Category: Aoife’s Blog

What is Dyslexia?

Many students tell us that they believe they have dyslexia. It affects about 10% of the population and is a specific learning difficulty that makes it more difficult to learn to read, write and spell accurately. For learners it can mean that they have had a lifetime of trying to decode text, understand materials and in many cases live with feeling inadequate or ‘stupid’.
In a recent publication by the Dyslexia Association of Ireland called ‘What’s Good for Dyslexia is Good for All’ it is stated that ‘a lack of understanding and knowledge of dyslexia can pose barriers to individuals hoping to progress in further education and training’. The publication also states that ‘this lack of understanding is resulting in adults not accessing necessary supports, withdrawing from participating in state funded programmes and at worse causing alienation and discrimination’.
The publication outlines clues to look out for including poor handwriting, a notable difference between spoken and written language and finding reading comprehension difficult. It also points out that it is only one part of a person’s learning profile and strengths can include ‘creative ability, lateral and diverse thinking, problem solving, good oral and interpersonal skills.’
The document provides some tips for tutors in the design and delivery of tuition which are in line with Adult Literacy tutors practice.
The document is available is all 8 Adult Literacy and Basic Education Centres and further information is also available on the Dyslexia Association of Ireland’s website on http://www.dyslexia.ie/information/information-for-teachers-schools-and-colleges/
 

Aoife’s Blog – October

Head, Heart, Hand

    

Many years ago when I did the Microteaching module on the WIT Literacy Development Higher Certificate Dr Maeve O’Grady asked us to prepare lessons that considered each domain of learning. The language made us take stock, what exactly did she mean? Did she mean learning styles? Was she talking about Multiple Intelligences? Did we need to proof our lessons against Howard Gardner’s distinct intelligences (see my blog from November 2015) or was she talking about Blooms Taxonomy (see my blog from October 2015).
Dr Maeve broke it down into a simple model that I have never forgotten. It was that every lesson plan should engage the head, the heart and the hands. The concept is that real learning and transformation can take place when the cognitive (Head), affective (Heart) and psychomotor (Hands) domains are engaged. By engaging the cognition of the student we share knowledge and skills and facilitate the development of critical reflection. The affective domain is where learning is deepened, where the person can relate and apply in their own lives, where instinctively they feel clarity or it ‘just makes sense’.  Engaging the psychomotor domain is not only about having hands-on activities but giving people a chance to try it for themselves or ‘give it a go’.
Ensuring that our delivery is aimed at all 3 – Head, Heart, Hand – we can ensure that real learning takes place, that students have a chance to reflect on the learning, become more knowledgeable, to allow for transformation to take place in their lives. Using this model also means that lessons will appeal to all students in the classroom as some students will have better developed skills than others. Peer learning can take place, students can shine and can show their strengths and everyone can feel a sense of achievement with each class.
This model is also important to be aware for group dynamics as some people can view life through these prisms. For some who are ruled by their heart, they can view the world through how the feel about experiences and the experiences of others. For those ruled by the Head, they prefer structure, information and being given a chance to understand and query data or information. For those who use their hands they like to get stuck in, they like things to be practical and they like the experience of doing.
The Head, Hand, Heart model is one that I often revisit in my work.

