Increasing Student Persistence and Retention at Adult Education Center

By: Debbie Gilman, Editorial and Marketing Support Specialist, Burlington English Inc.
Vicky Denkus, Marketing Specialist, Burlington English Inc.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers at the Adult Education Center – Columbia Heights / Fridley (CHF) used BurlingtonEnglish as a supplemental instructional resource with their adult ESL students. With the onset of the pandemic, the program was faced with the challenge of pivoting to online classes without any preparation or training. What seemed at first to be a daunting task, turned out to be a positive experience after the Columbia Heights / Fridley site decided to adopt and implement BurlingtonEnglish as a core curriculum for lower-level ESL classes. In this article we will share the exciting outcome that resulted from this implementation.

Shortly after introducing BurlingtonEnglish for online teacher-led instruction, as well as for
distance learning, the program saw a significant increase in student usage. A key component of BurlingtonEnglish courses is real-time data tracking. As educators at Columbia Heights / Fridley began to look at reports for student proxy hours (time spent learning outside of instructional time), they found that a significant number of students were meeting or exceeding expectations for student usage. Over a period of months, teachers were excited to see their students persist with their lessons and they were impressed by the increase in student retention despite the challenges of the ongoing pandemic. When asked about their success, educators from Columbia Heights / Fridley shared three factors that contributed to the increase in proxy hours and student persistence at their program:

  • Choosing a comprehensive curriculum that’s easy to use
  • Maintaining a strong connection with students
  • Including standards-based content that students can relate to

Why BurlingtonEnglish?

Kathleen Moriarty, ABE Program Supervisor with Metro North Adult Basic Education in Columbia
Heights / Fridley, explained how she made the decision to transition to BurlingtonEnglish as their core curriculum. “When, like all other schools, we had to rapidly convert all programming to online offerings a year ago due to COVID-19, staff were seeking the best materials for teaching online. Teachers tried out numerous online resources. However, the lower-level classes were especially in need of a consistent platform that would scaffold skills and move students through a progression of learning aligned with the standards.” MaryBeth Habel, Distance Learning Teacher, had just piloted Burlington Core at the Brooklyn Center site. She found that having a platform for home study that is directly correlated with classroom instruction was beneficial to her students and strengthened their skills. Based on the success Ms. Habel had with BurlingtonEnglish with her students, Ms. Moriarty decided to adopt it as the core curriculum for lower-level ESL classes.

Keys to Success

Choosing a comprehensive curriculum that’s easy to use

Joe Foss, ESL Teacher at CHF, related how he and other teachers had been spending hours each
week creating Google forms and worksheets to send to students early on in the pandemic. When his program switched to using Burlington’s web-based curriculum, he was immediately impressed by the comprehensive scope and sequence, sequential design, and relevant lesson material. Foss described how easy it was for him to quickly begin teaching online with the BurlingtonEnglish In-Class Lessons. Because he no longer needed to create forms and email students their lessons, he was able to focus on teaching. What especially stood out were the relatable lessons, specifically those that discussed online versus classroom learning, how to use the computer, and aspects of government. During our conversation, Foss demonstrated how he regularly tracks his students’ proxy hours, or BurlingtonEnglish usage outside of instructional time. He attributed his students’ consistent usage and increased attendance to the meaningful content and engaging topics in BurlingtonEnglish lessons.

Maintaining a strong connection with students

MaryBeth Habel described how BurlingtonEnglish has enabled her to maintain a strong connection with her students. She attributes much of the increase in student proxy hours to the ongoing support and outreach that her program provides to students. From the moment students register for class, Habel ensures that they have everything they need to get started with the program. She provides students with their Burlington credentials, walks them through the login process, and sets clear expectations for usage. She explained that students who attend online instruction are required to complete at least three hours per month working in BurlingtonEnglish outside of instructional time. Students who participate
only in distance learning, without online instruction, are required to complete a minimum of ten hours working in BurlingtonEnglish. Habel shared that she checks in regularly with students to offer support and guidance with their lessons. She explained that she can easily access usage and performance reports to monitor students’ progress in BurlingtonEnglish. Habel frequently contacts students to encourage and motivate them to continue working in the program. Many often ask her for more assignments as they exceed the minimum time requirements.

Including standards-based content that students can relate to

Lynn Wika, ESL Teacher at CHF, has also observed a positive trend with students using BurlingtonEnglish. Wika likes to “keep it simple” with her students so she doesn’t overwhelm them with too much at once. With BurlingtonEnglish, Wika can post links to specific lessons on her class web page to help set clear expectations and keep her students focused. Wika emphasized the importance of linking instruction to independent work. She was pleased when she saw that Burlington lessons are fully integrated so that students can connect what they learn during instruction with the work they do independently. From an instructional perspective, Wika shared that “it’s clear and obvious that every lesson is standards aligned with CCRS.” She shared a similar observation as her colleague, Joe Foss, saying that her students find the images and content in BurlingtonEnglish very relatable, approachable, and relevant to their lives.

What’s Next?

In speaking with the educators from Columbia Heights / Fridley, it’s clear that they all share a positive outlook and dedication to their students. From the beginning of the pandemic, Kathleen Moriarty demonstrated the willingness to adopt a new web-based curriculum for her teachers as they transitioned to online instruction. With the support of BurlingtonEnglish Representatives, JennaRose Dahl and

Angela Donlon, Moriarty and her staff took a chance with a new curriculum to innovate and reach students in new ways and their commitment paid off. In the words of Lynn Wika, “These students have made tremendous progress; they are learning! We will not go back to the way things were. It’s time to reimagine education.”

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