Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Tweets, blogs, wikis ... the internet seems to breed these words. Add now the 'boo': Audioboo is an interesting service, allowing you to record and post 5-minute podcasts very easily and which we'll try out over the coming months. If you have an iPhone, you can download the app and just use the phone as a kind of dictaphone, and then 'publish' the recording. It all works very smoothly. Get our Audioboos as podcasts on iTunes here.

So listen to our first Boo above, a brief introduction to our summer reading list.

Monday, June 28, 2010

End of Term

Our summer term ended last week, after a very successful blogging academic year here on SCC English, culminating in the publication of our second book, Outside the Frame, a few weeks ago.

And so starts the main business of the holidays: reading. Click here or on the banner at the top right for the link to our summer reading list and enjoy yourself working through as many of those books as possible.

So the main purpose of this blog - publishing our pupils' work and reporting on all the rich English-related activity of the school - goes into storage until September. Here, the focus turns to less regular posts on recommended books, teaching ideas, catching up with our apps reviews, and maybe even some CREEP sightings. There will be some distinctly quiet weeks when we catch up on our tans.


Many thanks to Adrian Weckler of the Sunday Business Post (Twitter: @adrianweckler) for giving us permission to use the photo as part of the Campaign for the Removal of English Errors in Public (inspired by the similarly-acronymed Nixon committee). He saw this in TCD, and his comment is below:-

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Recommended Reading, Summer 2010

We at the SCC English Department have put together a summer reading list which has been e-mailed to parents, and here it is for wider consumption. It is a list of mostly-recent books, mostly fiction (with a few classics thrown in). As the introduction says, we can't guarantee that you'll enjoy all the books on the list, only that one or more of us did. Some of the books have been reviewed at greater length in this blog over the past couple of years. Download the document here. [added 30.06.2010 - a five-minute audio introduction via Audioboo above]

Read it below via Issuu: click on the document to see it in full screen mode, and again to zoom in, and use the arrows to move between pages.

Jaws: the musical

And here it is, the Animoto video of photos from last Saturday's Actiontrack Showbuild, Jaws: the Musical. Click here for Michael Kemp's daily blog on the whole experience. The music is, of course, 'Surf Report' by Al Gross and Pete Surdoval. Classic.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

'Troubles' by J.G. Farrell

The recent 'Lost' Man Booker Prize for 1970 (occasioned by the absence of an award for books published that year due to rules changes) prompted a chance to discover or rediscover an outstanding selection of fiction from 40 years ago. The clear winner of was J.G. Farrell for Troubles. Farrell in fact did win in 1973 with The Siege of Krishnapur, before his tragic accidental death in Ireland in 1979.

Troubles, however, is surely his masterpiece: set in the appalling Majestic Hotel in the south-east of Ireland in 1919, the events are largely seen through the eyes of the straight-laced English officer Major Brendan Archer, traumatised during the Great War. Archer ends up in Ireland because he seems to have become engaged, almost accidentally, to the daughter of the hotel's owner. It is the two men's relationship which becomes central. The main character, however, is the hotel itself, a vast crumbling edifice inhabited by elderly ladies and an increasingly aggressive population of cats. Before the latter parts of the book turn to a darker shade, Troubles is relentlessly funny (for instance, in the brilliant whist set-piece). Line after line it is superbly written, and it's a perfect book with which to treat yourself this summer.

Incidentally, Derek Mahon's great poem 'A Disused Shed in County Wexford', frequently studied for the Leaving Certificate, is dedicated to Farrell. Mahon's poem evokes the 'lost people' of history.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Actiontrack blog: the final day

Michael Kemp signs off his Actiontrack Showbuild blog, and indeed his Transition Year, with this final contribution about Saturday's experience:-

Part 5: The Redemption

Wow, that went fast, Transition Year gone WOOP WOOP, Fifth Year now heading towards us like a voluminous dark cloud. YIKEs!

Still, all we can do is wait and prepare for the bitter assault of work that will come at us, this time with extra vigour that it presumably built up during our year-long truce, and what you do most during Fifth Year other than pant-wettingly heavy amounts of Leaving Cert preparation is looking back and thinking about how awesome Transition Year was. So why not get to the point and purpose of this entire blog and write about the swan song (I almost wrote "swang" there but I thought that I should try and resist having abbreviations and conjunctions take over our world) that was Actiontrack.

Well for those who are reading this and hadn't seen the one and only production of JAWS: The Musical and are seemingly begging me to go in to encyclopaedic detail of the production and plot: tough luck, blogee, you're just going to have to let that slide past you like this year's Glastonbury - all you're going to get is my hazy summary of events.

