God as Divine Geometer (13th cent.


The Primitive and the Exact

For it is only through images that the inner world communicates at all. Images of the past, shapes of the future. Images of vigour for a decadent period, images of calm for one too violent. Images of reconciliation for a world torn by division. And in an age of mediocrity and shattered dreams, images of abounding, generous, exuberant beauty.

The idea of ‘on demand’ online units of teacher training, carried out by means of easily assimilated ‘webinars’ – in which the option to participate remotely is ensured – is of

great benefit to the English navigator in foreign seas during a period of dead calm.

I followed with profit ideas about the imparting of accuracy and consistent learning routines in overseas students, and discovered new information about the alveolar and velar ŋ. It seems ‘English’ is derived from our word for angle, as the part of Germany from which my ancestors came was shaped like a fish-hook and called Angeln...

Georgian children in a rural setting, however, have scant regard for accuracy and exactitude. They delight in marinading in the excitement – the plash of newsounds and the energy of fresh images – which a new tongue, subterreneanly imparted by an astute teacher, can – on a

good day − ensure. In this essay we look at some of the results which such linguistic energy and acts of imagination can achieve.


Here we see pupil grappling with a new word pug known from a phonetic type exercise from Enchanted Learning. It’s important to migrate back from the photocopy to the security of the blackboard and the home realm of the drawing encapsulating image and word.

Quasi-ideographic language building: Chinese must have started like this! Under a table which resembles a mushroom we see a ‘cet’. The important point here is the pictorial definition of under.

The pug, however, is on the rug. If anything, he appears to be hovering over it. The rug is reticulated into a surface of forty squares, which makes me wonder whether the student is anticipating a sound world of approxiamtely forty sounds.

An attempt at a glossary. Where there are misspellings, the sounds are firmly entrenched in the student’s ear. There are one or two other confusions, but the main thing is the desire to make a list spontaneously and energetically.

The vitality of the children in winter. They live near the surface of things, full of bubble and fun, and if suitably stimulated, will dig down into the psyche to unearth treasures of apprehension. But on a day like this, everything is likely to be boisterous, short-lived and superficial.

The importance of mental spacing: Khatia is putting the rhyming words into boldly separated columns. Here we see great learning going on, and a ‘cloze’ exercise being set up for the instruction of Akaki (foreground right).

Some tremendously harmonious colouring at the expense of filling in the ‘right’ colours. It’s a visceral exploration of the objects depicted, a reliving of them in the imagination via the act of colouring them in. The linguistic and analytical will come in very soon. For now the emphasis is on establishing a study world, a domain of repose and order.

Rich inner worlds conjoured up for the children by Enchanted Learning’s Greek amphorae. A secret path of the imagination back to a past when Georgia and Greece shared a common ancient world.

A Chinese sage, acutely tinted to reflect a lambent sense of nature and the Silk Road.

Jumping onto the subject of the sentence, realized physically, orthographically and spatially

Multiple and colourful underlinings: no analysis or reflection here, but drumming in the music and sound of the mastered words in a single grammatical take.

This sketch shows Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, but Snow White is a dancing, maternal Goddess of Spring, and the dwarves (four large and three small) are clothed in some splendidly complementary colours, almost resembling a rainbow; above, a secure, shady wood and an airy cloud- and sun-filled sky. Most of the same rainbow hues appear in a sprawling spangle of stars in a different picture by a classmate seen just below: the predictable laws of the lucent, natural world representing a wonderful inner imaginative refuge for both girl students (aged maybe about 8 or 9).

More magical nature worlds from the same class: dragon; magic tree; knobbly, local-style mountains, studded with fertile and shade-giving trees, as in a vision of Eden.

This painting in felt pens has all the verve of a Matisse (cf R). The choice of colours and boldness of conception are remarkably dramatic and pleasing.

Remarkable essays on the deep inner theme of inhabiting, which Bachelard has analysed. Learning the names of the rooms in a house involves a meaningful psychological journey for the young artists. Everywhere there is a tremendous eye for detail and an acute sense of observation. The pure lines of the table might have come from Ozenfant (below far R) − but it’s a touch ironic that a huge calligraphic and artistic effort has missed a slip in the spelling! (top R)

A careful and measured fixing and naming of salient images in which texture, context, consciousness and attention are all in perfect balance. The figures look really come to life and speak vivdly to the onlooker. Th spilling red water adds as surreal, dramatic touch.

