"Motivating Adult Learners to Persist" online course

In late summer 2015, we are excited to offer a new online course, Motivating Adult Learners to Persist, developed through the Improving Teacher Effectiveness project.  Once the course is live, we will let everyone know and provide additional information about how to access it through the LINCS Learning Portal.



As we saw in Johanna’s classroom vignette in the PowerPoint presentation of Unit 1 of this course,  teachers frequently try to tackle attendance issues on their own. They often end up feeling alone in their efforts to improve learner persistence. If it “takes a village” to educate a child, it takes a whole adult education program to promote learner persistence!

  • In what ways have teachers in your program worked together to boost learner motivation and persistence?

The instructors and coordinators in our department collaborate and share ideas on motivating students to attend classes. I use several techniques that have worked well. I create a syllabus and discuss student expectations the first night of class. At the end of each class, I go over the following week's activities. Additionally, I take the first few minutes of class and let the students share stories or issues such as: how was your weekend, how was work, did you see any good movies, etc... I also have a basket of small goodies such as hand sanitizer, pens, calculators (purchased from the Dollar Store) and have a drawing each night. Who ever shows up on time at the beginning of the class or returns from break on time gets to put their name in for the drawing. 

Very well said, thanks for sharing!  I too try to get to know my students to better understand their needs.  I like the idea of having a basket of goodies... What an Awesome idea!   My next class will be a little different, Thanks for the great ideas!


Although we have a captive audience, we too suffer by the 50% rule. Only half the class that begins on opening day finished. However, the students who stay have an over 90% passing rate historically on both GED and HiSET exams. We constantly point out improvements that our students make no matter how small. We find value in every day's lessons and tie them back to the real world.

We address our missing students (parole hearings, mental health, medical, lock-downs) by having a syllabus and support material that inmates work on in their cell's in addition to direct instruction. For instance, if an inmate cannot make a math class, he knows what we are working on and can keep up with class. If the miss class, they also have an additional hour to work on PLATO at their own pace. Therefore, I don't have to take time out of my direct instruction class to scaffold students back to where the class is. I do this the 2nd hour with PLATO and 1:1. Most of our students report that they feel valued in a way they never did in public school.

I have to believe that many students would be more receptive to critique from a peer than from a teacher. It is easier to accept, in that you are also critiquing their essay as well, so you are "equals.". It now becomes a mutually helpful exercise, and it is recognized as a positive, constructive activity. Who doesn't want to participate in something like that?



  1. Do you have techniques that you use to help students deal with their errors so they do not undercut their motivation? What are they?

I try to frame my 'constructive correction' with acknowledging something positive about their effort.

  1. Have you used peer feedback activities in your teaching? What are the strengths and challenges of using that approach?

I have not used peer feedback a lot because I'm unsure as to how effective it is.

Although it may sound simple our team focuses on empowering students through enforced attendance policies and managed enrollment. This allows students to see their progression  and how their attendance affects that progression.  A strong attendance policy additionally gives students experience with that life and work skill that both colleges and employers find as a key element for success.

Hi All, 

I think this a wonderful strategy. I think an additional strategy is goal setting with students and settting appropriate timelines. In i-Pathways (and I am sure this works for other projects as well), we have a placement survey. Students get a customized path and can focus on their strenghts and weeknesses. Buy taking the placement survey and identifying how many lessons a student needs to do, a realistic time line about how long it will take to prepare for the HSE, or even moving into HSE prep for ABE students, can be projected. This type of planning  and goal setting is directly tied to student retention. 


It is a very high priority in our program to assist students in every way possible to meet their GED completion goals and their career and college goals. We devote professional development for all instructors as well as lead instructor discussions to identifying ways to increase incentives for our students to remain in the program.  In addition, we have transition coaches to help our students with their career and college goals once they have passed the GED tests.

I am the only teacher in my program, so I will speak for myself.  I have found that texting my students with encouraging words and expectations has worked to get them to show up.  Once they are in the classroom, they work together if they are working on same subject for their HiSET exam and that has been a great plus.  They encourage each other, ask questions, and figure problems out together.  I have modeled how I their study skills should look and they have encouraged one and another to continue taking notes and asking questions when needed.  

I love the way the teacher got the students involved in their own learning and in supporting one another  in their quest to achieve challenging goals. Students in the peer editing were able to give and receive substantive peer editing without negative emotional reaction. The truth is that learners always have to take responsibility for learning because they are the people to whom the knowledge must become usable and relevant. As teachers, we do offer new perspectives, but we must also point the way for students to take in and enhance those perspectives for their own use.

