Kachru’s (1992) “Expanding Circle”, uncountable millions of people want or need to learn English, usually for economic reasons. Only a small minority can afford to attend International Schools at home or abroad where they will benefit from immersion programmes. The rest must learn from online resources, their own state school and university programmes, and private schools giving tuition in the evenings or at weekends using commercial texts and locally prepared materials. Standards are of variable quality, ranging from curricula based on 20th Century grammar-translation methodology, to others based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. 

With the advent of the New Standards Movement in the USA,  and the adoption of the Common Core State Standards in the US and elsewhere, there is a carefully researched set of standards on which to base curricula for English Language Learners. However, it was likely the expectation of those who designed the CCSS that it would be used by ELLs in immersive programmes and environments., specific to the USA. The question I want to examine is whether the CCSS can be adapted to serve the needs of ELLs in non-immersive environments, in particular Chinese young learners who will be receiving instruction in evening and weekend classes in addition to state education during the day in China. And would the adoption of such standards be preferable to the current piecemeal situation? Or is the teaching of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) more appropriate for ELLs in “Expanding Circle” countries? This is important because of the vast numbers of ELLs throughout the world, and the economic value to them of learning to communicate in English.

Van Lier & Walqui (2012) suggest that the New Standards Movement insofar as it applies to ELLS represents a shift to a “more socially engaged process”, and from “teaching language per se to supporting activity” to develop understanding and language use.”  Bunch et al (2012) note however that the ability to debate and deploy critical thinking are fundamental to the CCSS and that these are “culturally specific values and practices that may or may not align with those of students from different backgrounds.”  Pompa and Hakuta’s (2012) discussion of the policy history and implications of the CCSS is a reminder that these Standards are designed specifically for ELLs in the USA’s state school system, and therefore an immersive language environment.

Johnson and Swain (1997) give a useful outline of the history and theory of immersive language learning. Essentially, it is the use of the target language (English, or L2) as a medium of instruction in teaching the language and other subjects. Immersive learning is not without its critics: see Cook (2001), and Tarone and Swain (1995).

Seidhofer questions the suitability of Standards from the “Inner Circle” countries (such as the UK or USA) to “Expanding Circle” countries (such as China). We should also consider whether teaching English as a Lingua Franca, per Jenkins (2006) would be a more suitable approach than a New Standards immersive model.

[...] I propose to use quantitative assessment data to ascertain the efficacy of the Standards in English language learning, and qualitative Audio/Video data to observe teaching practice and to what extent it is in practice immersive or not, that is usage of L1 and L2 in the classroom.


Bunch, G. C., Kibler, A., & Pimentel, S. (2012). Realizing opportunities for English learners in the common core English language arts and disciplinary literacy standards. Stanford, CA: Understanding Language Initiative. Retrieved March, 25, 2013.

Chiu, C., Ip, C., & Silverman, A. (2012). Understanding social media in China. McKinsey Quarterly, 2(2012), 78-81.

Cook, V. (2001). Using the first language in the classroom. Canadian Modern Language Review, 57(3), 402-423

Jenkins, J. (2006). Current perspectives on teaching world Englishes and English as a lingua franca. Tesol Quarterly, 40(1), 157-181.

Johnson, R. K., & Swain, M. (1997). Immersion education: International perspectives. Cambridge University Press.

Kachru, B. B. (1992). teaching world Englishes. The other tongue: English across cultures, 2, 355-366.

Pompa, D., & Hakuta, K. (2012). Opportunities for policy advancement for ELLs created by the new standards movement. Commissioned Papers on Language and Literacy Issues in the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards, 94, 123.

Seidlhofer, B. (1999). Double standards: Teacher education in the expanding circle. World Englishes, 18(2), 233-245.

Tarone, E., & Swain, M. (1995). A sociolinguistic perspective on second language use in immersion classrooms. The Modern Language Journal, 79(2), 166-178.

van Lier, L., & Walqui, A. (2012). Language and the common core state standards. Commissioned Papers on Language and Literacy Issues in the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards, 94, 44.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Hot Compost

Almost the first job at Pig Sty Ave v2.0 was to weed the fruit bush bed, and cut back the severely overgrown bushes. There'd been attempts to pull back the feral bushes with strings and bits of wood stuck in the bed. So I hacked my way through it, piling all the cuttings and weeds and wood and string onto a pile which grew over six foot tall.

Last week was mostly going through that pile, chopping up the fruit bush cutting to manageable size, and putting the bits of wood onto the woodpile-for-burning, (as opposed to the woodpile-for-wildlife), and separating out the weeds to compost. To this last I could add two other big heaps of mostly nettles from other parts of the garden. And of course the inevitable docks and grasses.