Even where the learning curve is straightforward, synesthesia can make for great clarity

Studying a text by ‘Miss Read’ about a rural‘church’ school in England, Anuka imagines its appearance, and types across some new words from my scanned text


What’s impressive about these three drawings from the same student is the strongly ingrained and vivid presence which the entities represent. The sun is sizzling hot, but he has yet a personality: rosy cheeks and a tongue; and he’s doing his job, with some enjoyment. The passive mushroom on the ground has not got a lot to recommend it except its unusual shape; meanwhile the flowers from the meadow (although only one, exemplary, flower is given!) – represented in mid-air, above the mushroom – have all the grace and buoyancy of a child’s view of springtime.

We have a star – at random – a beautifully delineated five-pointed star – floating loose underneath the mushroom. And the little girl has given no real thought to the use of the definite or indefinite article, but she’s decided to call them the mushroom, the sun, the flowers [sic] , the star: thus, to her, what she’s represented are the essential elements of things in her grasp; and she’s baptized them in English; and in that act of denotation, she’s not only brought, really, into her heart the names of these things in English: she’s also meditated upon them, lived with them for a little while; thought about them; reflected on them; and reacted to them; and ended up with a series of lovely − and really quite generous − open-ended images, which express her happiness to be alive; and her readiness to take part in the dance of the cosmos. Her blackboard, again, has the gravitas of the schoolroom – in both senses of the word: it’s propped up very nicely; there are shadows, under each of the legs; there’s some mysterious writing across the middle of the board – it’s done in a more attractive colour than a normal blackboard, because it’s blue; and the sun – this time a rather more schematic sun! – with seven beautifullyspaced points – is illuminating the scene. This time, she has not called her items the sun or the

board, but she she’s just looked at isolated senses having a board, or a sun, in everyday circumstances. This time, she’s not being definitional: she’s not trying to create a kind of Book of Genesis or Garden of Eden scenario, as some of the children do in some of their drawings: this is more an ad hoc, vocabularybuilding, image-building or word-building exercise, which she’s doing for her own pleasure; and the words are a little bit subsidiary to the images; but the two work together in a very symbiotic and complementary way: the balance between them is perfect. It’s a wonderful exemplification of the medieval principle of dilectio: doing something meditatively out of one’s sheer love of the delight and texture of it.

Here we see (from the same student) a Pooh Bear and a bottle of cola. She’s decided to list their attributes in groups: the bottle is black (I suppose a bottle is black when it’s got some Coke in it) – very observant of her! – although she’s drawn its contents in red: but she’s clearly thinking of it in black. The red recalls maybe the fruity taste of the Coke. The Pooh is a classical Pooh in the style of the drawings by E.H. Shepherd: but he’s done in yellow. One might claim that a Pooh Bear is properly brown: but yellow’s a more optimistic colour; she’s balancing her bottle of Coke here. And she’s obviously got a great interest in the sun: which she’s describing

as yellow, warm, hot; and it reminds her of the sky and the clouds – which she has spelt with a w; which is logical. I wouldn’t dream of changing such a beautiful piece of writing. And the board has reminded her of chalk, eraser, words – and, very interestingly, formula: she’s probably got that from her maths lesson. Again, it just shows a superb, complete, open-eyed take on reality; from a student who’s very eager to learn, who’s very settled in her view of the world; and open, really, to any learning experience. It’s the kind of work which gives the teacher great delight.

Another, older, student has written – almost – a small poem: Parrot is a bird – it flies, Parrot has beautiful colours. Here, of course, the article is not there – Georgian wouldn’t have an article – but it gives us the essentials of the parrot, and I photographed this for the text rather than for the picture of the parrot which is drawn to one side.

Another student has seen some emotional context in her river: she’s drawn in arrows indicating the ideas and feelings which a river evokes for her. She’s given us a nice broad river, which gets broader as it goes along; perhaps she’s thinking of our local Matsavera River which twists and turns, and has an eccentric path; and she’s thinking of the river hurrying; so she’s put hurry… She’s thinking that the river is perhaps Quixotic, and does strange things, so she’s put naughty: maybe she’s thinking of it flooding, or not being direct; and so she’s also written long – because it does go on for an awfully long distance! – and she’s written fast, because, indeed, a river like this river of ours is a gurgling and rushing − and rather attractively vital − kind of river; with almost a personality of its own. *

A group of images that show lists. When we began our early learning classes we sometimes showed a photograph on one side of the screen; and on the other the words for the image we had projected. Here we see chicken, elephant, fisherman; and on this occasion, we got the computer to write them in a kind of script….so that the children would write down the words more nearly in handwriting than is the case with small-case print writing – which is sometimes the promulgated norm in textbooks; and you can see

the children here will write maybe the sound of the words or maybe they will group them: make elaborate wavy lines down the lists − down the columns − to suggest how they are ordering them in their minds; or maybe they will just leave elegant white space between the columns, so that everything is crystal clear.

