Four favourite poets brighten the day for students
Students approach the Leaving Certificate English Paper Two with apprehension, with much worry and wonder about whether their favourite poets will come up. They did! Teachers and students seemed pretty pleased all around after the second day of the State exams. Katherine Donnelly rounds up the main talking points from yesterday's papers
The appearance of the "four most popular, most expected and most desired poets on the course" helped to make Leaving Certificate English Higher Level Paper Two "near perfect", according to one teacher.
There they were: John Montague, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Robert Frost and Thomas Hardy. It was "the kindest, most user-friendly selection in decades", according to Jim Lusby of the Institute of Education.
Mr Lusby said it did much to take the tension that many students feel out of their study of poetry.
"In all cases, the critical quotations offered for discussion covered ground that was familiar enough to be reassuring and subtle enough to be challenging. One can't ask any more of exam questions," he said.
Fintan O'Mahony of Scoil Mhuire, Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary and the Association of Secondary Teachers' Ireland (ASTI), agreed that there were four very good questions on the poets. He added that "nobody could argue that the questions here didn't allow for plenty of analysis".
While they were prescribed poets, Mr O'Mahony also described the unseen poetry section as "fine".
The Shakespeare play in the single text section was 'Othello' and Mr Lusby described the questions on the consequences of the implied weakness of the female characters, Desdemona and Emilia, and the implied simplicities of a macho military society as thought-provoking and adept at matching the relevance of the 17th-Century drama to the issues of our own time.
He said questions on the other single texts, including 'The Great Gatsby' and 'Never Let Me Go', "showed the same balanced sensitivity to the complexities of the texts and the responses of the students and were equally thought-provoking and complex".
Mr O'Mahony welcomed the appearance of female characters in the 'Othello' questions, but he thought the other question on 'values in Othello' might have taken some more thought from students.
He regarded the themes and issue questions in the comparative study section as heavier than usual. "Asking about idealism versus realism in the texts studied requires a long answer with a very good plan and asking about how surprised or shocked a theme left a reader leaves little room for not being surprised or shocked."
But he regarded the literary genre questions as "far better - allowing students to write about the texts without the questions getting in the way".
Mr Lusby thought that, in all cases, the questions in the comparative study section were sensitively phrased to stimulate specific comparisons between texts.
For instance, he said: "Some authors can make more skilful use of the same literary techniques than others. The result was a section that was, in itself, genuinely comparative, and a major improvement on recent years."