So I got a big heap of twigs, some of which will go on the woodpile-for-wildlife, the rest for kindling. The weeds I need to hot compost - not because I'm in a particular hurry for the compost, but because they'll be full of nettle and grass seeds, and hot composting should kill them. I ended up with a pile about 5ft high, which I've now turned twice, but it hasn't heated up in the middle...

The problem might be that a lot of the weeds were massive nettles, some of them 6 ft tall, so the pile is very stalky. So the next job, as I turn the pile again, is to go at it with the hdgh and chop up the stalks. I've already tried this, and dear me it's bloody hard work, but needs must. As I've watched cleared beds failing to feed the phacelia, and even weeds being reluctant to grow, I'm concluding this poor allotment is starved. So I need all the compost I can get. Shit, also, but that's another story.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Randomizing an array of text in an xlsx document

I had a list of statements in a likert test for test administrators:

But I didn't want the respondents (after a hard day administering test in a busy school) to go onto autopilot, if possible, so I needed a quick way to randomise the statements - the sort function will only sort them alphabetically, ascending or descending.

No problem, once I'd worked it out.

Get the RAND function on a cell in the row of the first cell:

Drag the formula down the column adjoining your column of text, and it gives each row a genuinely random number:

Now sort that column, doesn't matter ascending or descending, expanding the sort to include your column of text. Just delete your column of random numbers. And voila, a now truly random set of statements for your likert. Easy-peasy.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Auld Barrows and Bog Gardens?

Quite close to the entrance to Pig Sty Avenue v2.0 there was a mysterious mound of earth, with a water barrel on top of it at a crazy angle. I moved the barrel. And started with the intention of levelling the mound. Hmm. This has clearly been a rubbish heap, which someone has decided to throw some soil over. Plastic bags, beer cans, and a distressing amount of broken glass. I gave it a few hours over the weekend, filled four barrow's full with rubbish, and I'm still not there. Just to make things a little more interesting, there was a very big and nasty bramble growing in amongst all the rubbish, and I had to get gangster on it with the spit, (see photo).

Words cannot describe how annoying a mixture of plastic carrier bags and broken glass can be when mixed in with soil. Eventually, the only recourse is to rake everything out and then pick through it to get the glass and the bags, not to mention the beer cans and bits of wood and half bricks. It's raining now, but I'm going back tonight anyway to get this finished. I won't rest until this bit is rubbish free.

This erstwhile rubbish heap is at part of the line of where the hedgerow's going to run. I've also got to grub out some very dead shrubs. So dead are they, I'm afraid someone's used a strong weedkiller on them, and the ground where they've stood might be toxic. (I had a mushkila kebir at PSA v1 because my predecessor had, it appeared, decided to kill the weed growing by the path with something illegal, so that a foot either side of the path was poisoned and nothing would grow). We shall see. I'll put some phacelia in before the hedge plants, and see if it grows.

I've also started on moving the dozen or so plastic and glass doors, and door sized sheets of glass which are stacked up nearby. Slowly, slowly, slowly...

There were three wheelbarrows. One I'm using now, it just wanted the tyre pumped up.  Another one might be in working order too. But a third one was completely goosed, rusted away to absurdity. I threw it in the "metals" area by the rubbish skip. The next day it was gone, although the council hasn't been to collect rubbish. I assume someone's been to a garden show where they've had an old wheelbarrow as a planter, and decided to do the same. Which is fair enough, except that it just looks like an auld barrow with plants in it. Might be ok in a domestic garden, (might). But in an allotment?

Ditto the whole bog garden concept, which I was briefly contemplating. I want to eat neeps, not bloody bog-myrtle. So I'm garnering rubble, and I'm going to dig some proper drainage trenches, and fill the bottom with rubble for a french drain, fill it all in, and grow stuff to eat. Thank you.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Pig Sty Avenue v2.0

The photo is facing south, from the bottom of the allotment. At the moment, I've only got a half-plot,  to the left of the photo.  It was all weeds a few weeks ago, and now it's dug over and seeded with phacelia. There are fruit bushes (blackcurrants, redcurrant, gooseberries) along the left hand margin. These were grotesquely overgrown, coming half way across the main bed almost, and I had to cut them right back, sacrificing lots of fruit in the process. There are two rows of bushes, the ones you can see, and another row behind them. The plan is to move all the bushes from the front row elsewhere, and cut the back row right down to incorporate them into the hedgerow, which will follow that line.

