Friday 23 March 2018

Eat my shorts! Is it time to study 'The Simpsons' and Basil Fawlty in schools?

From next year, students will have to give speeches as part of the radical new English syllabus, writes Kim Bielenberg

The Simpsons
The Simpsons
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

The public has spoken, and it seems that lovers of English want pupils to study the teachings of Basil Fawlty and Homer Simpson.

They may seem like long shots, but these are among the suggestions from members of the public for the new Junior Cycle syllabus.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) has recently asked for suggestions for recommended texts that could be analysed by students in the early years of second-level school.

While many online posters suggest familiar works that have cropped up in schools for generations – including To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee and Animal Farm by George Orwell – one recommended Fawlty Towers.

The BBC sitcom starring John Cleese has long been a mainstay of the TV schedules, but has yet to be given the same importance as Shakespeare plays like Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet in schools.

At certain moments, Basil Fawlty could sound poetic, such as the time when a guest at his Torquay Hotel complained about the view from his room.

"Well, may I ask what madam was expecting to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom? Sydney Opera House? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain?"

One teacher who was involved in the consultation process for the new Junior Cycle syllabus was sceptical about the feasablility of Basil Fawlty studies.

Michael Doherty, an English teacher at Scoil Mhuire in Buncrana, says: "I showed it to a first year class in order to look at the dialogue and they just didn't get the humour at all."

Other suggestions for study on the new Junior Cycle syllabus include The Simpsons, Monty Python and the novel Gangsta Granny by the comedian David Walliams.

Curriculum planners are finalising the list of recommended texts for the new English syllabus, which will start in first year of second-level schools next autumn.

While Basil Fawlty and Homer Simpson may be vetoed, curriculum officials are to take the hugely-popular Suzanne Collins novel The Hunger Games more seriously.

The Hunger Games is on the list of suggestions, along with another Suzanne Collins book Gregor and the Code of Claw.

Hal O'Neill of the NCCA says: "There are recommendations for fantasy fiction, which a lot of readers in this age group read and enjoy. They appeal to boys and girls, and a lot of them are well written.

"We want to encourage the study of as wide a range of texts as possible."

There are also a number of suggestions for Shakespeare, who is likely to be featured strongly on the new syllabus.

"Shakespeare will be just as important as he is at present," says Hal O'Neill. "He is everywhere in the culture in theatre, film and text. We encourage students to experience and enjoy the richness of his work in all its forms."

After asking for suggestions, the NCCA is likely to produce a list of recommended texts including novels, drama and poetry. Students will also study news articles, blogs, speeches and film.

English will be the first subject to receive an overhaul as part of the radical Junior Cycle reforms.

Under the current plans, which are due to be finalised, 60pc of the assessment for the course will be based on a two-hour final exam, while 40pc of the assessment will be based on school work that will be marked by teachers.

There will be a new emphasis on oral skills on the new course. According to the draft syllabus, students will learn about the variety of tone, eye contact, pausing and gestures.

They will learn how to "speak with confidence", ask for information, inform others, give opinions and speculate.

Students will have to give an oral presentation that will be marked as part of the school-based assessment.

The idea of a presentation has attracted some criticism, but Hal O'Neill says: "The focus will be on researching a topic over time. It will not have to be a big production. Presentation is an important skill."

One of the key changes in the new English syllabus will be the introduction of portfolios of students' writing.

Students will build up a collection of their personal writing and eventually one of these piece will be assessed.

These portfolios may be stored digitally, but the new syllabus is likely to allow schools to keep the material in hard copies as well.

Teachers have reservations about some of the changes on the new syllabus. They are particulary concerned about their involvement in assessment and the collection of portfolios for each student.

Michael Doherty, a teacher at Scoil Mhuire, says: "There is a lot to be welcomed in the plans, but many teachers do not like the idea of assessing their own students. It brings a whole new set of pressures, especially in a small town where you know everybody."

Teachers are also fearful of the administrative workload that will be required to build portfolios of writing for each student.

Michael Doherty says: "It is being rushed through too quickly at a time when there are cutbacks in resources and class sizes are growing."

"If you have a class of 30 that means you will have to have 30 portfolios. If you are teaching four junior cycle classes, that could mean 120 portfolios that have to be monitored on a daily basis."

Irish Independent

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