Episode 10 “Children’s Rights and Policies” is Live!

Many thanks to the contributors to this week’s contributors – The Ombudsman for Children Dr. Niall Muldoon; DCU student Holly Farrell; and the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman TD.

Listen to the episode here: https://polsocpodcast.com/ep-10-childrens-rights-and-policies/

All of the additional resources, such as the Listen-Along Guide, Case-Study Materials, links to our “Children’s Rights Essay Screencast”, and other relevant sites and resources can be found here: https://polsocpodcast.com/episode-10-notes/

As always, if you want to support the podcast and help with the upkeep of the site, please consider doing so here: https://polsocpodcast.com/contact/


JD 15/11/2020

Pol-Soc Podcast “Log Tables”

I’ve noticed it a lot recently, but only in a way that confirmed my previously held belief, that Pol-Soc students really struggle to negotiate the process of ‘gathering and analyzing‘ data, as the subject specification suggests they do. This, I suspect, is partly because I’ve never had to teach this kind of data gathering before and partly because no other subject on the Leaving Cert asks students to do anything like this (as far as I can see). With the newly enforced Covid-19 restrictions, the kind of group work that I had been doing to let students gather, analyze, compare, and evaluate data seems to have gone out the window. So I’ve really been struggling to do this effectively in a classroom context…

Having partially anticipated this difficulty over the summer, I began a long-term project, that some of the Cohort 1 teachers had discussed at different stages (over a quiet beverage in the Killeshin Hotel…!) – trying to create a set of “Pol-Soc Log Tables” that would at least give students a bit of a start on the process. I think they call it ‘scaffolding‘ in the many education books that are (only slightly perused) on my shelf at home. It won’t (by any stretch of the imagination) be comprehensive, but should model the kind of process that we’re hoping that students will begin to gain at least some mastery of during their two years of LC Pol-Soc.

I decided to focus almost exclusively on the various Index-Rankings that we see these days, some of which are a little problematic at times, but some of which (at least) are useful starting points for exploring different topics on the course. I include a summary page at the start with “Headline Data” that might make it a little easier for students who struggle in this area to get their heads around. In that table, I give the Index Name and year, Ireland’s position in the Index, and contextualize that by giving the top and bottom 3 or 4 countries in each category. What follows in the next 20-ish pages is A brief summary of each index, how it works, some of the methodologies/maps/graphs that often accompany these Indices, and a box for students to complete that helps them to make the link between the Index and (most importantly) the kinds of essay titles to which those data best apply. That’ll take some work on the part of the student, but is (I hope) where this serves as a scaffolding exercise, rather than just a spoon feeding extravaganza…

Anyway, this is still in draft form, and I’m sure there’ll be some typos and mistakes, but I just can’t find any more time to devote to it. So, I give you, in its interim format, the…

PolSocPodcast Log Tables 2020-21

Ideally, I’ll return to these every year or two to update them, but if you knew the hours that have gone into this process already, you’d forgive me for my apprehension at this prospect!

The final thing to note is that nobody really knows what providing “up-to-date” info really means. I’ve basically said to my students that in my head, this means being within 2-3 years of the exam (or basically at any point after they started studying Pol-Soc in 4th or 5th year in school). But that’s just my best guess.

And my final CAVEAT… There really is no substitute for students digging into reports and reliable data for themselves. That’s where they solve the big problem of being able to anticipate some of the issues that they may come across in an unseen Data-Based Question themselves and recognize trends within those data. But for the moment, if I can just get my own students through this stuff, I’ll be reasonably happy!

I hope it’s useful, and if (as usual) you want to support the website, then please consider making a small donation on the Contact and Support page here: https://polsocpodcast.com/contact/

JD 10/11/20

Pol Soc in the Covid Classroom

So… I was asked by PASTAI (the Politics and Society Teachers’ Association of Ireland) to do a short presentation at the upcoming National Conference about adapting the (otherwise very expansive and progressive) methodologies we normally use for a more restricted Pol Soc classroom in the times of Covid-19. So I’ll be gathering my thoughts in the coming weeks so as not to actively embarrass myself in front of people I only get the chance to interact with on twitter these days. Hopefully I’ll not end up sounding like a Luddite, or wasting people’s time…

One of the areas that I’ve found myself relying on these days is more dependence on ‘direct instruction’ (not necessarily a bad thing) and a greater emphasis on ‘guided reading’ (which I think I’ll definitely be doing more of in the future – see the picture below for more on guided reading – from Simon Beale @spbeale on twitter). I need to do more research on reading on the best way to present that material, but I’ll stick with what I have until I figure out a better way to do it. (I now know that I should really narrow my margins to make more room for both note taking and guidance, but that’s something you can do for yourself… I use my TLDR sheets for that process)

