Dealing with Attendance problems of Adult learners

This is a summary of the #ELTchat topic which was discussed on 6 March 2019. It is my 16th summary in total and means that I join moderator @SueAnnan, in earning a ‘gold medal’.  I didn’t take part during the hour long chat and only contributed to the ‘slowburn’, which is the 24 hour period after the main chat when other Twitter users can add their thoughts and comments. A list of all #ELTchat summaries is available here and my own summaries can be found from the tab at the top of this page.


The topic of dealing with attendance problems with adult learners is another pertinent one for me at the moment.  I teach two ESOL classes in the city of Norwich, UK.  The most recent one is an ’employability’ class, with refugees and migrants. As well as general functional English, we will look at specific vocabulary and skills around looking for and obtaining work.  Whilst learners show some initial interest, come to the assessment day and possibly one or two early classes, retention of learners is already looking poor. I do not always know the reasons why learners either do not attend or drop out without any notice. I posed some questions this week about the ‘barriers’ to attending class, as well as obtaining employment, on the worksheet below.  One learner stated that he didn’t come to the previous lesson because “it was raining”.  I asked if he would give ‘bad weather’ as an excuse to his employer and he stated that it was just a reason for not attending my class. Another learner dropped out this week due to poor mobility and no funds being available to bring learners to the class. So the problems and reasons of non-attendance do need to be explored, along with ways to handle this.

Worksheet given out this week in class

Do you have attendance issues with your adult classes? asked @Marisa_C  early on in the chat. She also has “mostly refugee classes at [her] school – paying students usually try not to miss out on their classes but with free classes you know there’s always a problem.”  @jonjoTESOL stated that his school has rolling classes that can be rebooked if missed. He added that “the flexibility has caused attendance issues in my opinion though. It’s not a cheap course either!”   also mentioned this – suggested encouraging students to create social media groups to let each other know attendance problems and to catch up. The “more flexible school policies are, the worse the attendance usually!,” she stated.

A ‘Needs Analysis’ can be vital to provide on relevant topics and focus, suggested   “Sure. It is also often a problem with corporate English online classes paid for by the company,” replied , who stated it was not so much an attendance as participation issue.  Some group sessions have “one or two [who] hover in the background just to tick the attendance box.  @adi_rajan stated that his problem came with corporate courses, which have always had ‘punctuality’, not attendance issues. @JonjoTESOL agreed with this point. In the Middle East countries 6pm doesn’t mean 6pm. However, the lessons he gives are strictly one hour and there isn’t much flexibility to ‘restart’ a lesson – even from a demanding ‘customer’.  felt quite tolerant about punctuality, if there were plausible reasons. Like many chatters, she felt that paying for lessons can definitely be a motivating factor.  As time goes on, however, the excuses and genuine reasons for not attending increase. This includes expensive courses, stated @JonjoTESOL, adding that it is “difficult for schools that try to appeal to the person as both a student and customer. ‘Good customer service’ does not always mean ‘good classroom / teacher standards’, including attitudes to attendance.”

Sometimes life just gets in the way, said @MoreMsJackson. She asked what the chatters do to help their students catch up from missed lessons?

MoreMsJackson Tweet

answered: My first slide of a lesson is the last slide of the previous lesson. Sentence stems  to promote reflection. A returning student pairs up with someone who was present and they fill them in while everyone gets settled. Then I deal with any questions and a review task.”   @adi_rajan stated that “most of [his] courses have a Wiki or Edmodo group and there is usually something there by way of a summary, sometimes learner-generated.  This lead to a brief discussion over the merits of Edmodo compared with Schoology.  @ClareBurke_ELT said that she liked Edmodo, but some students are not so keen. They don’t like signing in every time they move group. The teacher also has the extra task of generating codes for first few weeks when absent students need to get in.  stated that in her school, they phone their students once they have missed three classes. This is in order to tell them what they’ve missed and to find out if they are coming back.  that her old school did this because some students felt that if they missed one or two at the start, it was embarrassing to come back. Again, life gets in the way, so staff could offer other options. If there were handouts  usually makes sure they get them. Other students are also pretty good at posting whiteboard snapshots and homework answers on WhatsApp. However, one missed lesson should not matter too much if there is recycling and review in later lessons.


