It is my pleasure to warmly welcome Mary Edith Leichliter to this week's discussion on persistence. Mary Edith will share with us what is known from research about supporting persistence and tell us about some strategies that have real promise to address retention issues. She will also engage us in discussing some of the challenges--as well as solutions-- related to persistence that many programs are dealing with currently due to the pandemic.
Welcome, Mary Edith!
Here are a few questions to get us started, Mary Edith:
- Let's begin with the basics: What is persistence?
- What level of attention does your agency give this, and how do you track it?
- What are the persistence “markers” that you care about?
- How has COVID-19 impacted students’ persistence?
Members, you are invited to pose questions for Mary Edith as well as to contribute your ideas for what has worked well for you.
Mary Edith Leichliter's Bio:
Mary Edith Leichliter has years of experience as an ABE/HSE teacher in adult basic education. She has also served as a professional development specialist and led a team of ABE/GED teachers in a year-long effort focused on persistence. Teachers who implemented the persistence strategies saw significant improvement in attendance. Mary Edith is currently a supervisor in a local adult basic education program in Pennsylvania.
Hi Susan and Mary Edith,
I am so looking forward to today's discussion!
Mary Edith, would you please address the connection between a learner's mindset and their persistence?
One persistence strategy I will contribute is to involve students in how our programs and classrooms are run. One way to do this is to conduct focus groups. Bring a diverse group of students together, ask meaningful questions in a safe environment, and take the results seriously by acting on what is learned. Our students will tell us what they really think!
For ideas about how to run a focus group, Google: Tip Sheet – A Step-by-Step Approach to Conducting a Focus Group
In the classroom, regularly ask students for feedback about what and how they are learning. Let students know you are using their suggestions. Remember, “No one argues with what they help create!”
Getting feedback at the classroom level could be as simple as asking two questions:
1. What am I doing that helps you learn?
2. What can I do to help you learn more?
Susan, thanks for hosting this great discussion!
Learner mindset is everything, isn’t it? Two different thoughts on this come to mind.
First, I find myself thinking back to my college days and Psych 101: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Remember the pyramid? Basic needs must be met first: physiological and safety. Then psychological ones: love and esteem. Finally, self-fulfillment needs: self-actualization. These needs, I’m sure you recall, must be met from the bottom up. There is simply no way for learners to be focused on personal growth when their basic needs and their psychological ones are going unmet. In my program, this is where our student advisors play an important role in barrier mitigation. We work hard to assess barriers at orientation and assist students in resolving them before they begin classes.
Second, “mindset” got me to thinking about Angela Duckworth’s GRIT scale. This tool really is an exercise in self-perception, and a great starting place for discussion about adjusting a learner’s interior monologue.
Hi Mary Edith,
I appreciate that you've mentioned Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It could be an interesting exercise to consider how that hierarchy intersects with the three barriers to persistence/participation that David cites further down.
Your post reminds me of a session of the Race and Queerness in ELT conference that I just attended this past weekend. In her keynote titled "Why, and how, should one make language classrooms less heteronormative?", Elizabeth Coleman spends a few minutes using Maslow's hierarchy to further point out the detrimental impact of the lack of queer identities in English language teaching materials. I'd be interested to know what you and others have found about persistence in ABE with regards to LGBTQ students.
Looking forward to the rest of this week's discussion!
"I'd be interested to know what you and others have found about persistence in ABE with regards to LGBTQ students and, more broadly, those whose identities and communities are marginalized or racialized."
I have found that our adult education classrooms are generally safe spaces for marginalized or racialized communities. And though i have not done a data dive to see how these students fare with instructional hours, my gut says that these students are persisting at roughly the same rate as other students. The anecdotal evidence i can think of supports this. It seems to me that adult education classrooms are made up primarily of these students--i wonder if that causes students to create a warmer environment than the one they experienced as K-12 students?
I'd love to her more about your take-aways from the conference session. In the Professional Development Community of Practice, I just posted a discussion on working with homeless youth and a key factor identified was family confict. The policy brief went into more detail about this topic, discussing the high percentages of LGBTQ youth who are homeless. Certainly, food / clothing / shelter are the foundation of Maslow's Hierarchy.
