Four years ago we started a series of very short talks on the 'Patterns of Poetry' (they went on t0 be runner-up in the 2010 Edublog Awards in the category 'Best Educational Use of Audio'. Since these talks are buried deep in the site, and they continue to be relevant to our pupils for both prescribed and unseen poems, here's another run at them over the next couple of weeks. This is the original introduction:-
And this is the first talk that actually looks at poems, considering the importance of titles in poetry, and uses Elizabeth Bishop's 'The Fish' and Robert Frost's 'Out, Out' in 4 minutes:-
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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 Lulu.com; 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.
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.
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).
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.