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.
In order to increase student confidence, everyone involved in the agency should recognize and celebrate success on an ongoing basis. Since progress is so important to learner retention, agencies should try to give some deliberate thought and planning into how they recognize and celebrate student achievement. Practitioners may need to consider whether their efforts in this area need to be increased.
Progress can be celebrated and recognized in many ways. Both formal and informal recognition is important. For example, it is very easy to make certificates of achievement. These can be awarded when learners reach their goals, but they can also be awarded along the way as new skills are mastered or when a particular accomplishment is noticed.
You can reward or acknowledge progress in small, less formal ways too. For example, telling a learner that you noticed an improvement in his or her literacy skills might just make someone’s day! If your agency has a newsletter, you can document learner achievements there. You could also give small gifts – dollar stores are wonderful places to shop for this type of thing!
Demonstrations, Portfolios and Self-Assessment
Demonstrations are used by Ontario literacy agencies to conduct both ongoing and exit assessment. Demonstrations are an effective way for learners to show that they have mastered the skills required for their stated goals and that they are making progress. You can find many examples of demonstrations at the “Demonstrations Ontario” website at http://alphaplus.ca/en/web-tools/online-tools/demonstrations-ontario/about-demonstrations-ontario.html.
Portfolios provide a way of gathering and organizing examples of learners’ work to demonstrate progress. They are not simply a binder or a box full of everything the learner has done. Rather, they are a carefully chosen selection of examples of the skills the learner has mastered over time. This includes samples of actual work the learner has completed along with assessments and any other relevant material.
Learners should be encouraged to reflect on their own progress by engaging in self-assessment. They should be encouraged to identify and document their own progress, skills, abilities and achievements. Questions like “what made it easy or hard to learn today?” or “how have you used your new skills in the past week?” can help students reflect on their progress and identify areas of difficulty and achievement.
You can learn more about demonstrations, portfolios and self-assessment in Community Literacy of Ontario’s “Assessment” training module at: www.nald.ca/literacybasics/initial/ongoing/02.htm. We also talk about these topics in CLO’s module on “Self-Management” (under the section on self-assessment).
Laubach Literacy Ontario has just released an important study called“Factors Affecting Success.” This study provides first-of-its-kind research related to factors associated with success in Ontario community-based literacy programs.
Parkdale Project Read, in collaboration with Literacy for East Toronto and Action Read, has produced a valuable research report called “I’ve Opened Up: Exploring Learners’ Perspectives on Progress.” Copies of this report can be downloaded from their website at:www.nald.ca/library/research/openup/cover.htm.
Check out Community Literacy of Ontario’s “My Progress Tracking Sheet” at www.nald.ca/literacybasics/initial/progress/01.htm.
“How Do Your Skills Measure Up?” is a free web-based tool developed by Skill Plan and TOWES (Test of Workplace Essential Skills) that can be used for self-assessment of the essential skills:http://measureup.towes.com/english/index.asp.
Questions and Activities for Reflection
- How do you show adults in concrete, meaningful ways that they are making progress?
- How can you help students to experience success early in the learning process?
- How does your agency recognize and celebrate progress? Are there ways to do this more regularly or more effectively?
- How can you help learners to talk about their progress in a meaningful way?
- How can you help learners set realistic attendance goals/commitments?
- Whose responsibility is it to develop and maintain the portfolio?
- How can you best support learners who can’t readily set goals or don’t yet have the skills to set goals?