Thursday, May 29, 2008

DES Inspection Report

Our official subject inspection report conducted by the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science on 'The Quality of Learning and Teaching in English' is now public, and can be accessed on the DES website here. The inspection was carried over two days at St Columba's in December 2007. Like all these reports, it is divided into four sections:-
  • Subject provision and whole school support
  • Planning and preparation
  • Teaching and learning
  • Assessment
and there is a summary at the end. We were delighted by the report, and impressed by the professionalism with which the inspection was carried out. The process was a positive and affirming experience for us.
The summary reads :
  • There is good provision of English lessons in St Columba’s College and there is very good whole school support for the subject.
  • There is a very impressive range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English available to the students in the college.
  • The English department has developed an excellent and innovative website. The website generates an interest among students in formal writing and gives them opportunities to write for a wider public than their teachers.
  • A striking feature of the college is the many opportunities that students have to display their written work.
  • There is a very good library in the school and the college funds payment of a librarian. The library is well stocked and well organised.
  • There was evidence that students’ literacy levels improve as they progress through the year and school.
  • The English department is very ably coordinated. The department engages in real collaboration and is very reflective. It is constantly developing new ideas to cultivate a love of English among students and to develop their skills in English.
  • A strong reading culture has been developed in the school.
  • The English teachers are commended for working in the true spirit of the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate English syllabuses in that the wide focus of English lessons goes beyond the examinations and prepares students for life.
  • A range of opportunities are planned to give students a sense of responsibility for their own learning. The TY course is extensive and gives students an excellent grounding in key skills.
  • There is a high quality of teaching and learning. This was evidenced through the high standards expected, the range of texts taught, the frequency of student assignments in a range of genre, the many opportunities for students to write and the excellent examination results.
  • Common examinations are set and a common marking scheme is agreed by English teachers. Students are assessed on a regular basis. The English department has a specific homework policy. All students’ work was corrected to a very high standard.
The report also contains two recommendations for improvement, on junior cycle planning and purpose in lessons, which we are addressing.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

TY English Evening

Last night our Transition Year pupils completed their course, with our annual presentation in the BSR. Our guest was the Head of English at High School, Rathgar, Mrs Mary Milne, who spoke about the 10 pieces of writing she heard with great appreciation and attention to detail. The speakers/ readers/ writers were Lluisa Hebrero Casasayas, Alec Cherry, Poppy Vernon, Mark Kavanagh, Josh Buckingham, Poppy Kirwan-Browne, Rebecca Scott, Lauren Meyler, Fred Mann, Kate Haslett, Kaila Korschen, Sarah O'Mahony and Tom Guinness.

We'll have a pupil's review of the evening here before long. Meanwhile, congratulations to Fiona Boyd, winner of this year's only Premier Grade after all the marks were totted up.

An English Lawn, July 1875

Our 30th Poem of the Week is the poem that opened Sunday's Voices of Poetry, as described by Ciara O'Driscoll in yesterday's post. It is a tribute from one member of the Department to our retiring colleague Mr John Fanagan. It focusses on the moment at the start of The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James's great 1881 novel (and John's favourite book), when Mr Touchett, his son Ralph and the English Lord Warburton are taking afternoon tea, waiting for the arrival of his young beautiful American niece, Isabel Archer. The full text of the novel is here.

An English Lawn, July 1875

Three shadows stretch across the perfect lawn.
Words drop into the softened light.

Five o’clock tea on a summer afternoon,

The ceremony slow and deliberate as the Thames.

This is their drawing room, the tea-table’s feet
Sunk into the luscious grass, the old man’s
Embroidered slippers powder-blue against its sheen,

The collie curled beside his wicker-chair.

The young men stroll and smoke, and admire the house,
Its russet bricks lit by the weakening sun, laughing
As they walk back to the chair at his admonition:
‘Now, you mustn’t fall in love with my niece!’

The dog barks and dashes, and they turn
To catch her shape picked out by the doorway,
As she moves, bright-eyed, into the story,

As she steps, bare-headed, into the future.

JMG, May 2008

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Voices of Poetry review

We had another successful Voices of Poetry evening on Sunday in the BSR. This special annual event celebrates poetry in many languages, and includes poetry written by pupils, much of which has featured on this blog in recent months.

Our reviewer, Ciara O'Driscoll from V form writes :

Joint winner of the Senior Poetry Prize, Fiona Boyd, read out her poem entitled 'Time'. She read her poem perfectly, making it extremely sentimental and very moving. Her performance was certainly one of my favourites for the evening, as she depicted through her poetry how time passes and why she writes down and remembers those moments special to her. Hal Downer’s evocative poem 'A Winter’s Night' was read out well by Sandy Cole, as he captures the scene of a silent home on a stormy winter’s night. Sarah Warren also read out a poem for the author Rachel Acton Filion, 'The Path, 5.47pm', the other winner of the Senior Poetry Prize. The poem contained powerful imagery as she exquisitely captures a moment in time.