Head, Heart, Hand

Many years ago when I did the Microteaching module on the WIT Literacy Development Higher Certificate Dr Maeve O’Grady asked us to prepare lessons that considered each domain of learning. The language made us take stock, what exactly did she mean? Did she mean learning styles? Was she talking about Multiple Intelligences? Did we need to proof our lessons against Howard Gardner’s distinct intelligences (see my blog from November 2015) or was she talking about Blooms Taxonomy (see my blog from October 2015).
Dr Maeve broke it down into a simple model that I have never forgotten. It was that every lesson plan should engage the head, the heart and the hands. The concept is that real learning and transformation can take place when the cognitive (Head), affective (Heart) and psychomotor (Hands) domains are engaged. By engaging the cognition of the student we share knowledge and skills and facilitate the development of critical reflection. The affective domain is where learning is deepened, where the person can relate and apply in their own lives, where instinctively they feel clarity or it ‘just makes sense’.  Engaging the psychomotor domain is not only about having hands-on activities but giving people a chance to try it for themselves or ‘give it a go’.
Ensuring that our delivery is aimed at all 3 – Head, Heart, Hand – we can ensure that real learning takes place, that students have a chance to reflect on the learning, become more knowledgeable, to allow for transformation to take place in their lives. Using this model also means that lessons will appeal to all students in the classroom as some students will have better developed skills than others. Peer learning can take place, students can shine and can show their strengths and everyone can feel a sense of achievement with each class.
This model is also important to be aware for group dynamics as some people can view life through these prisms. For some who are ruled by their heart, they can view the world through how the feel about experiences and the experiences of others. For those ruled by the Head, they prefer structure, information and being given a chance to understand and query data or information. For those who use their hands they like to get stuck in, they like things to be practical and they like the experience of doing.
The Head, Hand, Heart model is one that I often revisit in my work.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham H Maslow (1908 – 1970) observed human behaviour and developed what we now call Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. As adult educators it is helpful to pause to consider the needs of learners within this context.
All of us have basic needs which were neatly packed by Maslow into a pyramid divided into 5 distinct parts.
Each of us is on a journey to what Maslow called ‘Self Actualisation’ which is when you are fulfilling your potential. That is as important for our learners as it is for us in our own lives. However according to Maslow there are 4 distinct levels that individuals most move through in order to fulfil their potential.
At the bottom of the pyramid are physiological needs. It is obvious that we all must have basic human needs and rights met in terms of shelter, food, water and sleep. However we all can cite examples where learners have times in their lives that these basic needs are not being met and how this gap can make learning difficult.
Once our physiological needs are met our next need is for safety. This is very evident in our adult literacy environment where people need to feel secure in their learning environment. They need to be sure that that they are treated with respect, that their experiences and knowledge are valued. They need to feel assured of the discretion of our service.
Once safety is achieved people need to have a sense of belonging. We all see how learners make our Adult Literacy and Basic Education Centres their own, they feel secure in the space, they have a roof over their head to learn, they have well equipped room and they start to make friendships with students and develop relationships with all staff. Having different kinds of relationships in different settings is an important things for our learners. A sense of community is critical at this level.
Esteem is the next level. This can be built internally by learners themselves finding the confidence to value their own input, finding their own voice, realising the skills they have. A big part of this is also having the recognition from others, having a sense of achievement from completing a task well or achieving certification. Our events to mark achievements are important. Whether we present certificates of attendance or QQI awards it has the same impact in terms of building self-esteem.
The final level Maslow identified is self-actualisation. At this level Maslow talked about flow. I understand this concept best as ‘when I am in the zone’. We all know that feeling when it all clicks into place, when it appears effortless, when it just happens.
Maslow was viewed to be in the Humanist tradition where learning is viewed as student centred and the belief is that the student can reach their potential by being facilitated and supported. This is a powerful philosophy that underpins the work of the Adult Literacy Service.
Having considered this model I am sure you can each think of a learner who, over a period of time, you saw them move from one level to another. It is a great privilege to be able to bear witness to this transformation.
 

