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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Using Icebreakers in the Classroom

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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:


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 / 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.


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?


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.


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



Learning Is…..

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Who can define learning? What does it mean?

We asked some of our students to tell us what learning means to them. As we start back into the new learning week in DALC after our long St. Patrick’s weekend, we can focus on learning in our different classes yet remember that the benefits and joy of learning for everyone is individual.

This is what some of our evening students told us recently when we asked ‘What is Learning?’:

“Learning is freedom.” Patrick.


“Learning is all about broadening your mind and also working your brain harder.  It helps your everyday life. It’s good for our education and to tell us what is going on in the world.” Elizabeth.


“Learning is the way out of poverty.” John.


“Learning is a discovery of knowledge.  Even in everyday life you are learning.” Anon


“Learning is very good for you.  It broadens your mind and it stands to you in the future because when you get older you can remember all you are taught. ” Fran.


“Learning is good but it is sometimes very hard because I find it hard to remember. Then again, it must be working because I thought I would never read a novel or two, or 52!” Philip.


Heading in to your next few weeks of learning – what does learning mean for you? Bring it on!

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A Visitor to DALC from Finland

I am Heli from Finland and I was doing a job shadowing period in DALC for one week. During this week I was learning a lot about adult education, basic skills learning and empowerment. I got to observe different kinds of classes with different teachers and also participated in the teaching.  I had really good conversations with teachers about their values and teaching methods. I also learned the importance of dialogue and how they called it “The art of thinking together.”


I noticed that it is really important to create a safe space for learners in the classes. Teachers started their classes by asking everybody how they are doing. After class they asked ”Did everybody get a chance to speak?” so people would feel like they became noticed and their voice is as important as everyone else.


The thing I was most impressed about during my period was the strong community-based idea in the centre. The centre is for adult education but at the same time it is so much more! It seems to be a really important meeting-place for people where they can share their joys and sorrows. People of different cultures and ages were friends together and truly wanted to help and encourage each other.


I really want to start building a similar culture to the centre where I am currently working. Also peer support was played a really big role among participants in DALC. The really welcoming, warm and caring ambiance makes the empowerment possible.

Travelling to an other country develops you as a human and helps you to see things with different perspectives. DALC does really great and valuable work with a big heart! I was so lucky to get this chance to learn from teachers, meet amazing people and being warmly welcomed.

By Heli Lahtinen who works in an adult support centre in Tampere in Finland – link here: 


heli chocolate

Lasting Impression – Reflections of teaching practice in DALC

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My first experience in DALC was tinged with a certain degree of sadness as I instantaneously recalled my parents.  Both were born literally within a stone’s throw of DALC and in common with many of the current learners of similar vintage in DALC, the zenith of their educational attainment was, if fortuitous, to pass the ‘Primary Cert’.  Such ‘accreditation’ qualified them for employment in some of the precarious sectors characteristic of a bygone era where childhoods were all too swiftly replaced by transition to premature adulthood.  Given this, I introspectively speculated that I would be able to resonate with those endeavouring to improve their lives by attending DALC.  However what did surprise me was the extent of this resonance.

My first experience as a facilitator was in a communications class and it was a real eye-opener.  As biographies are shaped by our histories, being the child of immigrant parents and having experienced the life of a reluctant immigrant, I could again empathise with the plight and struggles faced by the new nationals attending this course.  It really impressed how much can be taken for granted, and I include myself here, regarding literacy issues.  What also really struck me was the candour and humility shown when some in the class revealed, each of their own volition, their experiences of the Irish education system.  On reflection and without exaggeration, I envisaged that the approach to those few steps leading up to number three must have been akin to embarking on a journey of Odyssean proportions for some. Particularly for those striving to overcome the fears and anxieties acquired in previous settings.  However once this small step was made, giant leaps abound from a learning perspective.

My other co-facilitation is in the internet skills class. On my third session, and due to unforeseen circumstances, I was required to facilitate ‘solo’.  It was now my turn to embark on a potential Odyssean journey.   This time I do exaggerate! The staff assuaged any concerns I had and advised me to let a roar if I was struggling with anything.  This particular ‘backstop’ option totally reassured me.   This was probably the best thing that could have happened and has stood me in good stead in my teaching practice since.  While it may have been a bit hectic to begin with, things soon settled down and all went well.  I was even asked back the following week!  This proved an invaluable learning curve as it has shown me the importance of being continuously cognisant of being able to deal with unanticipated situations.  A feature of adult education can be its unpredictability, be it in the guise of fluctuating class sizes or technological gremlins.  This reinforced the need to be able to adapt and cope at short notice and in the best manner possible.

Should I be effective to a grandparent garnering skills to help a grandchild with homework or allowing a better understanding of the ever increasing pervasive nature of the technological world we live in, my efforts will not be in vain.

The mother oft remarked “education, no matter what type, is no burden to carry”.  However without it, the burden can become overwhelming. Hopefully I can contribute in some small way to lightening the load.

By Thomas Moore (current student of Higher Diploma in Further Education, NUI Maynooth)

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Voices from the ESOL classroom

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We are just getting settled into a new learning year here in DALC and already we have been gathering our Words Of Wisdom (WOWs) here in the centre.

We run classes in the morning, afternoon and evenings for our ESOL (English Speakers Of Other Languages) in language and literacy for students from almost 30 different countries.

