Adult learners need to know they are making progress. They have busy, demanding lives and they need to know that the time and effort they are investing in literacy is paying off. Otherwise, why should they stay? In fact, the College Sector Committee in “Retention Through Redirection” found that one of the top three indicators that learners were likely to drop out was a lack of progress.
Adults need ongoing feedback from practitioners as well as concrete demonstrations that they are making progress. For progress to occur, practitioners and students must together set clear and realistic short and long-term goals. As well, effective assessment will ensure placement at the proper level. Placement at the proper level directly relates to the ability to make progress. For more information, please review the previous section in this module on “Goal Setting”.
In order to encourage students right from the beginning, practitioners should also build in opportunities for students to experience success early on in the learning process. Setting short-term, realistic, manageable goals can help learners to see progress in a relatively short period of time. In fact, ongoing encouragement, support and reinforcement from practitioners with regards to progress will greatly assist with retention.
Practitioners should continually review goals with students and acknowledge and celebrate student progress on an ongoing basis. They should also work with the students to revise their goals as needed.
The Ontario's Literacy Coalition's “Seeing the Need; Meeting the Need” research recommended the following steps to help learners make progress:
- Create individualized learning to ensure learners are getting what they want
- Discuss and make plans to support new learners on an ongoing basis
- Develop a strong communication strategy with each learner to help avoid dropout
- Build the sense of community that is essential to learner retention
The Literacy Group of Waterloo Region's (www.theliteracygroup.com) “Qualitative Tracking Project” shares the following important insights about progress: “Learners, particularly those at the lowest literacy level, need to feel that they are progressing towards their goals. By setting small, specific success indicators, they will be able to see their progress on a regular basis. Training plans should outline specific skills that learners can work on, and demonstrations of progress, both formal and informal, should be a regular part of the learning program. Each lesson plan should give learners and tutors an opportunity to review the progress that has been made not only during the lesson, but also over time.”
Encouraging Learning Success
To encourage progress, you can also talk about what leads to learning success, not only in a literacy program but in any educational environment, workplace or other real-life setting. Essentially, practitioners need to provide support to help students learn. For example, practitioners should share information on study skills, time management, self-assessment, etc. Community Literacy of Ontario's training module on Self-Management covers this more fully.
Katrina Grieve, in “Tools for Effective Transitions” (written for the St. Christopher House Adult Literacy Program) noted that there are common skills needed to achieve progress and move on to higher levels of learning or to different learning experiences.
Successful students at any level:
- Recognize their errors and make corrections
- Have a goal and a plan for how to achieve it
- Commit to the learning process
- Meet deadlines
- Apply the skills they are learning to a variety of situations
- Take on new learning challenges
Regular attendance is essential for making progress. Practitioners should clearly state all program requirements, including attendance requirements, during the intake and assessment process. As well, practitioners should let students clearly know that their ability to make progress and attain their learning goals will be closely tied to their attendance. Conversely, poor attendance is one of the prime indicators that a learner may drop out.
Some agencies develop an attendance policy. Some agencies require students to sign an agreement that outlines their commitment to the literacy agency, including attendance. The LiteracyCouncil of South Temiskaming has students review and sign the following agreement in order to ensure that students are clear on attendance requirements.
I agree to the following:
- I will attend for ___ hours each week (as per my training plan).
- I will notify the Literacy Council if I miss any time.
- I understand that if I miss time without an acceptable reason, I will be given a verbal warning. If I continue to miss time without an acceptable reason, I will be given a written warning. If I continue to miss time after that, I will be asked to leave the program.
- I understand that my attendance is monitored and will be submitted to Ontario Works, HRSDC or other sponsors as needed.
- I understand that if I am absent for ten days in a row without notifying the program, I will be considered as having left the program.
- I agree to respect the available time and energy of both paid staff and volunteers.
While regular attendance is important, we also need to remember that we are working with adults and that they have busy, demanding lives outside of literacy.
Many students have family and work commitments that demand their time and attention. Agencies should keep this in mind and be as flexible as possible and allow time to attend appointments or search for jobs. And remember, according to ABC Life Literacy's research, 47% of learners who dropped out said they did so because of work-related conflicts. Flexibility is important for learner retention.
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