The tree you can see on the left is a cherry - actually there are two of them. They've gone feral, most of the cherries are 30ft high, food for the wood pigeons, which I'm beginning to regard as allotment gangsters, robbing everything in sight, and having noisy parties. So I'm going to coppice the cherry trees, and they'll grow back as part of the hedgerow. I should do that now, apparently, because later pruning can lead to silver leaf disease, but I'm pretty sure there are birds nesting there, and I've already disturbed two nests, a wren's and a dunnock's, amongst the tall nettles, and I don't want to disturb any more, so I'm going to wait and risk that - I'll do it as soon as the leaves start to turn, and I'm sure there are no nests there. Besides, I don't know if the advice about pruning applies to coppicing - perhaps not, as the growth will be totally new. We shall see. They're no bloody good as they stand, and they're blocking out too much light.

The big pile standing on the left is the weeds I've dug up, and the fruit bush cuttings. I've to go through that soon, separate out the wood (and put it into a woodpile), and hot-compost everything else (and hopefully kill any seeds in it). The bits of dressed but rotten timber there are the tip of an iceberg - there must be a ton of it around the allotment. I've tried burning it in the cages you can see to the right of the path, but it's very slow and produces a lot of smoke because the wood's so wet and rotten. I have a feeling I pissed off my neighbours with this last weekend. So all rotten but dressed/treated wood is going into a pile, and then a bonfire on November 5th, when no-one will notice.

The path is wonky, and needs straightened. And the right hand side, that's another story...

Friday, July 17, 2015

My Libyan Hoe

Actually, I've just found out, it's a heavy duty grubbing hoe. That's it back in Libya, on the left. It cost buttons in the hardware store, but a lot more when I decided to take it home because my luggage was overweight. Dad kept it in a cupboard for me pending the day when I got my own allotment again. And finally, yesterday, it got back into action.

At the bottom of Pig Sty Avenue (Glasgow), there are two great heaps of earth, covered in nettles. I dealt with the nettles, and tried first with a garden fork, and then with a spade to clear the mounds. But at some point there must have been something substantial planted on these mounds, fruit bushes probably, because they were wick with heavy roots. Enter the Libyan hoe. I must have had some kind of premonition when I brought it home back in 2008, because it is the perfect tool for the job. I can dig into the mound, through the roots, grub them out, and then use it to pull the soil forward.  I can finish the job in a couple of hours now - it would have taken weeks of heartbreak with a spade.

I tried out the hoe on the top end of the allotment, where there's two or three inches of earth (held together by (now dead, glyphosated) grass. Underneath there's all kinds of bricks, timbers, god knows what else - it's going to be like Time Team when I get started on it. But the Libyan HDGH is perfect for that, too, cutting through the earth, you can get in amongst the bricks and rotten timbers and gently lever them out.

Pig Sty Avenue (Glasgow) is becoming something of an obsession. I'm not reading books, watching telly, or practicing the piano. When I'm not there digging or hoeing, I'm staring out of the window, planning hedgerows, greenhouses, ponds, sheds, moving earth around.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Modal Disempowerment: Get up (get on up)

That's me back into English Language Assessment, full time. And escaping at last the allurements of the Common European Framework of Reference to explore the way they do things in the USA, on the basis that when America has an educational paradigm shift, the rest of the world starts writing lesson plans. I've quickly learned that not only the US but Canada, Australia, The Philippines and many (most?) International Schools are using the PreK-12 structure.

A good starting point is a paper by the TESOL International Association (motto: "Advancing Excellence in English Language Teaching") entitled Implementing the Common Core State Standards for English Learners: The Changing Role of the ESL Teacher, from April 2013, (which reminds me, I'd better start to learn to write references again, like, today). A sentence on p2 caught my eye: "TESOL International Association believes that ESL teachers can and should play a critical role in the success of the CCSS." [Emphasis supplied]. 

"Can and should". One evening a few months ago, whilst still toiling under the desert sun, I watched a BBC documentary about James Brown. It showed a recording of an American talk show he participated in during the late 70s. Another participant was an older, well-dressed white man, who was not identified. He adopted a rather embarrassingly matey attitude towards the Godfather of Soul, several times using the vocative function (to the man who almost everyone else addressed as Mr Brown), "Jimmy". 

If this was getting on Brown's nerves, he didn't show it straight away, but when the older guy said, adopting a pained look, of Brown's equal status in America, "You should be, Jimmy...", Brown just lost it. "Should be!" He stood up as if to walk out, controlled himself somewhat and sat down again, (this is James Brown we're talking about). The balance of power in the discussion shifted from the WASP to the Godfather. 

So what we're seeing here is the use of modals can and should as a get out. ESL teachers PLAY a critical role in paradigm shifts. Everyone in America IS equal. Let's just look out for mealy mouthed modals delivered by old men with facial expressions of theatrical regret.