It overall was an incredibly busy week. I remember at the start thinking we'd be doing ZIP ZAP BOING! each morning yet I was oh-so-wrong as the realities of production hit home, and the dizzying amounts of work and the untapped flow of creativity took over. Each break and lunch left us all starving as we gorged ourselves on anything, just anything to give us enough energy for the next dance rehearsal. To be honest, during the whole week my kidneys were painful with exhaustion and I couldn't stand for long without needing to sit down and rest my deflated legs. One morning I actually slept through my alarm I was so tired - which doesn’t seem like anything major - we all do it eventually – but my alarm isn't a little ringing clock or one of these EXCURCIATINGLY ANNOYING dadadaduh digital ones that slowly build in ear-bleedage until you turn them off. No, my alarm is a speaker-box right next to my pillowed head that blasts out Florence + the Machine each morning - and I still slept through all twenty minutes of it!

Either way despite our tired, creaking mass we still kept goinig on that last day, which involved putting the entire set design together, sound and video checks, setting up the seating rows, learning new dance steps, prepping our costumes and fitting in a whole dress rehearsal while the bustling queue outside tried to drown out our howlings of 'The Head, The Tail, And The Whole Damn Thing'.

As the lights went down and we scampered back into our 'green room' only to scurry back to clear out and take apart our week's work - tears stained faces as the end had rolled over and left us, not just the end of the show, but for some their whole time here in the school. It was rejuvenating and saddening as we tore down our papier maché and willow sharks, but for some it was a metaphor, the ridding of the ephemeral, taking down what was never meant to last.

A special extra big jazz handed Thank You must go to the Actiontrack team - who tried to stay oh-so-modest behind their instruments and amongst the crowd and criminally never stood up to take their long overdue and deserved bow at the end. So I might as well try to ruin your anonymity by thanking Nick, the Hannibal of the Actiontrack team, who was able to siphon our creative flow into something of the calibre as the final show; Nate, if we were to still go by A-Team logic would be Howlin' Mad Murdoch, who pieced together what a bunch of kids caught on a sound recorder and turned it in to one effective and unnerving soundscape and also taught me the revelation of Power Chords; Katie who let everyone relive the ART ATTACK! phase of their childhood by making excellent set dressings in the form of giant hanging legs or dead tiger sharks; and to Molly whose cheesy dance moves were another highlight of the show, and who also taught us something we will never forget - that the "Shake Your Tail Feather" move originates from the original Hairspray.

So to cap this all off - hmm what to say - I’ve got nothing planned - I have to have something, every other post had some kind of simple, self-referential, expectant poetry to it - Hope It Won't Stink et all - I can't be expectant now unless I end on a downer mentioning Fifth year, but now that's not right - think of something; what would Nick say; he'd always have something planned, Like Hannibal - wait that's it!

(*cough*-clear throat-*cough* deep breath in, look up, jut out jaw, do an Eastwood Squint)

Actiontrack was all about taking the different frayed ends of our imaginations and piecing them together and weaving it in to something that can be presented and get across the true overwhelming freedom Transition Year brought us, and despite it's freeform nature, it had planned to bring all fifty of us together and just make a show for us to celebrate that without leaving anyone out and letting everybody in - I Have To Say, (dramatic pause, chomp cigar) I Love It When a Plan Comes Together.

[coming soon: some photographs...]

Sunday, June 20, 2010


One of our field reporters, Fraser, spotted this recently. An interesting variation, the Delayed Apostophe Whammy: just when you think "Phew, at least they've avoided the intrusive apostrophe after HGV..."

Weekly Twitter Summary

Our regular round-up of selected tweets from the last week, on matters English, literary, linguistic and technological:

  1. Our 2nd book, 'Outside the Frame' - poems, stories, essays, book recomm's by pupils & staff, published via @luludotcom:
  2. Actiontrack drama showbuild blog - Day 4:
  3. RT @TheOnion: South African Vuvuzela Philharmonic Angered By Soccer Games Breaking Out During Concerts
  4. Got one of his votes here. RT @JimCarmin: No surprise here for the Oxford poet RT @alisonflood: Geoffrey Hill wins it!
  5. Laureate Siobhan Parkinson welcomes the retention of school librarians
  6. Actiontrack blog, Day 3:
  7. 'The Twin', #IMPAC winner: links & that song, Willeke Alberti's Dutch entry for 1994 Euro Song Contest, Waar is de zon:
  8. Interview with Gerbrand Bakker and translator David Colmer ('The Twin', #impac winner) in today's Irish Times:
  9. Just one #followfriday today: the great @Larryferlazzo : a stream of interesting, wide-ranging and succinct tweets.
  10. Our review of 'The Twin' by Gerbrand Bakker, the #IMPAC winner:
  11. Former Palm DateBook fans (who miss that week view): check out the excellent #Calengoo for iPhone, sync easily with Google Calendar.
  12. Actiontrack drama blog, Day 2:
  13. Lovely- a perfect accompaniment to Jan Morris book RT @StanCarey: Trieste in the fog, a slideshow sent by @whyowhyvonne:
  14. Hear hear! RT @ScoilnetPPrim: Excellent blog from St Columba’s Art department
  15. Actiontrack blog day 1:
  16. All of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets as Wordles:
  17. Stationery nerds out there: the Muji 0.5 gel pen is terrific. Good colours for teachers for marking work, too -
  18. Konkurrenzeid, Sehnsucht, Futterneid...There are some feelings that only the German language can express:
  19. Just voted for Geoffrey Hill in the Oxford Poetry Professor stakes.
  20. 'Florence and the Machine': TY pupil's ecstatic endorsement
  21. Should someone tell Amazon that they might have got Harper Lee a teeny weeny bit wrong?
  22. Recommend a visit to Ranelagh's 'Company of Books' @CompanyofBooks - pleasant and classy.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Actiontrack blog day 4

