Mixed response to revised Junior Certificate English paper

Iris Andrade, Hannah Murphy and Tara Casey at Ballincollig Community School, Co Cork.

The landmark first examination of a revised junior cycle English course was deemed appropriate by teachers after it was taken by most of this year’s 62,000 Junior Certificate students.

Following complaints about time constraints in mock exams, Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) spokesperson Liz Farrell said students she met were calm and pleased with the time allocation despite anxiety beforehand.

For the first time, all Junior Certificate students sit a single two-hour paper and there is no longer a foundation-level option.

Ms Farrell said the higher- level paper took a skills-based approach and anything examined was clearly flagged in the curriculum.

While there was no question about a novel, she said it was clear in advance that not all literary modes would necessarily be examined. This was more of a concern for Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) spokesperson Kate Barry, who felt students who enjoyed and were well prepared on The Lord of the Flies or To Kill a Mockingbird would have been disappointed not to be able to demonstrate their knowledge.

Ms Farrell noted and welcomed the re-emergence of a question on grammar, which was about the apostrophe. She praised the inclusion of a comprehension based on an RTÉ radio documentary, something she said tested the oral component of the classroom-based assessment, one of the new aspects of the junior cycle.

She also was pleased with the visual literacy in the paper, such as a requirement to critically analyse a poster for the movie Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them. Although some students might have struggled on it, this was an example of it being a skills-based exam.

Ms Barry felt that another higher-level question, asking what they would include in a movie poster to advertise a film of a Shakespeare play, was unusual. It was unclear, she felt, if it was about making a poster or about their knowledge of a play, which might have been better.

The ordinary-level paper was considered by Ms Barry to give students a lot of open questions. One, for example, allowed them take the role of a chat show host interviewing someone about their passion. They could answer one question about any short story or novel they studied.

Ms Farrell felt a question on a graphic novel was something students might not have come across before and thought asking them to write an email unusual when so few 15-year-olds use email.

But, she said, the exam rewarded what they do themselves in school, rather than what they learn in text books. She really liked a poetry question asking them to make a short online film based on a poem of their choice about following your passions.

The common-level exam in CSPE (civic, social and political education) is taken by all Junior Certificate students, although it is due to be phased out as the subject becomes integrated into the new second-level wellbeing programme.

ASTI’s Bernadette Brennan said the coverage of all seven concepts of the CSPE course in yesterday’s exam pleased students and teachers alike. The second section included topics favoured by students, like sustainable development in the work of Concern and Fairtrade.

She said they also got to answer questions on the very topical Census 2016.

TUI CSPE spokesperson Brendan Green also received very positive feedback, but felt one short question looking for the surname of new UN secretary general António Guterres was a rare challenging point in the opening section.

He agreed with the wide range of concepts examined, but felt it might be seen to have been light on human rights issues.

He felt that asking students to write a tweet to encourage the purchase of fair trade goods might have wrongly assumed that absolutely every teenager uses or is familiar with Twitter. But the final section with an emphasis on student action was broadly fair, with topics like older people’s organisation Age Action, the Earth Hour event and crime.

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