This is the work of two students; and they’ve tried to echo each other, to list the various compass-points, really, in their minds, in course of copying down many words from our day’s study. And this time we were expanding concepts

– numbers of things; and small expressions like I do not know – which has been written six times, for some strange reason! The words are always written eloquently, and with small variations: a strong sense of mastering the expressions; sometimes running the words into one another; with no real thought for conventional orthography… It’s rather the sense of conquering and internalizing an expression which they already know inside-out. And I come along, and put in a few annotations in red, just to support them, help them along… There’s nothing profound here; but it’s a channeling of daily learning in a very lucid and lucent way: from wonderfully attentive, wonderfully articulate, and always happy students.

This shows the response of a student who clearly suffers from dyslexia. But even though this is full of disturbing error – you wouldn’t really know where to start correcting it – it’s nonetheless very clear that he’s making an effort: he’s trying to write words down on a board, he’s trying to space them out, he’s copying them as best he can: they’re coming out very strangely; but nonetheless, this is really my ‘non-invasive’ teaching philosophy in action. It would be very hard to know how to guide this boy, except to encourage him; and let him try things; and little by little, the mind will heal itself and come into focus. That’s the best I can hope for with a

student like that. But that’s, by and large, a philosophy which applies in every situation.

This whiteboard shows how I chipped in with a few teaching words of my own. Students always enjoy this particular type of word because such words have what I call the ‘unfriendly’ or ‘uncooperative’ neighbour syndrome going on. So

we’ve got cake which (I tell them) has initially got an a sound – as in cat – and an e as in get; but when a k decides to push in, to jump between these two letters, why then a and e (who are friends) have to start talking in a different way; and what we generally do is get the students who are playing the vowels to reach round another student who has jumped in (who represents the k) – i.e. who has jumped in the middle – and they modulate their voices into one single identical sound, which is the ei sound of cake, a diphthong. And then it’s very simple to get the students to understand that as well as cake you have take, rake, make, bake for single initial consonants; and then of course, you can have these more Georgian-looking complex consonants starting other similar words such as snake or tram or pram; ‘more Georgian’ , that is, in the sense of being complex, not that those consonant clusters are actually salient in Georgian; and then, of course, you can change the consonant that jumps in so that you might get date, rate; and lake and lane; and name, changing it once again; same, tame, wane – changing it a further time or two: but never confronting the student with too much change at once. Getting them to copy one’s pronunciation of these, and see the logic of the spelling; which

is not a difficult logic to grasp, but it needs a little eking out. And then of course, you can show how without the e at the end of these words modifying the a which comes second, you can just have normal vowel operation in words – or at least have words which are not thus modified in this way, examples being January and land. And I think they do get a clear polarity from the teacher that there are words with this curious ‘unhelpful neighbor’ syndrome going on; and that there are other, standard words, which don’t have it. And that’s about as complex a higher level explanation as I think it’s safe to take with students of this kind of background and age.

This photo shows Dolch words. Dolch words are the building blocks of children’s fairy stories, which Enchanted Learning very helpfully lists... And here I wanted the students to see what words they recognized. It was a non-invasive test: I wasn’t saying, ‘Here – you have to have known all these words!’; – I was saying, ‘Here are some words we may have had; do you recognize any of them?’ And the children would colour in the ones they recognized. And, interestingly, they used different and vibrant colours to show their varying responses to different words. So again, I had this strong sense of there being an inner world of language in the children, which my print-out here managed to magnetize, and to draw the similar words in their minds into a particular focus, words which they would then colour, say, in yellow; and then they might be into another, different, focus; and they’d colour those words in red…. One stray word here is coloured in lime green – that’s the word good; and others are coloured in purple. It’s a very personal and individual response: all the students who did this exercise came up with quite different colours; they didn’t actually go for trying to claim that they knew all the words: they simply went for words which they liked and

remembered. There was no sense of their having to achieve anything. They were simply required to react to what they knew, or might have come across.

I adopted a similar colouristic and graphical approach myself in explaining the very simple – first − grammar point, the most essential grammar point in English: what is the Present of a verb and how you have an s on the third person.