Here is a window into their experience of learning – voices from the ESOL classroom – our ESOL students WOWS:


“I like learning English.  I want to practise my speaking English and my writing. I am good at work searches.” Manuela.


“I want to learn English only.  In the new year, I go to Copenhagen on holidays. They speak English there.  I want to be able to go to the cinema.” Naji.


“I want to learn English to help my business grow. I am good at learning English.” Nasser.


“I like learning.  I want to learn to do my driving test. ” Miryawad.


“The first time English was difficult.  Now it is better. Now I understand English very well.  I am happy.” Sadiya.


“I love learning English.  I am good at writing and reading but I have difficulty speaking.  That is why I need more practise in conversation because it is very important to be free. When I want to do or go by myself to an appointment, I need a person to translate. ” Isabelle.


“I love learning English.  Learning English was difficult for me.  I like to learn English at school. I hope my English is progressing. ” Judy.


“I love learning English at DALC.  English is an important language.  I like the DALC school. I come everyday.  I learn more English words.  I like grammar and speaking.  I get new words everyday. ” A student in DALC.


“I love learning English in the Dublin Adult Learning Centre school, such as like spelling, reading and writing. I like to learn more computers and maths. ” Abdillah.

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Half way through my writer in community residency at the Dublin Adult Learning Centre (funded by the Irish Writers Centre with support from Dublin City Council), I went for a walk with the five members of the creative writing group I’d been working with for the past few weeks. We’d spent that time talking about Dublin’s North Inner City, exploring through their memories the vibrant and unique community that extended from Mountjoy Square southwards towards the Liffey. I wanted to see the sites these students had been speaking so passionately about, and had been capturing in their writing.

The area immediately around Mountjoy Square, where DALC is based, corresponded neatly enough with my students’ stories. The square was largely still intact, and whilst individual houses had been replaced by later replicas, the replacements were close enough to the originals to continue to give a sense of what life must have been like when these writers were children, playing around the steps of the Georgian houses, or ranging around the lanes and alleyways behind them.

But once we walked further down Gardiner Street the traces of their childhoods became fainter. Huge swathes of terraces had been torn down; the shops and factories and public houses they remembered now replaced by apartment blocks and student accommodation. An entire International Financial Services Centre covered the area where one student, from Sherriff Street, remembered playing as a child or where another recalled hanging off bridges and swimming in the canal at Spencer Dock. The park off Foley Street contained the only traces remaining of the huge complex of Corporation Buildings that once housed a thriving community of men, women and children, whose eerie echos could be seen in the old photographs lining the front windows of the Lab on Foley Street.

Words on the page seemed the only way of recapturing those lost communities, of preserving so many vibrant personalities. So we sat around the table in the basement of 3 Mountjoy Square and talked about this gradual removal of the old Dublin they recognised and its replacement with somewhere they didn’t recognise, or couldn’t always feel a welcome part of. We were at times angry, sad, bewildered, but more often than not we were laughing at the stories, the memories, the sheer energy and fun of those times. Perhaps we always remember our childhoods with that sort of nostalgia, but there was no rose-tinted glasses being worn by anyone in the group. Times were hard, but people were resilient. They had to be. And it was that resilience that group members returned to again and again as we talked through their experiences. They’d seen a lot in their time. They expected to see a lot more. But they knew they had the capacity to adapt, to find a new route through unfamiliar surroundings.

By Nessa O’Mahony, writer, poet and teacher. 


Asking the Right Questions

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A friend of mine’s little five year old boy started school. So far so good. Yet on a few occasions he arrived home with a sore tummy. His mother gave him 7up – the unwritten prescription medicine of undiagnosed sickness.  She let him rest. She told him to lie in bed with a book.

Eventually, she realised the sickness only reared its ugly head every so often, like a kind of scholastic Loch Ness monster, usually some day between a Monday and a Friday.

‘Are you happy in school?’

‘Are you having great fun?’

‘Do you love your new teacher.’

On reflection, she realised that all her questions were overwhelmingly positive. And closed. No open-ended opportunities for talking. He could only answer a yes or a no.

There is the old adage we hear all the time in teaching – like one of the ten teaching commandments – there is no such thing as a stupid question. Yet can we be asking the wrong questions? Ones that don’t solicit the best response and ultimately, not the best evaluation of teaching and learning and really knowing how your student is getting on?


We ask many different questions in the learning setting, in the classroom and for many different reasons. Is it for comprehension? Is it for understanding? It is for some kind of emotional response as to how the learning is going? Sometimes we blindly ask a question, almost on autopilot, almost ridiculously ill-timed and out of place – like a person in a pioneer club asking for a pint – yet surely the most important thing to realise is the reason behind asking the question that you asked?

Seems obvious but what is the purpose behind your question?

Some of the most useful questions we use in our centre can be categorised into:

  • Meaning question – what was that about?
  • Feeling Questions – what did you think about that?
  • What did we do questions – the practical, naming it question.
  • Comprehension questions – what did you understand by that?
  • Opinion questions – what do you think?

These questions are great to ask as a parent, an educator and to incorporate into your writing exercises and your everyday teaching. Just saying.

So before you do a mindless Magnus Magnesson  – master the mind of questions before you ask, if you don’t mind.

Therefore, your next specialised subject is (drumroll) –  What are the questions you ask and why?