Saturday, December 18, 2010

Cool Things This Year

Term ended yesterday, and now we're on our Christmas holidays until Monday 10th January. Things will be quietish on this blog until then, though there will be occasional posts. The main priority now is reading lots of books (our Summer Reading recommendations still work at Christmas too, if you'd like some ideas).

Looking back over 2010, here are some 'cool things' on the technology front we discovered or started using in our Department:-
  • Google Docs: the collaborative features for pupils writing their Transition Year Extended Essays and III form book reports (some have been published here already, more will follow in January). This is a really powerful tool for English (and other) teachers, allowing us to monitor and support pupils in their writing.
  • Google Forms: so far only toes dipped in the water, but again this free service has lots of interesting applications for us, saving time and paperwork.
  • Twitter: we started on Twitter in 2009 (November), but the SCC English Twitter account has really taken off in 2010. This post on our 'twitterversary' shows how helpful the service has been.
  • Visualiser / Document Camera: the Department has had one for a few weeks now; it's a really helpful classroom tool, and a blog post will follow on its use. We'll be demonstrating it to other staff in an in-service session at the start of next term.
  • TinyLetter: this neat free newsletter service, recently started by @pud (he's refining and redeveloping it regularly) is a great way to maintain the conversation with our followers. There's only been time for one newsletter so far. Several more coming in 2011... Do join in.
  • Audioboo: another excellent service - five minute recordings made on an iPhone and then uploaded. This has facilitated the Patterns of Poetry series, which has just been voted runner-up in the Edublog Awards 'Best Educational Use of Audio' category. And here's the original post with an Audioboo explanation of the app.
  • QR codes: just a toe dipped in the water with these, but hoping to develop their use in 2011.
  • Mobile apps: here's our series reviewing helpful apps for English teaching and learning (concentrating on iPhone/iPad services). Plenty more coming in 2011.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Patterns of Poetry 15: hyperbole

Last night this series was voted first runner-up in the Edublog Awards in the category 'Best Educational Use of Audio.' Many thanks to all our supporters.

The 15th talk (all under 5 minutes) is about the figure of speech called hyperbole, and uses Patrick Kavanagh's well-known poem 'A Christmas Childhood' to examine this effect.

Get our Audioboos as podcasts on iTunes here. Our Audioboo page is here. The first 8 talks are available as a single podcast here. Listen to today's talk via the player below.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

'Hamlet' at NTLive reviewed

Last Thursday the Shakespeare Society went with 125 pupils to see the current National Theatre Live production of Hamlet at our local cinema, beamed in HD from London. The Society's secretary, Miriam Poulton, reports:

The most confusing thing about the production of Hamlet that Fifth and Sixth Form went to see on Thursday was, to me, whether or not one was supposed to clap. Broadcast live from the National Theatre in London to Dundrum cinema, amongst locations in sixteen different countries, this production starring Rory Kinnear in the title role, has been hyped up massively as being the definitive Hamlet of our generation. It didn’t fail to impress.

Using the setting of a Baroque palace as the headquarters of a modern European dictatorship, we were immediately thrown into a “Big Brother” sort of world. The corners of the stage were at all times filled with security guards and earpieces, and in his first scene rather than simply asking his parents’ permission to go back to university, we saw Hamlet being refused a visa to leave Denmark. The sense that the characters were constantly being watched gave the production an air of ill ease and the soliloquies were emphasised as being the only way a character could express himself freely (though in some cases it appeared they were still being watched even then).

Along with this new setting, new spins were taken on several features of the play. Claudius’s introductory speech and Fortinbras’s closing speech were both spoken as television broadcasts, and shortly before her death we saw Ophelia being dragged offstage by two burly security guards. These diversions from the traditional reading of the play made the production seem particularly fresh and exciting, even to Sixth Formers who, after finishing their second read-through, thought there was nothing about Hamlet that could surprise them.

Across the board, the acting was, as far as I could tell, faultless. Kinnear’s Hamlet was once again very different to the traditional prince I had in my mind, in his tired black suit and later a t-shirt adorned by a smiley face and the word “Villain.” His performance was spectacular, showing a huge range of talent, from soliloquies dripping with real emotion to some hilarious scenes of feigned madness- special mention must, of course, be given to his climbing into a suitcase full of books.