The Actiontrack Showbuild performance is at 8.15pm tonight. Here is Michael Kemp's final day-by-day blog entry. He'll summarise next week:-

ACTIONTRACKED: The Nutty Serial That Won't Get Stuck in Your Teeth!

Part 4: The Revenge

Captain's Log*: As I’m writing this it's only 20 hours left until the lights shine down on the valiant galleon of our SS Actiontrack as she docks into the Harbour (Nautical Puns *sigh*). Although there are pre-show nerves we have little reason to worry as today was one of the most productive days so far.

Already our soundscapes and set decorations are nearly complete and have been worked into rehearsals, dance moves are nearly all learned, with each break seemingly producing a new step for us to try and awkwardly recreate, some easy ('From Cape Scott to South Beach' is a rare opportunity in our lives to do some of the most clichéd arm waverings from the Boyzone catalogue) some oh-my-legs-why-do-you-spasm-so? ('We Need Your Summer Dollars' is a mad meld of square dancing and some classic Madness shapes from the
Our House video). The animation and mini-movies are now completed and the BSR has taken a radical change as we have literally scattered about it bits of jetties, amps and staging - even an upturned boat whose position has rather safely blocked off the main fire exit - no worries then.

Although on a non-life threatening note our progress has even allowed us to do a full run through - even with a big supporting role having to drop out and be replaced by an entirely different originally-care-free-but-now-cacking-it-with-all-the-lines-to-be-a-learnt pupil. Just watching in the back there's already a noticeable fluidity to the musical which is ruddery (a rudder is what steers a sail boat - sufficient Nautical Pun), important for our home made production to gain any kind of composure.

The overall vibes for those of you readers lucky enough (or unfortunate enough if you're one of those disillusioned parents who's sat through 10 years worth of school plays to see their kid papier-machéd as a tree while the kid who gets drama lesson practises his audition for Julliard) to be going to our show tonight, take note - the best way to describe an Actiontrack performance would be either to reference the production values and structure of
The Mighty Boosh or to say it's a Give It Your All And See What Sticks kind of show. That’s not to say it's ramshackle or immature but that in the short period of time we've been working on this, we have pushed ourselves full on, to urge the hull forward.

Those soundscapes are composed of our screams (that's actually true - thank Angus for the Deafening Alto Yelp). That wrecked boat is painted with our blood. Those papier-machéd legs were made from our sweat. Those barrels are weighted with our tears.

Hopefully Everything Won't Stink.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Actiontrack blog day 3

Michael Kemp continues his series 'in 3-D'. Pictured: a grainy obscure photo of what looks suspiciously like a bunch of boys with blackened faces 'dying' in our swimming pool at 10.45pm last night. Keep tuned...

Here's Part 3: in 3D

Yesterday I mentioned that today things would really start to set sail (again - necessary nautical pun) but we've not only set sail but are now hitting 40 knots and ramping tides. After a quick run-through of all the songs, our parts were given out - casting has revealed a quirky but fair-to-say-ingenious selection. I won’t reveal a who's who yet, but I can honestly admit to be thrilled with my part and as is everyone else.

The main event today was the chaotic multi-tasking involved in assembling our show. While rehearsals are happening in the BSR, the assembling of our movable sets and decor continues outside, while in the Cadogan, sound-scaping and stop motion film-making trundles on; there are even some lads running around trying to record the perfect sound for a shark biting off someone's leg.

Meanwhile as the production rumbles headlong, our best efforts are demanded to pick up some wind. The responsibility is on us now to learn our lines, lyrics, dance steps and to piece together a lively period costume from whatever bit of old thread we can find.