Voices of Poetry was also an evening which showed the cultural diversity of St. Columba’s. The night featured poems in ten different languages, ranging from our very own Irish, to languages such as Zulu and Korean. All the foreign language poems were spoken with excellent clarity, the speakers using their tone to communicate to the audience the meaning of the poem. Some of my favourite foreign language poems would be 'L’infinito', an Italian poem read by Hanne Grainger, due to the presence she brought to the stage, along with Ben Armstrong’s contribution of a Dutch poem, as he accompanied his performance with an orange tie and miniature clogs.

Read Ciara's full review here.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Going Places : our new book

We're delighted to announce our latest venture, the first book published by our English Department : Going Places, the SCC English Blog 2006-08. This is a 151-page selection of pieces written on this site by pupils and staff over its first two years (six terms). There's a brief Issuu preview below, of the first few pages, and also a preview on the publishing page here. 66 pupils, and 9 teachers have contributed essays, stories, reviews, book recommendations and more. It's also been illustrated by line drawings by many pupils in art classes. At the end of the book there's an essay by our retiring Head of Department, John Fanagan, which hasn't featured here, but has been specially written for this book: it's about his 35 years teaching English at St Columba's.

The book has been printed by in the United States, and they've done a fine job - the vibrant front cover by Mikeila Cameron looks terrific (back cover also pictured, right), and the interior is finely printed on 60# weight cream interior paper.

It's available online via the links on the right, or via our Lulu Storefront here, for about €12 with p&p, or €5 electronic download, or from the school directly (without post) for €10.

Voices of Poetry 2008

Tonight in the BSR (8pm) we have one of the most enjoyable events of the year, our annual Voices of Poetry evening, during which pupils and staff read poems in English and other languages, including their own. We'll have a report by a pupil here in a few days.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

My First Love

One of the titles in the Transition Year Work Portfolio, which was handed in to teachers today, is 'My First Love'. Pupils take many different angles on this idea. Here, Fiona Boyd has written a powerful story about a woman looking back on her life :-

As it stands I have a fairly comfortable life. I live in an average house in an average bedroom, with an average family filled with average people. I go to an average school with lots of average people. I get average marks in return for my average world. I suppose I like and enjoy my life, but then it’s not that special. And neither am I.

Basically I’m your average teenager.

But then something amazing happened and all of a sudden I didn’t care anymore. About my family or house or room or school or friends or anything. It was reality. Reality of life and love and everything in it. Reality ripped my world asunder.

I can’t deny that I didn’t welcome the shaking sensation of watching it all fall. And I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it as I sat back and watched every bit of this perfect, little bubble I had spent so long surrounding myself in, fall to pieces, like watching a movie unfold. I knew the outcome, the result of it all. And I loved every minute of it.

Read the full story here.


One of the books our III formers, preparing for their Junior Certificate, are studying, is Bernard MacLaverty's novel Cal. Here, Sophie Millar has written an alternative ending ...

Friday, May 23, 2008

LC Composition

VI form are currently preparing for the Leaving Cert English exam, and the first test in all subjects is the language Paper 1 on Wednesday 4th June. This features the key Composing section, worth 100 marks (25% of the whole exam).

Dylan Stewart recently wrote a practice piece based on his experience of acting in our November production of Brian Friel's
Dancing at Lughnasa, in which he played the part of Father Jack Mundy, the eccentric relative recently returned from Uganda to Ballybeg in Co Donegal in 1936. Our reviewer at the time was Katie Murphy.

Dylan writes : I yearned and longed for that moment when I walked out onto the stage; bare but for my character, stripped and vulnerable in front of a huge room occupied with blank, anticipating faces; waiting for me to entertain them, to guide them through the play, to prove my worth. That strange euphoria of being so exposed.

As these feelings swelled up and fluttered inside me, beneath my costume, I tried to get into character. I was Father Jack; the estranged, older brother to a family of five young Donegal women in Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa. Returning home sick with malaria from my post as a priest living among a colony of pagan leapers, I was alien to my former life in Donegal. I was groggy with illness; the malaria along with the extended period of time which I had spent away from Ireland had left my memory of both faces and the English language a little sub-standard. I was a slightly complex character, to say the least.

Click here for the full essay.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Abeba, by Ribka Sibhatu

Our 29th Poem of the Week was suggested by III former Winta Bairu. It was written by the Eritrean poet Ribka Sibhatu, and is here translated into English from the original Tigrinya (it will also feature in our Voices of Poetry evening on Sunday).

