Learning with pleasure

Aleph Therapeutic Learning is rather different. It has been designed to make learning pleasurable, and to provide an experience during which a young person can gain a real connection to their work. Most importantly, it recognises that learning involves the emotions as well as the intellect. Please read the information below to see just some of the principles that are essential to the Aleph approach. (Email Carrie if you would like to receive the document, Why use the word ‘therapeutic’ in connection with learning?)

Addressing fears about learning

Learning should build confidence and be enjoyed. But many children, young people and even adults feel very anxious about having to understand new ideas and develop new skills. Often, a learner has a good deal of knowledge but finds it hard to write down or speak about what they know. Learning-related anxiety is usually hidden and may even appear as something else, such as an uncaring attitude to written work or challenging behaviour. It may appear as a learning difficulty when in fact there is not one. Of course, when we are nervous and lacking in self-assurance, we are unlikely to experience any benefit from learning, let alone enjoy it. An indispensable feature of the Aleph approach is to be aware at all times that anxiety can creep in unseen. When it does, it will usually prevent learning from happening, so the way that we set about imparting knowledge and the way we expect knowledge to be demonstrated is influential in this regard. Additionally, it is essential to convince the learner that mistakes are acceptable at any stage; the fear of mistakes creates strong barriers to learning and creativity.

Understanding difficulties

It is important to become aware of the different responses to learning and consider the reasons for these responses. This way, we can look at what is helping to make learning happen, or what is preventing it from happening.There are ways to do this which are enjoyable and liberating. Additionally, when we understand the problems that particular learning situations are causing – and apply helpful ways to deal with them – it becomes far easier to communicate with others who are involved in the young person’s education. One example of a problematic learning situation might be that a student feels insecure in a particular group of others. Another example might be that a topic is arousing distress or fear. However, even if the problem is purely one of difficulty in understanding, we must remember that this is probably causing great disappointment and worry to the young person.

It is helpful to note that a student who is described as gifted can also experience difficulty in engaging with school tasks or study, and there are ways to help such a young person come to their work with greater interest.

The importance of connecting with a topic; literacy in the context of real life

True learning is a felt experience. However, in almost all educational situations we are encouraged to consider only what we think, so our involvement is limited to an intellectual appraisal of what we are studying. When a young person is encouraged to feel something about a given topic, they become free to speak and write about it movingly and expressively. This may not seem significant, but it is, because allowing a personal response to a subject of any kind opens up an awareness in the young person that discoveries are to own and reflect upon. This takes the focus far away from compulsory achievement and places it firmly on personal fulfillment. Of course, if this type of learning happens regularly, a young person is likely to achieve anyway; in my experience they become able to discuss and write about their studies with greater fluency. Additionally, many young people would like to enjoy art and poetry, but believe their efforts are unacceptable. That can change too, because each individual is inherently creative and can be shown how to re-value and enhance everything they do. Development of this kind usually appears when young people are invited to call upon the things that are important in their own lives.

Sometimes, part of making a task accessible is allowing a young person to voice their dislike of a subject or assignment; if this is facilitated in a constructive way it can be very useful, as we will frequently discover elements of knowledge that were previously hidden.

It is essential to bear in mind that we adults have become so familiar with particular concepts that we may assume their meanings will be obvious to the young. Perhaps we believe that one or two explanations are sufficient in enabling a young person to understand something new. However, very frequently this is not the case at all, so we must be imaginative and find different ways to illustrate the ideas that we are trying to explain – and make them relevant to a young person’s current knowledge and experience.

Making tasks comfortable and enjoyable

Aleph uses original educational activities that can enable young people to feel at ease with new challenges and discover their innate abilities. Additionally, a young person will find a topic far more engaging and meaningful if it is related to their own life experience, and this is possible with almost all subject matter. Exceptions to this will be topics of a disturbing nature; in these cases most young people benefit from a supportive and sensitive approach to help them manage unsettling information while expressing their knowledge of it. Some young people will themselves have experienced the kind of trauma that is the focus or a feature of a piece of study. Before anyone of any age is faced with such difficult subject matter, it is important to make it possible for them and/or their family or guardian to speak about how they may be affected.

A pleasant and welcoming environment can add considerably to the enjoyment of learning. Clean and comfortable surroundings show young people that they are respected and that their welfare is considered important. Young people must be treated with the same courtesy and care that an adult would expect.