With the tiny sketch of a sheep and a girl to make things clear, I began with he she and it. I’ve separated the third person from what you might call the immediate world of the children, I and you; and the distant world of the children, we and they; which is more abstract and remote. I coloured in blue the area for he she and it; and I linked play with those other words, I and you; and we and they – which I’ve differentiated, and I’ve coloured them in yellow; but the word which varies – with the s on the end – I’ve not coloured in: but I’ve made the s blue; so the whole thing is, I think, as lucid from me, the teacher, as they are habitually serving up for me in their own musings and meditations on the way language seems to fall out, in practice, for them...

A much younger student simply managing to copy MacMillan flashcards successfully; and I have helped him to write the word rocket over the top of the drawing on the first two pictures; and I’ve given him ten out of ten; because at that age, it’s a great achievement if he sits still and can actually do something without getting distracted; without going off-message. Another student in the same class has got very involved in copying a snake. He’s more or less spelt snake correctly − and I’ve done one of my very rare corrections, very gently overlining the k which he had done, which was more like an h,

and putting in a standard k in a slightly different colour. So there’s no sense of, ‘no, this is wrong!’ – it’s just a gentle movement to get the ship back on course. No more than steering it in a more relevant direction. This is my idea of student correction. It must be very gentle and noninvasive; and in no way challenging to the student’s sense of pride in his or her progress. And there must be no sense that every minute isn’t progress, either – if that’s possible!

Great feats of the imagination here! – largely because it’s done entirely in two or three colours on a whiteboard – so that, technically, the resources were very limited. It’s a response to a Cow Who Fell Into The Canal picture – which was full of much interesting detail – and here we see some of the words, cat, house, barge and canal, for example; other students on this exercise put in a lot more words. But even where elements have not been annotated, they have generally been drawn, with subtle and fitting reinterpretations. The screaming baby is magnificent, and seems to be levitating out of his play-pen; the man on the bridge has been moved back so that we get a better view of the bridge; the elaborate Dutch bird-house has been omitted so that we get a better view of the house; the mother and child have been given a more

emotional and caring modulation. On the far R, we see the original.

This group of images relates to our ‘Apple and Georgian Poetry’ week in October 2012. The

churches depicted are always the traditional Georgian cruciform type, with its central cupola. A great deal of detail here, and the church in blue (and one in an image below) are situated on the top of a hill, as is often the case in Georgia; the cross is the particular Georgian type of pectoral cross which is often found in Georgian art; worn, I believe, by Georgian priests…

Stages in the evolution of a picture representing a poem about the cypress tree swaying and the wind blowing (‘After the Mongol Invasion’ by Tariel Chanturia) − which we translated (or looked at!) in both languages. In this graveyard scene, an apple tree has replaced the cypress – which is actually a very optimistic replacement. Again, this is done on a whiteboard. Technically it’s extremely adept, considering the whiteboard is a slightly unforgiving and inflexible medium on which to work. Below: further responses; and the text of the poem in Donald Rayfield’s version.


Cathach of Saint Columba: Irish, 7th cent.

These images show how the children almost make the orthography of English their own. Georgian has only one letter case: there are no ‘big’ or ‘small’ letters in Georgian; and this seems to have influenced way Georgian children want to write English, just as seventh century Irish scribes were somewhat bemused by the hierarchical requirements of copying a Psalter in Latin (R). It’s quite obvious in the list in black; and again, in the red ones (below) the writers aren’t so expert; but there’s this strong sense of wanting to equalize the heights of letters, even against the grain of actual usage. I’ve not insisted on correct English mis-en-page at this stage – I’ve not corrected it – because I’m happy to see that intense engagement with creating harmonious structures in the student’s mind. In this arena, there’s no real difference between the wide-eyed Georgian schoolchild and the medieval writer of the Cathach. Below L, to amuse the student and to try and speak his graphical language, I’ve made an attempt to draw in fish apple cat and dog myself; but the clumsy and unnatural posing of an adult’s imagination immediately jars: it has nothing of the freshness and vitality of a child’s imagination; and that’s even when I’m trying my very best, attempting to get onto the child’s

wave-length. I like the way that the provider of the lists in black (above top R) has – almost like the medieval scribe – put in little icons of the words: an apple, a little fish, and what I take to be a nut; filled in as an extra just casually and beautifully.


Three very calligraphic and sketchy − but perfect − responses, full of personality, written on rough paper and with just a few inadequate colours. The student has nonetheless achieved a very harmonious result.

