Blog Post

The Single Best Method for Boosting Retention Rates

Yesterday when I was at LaGuardia Community College I was asked about methods for boosting retention.  Students from stressed environments, who work full time, sometimes at one or two jobs, who have family and other obligations, have many things competing for their time and attention and money. Retention rates in such circumstances are low, graduation rates are too.  Boosting both is a challenge.   So I reported on the single best method I've ever learned.  I learned it many years ago, working in an after school program in a distressed community, from one of the veteran teachers. I've done this many times in my classes too.  It works.  Brilliantly.  I realized I have never written about it on  So here we go.


This one does not require index cards.  It is best done with post it notes.


Pass out six to each student, three in one color, three in another color.


First have students write on each post it of one color (let's say blue) one skill they have that is relevant to the course and that they can teach someone else.  Three things total, in other words.  It might be HTML, English grammar, the ability to understand Ranciere, time management skills, statistics, how to organize a work space, etc.


Then, on the post it of the other color (let's say green) they write one thing they need to learn in order to thrive in the course.  It might be HTML, English grammar, the ability to understand Ranciere, time management skills, statistics, how to organize a work space, etc.


They sign all six post its.


I have students post their "need to knows" on a big empty wall.  And ask them to walk around silently around and read one another's need to knows.   Then they begin to "match" what they have on the "what I can teach" and post those to the "what I need to know" post its.


Inevitably, there are some left overs and so I give students the opportunity to make "edits."  They always do.


Everyone ends up with a partner who promises to teach them three things they need to know to thrive in the course.


Everyone has a responsibility for teaching someone else something vital, that they want.  Everyone has a responsibility to learn something that is vital from someone else.


They orchestrate the timing.


I check in every class and see how it is going.    I treat this as a serious part of the syllabus of our collaborative peer learning.  


It is the best single method I have ever learned for increasing retention and participation, too.   Try it.  Magic happens.





Cathy, I like the method that you are trying to get students to particapte in class and take thier mimds off the stress and responisbles outside the classroom for the time. Right now, I am researching stress and alcohol in students lives. What I have found is that students that particapte in drinking tend to fall behind in their academic studies. Reasons why they drink is all across the board. Whether its because others are doing it, because they are addictive to the feeling of getting drunk, or because they need to forget about their stress. From personal situations, I have learned that teachers that can be one on one with the students often helps the students open their mind and hearts to the teacher and start talking about themselves. Whether it is about their problems at home or with alcohol or anything. That teacher being a role model can change a studnets life. Then the student can start realizing someone actually cares about them and want to see them better themself. So they start becoming more successful in school and have a brighter sense of their life. All the little things can really change a students life. 


I think this is an excellent method you are using.  A lot of times the hardest part in a class room is to get a discussion going because the students are scared of each other.  In my eyes, by essentially partnering up the students with someone who can help teach them things needed in the course, the door for open discussion has already been breached, the hardest thing to have happen in some classes.  This method also goes hand and hand in with how students can learn more from each other than we may realize.  Now a days everyone is set on learning just from the teacher, instead we should be focusing on learning from the teacher and also learning from our own peers in the class.  If we can learn from each other and the teacher education can take a giant leap forward, everyone can always learn something from another individual.