This evening we were introduced to our sprunky choreography, seemingly fabricated to embracing the best (well really the worst) of 80s dance trends - there's plenty of stomp 'n clap, a bit of Greased Lightning finger-pointing-wave-pumping, even a Hairspray tail feather wiggle; it's a almost a pity there's no room in JAWS for a run through of the Time Warp*.

Even tonight some of the guys are going out at 11 o'clock and using the school pool to film a vignette to tell the story of the USS Indianapolis, not the best of associations for the pool but you can recognise the dedication of our year to Actiontrack when Max sacrifices time to get in a pool and thrash about when he could be sleeping**

*If you do not know what the Time Warp is, you are dead to me, in fact simply typing that has made me YouTube it straight away - it's like a little goblin that's stuck in your head that constantly makes you smile; the thought of people not being aware of the Time Warp seemingly too saddening to imagine (they might not have it in Venezuela - would Rocky Horror fly over there? Nah it might, but would they bother to dub it or would it even have an audience?)
*No offence intended to Max, but come on man - you spent 18 hours sleeping last Saturday, no joke.

IMPAC winner

As we had hoped, the winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (the world's richest literary award for a single work) is Dutchman Gerbrand Bakker for his outstanding novel The Twin, which we reviewed here on May 19th (the review is reprinted in our new book, Outside the Frame). It will also featured in our summer book recommendations for parents, which will be sent out next week. See Alison Flood's article in today's Guardian here.

The judging panel commented: Though rich in detail, it’s a sparely written story, with the narrator’s odd small cruelties, laconic humour and surprising tendernesses emerging through a steady, well-paced, unaffected style. The book convinces from first page to last. With quiet mastery the story draws in the reader. The writing is wonderful: restrained and clear, and studded with detail of farm rhythms in the cold, damp Dutch countryside. The author excels at dialogue, and Helmer’s inner story-telling voice also comes over perfectly as he begins to change everything around him. There are intriguing ambiguities, but no false notes. Nothing and no one is predictable, and yet we believe in them all: the regular tanker driver, the next door neighbour with her two bouncing children, and Jaap, the old farm labourer from the twins’ childhood who comes back to the farm in time for the last great upheaval, as Helmer finally takes charge of what is left of his own life.

In today's Irish Times there is a lengthy and entertaining interview by Eileen Battersby with Bakker and his (excellent) translator David Colmer here. Asked who his favourite character in the novel is, Bakker mischievously picks Wim (who never appears). And, quirkily, at the awards ceremony he gave a rendition of the highly unsuccessful Dutch entry for the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest, Waar is de zon so here it is, below:-

Junior Public Speaking Competition

Over the last 10 days, II formers have been preparing speeches in English classes for the annual Junior Public Speaking competition, compered by Mrs Haslett. Congratulations to last night's winner, Sadhbh Sheeran, who was the first speaker and talked about her local postman. Second was Siobhan Brady, who examined the terrible working conditions that go to make the latest tech toy, the iPad, and third was Josh Mathews, on life as a twin. Ludo Stewart (Greece's troubles) and Emmet Minch (golf) also got honourable mention.

The evening was varied and always interesting, with other pieces from the finalists on topics such as surfing, My Best Friend (Tara), the guitar, my teddy-bear, Scientology, bloodstock auctioneering, and Luxembourg. The judges were Mr Ryan, and two of our best debaters, V formers Patrick McGonagle and Miriam Poulton.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Books for 2010-2011

The College office will soon email parents with the booklists for all forms. Meanwhile, the English list is available now here. Books can of course be ordered from anywhere, including the local supplier, The Wise Owl.

Actiontrack Day 2

Michael Kemp writes:-


Day Two of our production has been incredibly productive - no more of the obligatory Zip Zap Boing! round to start the day off, as we set off immediately into our Production - JAWS: The Musical.

First up was learning the songs all the Actiontrack team had written last night, which varied from a Green Day-lite acoustic ballad ('From Cape Scott to South Beach'), 80s hued synth pop with a self-aware dollop of Billy Joel ('The Head, The Tail, The Whole Damn Thing') to a tender, harmony-laden duet ('Catching Fish Tonight'). When those songs were all learned we then began to select our scenes and begin the weaving that would thread our narrative.

Already by the evening the script was done and dusted, which is incredibly early for an Actiontrack Show, but our plans for a media collage spectacular is going to be knots of work (knots – lots *stifled cough*), which will take up the rest of our week. Although signs are good on the Good Ship
JAWS: The Musical, with the Van unpacked and casting tomorrow, our production will now be full tilt to get its jazz hands in order (Jaws, Jazz hands - Jaws Hands?), with casting, dance, set and sound design all about to begin.