Above, some of my attempts to differentiate between the sounds of the English letters and their names, which is a point of confusion in Georgia very often. I’ve not used any formal phonetics, I’ve tried to make it as vivid and clear and simple as possible. And I also provided a little rhyme, which they were required to read out and

have an informal test on – aiming to establish whether they could indeed distinguish the names of the letters from their sounds, and get both right. In most cases the children then could; although later, they again started to forget some of these points. As children will. Here is my rhyme:


The above image shows what happens when – with a student who’s not likely to approach an English language textbook dialogue in the conventional way – you say, ‘All right, we’ll just look at what’s going on in the dialogue, who the people are, and so on…!’; − and so then you take the Preview, just the picture part; and the student gets involved in colouring it in and identifying with the people, making a very beautiful improvement – really – on the original picture; embellishing it with all sorts of new colours and details. And she’s readying herself, subliminally, for a study of the dialogue proprement dit a bit later on, or even (with my

encouragement) gently − for a few moments − maybe, at the end of the lesson; initially just checking out some of the words and expressions. This student has got a very graphical focus: she’s much more interested in art and drawing and imagining than in conceptualizing; and I let that ride…

If a slightly different writing style is introduced and it’s attractive, the students will make great efforts to imitate it. *

The MacMillan sticking exercise – a quite tactile sense of matching the image with the word; and having the fun of gluing it on, cobbling it together quite physically and literally, as well as in one’s mind.

An economy of line here – from Khagani – which – really – rivals very late Picasso. The student just dashes off a quick MacMillan fruit image, simply to show his colour skills; and then gives us the essentials of a house; and also he signs the sheet with his nickname, ‘kasanovi’; though he’s crossed out both names… I think it’s because he’s not particularly proud of these wonderful drawings, which – for my part, I must say – I treasure.

A late Picasso line drawing


Khatia has been inspired by the famous − almost operatic − finale at the end of the first MacMillan book which she’s trying – I think – to teach to other students in the class (as she often did) and she’s done a very beautiful king, whom I also show in a close-up view with his three-pointed crown, his slightly vacant look, and his schematic body… She’s managed to people an empty whiteboard in a single colour with a variety of figures, the composition of which is not at all easy to work out; and yet the result is extremely harmonious and satisfying, as with everything she’s done.

Above and below: images by Mari: fascinating because she’s trying to represent – partly in the drawing and partly with arrows and words – what she did at the weekend. And she’s trying to do so without verbs – without the declensions and difficulties of verbs – she’s trying to just graphically represent what she’s trying to put across. It’s very eloquent, it’s very creative, and

it shows a real understanding of her sense that language is going to pose technical difficulties; and that we might playfully try to find ways round those technical difficulties…. And in the last picture we see her trying to construct some sense of a house – the one where her grandparents live – where she went at the weekend, as she has indicated…!

* The next group of pictures is also very interesting because it shows students creating almost

hieroglyphic representations of concepts; and indeed – verbs. These artists − Azerbaijani students – as already mentioned in Five Days in May − have a wonderful strong sense of the sun, making a visceral attempt to draw its vital rays; and then write the word sun in the middle of all this. It’s clear that they are having a vivid learning experience and want to echo it back to the teacher.

The picture of a van, from a much younger student, is similar in spirit to the drawings of the sun…. The wheels are very prominent and there’s some sense that there’s an inside, and that it carries things, but it’s a very two-dimensional image; and the student has not a very profound view of the world yet; and he sees the outsides of things… That’s worth remembering, in young children; they see the world in a partial way; things are bigger to them than they are to adults. So the whole relationship between things and their representation in children is quite different to what it is in adults. I think language teaching must reflect at least a tolerance of that difference.


The last three pictures shows what happens when you give Georgian students an art instruction book which derives shapes of leaves and petals and so on from geometrical shapes – and gently leaves the students to recreate the same natural object, starting from these shapes. And the results are really very impressive, lucid and accomplished. And not something – I think – that every student in every country in the world would be capable of bringing off to such a standard – and especially not at such an early age! When I see these images, and the images

with words, I am excited by the tremendous vitality and sense of being which their creators possess: a sense of the ‘thisness’ – the haeccitas of existence, as John Duns Scotus put it. * We need to tap into this sense of life, this plenitude, this unique insight – which they have! – if possible, when we’re teaching them. We need to draw it out; and indeed be fired by it… It’s something than cannot be found in any theoretical system which we might impose on them!

Double Rainbow at Bolnisi, Summer 2013 ‘Do you want your breakfast now?’ − Giorgi Archangel at Kintsvisi, Georgia