If it’s not broken, no need to fix it.

dalc building

Not much has changed at the Dublin Adult Learning Centre after returning this year as a student teacher.

I walked up the steps for the first time in 2011. I was greeted with the usual friendly smile from the receptionist when I walked in and it wasn’t long either before I bumped into Mary Maher to say hello to me and the other students walking in too.

Back in 2011, my own journey into adult education was a kind of beginning. There were many gaps to fill with my education after leaving school early.  I was told that DALC is a great place to start. The centre which gave me the confidence to enjoy learning as an adult and I loved some of the courses that were available. History with Pat and Lisa, basic computers with Trish and Leaving Cert English with Ann were some of the classes that I took part in (Ann was one of my favourite teachers, ever!). I loved the whole atmosphere of the school and I could tell that all the tutors were very passionate.

One of the things I loved about the centre when I began there was listening to some of the other students over a cup of tea on the break. They told me how the skills they learned in the centre that they missed out on earlier in life has really opened up their lives and given them confidence and a new perspective .

My latest adventure in education this year was a Higher Diploma in Teaching Adult and Further education in Maynooth. Part of that course was that 100 hours of teaching practice was required in a certified school or learning centre to gain experience teaching in the field. As luck would have it, I bumped into Mary Maher. Mary was so kind in offering me a teaching placement position. This was really wonderful for me; to go back and learn to teach in one of the centres where I began my adult education journey. It was very humbling and rewarding and it turned out to be an amazing experience. Mary signed me up to train with two exceptional teachers, Fionnaigh and Angus. Fionnaigh’s class was Communications Level 4 and Angus was one of the ESOL tutors.  I felt really lucky having two such amazing and competent tutors looking after me and showing me the ropes. There were no flies on Angus either. He is such a great orchestrator of the classroom and a great guy to work with. All his colleagues held him in high esteem for the work he does with his students learning the fundamentals of English and it was a pleasure to learn from him.

Maynooth and DALC – both institutions had a close working relationship together and it was truly rewarding to be able to practice in DALC while I was being taught in Maynooth.

Needless to say, the year went so fast.  I could hardly believe that it was May already and it was coming up to the final classes of my time back in DALC. There was tea, cakes, cards and hugs in an emotional farewell in helping train as a student teacher.

The centre celebrated its 20th anniversary while I was there. Mary reeled in the years for us all, telling the packed audience about how DALC got started up in a response to a need for a literary centre in the heart of North Dublin.  It was lovely too see all the portraits around the centre of the students who learned at DALC over the years, plus it brought back a few memories from my first time there.

It’s a safe bet to say that the next 20 years will be the same at DALC too, which is great news for the students and for adult education too.

By Patrick Casey 

Now I Can Read

I can see things on posters that I’ve never seen in my whole life.  Like before it was just a blank wall. Now I look at signs. You know if you go into a shop and it says – buy one, get one free. They meant nothing to me. I wouldn’t have even noticed them, that’s being out straight. I don’t know how I didn’t poison my child!

I used to go by the labels on the tins. Now I’m seeing all these little things that I’ve never seen before.  It’s amazing.  Like a whole new world has opened up for me. A new window.

When I came in here first, I actually thought there was something wrong with my head.   My tutor learned me little words, small words and the alphabet.  I thought I could never read a book in my life and one day she brought in a book with all the small words in it. I read it. My tutor said “Now, I thought you told me you couldn’t read a book!”  I couldn’t stop laughing at the idea!

I can see things now I have never seen before.

When I came in here first, I couldn’t sleep all night. When I came here first I thought everyone was looking at me. It’s your nerves.  Now I don’t mind who sees me.

It is the best thing I ever done.

 

dalc resources

 

The Fear is Real

woman in black long sleeve dress screaming
Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

 

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!

person signing contract paper
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Looking For The Story Inside

 

flats

I have an album
where I keep photos
of places I have lived
places I have visited
people I have known
people I have loved
those photos
those films
are not in a book
not in a computer
not even on a memory stick
I keep them wirelessly
in my mind
By Paul Hansford

 

Every Thursday morning for the last number of weeks, a group have been looking at old photographs in the hope of writing about them.  The white walls of the basement in Number 3 Mountjoy Square are a blank slate, ready to be filled with these pictures, mounted beside the stories, the poems and the memories of the group. The plan is to produce a permanent exhibition of sorts, to bring life to the photographs and create a story from them.