The comic element of the play was aided by a bumbling Polonius in David Calder - so convincing in losing his train of thought that most people in the cinema thought he had simply forgotten his line. Patrick Malahide’s Claudius was played to the extreme of cool and calculating; even his soliloquy seemed like some piece of clever publicity rather than actual emotion, and Ruth Negga succeeded in played Ophelia with a surprising amount of backbone. The production returned to the most simple of methods in portraying the Ghost- an actor in white make-up with red rimmed eyes walking across the stage which, despite its simplicity, managed to be particularly haunting. The Dumb Show just before the play was done in an extremely interesting way, the players in white masks dancing and giving a most modern interpretation of the word “mime.” These details, which are often hard to perform on stage, were treated with care, once more allowing fresh light to be shed on them.

Overall, the performance was hugely enjoyable. The performances were truly excellent, the interpretation of many parts of the play was highly original and allowed us to see the play from a different angle and whether we were supposed to or not, at the end we gave the peopleon screen a round of thunderous applause.

[click here for several press reviews of the production]

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Final Day for Edublog Awards voting

Voting finishes early tomorrow morning (5am Irish time) in the Edublog Awards 2010: just click on the badges to the right to support us. Thanks!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The BBC Hamlet Archive

A great resource for those studying Hamlet, like our VI and V forms, is the BBC Hamlet Archive. It includes clips of actors such as John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, David Tennant and Kenneth Branagh talking about the role, as well as directors Jonathan Miller and Michael Pennington (who wrote an excellent book on the subject).

English Prizes 2010-11

This year's English prizes will be held tonight- the Senior in Adare from 6.45pm, the Junior in Kennedy from 6.30pm. You can't prepare for either exam. Just turn up and do your best...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

'Shadow Wave' and 'The Rescue'

III formers completed their book reports (preparation for the Junior Certificate) recently, and we'll post some of the best here, as usual. Juliana Huggard wrote on Robert Muchamore's Shadow Wave and Sophie McKenzie's The Medusa Project: The Rescue.

She writes: there was a a very helpful and wide range of interesting books on the list, but I have a very distinctive taste... these are equally extraordinary books.

Read Juliana's full essay here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Great Gatsby

Later this year we'll be studying F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece with V form as part of their comparative study for the Leaving Certificate. Above is a recording from Studio 360. In the words of the site:

Studio 360 explores F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and finds out how this compact novel became the great American story of our age.  Novelist Jonathan Franzen tells Kurt Andersen why he still reads it every year or two, and writer Patricia Hampl explains why its lightness is deceptive. We’ll drive around the tony Long Island suburbs where Gatsby was set, and we’ll hear from Andrew Lauren about his film G, which sets Gatsby among the hip-hop moguls. And Azar Nafisi describes the power of teaching the book to university students in Tehran. Readings come courtesy of Scott Shepherd, an actor who sometimes performs the entire book from memory.

100 Top Classroom Blogs

SCC English, as well as our neighbours at the Frog Blog, features on Online Degrees' list of 100 Top Classroom Blogs, just out. It's well worth exploring this list, which stretches from Kindergarten to University. In our Secondary/High School section, there's lots of interest across several subject areas.

On the same site, there are other useful lists, such as 100 reasons why educators should use blogs and 20 helpful tools for teacher blogs.

Rory Kinnear's Hamlet

Last night 130 of us went to the National Theatre Live showing of Hamlet, featuring Rory Kinnear, in the Dundrum cinema; there will be a pupil report here shortly. A list of some of the reviews this production has received:-

  • The Guardian (Michael Billington): Elsinore has a hugely living presence in the production.
  • London Independent (David Lister). A world where everything is watched and noted.
  • Daily Telegraph (Charles Spencer). Kinnear captures the humanity, humour, pain and multi-layered complexity of the role.
  • The Express (Neil Norman). Hamlet is a kind of uber-geek who could happily captain the winning team on University Challenge.
  • This is London (Henry Hitchings). Kinnear refreshes the key speeches.
  • New York Times (Matt Wolf). This is a Hamlet who knows how to use language as its own kind of cloak, until those moments when grief takes over and he succumbs to a silent scream.
You can also hear Kinnear discuss the role with Mark Lawson on Front Row here.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening'

It's only appropriate that the latest (69th) Poem of the Week should be Robert Frost's 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening'. Snow still lies deep in the College, though we are promised a thaw soon... Scan the QR code above with a free app like NeoReader and get a nice surprise...

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Interesting Edublog Award links

We were delighted recently to be shortlisted in three categories in the Edublog Awards. Click here for more info (voting ends on Tuesday); you can also vote by clicking the badges to the right, and of course we'd be very happy to get your support.

