ERIC Identifier: ED383241
Publication Date: 1995-05-00
Author: Brod, Shirley
Source: Adjunct ERIC Clearinghouse
for ESL Literacy Education Washington DC.
Outreach and Retention in Adult ESL Literacy Programs. ERIC
Adults learning English as a second language (ESL) come from different
cultures and countries, vary in their educational backgrounds, and have diverse
reasons for learning English (Valentine, 1990). While reports of overcrowded
classrooms and long waiting lists for classes might indicate that intensive
outreach and retention efforts are not necessary (Chisman, Wrigley, & Ewen,
1993), many successful programs work hard to enhance outreach and ensure
retention. This digest discusses outreach methods; it examines learners' reasons
for enrolling in ESL classes and for leaving the classes; and it suggests ways
to improve retention.
A variety of methods exist to attract learners to
adult ESL programs. Learners, the media, program partners, and bilingual support
staff can publicize and promote the program.
satisfied, successful learners who enroll and then re-enroll for subsequent
classes are the best advertisement for a program, established programs begin
recruitment by talking to learners who are signing up for services to find out
who they are, how they learned about the program, and why they have chosen this
program. If the enrollees are returnees, they are asked why they are
Adult learners can post flyers in their apartment complexes, neighborhood
markets, churches, and community centers. They can represent their programs in
free or low-cost booths at county fairs, engage in competitions for the number
of learners that one learner can refer to the program, and give testimonials
that the program can use in advertising. These learner promotion efforts can
have a huge impact on enrollment. Eighty to eighty-five percent of the learners
in the Arlington Education and Employment Program (REEP) in Virginia say their
enrollment is due to word of mouth (personal communication, S. Grant, March
Multiple partners in workplace programs, including businesses,
unions, chambers of commerce, and professional organizations, can collaborate
with the educational entity to offer a coherent program. Often companies have
budgets to publicize programs and pay for receptions to celebrate learner
progress. Regular graduation ceremonies, to which former learners, family
members, and friends are invited, can serve to honor the participant and
heighten the profile of the program in the community or at the workplace.
Representatives from community organizations and related service agencies as
well as members of the press can also be invited to these ceremonies.
Radio and cable television stations can advertise the program in
English and in the native language when possible.
Support staff who can talk about the program and answer
questions in the native language of the prospective learners can provide
accurate information and put learners who speak little or no English at ease.
WHY LEARNERS ENROLL IN ADULT ESL CLASSES
Why do learners
enroll in ESL classes? A federally-funded study of adult ESL learners in Iowa
(Valentine, 1990) found seven reasons for their participation in ESL classes
including improving oneself and one's personal effectiveness in U.S. society,
being better able to help one's children with their schoolwork and to speak to
their teachers, improving one's employability by being able to get a better job
or to enter job training, functioning better with everyday uses of the language
such as shopping and using the telephone, experiencing the success of knowing
that one can learn the language, improving reading and writing skills in
English, and being able to help people in one's native country.
WHY ADULT LEARNERS LEAVE PROGRAMS
The curricula of most
programs address at least some of the goals listed above. What keeps learners
from staying in these programs? Why do a third of all adult ESL learners leave
their programs by the end of the second month (Development Associates, 1994)?
Bean, Partanen, Wright, and Aaronson's study of attrition in urban literacy
programs (Brod, 1990) categorizes personal and program factors that mitigate
PERSONAL FACTORS include low self-esteem coupled with lack of demonstrable
progress; daily pressures from work and home problems of schedule, childcare,
and transportation; lack of support of the native culture and family culture for
education; and the age of the learner.
PROGRAM FACTORS include lack of appropriate materials for low-level learners;
lack of opportunity to achieve success; lack of flexibility in class scheduling;
classes so multilevel that those with no literacy skills are mixed with those
quite literate (or those with very high oral skills are mixed with those with
very low oral skills); lack of peer support and reinforcement; and instructional
materials that are not relevant to learners' needs and lives.
ENSURING RETENTION FROM THE START
What should programs do
to ensure that adult ESL learners persist long enough to meet their educational
goals? Attrition often begins at enrollment. Intake that is slow, cumbersome,
and impersonal, and that may include an intimidating test, can discourage
learners before they begin (Brod, 1990). All staff at the learning
site--testers, registrars, office personnel, teachers--need to facilitate smooth
and speedy enrollment, underscore learners' abilities, and show them what the
program can do for them (Silver, 1986). Bilingual intake can accurately assess
learners' wants and needs, uncover impediments to attendance (e.g.,
transportation or childcare), and make registrants comfortable and ready to
return to the learning site for classes.
SETTING REALISTIC GOALS AND REPORTING PROGRESS
best and remain in programs longest when they participate in establishing their
own educational goals (Brod, 1990). Learners with minimal English speaking
ability are not likely to graduate into credit ESL or be ready to take GED
classes in a few short weeks or even months. However, learners may be able to
use the telephone to set up an appointment with the dentist, or may be able to
ask directions to the restroom in a shopping mall (and understand the response).