The photographs are mainly of scenes, places and people of 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s Dublin, sourced from local historians, donated from people or taken from newspapers or publications where they have appeared.  For some in the group, they are a familiar picture of their childhood. For others, they know the people in the photographs and talk about what they remember.  For most a photograph inspires a time and a place that they had forgotten about.  We have heard stories of swimming in Spencer Dock, of going into a local shop for sweets like lucky lumps, a stick of rock, a chocolate cigarette.  We have heard about the tight knit communities of the past, how the city was theirs for the taking – collecting old wheels to make a trolley for spinning down hills and over cobblestones, collecting winkles at the beach.  We have heard about mothers hanging out washing and calling from balcony windows to children playing with hoops to ‘come in for their dinner’.

We have heard that our stories are at times different but mostly are all the same.

There is something about looking at an old photo.  There are no words, yet we read it. We make assumptions about the faces staring back at us. We imagine who the people are in it.  We wonder what life was like in the world of the photograph – the shoeless children, the aproned grandmothers smiling as the camera takes a snap. The shoulder-to-shoulder schoolchildren, the surprised old men standing on corners, one with a pipe, looking nonchalantly away from the camera. Or a group of children at the beach. Is the world in the photograph different to our world now and if it is, why?

Everyone has a photograph, people and places they know, of strange characters in the background or curiosities in the foreground. Or if not a photograph, everyone has a memory, a place that they want to write about or learn more from. All of us have questions to be answered – about our family, our community and about our world.

In a way, we ‘read’ photographs to look for the story.  We do the same with the words in a book or in a newspaper article.  We have questions we want answers to. We strive to link what we see to our story. Do we have a similar one? Do we have a different one? What is that about? What is that telling me? What do I understand?

The project has inspired many more questions and avenues of discovery.  What was society like then? How widespread was poverty in the inner city? Why has the area changed so much in the government of Leo Varadkar that has perhaps allowed investors to come in and build fancy new apartments? Someone mentioned that there was a local resident’s community to allow people to air their views. Another asked how much power do locals have anyway about what happens in their street or local area?  One man brought in an article about the housing crisis that we read in the group.

We also had unexpected learning too. Budgeting for one, as we had to work out the cost of buying frames in IKEA! One week a man in the group asked how to trace his family tree. He wanted to find to more about family history on his father’s side.  One woman wrote a story she had forgotten. A story from the dusty corners of her mind about the ballroom in Parnell Street that she frequented in her youth, the place she met her husband. She looked into the middle distance and remembered her youth with a sigh. Her grandchildren were now that age and she concluded that nothing ever changes.

The group have been doing something much more profound and unexpected during this project, having their questions answered and developing their voice and creativity in a supportive environment.  They have begun to unearth a world of possibilities to be read and to be learned about. The world of the personal, the public, a world of education. Learning can open a wealth of conversations – stories to tell and stories to read about. It is only the beginning.

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Engaging with Ulysses in the Classroom

The superior, the very reverend John Conmee S. J, reset his smooth watch in his interior pocket as he came down the presbytery steps. Five to three. Just nice time to walk to Artane. (Episode 10, Wandering Rocks from Ulysses by James Joyce)

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There is no doubt that Ulysses is often referred to as a ‘difficult book to read’, described as confusing, perhaps elitist, not for the everyday man but for the lofty professor. For this reason, the idea of approaching it with a group of adults who are gaining more confidence with their reading can seem a risky prospect. Yet sometimes engaging with the ‘hard books’ can be the most rewarding and liberating of accomplishments. What an achievement to wrestle the animal that is Ulysses, tame it and shape it into something of your own!

Since December 2018, a group on Thursday mornings here in DALC have been working on an art piece that illustrates Episode 10 of Ulysses. The group worked independently for the last few months on creating a map that shows Father Conmee making his way around Dublin in the afternoon and the various characters he meets. It details the street as mentioned in Ulysses, from Gardiner Street, Mountjoy Square to Newcomen Bridge.

The project began from a workshop on Pre-Texts delivered by one of our tutors Lisa Kilbride. Pre-Texts is a method of engaging active readers through finding creative or artistic ways of tackling difficult texts. Here are Lisa’s reflections on using Pre-Texts on this project:

“Much of my focus in teaching literacy is on reading functional everyday texts, but people also need to be able to engage with more complex texts in order to deal with bigger issues affecting them.

