Junior Cert English: Students challenged to think rather than regurgitate

Mixed reaction to the first paper of the new Junior Cycle English curriculum

Leaving and Junior Cert students at Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Clontarf, Dublin talk about their first day of exams.

 

There has been a mixed reaction to the first paper of the new Junior Cycle English curriculum, with some teachers praising a move away from rote learning and regurgitation to one which requires students to think critically and others stating that the best students are not being given a chance to shine.

Liz Farrell, TUI representative and a teacher at Coláiste Eoin in Hacketstown, Co Carlow, said that the new paper followed the expected format.

When third-year students across the country sat the English mock exams earlier this year, students had expressed concern - if not outright panic - that there wasn’t enough time allowed to finish the paper, but Ms Farrell said that the State Examinations Commission had followed through on their promise that students would have ample time.

“The students were asked to look at a wide variety of texts and genres in line with the sample papers,” said Ms Farrell. “The paper challenges students to take their knowledge and apply in a different way. “They have to use a lot of higher order thinking.”

Some particularly novel elements of the higher-level paper included a section on grammar, questions built around a word cloud and questions on stagecraft.

Notably, there was no question on a novel despite the fact that students would have studied one.

Maeve Hackett, a teacher at St Joseph’s Secondary School in Drogheda, said that students were disappointed with this and that there was too much emphasis on media studies and not enough on literature. Much of what appeared on the paper was not sufficiently challenging for the brightest students and yet, she said, they did not have enough time. Ms Hackett expressed concern that there are not enough linkages between the new Junior Cycle and the existing Leaving Cert curriculums.

“There were no amazing shocks or unusual surprises here,” said Anne Gormley, an English teacher at Laurel Hill Colaiste in Limerick. “All the girls came out with happy, smiling faces and said they managed all the questions well.

There was a distinct emphasis on avoiding rote type answers. Rather than writing copious notes on prescribed texts the questions simply asked students to respond clearly to the material on the actual exam paper. It seems to be challenging a student to think for themselves.”

Students had previously written an essay on what they learned from the process of drafting and editing, and this counts for ten per cent of their marks.

The ordinary level English paper included questions on a graphic novel, which will have been somewhat new to a lot of students, said Ms Farrell.

“They were also asked to write an email and a lot of students that age would be more familiar with other forms of communication like Snapchat and Facebook. Students were asked to talk about a short film they would make based on a poem, and this is something they would have been well prepared for. It was perfectly pitched.”

However, Ms Hackett said that most ordinary level students in her school left half an hour before the exam was finished, suggesting it may not have been sufficiently challenging.