Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Finding happiness through the eyes of children

I had a miserable day yesterday which changed dramatically when I found this fabulous picture on my desk. The picture (and flattery, take it where you can!) reminded me that sometimes we need to stop taking life so seriously and live more in the moment. Children have a real gift for spontaneity and we should cherish it. Learning and educating goes both ways!
My instant cheer up present from Akuri!

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

My Holiday Memory Journal - a summer activity for students

Remember your childhood holidays? Apparently the sun shone every day, happiness abounded and every day was an adventure. What was the reality? A quick wander through the records for 1980s Ireland reveals that our corner of Kerry had a 24 hour rainfall of 106mm and extensive flooding during an August I remember as being particularly sunny.

Summer project: A memory book for holidays. Cheap, easy and a way of helping your son or daughter to build confidence (and fill those rainy days!)

Step one: Get a plan A4 exercise book. The first project is to cover the book in plain paper and decorate the covers. Use colours, felt-tips, pictures... be creative!

Step two: decide on what to include. Each day can have a different focus such as:

food (stick in menus, pictures, restaurant reviews);

friends - get new friends to sign the book (this is a terrific confidence booster!);

short stories or poems based on what you see out of your window;

pictures of the view from your room/hotel/tent;

descriptions of what you see, and of course...

the weather! (temperature)

If you can't decide on your topic for the day, put all the ideas in a hat and pull one out.

REMEMBER: this is your child's experience and does not have to be a parent-perfect production!
On your return, show the book around and relive the experiences

Memories can fade but journals do not!

Friday, 3 July 2015

Thank you all. PhD Ceremony at Durham University

Common wisdom has it that it takes a village to raise a child. With a slight adaptation; it takes a world to create a PhD Candidate! My studies would never have been possible without the support of my family, friends and the blessings of God. I have learned so much and will continue to see that I have much to strive for, In the meantime... thank you, thank you, thank you. 

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

13+/Common Entrance English - Choosing your essay

As our Brandon students count down to the 13+ exam (most of our girls sat the exam in Spring but we have a very determined group of Harrow candidates who will certainly do well!) I would like to offer some advice on the English paper.

The first English paper ('Literary prose') offers a prose comprehension followed by a structured writing task. Candidates have the option of writing a directed piece (speeches/magazine articles/diaries) or reflecting on literature. The majority of our students choose the first option and this advice is directed towards them:

1: Read the question carefully, underline the key words.

2: Be aware of the structure of the piece you are being asked to write. Make sure that you have the correct format in mind (e.g. if you are writing an article, have you included an introduction and conclusion?)

3: Think about the level of language you need to maintain: a diary entry can be informal language whereas a letter to a Head needs to be formal. Speeches will need persuasive language.

4: What are you being asked to share with your audience? A diary entry might require you to expose your feelings, a magazine article will need anecdotes.

Once you have finished writing, re-read your piece and refer back to the question to ensure that the finished product and the requirements match.

Good luck!

Friday, 3 April 2015

13+ Last minute hints

To all our Brandon 13+ candidates! Tips to ensure that your answer matches the questions

1: Underline the key words in the question. Ask yourself what the question requires of you.
2: Check the marking scheme, don't waste time on a one mark answer
3: Look for recognisable instructions: describe, analyse, compare
4: Is the question asking HOW something happens or WHY?
5: As you are answering, refer back to the question to make sure that you are on track.

Read carefully... Don't panic!

Monday, 16 March 2015

Poetry for families for Saint Patrick's Day!

At this time of year, on the Feast of Saint Patrick, we should be celebrating everything which is good about our country. My favourites are: our family ties, our incredible contribution to literature and our relish for and resilience to the absurdities of life.

Everyone will have their own memories and recollections of growing up in Ireland; running along a beach in the rain and returning home to the scent of the peat fire and warmth. For me, this poem encapsulates our childhood joys and dreams and the experiences I hope to pass on. For children or the diaspora who are living outside Ireland, read this for your parents or grandparents and share in their memories and love of our land.

Irish Children - An Dara-Leabhar (Gaelic League)

Happy Irish children,
In your home below,
Sheltered when the rain falls,
Safe from winter's snow.

Sing your songs of gladness
In your grand old speech,
Climb the sunny hillside,
Race along the beach.

Nowhere greener pastures,
Nowhere browner hills,
Nowhere bluer rivers,
Fed by sparking rills.

This is holy Ireland
Where our father trod,
This is the land where Patrick
Told them first of God.

Love her, do not leave her,
O'er the world to roam;
Ireland needs her children -
Work for her at home.

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!

Friday, 27 February 2015

Concert Rage in Hong Kong - What is happening to our society?

Air rage.. road rage.. and now concert rage? 

Last night I attended the wonderful first night of the 43rd Hong Kong Arts Festival. The Arts Festival is an annual treat during which we have the opportunity to experience masterly and challenging performances from the worlds' most talented artists. Last night's performance by Christian Thielemann and the Staatskapelle Dresden was exquisite. The programme opened with Strauss's Metamorphosen, a poignant reflection on war and a memorial for a world destroyed during the bombing of Europe in World War Two about which the composer wrote: “2000 years of cultural evolution had met its doom, and irreplaceable monuments of architecture and works of art were destroyed by a criminal soldiery.”

A phenomenal opportunity and an evening which generated reflection on man's ability to create and destory? Yes.. but not provoked by Strauss's music. 

In the dying moments of the Metamorphosen, an over-enthusiastic member of the audience decides to start clapping. Shocking? Yes. Worse than the ignoramuses who don't turn off their mobile phones? (Yes, Mrs Government-sponsored seat occupant in the front rows of the stalls, looking at you...) Possibly. Pause for the final notes to die away.. Conductor Christian Thielemann, his arms suspended in the air, holds both the orchestra and the audience in thrall... CLAP! The silence is shattered by the same man applauding again. The performance ends but the enchantment is diminished. The orchestra files off and the audience rises. But wait.. the dulcet tones of the interval announcement are offset by the harsh bellowing of a middle aged man in the balcony, shouting in fury at the pre-emptive clapper. "You ruined the performance for us all. You should leave now". the clapper shouts back. The protester continues, his voice gaining in confidence and strength. An innocuous looking man in a blue checked shirt, he is incandescent with rage. The older, beige clad clapper, is a man who would also vanish in a crowd but is standing his ground. The audience take sides. In response to a heartfelt "you have spoiled the concert," they erupt into a round of applause which rivals that received by the orchestra only minutes before. 

Extraordinary! What possible explanation could there be on both sides? Maybe the clapper was a novice concert-goer, carried away with enthusiasm? Maybe the man in the checked shirt had been anticipating the evening for months? Maybe he had been pushed to the brink of tolerance by the chirping of phones surrounding him? Is such fury ever permissible? Music and culture provide respite for us in a world of chaos and negativity. Through music, we experience every emotion and seek understanding of what has become an incomprehensible environment. 

Maybe we have all lost the ability to consider and respect other people. Do we really think of the impact on those who surround us before we get out our phones, or rustle our programmes? Are we tolerant of those who maybe don't know the rules of attending performances? The man in the checked shirt spoke for many in the audience (including me) and his bravery was saluted but really, was it justifiable? If we make culture inaccessible for those who don't know the rules, aren't we destroying it just as surely as if we destroyed an opera house?