Circling this back to the conversation at hand (learner persistence) I recognize that creating an inclusive environment leads to one where students are more likely to return to and potentially thrive. But inclusive enviroments are more than curriculum, so I'd love to hear more about how to establish this for our LGBTQ individuals.
At a time when many of us are conducting remote online instruction, a feedback loop is essential. For all of us, no news is NOT good news.
As an instructor, i need to know how my virtual class is working for my students. Is the pacing right? Do students feel like they're connecting with me? With each other? Can they SEE what i am displaying on my screen? Are they engaged?
Our students need feedback, too. Now, more than ever, they need specific evidence of learning to fuel their efforts. And they need to know that their teacher cares, that their face showing up on the Zoom screen matters to the person on the other side.
I am excited to engage in this discussion about a topic so central to the work that we do as adult educators!
What is persistence?
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “80% of success is just showing up.” Well---persistence IS “showing up.” Showing up regularly, consistently, over time. Pursuing a goal by working through a series of action steps that lead to its attainment. The “persist” part of persistence also hints at navigating roadblocks—sticking with the work when the going gets tough. Finding solutions to problems instead of abandoning efforts.
What level of attention does your agency give this, and how do you track it?
My agency gives persistence a fair amount of attention, even if it seems that EFL gains often capture our focus. Most often, we track persistence by looking at our number of students enrolled (with 12 or more hours of attendance) versus students served (those with 11 or less), and also at students’ average hours of attendance compared to total possible hours. The interesting thing is, when we talk about EFL gains, that leads to a discussion about enrollment and average hours, which is persistence. So, while EFL gains are the shiny thing we focus on, beneath that surface is persistence.
What are the persistence “markers” that you care about?
Persistence marker #1 in my agency is 12 hours of class attendance. This moves a student from the “served” status to the “enrolled” one and means that we are responsible for reporting learning gains on that student. Aligning with that, marker #2 is EFL gains and #3 is HSE attainment: these are our numeric measures of movement toward and achievement of a goal. Other important markers are the number of students entering post-secondary and employment, but it is hard to collect this data in a timely way, and so these measures are often anecdotal. At the day-to-day classroom level, our teachers use weekly attendance as an important persistence marker. Our program has developed intervention protocols for when a student begins to be absent from class. We involve our student advisors as soon as we sense an attendance pattern emerging so that they can support students and mitigate barriers.
How has COVID-19 impacted students’ persistence?
Our overall program numbers are down, and this is echoed across the state of Pennsylvania. But, in terms of the students we DO have, it appears that there is not a unified impact. For some students, our transition to entirely remote, online instruction has been a benefit, allowing them to juggle employment and children learning at home beside them. For others, these same benefits are a detriment.
Back in March, when we transitioned to online instruction, I believed that the ease of access to classes---“Attend class from your living room!” ---would be a boon for students. Certainly, for some, it has been. But now, in December, I am beginning to wonder if class-from-your-living-room is too easy to opt out of? If a student is attending face-to-face, there must be a plan: work schedules need to be arranged, meals covered, kids cared for. The same is not necessarily true for remote learning. It is a lower level of required commitment, and I’m starting to see weekly attendance that seems to reflect a “I don’t feel like signing on today” attitude. If you add to this the challenges of building community in an online environment, then doing all we can to help students persevere through this time becomes vital to our efforts.
This is a timely conversation about persistence! Persistence does seem to have a different angle when teaching and learning remotely. In our state, Florida, our students struggled with being able to persist before and after March 2020, but the situations that face students are different. I guess my big question since March 2020 is whether the solutions to low levels of persistence are the same. This discussion is already helping to clarify that for me. Low persistence always catches the attention of program directors. It means less money for the program when full-time-equivalent FTE, which is based o attendance, drops. In Florida, it can also mean less money for the program when students do not advance from one educational functioning level (EFL) to the next. When they asked what was the reason, the answers were, "They don't stay long enough!" "Programs need better student retention strategies!" "Students need better persistence strategies!" To me, retention and persistence are like two halves (Puerto Rican Café con Leche!), retention implying the program tries to keep the student and persistence implying the student wants to stay with the program. One of them alone is not sufficient by itself to generate positive results. But in addition to the mindset of the student, the mindset of the program plays a part. The mindset of the program cannot be that persistence depends mainly on the student. A mindset of self-exploration can help programs identify barriers and weaknesses that either hinder students or simply miss the mark. Wrap-around supports that don't wrap enough are like a blanket that is too short and leaves our shoulders uncovered on a cold night, preventing us from sleeping.