The Green Ribbon

Each May ‘Wear the Green Ribbon’ is promoted to get people to talk more openly about mental health. It is really important that the stigma surrounding mental health problems is challenged.
Having 8 Adult Literacy Centres and providing hundreds of Adult Literacy courses provides people with an opportunity to not only improve their literacy skills but also to make connections, develop friendships, be part of a group or activities. While we focus our work on the improvements in literacy and numeracy skills we can all cite examples of changes in a person’s demeanour and their social skills which are critical factors to supporting good mental health. There is always a challenge for us in education to manage our boundaries when students raise serious mental health issues and we support each other in this.
A few months ago while on a walk I listened to (and later watched!) a Ted Talk by Guy Winch about called ‘Why we all Need to Practice Emotional First Aid’. He talks about how we all practice good personal hygiene and understand how important good physical care is but that we are slow to see a health professional when we feel emotional pain such as guilt, loss, loneliness or failure.  His podcast is worth listening to and is available at this link https://www.ted.com/talks/guy_winch_the_case_for_emotional_hygiene
In this podcast he talks about the destructive effects of loneliness, failure, lack of self-esteem and worry. He advocates the building of emotional resilience so that you can thrive and fulfil your real potential. He says that if you build your ‘emotional resilience …you will thrive.’
In many ways the podcast resonated with me because it can be what our students describe to us about their lives and how they feel when they arrive to Adult Literacy and Basic Education. They can feel lonely or isolated, the can feel like a failure, the feel the loss of opportunities that they never had and rejected by society. What is interesting about this is that Guy Winch describes the proven physical impacts that this emotional pain can have on people’s lives. He states that loneliness is scientifically proven to increase your likelihood of an early death by 14%. He says ‘Loneliness creates a deep wound – scrambles our thinking, makes us afraid to reach out.’ He also says that ‘Failure …. misleads us. We all have a default set of feelings and beliefs that gets triggered when we meet frustrations and setbacks.’
Later in the podcast he refer to rejection and that that ‘it is extremely painful. We think of our faults and shortcomings’ and that when ‘your self esteem is low you are more vulnerable to stress and anxiety … it takes longer to recover’.  A stark statement he makes is that practicing poor emotional hygiene can be ‘as significant risk to your long-term health as cigarette smoking’.
Isn’t it a real testament to our students that those that have experienced rejection in their lives whether at school or work, or those who experience isolation and loneliness can find the strength and reserve to reach out to our service and to attend week after week. It is therefore extraordinary that many are now busy preparing portfolios (under your guidance and instruction) and have participated in classes that you have facilitated with professionalism and care.
So while we wear the Green Ribbon to challenge stigmas May is also a month to celebrate the achievements of our learners in overcoming very real obstacles to learning.
Please note that for all staff and their families the Employees Assistance Programme is available to help at challenging times. Please contact your ALO/ DLEO for further details.

Managing Professional Boundaries

Last September 2016 I attended a NALA event to celebrate International Literacy Day. At the event a speaker from Galway ETB gave a presentation entitled ‘Stay in your Hula Hoop’ … which was actually about managing professional boundaries! She outlined the many scenarios that adult educators can be in that can make it challenging for us to manage our professional boundaries. Her honest stories reminded me a lot of the work we all did together in 2014 when we developed the ‘Managing Professional Boundaries’ document. It was a real team effort with all staff contributing to it through meetings, workshops and written submissions. It is great to see, now 3 years on that the document is being used throughout Kerry ETB and was adapted for use in the schools and across Further Education and Training provision.
We all had really constructive discussions when the document was being developed. We could all cite examples of when we felt ill at ease, when it was most difficult and strategies we used. It was through real sharing that we all learned so much.
At the time we felt that it was important to develop a document that we could use as a guide to help us maintain our professionalism in a wide variety of situations. The aim was to clarify the boundaries between professional and personal relationships. This document is available on the website (click here to download it) and also available from your Adult Literacy Organiser.
Part of the learning for us all on developing the policy was in defining the difference between helpfulness and friendships. Our professional relationships always focus on the educational needs of the learners. The focus on helping learners is from an empowering mode of practice and is focussed on meeting learners educational needs.
The document deals with a number of different areas such as providing advice, being approachable, respecting confidentiality, identifying warning signs and self-awareness.
It has guidance on a number of issues such as alcohol and illegal substances, creating dependence, personal disclosures, financial issues, when professional boundaries are breached by a learner and more.
It is good for us all to read the document from time to time to remind ourselves, support ourselves and to affirm our practice.

