Nine Interview Questions
The background information sheet yielded demographic data, explored participants attitudes on prior school experience and feelings about how they learned, and attempted to determine whether they were internally or externally driven when it came to approaching a learning task. The next nine questions continue the probe and provide data on issues such as goals, thoughts of quitting, progress, program variables, self-esteem and support.
Seven of the ten people interviewed in this study joined ABE with the goal of wanting to get their GED (see graph on Appendix A, page 1). Of those seven, two wanted to go on to college and one wanted his GED for personal satisfaction and to be eligible for better jobs. One initially enrolled to encourage her husband to get his GED and decided to continue when he stopped coming. Of the three non-GED participants, one signed up to study for her U.S. citizenship and to have something to do; one wanted to get her drivers permit, improve in math, and learn computer (She has subsequently taken college math and computer classes); and another wished to improve in math and computer skills in order to pass her community college classes (see graph of goals in appendix).
After being asked what their initial goals were in joining the program, participants were asked what things helped them reach their goals (see Appendix B, page 2 for distribution of responses). Six out of ten responded that determination was a factor. Five out of ten said that their tutors helped them reach their goals. Three mentioned support from family and friends. Three said it was the goal that kept them going.
The researcher was a little surprised at the role determination seemed to play in persistence. This ended up being "the" most important factor that the majority of the participants felt helped them to continue until they reached their goals. P9 said, "I had that in my mind that thats what I wanted to do. I was bound and determined that I was going to do it and I went right ahead." P11 concurred: "I just wanted to achieve it, thats all. Nothings going to stand in my way. Im just going to do it." A central question to further research should be to ask what, if any, external factors influence determination.
When asked which of the things mentioned in question one were most important in helping the participant to reach their goals, again determination was the overriding factor (Appendix B, page 2). Four stated that it was definitely determination. One said it was equally determination and her tutor. Another that had mentioned determination and her tutor in question one changed her mind this time and said it was her tutor. Two mentioned the goal. This question seemed to generate a little confusion on the part of some of the participants. They were being asked to isolate which of the things they had mentioned in question one as being most important. Some came up with things they hadnt said previously. Some had trouble deciding what had the greatest impact.
Interesting commentary was generated by the first two questions. P3 said:
I found it helpful having you come to my home, because you seemed to come right after class or the next day while things were still fresh in my mind. That was really helpful to me because I lose it real quickÉ Kept me from feeling lost, too. Like algebra . . . I thought I was I was pretty lost in algebra. But I managed it and got a B.
P5 added the following:
I would say support from my family and friends helped a lot, Jasmine especially. And her mother. Kept me going. It was an inner will thing. The material did interest me too. I liked to study, I like academic work. If something interests me, I'm going to follow it. I did set it up as a goal. "You're going to try to get the best score possible. You're going to participate in this, you're going to do this." And then you end up doing it.
I would say it would be my own will. Anyone who's doing anything, that's what really counts. You can get outside support which would help immensely, still, it's you. You have to do it.
In response to what helped her reach her goals P7 said that her tutor kept her going, but that her children also played an integral part:
My children and my tutor not giving up on me. I thought that I was stupid. I would have troubles with it. I would get so frustrated that I was convinced that I was a moron. My tutor and my children never, ever said anything demeaning to me and encouraged me throughout it all. My childrenÉ I enjoyed seeing them feeling proud of their mother. She was achieving her goals, even though they knew I was frightened. I don't like failing and I don't like doing anything if I think there's a chance of failing. They never gave up on me.
( So they'd encourage you and ask you how it was going?)
Yes. And pester me if I said I'm not doing my homework tonight. Sitting down at the kitchen table at homework time, if I didn't want to do my homework well. My children wouldÉ They were very proud. It made me feel good to set a good example and know that I was frustrated and having a hard time and they could see that I was frustrated and having a hard time, but I stuck it out.
Bless your little notes that said I'm not stupid on my homework! "Great Job!"those helped.
Participants, after considering what helped them reach their goals, were asked if they ever thought of quitting. Five responded "no" and five answered "yes." One of those that said "no", had actually enrolled three times before reaching her goal.
When asked what kept them going when they thought of quitting, two said it was their determination (One added wanting her degree). Two mentioned their tutor (one said it was her children as well as her tutor and another mentioned his improved math comprehension in addition to his tutor). One woman quit to help with her two sons weddings and then came back. The woman who was reminded that she had exited the program twice said it must have been her determination that made her come back. (see Appendix B, page 3 for list).