It looks like the sail's beginning to billow as a mighty wind is blowing us starboard.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Actiontrack Blog Day 1

Michael Kemp (who won the TY English Prize) is one of the 46 pupils who yesterday started the 2010 Actiontrack project (performance at 8.15pm on Saturday evening). He will be blogging here every day leading up to that, and here is his first entry:

Tuesday: Today was the first day of Actiontrack Showbuild for Transition Year, which intends for us little varyingly talentless tykes to try to write, star in and dance our way through our own homemade musical to be performed this Saturday, jazz hands and all. It's early days and getting 46 different people to sit down in a huddle and bang out some Gilbert and Sullivan wasn't happening - so we started off with the game ZIP ZAP BOING!, which despite sounding like a 70s New Wave band, is a game where imagination, energy and performance are drawn together in a fun, competitive icebreaker.

As the day went on, it was time for us to group into fours and fives and begin improvising our own little sketches that continue the creative flow, taking different little parts of setting and genre and melding them into one consistent whole. The acting had to end though as we looked at the meaning of genre and its conventions and clichés, and we soon studied Steven Spielberg's Jaws to form a tangent for us to spring off from, and eventually reach some footing on our own musical.

Listen to a podcast interview recorded a year ago here with Actiontrack's Nick Brace about their work and the Showbuild process.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Transition Year Prize winner

Congratulations to Michael Kemp, who has won the Transition Year English Prize for his work throughout this year. This was awarded last night at the TY Prize Presentation evening (go to the College site here for the full list of awards).

One of Michael's Work Portfolio pieces, which he read out at the recent TY English Evening, was his ecstatic endorsement of his favourite band, Florence and the Machine. This was written as a response to the essay title: What event during the past year has most influenced you? If you don't know Florence and the Machine, see her on YouTube at the bottom of this post. Michael writes:

The first thing that strikes you about her live performances is her sprightly personality – her friendliness and warmth being able to transcend the pedestal she’s placed on, dressed like a fixture of Mount Olympus in gold hotpants under a light white cotton robe, and also wearing massive gold heels (which bring her to a rumoured height of 6 foot 2!). This didn’t prevent her from balletically skipping all over the stage.

Read his full essay here.

Monday, June 14, 2010


The Campaign for the Removal of English Errors in Public was looking on for an edition of one of next year's texts, To Kill a Mockingbird. This is the 50th anniversary of the modern classic, and famously Harper Lee has written nothing since. Perhaps this accounts for Amazon's forgetfulness about Ms Lee's gender (click on the image)?

Weekly Twitter Summary

Our weekly summary of selected tweets from SCC English:
  1. Imagining life as a dinner jacket button...
  2. 'Why teenagers can't concentrate':
  3. Through the Language Glass: How Words Colour Your World by Guy Deutscher | Book review
  4. Steven Pinker says Twitter, email and PP aren't making us stupid:
  5. Wonder if we could try same at secondary level... RT @simonmlewis: New Post:: Twitter and Primary Education (2)
  6. Our Science colleagues are away on trips now, so it's left to us to push their Leaving Cert podcasts (@thefrogblog):
  7. Our commentary on Leaving Cert English Higher Paper 1 and Paper 2:
  8. Our blog inundated by people Googling 'Seed by Paula Meehan': sounds like it stretched a lot of Leaving Cert candidates
  9. A small irony. Boland not on Leaving Cert Eng paper (fuss). Paula Meehan (unseen poet) dedicated last book to...Boland.
  10. Analysis of Leaving Cert English Paper 2 from this afternoon:
  11. Emily Dickinson - gardener first, poet second ...
  12. Leaving Cert English advice: final morning! 'King Lear': and quotations: Good luck to all...
  13. Leaving Cert English, paper 1: an analysis -
  14. Under 24 hrs left: Leaving Cert English candidates can freshen up thoughts by listening to our podcasts on 'King Lear':
  15. Hamlet in stick figures... how much easier can you get?!
  16. James Nesbitt on RTE Radio 1: has just filmed 'Coriolanus' with Ralph Fiennes:
  17. Comments on using quotations in the English Leaving Cert exams:
  18. Hans Fallada's 'Alone in Berlin' - 'A triumph of quality in a predominantly commercial marketplace'- Irish Times today:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

'The Button'

On Thursday our current VI form finished their English exams. Life goes on, however, and another year moves up.... recently Steffan Davies from V form wrote a piece imagining life from a very unusual angle. It starts:-

I was the star of the show. Smoothly slipping my way across the casino floor or sauntering my way past a crowd to find my front row seats at the best new event. There were four of us: two on the left sleeve and two on the right. I was on the right. My partner in crime, my second half, was slightly smaller, slightly lighter, and slightly less worn since she was slightly higher up the sleeve.

