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? 

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Hurrah! A first place in the HKSMSA. How we did it

I had a wonderful piece of news from one of my students today: she had won first place in one of the poetry reading categories of the HK Schools Speech festival.

Here are some of the reasons why:


1: She knew her poem. This sounds basic but it is easy to forget words under stress unless you know them back to front, inside out and upside down! Choose a poem which offers you scope.

2: We talked about the meaning of the poem. Unless you understand the theme and story of the poem, it is almost impossible to convey the meaning.

3: We worked and worked to add variety of pace, pitch and volume. A poem is a conversation between the poet and the audience which is interpreted by the reader. Make your listeners want to happen by adding colour.


Most importantly, she practiced! A lot.

A wonderful student who worked incredibly hard and received an excellent reward. Even if you don't win, entering the competition with the three key steps in mind will ensure that you have learned a valuable lesson and acquired some skills which will last forever.

Monday, 30 June 2014

How to ace the HK Schools' Speech Festival (HKSMSA)

We have had a few requests for lessons at Brandon this week which have reminded me that the HK Schools' Speech Festival is on the horizon again! I did my first speech festival a LONG time ago but the general concept hasn't changed.

Here are a few things to be thinking about:

Classes - there are so many options to consider. I particularly like teaching Bible Speaking as I feel that, to excel in this area, the speaker really needs to understand the verses in question. The HKSMSA website has the syllabus up already: Have a look here for the different classes

Get the right piece! It sounds obvious but last year at Brandon Learning Centre, we had five students who came in with incorrect versions of their poems. The source of the poem is specified in the HKSMSA syllabus. If you choose prose reading classes, you will also need to get hold of a copy of the book.

Memorisation - once you have your piece, the first step is to understand the texts. The second step is to memorise it. Memorisation without meaning might mean that your child begins with confused phrasing.

More ideas to follow... have fun choosing!

Friday, 13 June 2014

Reflections on a life: The Spoon River Anthology

The Spoon River Anthology is a fascinating collection of poems by Edgar Lee Masters. The conceit is simple; the poet moves through a graveyard and the lives and regrets of villagers are told in poetic form. Each poem has a clear voice and the interplay between the characters is fascinating.

Amongst the most moving poems for me is that of George Grey. The narrator speaks of the anguish caused by his lack of engagement. Fear of failure or hurt holds us back and can prevent us from realising our potential and achieving happiness. Any enterprise we undertake will have the potential to go wrong but it is from our mistakes and experiences that we achieve actualisation.

George Grey - from Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters

I have studied many times 
The marble which was chiseled for me— 
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor. 
In truth it pictures not my destination 
But my life.     
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment; 
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid; 
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances. 
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life. 
And now I know that we must lift the sail  
And catch the winds of destiny 
Wherever they drive the boat. 
To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness, 
But life without meaning is the torture 
Of restlessness and vague desire— 
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.