Mid - Cycle Summary of Research Project on Motivation and Persistence
David B. Hayes, Rhode Island Institute for Labor Studies and Research Submitted 3-24-99
Question: What are the forces working for and against students in our part -time, evening ESL and GED/Pre-GED classes which support/inhibit regular attendance?
Reviews of attendance characteristics of students in this program highlight two attendance problems. First, among students currently enrolled, there is a nearly 50/50 split between those whose attendance is above 70 percent and those whose attendance is below 70 percent. Second, many of students who were enrolled in the program when the study began, especially at the GED/ Pre- GED level, have stopped or dropped out.
Steps taken thus far:
So far, the project has focused on those who are currently attending. Those who dropped out during the project period will be addressed in next steps (see below).
In January, a quick glance at attendance figures for October, November and December suggested that attendance patterns among students in both classes varied widely during that time. In mid- February, attendance figures for those attending the program were counted as far back as one year and calculated as percentages. It was learned that nearly half of the students attended classes less than 70 percent of the time.
Students from both classes were then brought together. The nature of the project and what I intended to do with them was explained, and a brief, general discussion on motivation and persistence was held. Divided into small (four or five people) mixed-level groups which reflected common attendance characteristics (above or below seventy percent), they brainstormed answers to two questions:
-- What are some things which make it easier for you to attend school?
-- What are some things that make it more difficult for you to attend school?
Each group composed two lists, one in response to each question. Lists were then read out loud and combined into whole- class lists, posted on newsprint. Students were then asked to select one item from either whole - class list which struck them as most significant in a personal way. They copied this item down and agreed to write a short explaination as to why that particular item was of such significance. These essays were collected at the next session.
The newsprint lists were then developed into a section of a survey which was administered to the students three weeks later. The lists formed a section in which students were asked to rate the personal impact of each item on the lists, using a four-point scale. Thirteen short answer questions, aimed at gathering data on changes in student goals, possible previous persistence problems, and gaining additional insight into positive and negative forces were included in the survey.
Immediate next steps will focus on two areas: gathering qualitative data on students who are still in the program and gathering data on students who have stopped or dropped out since the project began. The first area will be address through a series of small- group discussions with the students on the surveys and on attendance issues in general. The second will be addressed through a mailed survey to the students who are not currently attending. This mailed survey will not be the same survey that was administered to currently enrolled students, as it will aim at gathering different information and at being as accessable as possible (see problems/concerns below).
Later, toward the end of the data collection phase, students in the program will be asked to take the survey a second time. A comparison between first and second survey responses will be made.
Highlights / Problems and Concerns:
So far, the students have been very receptive to the process. They seemed energized by the discussion and small - group work in particular, and many interesting stories have come out in writing. My hope is that these processes, and the upcoming discussion groups in particular, will enable students to reflect at greater length on the factors we're exploring. The students' teachers liked the survey questions, which addressed areas they were curious about.
My meetings with Siobhan, Kathy, Judy and Gail have been very useful. Their input has enabled me to reflect more deeply on developing an information gathering process which is largely student -driven and aims at gathering both qualitative and quantitative data. Meetings with practitioners from other states who are also researching the areas of motivation and persistence have also been useful in this regar, as have meeting with Janet. I feel that the longer, more interactive research format Janet and Bob have developed this year has made a big difference in my project development.
There have been few problems. Some students had a little bit of difficulty with the survey language, but since the survey was administered to the group, they were able to ask questions and I was able to guide them through the process. I am most concerned about the written survey which will be mailed to students who have left the program. Response to such mailed surveys are usually low. I will aim to make the survey as easy to read, answer and return as possible. This may further limit the value of the process by limiting the scope of student response, however.
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