Patricia Eger-Herz Retention Strategies for Adult Learners
Spring Institute: Glenadale Library


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Glendale understood the complicated lives of immigrants including work, family, and childcare needs.  Childcare was offered twice a week for evening classes, and twice a week for day classes.   Students with childcare needs were assigned to those class times.  Some teachers allowed children in the classroom when baby-sitting failed.

Students at Glendale were clearly respected and valued.

Students received CASAS testing and were placed in levels in keeping with test results.

Staff received cultural awareness training and active listening training.  Excellent and highly dedicated teachers were hired.  There were many in-service training sessions that were also offered to volunteers.

Textbooks were explicitly designed to address adult students need for practical (useful) learning.   The Crossroads series by Shirley A Brod and Irene Frankel, a four level, four skills series addressed life skills issues in schools, using the telephone, shopping, health, housing, finding a job, working on the job, recreation, and transportation).   One level (book) would cover two semesters.   There were four levels, each one taking these practical skills to the next level - covering the same topics.   Of course ESL, grammar, conversation were woven through the practicalities.

Teachers used games, working in groups, visual aids, and positive reinforcement of every move in the right direction.  Certificates were created as awards, taking note of all  at the end of each semester.   Movement to the next level was celebrated with a certificate from the school at the end of the semester.   Fun and laughter prevailed much of the time.   A party was held in each class on the last day of class.


Class sign up was through the library on the fourth floor.  Fee was $20.00 for textbook that would cover two semesters.   There was no pre-enrollment counseling.   Test times were given and tests were graded immediately, with students assigned to classes.   They were given the starting time and dates.  This was all pretty confusing to many of the students.

Classes were very large.  

Classrooms were uncomfortable (too hot, too cold, no air, stuffy, etc).  Lightening was the worst possible fluorescent.   Windows did not open.  

Classrooms were ugly.   (There’s no other way to say it.)

Overflow classrooms on the second floor were subject to a lot of noise, with classes being bumped for library functions.   These classrooms were used for non-program classes such as conversation and citizenship, taught by volunteers.

Getting to know students, because of the large classes, took a lot of the semester.

CASAS tested verbal skills.   Students were placed at levels commensurate with their verbal skills.   Those who did not know how to read would test high, and then find themselves unable to keep up with their level because of their poor or nonexistent reading abilities.  Some switched classes.   Some left.

Retention was important in two ways.   It was good to have high retention because funding follows retention.   It was good to have poor retention because teachers could actually have teachable size classes and get to know their students.


This would be a middle level class with sufficient English for understanding some of what the teacher is saying.

A very large class would contain volunteers that would sit among the students.   Some of these volunteers could be ex-students who also speak Spanish, or Russian, for example. (Not necessarily for use in class, but on breaks, etc.)  Breaking up large classes into smaller groups within a class - with a volunteer teacher among them, has been proven to aid retention.

We could play an introduction game - tossing a toy for example.  The goal is for each person who catches the soft toy to say their name and where they are from.   By the end of class people will know their classmates names - and already some camaraderie will have been established.

After a break I would administer a learning styles test.  (For example, VARK).  After checking the results, they would be shared and discussions held aimed at helping the students recognize their preferred learning styles.  I would then assign seating in circles by learning preference.   Four circles, with a volunteer embedded in each circle.   I will tell the students that as much as possible they will each learn according to their strengths.

I will ask each circle to work as a group, with a spokesperson presenting the findings, to come up with a list of the most important things they want to learn.  Also, each student will be given a folder, which will hold their finished assignments, their attendance record, a page in which they can communicate their needs, ask questions, make suggestions, etc., to the teacher or volunteer.   The idea is to make each person feel important and “heard.”  The folders will be given out at the beginning of each class, and collected at the end.  They will be given to the students at the end of the semester, as a kind of journal, including any awards they have earned, showing their growth and achievements.

Success will be celebrated.   Mistakes will be acknowledged as indications of what has not yet been learned...nothing more.

The students will, I hope, feel part of a group, and also feel respected as individuals.

Curriculum will be practical and linked to their needs.

Student suggestions will be discussed with the class and feedback will determine action.

This teacher will allow each student to know her, and she will endeavor to know each student.

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