ERIC Identifier: ED321621
Publication Date: 1990-08-00
Author: Brod, Shirley
Source: Adjunct ERIC Clearinghouse on Literacy Education for
Limited-English-Proficient Adults Washington DC.
Recruiting and Retaining Language Minority Students
in Adult Literacy Programs. ERIC Digest.
As the nation has become aware of the scope of adult illiteracy and
its tremendous cost, literacy programs have proliferated. New populations
of language minority adults are becoming eligible for and involved in an
increasing number of these programs. They include, among others, refugees
whose training is no longer funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement,
and newly legal "amnesty" clients who have come into Adult Basic Education
programs from classes conducted under the Immigration Reform and Control
Act of 1986. How can recruitment and retention of these and other students
in literacy programs be enhanced?
The most powerful tool for recruitment in education is still word-of-mouth
publicity generated by satisfied students. Additionally, a variety of media
approaches have been used to reach potential students, including radio
and television announcements, newspaper articles on successful programs
and students, and brochures distributed in neighborhood churches and shopping
areas. Celebrations of student progress, to which former students are invited
along with the families of the students who are being honored, also help
establish a high profile in the community and enhance student self-esteem.
In many sites, open-entry, year-round programs make it possible for clients
to find classes whenever they are ready for them. Finally, systematic efforts
to maintain contact with former students may bring "drop-outs" back to
Attrition has long been a problem in adult education. In fact, Cain
and Whalen (1977) calculated an attrition rate of 40 to 60 percent for
adult literacy programs in the United States. According to a study of attrition
in urban literacy programs by Bean, Partanen, Wright, and Aaronson (1989),
three kinds of factors contribute to attrition: those stemming from the
student's personal situation; those attributable to the program or service
provider; and external factors resulting from a lack of assistance from
outside agencies in areas such as transportation and child care.
In Bean et al's 1989 study, most of the reasons cited by adults for
dropping out of programs were personal in nature. The following are those
most commonly designated.
Low self-esteem, coupled with lack of demonstrable progress. This may
result from negative educational experiences. Bowren (1988) believes that
the major cause for dropping out is lack of progress, real or perceived.
Daily pressures. Work schedule was the personal factor mentioned most
frequently by students in the Bean et al (1989) study. A study by Taylor
(1983) designated child-care needs and lack of transportation as the major
obstacles to attendance.
Negative perception of the value of education (Cross, l981). This included
lack of support by the native culture for education and a family background
Age. Older individuals may feel that at 45 or 50 they are too old to
learn; such an attitude may become a self-fulfilling prophecy, if the risk
of failure seems too great.
When participants in Bean et al's study were asked what would have kept
them in the program, most of the respondents cited the need for an increase
in student-centeredness in program design and implementation. Current research
on how adults learn shows their need to define or select their own goals.
Other program factors that contribute to student-drop out include the following:
Lack of appropriate materials for very low level learners. Some students
have such minimal English that the materials used in the program are not
Inappropriate placement. This may be caused by a discrepancy between
the student's oral and literacy skill levels, or by use of an inappropriate
Lack of opportunity to achieve success. This may result from inappropriate
placement, or from a failure to set short-term goals with opportunities
for measurable progress.
Poor tutor/student or teacher/student match. A sensitive tutor/student
match is very important, as is monitoring that relationship.
Lack of flexibility in class scheduling. Many adult students are juggling
job, family, and other responsibilities, and need flexible school schedules.
Literates and nonliterates in the same class. This frequently results
in lack of sufficient instructional time or individual attention for nonliterate
students, who may have few independent learning strategies.
A poorly thought-out and executed intake process. Intake that is slow,
cumbersome, and impersonal, and that often may include an intimidating
test, can discourage students. Lack of peer support and reinforcement.
Adults who feel they are working alone, without the structured support
of those who are like them and with whom they can identify, can become
discouraged (see Retention below for further discussion).
Instructional material not relevant to students' needs and lives. Instructional
materials that are too simplistic or that are of little relevance to the
learners' life situations may insult learners and affect participation.