The Power Flower

In literacy we often talk about power. Some of our learners will tell us how they feel disempowered by having a literacy difficulty or by their experience of engaging in the education system in the past. One of our key roles is helping people not only develop their cognitive skills but also their affective skills such as a sense of power, self-worth, self- confidence and identity. In the delivery of our service we have to be acutely aware of the power relationships that are at play and how our role as educators is best delivered by building collective power through collaborative learning and working together. Essential to this process are clear group agreements and clear professional boundaries. In doing this there is an equality in the adult literacy setting; the tutor acts more as a facilitator of learning while still bringing their expertise to the fore.
On my Erasmus + mobility on ‘Motivation, Leadership and Interculturalism’  I was introduced to the ‘Power Flower’ tool. Essentially, the ‘Power Flower’ tool helps groups identify how close they are to decision making power in their lives or how powerful they feel in relation to a variety of identities such as race, sexual orientation, social class, religion and spoken language.
When we used it on the Erasmus mobility we coloured in the inner petals if we felt empowered in the segment area; if we felt distanced we coloured in the outer petals. With learners who feel distanced from power in our society this can be a way of expressing this by working individually or in small group settings. This can be an important step for personal development groups to take or for any marginalised group. It is important that when using this tool that time is taken to explain the purpose and rationale, allow people to work individually and in small groups or pairs and to take time to reflect together on the results.
Another way to use this is as an evaluation tool – by taking out the named segments you could insert areas that you wish to evaluate and ask participants to ‘colour’ the inner or outer petal depending on how confident they felt about that area. I have found that this has worked really well with a wide variety of groups. So, for example, you could use it to see how confident a learner is in relation to punctuation. The learner could colour the inner petals to show that they were confident using a full stop or a question mark but might be filling an outer petal for their confidence in using a comma. Visual and kinaesthetic learners will be engaged by this and you will quickly see what areas you will need to work on together. It will also help you measure progress as you will hopefully see more inner petals being coloured in as you move through your tuition together.
If you want to learn more about the Power Flower tool I suggest you read a paper written by Wenh-In Ng called ‘A Tool for Everyone – Revelations from the “Power Flower”’ which can be found on
http://lgbtq2stoolkit.learningcommunity.ca/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/flower-power-exercise.pdf
This article also has a copy of the power flower template.
I also suggest you visit this website for more tips http://www.networkedtoolbox.com/tools/44/
 

Late last year ETBI and SOLAS launched ‘Support Connect Inspire’ – a Strategy for Technology Enhanced Learning in Further Education and Training 2016 – 2019. It is available on line at http://www.solas.ie/SolasPdfLibrary/TEL_Strategy.pdf
The focus of this strategy is on using technology to enhance learning for students in Adult Literacy programmes and all Further and Adult Education programmes. The strategy aims to have a focussed effort so that learners can become more confident in using technology and so that all adult education practitioners become more confident about using technology in the teaching and learning process. As the Strategy states ‘Technology is increasingly part of how we live and thrive in our day-to-day lives. The ‘internet of things’ has become a reality, where everyday tools, services and other objects are designed and connected digitally, and people need digital competence in order to access and benefit from these innovations. In modern education and training, it is essential that all learners are equipped to understand and exploit the full advantages of technology in their work, at home and within their communities’.
Here in the Adult Literacy and Basic Education Programme in Kerry there are great examples throughout the county of technology enhanced learning taking place. The introduction of smart technology in some classrooms has helped in this. Tutors have made great use of the technology for teaching, evaluation, engagement and building motivation. Many of you have heard me comment on how I have observed a change in the ‘geography of classrooms’. Students are up and at the top of the room using the Interactive White Screens to learn, to show others what they know, to work alongside the tutor. In the coming year we will focus on providing you with opportunities to enhance your own knowledge and confidence around using technology in the classroom. We plan to run sessions on using the Interactive Whiteboards and on using smartphones and i-Pads and a variety of apps. All of these enhance the teaching and learning experience for both learner and tutor.
It is important that we deliver our services in line with national policy and that we identify ways to support technology enhanced learning during the lifetime of this strategy. We will support you in that journey over the coming years.