“How about encouraging students to create social media groups?” wondered @fionaljp. @JonjoTESOL replied that in his context this had “been actively discouraged from doing this from management. It has created both positive and negative social environments which then leak into the class.” He believed that it might be a cultural issue, where there is a different perspective on social media.  @adi_rajan countered this by saying “culture can be leveraged to get people to come regularly and on time for classes. It took me a long time to figure it out but I’ve had similar punctuality issues in South Asia and the trick is to appeal to students’ sense of respect for the teacher.” @PhilipMErasmus “One issue with using social media is that many adults are just overloaded with social media accounts and simply cannot handle another. Good idea in theory, but… ” while “Students could just make mini groups with just their ‘friends’ from the class,” suggested @MoreMsJackson, which is actually what @fionaljp meant, who felt that gaining respect is actually a great way to encourage attendance.

@JonjoTESOL later wondered if anybody in the chat would consider giving extra light homework using WhatsApp or other social media and whether this medium created an alternative, more relaxed kind of interaction. @Marisa_C replied that what works for her situation is to try giving them collaborative homework or some research task for which they need to use the app or chat function. @MoreMsJackson queried what was meant by “extra light homework”. @JonjoTESOL was not entirely sure what he meant, but offered that, perhaps, students can respond to a short news article, maybe ask give them a short particular grammar or vocabulary task that you previously covered. Or you can have a group chat every week similar to .

@fionaljp stated that she would keep a distance from students’ use of social media platforms. @JonjoTESOL asked whether, by ‘distance’ she was involved in the group conversations? @fionaljp replied that she didn’t get involved. She encourages their use, but without her. She believes in professional distance in terms of sharing personal contacts and it has been the policy everywhere she has worked.

@ClareBurke_ELT said that a colleague of hers suggested a ‘5 minute mission’ for teens. Each Student blocks five mins of their day in their phone’s calendar. When they get the reminder, they have to do something in English, such as listen to a song while reading lyrics, watch part of a YouTube video, etc. Students can then go on Edmodo or Padlet and document what they have done, sharing the link or recommending the song. It’s been eye-opening.

Clare 1


Getting back to adult attendance, @JonjoTESOL asked what strategies the chatters have used that might have improved attendance.  The only one he could think of is giving them physical proof of their improvement over the time that they have come. @Sandymillin replied with “the highest quality classes we can manage! CPD for our teachers and clear evidence of quality control. Life will get in the way, but if the classes are good enough students want to come back.”  @Adi_Rajan talked about extrinsic rewards, such as points in Classdojo and taking pictures of activities to tap into students’ #FOMO (fear of missing out).


Adi Rajan

@PhilipMErasmus agreed with this, but felt that at the end of the day there is only so much we can do. It us ultimately their choice, and often a matter of priorities.  @ge_lblog stated that they would agree in respect of quality, adding, “Inspiring teaching, together with attention to the contexts of use that are most relevant to the students communicative needs, [which] increases attendance. But often adults have to balance many priorities and, [therefore] English classes suffer.”

@JonjoTESOL further stated that he was interested to hear how some schools handle the balance between ‘good customer service’ and ‘good teaching practices’ when it comes to paying customers. @fionaljp replied Flipped classroom? Creating a class blog? Buddy system? – clear ways for learners to take responsibility and catch up on missed lessons.” @PhilipMErasmus replied that occassional changes could be made if everyone agreed. However, if a student cannot make it, they could see the teacher ten minutes before the lesson to catch up on what they lost. This would be a no-nonsense, ‘take-responsibility-for-your-own-learning’ policy.

In the ‘Slowburn’ period, I tweeted about my current classes mentioned at the beginning of this summary. I need to complete a course monitoring sheet. Attendance can be poor and learners need chasing. If a satisfactory answer is not given within 2-3 weeks then they have to be removed from the course, despite mitigating circumstances. I try to create a comfortable learning environment where the students feel they want to come and stay. Sometimes, though, other external factors (family, training, dentist appointments) impact on their attendance.  I think motivation is key here. A lot of my refugee learners want to find work or drive in the UK.  They are keen to attend in order to pass the driving theory test or obtain employment. What gets in the way is ‘life’. Having said that, I do my best to motivate them and to accommodate their external commitments, but fostering autonomous learners is also required here.


The following article was shared by Fiona in the chat: How social media is changing learning.

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