Words of Wisdom (From those who've been there)

When teachers were asked what they learned in their first year of teaching adults that they wished they had known before, this is what they said:

About Attendance

"Don't take the poor attendance of an adult as a negative reflection on yourself. Adults have many other priorities in their lives."

"Treat students like adults. If you treat them like children, they go right out the door."

Dr. Boraks summarizes, "The lesson eventually learned is that ABE/GED students with high expectations and equally high vulnerability to physical, psychological, and family stress are less likely to believe that persistence pays. For many ABE students, getting through two classes may take more persistence and energy than it took their teachers to get through two years of college… imagine enrolling in a graduate program where you have no idea how many years it will take to get your master's, and seated beside you is a student who has been in the program for twelve years."

About Adults' Sensitivity

"Adults are so insecure; they hope to learn, but expect to fail."

"Don't impose your learning expectations on the adult…."

The author adds, "Experienced teachers and administrators suggest that you set short-term goals and impress on adults at the end of each session that they have learned something. In addition, stress learning in such a way that they will be faced with constant evidence of their success."

About Student Background

Dr. Boraks notes that teachers "had not really expected the tremendous variability they found among their adult learners." She urges teachers to "make a special effort to learn about their goals and interests. Make no assumptions that these goals and interests will remain constant for a particular student or that they will be shared by his/her peers."

"Some students want their needs met now; these may not be related to your curriculum…. Students will work harder if they are reading something important to themselves."

In summary, the author adds, "adults may know their own strengths and weaknesses better than tests can assess them, so discuss things with adult learners; do not just make a decision about what to teach…."

About Methods and Materials

Teachers' responses varied, one wishing for "lots and lots of ideas and materials," and another saying, "I wish someone had told me I didn't have to know about all the materials to do a good job…."

The author makes these points: "There is a great deal of danger in assuming that a set of materials or one method or one person has the solution…. Materials and methods can help, but the teacher makes the difference and teachers who help the most are ones who adapt to their students and make them feel they have come to the right place…. Teachers also suggested starting and ending lessons with a quick review, reducing the amount of material presented in any particular session, and adjusting the rate of presentation to each individual's preferred pace."

For further reading on learner motivation, attendance, and retention, see Focus on Basics, Volume 2, Issue A, March 1998, available on the Web site of the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL): http://www.ncsall.net/index.php?id=72

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