The problem with both of these things is finding appropriate resources that are tailored to the classroom. While “Pol Soc Twitter” is a vibrant and inclusive community, where relevant articles and ideas are circulated in a spirit of generosity, the problem remains that those articles aren’t necessarily ‘classroom ready’, and take quite a bit of time to adapt, edit, and develop questions that students will find useful. This is particularly the case because in previous years you could fairly reliably just ‘talk the students through’ the article and do oral feedback on their responses (either as individuals or from a group discussion). But now that many students (and teachers) are necessarily absent because of waiting for a Covid test result in their family, or because they are being suitably cautious with minor symptoms, the students need to be able to work through some of the materials at home under their own steam in a more tightly ‘scaffolded’ manner.

So, one of the things I’ve been trying to do is put together old style ‘comprehension’ texts with questions that are accessible and will prepare students for the kind of questions they will encounter when they go to the full DBQ-style questions (particularly as an intro to this process for new 5th year students). So here are a few of those comprehensions that I’ve developed for that purpose. With the usual caveat that they’re just my best effort, they might help students to engage with the key thinkers in a modern context. I’ll include them as PDFs that are ready to go for a class and MS Word files that you can adapt for your own needs. (Some of them might be a bit long for an exam context, for example…) I’ll add more as I go, but will also archive them on the Data-Based Question page. Let me know if the links don’t work, as I don’t have a great track record with that!

I’d say the basic principle behind all of this is that I’d rather have a good resource (80-85%) that’s pretty much ready to go than an amazing one (95-100%) that’ll take me an hour to adapt and format. Who has that kind of time during Covid-19!!!!

MS Word Version: https://polsocpodcast.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/hobbes-leviathan-johnson-covid-19-article.docx

MS Word Version: https://polsocpodcast.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/john-locke-covid-19-article-nbc-news-july-2020.docx

MS Word Version: https://polsocpodcast.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/rand-paul-september-11-article-wapo.docx

MS Word Version: https://polsocpodcast.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/lynch-class-and-wealth-in-education-article-30th-sept-2020.docx

The Leaving Cert English “Exam Essay”

(My usual Politics & Society readers might permit me another brief deviation from the ‘usual programming’ into the realms of an English Teacher, but will hopefully find the contents of this post useful and relatively ‘transferable’ between the two subjects…)

The following represents approximately a career and a half of thoughts, struggles, insecurity, advice, and hard-won wisdom on writing the Leaving Certificate “English Exam Essay”. It is presented here in ‘pdf format’ to preserve the layout of the original draft and to make it useful to teachers in class, who might now successfully disguise its invaluable advice as a usable ‘Paper 1’ comprehension exercise! You can read below about the origin of the piece as best as I can recount it, but if like most teachers you’re just trying to survive until the bell rings at 4 pm, just read the article itself here…

My “Da” (to borrow a title from Hugh Leonard) was a pre-eminent English teacher in secondary schools like “Joey’s” in Fairview, the Institute of Education on Leeson St., and Glenstal Abbey in Limerick. He shifted mid-career to third level education, teaching a generation of appreciative trainee teachers in Mater Dei Institute of Education. Throughout this time, he funded our family’s summer holidays by working as a ‘Senior Examiner’ of Leaving Cert English, drafting and submitting questions, correcting exams, and supervising the marking of other examiners. He edited a literary newspaper, wrote reviews and textbooks, and even a screenplay that was bought, but now gathers dust on a producer’s shelf. He was this and so much more, that I will deliberately omit here.

Many moons ago, he decided to try and distil what he had learned about the process of writing a single exam essay into as short a piece of writing as possible. Unsurprisingly, he achieved his task and produced a readable ‘one-page’ guide promoting what he called an ‘interrogative’ method for planning and executing the essay under exam conditions. Many times over the years (as both a student and a teacher) I have reflected upon this refined wisdom, leaned on its technique, and disseminated the suggestions to anyone who asked, or who was in need of guidance.

The overwhelming majority of what he wrote then remains broadly applicable today. The problem emerged, however, that with the changes to the LC English syllabus between my own sitting of the exam in the 1990s and stepping in front of my first class as a teacher a decade later, the exam’s structure changed – not unrecognizably – but sufficiently to render some of his advice if not quite redundant, then at least in need of spritzing up! So I have spritzed. I have added my own modest thoughts to his basic structure and reframed the still recognizable spine of the original advice with a view to reflecting some of those curricular reforms in a manner that might be more ‘relatable’ (although I hate the term with a passion) to teachers and students familiar only with the current system.

