Retention Strategies for Adult Learners
1. Use adult oriented coursework, geared toward real life situations. The textbooks used in our program are geared to the life-skills needed by our students in the community. The topics address such categories as transportation, jobs, health, directions, and housing. Utilizing real life situations allows for role-playing that reinforces other types of instruction. Additionally, students can see how the instruction relates to their lives.
2. Provide consistent one-on-one contact to assure students of your interest in them. I think this is crucial in ESL instruction. Not only does one-on-one contact assure the students that you recognize them as real people, it also gives ESL students a chance to practice their English skills. Since most ESL students do not have an outlet to practice English outside of the classroom, conversing with the instructor helps them use their newly acquired skills
3. Incorporate students’ interests into instructional material whenever possible. This is difficult in the beginning levels of ESL, since students lack the vocabulary to make their wishes known. However, in the intermediate and advanced classes, students appreciate being able to select some of their curriculum. Sometimes students will bring in documents they need help understanding, such as traffic tickets and jury summons. Students also ask for assistance in preparing resumes and job applications
4. Develop and utilize a student recognition and rewards program. As mentioned above, students in our program are awarded completion certificates. Instructors can also search out reading material in thrift stores to use as rewards. In advanced classes, I’ve given English dictionaries to those students who have the best monthly attendance. Often, advanced students can ascertain the meaning of words by the definitions listed even though they are in English. In beginning classes, I’ve used children’s books. The subject matter may not be aimed at adults, but most students are excited that they can read a book in English. An added benefit is they can read it to their children.
5. Establish a system for contacting students; call them after the first missed class. During the first class, teachers can collect student information by having the students fill out index cards. When instructors follow a student’s absence with a phone call, students understand that the instructors care about them and their education. Another method for contacting missing students is to pair students in a kind of buddy system. The buddy can make the phone call to the missing student. Each of these systems encourages accountability, as well as attendance.
6. Give frequent positive feedback and reinforcement. Adult learners need to feel successful in their attempt to learn English. Often, adult learners give up family time to attend class, and they need to feel that their efforts are appreciated. By giving frequent positive feedback, adults see that their hard work is helping them to accomplish their goal.
Fenwick, Cynthia. “How to Reduce Student Attrition.” Maryland Association for Publicly Supported Continuing Education Newsletter. 1977. 8 Aug. 2006.
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