In a recent presentation by Helaine Marshall at Florida's Sunshine State TESOL, she told of her experience of moving to remote teaching with her students. Helaine told us she had been doing online instruction way before it became as necessary as it has become since March 2020. She shared that one of her AHA moments was when she discovered that promptly checking in with students (within a day or two after they missed class) was essential to keeping students engaged with the class. Students knew they were no longer invisible and that they are remembered and their presence had value to the teacher and the other students. A quick call, a text message, an email, a WhatsApp message, conveyed with kindness and helpfulness, is like a life-line to a student who is struggling. But most of all, what really struck me to the core is that in Helaine's presentation, it was clearly evident that she was not thinking of anything else besides caring about the student and simply reaching out, as one friend to another. At the end of Helaine's presentation of just 30 minutes, I just felt like the beauty of teaching is so wonderful.
for students have to be robust.
"The mindset of the program cannot be that persistence depends mainly on the student."
Amen. A program that believes that students' persistence is mainly dependent on the student is a program that is failing to retain its students. Teachers are so much more than instructors. They are coaches, cheerleaders, motivators, carrot-danglers, and (sometimes sole) sources of inspiration to their students. This is our JOB, every bit as much as providing instruction.
Mary Edith and fellow participants,
I'm looking forward to following this forum.
What kind of messages can we convey verbally or through text that help our students persist?
Do you recommend any resources for roleplaying the conversations that instructors need to have with adult students?
You're going to see a lot more about this in tomorrow's posts, but here's a quick thought:
If the content of our communication with our students show that we care about them as individuals, it is going to encourage persistence.
Regarding roleplaying conversations--I would recommend a Motivational Interviewing type of approach. Here is a sample script that shows how this plays out in conversation.
It is great that this is the topic of the week. I am embarking on my master's capstone within the year and hope to focus on persistence in adult English learners in ABE programing. I am looking for resources of recent research or of particular people to look into. Any ideas on who's at the forefront of current persistence work?
Best of luck with your master's capstone! For some references on persistence in ABE, I'd recommend checking out this link that David Rosen posted further down in this thread on three kinds of barriers to persistence. I'd also recommend the Critiquing Adult Participation in Education (CAPE) research project by VALUEUSA and Research Allies for Lifelong Learning; in particular, check out their Report 1: Deterrents and Solutions with direct link to the PDF here. The CAPE researchers conducted group interviews with 125 adults from five different states. None of the interviewees were taking part in adult education at the time; 3/4 of the group had never taken part in adult education. This was an intentional choice so as to inform how we might engage those who aren't currently participating in the adult ed system. With the deterrents and solutions identified by interviewees, the researchers categorized them into the three barriers that David cites - situational, individual, and institutional.
Hello Mary Edith,
In a recent post to another discussion group, International adult literacy researcher Dr. Thomas Sticht summarized some of the research on recruitment and persistence in adult basic skills education. I re-posted that in the LINCS Program Management group at Research on adult learner persistence. Tom Sticht mentions that in 1998 he and his colleagues McDonald and Erickson engaged ABE/ESL adult learners as researchers to conduct interviews, with adults whom they knew, about why they did not participate in ABE/ESL. He wrote, "They found that barriers to participation could be categorized into situational, dispositional, and institutional barriers, using categories earlier coined by Cross (1981) in her studies of adult education." He added that, "In their discussion of recruitment barriers, Clymer & Frey (2020) also refer to 'the three types of participation barriers identified by Cross (1981, p. 99): situational (e.g., health conditions, transportation, childcare), dispositional (e.g., self-perceptions, attitudes), and institutional (e.g., program schedule, formats for instruction, etc.)”