'Abeba' starts :

Measured and subtle
As her make-up
And her finely drawn eyes,
She spoke like poetry

The food her family sent
To prison every day
Arrived as usual.
The day her grave was dug
I heard her cry.

(continued, with biographical details)

Winta writes :

Eritrean poetry has 4,000 years of tradition. These poems are mainly about love, war, family. The War of Independence (1961-1993) struck many hearts and also inspired many poets. The War of Independence was when Eritreans tried to break away from Ethiopia.

One young female poet is Saba Kidane. She is an activist who speaks of devastations, deprivations and hope. Reesom Haile is another popular poet. He wrote poetry on the resistance and the global dimension of the struggle of humanity. Another poet who lifts post-war voices is Ribka Sibhatu, who wrote the featured poem, 'Abeba'. It is a depressing yet beautiful poem set in the time of the War of Independence. This gorgeous poem was written in the perspective of a cell-mate speaking of his or her memory of Abeba. I find it a shame that stunning poems like this aren't regular poems that you come across, just because it is in another language.

Read here the poet's own words about this poem.

This is our 400th post.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Yesterday Evening

We marked William Trevor's 80th birthday yesterday evening (the actual birthday is later in the week), with a gathering of friends, parents, visitors and pupils. After a reception in Whitehall, Ninian Falkiner (former Head of History) gave a brief talk on the history of the College, visiting the Dining Hall, Cloisters and Chapel (pictured left) on the way.

Then we met in the upper room of the Cadogan Music Building, and listened to a thoroughly absorbing talk by Ian Steepe on Trevor's connection with St Columba's as seen through his writing. He began by reading from and discussing the essay 'Leaving School' which was first published in the London Magazine in 1964, and also examined the short stories 'A School Story' (from The Day We Got Drunk on Cake), 'Going Home' (from The Ballroom of Romance) and two versions of headmasters' wives - 'The Warden's Wife' from the 1993 biographical sketch collection Excursions in the Real World, and the wife in the short story 'O Fat White Woman'.

After the talk there was a good deal of discussion about Trevor's writing, and then plenty of time spent chatting in the exhibition of first editions, other books, and extracts set up by our Librarian, Tom McConville.

Monday, May 19, 2008

William Trevor this evening

There is a handful of places left at our William Trevor celebration this evening (upstairs in the Cadogan Music Building). Full details here.

Here's our timeline of William Trevor's life and works (widget from Dipity; click on the 'flags' at the bottom of the line for more details, and zoom in and out using the slider at the top)

Friday, May 16, 2008

II Form Poems

Here are some short, 'haiku-type' poems, written by II formers in Mr Canning's set :

Rebecca Tidey :

In the dark forest
The luminous pink sky
Brings nature to life once more.

Lucy Mantle :

Darkness starts to creep,
Shadows begin to fade,
Stars shine like pearls in the night.

Kyung-Min Kim :

Green leaves are ready
To turn into dark red fire
And burn the ground.

Here are all the poems, including one by a somewhat more elderly poet ...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Aine : Poem of the Week

Our 28th Poem of the Week is 'Aine' by Bernard O'Donoghue, a poignant memorial to a baby who died aged five months. O'Donoghue's newly published Selected Poems has now arrived in the Library, the subject of another post recently.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Drama Prizes, 2008

Congratulations to the winner of the Senior Drama Prize, Jessica Young (for her work as Christina Mundy in November's production of Dancing at Lughnasa), and to the winner of the Junior Prize, Anna Traill (for her performance in the title role in Antigone by Sophocles, in last term's production).

Monday, May 12, 2008

William Trevor

Next week we will mark William Trevor Cox's 80th birthday with a tour and talk (Monday 19th, from 7pm, full details here).

Meanwhile, VI former Lewis Mathews, who will shortly be tackling his Leaving Certificate, has written an essay on two of Trevor's books based on schools : the early novel The Old Boys, and the Old School Ties, a 1970s collection of fictional and autobiographical pieces (now out of print) :-

I enormously enjoyed reading The Old Boys. Although one could use words such as mordant, gruesome or disturbing to describe the novel I found myself at times hysterical, driven to laughter by Trevor’s black humour. Whatever you say about this book, it is funny, albeit in the darkest of ways. As in the Ivy Compton-Burnett novels that Trevor is alleged to have perused when writing The Old Boys, a large amount of the humour comes from the characters talking to each other with exaggerated formality in hilarious dialogues.

