A hands-free approach to teaching. (2013)
This article, written by Róisín Ingle, appeared in the Irish Times on 12th October, 2013.
Maggie Owens is one of those teachers fizzing with ideas, the kind that carries everyone else along with her enthusiasm, the type who shakes things up.
Wearing a bright purple dress and leopard-print heels, she is organising students at St Mary's School for Deaf Girls in Dublin into different groups for their first No Pens Day, which took place earlier this week.
The school hall atmosphere is giddy, expectant. The students and teachers at St Mary's are about to embark on an interesting experiment: what happens when an entire school bans the use of pens for a day?
No Pens Day is a UK initiative which Owens, a maths teacher, deaf woman and former pupil at St Mary's, decided would work well in their school.
"I learned from the Communication Trust, which pioneered No Pens Day two years ago in Britain, that the average verbal contribution by children in class is surprisingly low," says Owens. "It just made me think."
She added: "Developing expression and communication is hugely important in all schools but especially here.
"We wanted to see what would happen when we took away the pens and came up with more imaginative ways of teaching and learning. The idea is that there will be more communication and a better quality of listening."
One million students took part in the third British event this year, while St Mary's is thought to be the first Irish school to be involved.
The day began with a pen- free roll call during which principal Regina O'Connell asked students for ideas of how she should keep track of her appointments during the day in the absence of a pen. "Use stickers," was one suggestion from the students.
During a PowerPoint presentation in front of her schoolmates,Denise Doran used a photograph of Alan Sugar from The Apprentice to illustrate her point that good communication was essential. "If you don't communicate properly, you get fired," she signed to laughs from her audience.
The 44 students at the school were split up into groups and, in place of conventional classes, attended workshops including drama, maths and English.
In the home economics workshop, they blind-tested own- brand and named-brand crisps and cola to see if they could taste the difference.
In science, there was an "eggsperiment", an air contracting trick where after lit matches were placed in a narrow glass jar, a boiled egg was squeezed through the narrow opening, to gasps of surprise.
The highlight of the day came when acclaimed Dublin performance artist Amanda Coogan, who was brought up signing at home with deaf parents, led the students and teachers in a sign language performance of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.
Coláiste Lurgan became a YouTube hit recently for their Irish renditions of pop songs. This deaf choir may be another sensation-in-waiting. Their beautifully co-ordinated, elegant hand gestures along with some enthusiastic headbanging, breathe new life into a familiar rock classic.
In a week when the Seanad passed a motion to recognise Irish Sign Language as an official language, a motion deaf campaigners hope will be supported by the Government, it was an uplifting moment.
Owens (35) is in her element watching the students. The Kildare woman, the eldest of six, is the only deaf person in her family. She relies on lip-reading and communicates orally as well as with Irish Sign Language.
The mother of two daughters is passionate about the ethos at St Mary's, which she credits with giving her the confidence to pursue a teaching career.
"This school is about supporting each deaf child to reach their full potential," she says.
While acknowledging that the Government's inclusion policy works well for some people - increasing numbers of deaf children are now educated in mainstream schools - she is also critical of the policy.
Lack of resources
"There are deaf people who progress academically in mainstream schools but suffer emotionally and socially," she says. "Other students struggle for reasons such as lack of resources and their potential not being spotted. Sometimes students at a later stage in their education come to St Mary's when mainstream hasn't worked, but "unfortunately their experience may have caused a significant language delay".
The students at St Mary's are full of praise for No Pens Day. Leah Ennis (16) from Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, says it made her feel closer to teachers.
"Because everyone got involved, it wasn't just them and us," she says. Her sister Amy (15) is also impressed.
"When you are not writing things down all the time, you are thinking harder, making more of an effort to remember so I definitely think it's good."
As for Owens and the rest of the teachers at St Mary's, No Pens Day is something they believe all Irish schools should try out next year, "and not just because it means we don't have any marking to do tonight", she laughs.