I am not possessed of, nor ever will I achieve, the mastery of English teaching that my Da demonstrated with such fluency and élan. I’m a “Jack of all trades”, teaching Leaving Cert English, History, and more recently Politics & Society. But what all of those subjects have in common is the centrality of the ‘key skill’ of essay writing, in whatever guise it is required in the different exams, so I hope that my addenda will be based on at least some degree of valid insight and experience.

My Da died at 3 am on the morning of the 6 June, 2007, the morning my first ever Leaving Cert English Class were due to sit their English exam. This piece represents a far more literal interpretation of the term ‘ghost writing’ than the comprehension text that appeared on Paper 1 of the exam the previous year, but I endeavour to carry the baton and pass it on with the same generosity of spirit that my Da always exemplified. It is both fitting and patently obvious to acknowledge that where this piece is strong, it is my Da’s input and where it feels weaker, my fingerprints will be more evident.

This piece neither professes nor pretends to be the definitive account of undertaking the Herculean task of guiding students through the process of essay writing, but is presented in the spirit of stimulating thoughts and discussion amongst receptive colleagues. I trust that it will be received as such. I will, inevitably, only identify the spelling errors when I click ‘publish’ on the post…

Nonetheless, I hope that you find it a useful and practical way in which to engage with the teaching of the ‘Exam Essay’ and that it makes everyone’s lives that little easier in these uncertain times…

JD – 25/9/2020

If you’re a LC English teacher visiting this site for the first time my recent post with a digitized version of Philadelphia, Here I Come! (for the ‘Comparative’ question) might be of use…

If you found this useful and would like to make a small donation to the upkeep of this site, please consider doing so here.

Episode 9 is LIVE!

After a bit of a Covid-related hiatus, and with many, many apologies for the delay Professor Graham Finaly from UCD’s School of Politics and International Relations, we’re back with Episode 9, dealing with key thinker John Locke. In some ways this should be 2 shorter episodes, because Professor Graham Finlay covered so much ground in his discussion that I found it very hard to leaving anything on the virtual cutting room floor. But I’m trusting that students will know when to pause to catch their breath. As always, there’s a full suite of resources available on the Episode Notes Page to help students get to grips with this material.

Listen to the episode HERE! Or download it on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you find the materials useful, please consider making a small donating to the upkeep of the site, by visiting our Contact and Support page.

Hopefully, the episode will do at least something to take the edge off the stress of starting back into school after a prolonged break.

To all the Pol-Soc students and teachers out there, best of luck with the return, as daunting as it might be.

All my very best,


Sample Data-Based Questions

One of the most difficult parts of trying to teach the ‘Data-Based Question’ (DBQ) on the Politics & Society course as it currently stands is the lack of “Past Papers” to give students a sense of how this particular question should be approached. Yes, obviously, they should be getting practice of gathering and analysing data themselves throughout the two years of study, but that only gets them so far when it comes to sitting the exam. So I’ve decided that over the next year or so, I’m going to try and produce a few samples that will make it a little easier for students to get used to the process.

So here’s my first offering: Sample DBQ 1 – Election Integrity and Electoral Commission

As I always remind my own students, “Any DBQ that you do, automatically becomes a CASE STUDY for you to refer to in future”. So the goals of the documents that I produce will be two-fold. Firstly, they should enhance the learning in specific areas that are directly relevant to the course content/subject specification (in this case Learning Outcome 2.5 – “summarise research evidence on the effectiveness of the Irish system of elections in representing the will of all the Irish people”). Secondly, they aim to familiarize students with the kinds of questions that have been asked thus far. These seem to range from questions that focus directly on ‘comprehension’ of the key content and arguments, to reliability and methodology, presentation of written and visual data, bias in authorship, and comparative views of the two documents. But, bear in mind that we only have two past exams and an SEC sample paper to go on, so this will (by definition) be an imperfect set of sample questions. I’m forever telling students that they should look at the ‘N’ number (sample size) in any data they gather and so I should heed my own advice and not make any extravagant claims about anything I produce based on the ‘trends’ that I’ve tried to infer. Seeing the ‘backup’ paper in November that students were supposed to have sat in June will undoubtedly help with improving the relevance of future sample DBQs!