I wonder if these three categories of barriers to participation in adult basic skills programs are also a useful way to think about barriers to persistence. Do you think that these three categories of barriers to participation describe most of the barriers to persistence in adult basic skills education? You have have already addressed some of the important dispositional barrier issues in your earlier replies in this discussion. Do you find that sometimes an adult learner's barrier is situational or institutional, or a combination barriers from two or three of these categories? Of these three categories, which kinds of barriers do you find most common? Which kinds have you found are most difficult for adult learners to overcome? Has this changed during the pandemic? For example, do you find that some institutional or situational barriers have been reduced or increased because of remote/virtual teaching during the pandemic? Also, has the pandemic affected dispositional barriers and, if so, how?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts about this. Thanks.
David J. Rosen
"In their discussion of recruitment barriers, Clymer & Frey (2020) also refer to 'the three types of participation barriers identified by Cross (1981, p. 99): situational (e.g., health conditions, transportation, childcare), dispositional (e.g., self-perceptions, attitudes), and institutional (e.g., program schedule, formats for instruction, etc.)”
Do you think that these three categories of barriers to participation describe most of the barriers to persistence in adult basic skills education?
Do you find that sometimes an adult learner's barrier is situational or institutional, or a combination barriers from two or three of these categories?
Our adult learners' barriers can be situational, institutional, and/or dispositional. Over the years, when i was a teacher, my focus was on dispositional barriers because those were the ones i felt like i could most effectively impact. Now, as an administrator, i find myself addressing all three of these areas.
Of these three categories, which kinds of barriers do you find most common?
In my experience, institutional barriers to persistence generally are the least common, at least in non-COVID times. The class schedule/ format/location doesn't typically cause students to not persist because we work hard to offer a variety of options for instruction. With the pandemic and a shift in our program to all-virtual instruction, we definitely have experienced student frustration with technology as an impact on persistence. As for the most common persistence barrier, i would have to say the situational ones are most common--change in job schedule, childcare issues, personal health, family health. Although dispositional barriers can get pretty well wrapped up in those situational ones. There has been many a student who was not disposed to work through a situational barrier.
Which kinds have you found are most difficult for adult learners to overcome?
Situational barriers are sometimes (often?) impossible to overcome. When that happens, we try to keep an open communication channel with students, and they oftentimes return to class when the situation resolves.
Has this changed during the pandemic? For example, do you find that some institutional or situational barriers have been reduced or increased because of remote/virtual teaching during the pandemic? Also, has the pandemic affected dispositional barriers and, if so, how?
I begin to address some of these questions in my responses above--definitely, the pandemic has created an almost insurmountable institutional (dispositional?) barrier for our students who are not willing to engage in classes online, and we are seeing significant situational barriers with our students who are parents, navigating remote learning in their children's schools, and also with the coronavirus itself. We are also seeing an opposite effect, where class is actually more "doable" for some, because a student doesn't have to leave home, although i pointed up some concerns in my initial post that i'm beginning to have with this easy access.
Mary Edith, Thanks for sharing some foundational thoughts with us regarding persistence and retention. I appreciate Phil making the distinction between these two words.
Xavier and David have pointed to some research on this topic. Can you elaborate on what research tells us about practices that have a positive impact on persistence?
And in terms of programming:
Take care, Susan
Today's post will cover a little research on persistence--mostly, it is my origin story of the research that grounds my explorations in this area, plus an array of instructional resources that can be implemented at the classroom level to impact student persistence.
What does the research say about practices that have a positive impact on retention?
Much of the work I have done around persistence finds its foundation in this research project: the New England Learner Persistence Project (NELP) (2008).
This project identified these drivers of persistence:
At the time I came across NELP, I was spending a portion of my work time as a coordinator for a PA State Department of Education initiative in the public schools called the School Climate Leadership Initiative. When I began to explore school-age social and emotional learning, a central component of school climate, I realized that one of its pillars, student/teacher and student/student relationship, is the same “sense of belonging and community” that is a driver of adult persistence. Once I recognized the connections between my K-12 and adult learner work, I began to name “climate” as a central factor in adult learner persistence and it opened that world of research and strategy for consideration. I began to think of organizations such as CASEL, one of the leaders in social and emotional learning as resource for adult persistence strategies.
Continuing on that path, I looked at the resources available from another school climate organization called Rachel’s Challenge. Although it is an anti-bullying initiative for K-12 and communities, it was within this work that I identified two additional pieces to building a sense of belonging and community for adult learners: encouraging students and inspiring them. From there, I developed my instructional approach as a three-"bucket" system: strategies that build community, ones that honor and encourage the individual, and those that inspire learners to persist.
