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 cafĂ© 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...