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Improving Retention in Adult Basic Education and Recommended Strategies for Effective Instructional and Counseling Interventions

Author: B. Allan Quigley

Purpose: The objective of this study was to generate specific recommendations for more effective counseling and teaching intervention strategies, based on the acquisition of new knowledge concerning motivational constructs among resistant Adult Basic Education (ABE) student dropouts. This would assist ABE programs in dealing with student resistance.

Participants: A sample of 17 adults from the Pittsburgh area who had recently quit attending ABE classes was selected by the counseling and teaching staff. Those selected were reluctant learners who had reasons for quitting other than stated, observed, critical, situational, or institutional barriers. They were aloof and skeptical, exhibiting a resistant attitude; however they had been attending voluntarily. A group of 20 adults who had persisted in an ABE program made up the control group.

Method: Two trained, culturally-appropriate interviewers were hired: a black male and a white female, both familiar with the program. A voluntary panel of experts from Pittsburgh's Bidwell Training Center and Connelley Skills Center designed questions for open-ended, semi-structured, face-to-face interviews.

Results: Both the control group and the resistant group felt that ABE was something they wanted to do. Reluctant Learners (RLs) had expected ABE to be more like their earlier school experience but found that it was not. RLs felt "comfortable" or "very comfortable" upon entry in the program and found ABE coursework to be generally easy. RLs' complaints centered around perceived lack of attention from ABE teachers, as well as a lack of academic challenge. Persistent learners (PLs) were popular and had many friends, much the same as when they had attended school earlier. RLs tended to have few friends, repeating the pattern of their previous schooling as well. The most significant influence on staying in the program was the ABE atmosphere, followed by teachers and counselors.Conclusions: Reluctant learners were more goal oriented and .wanted a more intense and challenging academic program than they got. Significantly, none of the RLs felt close enough to the teachers to raise a problem or complain. Reluctant learners in this study were consistently younger than the persistent learners.

Condensed by: Karen Sturm.

This study is included in the document titled Understanding and Overcoming Resistance to Adult Literacy Education. A copy may be obtained from the Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy, Pennsylvania State University, College of Education, 204 Calder Way, Suite 209, University Park, PA 16801. Telephone number, 814-863-3777; FAX (814) 863-6108. The price is $35.00 and includes shipping and handling.

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