Dissolving Boundaries (2013)
We are delighted to be involved in Dissolving Boundaries again this year.
We are partnered with St. Malachy's School in Castlewellan, and we have some very exciting plans for joint projects! Stay tuned for more- we will post photos and accounts as our project emerges.
Bye Bye Tree (2013)
On Friday 27th September, 2013, we had to say goodbye to a favourite Ash tree in our school grounds. It is over 150 years old.
The tree is diseased and dangerous, so it was being cut down on Saturday.
Many past students have very fond memories of sitting around the tree, especially around exam time, and of taking the "last" photo there as they left school.
The good news is that we are hoping to keep the stump of the tree and use it as a seat.
We took lots of photos around the tree and you will see them soon on the website!
In Maths, we have been working with sundials, measuring with the shadows cast by the sun.
We put a style in the middle of the dial, then marked lines to show the hours of the day. As the sun casts a shadow on a part of our dial, we can tell the time.
Luckily, we have had sunny weather, so our job was much easier than if it was cloudy!
1A Fulacht Fiadh (2013)
We did a Fulacht Fiadh in May.
Fulacht Fiadh is a Bronze Age way of cooking, in a cooking pit in the ground. Andy helped us by digging a hole at the back of the school. Then we lined the hole with foil, and made a fire with stones. When the stones were hot, we used them to cook our food.
It was delicious!
Junior Cert Results (2013)
On Wednesday morning at 11.00, an excited group of our students gathered in the playhall, anxiously awaiting their Junior Cert results.
The results were fantastic! There were lots of A's and B's! Everybody passed all their subjects- not a single E!
Well done to everybody, all the hard work was worth it, and you are well on the way to achieving your potential!
Tribute to Seamus Heaney (2) (2013)
Our tribute to Seamus Heaney continued this week, with a feature on our Language Board.
Students in St. Mary's have, for many years, enjoyed the poetry of Seamus Heaney. Among their favourites are Blackberry Picking and Mid-Term break.
Student of the Year (2013)
The 2013/2014 Student of the Year is Amanda Farrell.
Mrs. O'Connell spoke of Amanda's helpfulness around the school, and how she is always smiling and in good form. We were all delighted that Amanda got the award. Well done, Amanda, and the best of luck in your future.
A Tribute to Seamus Heaney (2013)
A Tribute to Seamus Heaney
We were deeply saddened on Friday to learn of the death of poet, playwright and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. May he rest in peace.
Here are some recollections of St. Mary's past students on studying the poetry of Seamus Heaney:
"My love for English didn't encompass poetry. I loved books and plays but found poetry tiresome. Midterm Break was different. The picture Seamus painted of his brother's funeral through the surreal perspective memories from childhood have - where everyone is bigger than you and you don't quite understand what's going on - had a huge impact on me. When news of Seamus' death came, my school friends talked about it on Whatsapp while I saw lots of other former St Mary's students mention it on Facebook. It was clear I was far from the only one who remembered what must be one of the most powerful lines from any poem: A four-foot box, a foot for every year. " Cathy
"I loved poetry in school. Mrs Quigley was so passionate about poetry and I think she had instilled the love of poetry onto her students including me. I remember studying Mid-term Break for my Junior Cert and I never forget the line - a four foot box, a foot for every year. It is visually tragic with imagery of a young, confused boy coming home to the wake of his four year old brother who got knocked down by a car. On a sad note Mrs. Quigley has passed away too and I know she would also be deeply saddened by his passing. I take comfort in the thought that they might meet up there!" Margaret
"My favourite poem of all time is Mid-term Break. That last line was so poignant and evoked strong emotions thinking of Heaney's baby brother, "A four foot box, a foot for every year". I did that poem during my junior Cert year, and for my oral exam at the Royal Academy (where I received an honour), and can still recite it by heart. I even have a couple of poems signed by him personally, which I will always treasure." Lynn
"After studying Heaney for both my Junior and Leaving Certificate, I left my school days behind & set off on a travelling adventure with four of my classmates. Heaney's poems stood out in our minds as his words were so strong and emotive. We all had personal favourites like "Mid-term Break", "Follower".