Further insights were offered into why people persevered when they contemplated quitting. P5 said, "I was just determined to fill that gap in my education and my knowledge." P7, referring to the tutoring she received commented :
I was having a hard time with memorizing my multiplication so it would come automatically. With the fear of them I still have problems. But I can figure (it) out now, and I know I have the skills to figure it out, but I did not think that I did.
P11 (referring to math) said that,
Something wouldnt sink in and then it would snap and then come around. I thought I was an idiot. (What kept you going?) Tanya (tutor)Égoing to take a club to me.
P3 didnt think of quitting because she knew she had to do it and it made sense when the tutor left. P6 also never thought of quitting because meeting with a tutor once a week and doing the work was an accomplishable goal.
Next former students were asked what hindered their efforts to reach their goals. Nothing really conclusive emerged from this question. Five people felt that they faced hindrances to completion of goals at various points. Two mentioned problems with math (and another talked about difficulty with math in a later question). Two mentioned lack of self-confidence (one added fear of inadequacy and another nervousness). One thought he couldnt learn. P8 said "no" to this question but added that scoring lower on the English test than he wanted to set him back a little. It helped when he got a higher score on the second pre-test. P7 offered the following:
The only thing that really hindered me was myself. My own fear of inadequacyÉ My lack of self-confidence? It was all my own doing. I did not have the confidence in myself to keep on going. I didn't think that I could do certain points. Each time that I felt that, my tutor would spend extra time explaining it to me. Then I would realize that I really wasn't a moron. So, I'd keep on going.
Math was both a hindrance and a source of motivation for P11:
Math. That was one I was kind of lousy at. I thought I'd do better than I did in the actual studying part. Even in the test part there were more examples. Instead of saying 2 and 2 is 4, they'd put it into writing. And that's probably where I'd make most of my mistakes. ..That was one time I said I'd quit.
(It made you think about quitting but it also inspired (you) to go on?)
Right. I was mad about it. I was thinking, "How stupid you are." There isn't anything I can't build. When I came to the math here on paper, there was so much of it I just couldn't remember all these little things.
Data gathered from question number five did yield important results. Nine out of ten people said that making progress was a factor in keeping them going. One wasnt sure.
Participants were then asked how they knew that they were progressing (see Appendix B, page 4). Four determined progress by their GED scores. Two said that they were receiving better grades in their college classes. Two knew that they were understanding more. One womans husband quizzed her on the citizenship questions. Other things mentioned were: passing GED pre-test scores, feedback from the tutor and doing the work without cheating, and being able to do the work after assignments and practice. One girl wasnt sure that she had make any progress until she only had two questions left to go on the math GED test.
Participants expressed their feelings about making progress. P7 commented:
I had more faith in myselfÉ A very large motivator. I was understanding. In my mind numbers always looked like some sort of ancient writing. Some sort of words I couldn't understand! You can't just spell a word with numbersÉ
P8 mentioned his low test score:
Éwith that low test grade in my English, when I took that science, it kept me going because it was my best score. I was kind of proud of it, so I kept going.
The thing that helped me was the pretests. Knowing that I could pass the pretests. That led me to believe that I could go on and pass the GEDÉ If there would have been little or no progress, I wouldn't have wanted . . . It's hard to say.
P5 stated that,
I didnt have as much faith when I started out as when I actually got into the work and saw that I was capable... I didnt cheat, I did it all. I didnt look at any answers, and it worked.
P9 also was aided in continuation by her progress:
Éwhen I first started, I understood that I had to go through all the courses that they demanded. And I thought, oh my God! I thought I was going to have to do all the history part and that'd be it. But I took one test and passed, and took another one and passed. I kept right on going. I guess it encourages you to keep on going once you've done one and passed. I figured, well, you haven't lost it all after all, in all those years that passed.
When asked if any of the subjects they were studying inspired them to continue, six out of ten responded "no," one "so-so," and only three said "yes." The lady studying for her citizenship like learning about U.S. history because she was originally from Canada and had only studied Canadian history: "I just love history. The only history I hate is British history because of all those kings." P4 said,
The only one of them I liked was English. But I still have trouble with my commasÉI like to write, but I just wanted to learn the right way to write.
Most felt that the subjects were just something they had to get through to pass the GED test. P9 commented, "I knew I had to do them and I just went ahead and did them as fast as I could to get it over with." P7, responding "no" to this question added,
I still hate math! I will always, always hate math. It did not make me not want to continue, it just made me . . . I didn't want to give up. I didn't want to fail and let everybody downmy children and my tutor, who believed in me when I wasn't believing in myself. I think I'm always going to hate mathÉ But numbers don't make me want to be ill anymoreÉI dont feel worthless anymore. I understand it and because I have the math skills I have more confidence about the rest of my life.