This one-page handout with suggestions on how to approach the 50-Mark question at the end of this section should also help students: DBQ Long Answer 2020 Suggested Approach

There are a few specific issues with the first sample DBQ (link above) that students and teachers should be aware of… The visual representation of data in Document A are probably too expansive (also the colours are slightly off in the world map, but I can’t seem to fix that…) and word count of the ‘Opinion Piece’ in Document B is a bit longer than I would expect to be included on an SEC exam, but if you remember that the goal is also to produce DBQs that help with learning, then I think that it’s ok in this instance. In other words, I wouldn’t be suggesting that students use this DBQ to practice their ‘exam timing’ or anything like that, but I do think that it will help students get used to the general process.

The final problem with this process is that it takes A VERY LONG TIME to put these samples together. This one took me about 3 ½ – 4 hours and there may still be a few typos. I have gotten a little bit of practice putting these together for the DEB Mock Papers, but even still, it’s a very labour-intensive process. Even more frustratingly, the sample answers become dated (if not obsolete) relatively quickly and there’s absolutely no way I’ll be able to go back and update them, so you’ll have to take them as they come! As always, if you have any (constructive) criticisms of this sample paper and/or suggestions on how to improve them, then please do get in contact. I’m always eager to improve.

Anyway, I hope they’re useful, and that I’ll have time to produce a few more in the next few months.

JD 11/8/2020


Philadelphia, Here I Come! MP3 Audio Recording

IMG_7429In a break from my usual Pol-Soc posting, I wanted to share these audio recordings of one of my all-time favourite plays, Philadelphia, Here I Come! as the play is back on the Leaving Cert English Comparative Course. (They’re at the bottom of the page…) I got a present of the cassette tapes many years ago from my dad (who was also an English teacher). I’ve never liked the 1977 film version, but I have found that students reading the text, while simultaneously listening to the audio version is a useful partial replacement for actually seeing the play in a theatre. At the very least, it allows the students to use their imagination and ‘stage’ it in their minds, rather than relying on the decisions of the film makers.IMG_9176 It strikes me that nobody is going to be able to go and see this (or any other) play in the year ahead, so I decided to digitize the cassette tape and am uploading here so that students and teachers can use it for their own education (strictly non-profit) purposes. This recording is from the late 1980s, and while there is a little bit of hiss (because of the tape recorder), I don’t think that it gets in the way too much. (I tidied it up a bit with a noise gate, but didn’t get much improvement)… The cast list here has some of the stalwarts of the Irish stage whose voices really bring you back to some of the great productions over the years.

It was a particularly meaningful present at the time because my first significant introduction to the power of drama was in early 1995 when I spent 5 weeks of Transition Year doing my ‘work experience’ in the Abbey Theatre as an ASM (Assistant Stage Manager – really a ‘gofer’) on their revived production of the play. I was supposed to do 2 weeks, but ended up being allowed to stay through the full rehearsal process and technical rehearsals. It was directed by Patrick Mason and starred David Parnell and Darragh Kelly as Gar Public and Private (pictured right).Screenshot (288) I think that I literally knew every word of the play off by heart, and had the daydream that one of the “Lads” (hopefully ‘Joe’) would get sick one day and I’d be drafted in as a replacement for one show. Obviously, that never happened, but a teenager can (and should) always dream of the possibility!

Episode One: 44 mins

Episode Two: 33 mins

Episode Three: 31 mins

I have many, many thoughts about the play itself, that I wouldn’t presume to bore you with here, but hopefully having a good recording to work from will be of some use to people, particularly if there is another round of school closures. It might take a little bit of the pressure off…

Both students and teachers might be interested in reading this recent post on a reliable technique for answering the dreaded Leaving Cert English Exam Essay, a synthesis of a career and a half of teaching writing by my ‘Da’ and myself…

If you found this useful and would like to make a small donation to the upkeep of this site, please consider doing so here.

Enjoy laddybuck!


Some Pol-Soc ideas to keep you going over the summer…



The summer holidays that are just about to get started aren’t going to be like any holidays that have previously happened. Many of the sports camps, language schools, activities, and travel that you might have been hoping for have all “vanished into air, into thin air” (to quote from The Tempest). So one thing I’ll be trying to do over the summer is to keep a relatively steady stream of resources to engage with via the website. I’m going to try and post once every 10 days or fortnight, as much to keep myself sane and focused as trying to help the students, I suspect!