How does your agency build community among students and between staff and students?
What does your agency do to encourage individual learners?
What strategies do you employ to inspire students to persevere?
Hello, Everyone -
Mary Edith, thank you for sharing NELP and resources you use to develop learner persistence in your program. These look like excellent tools to use with learners. You've said that persistence is 'navigating roadblocks—sticking with the work when the going gets tough,' which makes me think of maps and visualizing the path to a desired goal. That leads me to wonder if you have any insight - research-based or anecdotal - on persistence and career and/or guided pathways?
A 2018 report by Achieving the Dream, PATHWAYS TO ALIGN CAREER AND EDUCATIONAL CHOICES FOR ADULT LEARNERS, suggests that, "Students are more likely to succeed in their coursework, persist, and complete a credential in a timely manner when they choose their program and develop a plan that specifies required coursework and milestones early on in their academic journey."
The authors highlight the use of curricular maps as a common feature of many pathways programs. I wonder if you have examples of curricular maps - or best practice advice - for staff to use with ABE/ESL learners to illustrate the educational steps needed to achieve a learner-identified career goal?
Career Pathways Moderator
That leads me to wonder if you have any insight - research-based or anecdotal - on persistence and career and/or guided pathways?
Combining career pathways and adult basic education is the underpinning of integrated education and training programs. Our agency offers three of those classes: CNA, Direct Care Provider, and Teacher Assistant Training. The classes integrate adult basic education with workplace skills and training, and they are all framed in the context of a career pathway, so that students can see what opportunities lie ahead. There are IET resources right here on LINCS, but i will add this one, from Penn State University, because they have been the driver of this work in PA.
I wonder if you have examples of curricular maps - or best practice advice - for staff to use with ABE/ESL learners to illustrate the educational steps needed to achieve a learner-identified career goal?
So, this is not exactly a curricular map, but several years ago, our leadership staff visited the Carlos Rosario School in Washington, D.C. We were impressed with the career pathways approach that they take in the class offerings guide that they use with students. It shows course progressions in a clear, linear way, and identifies pre-requisites for upper level classes so that students can see how they can get to where they want to go.
"Students are more likely to succeed in their coursework, persist, and complete a credential in a timely manner when they choose their program and develop a plan that specifies required coursework and milestones early on in their academic journey."
To some extent, our student advisors work with students to develop plans like this from the goal-setting work our students do during orientation. I say "to some extent," because our advisors are often pulled to other tasks, like testing and addressing student barriers, so this doesn't really receive the attention it needs, particularly during COVID times. I'd like to see us do better with this, because i know that being able to envision the path before you is a key to persisting.
Thanks, Mary Edith! IET is definitely the best model I know of for supporting persistence in career pathways programming. Apprenticeships are a great example, too. While the bar for entry may be higher for ABE/ESL learners, apprenticeships are paid work, which helps build greater persistence through the educational challenges.
I'm glad that your staff got to visit Carlos Rosario. They offer a great example of building persistence with learners from day one. In addition to their class offerings guide, they also use videos on their website featuring the stories of former students in their respective career training programs. This subtle message helps current students see themselves persisting and being successful in these programs.
Thank you for your post today, Mary Edith. This is great information for sharing! To reinforce the information you shared here is a recently published resource on retention and persistence that came out this year. The link below is from the website of the Florida IPDAE, which stands for the Institute for Professional Development of Adult Educators
The resource was developed by the Regional Educational Library (REL) Southeast at Florida State University, by Kevin G. Smith and Laurie Lee. The report has evidence-based research on the topic as well as results from on-site interviews they conducted with adult education teachers in Florida. They also developed a Self-Study Guide for adult education programs as a tool for the programs to learn about themselves and find ways to customize their efforts to improve student persistence. There seems to be an almost mythical desire to find a one-size-fits-all tool that we could pull off the shelf and be done. It reminds me of something Sylvia Ramirez of Mira Costa College in California said as she explained how Managed Enrollment helped raise the level of learner persistence in their ESL program, "It is a process, not a product!"
