Retention in the “Middle Months”: Situational & Institutional Barriers 

What about after those first three critical weeks? Those long “middle months” often present new barriers, new challenges…  Although learners’ dispositional barriers may have been overcome–at least to a large extent–now more situational (home-based) barriers seem to arise…. as well new institutional barriers that seemed to have been overcome at first.   Somehow the babysitter isn’t working out as well as expected; the transportation is a growing  headache; the program isn’t as flexible as anticipated;  and/or the learner’s own progress is just much slower than hoped.  Maybe the program has become “boring” and “hard work” after those first “unschooling” enjoyable weeks. Now it is more of a “chore” with all kinds of growing demands back home…

What can we do?

Here’s some examples of successful “middle month” strategies that dealt with both situational and institutional barriers.

1. Lack of childcare/daycare: George Thomson (then) at Moosomin First Nation Reserve wrote his report on how he and his class tried the strategy of a daycare bank as developed at a 2013 SARN workshop… but that strategy it failed. They had come up with the strategy of a day care bank list of local options and contact numbers,  but it didn’t work. Students just were not comfortable using it so absenteeism and drop out just kept going on…

Then George and the class revised their strategy and, with the help of the Band Council, tried a second action research cycle. Their approach  involved the Band Council but it really involved the role of the instructor. As George explained, “That problem just went away.” Check it out. This is one of the few truly successful projects that dealt with issues well beyond the classroom and, as discussed throughout the blog series, we are educators—we don’t always have the training or the resources that our other allied professionals have to take on problems beyond our classrooms. But George and his class took this one on and were highly successful. See how George and the class found other ways to help overcome the apparent lack of local daycare.

2. Using Social Media: Jennifer Bain at SIAST/Wascana in Regina faced major retention issues in the middle months of her part-time math class; but, with action research and her strategy of using social media, she turned retention around by some 50%.  See how Jennifer used e-mail and text messaging to build a stronger sense of community in her part-time, evening math class.  The results were remarkable!

3. Social Media #2: The same with Bula Ghosh at Great Plains College, Swift    Current. What Jennifer did was try to build a stronger sense of community using E-mail and text messaging;  Bula and her colleagues made great use of e-mail and the college Website to post the upcoming agenda for their ESL class. These strategies also worked.

4. Peer-Tutoring: Jennifer Bain at SIAST Wascana/Regina, took yet another approach. She experimenting with “student one-on-one peer tutoring,” Here, students helped other students, and the student-tutors received a small honorarium for their tutoring efforts. This successful strategy was praised by the tutors and tutees alike and was later used across the Wascana BE program.

5. “Fight or Flight”: In the midst of those long middle months, Elaine Germaine and Janet Ward (née Galbraith), both at Wascana/SIAST, each made thoughtful adjustments to their senior-level curricula to address what Janet called the “fight or flight” syndrome that she kept seeing saw at mid-term at SIAST Wascana. These curriculum-based strategies differed in how they were organized, but both were successful.

 THE “END PHASE” OF PROGRAMS: Retention after the Easter Break:

The “End Phase” of many programs—whether it is continuous and group intake—can be the most challenging period of the entire year. How discouraging it is to work with learners for months only to have them not return from Easter break just as the end of the program is around the corner.

What can we do about this last critical period in literacy and basic education programs?

  1. Social Environment: As discussed in blog instalment #5, Teri Thompson and her at Cumberland College colleagues/ Tisdale, and Dennis Wiebe and colleagues at Cumberland College colleagues/Melfort have posted their reports on the SARN Website.Teri’s group set up weekly social activities for those final weeks, and their findings show great promise, while …..Dennis and his goup went another route.

  2.  Student Interviews: Dennis and his group experimented with the strategy of putting a sharper focus on attendance using student interviews. Both of these from Cumberland show real promise…perhaps these two strategies could be tried together?

More successful studies will be added to this planning framework as the issue of retention is further explored and addressed by SARN and Saskatchewan’s literacy and Basic Education practitioners into the future. Interested in being part of the SARN movement? Contact Dr. Allan Quigley at




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