Read Lewis's full essay here.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Brian Turner audio and video

Further to our recent post about the American soldier-poet Brian Turner and his fine book Here, Bullet, here are some audio links to readings from that book on the site From the Fishouse: an audio archive of emerging poets. This, for instance, is his powerful long poem about Iraq, '2000 lbs'. Below, a YouTube video of him reading the book's title poem:

My First Home

One of the titles on our TY Work Portfolio list is 'My First Home', which often draws effective personal responses. Here, Alec Cherry writes about his own first home, Allandale:

In the summer Jack and I would come home from school, and often play hide and seek in the field in front of our pink house. We loved to play in the field in the summer because the grass was taller than us. Later in the summer the local farmer would come up in his red tractor and cut the grass. Jack and I would run out and jump onto the tractor. When the grass was cut it was left to dry and then he would come back to bale the hay. I missed the long grass but loved the hay bales that we used to climb on, and run around.

Read Alec's full memory piece here.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Poem of the Week : 'Home'

Our 27th Poem of the Week is I former Kezia Wright's 'Home', previously posted here, with her own illustration.

Last Night our II form cast revived their production of King Chicken at the East Glendalough One-Act drama festival in Wicklow.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Poem and the Journey

Evan Jameson recommends Ruth Padel's book The Poem and the Journey (and sixty poems to read along the way); click here for more, from Padel's own site. This is a kind of sequel to her 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem. Among the 60 poems are analyses of 'Brazil, January 1, 1502' by Elizabeth Bishop, 'Blackbird' by R.S. Thomas, 'Serious' by James Fenton and 'Child Burial' by Paula Meehan.

Evan writes :

And suddenly, poetry is hugely popular! More and more people attend readings; anthologies of favourite poems top best-seller lists. Collections with titles like Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times and One Hundred Poems to Keep You Sane testify to a growing belief that poems provide some kind of respite from the frequently bewildering pace and complexity of the twenty-first century world. Ruth Padel’s The Poem and the Journey is the latest attempt to promote poetry as a worthwhile place to spend a few minutes of one’s day. But it goes a step further than its predecessors by investigating the complex constructions of well-crafted verse.

Read Evan's full detailed review here.

Willis Shakespeare Prize winner

Congratulations to the winner of the Willis Memorial Prize for Knowledge of Shakespeare, Crispin Maenpaa. The examination was held recently, involving analysis of a play and a sonnet, and a general essay on the plays.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Garden

Now another in the series of essays, stories and discussions currently being written by Transition Year pupils as they complete their Work Portfolios (by late May). Philip Kidd's piece 'The Garden' starts:

I am sitting in the dead centre of a vast lawn, and it is spring. I am admiring the lush gardens to my left and right, the forest, respawning once again for another year of sun, rain and snow. I am taking an interest in the animals around me like the birds, the creatures of the undergrowth, and the insects. This tripod chair is comfortable, but it keeps me on the edge. I cannot lean back, so it keeps me alert. Otherwise I’d fall asleep while writing this: it’s part of a draft. A draft I hope will become my book on Irish springtime wildlife. Just kidding. But I am growing fond of the idea.

Later in this piece, things take a chilling turn, throwing a disconcerting light on everything you have read.

Friday, May 02, 2008

William Trevor at 80

We are delighted to announce our own celebration of the work of William Trevor, in the week of his 80th birthday later in May. On Monday 19th May, there will be a talk (with discussion) on Trevor's work by Old Columban Ian Steepe (himself a former English teacher) in the College. This will be preceded by a wine reception at 7pm in the main house, and a short tour of the College's older buildings by archivist and former history teacher Ninian Falkiner. Visitors can thus get a sense of the environment which strongly influenced much of William Trevor's writing.

Places for this event are open to the public, and are free, but are limited and must be pre-booked, either through the College office at 01-490 6791 or by email through scc 'dot' english 'at' yahoo 'dot' ie (fill in correct format). More details are available here.

Today we go on a weekend Exodus break, resuming on Tuesday morning.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

TY Academic Prize

Congratulations to Fiona Boyd, on sharing the Transition Year Academic Prize after the presentations on Tuesday evening in the BSR. The external judge was Professor Geoff Clayton of the Geology Department of TCD.

Fiona's topic was the relationship between Othello and Shakespeare's main source for the tragedy, Giraldi Cinthio's Hecatommithi (1565), and why Shakespeare made the changes he did (click here for a summary of Cinthio's tale). We studied Othello last term with TY. The other joint winner was Regina Yanke with a presentation on genetically-modified organisms.

'Fearing Feelings', 'Places'

Two more poems from the recent Junior Poetry Prize competition, this time by Olivia Plunket:

Fearing Feelings

Rivers of tears,

Forests of thoughts,

The ocean is our mind

Forever crashing and changing;

Mountains of fears,

Lakes of sorrow;

These places are our feelings,

They contain our memories

And long lost moments.

We go to these places

To remind ourselves

How we used to love.


Let’s start the journey,

Take ourselves everywhere, anywhere,

Run as far as we can see,

Swim until we can no longer feel,

And learn to fly, to reach the stars.

We'll go places, and we'll find places,

New or old,

Far or near,

So let’s begin the journey we never started,