The awards are a great way to discover other interesting educational work and resources, and this post will pick out a (very) few things which caught our eye. However, it's very much a matter of scratching the surface, so go to the awards site itself and start surfing...

Brian Lenihan's Budget speech

(Click on the image for a closer view)

Following on from the Wordle we recently posted of the National Recovery Plan, which got a lot of attention, here is another, this time of Finance Minister Brian Cowan's budget speech yesterday in the Dáil. These are the 300 most-used words in the text of what he said. An exercise in class would be to compare the two; yesterday's is of course more rhetorical than the previously-published plan, being a speech delivered in a parliament.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

'Hush' & 'White Noise'

Ms Smith's Primary class have been inspired by the current Winter Wonderland Weather Conditions to pen some poems, and here are two of them (photo above by Mr Jones). As this post goes up, the flakes are coming down thickly once again in the Dublin hills...

'Hush' by Penny Nash

Crunching footsteps in the snow,
Smash of the ice,
Caw of the crow

Frosty breath in the air,
Landing flakes
White everywhere

Warmth of the summer long gone,
Gusts of wind
Leaves in wrong


Twinkling light explodes.

'White Noise' by Gregory Munday

All you can hear is a quiet trickling sound,
falling down from the sky to the bare barren ground.

The snow falls down like a soft wet wave,
like water flowing down in a deep dark cave.

Most people would say that this white stuff is chaos,
But I think the snow is something to inspire us.

I like the snow because it’s fun to play in,
But also to forget the pains we are in.

The snow just shows us what a beautiful world we have,
And we should make the most of it before time comes to pass.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Edublog Awards 2010

The 2010 shortlists for the international Edublog Awards are out, and this blog has managed to get nominations in three categories (many thanks to our nominators). Of course, we'd be delighted if you voted for us (it takes 5 seconds - see below). The best thing about these awards is that you can find and explore lots of examples of new good educational work, and another post soon will mention some of these, including some other Irish nominees.

You can vote by clicking on the category titles below, or just by clicking here for the full category list (scroll down). Voting closes on Tuesday 14th December.


Saturday, December 04, 2010

TY Extended Essay: Tóibín, Keegan, O'Neill

Here's the first of the best Extended Essays written by our Transition Year pupils this year. Click on the years for essays from 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009.

Annika Franz's essay is on Emigration, which she examines through three novels by Irish authors: Colm Tóibín's Brooklyn, Joan O'Neill's Dream Chaser and Gerard Keegan's Famine Diary.

Annika writes:

I chose this topic because I think it has always been a relevant and actual theme in the past as it will be in the future, too. On top of that it is a topic that is mostly relevant for young people, so I am able to make my own opinion about how I would decide at their place. In my opinion it is interesting to see why people want or don´t want to leave their home country, what their dreams, plans, and fears are, and how the beginning of their new lives look like. Besides, I can compare the developing of the stories, find parallels but also huge differences between the three destinies.
Read her full essay here.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Books of the Year

For readers, it's delicious to read through the 'Books of the Year' features in the press coming up Christmas, partly when you discover something new. So here's a handy list of recent lists, including recommendations for the season; click the publication's title to read the original articles, followed in some cases by just three of those who are recommending books. More links will be added as they appear.

