Reminding Myself Why We Plan For Accreditation

business woman with ringbinders


Last week, I hit off my phone by accident and Siri asked me if there was anything she could do for me.  “Finish my QQI validation application” said I.  “I don’t understand” said she.  “Neither do I,” I thought.  She had the same reaction to the CRA and the CRO returns, so no point in asking her to fill out the Lobbying return or reviewing our GDPR.

One could be forgiven for thinking that this is the sort of thing a computer would relish.  As it turns out, even computers find it too dull to contemplate. 

The poet Dante imagined there were nine circles of hell for different types of sinners.  He got it wrong; there are ten. The tenth is for those whose sin is to work in the Community and Voluntary sector and/or with disadvantaged communities in Ireland and who foolishly imagine they can just affect change. For us, we don’t actually die first, but experience the tenth circle of hell on Earth. The cycle begins with the sinner asking cringingly embarrassing/intrusive questions of a person seeking help, followed by endless reporting of the same facts to a myriad of agencies on said person, ensuring there is neither time nor resources to render assistance to them.

The sinner is doomed to an eternity of not providing the assistance they want to and were trained to do.  As soon as the cycle is finished, a new one begins with an updated version of the form/code/validation/reporting just completed.

Mid-cycle on the tenth circle, a student rocked up to my door; a welcome sight and a reminder of who we are here to serve. I spent a stimulating hour studying the spelling-meaning connection with Jane (not her real name – GDPR don’t ya know).  Then I spent fourteen hours on paper work.  Am I prepared to do this for her if that is what it takes?  Absolutely. Is it a rational way to run a service?  I think not.  

By Columba O’Connor, Assistant Director of DALC.

batch books document education
Photo by Pixabay on

Remembering Joe

books for joe

We’ve just got a staff WhatsApp message. One of our students has died.  He died a few weeks ago and the funeral is over.  This is one of the hardest parts of being a tutor in an adult learning centre – at times our students die.  The two things aren’t connected.  We don’t have some kind of terrible medical effect on people. Our premises are beautiful, our tea and scones top class, and we strive to keep our atmosphere joyful and free from stress.

Many of our students are older adults, who have the opportunity to come back to education now that they have retired or have left the workforce due to injury or illness, or simply have more time outside their working hours because their families are reared.

Joe was one of the latter, coming in to class between split shifts as a Dublin Bus driver.  He loved learning, all of it, from improving spelling and writing, to dealing with challenging ideas.  We went on many trips as part of different groups, and he took every opportunity to follow up, joining libraries, doing his own research.  He revelled in group discussions and would laugh uproariously, dissipating tension when things got too heated.  After a robust exchange of views with trusted colleagues he would head off out the door delighted, saying ‘That was great, wasn’t it?!’

This time last year, we sat with tears streaming down our faces while he read a deeply personal story, honest and beautiful with a lovely turn of phrase.  I am always in awe of students for their bravery and honoured by the trust they put in us by coming in and saying ‘I want to learn, please help me’.  We do our best to fill the gaps and provide stimulating opportunities but when someone takes off, finds their voice and sings, it is always their own commitment to learning and changing that shines through, not any particular learning strategy or theory.

It is a privilege to be part of a learning community with students like Joe.

Often the apparatus of the State doesn’t value adult basic education, if it doesn’t lead to ‘progression’, employment or meet some kind of economic value. And yes, we go to a lot of funerals. It is something I find increasingly difficult, maybe due to the cumulative effect over the years.  But I would have gone to Joe’s gladly. RIP.

By Lisa Kilbride, a tutor in DALC. 


Students of Mountjoy Square: Fathi

somalia map

My name is Fathi.  I came to Ireland in 2010, on the 3rd day of the third month – March.  I came with one girl – my three year old daughter. My mother was already in Ireland. I am from Somalia and I came here for a better, safer life.