Programs that, at the outset, require the learner and the teacher to discuss
realistic learner goals and to develop a time line for attaining these goals
will be more successful in retaining learners.
After setting goals with the learner, programs need to provide regular
feedback on progress so that the learner continues to perceive goal attainment
as possible. Competency checklists can be used to show learners their progress.
Colorado's competency-based program provides a competency verification process
leading to certificates of achievement at three levels of ESL. Another indicator
of progress is the awarding of certificates. For many learners, even if
significant academic progress has not occurred, receiving certificates for
regular attendance can bolster self-esteem. Providing an audience for this
recognition through ceremonies and potluck dinners with families and friends in
attendance supports learners and makes the adult education program visible to
the community. In any circumstance, measuring and reporting the outcomes of
learning should be done in ways that are relevant and meaningful to the
USING VARIED APPROACHES TO INSTRUCTION
programs may utilize competency-based instruction, whole language, language
experience, learner writing and publishing, and Freirean or participatory
approaches (Crandall & Peyton, 1993). These approaches often include peer
counseling, cooperative learning, and problem-solving activities that draw upon
the support of peers to foster the socialization so important to adult learners.
Programs that use a variety of strategies and techniques to address the
differing learning styles, previous educational experience, and multiple skill
levels present in most adult ESL classes will have a greater chance of meeting
the educational needs and expectations of the individual learners within the
class (Shank & Terrill, in press).
Service providers face the challenges of identifying and communicating with
potential learners, becoming educated about their cultures, anticipating and
providing for their individual needs, and developing appropriate courses for
them (Vandalov, 1994). A program receiving an influx of soldiers who had been
drivers and mechanics in Iraq might include driver education as part of its
basic curriculum. Similarly, a program with immigrant women from Central America
might choose to include a family literacy component where participants can learn
material relevant to their lives.
COLLABORATING TO PROVIDE SERVICES
For learners in adult
basic education, adult secondary education, and ESL programs, research indicates
that long-term persisters are likely to be those who use support services
(Development Associates, 1994). Educational programs that collaborate with or
refer learners to agencies that help with transportation, childcare, healthcare,
employment, and tuition make attending class more realistic for adult learners.
And, in workplace programs, company management and the direct supervisor can
actively encourage attendance by participating in outreach efforts, scheduling
workers so they can attend the classes, and reinforcing content learned in the
classes (Arlington County, 1990).
However, even with a multitude of support services, a variety of approaches
and activities, and frequent benchmarks for success, it is difficult for any one
program to meet all the educational needs of every learner. Formalized
collaboration across programs and agencies may be needed. To support this
collaboration among adult ESL service providers, the U.S. Department of
Education awarded grants to three projects (in Massachusetts, Texas, and
Virginia) to develop replicable models for transitioning ESL adults from one
service provider to another. The Virginia project created a unified system in
which the adult education provider coordinated curricula and services with a
community-based organization, a vocational institute, and an institution of
higher education. Together they provided a wide range of educational services to
learners from native language literacy, to basic survival skills, to preparation
for vocational or academic study (Mansoor & Grant, 1993).
Programs employ multiple strategies to enhance
outreach and ensure retention. Active collaboration among service providers,
programmatic attention to the educational needs of each learner, and involvement
of learners at every stage of the process are necessary in attracting learners
to programs and in guaranteeing that these learners will continue to study until
they have met their educational goals.
Arlington County Public Schools. (1990). "Recruiting employees for ESL classes." Arlington, VA: Author. (ED 326 076)
Brod, S. (1990). "Recruiting and retaining language minority students in
adult literacy programs." ERIC Digest. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse
for ESL Literacy Education. (ED 321 621)
Chisman, F., Wrigley, H.S., & Ewen, D. (1993). "ESL and the American
dream: A report on an investigation of English as a second language service for
adults." Washington, DC: Southport Institute for Policy Analysis. (ED 373 585)
Crandall, J., & Peyton, J.K. (1993). "Approaches to adult ESL literacy
instruction." Washington, DC and McHenry, IL: Center for Applied Linguistics and
Delta Systems. (ED 364 127)
Development Associates. (1994). "National evaluation of adult education
programs: Third interim report: Patterns and predictors of client attendance."
Arlington, VA: Author. (ED 369 996)
Mansoor, I., & Grant, S. (1993, October). Building bridges between
programs. "WATESOL News", p. 1.
Shank, C. & Terrill, L. (1995). "Teaching multilevel adult ESL classes."
ERIC Digest. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education.
Silver, M. (1986, March). "Open enrollment: The professional management of
chaos." Paper presented at the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other
Languages annual convention, Anaheim, CA. (ED 273 095)
Valentine, T. (1990). What motivates non-English-speaking adults to
participate in the federal English-as-a-second-language program. "Research on
adult basic education," No. 2.
Vandalov, V. (1994, November). "Working with new populations: Refugee service
providers' perspectives." Paper presented at the English Language Training
Consultation of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Washington, DC.
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Reproduction Service (EDRS) at 1-800-443-3742.