Literacy programs need to network with social service agencies to provide
additional support services that enable adults to participate in classes
on a regular basis. The following services are generally available in the
community and should be accessed by the literacy program:
Health care (including eye exams and glasses);
Obviously, resolving the problems that contribute to attrition should
enhance retention. Smith-Burke (1987) lists four key factors that serve
as retention motivation for the adult literacy student: (1) peer support;
(2) perceived progress in developing literacy skills; (3) heightened self-esteem;
and (4) a good teacher. This section describes these factors in tutorial
and group learning contexts.
Peer support serves adult students' needs for socialization and interaction.
A supportive peer group not only provides an effective component for learning,
but also increases opportunities for individuals to participate in relatively
risk-free small-group environments (as opposed to being "on the spot" in
a tutor/student pairing). Peer counseling, buddy systems, class discussions,
and cooperative learning are all examples of ways in which peer support
groups can be shaped (Taylor, l983). Group work has been judged so valuable
that it can work to offset the problems associated with large classes.
Bean et al (l989) conclude that, "Programs may need to be more ready
to move an individual from a one-on-one tutoring situation to a potentially
more supportive group-learning environment." Perhaps a hybrid of peer support
and individual attention should be considered in order to provide students
with the strengths of both environments.
PERCEIVED PROGRESS IN DEVELOPING LITERACY SKILLS
A program, a teacher, or a student may set such ambitious long-term
goals (e.g., to obtain a GED) that these goals are soon perceived by the
student as unattainable, even if the teacher can see progress. If the teacher
breaks tasks down into small, realistic chunks (e.g., write a simple sentence
from dictation; locate the cause and effect in a GED social studies lesson)
and students see the progress they are making, then the situation is likely
to lead to perception of success. Feedback from the teacher or from peers
can solidify this perception of progress and motivate continued involvement
in the program.
Feeling good about oneself and one's capacity to learn grows naturally
from the support of friendly peers and teacher/tutors and from students'
perception of their own progress. Programs that understand adult learners'
needs, treat learners with respect, give learners the opportunity to participate
in ongoing goal setting, and endow them with the responsibility for their
own learning, not only build learners' confidence in their own abilities,
but also provide them with tools for independent learning.
A GOOD TEACHER
"Retention is an indicator of quality teaching" (Taylor, l983), and
retention of teachers and tutors is an indicator of a quality program.
Bean et al (1989) conclude that literacy programs need to provide training
for their tutors to help them develop appropriate strategies to address
the special educational, social, and emotional needs of adults who have
not been successful at school. Programs that include language minority
adults need to provide all this training and more; they also need to provide
staff with cross-cultural training to help teachers understand culturally
and linguistically diverse students and their special needs.
Students are not the only ones who need to experience success. A program
that listens to the needs and concerns of its teachers and provides assistance
quickly and in a supportive way can promote the sort of caring teaching/learning
environment that is the basis of retention and accomplishment for teachers
and students alike.
Successful literacy programs work because educators are listening carefully
to students in order to help them define and work toward their own goals.
They help students manage logistical problems that interfere with attendance
and provide appropriate materials and mentors, while setting up learning
tasks through which the students experience and are recognized for success.
"Most students will be inspired when they feel in control and secure
in their classes, respected by their teachers and their peers, and hopeful
about their future academic success" (Duryee, 1989).
Bean, R. M., Partanen, J., Wright, F. & Aaronson, J. (1989). "Attrition
in urban basic literacy programs and strategies to increase retention."
Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, Institute for Practice and Research
Bowren, F. (1988). Adult reading needs, adult research models. "Journal
of Reading," 210-212. (ERIC Journal No. EJ 364 673)
Cain, S. H., & Whalen, B. A. (1977). "Adult basic and secondary
education program statistics. Fiscal Year 1976." Washington, DC: National
Center for Education Statistics. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No.
ED 178 165)
Cross, K. P. (1981). "Adults as learners." San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Duryee, P. P. (1989). Twelve ways to motivate and inspire. "TESOL Newsletter,
Smith-Burke, M. T. (1987). "Starting over: Characteristics of adult
literacy learners." New York: Literacy Assistance Center. (ERIC Document
Reproduction Service No. ED 302 723)
Taylor, V. (1983). "How to hold students." Middleton, IL: Key Productions.