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Once upon a time... Examples of the Paths Taken

A Major Step on the Road to Autonomy

In order for you to understand the full range and richness of the process, here are some examples of the paths taken by men and women who dared to take a major step on the road to autonomy. With the exception of J’s story, they were composed thanks to the testimonies collected from the trainers, learners and factory directors.  We thank them for their benevolent collaboration. 


With M…, we observed a notable progression regarding her self-confidence, concentration and her learning rhythm. She showed a great will to succeed, so much so that she made concentrated efforts to acquire and apply the means necessary to succeed. Whereas in the beginning she had difficulty concentrating, noise and movements were everywhere, she tended to consider herself to be “lousy”, particularly in math, but with time she learned a systematic way to develop her concentration, so much so that she is now much surer of her answers. More and more, she systematically uses the appropriate problem solving strategies. Persevering, she insists on doing and re-doing the exercises, ignoring nasty comments such as “give me that, you won’t be able to do it...” She shows such strength of character.


It was because he was in a particularly difficult time of his life, that he regularly belittled himself, which partially explained his lack of attention. M… had to leave the organization before finishing his work-placement training. However, he had acquired some learning strategies that were extremely useful to him, notably observation. He discovered that he could learn from others, which was a giant step forward. He also realized that if he moved some written instructions closer to him, suddenly they became “useful”, which automatically activated his concentration. And so, once instructions that are on the table, and too far away from him, are copied and moved closer, they become motivating: “that’s much better...


In spite of the fact that E… had difficulty maintaining a consistent level of interest and participation, he did firmly acquire and assimilate some learning strategies. Observation, the habit of clarifying the goal, and checking his work against an already “perfect” piece of work, are just some of the attitudes and behaviours that help him do a better job. As a result, he has gained so much more self-confidence.


D…is very open to, and interested in, the learning strategies. His biggest asset: he takes the time to start at the beginner’s level and then progressively move up, thus moving from success to success. Very perseverant, he always finishes the exercises, even if he doesn’t succeed on his first attempt. He’s already conscious of the importance of observation; he was interested in the learning strategies and knew how to benefit from them.

A young participant …

As soon as a difficulty arose, he dropped everything, he became malevolent. Lo and behold we discovered that he was having others do his written work for him. Then someone referred us to the Centre DÉBAT.

He passed the intermediate-level test, but it quickly became clear that he had false beliefs about learning that undermined his capacity to learn. While speaking with him, I discovered that whenever the trainer asked him comprehension questions, he believed he had to respond by heart and repeat back everything that she had said, word-for-word.

In discussions with him, I explained that this was not the case and that what we were asking from him was to tell us what he, himself, thought and retained. Later, as we went along, the time came for him to write a short text based on a picture. He had nothing to say! And once again, through discussions with him, I explained that there were no right or wrong answers in this exercise. We carried on. Finally things started to go well.

Presently, after two (2) French courses, I observe the following behaviours: he is able to say that he doesn’t understand, he speaks out and he asks for assistance. He realizes what to do in order to overcome obstacles and becomes less frustrated. He decided to finish the year at the Centre DÉBAT.

At his workplace, the change observed is radical! Not only are they seeing the same behaviours, but also notice that he is paying more attention to his physical appearance. And this time he has kept his job whereas in the past, as soon as a difficulty arose he became angry and frustrated, not knowing how to overcome it. Invariably, that ended in his dismissal.

Now that he can and has learned how to deal with his attitude, and control it, things are not the same. It just goes to show, sometimes….


When he arrived at the Centre, armed with an exemplary amount of courage and determination, G…did not know his alphabet. Very timid and reserved, he rarely spoke. At his construction job, he was also isolated. Introverted, he did everything to avoid our asking him questions; and the few occasions when he did reply, were when he already knew the people. Paperwork, he didn’t want to touch. In the three years since attending the Centre, learning first to recognize his letters and then to try reading and writing,

G… has learned to deal with his insecurity. With great difficulty and even arduously slow at the beginning, we had to be constantly “behind him”. Progress was sluggish. In fact, at the beginning of the year, during the second session in January, in an effort to overcome this prolonged plateau effect, the trainer introduced learning strategies into her program. She very quickly noted a change. Right from the first lesson, the one on intelligence,

G… started to question and revise his notions about intelligence, which made him think. He constantly treated himself like an ‘imbecile’ without even realizing it. The trainer helped him to become aware of this behaviour and to use a language that helped him to appreciate his own work. He learned to speak positively about himself.  

Now, he is aware of his progress. This is an immense step that translates into concrete initiatives and acts such as his setting up the room in the factory where the training takes place, without being asked. At the beginning of the autumn session, after coming back from vacation, he hadn’t forgotten a thing. Today, he is working on his own personal project, a step that was introduced in September. Interested in do-it-yourself, woodworking projects, he goes to the library, chooses a book and undertakes reading it on the spot.

He’s proof of a real OPEN-MINDEDNESS and attempts to read new words containing four or even five syllables. Curious, happier, he enjoys accomplishing the small class-exercises, the games, and he’s proud to participate in them. Whereas before whenever he didn’t succeed they were embarrassing for him, today he is able to put things into perspective whenever he makes a mistake…he is able to make a mistake, it’s less serious. He’s more open to doing all kinds of things like using a tape measure to measure various things in the class room, he accepts new experiences. He is more relaxed and even hums while doing his work.  