Read Steffan's full piece, 'The Button', here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Leaving Cert English Higher Paper 2

It's all over for our Leaving Cert English candidates, with the literature paper finishing half an hour ago. As yesterday with Paper 1, here's a quick response to the Higher Level paper (all but 2 of our pupils sat it).

There were two oddly similar King Lear single text questions, both essentially on the nature of goodness and badness, with no named characters - 'Honour and loyalty triumph over brutality and viciousness' and 'The villainous characters hold more fascination for the audience than the virtuous ones' (issues dealt with in at least three of our podcasts). The comparative questions featured General Vision and Viewpoint and Literary Genre, and the two 'unsplit' questions were more specific and perhaps more tricky than normal: 'the general vision and viewpoint of a text can be determined by the success or failure of a central character in his/her efforts to achieve fulfilment' and 'the unexpected is essential to the craft of storytelling.' The 30/40 split questions were more bland and straightforward.

Poetry: the big excitement is always 'who comes up': in 2010, Yeats, Rich, Kavanagh and Eliot. All these questions were straightforward. Finally, the unseen poem was 'Seed' by Paula Meehan (pictured), in which she blesses 'the power of seed, its casual, useful persistence.' Quite a dense poem, which certainly left plenty of scope for able candidates. A little irony, too: Meehan's most recent book, Painting Rain, is dedicated to Eavan Boland, about whose absence from the paper there's plenty of fuss on the airwaves right now.

Overall, a fair paper with a bit of bite. Good luck to the candidates in all their other subjects now...

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Leaving Certificate Paper 1

Our candidates sat the first paper of their Leaving Certificate this morning, and here are some observations on the Higher Level version:-

The comprehension texts offered more quality than normal - an extract from Dennis O'Driscoll's fine 'interview-biography' of Seamus Heaney, another from Al Gore's Nobel acceptance speech of 2007 as an example of rhetoric, and an extract from Ray Bradbury's famous novel Fahrenheit 451. The questions on each were the usual mixture of information-retrieval and analysis of style.

Perhaps the most notable feature of this paper was that it was the first time there was no picture 'text'. Some previous exam papers have been criticised for the poor level of photography (it was better last year). This time, the only visual element consisted of two front covers of the Bradbury novel - a more interesting question than the rather flabby general picture collections of the past. This may well have disconcerted some candidates when they turned over for the composition questions, since this time there was no general short story option based on photographs. Two short story options were more limited and specific than heretofore (especially number 7, which was very particular: 'Write a short story in which two unusual or eccentric characters meet for the first time.').

The remaining Composition questions gave plenty of leeway for candidates to ponder 'the future' (the overall theme of the paper). We suspect hundreds of examiners will be spending much of June and July learning an awful lot about teenagers' holiday, third-level and life plans... One attractive question was number 1, 'a personal essay about your experience as a performer and/or audience member of the dramatic arts' - a good option for our own pupils, given their great involvement in drama and music.

And so now everyone settles down to prepare for tomorrow afternoon's literature paper, including King Lear, and we cross our fingers, given what happened last year. We'll report tomorrow night.

Exams start

Best wishes to our candidates in the Leaving and Junior Certificate exams, who start with their English language papers this morning in our Sports Hall.

Tonight, VI formers will be preparing for their literature papers (tomorrow afternoon). Listen to 6 short podcasts on King Lear here to get your brains flowing...

Monday, June 07, 2010

Quotations in the Leaving Cert

There have been a lot of visitors to this blog in the last few days who have arrived by Googling something like 'How important are quotations in the English Leaving Cert?' So for everyone who is studying for the next three days prior to the Literature paper on Thursday afternoon, here are some comments on the Higher Level exam, which almost all our own pupils will sit:-

  • Quotations are particularly important for the Single Text (for us, King Lear - a reminder that Higher Level candidates must answer on Shakespeare at some point), and for Prescribed Poetry. Our own 6 King Lear revision podcasts feature plenty of quoting, and indeed you can test yourself in number 4, which is a quotation auto-test. Quotations both for Shakespeare and for Prescribed Poetry should be short and effective - in other words, stitched naturally into your commentary to support a point you are making and to show your grasp of the text. By this stage you should know all your quotations: inevitably, you are only going to use a minority of these. Some candidates like to write quotations in a different colour, or to highlight them: this can pick them out for the examiner.
  • Unseen Poem: again, pick out short phrases and individual words. If you find a particular moment interesting or memorable, briefly quote it and explain. In the 2009 marking scheme, examiners were advised that this question is 'essentially a reading test: do not expect lengthy answering.' Quoting effectively shows that you have read effectively.
  • Comparative section: since the emphasis here is on a wider sweep than for the Single Text, you're likely to use fewer quotations. However, brief phrases can still be used very effectively, and you should definitely know your key moments extremely well, and be able to quote at will from them. For example, Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa is one of our texts. In the key dance scene, Maggie starts everything off with 'a look of defiance' on her face. That single word 'defiance' gives you an opening into her feelings - what is she defying? This brief quotation from the stage directions is enormously helpful and suggestive.
  • And in the Language Paper I (on Wednesday morning), when answering the A section (comprehension) questions, you should stitch brief phrases and individual words into your answers. The examiners expect evidence directly from the text, but there's no virtue in just quoting large chunks of it - not advised. When answering a 'style' question - the way the piece is written - you need to quote examples of the style.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Weekly Twitter Summary