  1. The Guardian: John Banville, Julian Barnes, Jackie Kay, and readers' favourites here, with a round-up of critics' fiction favourites here.
  2. The Irish Times: Joseph O'Connor, Tim Parks, Claire Keegan, and their Children's Books of the Year. And Science Books for Christmas from Dick Ahlstrom, Technology Books from Karlin Lillington, literary critic Eileen Battersby's Books of the Year
  3. The New York Times: 100 notable books of the year, and the 10 Best Books of 2010 (including Freedom and Room).
  4. The New Statesman: Alain de Botton, Emma Donoghue, Margaret Drabble.
  5. The Observer: Sebastian Faulks, Hari Kunzru, John Lanchester.
  6. The Daily Telegraph (part 1 and part 2): Anthony Horowitz, Justin Cartwright, Sadie Jones. Plus the Top 10 Books of 2010, including Lydia Davis's Collected Stories.
  7. The Atlantic: from Benjamin Schwartz (click at the bottom of the post to see 'runners-up').
  8. Times Literary Supplement: John Ashbery, Paul Muldoon, Ali Smith.
  9. School Library Journal: divided into Fiction, Non-Fiction and Picture Books
  10. The London Independent: the paper's regular reviewers. See also Children's Books, Travel Books, Literary Fiction, Biography and Memoir, Cinema, Teenagers.
  11. Financial Times: fiction by regular reviewers.
  12. The Economist: the magazine's selection, across all genres.
  13. School Library Journal: 'Best Adult Books for Teens, 2010'.
  14. New York Magazine: Sam Anderson's Top 10 books of 2010.
  15. Book Trust: Books of the Year (with links to reviews) and Translated Fiction.
  16. The New Yorker: 'Books Briefly Noted: a year's reading'.
  17. The Atlantic Monthly: 'The Best Book I Read This Year'.
  18. The Sydney Morning Herald: Christos Tsiolkas, Helen Garner, Brenda Walker
  19. Irish Independent: 'A feast of fiction'- John Boland's top 10 novels of 2010, and Children's Books by Sarah Webb.
  20. The Scotsman: Fiction by Allan Massie (3 pages), Children's Books by Jane Sandall (4 pages), Non-Fiction by Stuart Kelly (2 pages), Travel by Tom Adair (2 pages).
  21. Washington Post: Best 10 books gallery (including David Grossman & Emma Donoghue), Best Fiction & Poetry, Best Non-Fiction, Best 10 Books for Young Readers gallery, Jonathan Yardley's Best Books.
  22. New Zealand Herald: includes Damon Galgut's superb In a Strange Room.
  23. Salon (starting some web only lists now): Dave Eggars, Curtis Sittenfeld, Laura Lippman.
  24. Slate: regular reviewers, over 3 pages.
  25. Boston Globe: Best Fiction (including Peter Carey), Best Non-Fiction (including Ian Frazier's Travels in Siberia), Top 10 Children's Books.
  26. The Anti-Room blog: including Paul Murray's Skippy Dies and Natasha Walter's Living Dolls.
  27. Huffington Post: The 10 Best Books, including J.M. Coetzee's Summertime.
  28. The Millions: Maud Newton's 'Year in Reading' (and other contributors).
  29. National Public Radio: Best Books of 2010. Many lists (some audio too), including Year's Best Teen Reads, Maureen Corrigan's list and The Complete List. Word Power- the Year's Best Poetry includes Anne Carson and Charles Simic, and has extracts from the poetry.
  30. Young Adult Library Services Association: Best Books for Young Adults, and 2010 Great Graphic Novels for Teens.
  31. Chicago Tribune: Mary Schmich's Top 9 Books, including Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists.
  32. Poetry books of the year, from the Véhicule Press Blog, including Derek Walcott's White Egrets.
  33. Los Angeles Times: book critic David Ulin's favourite books of 2010, including The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg.
  34. San Francisco Chronicle: Top 10 Books of 2010 by John McMurtrie, including Room and William Trevor's Selected Stories.
  35. Front Row (BBC Radio 4)- text and audio - Children's, Older Children's, Sports and Crime Fiction.
  36. Ready Steady Book: Best of 2010, including John Lanchester's Whoops!
  37. Brainpickings: Best Children's Books of 2010 by Maria Popova.
  38. Asylum Blog: John Self's Twelve from the Shelves, including several 'old' books, such as Bernard Malamud's excellent The Magic Barrel (short stories).
  39. Inside Higher Ed: The Year in Reading.
  40. Daily Beast: Shannon Donnelly's Best Young Adult Novels.
  41. January Magazine: including Non-Fiction, Children and Young Adults, Art and Culture, Crime Fiction 1, Crime Fiction 2, Fiction.
  42. Granta Books: Fiction, Non-Fiction and Poetry, More Non-Fiction.
  43. Editors' Picks: top 100 books. From the bookseller, a choice genuinely based on quality - 15th place goes to Tony Judt's The Memory Chalet.
  44. The Children's Book Review: Best Kids' Picture Books 2010.
  45. ANZ LitLovers LitBlog: 'Top Tens 2010', concentrating on Australian and New Zealand literature.
  46. Reading Matters blog: Best Reads of 2010. Another mention here for Room, with some interesting other choices, including Lee Rourke's The Canal.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


In the words of the great Yogi Berra, it's Déjà vu all over again: the College is deep under a blanket of snow, as we start back again after the Exodus. About half the boarders have returned. So here's an excuse to show again Amelia Shirley's photograph of the Deerpark from earlier this year.

Friday, November 26, 2010

November Exodus

We're off for the weekend from tomorrow to Wednesday morning, when service resumes as normal. After the break we'll start posting pupils' essays - TY Extended Essays and junior book reports in particular.

