How To Keep Adult Learners Engaged Over the Summer

Written by Meaghan Shea, First Literacy Intern and student at UMass Boston

Panel of contributors include: Huiling Chen, Program Manager at BEST Hospitality Training Center; Kelly Folsom, Instructor and College Transition Specialist at X-Cel Education; Lisa Garrone, Program Coordinator at ABCD Roslindale; Andrew Shapira, ESL Teacher at Framingham Adult ESL Plus; Alice Tilton, Program Manager of Workforce Development at Pine Street Inn

how-to-keep-adult-learners-engaged-over-the-summer-first-literacy-blogWith summer quickly approaching, Adult Basic Education (ABE) teachers may feel a bit of unease. Summer often means a break in the world of education – which is well-deserved and often much-needed – but it can also mean a pause in educational growth for students. One of the biggest struggles teachers face is how to keep the learning going during summer break.

We asked some First Literacy professional development workshop presenters and members of the First Literacy Community Advisory Council how they keep adult learners engaged over the summer. Here is what they said!

What do students lose when they become disengaged and stop learning or practicing their skills over the summer?

Loss of momentum can be a huge struggle for adult learners during the summer break.

Alice Tilton, Program Manager of Workforce Development at the Pine Street Inn, explained that losing momentum can affect confidence. “With the right momentum, students can maintain a growth mindset and overcome everyday learning obstacles.”

The loss of momentum can also mean taking a break on weekly habits and the repetition that adult learners engage in weekly during the school year.

Kelly Folsom, Instructor and College Transition Specialist at X-Cel Education, spoke on this topic noting that … “time on task or time spent working and thinking, whether on math problems, active reading, notetaking, or writing essays, is cumulative and grows like a snowball being rolled through the snow. When students take the summer off and come back in the fall, the snowball is not the same size, it has melted somewhat (for some it melts a lot) and that is why it’s important to refresh or relearn material from before a long break.”

The potential for “backsliding” is also a common problem many of our experts mentioned. When students lose time in the classroom, they begin to forget some of the harder skills they’ve worked on throughout the year.

According to Lisa Garrone, Program Coordinator at ABCD Roslindale, the old saying applies …”If you don’t use it, you lose it.” In Lisa’s experience, “we return to the classroom in September ready to pick up with students where we left off in June, and suddenly it’s as if we’re back to square one.”

What strategies have you used to keep students engaged over the summer?

Alice Tilton encourages a focus on goal setting prior to summer break. She says, “If students have clear goals in mind, they are more likely to stay engaged.” 

Huiling Chen, Program Manager at BEST Hospitality Training Center, shared 5 helpful strategies.

  1. Pair students with volunteers and encourage at least one hour of tutoring each week online or in person.
  2. Host English/Tech Help Summer drop-in hours.
  3. Host a resource sharing workshop to give students ideas on how to stay engaged in learning during the summer.
  4. Refer students to join public library English conversation groups or technology workshops.
  5. Run summer workshops that are less of a commitment than regular classes during the year but allow students to keep learning.

Andrew Shapira, ESL Teacher at Framingham Adult ESL Plus, leverages online tools like Quizizz, to easily find or create engaging, “gamified” activities for students to do on their own. These might be the same activities used during a class, which students could do again as a review, or they might be new activities, enabling students to reinforce the skills they’ve worked on with different content or vocabulary.

What educational resources do you provide to encourage students to keep practicing and learning over the summer?

Sharing resources and offering individualized support is important to helping adult learners succeed.

How do you keep in touch with students over the summer?

Communication is key in keeping adult learners motivated, on track, and engaged throughout the school year and the summer months.

Andrew Shapira recommends periodic check-ins, especially with those students who are more likely to become disengaged and who might benefit from some friendly reminders to keep practicing.

Some helpful tools shared by our panel of experts are:

  1. Google Classroom Announcements
  2. Google Forms
  3. Remind (group text messaging)
  4. WhatsApp
  5. WeChat

Huiling Chen notes …“It’s important for teachers to allow students to choose the format in which they want to communicate with teachers during the school year or summer.”

Final Thoughts

Learning is an ongoing effort. Keeping students engaged over the summer months through support, communication, and additional resources is essential to help adult learners succeed in the classroom and reach their larger educational goals.

For more strategies, insights, tools, and best practices to help adult learners succeed visit our Resources For Educators Page.

May 4, 2023

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