Thank you for sharing the Florida resource! I like the idea of a program having access to a self-assessment. I'm bookmarking it!
I wholeheartedly agree that there is no magic bullet to "fix" persistence issues. Our students are adults with often complex lives, and education can only be a top priority when it doesn't need to give way to meeting basic needs. Because, obviously, caring for someone who is ill, managing life in a pandemic, securing stable housing, navigating messy relationships, maintaining employment, caring for families . . . ALL of this comes first.
That's why we develop a toolbox of strategies that, when used together, can help in this ongoing struggle towards assisting our students as they work toward their goals.
Mary Edith, Thank you for telling your personal story about how your efforts in K-12 professional development around social/emotional learning (SEL) came together for you as you considered how certain SEL principles clearly relate to learners in adult basic education, too. We greatly appreciate the practical ideas you shared as well as the many resources you posted.
I know some programs have implemented various incentives to address persistence; however, some practitioners might be skeptical.
What can you tell us about the potential for incentives to build community, encourage individual learners, and inspire students to persevere?
Take care, Susan
What can you tell us about the potential for incentives to build community, encourage individual learners, and inspire students to persevere?
In a perfect world, all our students would have strong intrinsic motivation. They would have the disposition necessary to see through the sometimes tedious, often challenging process of attaining their goals. As 2020 has reminded us in such a variety of painful ways, it ain’t a perfect world. So, when I was an ABE/HSE instructor at our local jail, I worked with our other instructor there to develop an earned incentive program to provide extrinsic motivation to our students.
We timed the incentives to coincide with some of the persistence “markers” I talked about on day one in this discussion group: reaching “enrolled” status, achieving an EFL gain, passing an HSE subtest. We also incentivized regular class attendance by creating a system where students earned points when they attended class and lost points when they didn’t. When students earned set numbers of points, they earned an incentive.
What were the incentives? We created groupings to allow for student choice of simple things that inmates didn’t have available to them. The first grouping included sketch paper, colored pencils, greeting cards. Higher point incentive groups included snack items and a choice of drinks. We offered students the opportunity to self-select a book that became their personal property when they achieved an EFL gain or passed a high school equivalency subtest.
We tracked student data for a six-month period when we implemented the incentive program and compared the data to our records from the same time period, one year earlier, before the incentive program was developed. The data told us that after implementation of the incentive program, there was a 7% increase in attendance in the men’s HSE class and a 19% increase in attendance in the women’s class. And we saw a combined 57% increase in HSE attainment. 57%. It made me a believer in incentives.
A few other random thoughts about this:
Hello Mary Edith and colleagues, This has been a wonderfully rich discussion, and I want to thank Mary Edith for sharing her ideas with us on ways to effectively address persistence. Others also deserve thanks for linking us to valuable resources.
I wanted to share another resource, which is reviewed in the LINCS Resource Collection, that members may find helpful, "Curbing Adult Student Attrition: Evidence from a Field Experience." This study reports on the results of texting learners as a means to address attrition. Thanks for letting us know your thoughts.
Take care, Susan Finn Miller
Moderator, Teaching & Learning CoP
Watching the video It was clear that the instructor reinforced vocabulary through various modalities. For example, they first read "it in their head ". Then traced with their finger while she read it aloud. Then listened agaoin to the story and then read in concert. Finally they read it aloud as a group. This was a good way to make the connection between the word, how it is pronounced, how to understand meaning through constant reptition, building the word recognition.
This is basically increasing regular attendance. The 11 strategies in the assigned reading, then repeated in the Power point are good. Some classrooms and populations need little of one strategy, and more of another. Since Covid closed the classrooms in March 2000, I've been teaching via Zoom. This is different.
I've found getting students to form social bonds helps retention. They have human contact in a world of isolation. When they know they will be discussing the assigned material in small groups or pairs, they show up in higher numbers. They come better prepared if they know there will be social interaction organized around the class assignments.
I make it a point to pair up students with different partners at least twice an evening. Preferably their new partners are from outside their own language groups. This is very popular and serves at least three purposes. It reviews the assignments while getting the ESL students to practice their English with a variety of people, and it increases attendance. They feel more like members of a social group, than just students doing tasks. Their community is a motivating factor.