I have spent most of my career working with young people, many of whom have struggled within the education system. For a large percentage of these young people, the challenges that they have faced have certainly influenced their lives in a range of different ways and have, at times, left them questioning their ability to learn. Many have commented how the subsequent impact has left them feeling stupid with their confidence on the floor.
For those of you reading this article, you may have found school absolutely fine and how you were taught worked with how you learned best. Essentially you were a round(ish) peg trying to fit into a round(ish) hole. Now think back to others in your class, the troublemakers, the ones who seemed disinterested, the ones you knew were getting spoken about in the staff room. We are going to look at these young people through the lens of someone who is more like a square peg being pushed through the same round hole as everyone else. In my experience, it will always be much easier for these young people to disrupt the classroom, or get into trouble, than to actually hold up a hand and just say they don’t understand what the teacher is talking about.
It is important to point out that with this article we are not trying to criticise the traditional educational structures that we have, rather it is looking at a new way that can support those who struggle with spelling and work with how they learn best. For many years, I searched to find simple, practical ways of supporting these young people, meeting with learning support teachers and professionals working the area. Many of the techniques I came across took a lot of time and effort to be put into consistent practise, which is absolutely fine, but then I discovered the Empowering Learning programme and things changed significantly.
How I came across the Empowering Learning programme was when my father, Con, went and got trained in it having discovered it online. He came back and described how the process worked and it just seemed too good to be true. At the time, I was running a youth project for young people who were in trouble with the law and the majority struggled with school. I had one young person who had challenges around spelling and reading so I invited Con down to do a session with the young person and his mum.
When we started the session, Con asked the young person what he felt comfortable spelling and the maximum amount of words consisted of four letters. Con then proclaimed that by the time we finished the session, he would be spelling much bigger words, forwards and backwards, to which both the lad and his mum laughed. Fast forward to one hour later, and both his mum and I were sitting, mouths dropped open, as we saw her son spell “psychologically” forwards and in reverse on the first try! This was the moment I knew this was a process I needed to bring into my toolkit for the young people I work with.
The programme was created by Olive Hickmott, a forensic health and learning coach, based in the UK. On her website, www.olivehickmott.wordpress.com/empowering-learning, Olive describes herself as, “A reformed Dyslexic and ADHDer, I created Empowering Learning to enable highly creative, imaginative, neurodivergent students to learn in the most effective way for them, that is typically through their strengths of mental imagery”. This really resonated with me as I could picture so many young people I worked with and their creativity and imagination, outside of the education setting. I decided to get myself trained and have been working with children and parents ever since with unbelievable success. We run one day courses where young people come in expecting the same experience as school and leave walking on cloud nine having discovered they CAN actually spell!
So, let’s look at how the process works. As the website states, “Empowering Learning works with those who have neurodivergent thinking and learning skills and/or may have various Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) diagnoses, looking past the diagnosis to helping people use their fabulous creative skills to transform any limiting symptoms they have. The visual sense is the fastest system we have for learning and is the natural way young children learn – using their imagination.” The key here is using the visual sense rather than the auditory, which the majority of early educational establishments use.
One of the initial challenges for young people can be realising that they can “control” that visual sense. Think back to being a kid and just living in the moment with your imagination running wild. It was so carefree and there was very little need to have to control your mind.
With the Empowering Learning process, we show young people how to control this visual field and thus create the conditions for them to go through the rest of the process.
Following on from this, we then show them the word they need to spell, rather than use phonics to remember the letters. They then use their visual memory to repeat what they are seeing. Anyone observing then sits back in awe. Yes, it is that simple!
Honestly, it really is a process that needs to be seen to be believed. It truly sounds too good to be true, but it’s not. Every person we have shown the process to, all say the same thing, “Why is this not taught in schools??”, including any of the teachers we work with.
They only way to finish up this article is to leave you with this message I received from a parent after our last course, “Allen, thank you so much for today! I was blown away by the whole course and the delivery of same. It means so much to me and my wife to see how our daughter’s confidence grew within a matter of 20-30 minutes and will really stand to her going forward. As I’m, sure you’re well aware, it’s a massive worry when you see your child struggle so much at school as it affects them outside of school as well. Just now I’ve done some baking with her and normally she would ask me to read the recipe for her but she was adamant she wanted to read it herself today. It’s such a relief to know she has her own recipe for her spell and read now, thanks again!”