Meanwhile, do sign up to our newsletter, due in the next couple of weeks- more details here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Four-Year Plan

We've used Wordle for lots of literary purposes before, including our Shakespeare Wordle series. Here's another kind of text- yesterday's Irish 'National Recovery Plan 2011-2014', and the 300 most-used words in the document. Handy for English, History, Economics and perhaps some other subjects.

Click on the image for a larger view.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dr Bannister's Library selection

The fourth staff selection and display of books organised by Mr McConville (after selections by Mr Jackson, Mr McCarthy and Mrs Haslett) is from our Head of Irish, Dr Garry Bannister. It's called 'From Noddy to Dostoevski', since Dr Bannister charts his literary journey from the Noddy books to the great Russian novelist. You can see his full selection here.

In his words:

The first books I ever read were the Noddy books. I loved the cast of characters, from Noddy himself to his best friend, Big-Ears, Mr Plod the Policeman, Mr Wobbly-Top, and many more. Even as a child there was a strange wisdom to be gleaned from Enid Blyton’s imaginary world. I remember Noddy arriving in Toyland and suggesting to Big-Ears that they should first build a roof on his new house before the floor or walls, then if it rained, they wouldn’t get wet, and how Big-Ears laughs explaining that they first had to build walls before they could put up a roof.

From Noddy, to Rupert Bear, and finally to the Master of the Skies, Biggles and his faithful chum, Algy as they continued on their many fabulous exploits, flying their Sopwith Camels in World War I, and then seemingly un-aged, in World War II, as they fearlessly fought the Nazis in the Battle of Britain.

The other books are:
  • Samuel Beckett: Malone Dies
  • Voltaire: Candide
  • Camus: The Outsider
  • Jean-Paul Sartre: Nausea
  • Kafka: The Castle
  • Dostoevski: Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov
  • Gitta Sereny: Albert Speer - his battle with truth
  • Ken Hagen: Buddhism Plain and Simple
  • Jack Kornfeld: The Wise Heart

Monday, November 22, 2010

Patterns of Poetry 14: metaphor

The 14th in the Patterns of Poetry talks (under 5 minutes, and mostly using poems from the Leaving Certificate course) is on metaphor, and examines Seamus Heaney's sonnet 'The Forge' (scroll down for the poem). The New York Times article by Robert Sapolsky on metaphor and the human brain referred to can be read here. Below, James Geary's TED talk on 'metaphor'.

Get our Audioboos as podcasts on iTunes here. Our Audioboo page is here. The first 8 talks are available as a single podcast here. Listen to today's talk via the player below.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

An Occasional Newsletter

Here's our latest development: courtesy of TinyLetter we're setting up an occasional newsletter, which you can subscribe to here or via the form at the top of the right-hand sidebar.

No point in repeating what we're already written. Hoping the first one will go out in a week or two, and that 'occasional' will mean about once a month.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Edublog Awards 2010

 Our nominations for the 2010 Edublog Awards are:
  • Best Teacher Blog: The Frog Blog - Run by secondary school science teachers Humphrey Jones, Jeremy Stone and Peter Jackson, this superb resource is full of enthusiasm for all the myriad elements of science, from 'Weird and Wonderful Animals' to astronomy to the local ecosystem of the school. It's also immediately accessible to everyone, whatever your age or specialism.
  • Best Educational Use of a Social Network: The English Companion Ning - 'Where English teachers go to help each other' is the tag-line for this astonishing success story. Founded by Californian English teacher Jim Burke two years ago, it now has over 25,000 members from around the world, who have 'a café without walls' in which they can get support, ideas and resources on their subject.
  • Best New Blog: More Stress, Less Success - - Humphrey Jones started blogging this academic year on 'being a teacher - a busy one'. His blog is 'about recognising the work that teachers do in a society where they are rarely valued. It's also about exploring new ways to teach and learn, specifically using technology.' It's honest, engaging and direct.
  • Best Resource Sharing Blog: James Michie - James Michie is an English educator who tries out interesting resources, shares them via his blog, and then reflects on their value in education. This blog is full of great ideas.
  • Best Individual Tweeter: The Frog Blog - The Frog Blog's Twitter account is just like the main blog - the world of science approached with passionate engagement.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Value of Twitter

Today is our first 'twitterversary': one year ago the sccenglish Twitter account was set up (you can also link to it at the top of the right column, and under the Twitter tab above. Tweet-URLs are also automatically saved into our Delicious account).