So, here is a list of a few possible activities that you can be getting along with under your own steam that would be an excellent starting point:


  1. https://ucdsummerschool.ie/ 2-6 June. They’ll have sample lectures on all the different disciplines from across the university. Obviously, I’d want you to pay particular attention to the Politics/International Relations and Sociology/Social Policy lectures that are happening next week, but as I mentioned in the class, I do think you should use the opportunity to dip into some of the other subject areas that you may never have looked at before.
  2. If you haven’t already done so, make sure that your subscribe to my website at www.polsocpodcast.com (click ‘follow’ on the home page) to make sure you get email alerts for the new materials (podcasts, screencasts, readings, exercises, etc) that will be going up at fairly regular intervals during the summer.
  3. Follow along on Twitter with @khpolsoc (https://twitter.com/khpolsoc?lang=en) to see other relevant materials that I’ll be circulating through the twitter feed.
  4. Try and take ONE news event each week to take a deep dive into. Look at it from different perspectives and see how a single event is covered from different media outlets. (You could start by keeping track of the Trump ‘vs’ Twitter confrontation that is about to kick off…) Use the TLDR handout template from the website (https://polsocpodcast.files.wordpress.com/2020/03/tldr-recording-your-pol-soc-reading-upload-version.pdf) to keep a track of your reading and to make sure that you’re in a position to use those materials when it comes to your essays next year.,
  5. Start a log of movies, documentaries, and YouTube videos that you’ve watched that you think might be able to draw on for your work next year. Share those video resources with your classmates, and maybe even start up a movie/documentary discussion group where you all watch similar shows and might even discuss them afterward.
  6. If you haven’t already done so, you could start with the Covid-19 Key Thinker reading list that I posted previously. (https://polsocpodcast.com/2020/05/07/pol-soc-and-covid-19-a-provisional-reading-list/)

Take it upon yourself to read one article a day. That’s eminently doable!!! It’ll be a good way to keep up to date, while also reinforcing your key thinkers.

Above all, remember to keep safe, follow the guidelines, be kind to your parents (it is very stressful for them, you know), and try to get a bit of valuable rest of the summer.

The class of 2020 has moved on now, but there’s still a big hill ahead for the class of 2021. We’ll do our best to help you along that journey.



Pol-Soc and Covid-19 – a (provisional) Reading List

There are lots of ways in which the Covid 19 ‘experience’ (he said euphemistically) is relevant to the Pol Soc Specification. I wouldn’t be advising students to write a WHOLE essay about Covid-19, but I do think that a well-sourced and well-supported paragraph about how Covid-19 illustrates aspects of the course could fit comfortably into lots of different types of essay. The readings will make that clearer, I hope!

I’ve ‘appropriated‘ (i.e. stolen) some of @NorthMonPolSoc‘s great resources (if you’re not already following Jon, you should be…!) and provided my own workable reading list of articles about, or by some of the Key Thinkers or key themes from the specification. Some of the articles are quite short, so you could try engaging with one a day for the next fortnight. It’d serve are really valuable Key Thinker revision too!

I’ve also included a link to my TLDR handout that is designed to help students keep notes on the articles that they have read. Alternatively, you could download the google doc and add the key data, or 1-2 key quotes from each article underneath the link so you have a useable set of qualitative and quantitative data-sets that are ‘exam ready‘.

Download the google doc here: Covid-19 and the Pol Soc Spec

There’s still lots of uncertainty around what’s happening with the Leaving Cert, but I hope that the lack of clarity isn’t getting students too down… (sad-face emoji…)

And for the record, Jon is more than happy for me to be sharing his great resources! (I always check!)


JD 7/5/2020

Screencast #5 (Northern Ireland) is Now Live!

In an effort to get my head around the new remote learning landscape, I’ve been trying to put together usable weekly plans that can guide students through a meaningful process of learning. This week I’ve focused in on how the subject specification deals (both explicitly and implicitly) with power and decision making in Northern Ireland.

You can watch the screencast here. But perhaps more importantly, you should engage with the Episode Notes page which has details of how best I think these materials can be used. Make sure to download the “Screencast 5 Listen Along Guide” to remain focused during the screencast and to help you collate all the relevant materials, information, and perspectives that I’ve tried to communicate during the episode. There’s even a self-marking “Google Forms Quiz” that you should be taking mid-week to try and assess how your learning is going…

I’m very grateful to Ms Catherine McGing down in Laurel Hill in Limerick for her help in putting this week’s work together. All the good ideas are hers, all the errors are my own. Thanks Catherine!

Best of luck with your “lockdown learning”. I hope this makes it ever so slightly easier to carry out!


JD (20/2/20)