One of the strategies that we incorporated in our GED classrooms was the use of collaborative projects whereby the students were placed in groups whereby the ones who were more advanced were able to assist those who were being challenged in essay writing. We found that this not only had a positive impact on the quality in the writing of some students, but it also improved the overall classroom attendance.

Instructors in my group (MCC Omaha  AE/ESL /WID collaborate through Professional Development trainings; and share best practices and successes in weekly touchpoint meetings.  In this section , I appreciated the powerpoint content on attendance turbulence.  Good practical advice on the importance of established classroom procedures, plus a syllabus students could access to know what material will be covered.  Stability in the classroom is a valuable asset for our student's often "roller coaster" challenges that exist for them outside the classroom.

The Strategies at Work: Observing Alternative Assessment of Discussion Skills

One way that students build skills is by watching how others learn and by listening to how their peers think. In the Unit 1 video assignment of our course, you will observe a group of young adult learners engage in a peer feedback activity.

Pre-Viewing Questions

Before you watch this video on Alternative Assessment, reflect on your current teaching practice by answering the following questions.

  1. Do you have techniques that you use to help students deal with their errors so they do not undercut their motivation? What are they? 

  2. Have you used peer feedback activities in your teaching? What are the strengths and challenges of using that approach?


When our students make mistakes, we go over what was missed and explain so that the student will know why the question/activity was incorrect. We take into consideration learning styles and learning levels. Each student might be tutored in a different way.

Peer feedback has not been steadily used in our Learning Center. I am always afraid students might be intimated.

First I consider how many missed the question. If several missed the same question, we will discuss the question. Was the question vague, not clear, etc.. I may throw out the question in that case. If the question was clear, I will go over it and use different examples and/or explanations. I never speak down to the students, but always treat them as adults. This helps them to persist and stay encouraged.

Although I have grouped or paired students on projects, I have not used peer evaluations. 

1. Our instructors keep dignity in mind as well as student level, learning style, individual's background and learning history etc.   it is Important to help students recognize and accept errors in a way that they can relate to the same practice in college or at work.   Keeping those motivations alone in front of them as well as other goals often helps keep motivation high despite errors.

2. Teachers always provide feedback and each teacher has their own unique flare. Honesty is number one.

Students in my GED program come to the program with the intent and motivation to learn, succeed, and persist. However, Life has a way of getting in the way.  They have families, job requirements, and limited time.  The staff at the school understand those requirements and we have online time for the students, some flexible hours and a LOT of encouragement from the staff.  They are adults and they understand the requirements and the limitations, but they are prepared to move forward under overwhelming odds.  It's a joy to celebrate all their successes and join their families at the end. 

That has been tricky for me this year.  Each student deals with errors and correction so differently.  I have been spot on with some students in how we deal with their errors and at other times, too harsh.  So, this is something I have become very aware of in my teachings.  I have used peer feedback and there again, I need to be aware of those that do not take any feed back well.  With those students I write them notes, with suggestions.  Other students work best with their peers help.   There are definitely those that are better with the feedback than others, softer and kinder.  There is a group right now that are working very well together and look forward to doing so.  

One technique I find helpful is transfer of learning, which allow students to bring the knowledge they have obtained in a previous course to the current course and make a connection. When it comes to feedback, I find effective feedback is the best in helping students retain information. I like to give a compliment sandwich, which is giving a compliment, a correction, and another compliment. Sometimes it can be hard finding a compliment but I find do this helps motivate learning.

I really enjoyed this activity. Students learn so well from each other, and if we have prepared them properly, an activity like this can be so much more effective than a lecture. The page that was given to the students only included Yes/No type responses for how each essay scored on a given part. It seems that the next step should include more ideas for improvement. However, this was addressed as students gave feedback and helped each other improve each part until they could sign off on that section. 

All in all, the students were very engaged, and each interaction I saw included very helpful feedback from supportive classmates. Students were considerate and focused. After their interactions, each had a good idea how to improve. 

Wow! What a great assessment. This was great way for the students to manage their errors. I observed a lot of positive feedback between students who shared how helpful this was to their writing skills. The students appeared to have taken their peer feedback with much interest. You could almost see the wheels turning in their brains. While the students were critiquing one another, the instructor was free to observe and monitor their progress as a group instead of one student monopolizing her time.

I have to admit that I was a bit reluctant on the idea of peer assessments in an ABE class. I was very surprised to see the positive results. 

I would tell the teacher that her students were vested in the activity. They took their role in giving feedback serious and learned from it. By assuming the role of teacher, they become the experts and are forced to grow as students. The teacher must have set up clear objectives that the students clearly understood.

