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Focus On Basics

Volume 2, Issue A ::: March 1998

Welcome to Focus on Basics

Dear Readers,

Everyone who works in adult basic education has a story about the student who persevered despite myriad challenges. My favorite story is the class of 25 women on Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), who were studying for both the tests of General Education Development (GEDs) and their nursing aide certification at the same time. After the first month of the program, I commented on their almost perfect attendance, and one student said, "I bet you didn't expect us all to be here." I told her that no, I didn't. She vowed that they would all be there every month. She was right. The entire class, which had become quite a tight group, graduated. The students had near perfect attendance for nine months of class, 20 hours a week. Since the drop out rate in adult basic education programs tends to be above 50 percent, this was more than remarkable, it was astonishing.

My interest in "persisters" -- those who remain in adult basic education programs and meet their educational goals despite the forces acting against them -- had begun in the same program three years earlier. I watched one class of students persevere while another class of students with similar socioeconomic make up floundered. What motivates some to persist, while others disappear?

In planning this issue, I sought out people who were consciously grappling with these questions and asked them to write for us. As I read the articles they submitted, each of which presents a different theory or approach to supporting learner motivation, I was struck by the role that community seems to play in all of them. Greg Hart writes that learners and program staff are motivated by event just a taste of power that community activism can convey. Was it the power, or the sense of community developed during the struggle, or both?

Allan Quigley's research suggests that staff should work quickly to identify those most likely to drop out. He found that one-on-one support and small classes work well. Michael Pritza and his colleagues switched from individualized to small group instruction and saw attendance leap. Moira Lucy observes that the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classroom, where learner persistence is not such a problem, provides a safe haven for learners, a place where friendships are born. Archie Willard identifies the strong relationship his tutor built with him as one key to his on-going motivation as a learner, while Marvin Lewis feels that being involved in the running of his program was a factor in his persistence. While the strategies differ, in each of these examples, a community of learners is being created and, somehow, the motivation that propelled learners to enter programs is sustained.

The drop out rate from adult basic education indicates that we have not managed to find the right mix of strategies to do this consistently. It does seem, however, that we are making progress. We hope that the articles in this issue provide you with ideas that will make a difference.


Barbara Garner

Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL