No harm in a little dreaming

11th May 2007 at 01:00

MICKEY MOUSE may be getting on a bit but he can still attract the girls.

The group from the Jobcentre is learning how to find information from tables and use a matrix to compare data. I have bought in some travel brochures for Disneyland Paris and Disney World in Florida, and set the students an activity comparing holiday options.

"Oh, cool" whoops Ellie. "I've been to the Paris one. I've still got the ears."

Ellie and her friend dive into the brochures and start picking their dream holiday.

I was wondering how they would respond to this activity as they do not have children, but I need not have worried. Give any of us a pair of big black ears and we can discover our inner child.

After comparing the two destinations and the costs, Ellie's friend decides to opt for a short trip to France, but Ellie already has the T-shirt and has set her heart on Florida.

By the end of the lesson, she is determined to get a job, and is even considering giving up smoking, so that she can save the money for her holiday. With Mickey's help, I have got nearer to meeting a New Deal target today than in any previous lesson.

Ellie's resolve will probably crumble, but dreams are what Disney is all about.

In my pre-entry skills group, I have an elderly student who is always prone to fantasise. He has not mastered reading and writing, but he loves making things. Every week, he promises to make me a bird table. Maybe he is just forgetful, but it never appears.

One day I ask him how he is getting on with it. He looks crestfallen and explains that he hasn't had time to start it yet. He has been frittering away his time watching television.

"You know that heart attack programme? I've been watching that," he says.

"I like that, I do. I copy him, what does it."

I don't know the programme, but the thought of George practising open heart surgery is not comfortable. I hope it is just another of his fantasies.

"He does it on one of them frames and then he holds it up and then I copy it," George explains. "Flowers they are, they're really beautiful."

I realise then that it is the children's programme Art Attack that has held his attention and I am relieved to think that George has been wielding a paintbrush and not a surgeon's scalpel.

Ellie's group has finished with the Disney brochures and, not being one to waste resources, I bring them in for George's group to look through.

George spots a picture of a familiar landmark. "I've got a jigsaw of that Eiffel Tower at home," he tells me. "Shall I make it and bring it in for you? I'll make you a nice frame for it, shall I?"

"That would be nice, George," I say, "but perhaps you should finish the bird table first."

Another dream fades as we drag ourselves back to the less romantic world of learning phonics.

Gill Moore is a lecturer in basic skills

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