I viewed a different video of an elementary class. One strategy she used that impound provide positive feedback for on a younger or older student was the independent work time. Students get 4 minutes to work independently touching as many correct solutions to the problem. This empowers their confidence level and ability to work independently.

The writing instructor, Alicia, organized the activity.  The students were directed towards a performance-approach goal.  This is a check and balance set up where one student read another student's writing and then suggested a way a student might improve their writing.    In turn, that same student could take a second look at their own essay and make improvements.  The students were engaged and error management.  

A specific, concrete, and descriptive observation I would share with the teacher is that it is obvious the learners understood and valued the autonomy she allowed them to have.  They took the learning experience seriously and did a great job with peer feedback of each other's work. I particularly liked the constructive criticism that was given and received well.

One specific, concrete, and descriptive observation that I would share with the teacher is that this activity was an excellent way to assist learners in managing errors. Students were able to detect their own errors by evaluating the writing of others. One student said, "I learned from the mistakes of others".  

At first, I thought the teacher was giving way too many instructions.  Once I watch the video and noticed how well the students followed directions and really responded favorably with their peers I was very impressed.  The suggestion might be to give a checklist of edits to choose from?  But, really it was all such a smooth running session, very nice job.

As mentioned by others, I was impressed by the ability of the students to work together and provide feedback. Do students all participate? What I am all too familiar with, is two students that are grouped together, and neither one of them wants to do the activity.

One specific, concrete, and descriptive observation : 

Students were very engaged in assisting each other and receiving assistance from peers. I noticed students going back to check their own work after working with a peer, and I noticed that student were very accepting of peer assistance. They were also very clear in their feedback. 

I hope soon to bring new insights to LINCS: ABE through my time teaching internationally in Haiti and Africa and with ex-offenders, Veterans with PTSD and underrepresented adults from Indigenous Tribes.   Kind regards, Dr. Vince Pellegrino




I am fortunate to have a team teaching approach to the Basic Skills course that I teach. Once per week, we go to a computer lab and allow students to choose a story that they will practice reading, answer questions and present to the group. The listeners are encouraged to make comments and ask questions of the presenter. Listeners are given guidelines for expected behavior and  for asking appropriate questions. The student usually choose stories that have a personal meaning to them, so this is also a time for students to learn more about each other. This activity also encourages confidence and camaraderie.

      We have a Get Smart Thinking Activity and a Bonus Question to great the students when they come into class. These activities normally relate to a "prior" learning activity.  The students are given a card to write their responses to these questions. We give the students a few minutes to share current evens each morning.  Also, we always tell our students about "learning plan" for the next day.  We encourage students to get to know each other on a friendship level.

This was a great activity.  I would compliment the teacher on her organization.  She really thought out how the process was going to operate in the classroom.  She had stations detailing what they were looking for and examples to match them.  The student were actively engaged. It was clear that she established a sense of community and comfort before the activity.

We have implemented (on a trial basis) a new policy where non-teaching staff are assisting instructors with calling students who have missed 2 or more consecutive days, to encourage regular attendance (or to perhaps suggest that if attendance is not going to be feasible, another time might be better for taking the class.) Reasons for absences are shared with the instructors, who often don't have time to keep up with calls on top of all their other out-of-the-classroom responsibilities.
When I know a student is going to miss classes, I try to encourage them to substitute online tutorials (Khan, LEL, Mometrix) to compensate for the instruction they will miss.
Sometimes a teacher can direct them to specific modules that will cover the same instruction for the class they will miss.

Self-Awareness as Learners & Learner Autonomy: One technique that has worked well for me has been allowing students to choose the medium to present their final project/assignment. They’ve presented PowerPoints and videos, they’ve written poems and short stories, and even illustrated cartoons. I’ve used a posted rubric to evaluate their presentation; therefore, everyone understood the point system beforehand. I find students are empowered knowing their largest assignment would be “on their turf” and I believe this advantage encourages their commitment throughout the semester.

Our teachers have meetings and share ideas on how they encourage their students.  Building a positive rapport with them sounds simple enough but sometimes can be difficult but is definitely the first thing they do.  As mentioned by Maricel, using a syllabus to promote structure and expectations.

The hands-on learning taking place was one that was valuable to the students. Students' comments and feedback seemed genuine and they also benefited in using their language and communication skills and by being able to see others' point of the view on the same topic they wrote about.   

I discovered some new ideas about either making self-contained lessons for each class or making a syllabus, which I think is a a great idea.  I'll be trying to have more peer feedback in my classes as well.


In addition to promoting critical thinking and autonomy, I perceived the partner activity fostered a sense of community by increasing the social disconnectedness of students.  This is particularly important for immigrant learners, whose motivation is tied to their sense of well being.