At the time of writing, we have 980 followers, and are following 545 accounts. Here are some thoughts on the value of Twitter, and the experience of a year's use, for a Department such as us (in no particular order). The links are often to Twitter friends who we've connected with.
  1. Connections with other English Departments and teachers all over the world (especially the USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand), including many from the astonishing English Companion Ning, a gathering of almost 25,000 English teachers.
  2. Ditto connections with teachers and educators... and plenty of other countries too (recently, Brazil, Argentina, Switzerland, Germany).
  3. Discovering through these people all sorts of ideas and tools (recently- QR codes, the uses of visualisers/document cameras, the Audioboo app, using Google Docs for pupil essays).
  4. Connecting with people in the Irish education world who use Twitter (so far a smallish number), in different sectors as well as the post-primary one, including primary teachers, parents, third-level educators and other educational professionals.
  5. Sharing in the extraordinary sense of goodwill and co-operation educators have in the online world (there's none of the aggressive rudeness or harsh criticism that some people complain about in other online arenas).
  6. Discovering new books and new authors.
  7. Conversations with people in the literary world - bloggers, bookshops, journalists, reviewers.
  8. Lots of material for use in class- links to essays, arguments, fiction, journalism, poetry, biography...
  9. Lots of 'thought-food' for reflection (such as this yesterday on the effects of metaphor on our brains). No better way to stop yourself being complacent as a teacher.
  10. Cross-curricular conversations and resources, such as with our scientific friends on The Frog Blog or art ideas from the National Gallery.
  11. A huge increase in attention to our own blog, with some resources being noted and passed on around the world, such as our Shakespeare Wordles, Hamlet slideshow and summer reading list.
  12. Following from afar exciting conferences, and being able to access their resources, such as Google Teacher academy meetings, this week's National Council of Teachers of English centenary Convention in Orlando, Florida, the English Teachers' Association of New South Wales conference.
  13. [and the points from now on are being added post-anniversary...] We're setting up an occasional newsletter, and are getting plenty of subscribers via tweeting. Happy to see you join...
  14. May 2011: two particular hashtags that are particularly interesting for this blog are the Irish education one #edchatie, set up by @fboss, and the international #engchat, set up by @mrami2 (see the archive here). [Hashtags are ways of following topics and themes].

Monday, November 15, 2010

Kindle App

No 10 in a series of reviews of iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad apps useful for English literature and language learning and teaching.

This review should be read in conjunction with our recent review of the latest generation Kindle from Amazon.You don't have to have a Kindle to use the mobile app, since you can just read on your iPhone, or more realistically an iPad. When you buy books via your Kindle account (which can be direct from the Amazon website), they show up on the app.

As with the main e-reader, your annotations are backed up, and the neatest trick of all is that each copy will open at the final page you reached on any device you were reading (a pop-up will query you if you wish to 'Sync to Furthest Location', telling you what location you're at on the other machine, and what time and date you got there, asking 'Go to that location?')

Amazon are plainly most interested in selling e-books, which is one reason why the app is free, and why apparently rival devices such as the iPad can use this app.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Medea, the Senior Play

Peter McCarthy's Senior Play production of the Greek tragedy Medea, by Euripides, gave a clear hard focus on the elemental nature of this horrifying play, especially through the language and the narrative itself. The actors deserve great credit for their work in conveying this vision of horror, and absorbing the audience completely during the 90 minutes.

Opeline Kellett's powerful performance in the title role was extremely impressive. Her Medea was a woman of still and steely determination, not a character to be crossed, as seen particularly in the exchanges with Robin Fitzpatrick's smug complacent Jason ('women should not exist'). Emma Moore and Shannen Keogan as Dirce and Evadne each worked effectively in voicing reactions to Medea's awful plans.

Other significant parts were taken by Igor Verkhovskiy (Creon) and Robbie Hollis (Aegeus), both of whom made the most of their scenes with Medea, and Olivia Plunket, whose played the Nurse with great clarity, being particularly compelling in scenes at the start and end of the play. Tamara Hoskyns-Abrahall in her first performance on the Columban stage as the teacher was another to speak the lines convincingly, and Samuel and John Clarke (who didn't have any lines to speak) demonstrated their own acting abilities as the doomed children in their reactions to the demented adult world around them.

As the programme said, Medea 'remains a relevant commentary on love, hate, religion, betrayal and revenge in the relationships between men and women', and this production justified entirely those words. Well done to all involved.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

'The Send -Off'

Today is Remembrance Day, and we've just had our annual ceremony on Chapel Square, with the laying of the memorial wreath by the Senior Prefect in memory of Columbans who died in wars.