(She also commented about studying introduction to computer and the childrens story she wrote on the laptop for her daughter). I know that I can write stories and my daughter, since she has passed away, I can use the stories that she has written, and decipher her horrible spelling, and make stories for other children on the computer, since I have the skills. And now I have the confidence to know that I can do a childrens story.
The next question the participants addressed was whether or not any aspects of the ABE program helped them reach their goals. Nine mentioned that flexible time was important and seven mentioned the flexible location.). Five said it was extremely helpful having the tutor come to their home. Only three made specific reference to their tutor(s). Two mentioned the variety of materials (including the availability of GED pre-tests. P3 said,
I found it helpful having you come to my homeÉ(Could she have come to a learning center?) I have a hard time with them in school and to transport them back and forth to schoolfor my school, I dont think I could have found the time to go thereÉIts hard to go somewheres out when youve got so much going on in your life. I think its easier when its at home.
P7, regarding flexible meeting times added,
Éwhen you started coming to me, I had no transportation. I had lots of time, but you worked around my childrens schedules. You werent there when they were at home, but when they were at school.
P2, P4, P5, and P7 didnt have a car when they enrolled in the ABE program. P5 and P7 got their licenses while they were working in the program. Clearly the flexibility of the ABE program in the Northeast Kingdom, allowing students to come to a learning center or be met at home, is helpful for many students.
Participants in the study were then asked about their self-esteem. They were asked what their view of themselves was when they entered the program, if it changed while they were in the program, and if so, how. The results from this question were powerful. Nine people said that they entered the ABE program with low self-esteem and one mentioned being totally "lost" in algebra. Eight people said that their self-esteem changed while involved with the program and the other two answered "some" and "a little bit." All ten said that their self-esteem improved as a result of involvement with the Northeast Kingdom ABE program. When asked how it changed, five people said that they experienced increased confidence, two felt their self-esteem grow once they saw they could do it, and two (P5 and P8) experienced a change in self-esteem after they had accomplished their GED.
Comments to this question were particularly revealing. P2 said,
I'm not one to have a high self-esteem. I think this greatly enhanced thatÉ Because having had two nervous breakdowns [unintell.] I could function enough to learn. When I came out of [unintell.] I couldn't remember faces or names or anything or follow a program on TV, so this was fantastic to be able to learn like that after, I knew it had been yearsÉ I can remember laying on the couch and watching that TV and forcing myself to watch "As the World Turns," because I could not follow a TV program. Even though it was quite a few years later, to be able to sit there and to learn, it really has been a great help. I'm somewhere near normal.
I think it did boost my self-esteem, in the algebra one at least. I felt so lost in algebra. That's when I first contacted you. That's seemed to help once I figured I could do it, then my self-esteem did go up.
My view of myself when I entered the program was that I didn't think that I'd ever finish it, I didn't think I'd be smart enough. It did change while I was in the program because I could really learn. But I never knew it. Because of low self-esteemÉI didn't believe in myself. It changed my self-esteem. It made my self-esteem higherÉ I value myself now, because I know I can do things if I really try.
P5 had similar initial feelings:
I'm pretty hard on myself, at least everyone tells me that. I don't have very high self-esteem. Back then, I was feeling even worse. Completing it did improve my confidence. Definitely. I really try to ignore my self-esteem. Just carry out the task
Regarding her self-esteem P6 said, "Éit isnt always that great." P7, reiterated what she had said in response to previous questions:
É my self-esteem was low. I didn't think that I had the ability to learn. Math-wise. For everything else I was very confident. My self-esteem is very high now. I know that I can overcome obstacles that seem like mountains.
P8 also agreed that his self-esteem improved: "I guess just like after I got it (the GED), it brought up my self-esteem, because its the first real thing in school that Ive completed. That was nice." P9 was excited to find out that she still could learn:
Éwhen I entered the program . . . you feel as if you've lost. After all it's been quite a span between high school and the time you go back. You just wonder if you're going to be able to make it. You know you're older and you know you forget and you know you're not as smart as you were when you're eighteen, but you've learned a lot more in between. But what you learn in between isn't all in books. Your family life and everything. You just wonder if you're going to be able to retain it and go on with it. As I said, once you've done one course and you pass it, it encourages you to go on to the other and you keep on goingÉ The confidence is there that you haven't lost it all, that you still can learn and put your thoughts down on paper and do the workÉ you go in thinking, "Am I going to be able to do it?" You have that fear of not being able to do it. You don't feel that you've lost that much, but you're not quite sure. You don't know how things have changed from then until now. It was quite an experience to go back after that length of timeÉ I would love to take my diploma and show it to the guy that told me I couldn't graduate!
