Thursday, September 18, 2014

Letters of Note

A great resource for English teachers, and a great well of interesting writing for pupils, is Shaun Usher's beautiful book Letters of Note: correspondence deserving of a wider audience, along with his website (also on Twitter as @lettersofnote). 

There are 125 letters from famous people such as F. Scott Fitzgerald (to his daughter Scottie, 'Things to Worry About'), Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin and Dororhy Parker. These are superbly presented as facsimiles, accompanied by transcripts, alongside portraits of the authors and other illustrations. There are rich opportunities here for classes.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Articles of the Week

This is an ongoing listing of links to the Articles of the Week used with our Leaving Certificate pupils, from September 2013 onwards.

The idea came from the American teacher and writer Kelly Gallagher, and it fits very well into the Leaving course, getting pupils used to reading interesting articles and thus helping them in both the comprehension and composition sections of their Paper 1, as well as expanding their knowledge base and vocabulary and providing interesting topics for discussion.

Click here for Gallagher's current articles, and read more about the theory behind the scheme in his excellent book Readicide: how schools are killing reading and what you can do about it. Pupils have to mark up the articles with annotations before class discussion.

  1. September 2013 : '12 things we know about how the brain works' by Shane Parrish, The Week, August 26th 2013 [science, learning, studying].
  2. September : 'Never be lost for words' by Richard Fitzpatrick, The Irish Times, September 13th 2013 [sport, language, rhetoric, motivation].
  3. September: 'Synesthesia Sells' by Laura Spinney, Slate, from the New Scientist, September 22nd 2013 [science, marketing, commerce]. 
  4. October: 'Westgate mall attacks: urban areas are the battleground of the 21st century' by David Kilcullen, The Guardian, September 27th 2013 [terrorism, conflict, cities]. 
  5. October: 'Best. Column. Ever.' by Shane Hegarty, Irish Times, October 4th 2013 [sport, language, journalism]. 
  6. October: 'A Tiny Pronoun Says a Lot About You' by Elizabeth Bernstein, Wall Street Journal, October 7th 2013 [language, psychology, status].
  7. November: 'How Do Spies Bug Phones?' in The Economist, October 31st 2013 [spying, internet, privacy]. 
  8. December: 'How Music Makes Us Feel Better' by Maria Konnikova, New Yorker, September 26th 2013 [music, brain]. 
  9. December: 'Why European women are still smoking like chimneys' by Carmel Lobello, The Week, December 6th 2013 [health, marketing]. 
  10. January 2014: 'How Language Seems to Shape One's View of the World' by Alan Yu, NPR, January 2nd 2014 [language, bilingualism, brain]. 
  11. January : 'We're a nation of mass dog murderers' by Aaron McKenna, The, January 18th 2014 [animals, society].
  12. January: The Roma - review of I Met Lucky People by Yaron Matras, by Sukhdev Sandhu, The Guardian, January 29th 2014 [Roma, prejudice, society]. 
  13. February: A giraffe has been killed - why the fuss? by Mary Warnock, The Guardian, February 10th 2014 [ethics, animals].
  14. February: The Disunited Kingdom by Kathleen Jamie, New York Times, February 23rd 2014 [Scotland, democracy, politics]. 
  15. March: 'Can 10,000 hours of practice make you an expert?' by Ben Carter, BBC News Magazine, March 1st 2014 [education, skill, learning, talent]. 
  16. May: 'Missing Nigerian schoolgirls: Boko Harem claims responsibility for kidnapping' by Monica Mark, The Guardian, May 6th 2014 [Nigeria, Islam].
  17. May: 'Do Our Kids Get Off Too Easily?' by Alfie Kohn, New York Times, May 3rd 2015 [education, psychology, childhood]. 
  18. September 2014: 'Why ISIL is worse than al-Qaeda'  by Bobby Ghosh, Quartz, August 10th 2014 [current affairs, politics, terrorism].
  19. September 2014: 'Can Reading Make You Smarter?' by Dan Hurley, The Guardian, January 23rd 2014 [reading, intelligence, education].

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Poetry Aloud 2014

It's that time of the year again: volunteers are needed to enter the national Poetry Aloud competition, in which we've had a fair amount of success over the years. Full details are here, and also from English teachers.

The regional heats are from 13th to 24th October, and the category poems are 'Heirloom' by Gerard Smyth, 'An Irish Airman Foresees his Death' by W.B. Yeats, and the late Seamus Heaney's wonderful 'St Kevin and the Blackbird' (see and listen to him reading it above). Then you add a poem from one of the prescribed anthologies - The Rattle Bag, Lifelines and Something Beginning with P.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Transition Year course 2014-15

The TY English course is now under way, and pupils are starting to select texts for their major Extended Essays, to be completed by mid-November.

