Practical Classroom Applications for the Success of Adult Learners
by Maria de Lourdes Gomez, Patricia Guerrero & Fabiola Rodriguez
Robert Fulghum once wrote that all we really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be, we learned in kindergarten. For many, this has been proven to be true, but for those adult learners trying to acquire a new language even these basic skills of survival learned in kindergarten seem to be a challenge. Whether you are a new or a veteran teacher of adult learners, one thing seems to be also true, everything we need to do to help our students be successful, we learned from practical classroom applications.
The following are ten practical classroom applications that we have experienced to be effective in teaching English as a Second Language to adult learners:
- Re-teach basic skills. Don't assume that because our students are adults they enter our classroom with the basic knowledge. Be open to the possibility of re-teaching basic literacy skills; such as the alphabet, phonics, reading, and writing.
- Identify with your students. Students will remain in your classroom if they feel their time away from their everyday responsibilities is time well spent. Design your lessons keeping in mind your students' interests and strengths.
- Teach to individual learning styles. There is no "onesize-fits-all" kind of instruction for adult learners. Once you assess and understand their individual learning styles, you will be able to use their strengths to develop their weaknesses. Use multi-sensory learning approaches to meet individual needs.
- Provide them with opportunities to re-teach. It has been said that we retain 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we hear, 30 percent of what we see, 50 percent of what we hear and see, 70 percent of what we say, and 90 percent of what we say and do. Give them opportunities to re-teach to their peers. This helps students increase their own understanding of the content by giving them time to process and verbalize with others.
- Take what you need. As teachers, we are sometimes overwhelmed with the abundance of sources available (professional development trainings, books, internet websites, teacher share fairs, etc.). The key is to assimilate the information and apply only what will keep your students motivated while engaged in learning.
- Use relatable experiences. Research shows that tapping into prior knowledge facilitates learning. Providing your students with experiences they can relate to in their everyday life will make their learning easier and more significant. An example is to teach them how to ask questions and express themselves in a parent-teacher conference.
- Give them opportunities to feel successful. The power of positive reinforcement will motivate them to become independent learners, giving them a sense of pride and ownership of what they are learning. This can be done both inside and outside the classroom. Allow them to do a brief presentation to the class on a topic of their choice. Plan a field trip to the local library and have them look up a book and check it out on their own.
- Engage them in cooperative learning. In a multilevel classroom, cooperative learning is a useful tool to promote student learning. Having them work together in small groups will maximize learning from each other. Thus, benefiting from their different learning abilities.
- Have fun! Make teaching and learning enjoyable. Use games and activities that incorporate the skills being taught in a fun and active way. This will lower anxiety levels of your students and provide a more relaxed classroom atmosphere. In order for learning to take place, the students need to be surrounded by a nurturing and safe environment.
- Teach from the heart. All these approaches would not be successful in your classroom if you do not have your
heart set in them. The most important thing is to believe
and enjoy what you are doing with your students.
Reflect on your teaching. What are you doing to meet your students'
needs and wants? Understand that they come to you with
different goals. Some need to get a better job while others might
need to learn how to communicate with their children's teachers
and doctors. Students want their learning to be effective; they
want to feel successful in life, and they want us, as teachers, to
give them the tools they need to reach their goals.
About the Authors
Maria de Lourdes Gomez, Patricia Guerrero, and Fabiola Rodriguez are Educators of Adult English Learners for the Program of Adult Continuing Education in Brownsville ISD. Encountering different students' needs and goals is what has enabled them with the necessary tools to meet their everyday challenges head on. Their philosophy of believing that it is never too late to learn is what empowers and motivates them to continue to evolve and better themselves as teachers.