P10 said, "My confidence may have been weak or low to start with, but it increased as I passed the pretests. I felt confident I could do it." P11 also lacked self-confidence when he started in the program: "I guess I felt like an idiot, but that for some reason I could do it. (As time passedÉ) I was more secure."
From these comments it is evident that students entering an ABE program have internal as well as external obstacles to overcome. They need a lot of encouragement in order to believe that they can accomplish their goals. It is this researchers belief that progress fuels a change in attitude and fosters an increase in self-esteem. Success breeds success. Assessments should be done gradually in order not to scare students away. They have to believe that the goal is attainable.
What role does support play in continuation until goal completion? This was the last issue addressed in the second part of the interview questions. Again, responses yielded a possible common variable (see Appendix B, page 4). Eight of the ten participants in the study said that they had support while working on their goals. One said "no" then went on to mention his tutor. One said that her sole source of support was herself. Seven out of those indicating they had support mentioned their tutor, seven said family, four talked about encouragement from their friends
Methods of support varied (see Appendix B, page 5). "Encouragement" was a word that was repeated over and over. Other people showed support by reviewing with the student or quizzing them. One participants mother babysat for her so she could attend classes and study. Anothers parents promised him a party when he got his GED. Peoples children supported their efforts through encouragement, interest, and expressions of pride. The Reach-Up Program, designed to give single mothers a chance to obtain marketable skills through classes, paid for child care, transportation, GED tests and college classes. A Reach-Up worker was specifically mentioned because of her ability to create determination through conversation.
Participants offered more information about the support they received. P3, commenting about her tutor, said:
She helped me get through my classes, which I never thought I'd be able to do. Showing me that I could do this work that I didn't think I could doÉ I know that if I didn't pass my two classes, I would have lost my Reach Up and then I wouldn't have continued any education at all.
P5 talked about support in his household as well as from friends:
I would say Jasmine was really the soul . . . she would actually go over the material. I have other books, and we would go over the material together, actually sit down for a couple of hours and review some of this stuffÉ I had much support. I was very lucky in the group of people I was with. While I was up north there, people here were . . . I had so much support I couldn't get away from it.
P6, in speaking about support from her parents, said:
They were mostly encouraging meÉ They were like, Oh you got to get your GEDÉ I mean they weren't like scary, but they were like Whoa! You have to get itÉ before you go anywhereÉ They thought I wasn't working hard enough to do it. "You'd better work on your math, you knowÉ" It might have been a little bit harder, but I find that when I'm independent of them, I actually do a lot better. I don't rely on them to poke at me and "Go! Go! Do it." You know? I probably do things more on my own. I probably even do more things on my own than I do when they're egging me on something.
(Discussing tutor support) I was about to leave for southern VermontÉ and Barbara said, "Well, there's one more testing time before you leave. OK you have to go and take your math test." I came here before, and looked at some math books. I got all psyched up to do it, wrote lots of lucky things on my overalls. Went and took the math test and I was done. The math test was the last one I took. Barbara helped by saying "You have to take it before you leave"É She was a very powerfulÉI couldn't have done it without her. I wouldn't have known really where to start without her. She helped me move forward.
P7 felt that it was her tutor and children that gave her support:
They would question me on what I had learned. Todd was terrible! It was particularly bad when I was frustrated because I would tell him "Oh, I haven't learned anything. I don't know, I'm dumb!" And he would say, "No, you're not dumb." And my daughter was very, very proud of me, especially she knows my fear of going fast. Learning to drive was the thing she was proudest of and did not give up on me. My three main people were you Todd and Marie, and none of you gave up on me.
(She discussed sitting down with her children and doing her homework while they did theirs.) My daughterÉcolored. And harassed me and Todd. But it was our quiet time, and I wouldn't do all my homework, obviously, but I would sit down and it was showing them that we were doing it together. While I would do a page or two and Jacob would do a small amount of his homework, we were getting homework done. I would finish up when they were asleepÉ It made me feel good about myself for setting another good example.
(Discussing her tutor) Every week, when I'd say I did not get this, she would stay with me until I got it, would go and get me extra material, and go out of her way to see that I got it, that I learned it. Above and beyond. I can't put it into words without it sounding shallow.
