The needs of adult students should be the focus for all decisions and program activities. It is helpful if students are active participants in all aspects of the literacy agency. It is also beneficial to continually gather their feedback on program operations. Students (and the agency) will benefit from the creation of a learning community (social events, support groups, peer tutoring, etc.).
Although direct involvement in their learning environment may be new to some students, such involvement greatly supports learner-centered programming. Having meaningful involvement from all stakeholders – students, staff and volunteers – can help your literacy agency become more vibrant and more connected and relevant to your community.
Involving Learners in Your Agency
Student involvement in your agency builds ownership, commitment and self-esteem. It motivates and inspires the students. All of these outcomes directly help with retention. Student involvement also gives students valuable experience that can help them in a job search or with their future educational or personal goals.
Students can be involved in literacy agencies in many ways including:
- Serving on boards and committees
- Providing orientation to new students
- Providing peer support to fellow students
- Speaking to the community about literacy issues
- Writing newspaper articles
- Writing a student newsletter
- Contributing to a book of student stories
- Providing information to the agency about what is working and what needs to be improved
- Serving on an adult student group to support students and provide input into agency operations
- Participating in social events to build community and support other students
East End Literacy wrote an excellent resource called “Let's Get Together”. This resource helps students to volunteer in literacy programs and gives support to help students participate in meetings. It can be found at: www.nald.ca/library/learning/get2ther/cover.htm.
The Ontario Literacy Coalition has produced a valuable resource to help literacy programs start up a learner speaker program: “Let the Experts Do the Talking! A Manual for Literacy Organizations Starting a Learner Speaker Program” (www.nald.ca/library/learning/experts/cover.htm).
Some adult students may also be interested in getting involved provincially or nationally. You can find out more information on provincial and national adult learner groups through the Learners Advisory Network (LAN). LAN is a committee of the Canadian Literacy and Learning Network. You can access their website at: www.literacy.ca/themes/mcl/learners/index.html.
Current and former learners can be a wonderful source of information. Through informal discussions, a survey or a focus group, you could ask questions about retention issues and potential program improvements such as:
- Do you have ideas about how we can better support you or other students?
- What books, materials, resources, software, etc. do you find most useful?
- What learning activities work best for you?
- What is the most difficult thing about attending our literacy program and what could we do to help with this?
- Have you ever thought about quitting? Why? What made you decide to stay?
You will surely get some great suggestions (after all, students are the experts!) or you may notice some overall patterns or needs. You can then adjust programming, learning approaches and materials as you are able and as needed.
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