Adult Students: Challenges and Potential Solutions to Acclimation

By October 31, 2011Peer Writing Tutoring

This past week, I led my first face-to-face appointment with an adult student. There was of course no way to tell that the student bringing in a business ethics project would be nearly twice my age, so I naturally was a bit surprised and admittedly nervous when he walked in. However after reading over the assignment and listening to the writer’s concerns, I started to feel more comfortable and found that I was capable of drawing him into a conversation about the project despite the age difference and my unfamiliarity with the assignment. 

Strangely enough, when I attended the in-service this past friday, one of the presentations focused on tutorials with adult and School of New Learning students. UCWbLer Amanda Bryant presented an ongoing research project that focuses on the physical and psychological factors that separate adult students from the DePaul undergrad community and its resources. She emphasized the role of writing groups in the college acclimation process and the need for tutors of all ages to consider the transitional struggles of adult students in order to make them feel comfortable during a one-on-one appointment.

I was intrigued by Amanda’s presentation and found myself thinking about the adult student I had met with on Wednesday. I wondered if he is experiencing the same feelings of uncertainty and isolation.

An article I found in a 1994 issue of the Writing Lab Newsletter makes very similar claims about adult students. Cynthia Haynes-Burton from the University of Texas at Arlington emphasizes that adult student acclimation is not a new issue faced by university writing centers and also discusses the potential effects it can have on individuals unfamiliar with life on a college campus.

“One of the most extreme effects of this process of change is the feeling of displacement, whether physical or conceptual,” Haynes-Burton says.

DePaul University’s creation of the School for New Learning in 1972 certainly demostrated a perceived need for additional adult student programs with a unique focus in our own community. The SNL’s existence as a separate college allows adult students to work in curriculums specifically structured to meet their needs, yet at the same time, seems to perpetuate the isolation of this community from the undergad population.

Haynes-Burton incorporates opinions from other writing center staff about the best way to address this problem. For example, she mentions a program initiated by another writing center that recruited senior citizens to work as peer tutors, a strategy that seemed to effectively address the age gap issue. Towards the end of the article, Haynes-Burton discusses a few of the techniques that her own writing center uses with adult students. She discusses the benefits of pairing adult students with peer tutors for regular one-on-one meetings regardless of whether the student has a project to work on or not.

“The result is that students gain the confidence in writing that matches the confidence they possess in other areas, like jobs or families,” she states.

There are many different proposed solutions to the question of adult student acclimation, many of which are already being actively applied by the UCWbL. It seems that the most important thing for peer tutors and university staff to keep in mind is that adult students are still eager and receptive learners despite their age and experience, and that our interest in their work encourages them to think about writing as a passion rather than a chore.