Young Adult Learner
Almost every teacher can tell you stories about students who doggedly push toward their goals even though their lives outside of class are filled with many challenges, difficulties and tragedies. Many have experienced poverty, violence, family disruption, their parent’s substance abuse, homelessness, or teen pregnancy, but these students somehow seem to manage; they rise above it all. We say that they are resilient when faced with adversity and wonder to ourselves how they do it.
As the number of teens in Adult Education classrooms increases, many instructors are being challenged to cope with the different needs of this younger student. Perhaps a larger question is how we can nurture the resilience that these young adults need to cope with the challenges in their lives and continue their education.
In her book Resiliency: What We Have Learned (2004, p. 9) Bonnie Benard explains that “The development of resiliency is none other than the process of healthy human development” and notes that scholarly publications on resiliency have dramatically increased in the past decade. In the 1980s, Social Sciences Citation Index listed only 24 occurrences of “resilience” or its derivatives — in the 1990s, 735 occurrences. The current decade should double those of the 1990s. Although resilience research began 50 years ago, it has only been in the last decade or so that applications of the theory and methods for nurturing and supporting resilience have been developed, tested, and refined.
One of the earliest and most cited studies is The Kauai Longitudinal Research Study conducted by Emmy E. Werner and Ruth S. Smith. This study tracked the 698 children born on the island of Kauai in 1955 from birth to maturity at 40 years of age. Werner and Smith wanted to observe “the impact of a variety of biological and psychosocial risk factors, stressful life events and protective factors on the development of these individuals” over time (Werner and Smith 1992, p.1). Their findings showed that both internal and external factors work together to strengthen a young person’s resilience as they move toward adulthood.
Positive internal factors include self-motivation, flexibility, independence, self-confidence, and a sense of humor. A resilient person believes he or she can make choices, can learn, can do something well, and can make friends and establish relationships. Resilient people use life skills including problem-solving, good decision-making, assertiveness, and impulse control. They might also give service to others or to a cause and embrace spirituality.
Teachers and schools have an important role to play in nurturing resiliency. Families, schools, and communities support the development of resiliency through external factors when they encourage goal setting and mastery, value and encourage education, recognize unique talents, express realistic and high expectations for success, and provide clear boundaries. They can promote service to others and provide opportunities for meaningful participation in leadership and decision-making. They are mentors to youth, promoting close bonds and supportive relationships with adults through high warmth, low criticism interaction styles. Finally, they encourage positive social development of life skills and personal values.
These internal and external factors seemed very familiar to me as I read this research. In fact, they have many similarities to the skills and competencies listed in the SCANS report (1991). These skills and competencies are also present in Equipped for the Future (EFF) Standards and Role Maps. Most of the widely known models of human development list many of the same factors of personal abilities and strengths. In Bridges Out of Poverty (2001, pp. 136-147) Ruby Payne devotes one whole chapter to the development of resiliency and inner strength. In Resiliency: What We Have Learned, Benard includes a Matrix of Personal Strengths as Appendix A, which shows these relationships to many other developmental models (2004, p. 119).
In reviewing the research on resiliency across many disciplines, Benard
notes that, in the beginning, researchers felt they were studying youth
in adverse situations who possessed exceptional abilities; now they understand
that the development of these abilities is part of normal, healthy adult
development (2004, p. 9). When Werner and Smith collected data on their
population at age 32, they found that the majority of those considered
not resilient and at high-risk for failure as adolescents had recovered
and were living stable, well-adjusted lives as participating members
of the community (Werner and Smith, 1992). Because of the length of the
study, they were able to observe “the self-righting
tendencies that move children toward normal adult development in all but the most
persistent adverse circumstances” (1992,
Bonnie Benard and others at the National Resilience Resource Center (NRRC) located at the University of Minnesota believe that everyone has the capacity to be resilient; it is an innate human capacity for healthy transformation and change. Rather than seeing youth “at risk,” they see youth and adults “at promise” with the capacity for self-righting and personal change. As teachers, we provide knowledge, guidance and support for students to develop these capacities. The NRRC has a useful Website with many downloadable articles and links to other resources on resilience. http://www.cce.umn.edu/nrrc/
Some other useful resources online include Resiliency in Action, one of the first Journals to focus on the application of resiliency research and theory.
The Oregon Resiliency Project at the University of Oregon, under the
guidance of school psychologist Dr. Ken Merrell, is committed to social
and emotional development and mental health. The ORP has developed,
tested, evaluated, and revised two curricula
for teaching resiliency. The newly revised curriculum is downloadable
and was posted on their Website http://orp.uoregon.edu/ on January 8,
2006. Although the Strong Teens curriculum was written for grades
9-12, it should be valuable in helping the young students in your program strengthen resiliency. This Website also has links to national resiliency Websites.
Benard, B. (2004). Resiliency: What we have learned. San Francisco, CA: WestEd.
Payne, R. K., DeVol, P., & T. Dreussi Smith (2001). Bridges out of poverty: Strategies for professionals and communities. Highlands, TX: aha! Process, Inc.
The Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (1991). What work requires of schools: A SCANS report for America 2000. US Department of Labor.
Werner, Emmy E., & Smith, Ruth S. (1992). Overcoming the odds: High risk children from birth to adulthood. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.