These guidelines assume a basic level of literacy in students entering the mainstream Ordinary and Higher Level Leaving Certificate Programmes. Most students will have had about fourteen years of mother-tongue education and it is not unreasonable to expect a certain competency at this stage. Consequently the guidelines focus on developing the advanced reading and writing skills that students need for entering adult life. The Leaving Certificate English Syllabus groups these skills under five categories of language use: the informative, the argumentative, the persuasive, the narrative and the aesthetic. These guidelines suggest approaches to developing students' skills in comprehending and composing, in all of these areas.
The approach adopted throughout is to suggest appropriate classroom methodologies for teaching these language skills. Each of the language categories is given specific treatment through the analysis and discussion of representative texts. Classroom approaches to developing reading and writing skills based on modelling techniques and a variety of learning activities are exemplified. The texts used come from a range of sources and touch on real issues in our world. In this way these guidelines attempt to rescue student language development from the artificial world of 'school literacy' (reading and writing on irrelevant subjects and decontextualised exercises on skills) and to embed it in the various literacy demands of everyday life.
In a culture that emphasises visual and oral texts and reduces and abbreviates written texts, it is no mean challenge to develop advanced reading and writing skills in students. Many read little, write less and consequently have lost respect for language and the way they use it. If this is to be changed and advanced competencies and understandings nurtured, then the students must experience the significance and power of language in their own personal and social contexts.
Literacy development equated with the teaching of minimalist, functionalist skills will not achieve such an ambitious aim. These skills must be seen as elements for study within an integrated approach which begins with an encounter with real texts dealing with significant issues. To be successful, literacy development must be contextualised within meaningful experiences of language. These guidelines are based on precisely such an approach.
The Language Resource Materials which accompany these guidelines will further develop and supplement the strategies suggested here to ensure that all aspects of literacy development are covered.
1. RATIONALE OF SYLLABUS
The revised syllabus is based on five fundamental ideas about language and language development. These will be briefly outlined here.
1 Language, identity and power
Language is the chief means by which w e make sense of our experience. Language gives
us a sense of personal and cultural identity, enables us to relate to each other and
empowers us in multitudinous ways, from engaging in gossip to rejoicing in poetry. If w e
lack expertise in language w e become vulnerable to the power of those who are
proficient in language. Language gives power in more ways than one; it can liberate but
it can also imprison.
2 Language, meaning and values
Language is neither a transparent medium nor a neutral instrument of communication.
Language in use is value laden; it carries within its structures and choice of words an
implicit statement of the writer's or speaker's social and moral outlook. However, meaning
in 'language in use' is not fixed but is always an area of interpretation depending on the
context and point of view of the specific users. Think about the contrasting range and
nuances of meaning which the term 'Irish' carries when used by such different individuals
as an Irish-American, an Ulster Unionist, or a person from the Gaeltacht.
3 Language as shape
Language does not reflect reality like a mirror; language creates its own view of reality.
Language is dynamic and depending on a variety of factors puts specific shapes on
reality. These language shapes can be called genres.
The role of English is to develop students' ability to comprehend these genres in all their
diversity, to understand and appreciate how they work and so come eventually to
compose in them. In that way the students themselves will be interpreting, making
meanings and learning to communicate effectively.
4 Critical literacy
The revised syllabus seeks to develop a critical literacy in students. This is a stance
relative to texts, no matter what their source or pedigree, which is directed towards
questioning texts, challenging their authority and problematising their apparent and
accepted statements. In this way it is hoped that an authentic dialogue can take place
between students and texts which will generate significant personal meanings and enrich
the students' lives. Critical literacy encourages students to see texts not as statements of
closure or as answers but as opportunities for dialogue and speculation.
5 Language awareness
To use language most effectively students need to develop an understanding of how
language actually works to create meanings; they should be able to reflect on their own
language use and that of others. Therefore students must have a language that talks about
language, a metaqanguage; lacking this, students remain embedded in words and instead
of controlling words the words are controlling them.
Resource Materials For Teaching Language