University of Burgos, Spain
Losada Friend, Maria (coordinator/editor). 2010.
Teaching Ireland: New Didactic Approaches to Cultural, Linguistic and Literary Issues.
Universidad de Huelva: Dirección de innovación Docente Vicerrectorado de Tecnologías, innovación y calidad.
Dirección de Convergencia Europea.
Didactic approaches are not very frequent — and we would daresay to some extent underrated — in the academic world. However, teaching strategies must be considered both an art and a science and are crucial to expand and reinforce Irish Studies. If we agree that involvement and enthusiasm are the key factors for scholarly work, we should not forget that these are born — or just the opposite, they are frustrated — in the classroom. This booklet is the result of an approved and funded project in the 13th Convocatoria de proyectos de Innovación e Investigación para la mejora en docencia universitaria at the university of Huelva in the academic year 2008-9, including “materials which have been successfully used and tested in class to ensure the active participation of students and to provide a useful source to explain the myriad of angles needed to illustrate tradition and innovation in Ireland”.
The table of contents covers a variety of topics in 7 units: Unit I: Ireland Today, by Deirdre Finnerty; Unit 2: Tune into Ireland: Teaching Ireland Through Music; Unit 3: Reading Irish identity in the Walls: The troubles in Northern Ireland Murals by Marisol Morales; Unit 4: Irish identities through Movies, by Auxiliadora Pérez Vides; Unit 5: Irish identity through Visual Arts and Contemporary poetry; Unit 6: Irish identity through Folklore: Yeats’ Poetry, Stories and Myths by Sonia Hernández Santano; Unit 7: James Joyce and his Sequels: bringing innovation to the Irish Literary Tradition, by María Losada Friend and Ana Maldonado Acevedo. Units are organized to cover a 50/60 minute class and different activities complement the seven visual presentations enclosed, helping the instructor to explore and expand on the material and support a classroom lecture. The structure of each unit is a good mixture of didactic tools: all of them begin with “preliminary observations”, a summary of the topic and target, followed by a section entitled brainstorming activities which checks the student’s previous knowledge on the topic through a series of open questions, presentation of vocabulary, linking words, exercises in groups or association of words. The post presentation activities must be completed immediately after the presentation and consist of a series of tasks to check comprehension and to provide further knowledge on the topic. Finally, as a necessary step to evaluate the students’ work, there is a section of Complementary exercises implying take home tasks mainly based on internet searches around the topic presented in class (artistic representations, music, photographs, films, literary texts or profiles of writers, artists, popular singers and actors). Recommended readings and useful web links are included at the end of each chapter, the contents covering a variety of topics.
The results are uneven and on some occasions the tests and questions provided are somewhat basic for university students. Units 3, 5 and 7 clearly outstand and exhibit a brilliant balance of theory and practice, whereas unit 6 is by far the weakest, suffering from lack of coherence and rigour. We missed some guide concerning the academic level and profile required for the activities. On the other hand, the authors’ purpose to illustrate “tradition and innovation in Ireland”, as stated in the introduction, proves a too ambitious task to be developed in a publication like this. However, the booklet is a good achievement as a whole, and provides very stimulating colourful material which no doubt will arouse the students’ interest and enthusiasm for Ireland. More than welcome for this very reason, since (do not forget it!) everything begins in the classroom.