P8 spoke about the ways his tutor showed support for him:
"Shed always talk with me. She was just someone I could talk with while working ÉYou dont get so bored when youre working on it.
He also mentioned support from his parents:
My parents were behind me. They said they were going to have a small party for me as soon as I got in. That helped out.
When P11 was asked how he felt supported by his tutor he responded:
I guess just the way she did things. When I went in there I felt like I probably couldn't do it anyways. She got me through that way of thinking, changed my whole attitude towards the classes, doing the study work. I thought I was just wasting my time.
P9 said that she had no outside support:
My support was mostly from myself, because I didn't tell my kids that I was doing it. They had no idea. It was just myself, my own push that made me do it. I had something that I had to prove to myself. Just because I didn't have that little point that they wanted me to have, I still could get.
My husband had a speech problem and he wanted to take the course. To encourage him, that's one reason why I went too. I thought, as long as he wants to do it (and he won't do it if he's alone), then I'll go too. I thought, heck, I just might as well get it. He didn't go back after the kids got married. I went back and he didn't know.
After considering other possible factors in part two of the interview questions, participants were brought back to the central question in part three. They were once more asked what they felt had the greatest impact on keeping them going until they reached their goals (see Appendix A, page 2, and Appendix B, page 3). Six people said that their own determination to reach their goal was the primary force that spurred them on to completion. Two people mentioned their tutor(s). Two others talked about the importance of the goal (citizenship and going to college on schedule). Some gave secondary factors such as realizing that they "could" do it., improved self-esteem, wanting to pass classes, being met at home, the desire to learn and the goal of a B.A,, children, wanting to improve in math, understanding more, and getting mad at math.
Its interesting to note that only three of the ten participants altered slightly what they said in response to question number two after considering other possible variables in part two of the interview questions. In addition to no longer feeling "lost" in math, P3 said that wanting to pass her college math classes, improved self-esteem, and being met at home were also factors. P6, in response to question number one said it was her tutor and determination that kept her going but felt that determination was the overriding factor. When answering question number two she said it was primarily her tutor. Confronted again with trying to determine the major factor in the last question, she again mentioned both but felt it was determination that had more to do with it: "DeterminationÉno ands, ifs, or buts." P7 also had trouble isolating the one most important factor that kept her going. In question number one she said it was her children and her tutor. When asked to choose the most important variable she said it was her children. In responding to the last question, she said it was primarily her tutor but also mentioned the importance of her children and her desire to improve:
(Now that weve discussed a few factors, what do you feel had the greatest impact on keeping you going until you accomplished your goal(s)?)
You and the knowledge that I could do it with your help. I don't want to pat you on the back too much to give you a fat head, but I couldn't have done it without you. I would still be in the same rut, because if any other tutor had come to me, I would have rejected that person, especially if it had been a male. You're very, very patient. You kind of had to be with meÉ
I wanted to feel pride in myself, and I couldn't with my lack of number knowledge and driving. I just couldn't feel completely good about myself. There were many other areas that I was excelling in, but the stuff I didn't know brought me down too much. And made me feel inferior to other people.
They all factor in so much, it's hard to decipher which one is more important. You, my children, or my own desire. Because they're all right there together. If one of them had been gone, I think that would have affected the other factors. If I said it was you, I would be belittling my own feelings of wanting to conquer that mountain or I would be belittling my children's help. Which is so incredible. It doesn't compare, really, because your help was knowledge help as well as emotional, but theirs was love and emotional and pride. And it all went together nicely.
In the former students eyes determination seemed to be the major driving force. P10 said it was his "determination and the will to go on." P11 stated that, "It was just me. I wanted to do it." P9 talked about her desire to accomplish it: "I set that goal for myself and I went to it." Inner will was also mentioned by P5:
Its my belief that in any act that someone does, thats what really counts. You couldnt rely on other people or some magical thingÉIts you. You have to do it.
A couple of people interviewed offered parting comments. P11 ended his interview by stating: "That adult learning center down there is really great. I cant understand why more people dont take advantage of it." P7 concluded her interview with:
I'd just hope that this program continues for many years. And that the tutors that they have, that they respect those tutors, because we need them in the north country. There are many, many women out there that are in the same situation I'm in. That are with children, that need knowledge because knowledge is power. If we don't have power, how are we going to raise our children right? If we don't have tutors that don't have the hours and the support system that they need, the women of the Northeast Kingdom are going to be lacking, which means that their children are lacking. That's my view.