Retaining Adult ESL Learners in Class
One challenge many ESL instructors face is retaining students in their classes. Throughout the semester, you may see your class size dwindle as students attend class irregularly, or disappear altogether. Some factors for this are beyond the instructor’s control; changing work schedules, family responsibilities, and transportation issues are some of the issues that can affect students’ attendance and ability to continue the course. Other barriers to success are more internal. Low self-esteem and embarrassment from the possibility of making mistakes can prevent students from participating in class and improving their oral language skills. Frustration at the slow progress of acquiring language skills may discourage students from continuing with the course. Also, some students may not feel supported by their instructors, peers, or even their families in their pursuit of English education.
However, there are steps instructors can take to help students combat each of these obstacles and persevere in their studies. Following are some common barriers to regular class attendance, and some strategies for encouraging students to continue with their studies, thereby increasing class retention.
Students feel uncomfortable and unsupported in the classroom.
Create a welcoming environment in your classroom. Make time to speak to each of your students individually at the beginning of the semester and get to know them. Make yourself available shortly before or after class to answer questions and arrange times to meet with any students who need extra guidance. Also, have students get to know each other by learning everyone’s names and assigning group activities during class to give them opportunities to work together.
To alleviate any anxiety students may feel at the prospect of making mistakes in front of the class, reassure them that failure is normal and a part of the learning experience that will lead them to success. Share your own mistakes and failures in learning a second language, and how you learned from them and improved your language skills. Recognize and praise students’ efforts to participate in class whether their answers are right or wrong.
Students feel frustrated and discouraged that their progress is slower than they anticipated.
Learning a second language is hard work and takes a long time, and the difference between a student’s expectation of how long it will take them to learn English and the reality of how long it can really take, especially when juggled with all of their other responsibilities, can lead to frustration. To give students a barometer by which to measure their success, work with students to establish realistic goals and timelines to accomplish them throughout the semester. Goals can include ordering a meal, making a doctor’s appointment, or asking for directions and understanding the responses. Then meet with them regularly to discuss their progress. You may even create competency checklists at the beginning of the semester so students have a tangible source by which to measure their progress.
Personal responsibilities interfere with the student’s ability to attend class.
Many adult students balance their studies with jobs and families, and some often miss class to attend to these responsibilities, leading to irregular attendance or dropping out altogether. Financial issues are another factor that can interfere with a student’s ability to attend class. To find out what the barrier may be, contact the student about their attendance, then depending on the issue, lead them to resources and organizations that can help with their needs, like for employment, transportation, childcare, or tuition. If the issue has more to do with scheduling, let them know that there are other sections of the course and they can switch to another class at a time that is better for them. Some students drop out of the program because they think that once they have stopped attending a course, they can no longer return. Let them know that they will always be welcome to return to the program at a later date.
Our full solutions for Welcome to Computers for ESL Students, 4th Edition include a variety of assignments and activities to engage students in learning English and basic computer skills. To learn more, contact Labyrinth Learning today.