  1. "Reading a long sequence of pages helps us develop a rare kind of mental discipline":
  2. For all those candidates huddled over their books as the rain comes down: Leaving Cert revision podcasts on King Lear:
  3. RT @englishcomp: article by Nicholas Carr in today's WSJ about effect of tech/Internet on reading, brain, intelligence:
  4. Letters of Louis MacNeice edited by Jonathan Allison | Book review
  5. National Spelling Bee site - test yourself -
  6. '20 under 40' writers : the new New Yorker list -
  7. Just got big order of our new book from @luludotcom. One week from ordering arrived in Ireland: terrific service.
  8. Statement from Laureate na nÓg about the Irish school library crisis:
  9. Stieg Larsson: The Man Behind 'The Hornet's Nest'
  10. A fine piece - worth reading by all teachers. RT @englishcomp: Difficult Lessons via Jim Burke's Blog:
  11. One week today: Leaving Cert students will be answering on 'King Lear' - listen to 6 podcasts to help you revise:
  12. Read this, Sweetie Dumplings! RT @guardiang2: Love you too cuddlepie! The dangers of pet names
  13. Value of Twitter for teachers series from @Oh_the_Places
  14. A truly great Irish cultural achievement: 40 years of the Gallery Press, poetry publisher. Hat off to Peter Fallon:
  15. Can poetry save relationships between parents and teenagers?
  16. The most common mispellings, er, misspellings, Wash Post RT @Larryferlazzo
  17. Report on our Transition Year English Evening last night:
  18. Check out English quizzes and crosswords on Scoilnet, such as Romeo and Juliet Crossword:
  19. We sympathise: an old battle across the world: RT @Darcy1968: Article in The Australian, 'Dumbing down English teaching'
  20. Angelica Huston on W.B.Yeats ('Summer's Wreath celebration from @NLIreland):
  21. Good idea! RT @yourenglishclas: I plan to use NPR's "This I Believe" as a model for my final senior projects...
  22. RT @ByLeavesWeLive: Getting to know... Seamus Heaney. A piece by Douglas Dunn, first published in our Poetry Reader 5
  23. 'Posthumous Keats: a personal biography' by Stanley Plumley - long review at
  24. Useful language study: RT @marklittlenews: Very diff editorials this a.m inJerusalem Post, Haaretz
  25. Report on Voices of Poetry : English, Irish, Latin, French, Spanish, Greek, Portuguese, Ibo, Chinese, German, Russian:

Saturday, June 05, 2010

St Columba's Weekend Exodus

We're off on a weekend break now, during which the Leaving and Junior Certificate candidates will be preparing for their English exams on Wednesday morning, when we'll start blogging again. Lots more material coming for the last 3 weeks of term then.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Statement from Laureate na nÓg

The new Laureate nÓg, Siobhán Parkinson, has just released the following statement (we are very grateful for our own excellent Library and Librarian, but many schools in the country are not in such a fortunate position). See more on the Children's Laureate website.

One of the things this country got absolutely right during the economic boom was the JCSP (Junior Certificate Support Programme) to encourage young people at risk of dropping out of school to stay in the education system at least until Junior Certificate. This programme was properly planned, properly implement and properly monitored, and it has been famously successful in saving thousands of youngsters from early school-leaving and the appalling (and appallingly expensive) consequences.

An important element of the JCSP programme is the development of school libraries in several schools. So far there are thirty of these in the country, but they have had remarkable success in combating illiteracy and academic failure, as well as opening children's minds in all kinds of ways. The essential features of this very successful intervention are a pleasant, comfortable, welcoming dedicated library space, well-stocked shelves and dedicated and properly trained professional librarians. I know: I have had experience in working on writing projects with children in these libraries, and I have been hugely impressed by the quality of provision and the passion of both librarians and teachers in these schools.

