This is a short story which should help you reflect on the kinds of circumstances which may promote better learning and, at the same time, improve your English. I read it some years ago and it has influenced me considerably. I hope it will encourage you to think about our present education system and how we can stimulate real learning.
A colleague of mine from Rosario, Argentina, had been having problems with a student. Try as he might, the student seemed unable to learn. Yet he was intelligent, willing and motivated.
Claudia was the director of a private language school. She had been running this particular class for some months, and Jorge had achieved consistently poor results. Both Claudia and Jorge were equally frustrated. No matter how hard he tried, Jorge was unable to rise from his low status as the weakest member of the class in written tests.
Claudia was puzzled. She knew that Jorge was driven to succeed in his career. At the age of twenty he held a promising position in an Argentinian company that had sister companies elsewhere in Latin America and in Europe. Jorge desperately wanted to master English. He wanted to succeed but something seemed to be holding him back.
Claudia took him aside one day. ‘What stops you learning?’
‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘I try really hard but it just doesn’t seem to go in.’
Claudia tried a different tack. ‘Are you studying anything else?’
‘Sure. I have lots of exams to pass in engineering. I’m studying all the time.’
‘How are you doing?’
‘Fine,’ said Jorge. ‘No problem. Top scores.’
Claudia was curious about this anomaly. She asked, ‘Where do you study for your engineering exams?’
‘Tell me about it. How do you study? What exactly do you do?’
‘Well, I have my own room, and there’s a big desk along one wall. I put all my books and papers that I have to study in front of me on the desk. Open, all the way along in a way that pleases me. Then I put some of my favourite music CDs in the music centre and as they play I kind of dance to the music, moving around the chair and along the desk in time to the music, Reading. Whatever I think I need just goes in without any real effort. Easy.’
Claudia thought for a moment. Then she asked, ‘Jorge, can you play your favourite music silently inside your head?’
He thought for a moment and then replied, ‘Sure, anyone can do that I guess,’
‘OK,’ said Claudia, ‘Let’s try an experiment. You sit at a desk at the back of the class. During the lesson you can play the music you like inside your head. You can move around, in time with the music, as much as you like provided you don’t disturb anyone else. And let’s see if it makes any difference. If it works for you at home, maybe it might work here at school. Want to try?’
Jorge looked excited, a smile spread across his face, and his feet began to tap.
Four weeks later his work had improved to such an extent that his test scores placed him tenth in that class of twenty. In another four weeks he scored top marks, and after that his performance got better and better.
‘He was,’ as Claudia told me later, ‘a student who absolutely needed to move in order to learn. Whether he sat down in my class because he thought that’s what he should do or because he thought I expected it of him, I don’t know. What we both know now is that sitting down to learn was inhibiting him severely.
‘What he learned helped to accelerate his learning to get more of what he wants. He now works in Paris. What I learned is that to get the best out of my students I need to help them each discover how they learn best, and make my teaching and classroom management flexible enough to accommodate the learning needs each one of them has.
‘Jorge taught me a powerful lesson. That if a learner can’t learn in the way a teacher teaches, the teacher needs to learn to teach in the way the learners learn.’
Happy English learning!!