7 Specific Strategies for Student Retention in the English Classroom

Student Retention in Higher Education says there are four reasons students drop out of college.

1. Homesickness/wrong major
2. Financial issues
3. Bored with classes
4. Failing assessments

How can we help our students get over these hurdles?

1. Keep an eye out for homesickness.

When our students are writing for us, in their journals or narrative writing, we can keep an eye out for homesickness. If we see it, we can recommend the student for counseling or simply counsel the student to get more involved at school. I have seen that work wonders.

Wrong major
2. Help them be aware of what they are getting into.

One of the assignments I require early in the semester for freshman composition is an interview with someone in the students’ majors. I figure if they talk to a real person doing the real job and see what the positives and negatives are, they are less likely to stay in a major which is a bad fit for them. I don’t know if it works, but I think it is worth the effort. And if it keeps one student off a perilous course, then I have made a difference.

3. Provide reasonable help.

One way we can help with this is to put a copy of the textbook on reserve in the library. If a student doesn’t have to have the book in class and has somewhere it can be seen for specific assignments, the hefty chunk of the bill will be lowered.

Also, if we know this is an issue, sending the students to the right person at financial aid can make a difference.

Bored in classes
4. Think of our students when we are creating our classes.

We can only make a difference in our courses. Since English is a required course for most of the students in our classrooms, we can help lighten the boredom by making our classes more interesting or user-friendly.

We can have podcasts of lectures available for the students to download. We can have worksheets or review sheets online. We can make sure we step outside the box and give our students an interesting experience in class.

Failing assessments
There are several aspects of this section that can be addressed. Students may fail for various reasons. They might not connect to our teaching. They might not be coming to class. They might not be able to do the work.

We can’t help any of those things across the board, but we can still make a difference.

5. We can assign graded work early and give it back quickly. That lets the students know if they are on the right track.

6. We can give them their averages every four to six weeks. This lets them know if they are within the ballpark they were expecting for grades or if they need to increase their effort.

7. We can encourage looking at the work we have marked by giving credit for rewrites. If a major grade can be rewritten for bonus points, students will do that work. I usually just average the two grades together. My sons’ have had a teacher who adds half of the points for the rewritten work onto the original grade. (I think those work out to the same amount.) Or you could give partial credit for the rewrites. But this does two things. 1. It improves a grade they recognize as low. 2. It encourages them to look at their own work and fix their errors, the errors specific to them.

So there are things we can do to help keep our students in school and they aren’t things that are that unusual or hard to do.

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