Skills and Attributes of Today’s Learner – Our Own Self Assessment

 

Our work as Adult Literacy practitioners allows us to work alongside our learners to help them bring transformation into their own lives, their family life or the wider community. While our focus is on literacy skills development we do so much more than this and our work is across many different areas. Recently I came across an Educator’s Self Assessment Tool by Jackie Gernstein. There are 30 questions across 12 areas that I found to be a very interesting self-assessment.
Her theory is that today’s learner needs a variety of skills across many different areas to be able to adapt, function, live and flourish in today’s world.
All of us need effective oral and written communication.  This is the core of our work, it takes time, expertise and creativity to be done well.  On a daily basis all of us collaborate across networks whether with colleagues or family. This is true as much for our learners as it is for us and to be able to enhance learning this skill is required.
We all need to be agile and adaptable to change so the skills we learn must be transferable to situations outside of the classroom. Resilience at times of change and at times of difficulty is an important skill and ‘grit’ is an important quality for any work or activity.  We all see this with our learners how they stick with their learning and coming to the Adult Literacy Centre when life is chaotic and hard. Having empathy for others and an understanding of the wider world is important as it is having a vision of how the world can improve and change. This can involve small steps in the home or larger ones in a parish, village or town. Being able to self-regulate in terms of motivating oneself and reflection are important tools to help deepen the learning process. Curiosity and being inquisitive are important qualities in life and taking the initiative to take control of our own learning is important. This is something that many of our learners have already done by returning to education. Critical thinking and problem solving are essential skills and ones that we nurture and develop through our range of programmes.
The great thing about our work is that learners have many of these skills already before they even come to our centres and that learners learn from each other in the mixed small group settings.
This Self Assessment Tool is a good tool in helping us realise how valuable our work is across many areas. It helps us realise the impacts we have and the important outcomes for learners that we work with them to realise.

 
 

Leadership

Recently at the Adult Literacy Organisers’ Forum I had an opportunity to listen, learn and reflect on leadership and innovation in adult literacy. It was wonderful to have this time with colleagues from around the country and to hear new perspectives and experiences. In my role as chairperson of the Adult Literacy Organisers’ Association I said a few words on the topic and shared my own views of leadership in adult literacy. I would like to share this with you all now!
There are many publications, much research and much academic writing on leadership – whether it is the essential characteristics, the attributes, skills or habits. One that resonates with me is Warren Bennis who wrote in ‘On Becoming a Leader’ about there being a number of basic ingredients. He identified 6 essential ingredients to leadership.
First of all a leader must have a guiding vision, that is a clear purpose and idea of what you want to do, along with skills to persist even when there are set-backs. Secondly a leader must have passion, this can be a vocational passion, a professional passion but you must love what you do. Thirdly he identified that a leader must have integrity, and he outlined that this must be drawn from a clear self-knowledge and maturity mixed working in a manner that is true to your principles and learned experience. Reflective practice is a key component of integrity. Fourthly he wrote about trust and how this must be earned, then about curiosity – the spirit of wonder and learning and the final ingredient in daring – experimenting, innovating and taking risks.
The Adult Literacy Services around the county are a little bit like baking a Warren Bennis cake – the six basic ingredients are evident and used daily by ALOs, DLEOS, tutors and learners. Each one shows leadership in different ways, at different times and in different contexts. In each centre they mix together to different degrees and produce some wonderful results. It is important to celebrate these results and reflect on ways to continue to achieve these great results together.
I extend warm wishes to you all at Christmas and for the New Year.

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