Plans to roll out the JCSP library programme to more JCSP schools are currently on hold, which is regrettable but perhaps understandable in current circumstances. It is very encouraging that there seem to be no active plans to withdraw funding from the JCSP libraries that are already in place. At the same time, however, our wonderful JCSP libraries are under grave threat from the embargo on public sector recruitment. Most of the JCSP librarians are on contracts that are due to finish in August of this year.

If we lose these librarians at this crucial point in the development of this best-practice library system, we will certainly lose the libraries themselves, in which so much has been invested, in terms of time, money and energy, and which have had such success in terms of student use and improved academic standards. We will also lose the experience and expertise in running libraries for teenagers, which we have accumulated for the first time in this country. This would be a tragedy for the children whose libraries will inevitably limp on for a while and finally wind down, but it would be an even greater tragedy for the whole education system, which would lose a successful model on which future development of libraries can be expected to build, as the economy climbs slowly into recovery in the coming years.

For this reason, I appeal to government to make an exception in the case of these contracts, and retain our JCSP librarians. This could be done by redefining them as front-line staff, which in effect they are. This is not about individuals and their jobs. . Our national pride in our literary heritage rings hollow in the face of such a threat to the only properly funded and managed school libraries outside the private schools.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

TY English Evening 2010

Last night in the BSR we had the culmination of the 2009-2010 Transition Year English Programme. We heard readings from 12 pupils, and then an address from our guest speaker, former Head of English Mr Colin Polden (his comments on pieces are in quotation marks in the next paragraphs).

The evening started with Claire Conway's 'balanced, thoughtful' essay 'The Oldest Person I Know', which is also printed in our new book Outside the Frame. Patrick Tice's piece on his last day on earth was 'sustained in tone, with self-deprecating humour and lovely adjectives.' Oyinda Onabanjo's poem 'Medusa' was 'scary', and used the present tense powerfully, and also the paradox of beauty born out of hideousness. Mena Fitzgibbon's piece on a character's last day on earth was 'powerful and assured'. Michael Kemp conveyed his enthusiasm for Florence and the Machine with 'pace, excitement and passion'. Passion was also evident in Zuleika O'Malley's 'powerful, sympathetic' piece imagining the life and death of a tiger. Aoise Keogan-Nooshabadi's 'compulsive' story was powerfully delivered.

Then came Jack Cherry, whose photograph is shown at the top of this post and has been used for the back cover of Outside the Frame; he wrote a humorous piece about his first house 'with lovely timing.' Rab Sheeran's memory of his first school was full of evocative 'senses', particularly smell and sound. This was followed by Opeline Kellett's essay on her own first house, a 'fine piece with a double perspective'. Emma Moore opened her discussion of Parents particularly strongly. Finally, Mr Polden 'just thanked' Shannen Keogan for her moving essay 'The Day of the Funeral'; it spoke for itself.

He then addressed pupils on the power and importance of literature. As the poet Ezra Pound said, 'literature is news that stays news'. We read a newspaper or magazine and have forgotten it hours later, but literature requires real thought, passion and craft - all qualities on show earlier in the pupils' readings. As a Junior Certificate examiner last year he had seen that the best answers all had passion. But this passion must be controlled and shaped; in the words of the Lyrical Ballads, it should be 'emotion recollected in tranquillity.' E.M.Forster wrote : 'Only connect'. This is what literature can do for us. When faced with the blank page or computer screen we should just start. Mr Polden finished by complimenting the English teachers, and had kind words to say about this 'hugely impressive' blog.

He then announced the winners of Premier Grades this year: Rosie Agnew, Mena Fitzgibbon, Lingfan Gao, Michael Kemp, Shannen Keogan, Aoise Keogan-Nooshabadi, Opeline Kellett, Emma Moore and Oyinda Onabanjo.

Congratulations to them all, and many thanks to Colin Polden for his attentive comments, his inspiring talk and his generosity in coming to our English Evening.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Leaving Certificate practice

In 8 days, our VI form will, along with pupils all around the country, be sitting their Leaving Certificate Paper 1, the most important part of which is the general composition. Recently Chris Faerber wrote a practice story, and here it is. It was prompted by a sentence, 'They are completely deluded and live in a fantasy world.'

It's an unusual take on a famous myth, starting:-

The alarm clock rings at 6 a.m. on the dot. Ikarus sits up right in his bed. Like every morning he wakes up just before his old-fashioned alarm clock displays '6' with its bright red digits. The right side of his bed is cold and unwearied still, like it has been since he bought the King-sized bed after leaving home eventually at 30 years of age. It was his mum who eventually kicked him out: “Go and spread your wings son. Explore the world,” is what she said. She died shortly afterwards and ever since Ikarus has avoided any contact with other humans. He has been as reclusive as the seven locks on his door and spends the majority of his time with frozen pizzas and soft drinks in his 10x5 one room apartment.

Read the full story here.