Learning

Monday 28 July 2014

Here is your homework for tonight -- watch School of Rock

From blogs to Brontë, the English syllabus in second-level schools will dramatically change this year, writes Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Published 08/01/2014|02:30

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In ‘School of Rock’, jobless musician Dewey Finn, played by Jack Black, pretends to be a teacher

The introduction of a new English syllabus in the early years of second level and the start of the phasing out of the Junior Cert will be the most significant changes in schools this year.

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Just before Christmas the new English syllabus for the junior cycle was quietly published without much fanfare. It will start in first year in schools in September.

Certain features will be familiar, including the study of a Shakespeare play at higher level, as well as novels and poems. In other ways it will break new ground.

In English, and eventually in other subjects, students will no longer just be assessed on a final exam.

The exam at the end of third year will make up 60pc of the assessment, and the rest will be based on school work, moderated by teachers.

One of the main changes is a new emphasis on oral presentation skills, as well as the more traditional reading and writing skills.

Students will learn how to ask for information, state an opinion, argue, persuade and criticise.

For the first time, oral skills in English will be included in the final assessment. At the end of second year, the student will make a presentation.

The new syllabus states: "Students are given an opportunity to choose a topic or issue that is of interest or importance to them and carry out an exploration over time.

"The development of basic research skills will be central here, eg searching for information, reading and note-making, organising material. . . developing a point of view, preparing a presentation, using props and hand-outs."

These presentation skills will be assessed by teachers in school.

Another important innovation in the new English curriculum is the collection of student essays and texts. This will be similar in some ways to an art portfolio. The collection, which will be assessed, can be presented in a wide range of formats from hand-written to digital.

The texts could be a variety of types of text -- a letter, report, review or blog.

The collection will be built up over time with regular feedback from teachers. By Christmas in third year, a number of texts will be chosen for assessment. This will be done internally.

English is one of only three subjects -- the others are Irish and maths -- where there will be a state-moderated exam. Overall, there will be much less emphasis on exams.

The new English curriculum states: "Assessment is most effective when it moves beyond marks and grades to provide detailed feedback that focuses not just on how the student has done in the past but on the next steps for further learning."

The grading system for the oral presentation and collection of writings will be different to the traditional A, B, C grades. The grades will be: 'Achieved with Distinction'; 'Achieved with Higher Merit'; 'Achieved with Merit'; 'Achieved'; and 'Not Achieved'.

The range of novels prescribed for study is broad. They range from Animal Farm by George Orwell and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, to modern works like The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly and The Dare by John Boyne.

In second or third year, schools may study a film, choosing from a list that includes School of Rock, ET, and Bend it Like Beckham.

In School of Rock, Jack Black plays an unemployed musician who impersonates a substitute teacher to get a job at a school. He then inspires students to form a rock band.

Teachers have mixed feel-ings about the Junior Cycle innovations.

"There are a lot of good things in the new Junior Cycle programme and we hope it will help to engage students," says Bernie Judge, education and research officer at the Teachers' Union of Ireland." However we also have a lot of reservations about its implementation."

The most common complaint is about the assessment system that will be used. Until now, students have largely been assessed using state exams, but now the focus will switch to school-based moderation.

Judge says: "Many teachers are reluctant to assess their own students, and there are fears that there will be variations in standards between schools."

With the majority of students staying on for the Leaving Cert, the Junior Cycle exams are not as important a qualification as they once were, and they are often described as "low-stakes exams".

However, Judge explains: "The assessment still needs to be credible. You have to recognise that 15pc of students still leave after the Junior Cycle.

"It also has to be reliable, because students have to make decisions about subject choices in the Leaving Cert."

There is also concern among teachers that the in-service training for the new Junior Cycle curriculum is inadequate.

English teachers are only receiving three days of in- service training in each subject over three years.

One of the innovations of the new programme is the introduction of a wide variety of short courses. These could include Chinese language and culture, artistic performance, computer coding and digital media literacy.

Judge adds that there is some concern that smaller schools may lose out, because they will be unable to provide the widest possible variety of courses.

A doggone good course

Students will be able to do a course in looking after dogs or other animals as a subject in the new Junior Cycle.

Caring for animals is one of the new short courses that will be available this year. It is aimed at students with learning difficulties.

According to a draft syllabus, the 100-hour course could include:

* Working out an exercise plan to benefit both dogs and their owners.

* Planning and designing a menu for a healthy diet for a dog.

* Safe practice including the need to safeguard others from potential harm from pets.

* Demonstrating good practice when walking with a dog.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment says in its draft plan that the course will help students to develop social and practical skills.

Assessment for the course is done in school.

Whiteboard jungle

Is it time for a dress code for teachers in Irish schools? Politicians could ensure that staff in the classroom observe strict sartorial rules.

That seems to be the plan in Russia, according to the Times Educational Supplement.

Under plans being drawn up by a parliamentary committee, women will be prohibited from wearing skirts that are "too short", necklines that are "too deep" and make-up that is "too bright".

Penalties for failing to adhere to the proposed rules could include appearing on a "wall of shame". That would certainly amuse students.

Perhaps students could send teachers home if they are deemed to be too scruffy.

There is little mention of what rules apply to men under this Russian plan.

Will they be stopped from wearing shorts, and arriving with plunging necklines?

Irish Independent

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