My first language is Somalian and when I came to Ireland I could only say yes or no! I went school in Somalia.  There is no public school there.  You can only go to private school and you have to pay.  Only the money people go to school in Somalia.  When I came to school here in Ireland the learning was easy because I know the writing and reading in my own language. I went to school in Somalia until I was 16.  I use google to translate from Somalian to English.

I grew up in Jowhar and when I was a child we moved to the capital city Mogadishu.  My family had their own shop there – a fruit and vegetable stall.  The stall was in the shopping area in the city called Suquaxolaha.

I miss sleep when I came to Ireland. In Somalia we sleep in the afternoon between 1pm and 3pm and I missed that. So when I came to Ireland I had no sleep in the day and I cried and got headaches!

The worst thing for me about coming to Ireland is the food! The food is very different.  I missed camel meat and camel milk and goat’s milk and goat meat.  The taste is so delicious!

The food in Ireland is different.  I had Cocopops for the first time in Ireland and I vomited!  I missed Somalian soup called maraq and anjero – which is soup and pancakes.  I could not get it here in Ireland. I had to get the ingredients here in Ireland but the taste is different because of the different spices.

I also found everything different here. When I go shopping I don’t understand the money when I came here first.

The weather in Somalia is much hotter but no change in the seasons from Somalia.  After a couple of years I had to take vitamin D and folic acid because I felt sick and dizzy.

Life is good here now.  I am Muslim so I go to the mosque every Saturday and Sunday.  My children are in school and have lots of Somalian friends.  I speak Somalian at home with my children.

I and my children became Irish citizens in 2016.  I am happy here.

flag of somalia

A Change of Habit

group of students

I heard on a radio show the most abominable reason that a husband left his wife.  It wasn’t an affair, it wasn’t a lack of emotional satisfaction in the relationship.

She cut her hair. Yes. You read that right.

She is not the woman I married, he declared. I fell in love with her long tresses, the wonderful cascade of hair running down her back. This is who I married all those years ago. I don’t want to be married to a woman with short hair. It went on and on as the radio presenters seemed both horrified and advisory in equal measure.

Yet can a small change really have such a measurable impact? Can it seriously change the foundations of a relationship? Even the teaching and learning relationship?

A study from 2017 by Rands and Gansemer-Topf looked at how changing the physical space of a classroom can create a more active learning environment. The study revealed that by redesigning a classroom in Iowa State University, it led to a more active learning environment, where students were more engaged and questioning.  The study recorded feedback on case studies and focus groups to examine how the redesign of the classroom (from a traditional/teacher centered rows) to one more fitting to group work (tables in a circle, big portable white boards for group learning, etc). In other words – the students had to do things and think about things rather than sitting back and letting the teacher perform while they whiled away the duration of the class imagining the perfect tweet to compose to guy or girl who had caught their eye.

It seems to be a common methodology nowadays for the teacher – primary school and at all levels – to change around the groups they work with each day.  In our centre in Mountjoy Square, we try to mix it up as best we can – change tutor, change methodology, change seating arrangements. This practice came out of the more general shift in educational practice from  ‘how teachers teach’ to ‘how students learn’. The more archaic classroom – the rows and linear seating was of course about control but also assumed everyone learns in the same way. What I refer to as the ‘Miss Trunchbull classroom’ – completely non democratic, completely controlling.

I believe there is a lot to be said for changing the classroom space around:

  • It moves students out of their comfort zone
  • It encourages better participation
  • It harnesses better independence
  • It helps to create a variety of learning methodologies (group work, discussion, paired work)
  • It gets students engaged in talking about what they are learning


It is a good idea to think about the set up of our classroom – does it make students move around?  Does it make them get more involved? Does it make them have to chat to the student beside them and think about what they are learning and do things?

They say change is the only certainty in life. The same must go for teaching approaches, this I am sure off. Yet there still remains silly husbands who don’t like their wives getting their hair cut and we can’t do much about that.

For more reading on the study by Rands and Gansemer-Topf: 

Click to access e99b6a144d7eeb1a31657710492768bb4872.pdf


old classroom

Asking the Right Questions

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard
Photo by Pixabay on

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?