Receiving high quality instruction that is relevant to the goals and needs of learners is a critical part of retention. Key components of quality instruction include:
- Skilled, caring practitioners
- Effective initial and ongoing assessment and training plan development
- The use of sound adult education principles
- The use of effective instructional strategies
- The use of effective learning materials and resources
- Knowledge of some of the major barriers to learning such as learning disabilities
- Knowledge of ways to encourage learning such as the use of learning styles and multiple intelligences
- Having an awareness of the unique needs of each learner in order to tailor instruction and learning materials to his or her needs
- Holding regular “check ins” with learners to find out which learning activities and materials were the most helpful for them
The role of the literacy practitioner, whether a paid staff person or a volunteer, is critical to learner retention. Literacy practitioners are vital to the creation of a supportive, welcoming and effective learning environment for adult students. Luckily, we work in a very caring profession, where practitioners tend to be extremely supportive. In fact, OLC's “Seeing the Need; Meeting the Need” found that of the learners who dropped out of their literacy programs, none of them cited “Staff not supportive” as their reason for leaving.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of caring and skilled practitioners to learner retention and success. For example, in “Retention through Redirection” (produced by the College Sector Committee for Adult Upgrading) adult learners reported that practitioners were the most important overall positive influence in helping them make progress.
To increase retention, literacy practitioners should:
- Offer a learner-centered learning environment
- Create a welcoming environment
- Engage in open and ongoing communication with learners
- Be friendly, open, caring, encouraging and respectful of the needs of adult students
- Understand the issues and barriers affecting students
- Support and build on learner motivations
- Conduct effective assessment and refer students to the most appropriate literacy program
- Use engaging and relevant instructional strategies
- Teach using sound adult education principles
- Teach using effective adult learning techniques and strategies
- Use and adapt learning resources based on individual needs
- Provide a variety of support to students, whether program-based or by referring students to appropriate community services
Literacy practitioners may not be fully aware of their strong impact on learner retention. New staff and volunteers should receive training and orientation about their important role in retaining learners. Having friendly welcoming staff, volunteers and board members across all levels of the agency (instructors, administrators, management and governance) is absolutely critical.
Using effective instructional strategies that are learner centered, engaging and relevant to the goals and needs of each adult learner is important for retention.
Luckily, you can find information, tools and resources on effective strategies for teaching adult learners on Community Literacy of Ontario's “Instructional Strategies” training module. This module can be found at: www.nald.ca/literacybasics/instruct/intro/01.htm.
Another valuable tool for practitioners is the SNOW website (Special Needs Ontario Window) at http://snow.utoronto.ca. This website was developed by the University of Toronto's Adaptive Technology Resource Centre. Click on “Snow E-Learning Workshops – Educational Strategies” to access free and self-paced practitioner training workshops on topics such as “Learning to Learn: Thinking and Learning Skills” “Problem Solving in the Classroom” “Organizing the Disorganized Learner” and “The New Literacies: The Global Classroom.”
An Internet search, or a search of the library of your own program, regional literacy network, local library or AlphaPlus will help you to find some great resources on instructional strategies. Community Literacy of Ontario has also developed a list of resources that you will find under “learning materials” later in this training module. Here are two valuable resources to get you started.
Campbell, Pat. Teaching Reading to Adults: A Balanced Approach. Edmonton: Grass Roots Press, 2003.
Harwood, Chris. Handbook for Literacy Tutors. Edmonton: Grass Roots Press, 2001.
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