Here's the first repeated Poem of the Week (previously posted two years) ago, just because it's so appropriate. Wilfred Owen's quiet and devastating 'The Send-Off' can be read in full here, and is spoken by Kenneth Branagh above.

If you're in the College, and you've arrived here via the funny thing in the right-corner by scanning it on your House noticeboard, well done. It's a QR code, and the English Department will be experimenting with these. You just need a 'smartphone' and a QR reader such as NeoReader. For a thorough explanation of QR codes, go to James Michie's excellent article here.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The New Kindle: an English teacher's initial thoughts

This post is written from the perspective of a lover of 'real' books - the paper, the covers, the look of the bookshelves... And we all know these aren't about to disappear soon, but it would be particularly ostrich-like not to recognise that e-readers are making real inroads into book-buying, particularly in America, and especially into hardback sales.

Amazon's recently-released 'Latest Generation' Kindle is very impressive. It's as light and 'handy' as the ads say (literally: you discover that you can read one-handed standing in a bus, with your thumb flicking the 'pages'. More importantly, the quality of the screen is extraordinary, and gets better the more light is cast on it (thus the Amazon ad mocking the iPad by the pool - it's true!).

A few observations in no particular order:-
  • It solves the old travel angst: the fear of running out of books, and so perfectly supplements that pile of paperbacks in your luggage. I've been using it to re-read classics (recently, Emma); they're either free or cost virtually nothing to download.
  • When preparing to teach a novel or play, the note-taking and highlighting options mean that you can read away, and at the end have a ready-prepared series of quotations and important passages in your Amazon account for copying. Easier than scrabbling for /scribbling with card and pen. Also, bookmarking is straightforward.
  • The brilliant Instapaper app makes the Kindle the perfect place to assemble longer articles from the web for considered reading in your armchair, rather than on the computer screen. Click here for instructions on how to get your Instapaper articles sent free to your device.
  • The battery life is astonishing.
  • Downloading books via wi-fi or 3G is slick and quick.
  • You can load PDFs onto it, again for easy reading and storage (by the way, there's now a 'Print PDF' option at the bottom of all our posts - handy formatting of longer pieces such as this one).
  • At the moment the Kindle feels like a 'quiet space', unlike the iPhone/iPad/computer screen. They've included an 'experimental' browser (black and white, of course), and so presumably in another generation or two this will develop, but for the moment it's a largely distraction-free zone.
  • You can download free samples of all books - the equivalent of flicking through them in the shop.
  • Get the Kindle app for iPhone/iPad and then watch as your books sync across the devices, stopping at the most recently opened 'page'.
  • For education? Not quite yet, though some schools in America are experimenting with it. But it won't be too many more 'generations' before e-readers become real options for English and other classes. I'm surprised that no hardware company has designed a robust device somewhere between the Kindle, the iPad and the laptop for schools: the world-wide market is gigantic, and the opportunity is there.
In a year or two no doubt we'll be looking back at the new Kindle as a crude effort, but there's no doubt that the e-book is getting there.

[added later: Amazon have now released a slick app for the PC (and other devices) that means you can read books on your laptop, too: an advantage here is that it's much easier to highlight and bookmark these than on the Kindle itself, and then assemble your notes. Really handy for English teachers!]


Saturday, November 06, 2010

TY Book Recommendations 9

A couple more recommendations of books that IV formers are reading for their Extended Essays (currently being written):

Hugo Hollis has read Cormac McCarthy's The Road:-  
This book tells the sad tale of a boy and his father travelling on the road after nuclear war. This book was extremely well written and at times hard to put down. I would recommend this book to most people as I really enjoyed it and I don't really read many books.

And Marie Schlueter recommends Leslie Downham's Before I Die:-
Before I Die is a very sad book about a girl, Tessa Scot, who has to live with leukaemia and the fact that her life will soon end. So she decides to make a list of things she wants to do before she dies: for example doing drugs, having sex and breaking the law. By going though this list things happen which no one expects. The book is very well written, full of intense feelings and relationships. I am enjoying reading it but I don't want to finish it because the end is going to be a tragically sad one.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Teaching English magazine, Autumn 2010

The latest edition of the fine magazine Teaching English, from the English Support Service, has just been published, and you can read it above via Issuu (click and scroll for close-up views). This one includes our own Olivia Plunket (page 4, complete with fine reproduction of Caravaggio's 'Judith and Holofernes'), third in the national poetry competition, as well as Michael Kemp's Highly Commended 'I Am' (page 6), and all the other excellent winning poems.

