Students of Mountjoy Square: Fathi

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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

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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: 

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/608b/e99b6a144d7eeb1a31657710492768bb4872.pdf

 

old classroom

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?

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The Importance of Reading to Children

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We can never underestimate the importance of books in our lives and in our children’s lives.  We can appreciate our ability to read in the first place, a gift denied to so many, through circumstance or no fault of their own. However, before you can shout ‘Mother Goose’ – it can be a minefield of issues. As an educator and an advocate for helping our parents and the people who attempt to instill that the idea of reading to children is a good thing in the first place, here are four things to think about:

  1. Once Upon a Time?

This can be one of the challenges of reading to children – giving it the time.  I grew up in a family of seven and I remember my mother ‘reading the pictures’ in our picture books – at times she bypassed the words altogether. Research tells you that this is still very much reading to children as they are hearing words. Even five minutes a day can make all the difference.  It is a lovely time to connect with your child and also – it helps to develop oral language skills – key to literacy skills.

  1. I do not like green eggs and ham!

Now, this can be a massive pain in the pumpkin carriage – that situation when your child absolutely ADORES a book that you hate reading! Personally, I am not crazy about Dr. Seuss, but my daughter loved those books. My boys went through a phase of a book entitled Cows in The Kitchen – it’s basically plotless and rhyming (the children’s book equivalent of Twin Peaks or something!! Just kind of weird!). I had months of torture reading it!

At times it’s good to remind ourselves that it is for their benefit and entertainment – not ours. Let them choose. Soon they will be in the land of nod and you can go back to Downton Abbey boxsets or whatever floats your boat.

  1. What if Cinderella was black?   

Something that was brought to my attention recently – what if Cinderella was black? Or if Harry Potter was a little boy from say, New Delhi? Would it make a difference to the story? There is a serious lack of ethnic minorities/people from difference races and colour reflected in stories – according to recent literacy research in the UK. Hoping this will change so our kids get to read about other worlds and other experiences.

Hey – we have a Taoiseach who is half Indian – and a more diverse society – isn’t it time for it?

It is always a good idea to talk about the universality of stories rather than the children in them.

  1. So many distractions!

These days, there are so many things to compete with books – iPad games, busy lives – you name it. But to quote the great Roald Dahl:

‘Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage.’

 

 A few books to recommend! 

My Top 4 up to Age Four!

  • Mr. Topsy Turvy – the best of the Mr. Men books for me. Great for pre-writing skills as he mixes up sentences in the funny way. But any Mr. Men book will do.
  • The Day the Crayons Quit by Oliver Jeffers – excellent for teaching colours and the the importance of colours and their meaning in our culture
  • Tyrannosaurus Drip – Not a huge Gruffalo fan, but love this Julia Donaldson one – it is basically a new version of the Ugly Duckling. Teaches the importance of kindness and difference
  • The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers (again!)

 

My Top 5 up to Age Ten!

  • The Dogman Books by Dav Pilkey – graphic novels/comic books from Captain Underpants author. Addictive to the six or seven-year-old boy
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid – excellent for the kid who finds it hard to engage with books.
  • Wonder by R. Palacio – brilliant for making kids more empathetic to other kids
  • Horrible Histories Series – wonderfully dip-in-and-outty!
  • A Place called Perfect by Helena Duggan
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events Series – dark, hilarious and addictive if your kids like them!

 

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September was the cruelest month?

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The poet TS Eliot once said April is the cruelest month. Can I meekly put my hand up and register September as taking that honour, or if not winning a close second?

Does anyone love September? You put up with it, we might go for coffee with it, but you don’t actively seek out a date with September.

Ok, admittedly, the weather is beautiful, the ochres of autumn and all that, but it also signifies the new term.

If September was a person, it would be the younger, better looking sister of January. Auburn haired perhaps, mostly affable, sometimes moody. Less harsh than January.  If you ever went on holiday with September, it would be the kind of person- we all know the ones – who are the first up, making plans, planning the route for the next day trip to Camino de Torres in the Camino, while you sit luxuriating and slumbering on the bottom bunk of some hostel bed.

September for many is about beginnings. The beginning of a new routine, one which we are all sent hurtling into whether we like it our not into. Tumbling like the autumn leaves in the park, despite ourselves and with little control, we are carried along into a new path.

It is comforting to know that there are common fears everyone experiences when embarking on those new beginnings. For many starting a new group, the thoughts are the same– will I fit in? Will I be able for it? Will I be asked to do something I can’t do?  Will I be in the oldest/youngest in the group? Will people think I’m crazy if I express an opinion? (And that’s just the teachers/tutors in the staff room!)

One of Seamus Heaney’s most well-known quotes – So walk on air against your better judgement – is something I am trying for September.  It is about giving things a go and not thinking too much.  Who wants to come into the deep end with me? What’s the worst that can happen? Ok, you may not emerge dignified but I say,  we embrace our inner deep sea diver. You know it is there. It may need a little coaxing to the diving board, but it is there.

Most new groups form in September – the new adult learning group, the evening palates group, the children starting in Junior Infants for the first time or even starting a new year. We’ve heard of the stages of the group, the memorable rhyming Tuckman’s theory, the storming, norming, forming thingamajig. A new group is like the birth of a new living thing. In some ways a blank slate, in others a life and personality of it’s own –  or it is subject to its environment? The people in the group? The teacher? Dumb luck?

It is true that every new group takes a while to get going.  We are in the group, we are there – that is the most important thing for now. The work will get done in time.  I call it group survival mode. Choose your battles wisely.  You’re in the forest, camped out, but you’re not at the Bear Grylls stages yet of actually being so at home that to feel comfortable enough to kill a deer and cook it on the fire.  In September, if I’d successfully worked out how to open and pitch my tent, my job is done!

We might look at the map, we might think about our next move (our next move could be planning the next class, addressing that issue that arose in week two but you noted it, or something else you intelligently put on the long finger as at the time you thought to yourself – too soon). As an educator, teacher and quite frankly, as a human being – we must lower the bar in September.  We are here. That is all.

Let’s see where October takes us, shall we?

Interesting links on group dynamics in the classroom:

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/establishing-classroom-norms-todd-finley 

 

 

 

Adlitting is what we do. What is adlitting?

Adlitting is a platform for anyone who is interested in teaching and learning.

Adlitting lives in DALC (Dublin Adult Learning Centre) in Mountjoy Square, in Dublin’s North Inner City.  We are about meeting student needs and innovation in literacy, adult and further education. No matter where our students are from, no matter what they want to do, read or write, we are here to help them on the journey.

Through the transformative power of learning, we are helping to open a new world of possibilities, interest and fun. A new way of looking at the world.

Our blog is a window into the world of adult learning but also into learning and education for all – young and old – and the people and educators who want to share their stories. We learn from each other and we want to capture that learning, like butterflies in a jar. Those moments, those musings and that magic that happens in people’s lives and in the classroom. We want to pass on what we know.  We want to create a hub for ideas and a nerve center for learning.

Will you be here?

We are a window to learning. We are adlitting but we want you to be adlitting too. We hope you stop and stay awhile and add your story too:

Please email fionnaighc@hotmail.com or fionnaighdalc.@gmail.com if you wish to be a guest blogger.  We would love to hear your thoughts and insights into any aspect of  teaching,  education and learning.
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