The literacy aim of Pre-Texts is to get people to engage with complex texts, ones that are perhaps too difficult for them to read without support, in order to make them their own.
The title Pre-Texts is mischievous. If, instead of treating “important” writers with great reverence, we take their work and engage with it creatively, the power is shifted. In the process of making something new, we can think critically about the text, about ourselves and about our world.

The process is very engaging for students, and the tutors are participants rather than instructors. Pre-texts is an attempt to have tutors and students act together to find meaning in a text.

The map making activity was greeted with great enthusiasm and the participants got totally engaged in making a quite large model of the journey. We are all connected with the places in the text. DALC is in number 3 Mountjoy Square, so the journey in the text begins around the corner and passes along the square. One of the participants lived on Mountjoy square as a child and they all live in the areas mentioned – Fitzgibbon Street, along the North Circular Road, near the Five Lamps and the North Strand.

The students have been interested enough to continue with the creative work without the project being led by a tutor. It is useful to know about Ulysses and James Joyce if you live in this area. We often get stopped outside DALC by tourists lost on the Ulysses trail. The students enjoy knowing a bit about Joyce and being able to give directions to North Great Georges Street, which is nearby and the location of the James Joyce Museum. One of my aims was to diffuse the power of Ulysses as a high status cultural object. It is seen as difficult and unreadable by the ordinary person. I think that we have seen that it is only ink on paper and that we need not fear it. The students may not read any more of the book, but they can certainly discuss the early pages of The Wandering Rocks episode. The purpose of the using Pre-Texts here was also to take Joyce’s story and to use it to make our own story. Just as Joyce did, we can also create a story about the landmarks and characters of our Dublin. I hope that we are on our way to achieving this.”

 

 

The group interpreted it as their own from the words and images used by Joyce, mapping out the journey Father Conmee took in the text. The map below illustrates Episode 10 to include the streets, Mountjoy Square Park, the tram, the barge, the shops and buildings, the characters from Ulysses, dressed as described by Joyce:

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The group chose phrases and lines from the text and ‘layered’ it onto the piece:

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The text was used to prompt more writing and discussion about their own memories of the area, the places and people from their childhood:

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For more on pre-texts see:
http://www.pre-texts.org/

 

Using Icebreakers in the Classroom

find someone who

Icebreakers are a great resource in the educator’s toolkit and can serve a number of purposes when working with all kinds of groups.  Usually, icebreakers are used when a group meets for the first time, yet we have been using them regularly in our literacy groups to:

  • Help develop confidence with listening and speaking in a group
  • For encouraging the group to get to know each other better
  • To develop creative thinking and using your imagination
  • As a prompt to the work you may do in the classroom. The icebreaker could link to a reading text or writing exercise you may be covering
  • A chance to try something different if you reach a stalemate in your teaching and learning
  • For fun!

As it is coming to the end of term, we have made a comprehensive list of icebreakers we have used in the classroom during the year.  They can be adapted to suit the level, pace and interest of the group:

NAME AND INTRODUCTIONS ICEBREAKERS 

Gestures name game – stand up and say your name and make an action or gestures ‘My name is Tom and I like to play football’ while doing the action of kicking a ball. Everyone in group must remember the name and also the action.

Adjective name game – Think of a positive adjective to describe yourself with the same sound as the first letter of your name, eg. ‘I am fantastic Frank!’, ‘I am easygoing Elaine.’

Throw object/beanbag name game pattern – Everyone stand in a circle and throw a beanbag/soft toy/juggling ball to one person.  Say the person’s name as you throw it to them. See if you can remember the pattern of who you threw it to and repeat the same pattern.

Toilet paper game – Handout a roll of toilet paper and encourage group to take as many sheets as they like.  Once toilet roll is handed back to facilitator, the facilitator asks group to tell us as many things about themselves based on the number of sheets they took! For example, if they took three sheets, say three things about yourself.

Introduction Icebreaker – Choose a letter from alphabet to describe something about yourself – your hobby, what you like/don’t like, something you have done in the summer, your hopes and dreams.

Find someone who – (see picture above) Make a list of details about someone and walk around the room and tick which of them applies to anyone in your group!

