“A dream is just a dream; a goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline”
Helping learners to set realistic, relevant and achievable short and long-term goals is critical to motivate learning and therefore to retain learners. The Ontario Literacy Coalition's “Seeing the Need; Meeting the Need” research report found that having specific goals to work towards were key factors in retention.
Student goals should be at the forefront of all literacy activities. Students should be active partners in the goal-setting process so that they feel a strong sense of ownership and commitment towards their goals.
A useful, easy way to think of goal setting is to help students to set “SMART” goals: goals that are Specific; Measurable; Attainable; Realistic and Tangible. As well, helping students to set short-term goals where they can quickly experience success is a useful retention strategy.
Community Literacy of Ontario has more information on SMART goals and a useful goal setting activity in its “Self Management” module under the “Instructional Strategies” subheading on Literacy Basics at www.nald.ca/literacybasics/instruct/self/01.htm.
In terms of overall, broad goals, statistics from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities' Information Management System for the period of April 1, 2004 to March 31, 2005 showed that there were a total of 38,462 adult learners enrolled in literacy programs in Ontario. For these learners, their stated overall training goals (all sectors and streams) were as follows: further education/training (55%); employment (29%) and independence (16%).
Naturally, within these broad goals, adult students have a wide variety of long and short-term goals such as preparing for a specific college or training course, writing and reading for specific purposes (letters, forms, work-related documents), personal budgeting, preparing an effective resume, and personal reasons such as reading to children, or understanding their child's report card, etc.
Goal Setting and Assessment
Goal setting begins with an effective assessment process. Assessment is an ongoing process that begins the moment a learner enters the program. The assessment process is an important tool for retaining students as it gives practitioners the chance to understand and support the learning goals and needs of each adult.
For more information, please read MTCU's “Goal-Directed Assessment: An Initial Assessment Process” at www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/training/literacy/goal/goal.pdf.
Effective assessment ensures that students are placed at the right learning level. Placement at either too high or too low a level is harmful to retention as instruction will either be too hard or too easy. If placement is too high, student progress will be slower and therefore de-motivating to the student. If placement is too low students may become bored and not fully engaged in learning.
Effective assessment also ensures that the adult student is placed in the right literacy program to meet their needs. Many communities in Ontario have several different types of literacy organizations (community literacy agencies, school board and colleges). Each may offer different programming options geared to different levels and needs of students: one-to-one tutoring, small groups and classroom-based learning. It is critical to place learners in the type of programming that will be most effective in helping an adult reach their goals or learners will be at high risk for dropping out.
As well, the training plan can be a powerful tool for encouraging learners to remain in a literacy program as it clearly outlines the steps learners will need to take to achieve their short and long-term goals.
Please visit Community Literacy of Ontario's “Initial and Ongoing Assessment” training module on Literacy Basics for more information on assessment and training plan development: www.nald.ca/literacybasics/initial/intro/01.htm.
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