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Why Do Students Quit?

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Why Do Students Quit?

Students begin or continue their studies for all sorts of reasons, from work-related needs to studying abroad to improving their English skills for personal accomplishment and growth. And as many reasons for students to start or continue English, so too are there an equal number of reasons to quit.

Although a good number of reasons lie beyond the control of the teacher, I also believe that the teacher has the ability to mitigate some possible excuses. Working with students to set goals, creating a supportive and collaborative learning environment, providing well-structured lessons with a clear objective, and many more keys to better language teaching all help.

Here are a few common complaints and what the teacher can do to keep students in the classroom.

Excuse #1: I'm not making any progress!

It can be difficult for students to see their progress. What's more, if students have studied for some time, they may have plateaued. Although they may not take on much new information in the lesson, they instead organize and process all that has previously been learned. Students turn passive knowledge into active knowledge, which means improved accuracy, fluency, and automaticity, as well as use of the previously studied content more flexibly in a wider range of situations.

An assessment of some sort can help students realize their progress. For example, a pre- and post-test allows students to see what new language they have acquired over several months. Even better is a project, as it requires students to use all of their skills. Projects also allow students to focus on their interests and be creative.

Goals prove helpful too, and the teacher should set goals with each student. Much of the time, students don't work towards a specific target, and so don't measure progress. Equally problematic are students who have set a very distant goal without any intermediate steps to get there; as a result, these students cannot see their progress when compared to the far-distant goal.

And lastly, the teacher can set new challenges with each student which specifically targets any weaknesses. For example, students could begin a vocabulary notebook and learn five new words per day. Or students could choose a TED Talk to watch, and then write a short essay that summarizes the content and provides their reaction. Or students could work through news articles at Heads Up English independently of the class, which will give them added vocabulary, better reading comprehension, and even improved writing and speaking skills.

Excuse #2: We only talk in class!

Although a lesson solely focused on free conversation without correction or the development of specific skills and strategies must never be considered a good lesson, lessons should still incorporate a lot of opportunities to practice speaking. This holds true for even reading-focused and writing-focused classes; students can summarize, discuss the content which has been read, provide feedback on one another's writing, and so on.

To start, a clear progression of steps towards a clear lesson objective clarifies all of the speaking that gets done. An unclear lesson objective, or a lesson which jumps from one activity to another activity, can easily be viewed as little more than free conversation at worst or, at best, unfocused conversation which lacks an express purpose.

...students turn passive knowledge into active knowledge, which means improved accuracy and fluency.

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It's also a good idea for the teacher to explain the focus of the lesson at the start of the day. What's more, at the end of the lesson, he/she should recap what has been learned and practiced. Combined with a few mistakes on the board in the final five minutes that students correct and additional examples elicited with the target language, students can then clearly see all that they have accomplished.

And lastly, it's also important to remember that students aren't educators, which means they often cannot understand the purpose of the activities and tasks. And if students have only ever experienced a teacher-centered class with a lot of grammar explanations and drills, then they may not grasp how productive practice improves a whole range of language skills.

Explicit explanations serve as one means to mitigate this incorrect assumption; in other words, the teacher explains the reasons for various activities. For example, "Let's answer this set of questions again with today's grammar. This will help everyone use the language in a wider range of situations as you build fluency skills." Or, "Share your answers from the fill-in-the-blank exercise with a partner. If any answers are different, then talk together in English to correct the mistake. This will help your overall skills because you must use a lot of English to problem-solve together."

Excuse #3: I'm too busy!

Students may indeed be busy. However, when students use this excuse, they generally see another activity as providing more value than English lessons. For example, after a busy day at work, few students want to spend two hours in a lesson unless they gain some sort of benefit. As a result, students may choose to go straight home, turn on the TV, and binge watch Netflix because this provides greater immediate value.

The teacher should provide as much personalized focus to the lesson as possible. This increases value. In other words, the teacher should think how to build a course around the needs of the student, rather than take the same approach for all students. Nor should the teacher blindly follow the textbook, but instead he/she should adapt and adjust the content.

The teacher can also incorporate a grammar scratch pad for incidental language. The grammar scratch pad lets students make notes of any teachable moments related to incidental grammar. Much of the incidental language occurs during free(r) activities, as students use a wide range of language for effective communication. However, the mistakes may come from previously studied language; the mistakes might also originate with emerging language, which refers to language that students have encountered and are now trying to incorporate into their productive range.

And lastly, personalized homework helps too. Grammar-focused content, listening exercises, writing tasks, and so on can be assigned to different students based on specific, individual needs. This sort of personalization allows students to gain greater value from the lessons as they make progress.

Excuse #4: It's too expensive!

A lot of factors could result in this excuse. For example, the value being received doesn't justify the price being paid; or, a poor economy results in students short of or worried about money; or, if teaching online, students live in a country with a much lower cost of living, and so lesson prices seem inflated from the students' point of view.'s also a good idea for the teacher to explain the focus of the lesson.

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You should keep in mind, though, that some people almost never pay for anything. Eternally on the lookout for freebies and deep discounts, these sorts of students are never worth the investment in time and energy. They will always see the lessons as too expensive, and complain about it!

The teacher should provide as much value as possible. For example, in my lessons, all of my students receive:

  • personalized lesson content
  • lesson content adapted to work on specific needs
  • personalized homework
  • 24/7 email to ask English-related questions
  • lesson reports after each lesson with new vocabulary and mistakes
  • counseling with the students to set goals, identify concerns, etc.
  • years of experience and dedication to helping students succeed

Your students may need more unique benefits, or even perhaps less. Talk with your students about their needs and wants in a course and lesson, incorporate those suggestions and resources, and then determine what would be a fair price for your services.

As a final word, the teacher should realize that students will always quit, no matter the proactive steps he/she might take. However, armed with a few of the above suggestions, and separating the eternal quitters who start something but soon give up, students will stick with you, gain value from the lessons, and make progress to their goals.



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