MEMORY/ATTENTION ICEBREAKERS 

Memory / Kims game – Put a number of objects (usually about 12) on a tray in the middle of the room. Allow group to look at it for 2 mins. Cover objects and see who can remember them all.  More importantly, how did you remember all the objects? Did you group similar items to help you remember?

Tell the person beside you one thing you like about them. Share in larger group.

SPEAKING ICEBREAKERS 

One thing true – one thing false about yourself! We have to guess which are truths and which are lies! For example ‘I have two children and I went to Australia last year’ – two children is true, Australia trip is a lie.

Finish the story starting with one word. For example, facilitator says ‘tomorrow..’ and next person picks with story by adding one word only.  May also use phrases.

Chinese Whispers – One person in group whispers a sentence and each person passes it on to see if message gets delivered.

The lighthearted debate or either/or icebreaker – A fun exercise but can be used before exploring a more serious debate or discussion! Here are some lighthearted debate topics:

Tea of Coffee? / Spicy or Mild? / Hot or Cold? / North or South? / East or West?Water or Wine? / Bath or Shower? / Standing or Sitting? / Apple or Orange?Classical or Rock? / Comedy or Drama? / Take Out or Eat In? / Shoes or Bare feet / Ocean or Pool? / Hotel or Camping? / Books or Magazines? / Email or Snail Mail / Drive or Fly? / Country or City? / Mobile Phone or Landline? / Pants or Shorts?Meat or Vegetarian? / Dog or Cat? / Pepsi or Coca-Cola? / Man United or Liverpool? / Chocolate Cake or Cream Cake?

CATEGORIES AND CONCEPTS ICEBREAKERS 

Name a city, name a fruit, name a county, name a city, name a day of the week, name a month, name a food, name a piece of furniture, name something you wear, name a type of transport

Favourite food icebreaker – Go around room an ask everyone to describe their favourite breakfast, dinner, snack, dessert, drink.

Riddles – Write out riddles and answers on paper and encourage group to read them. Everyone else has to guess the answer. Some examples are:

  • What has a single eye but cannot see? Answer: A needle
  • I’m light as a feather, yet the strongest man can’t hold me for more than 5 minutes. What am I? Answer: Breath
  • I begin with T, end with T and I have T in me? What am I? Answer: A teapot
  • What belongs to you but others use it more than you do? Answer: Your name
  • I can travel around the world while staying in a corner. What am I? Answer: A stamp

Opposites – Make a list of opposites (hot/cold, open/closed, etc), cut them out on card and ask group to walk around the find their opposite!

Alphabet icebreaker – all line up in alphabetical order with first letter of your name

Birthday line up icebreaker – all line up in order of when your birthday is during the year (January birthdays at start of line, December at end and so on)

Rhymes – write a list of words on separate card. Put words in a box or envelope.  Each person picks out a word and must think of a rhyme for this word, Foe example, if they picked out the word ‘night’ the rhyme they may come up with is ‘sight’, etc.

IMAGINATIVE ICEBREAKERS 

If I was…..

  • If I was a day of the week, I would be….
  • If I was a famous person, I would be……
  • If you were on a desert island – what three things would you bring?
  • If you were invisible for a day, what would you do?
  • If I was an animal, I would be……
  • If I was a colour, I would be…….
  • If I was president for the day, I would….
  • If I won 10 million I would….

If you could make a phone call to anyone in the world – famous, living or dead, who would it be and why?

 

adult african american woman business businessmen

 

 

A Student Perspective on Voting and Elections

The election coming up next Friday 24th May has brought politics into focus in the classroom.  Many are wondering what the difference between the local, European and divorce referendum means and we have been doing some work here in the centre in preparation for it.

A DALC student Patrick, gives his insights into why people can feel disengaged from politics and he shares his advice on the importance of making your vote count.

Firstly, we hear from Patrick about why he thinks there is a low voter turnout in the Dublin 1 area:

 

 

Patrick tells us why he feels people don’t engage with politics and what politicians can do about it:

 

Patrick gives us his view on The Constitution and why it needs to reflect the changing society in Ireland:

 

Finally, Patrick gives us his advice on why people should get out and vote in the upcoming election on Friday 24th May:

We had a recent visit in DALC from The Referendum Commission. Click on the link below to read the newspaper article about it:

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/divorce-vote-we-re-changing-the-constitution-that-people-died-for-1.3892143 

 

 

 

 

person dropping paper on box
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