The Fear is Real

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When we are faced with a daunting task, when we have to complete something under pressure or in public, it can be the fear that gets to us first.

We may immediately think it is that the task itself that is difficult. We may adopt a ‘I just can’t’ attitude. Whether it is filling in a form, making a speech at a wedding, trying to use a new phone or tablet, called for jury duty, check in machines at the airport or completing an essay for a college course -we tend to hone in on the difficulty of the task rather then admitting to ourselves that it is simply one thing.  It is the fear of doing it.

But are we tying up our fear with the task itself?

In a number of our classes over the last year, we have been doing one of the most daunting reading and writing tasks of all – form filling.  Traditionally, we would start with reading of the form, putting up some words on the board like ‘surname’, ‘signature’, ‘permanent residence’ before moving on to the following;

  • writing the words up/pre-teaching them
  • putting them on cards and talking about what they mean
  • counting the syllables in the longer words
  • underlining or highlighting them on the form
  • looking them up in the dictionary/a dictionary app or on google
  • photocopy the form lots of times, practice and practice some more.
  • The tutor ‘scaffolds’ the task by highlighting the name and address before moving on to the more difficult bits of the form.

Yet this year in DALC, one group decided to completely change approach and they deliberately dealt with the fear and anxiety head on.  They did not even try to ignore the elephant in the room but greeted him like one the students and handed him at seat the table.   The students all felt fearful of forms and this needed to be talked about before any real learning could take place.


“A group of students and tutors are trying to grapple with the beast that is the HSE medical card form. First to understand it, its language, its meaning, the strange contortion of your personal details required to fill it in. They also struggle with the writing skills required, fitting things that do not seem to fit into boxes, spelling newly acquired addresses, putting unwarranted zeros in dates, losing track of familiar spellings when they have to be written in block capitals. We begin by discussing the emotional reaction to the form, illustrating words (panic, frustration, embarrassment) that we put up words to acknowledge the power of those feelings.

Then we read about the form and pick out the words for clarification – resident, spouse, gender, dependent, co-habit. In pairs the students and tutors mime or act out the words while the others guess which word it is and find it in the form. We talk about the meanings of those words and why they might be on the form. Back in a circle, the tutors ask a question: what did we do? We acted out the words, I can say that word now, it’s only a word but I thought it meant something different. We then make an attempt at filling out the form.”

(Explained by Lisa Kilbride, a tutor in DALC)

One man since told me he was much more confident with forms.  He filled out one in his local Intreo (jobseekers) office.  He was much more relaxed because he had practised  what it was to be afraid and had thought about ways of dealing with that fear.

Thinking about the things that are stopping you from learning can be a difficult but also a useful exercise.  It is something to reflect on over the summer months before tackling a course in September.

The fear is what stops you, but overcoming it is when real learning can take place.  Bring it on!

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