He used to think that in order for him to learn anything he really had to work hard, that he was an “imbecile” and that the teacher was going to spoon feed him, now he understands that his learning is credited to himself. Less impulsive, he knows that he must verify his answers and is learning how to do this. He’s pressing on, has more audacity and is broadening his field of experience. G… was attentive, throughout this experience; present, without second guessing. More confident, his language is so much less apologetic, he even cracks jokes.

These changes are reflected in his workplace. HE IS MORE OPEN. The plant manager says that everyone there notices it, “He’s more comfortable with himself and he verifies certain things, we can ask him to do more, he now does reports. He’s learned to offer his comments and is not afraid to take a little more of his rightful place than before, which surprises us; people say he’s speaking up. He’s gotten to a satisfying stage and he wants to continue.”   


The Centre DÉBAT is like my second family. This summer when there were no courses, and then when I got sick for a week and had to stay home, I was bored with everything around me. I was happy to go back. Here, there is no judgment, rich or poor, you don’t feel rejected. Everyone is welcoming. I wouldn’t experience this in a large school; you’re like a number. Sometimes you need to talk to your teachers but in a larger school, they’re not available for that.

At Adult-Ed, the teachers are not cordial: you have such-and-such to do and you have to do it. If you ask for an explanation, you almost appear stupid. At the Centre, even if they have to explain things 20 times, they will, you feel part of things. We can talk; we don’t feel bad for doing so.

Clearly, in the beginning I was scared. I was depressed, and it was tough. I didn’t leave our home, I was afraid to speak to people, to walk by myself on the street. I didn’t allow my children to go outdoors; they didn’t even have the permission to go outside in front of our door. I told myself: “stop being such a loner”. The people from the CDEST referred me to the Centre DÉBAT, where I saw that I wasn’t the only one in my situation.

Right from the start, my children were impressed, they said: “Mom, go to school!” When one of them was sick or had a day off, I would take them with me and they loved it. Today, I still have fears, but I’m able to control them. I receive lots of help and understanding. The advice they offer helps.

If it wasn’t for the Centre, I may not have continued. After two years of revision, I now read a great deal, and I took the high school level placement test: Secondary III.  I take correspondence courses. This has enabled me to get myself together. And in addition, whenever I’m feeling low, there’s always someone to encourage you.

I would never have thought of going there, as I figured I wouldn’t ever do the things that it opened up for me. In going to the Centre, I was obligated to go out, even if I didn’t feel like it. Today, I no longer feel imprisoned by four walls. I still have some fear but I’ve learned to live with it and it doesn’t prevent me from going out. I’m able to go shopping by myself, go into the stores alone. There remains one hurdle to overcome, which is to take the bus….

Guy LaRocque, Director of SOS Vélo…

Here, at SOS Vélo, the message that we’re trying to convey to inexperienced young people and especially to the employers, is flexibility, the concept of being able to learn. From there, if the person’s mind is open to the ways and whys of functioning, the skill is easily transferable. Learning to learn is what truly justifies the existence of SOS Vélo. This is how we prepare for the work force, regardless of the career path, because today, the paths and careers branch out in all sorts of directions.

With the learning to learn frame of mind, the young person will try to work towards the future rather than towards gains. We tell them: “We’re not here to make friends with each other, but rather to transmit knowledge, skills to you.” The recognition comes afterwards, like this young fellow who, following his training at SOS Vélo, called me to say that after only six months in his new job, he became foreman. And this other young guy who, after a first fruitless attempt at finding a job, came to see us so that we could examine the situation and then a brief time later contacted us to let us know that not only did he find a job, but after one and a half months, he got a raise that he wasn’t supposed to get for six months.

Here, at SOS Vélo, we work a lot on pointing out actual things to them as they happen, without attacking. We seek to understand the behaviour, the process, in order to undo it. We teach them to work collaboratively, by making them understand that every job is important. It’s not a power struggle. At SOS Vélo we have a common objective, which is learning to learn, so much so that certain young people have become in-house “coaches”.  

And so, the Learning to Learn program fits right in with the philosophy of SOS Vélo. Here, the notion of equality is a fundamental position used in reaching the youth. We take the time necessary to explain how to get from point A to point B, we don’t apologize for it. We describe the behaviours we see, without judging. All in all, learning to learn is an attitude, which allows one to turn on a dime, and the results are individual to each young person.

If the corporate image of SOS Vélo has improved, it’s due to them. It’s the young people, their contribution, their ingenuity, that made the project grow...and this, in spite of the fact t ve the loss and head out into another job. In fact, the hardest for them is to learn to succeed, to break the pattern of failure. With humour, a commonly used reinforcement, we help them to accept their successes.

I have great faith in the capacity of others, if you succeed at helping even the most destitute to develop and they have a desire, all they need is to have someone believe in them, one time. I have unbridled gratitude for the young people. It’s them who are able to develop new ideas, to take the unbeaten paths, like the new line of exclusive products created, which were derived from a Christmas tree that was made out of bicycles. At SOS Vélo, research and development as well as communication makes good sense.

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