Towards the end of our travelling, we found ourselves in Aarhus, Denmark and we immediately recalled one of Heaney's poems. We found where there was a Tollund man on display and we went to view it. In the gift shop at the museum, there were postcards of the Tollund man for sale. We bought one, wrote a simple quote -
"Some day I will go to Aarhus
To see his peat-brown head,
The mild pods of his eye-lids,
His pointed skin cap."
We then signed our names and posted it to our former English teacher, Mrs Broderick at the school address.
Upon my return to St Mary's as a teacher 6 years later I got talking to Mrs Broderick about the postcard. She mentioned how touched she had been by it, especially as we were 'done' with school and poetry yet while on our trip, we took the time to send that postcard. Mrs Broderick also told me how she had been at a celebration of Heaney's and how she had mentioned the postcard and our quote to Heaney's wife while in conversation with her. This delighted myself and the other girls - the idea of the man himself, one of Ireland's greatest ever poets, possibly knowing we did something inspired by his work was thrilling."
Caroline and class of 2002
"My memory of Seamus Heaney's poem Midterm Break with Mrs B O'Sullivan:
This is such an emotional and sad poem; I will never forget that I did it for Junior Certificate exam 1996. I did this poem for Junior Certificate. It was about a 4 year old boy died and his older brother has been informed that he has to come home to a family tragedy. His neighbour collected him and brought him home for his little brother's funeral. He met his father in the hallway; his father always takes funerals in his stride. The eldest son was so embarrassed to be met by his neighbours to shake his hands and apologies for his loss. His mother held his hand while she cried and was angry that she lost her 4 year old son but she was happy to see her eldest come home for the funeral. "A four foot box, a foot for every year" means that the child is only 4 years old. It makes me cry and sad to see that sad poem". Niamh
"Seamus Heaney was an amazing poet that I will always remember and that poem will always be in my mind and memories for the rest of my life.
It was early autumn, I was 22, fresh out of Manchester Metropolitan University where I had studied Contemporary Arts ... I came home and started the job searching and had managed to get some interviews! But all of them were saying "but you're deaf, how can you use phones" etc , and at my last interview of the week it was the same story again and I went to a nearby park to sit down and have a cry as I was so upset. There was an old man sitting beside me, when I looked around I saw it was Seamus Heaney and I was instantly mortified and cried again, and he asked me why and I told him he was my favorite poet. He read me a new poem he was writing at the park, I can't remember the words as I was a bit frazzled and starstruck ! and when he finished reading the poem he then asked me why was I crying in the first place I was frustrated at the interviewer asking me questions like would I be able to use phones , talk to people and I snapped and said we are talking just fine and walked out and felt that I made a mistake in doing that at an interview. Seamus Heaney talked about how the job wasn't the right job for me and to stick to my guns and one day a job will come by ! 2-3 weeks later I accepted a job at the Irish Deaf Society and it was the right job."
Hidden Hearing Awards (2013)
We are so proud of 2 members of the staff of St. Mary's who won awards at the 2013 Hidden Hearing Awards ceremony last week.
Our former Deputy-Principal, Maura Buckley, the first Deaf woman to become a qualified teacher, and a pioneer in the Irish Deaf Community, was presented with the Lifetime Achievement award by singer Daniel O'Donnell.
And Maggie Owens, Maths teacher on our staff, was presented the Social Contribution Award, along with past-pupil Tracey Treanor and photographer Johnny Corcoran, for their part in Signs of Life. This IDS sponsored exhibition featured some of the biggest names in Irish music, media, arts, sport and entertainment using Irish Sign Language (ISL).
Some photos from the Journal.ie Image: Mark Stedman