Click here for the year's course, and here for advice and ideas on the Extended Essay. You should also go online to sites such as Amazon and Good Reads and of course visit the Library and browse...

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Ninth Season

The 2014 Michaelmas Term starts today, and also our ninth year a-blogging. We're not flagging: there are lots of interesting things ahead, including lots of resources for pupils, and plenty of pupils' work. We'll be kicking off mostly with material related to the Transition Year.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Language of Money

A good one here for senior pupils: John Lanchester on the language of money, with lots to discuss in class, including metaphor and the impact of figurative language on real lives.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

English 2016

The school year starts this time next week, and we've been preparing. An innovation this year is publishing our own Leaving Certificate book (the cover is above, with photos by Anna Herrero on the front, and Peter Watts on the back). This includes lots of advice, resources and materials for our incoming Fifth Form. A major part is an excellent version of Antigone by Sophocles, one of the comparative texts. A big shout-out here to Ian Johnston of Vancouver Island University in British Columbia, who generously makes his translation available free of charge to teachers and their students. Read more about this generosity on his site Johnstonia here.

This is the fourth time we've used the superb service of self-publishers; read about them in a previous post here and on the CESI site here. There's a gentle enough learning curve for your first publication, but then it becomes very easy to produce your own attractive books at a very reasonable cost (and save on lots of photocopying too).

All pupils involved will also receive the book in e-form, via their Google Drive.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Summer Book recommendations 6: This Boy

This Boy: a memoir of a childhood is by the British Labour Party politician (former Home Secretary, among other things) Alan Johnson. The first thought on reading it is that his life experience is light years away from the cohort of younger privileged politicians currently at the head of British public life, who have known little other than that life. Johnson's childhood in pre-developed Notting Hill was very different, being both materially deprived and emotionally tragic. However, this cleanly-written memoir has no self-pity and does not over-egg the deep sadness at its core, the awful life of his mother Lily. And it has a real life heroine, his extraordinary sister Linda, who tried to save her mother and did save her brother in all sorts of ways. She grew up very early indeed, and her brother followed: towards the end he writes "At eighteen years of age I was about to move house for the seventh time. I'd left school, had four jobs, been in two bands and had fallen for the woman I was about to marry, in  the process becoming a father as well as a husband."

This is a great read for anyone, but a real eye-opener for teenagers today, being both a fascinating social history and a story to make everyone think about their - we hope - fortunate lives.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Leaving Certificate results, 2014

Congratulations to our candidates on their results in the Leaving Certificate, which came out yesterday. The College's overall average points total was 441, maintaining the high standards of recent years, with the five-year average 452.  More details are here on the College website.

In English, 83% of our candidates sat the English exam at Higher Level (compared to 67% nationally).

  • 9% of all our candidates achieved an A at Higher Level (nationally, 6.2% of all candidates achieved this).
  • 36% achieved a B (nationally, 17.7% of all candidates).
  • 32% achieved a C (nationally, 27.1% of all candidates).

See previous results by clicking on the years for 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Summer Reading Recommendations 5: Darkness, Darkness

One of the very best crime series has just come to an end: John Harvey's Nottingham detective Charlie Resnick first appeared in Lonely Hearts in 1989. The 25 years since have seen a succession of excellently-written novels (there was a 10-year gap after Last Rites in 1989), culminating in the end of Resnick's career in Darkness, Darkness, the 12th in the series. This revisits the Miners' Strike of the 1980s and has all the virtues of the series, being beautifully paced, elegantly written and, in the final pages perfectly pitched, and not at all as dark, despite the title, as the end of Mankell's Kurt Wallender (though we miss the slavering sandwich descriptions of the earlier books).

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Summer Reading Recommendations 4: Love, Nina

This one has an odd and perhaps unpromising premise: subtitled 'Despatches from Family Life', Nina Stibbe's first book is a collection of her letters to her sister about her experiences as a nanny to a literary London family in the 1980s is enormously funny, with the highlights a series of dry and bizarre conversations. In the words one of the recurring figures, Alan Bennett, "It's funny. I'm not sure what it's about. A bunch of literary types doing laundry and making salad - or something." Love, Nina is a great holiday read (a great read full stop - it would cheer you up in the depths of winter too).

