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Tips to Adult Students from an English Instructor

by Stacy Wriston, M.A. | October 30, 2016

Instructor Stacy WristonFor the last 10-years, I’ve been instructing English courses to returning adult students, who many have been out of the academic setting for an extended period of time. And even though most of my students are native English speakers and writers, their most feared courses are related to English composition and/or writing. It took me some time to realize why this was the case; it is a fear of the instructor’s expectations and the undue pressure they place on themselves.
 
While it is true that every instructor embraces different standards or expectations from their students, at Marian University where I’ve had the pleasure to instruct over the years, I’ve found a consistent approach when teaching English to adults in college. Most of us being adult learners at some point in our own lives, we know that courses need to take a progressive approach for students to be successful; meaning, the course will start with foundational elements giving you time to practice those concepts before moving on to advanced level writing and analysis. This gradual approach enables students to really absorb the lessons and to utilize these concepts outside of the classroom, which is the whole purpose of returning to school! 
 
Instructors understand that the academic setting is relatively foreign to adult students, which leads us to the unwarranted pressure that students place upon themselves. In both my online and in-person courses, I consistently witness high levels of anxiety from my students the first night of class. Some of this stems from what I discussed above, but a majority of it is from the student’s expectation that they should be able to produce a solid piece of writing after the first night of class. Since many adult students work in a variety of fields, they also practice writing in some format throughout the day, so why wouldn’t they be able to write a solid piece in the academic setting as well?  
 
The answer to this question leads me to my ‘Top Tips for Adult Learners from an English Instructor’

  • Leave behind your preconceptions about writing when you come to class – English courses are designed to breakdown elements to the foundational level, giving you building blocks to improve your overall approach and writing style. Hanging onto old ideals could hinder your ability to learn new approaches. 
  • Remove any/all expectations of yourself – You are here to learn, not compete with other students or with yourself. Your first couple of assignments might not be the letter grade you desire, but remember that most English courses are progressive, as is your learning curve. At the end of the course, you will most likely even surprise yourself at how far you have come! 
  • Focus on the learning, not the assignments – Most students become instantly overwhelmed by a syllabus, which is one reason I typically refrain from listing every assignment for the term/semester. Class lectures and lessons are designed to get students through the learning journey, but you can’t fully absorb these if you are in a panic over class assignments. Trust me, focus on the learning and the assignments will come naturally!
  • What you learn in an English course is universal – All of my students are majoring in something outside of English, from business administration to nursing, which leads to some interesting comments and conversations regarding some of the more analytical courses like Short Stories Literature. In the 10-years that I’ve instructed these classes, it never fails that a previously doubtful student will confront me in amazement at how applicable and eye-opening the course lessons had been for them. Even if you don’t connect the dots right away, it will eventually make sense as to why you are required to take a particular English course. The lessons are truly universal. 

In closing, stay open to the process and don’t panic; you aren’t the only student out of your comfort zone. And getting out of your comfort zone is the best way to grow, which is usually our aspiration for returning to school. Enjoy your new adventures!

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