The Beauty of Mistakes

shallow focus photography of assorted pencils near apple keyboard and mouse
Photo by Dzenina Lukac on Pexels.com

 

I only became aware recently of a rather quirky fact. A member of the 1960s band, the Monkees was called Mike Nesmith. Mike Nesmith’s mother invented Tippex.  I am sure that this piece of knowledge enriched your life, yet it got me thinking about the nature of mistakes.

The other day, a student of mine declared ‘I never made a mistake until I could use Tippex.’  Tippex gave him the freedom to make mistakes in the first place. Tippex for him was a kind of mistake licence, and goddammit, he was going to use it!

Why did he need Tippex in the first place?, I thought. Had I not created a mistake friendly environment?  Or did I make him think he had to get it right the first time?

Tippex, the little correction fluid wizard, helps us erase and regroup.  We can hide the process, pretend it didn’t happen, nothing to see here, move on. Yet I believe that we should be allowed, in fact, encouraged, to make at least one mistake everyday. Or perhaps have a mistake ration everyday. (Although I may have used mine up already with my terrible parallel parking). But wouldn’t that be wonderful? For educators and teachers? For us all?

It has to be said that Tippex produces a complete whitewash of anything that went before. Is this healthy? Is it not better to learn and analyse the mistake? A mistake for me is juicier when we can look at and talk about the mistake. What did you mean to say? What did you want to write? In what way is this different to what you had intended? What can we do to make it better? What changes do we have to make?

Mistakes can be our friend. Honestly. They can help us:

  • make a plan to do things better
  • help to highlight what areas need improvement
  • help to put feedback into practice
  • help us to see that taking risks is an integral part of learning. We would never leave the house of we worried about getting everything right.

Learn to love your mistakes. Let them in. Let them sit and take a seat at the table of learning. They are most welcome.

The philosopher and educational reformer John Dewey apparently said that we don’t learn from experiences, but that we learn from reflecting on experience. Perhaps the same can be said for mistakes.

And to paraphrase the Monkees, Then I saw mistakes? Yes, I’m a believer.

 

By a teacher and tutor 

 

 

A few interesting links below on common mistakes teachers may make in their practice:

https://www.edutopia.org/discussion/6-biggest-mistakes-teachers-make

https://www.thinkinclusive.us/eight-inclusion-mistakes-even-good-educators-make/

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. 

heaven

Last Minute Tips for Voting Tomorrow!

Image result for voting
Tomorrow is the big day to vote!
The kids may be off school and you are busy trying to plan your day. You may have forgotten to think about the vote and what is happening!

Here is some quick info to remind us all!

We are voting for a new president 
AND

We are voting to take blasphemy out of the constitution (basically the law of the land) as a criminal offence. Yes if you want it out. No if you want to keep it as it is.

The 6 candidates who want to be president have bombarded our screens over the last few weeks.  A quick reminder of who is who!

  • Michael D! – where have you been if you don’t know who he is? Maybe in hiding.
  • Sean Gallagher – the businessman who was on Dragon’s Den. He went for election 7 years ago and was most definitely in hiding since!
  • Joan Freeman – she runs the Pieta House charity.
  • Peter Casey – A businessman and another Dragon. He was on TV a lot for the things he said!
  • Liadh Ni Riada – the Sinn Fein candidate who speaks Irish. At every opportunity.
  • Gavin Duffy – another businessman and another Dragon! Not much else we can say.

Finally, remember these things going in to vote tomorrow!

1. It will be a white paper for the Presidential election. Think of the colour of the house they will be living in at the Aras!

2. You put a number 1 beside who you want to be president. Their picture will be beside it. Don’t mark an X but put a number!

3. You can put the numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 in order of who you to give your next votes to. Kind of like a race. Who do you want to come 1st, 2nd, 3rd and all the way up to 6th.

3. The blasphemy paper will be green. Holy God! You just put an X beside yes or no.

4. Don’t take a selfie inside the voting booth. It is a privacy issue and let’s face it, no one looks that good in the school lighting.

5. Pop your vote in to the boxes provided. Whatever way you voted, it is too late now!

6. Ask the staff there as they are very helpful. And probably very bored and want something to do.

Well done for taking the time to vote!!

Please pass on any of these tips to your family and friends but remember – don’t tell them who to vote for!

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: 

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

 

old classroom

Asking the Right Questions

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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?

voltaire1

The Importance of Reading to Children

adult baby book boy

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!

 

reading