Monday, July 28, 2014

Shakespeare podcasts

A recommended resource and some interesting holiday listening: Oxford University has a series of podcasts from 2010-2012 called 'Approaching Shakespeare', with lectures by Emma Smith focussing on individual plays and an ePub version of the relevant text. 

Here is the iTunes link.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Summer Reading Recommendation 3: One Summer

Appropriately, our next recommendation for summer reading is about a summer. Bill Bryson's One Summer: America 1927 is the story of a few months of scarcely credible drama, built mainly around the story of the Orteig Prize for flying non-stop across the Atlantic. Bryson tells the story of this summer with his characteristic brio.  It's also interesting for readers of The Great Gatsby; although that masterpiece was about the summer of 1922, Bryson's popular history gives a very vivid sense of the same culture.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

English Matters

Notes for teachers at this morning's English Matters session in TCD.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summer Reading Recommendation 2: Eyrie

This blog is a fan of the excellent author Tim Winton, whose writing about Western Australia is powerful and atmospheric (see comments on his short story collection The Turning and his surfing novel Breath). His latest novel, Eyrie, is also recommended. It tells the story of Keely, now living in a high-rise block in Perth's port Fremantle, in the aftermath of personal and professional disaster.  

Opening with one of the most memorable hangover scenes in recent literature, the narrative structure drives us on by parcelling out what happened in the past and marrying this with a page-turning compulsion to find out what will happen to Keely in the future. The other main characters are Gemma, a neighbour and figure from Keely's past and the other main emotional centre of the book, her grandson Kai. Among the novels many strengths is a vivid portrait of Fremantle.

Read a good interview with Tim Winton by Kim Forrester in Shiny New Books here.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Summer Reading Recommendation 1: Americanah

Recently out in paperback is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah, an intelligent and engrossing read for the holidays. Her first novel Purple Hibiscus has been on the comparative list for the Leaving Certificate in recent years, and her novel Half of a Yellow Sun, about the Biafran War, is also recommended, as is her TED talk, 'The Danger of a Single Story'.

In one sense, Americanah tells a single story, that of the enduring love of the central character, Ifemulu and her teenage boyfriend Obinze, ('The Zed') but from this central strand Adichie spins much more - keen and often funny observations on race in America (Ifemulu 'becomes black' on arriving in the US) and Britain, sharp descriptions of contemporary Lagos, blog entries and literal strands in the form of a recurring scene set in a hair salon in Trenton, New Jersey. In the latter, Ifemulu's uncertainty about her own identity is to the fore. When she returns home, cultural and romantic uncertainties provide the climax of the novel: "She was no longer sure what was new in Lagos and what was new in herself".
Americanah could have done with tighter editing, and the ending seems both hurried and predictable. But don't let that put you off: it's very enjoyable.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer Holiday

And so finally we make it to the end of the academic year. This blog will go into semi-aestivation over the summer, but there will be some posts on good books for holiday reading, and a few more on things English. Now off to the beach, literal or metaphorical, to start reading...

Photo courtesy: Flickr User cmcgough. (CC)

Voices of Nigeria

Here are two poems from Iyobosa Bello-Asemota from this term's Senior Poetry Prize competition> Iyobosa writes:

These poems were inspired by the haunting voices of the marginalised and the vulnerable in my homeland Nigeria, especially the voices of those missing girls recently stolen from school and taken from their devastated families.


Is Nobody okay
With nobody to care?
nobody to search
While Nobody lives in fear?

Nobody to lead
As Nobody cries
nobody to mourn
As Nobody dies

Nobody is gone
But not forgotten
As Somebody stands
Against a system gone rotten

If Somebody remembers
nobody will be lost
As long as nobody stops
No matter the cost


Amid national outcry, disaster strikes again.
Blood-red soil lines streets already flooded with tears
For those now forced to act older than their years.
The currency changed: pain in exchange for more pain.

What a bargain! What a find! 12 dollars for a life,
A future, a lineage, a slave, and a companion.
A nation on its knees yet raped with abandon.
Unity be damned. I’d divide it myself had I the knife.

If the Janus-faced leeches in Aso Rock are our only hope,
Ours is a cause doomed before its start.
Joined with thousands in mind and heart,
To free the girls from the horror with which they’ve had to cope.

Free them to a life of slavery?
Where they would be viewed as damaged goods
Sold for less. Discounted for bravery?

And what about us? Who will free us?
Besieged by parasitic rulers, harangued by insurgents
Whatever the outcome, we are at a loss
We will never be free. Perhaps only in our heads
Count no man free until he is dead.