If you ask an educator what would be the most important value they can share and transmit their students in the process of learning, they would probably say encouragement and motivation. But how can you encourage and motivate a student with language-based learning difficulties (LBLD)? How can you empower a frustrated student in the learning process after they have been failing again and again for years? How would you make them gain the necessary confidence to try again? The answer, according to my personal perspective, is by providing them with hope. Hope is not a dream. Hope is the notion that you can achieve a goal based on factual information and learned experience.
In the words of Vaclav Havel, “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” Furthermore, as Brad Henry expressed so accurately, “A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.”
How many times in life have we had to face struggles and difficulties, both as teachers and as learners? Probably many more than we can actually recall. How, then, can we incorporate hope in the learning equation to achieve successful outcomes?
According to my own personal experience, there is no other feeling more related to learning than hope. Whenever I meet a student with LBLD who has been facing frustration and struggles for a long time, my number one priority is to show him or her that there is hope, because most of the time, that is exactly what the student – and his or her parents – has lost in the first place. I must help them regain their lost hope throughout the whole learning process. For an underachieving, discouraged, and frustrated student, learning English has become an obstacle that seems too difficult to overcome. Therefore, by not dwelling on their past experiences but rather moving forward into the new learning mechanism, we can begin the process of reversing their perception of learning English. That is, we shift English acquisition from an unachievable to an achievable goal. This is what the first minutes of every meeting with a new student involve.
In order to bring the student on board with this “Highway to Hope,” it is essential that I show them that such hope is realistic. How can this be done? By showing them that this is not just a dream but a doable and achievable goal, based on personal experience. It is not an abstract, ungraspable concept. Neither is it a promise or a dream. It is a tangible reality that the students need to experience by themselves to begin the process of changing their attitude towards learning English. How do I facilitate this experience? By making the student learn and retain something new in a very short period of time, and not necessarily something highly complex. On the contrary, it only takes a simple, but significant change in the student´s state of knowledge of the English language to help lay solid ground for factual hope and so, the “shifting paradigm” process begins in the student’s mind, thus opening the gates of hope for language learning.
During the first half of my standard initial meetings, the student introduces himself and expresses their difficulties and concerns regarding the language. I, therefore, have little time left to make my point and show the student that he can enhance his language knowledge. As time is of the essence, I focus on introducing the student to the different methods I offer for language learning, methods they have likely never used before. Here lies the key to regaining hope. We must introduce change and not “more of the same.” We must show the student different methods, different approaches, different mechanisms of practice and exercises.
This is an innovative, unique way of reaching understanding within the English language. Despite its apparent complexity, the presentation of variety and the reclamation of hope are achieved in a very short period of time, realistically no more than 10 minutes. This is another very appealing aspect of the methodology which helps the students feel motivated and experience positive results that reinforce their confidence and faith in the language.
In only a short trial of these different methods, the student gets to experience how the learning process is going to be different from anything he has been taught before. Hope, therefore, shifts from a mere promise to a tangible reality. If he retains the new information, we win our first battle. Yet, how do we make sure they achieve this? Again, the key is to understand the difficulty and then to adapt the procedure to the student’s personality, capabilities and needs.
At the end of this short trial, I always ask the student, “Have you been taught like this before? Is this way a new way for you? Are these methods, games or books new to you? If so, I can give you hope.” In my opinion, hope, as I mentioned before, should be based on facts. If the student realizes that we are about to start a different process with different methods than what they have previously experienced, they can renew their sense of hope based, this time, on self-experience and reality. This is how I provide hope to every new student I meet. It is crucial, vital even, that the student leaves the lesson with a smile. This sign of confidence is clear proof that the student has regained hope and will be able to overcome all of his difficulties.
Obstacles and learning difficulties always arise in the process of mastering a second language. My personal aim as a developer of this new teaching and learning methodology is to help the student find his inner strength, based on his everyday learning achievements. More than that, I aim to provide them with hope, which will enable them to face any difficulty with the belief that there is no such thing as an unachievable goal, provided they keep their hopes high.