There's also a brief overview of the 2010 Leaving Cert examination texts (pp 12-21), and it's particularly welcome to have Kevin McDermott's opening address from the May INOTE conference in Kilkenny reprinted (pp 22-26), 'The Hero's Journey: reflections on teaching English.' This is followed by Kevin's report on the Abbey Theatre workshop on Macbeth.

The cover is Gabriel Metsu's Woman Reading a Letter (visit the current exhibition at the National Gallery in Dublin).

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Google Docs Extended Essays

IV formers starting on their TY Extended Essays using Google Docs for online commenting and support: get your log-in details, and enter them at 'Pupil Email Login' at the bottom of the College home page, (arrowed above). Make sure you then change your password to one of your own choice. Go to Docs, create a new Document, and then share it with your teacher, using his College email.

Patterns of Poetry 13: foreshadowing

The 13th in the Patterns of Poetry series of talks of under five minutes is about foreshadowing, and uses John Keats's ode 'To Autumn'.

Get our Audioboos as podcasts on iTunes here. Our Audioboo page is here. The first 8 talks are available as a single podcast here. Listen to today's talk via the player below.

Monday, November 01, 2010

TY Book Recommendations 8

Today IV formers will be starting in earnest on their Transition Year Extended Essays, which are due in by Wednesday 17th November. 

Meanwhile, some more book recommendations over the next few days, starting with Jay Kim, who has read Dewey: the small-town cat who touched the world:-

I highly recommend this book because it is about love, not those typical human relationships, but man and animal relationships. Dewey was a kitten that was abandoned in the cold winter morning of of Spencer, Iowa. The library staff saved and rescued Dewey, and ever since he was grateful to the small things that we take for granted, as he was at the doorstep of Death, if people hadn't rescued him. 

The library staff decide to take Dewey under their wing, and his 'Mom', Vicki Byron, needs Dewey as much as Dewey needs her because she had been suffering from breast cancer (now fully recovered) and was divorced from her ex-husband who was an alcoholic. Dewey comforts Vicki, and comforts those who visit the library too, being a friend, and a listener. 

Dewey isn't just a normal cat, he is an extraordinary one, and it is a heartwarming story about a cat who cares about people around him, and funny incidents that happen. It is a very touching book.


Number 23 in the series: Campaign for the Removal of English Errors in Public.

Spotted on a half-term Aer Lingus flight. Presumably it's 'off' after 25th October. But also - yikes - the hideous 'word' ovenable: who thought of this abomination? Positively abominable.


Number 22 in the series: Campaign for the Removal of English Errors in Public.

Our colleague PMcC spotted this in yesterday's Sunday Tribune. If only employers were also monitering their own spelling...

Friday, October 22, 2010


We're now on our half-term break until Monday 1st November. Time to read lots...

Meanwhile, here is another book recommendation by a Transition Year pupil preparing for the Extended Essay project, due in on November 19th. 

Eleanor Dolphin has been reading Khaled Hosseini's novel The Kite Runner, and writes:-

The first thing that I noticed when reading my book was its opening line and the effect that it had on me. "I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek". 

For me The Kite Runner was a truly remarkable book because it is quite rare for me to fully enjoy the characters and their surrounding plot through every step of the book. Sometimes I become temporarily bored of them. The characters in this book are so clearly described, to the extent that when I close my eyes, they scurry across my vision leading me into their own world. This book really pulled at my heartstrings and burrowed its way inside my head. I strongly felt the emotions welling up inside me with each page I flicked through, especially the wretched guilt felt by the protagonist, Amir, and my disgust and contempt for him. The provoking thoughts haunted me long after I'd put the book down. A compelling book that I would thoroughly recommend to anyone fifteen and older.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Patterns of Poetry 12: punctuation

The 12th talk in the Patterns of Poetry talks (all under 5 minutes) is about punctuation. The two poems quoted are Emily Dickinson's 'I felt a Funeral in my Brain' and the late Edwin Morgan's 'Strawberries'. Click here for Victor Borge's 'Phonetic Punctuation' turn.

Get our Audioboos as podcasts on iTunes here. Our Audioboo page is here. The first 8 talks are available as a single podcast here. Listen to today's talk via the player below.

The Gloss blog

It's always good to see former pupils, and indeed former contributors to this blog, prospering elsewhere. Sophie Haslett, currently studying English at Bristol University, is also blogging for the Irish Times 'The Gloss' magazine on fashion matters here.