Exploring Engagement in ELT Teaching

Part II: Behavioral Engagement

By Christina Cavage

We are bombarded by the term engagement these days. While it was challenging to build engagement under normal classroom circumstances, building engagement online and sustaining it is even more challenging. In the last issue, we broke down exactly what it means to be engaged. You may recall that engagement in learning is simply about “the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught” and how motivated they are to learn and progress. We delved into emotional engagement—how we can break down those walls and create a comfortable learning space. Today, we are going to examine behavioral engagement.

What is Behavioral Engagement?

When we think of behavioral engagement, we have to consider our students’ behaviors in class.  Are they participating? Are they working in groups effectively and efficiently?  How attentive and active are our students? Essentially, how involved are they in the learning process?  Now, in a traditional face-to-face class we might be able to clearly see this. We know the students who come to class with their assignments completed, with their books open and ready to go, with their hands up to answer the questions we pose to the class. However, in a virtual environment, this can be extremely difficult to observe especially when many of our students have learned to Zoom with their cameras off. So, what can we do to foster and maintain behavioral engagement in this new normal?

Strategies to Build Behavioral Engagement

Very much like emotional engagement, it’s all about leveraging our traditional teaching methods and the tools we have. Often times selecting the right tools and using them at the right times can actually lead to a greater amount of engagement. Let’s unpack this a bit more by looking at four effective strategies.

Strategy #1: Make Learning Active

Set the expectation early on that you will be asking your students to do rather than just receive. Imagine you have asked your students to begin to develop a thesis statement for a writing assignment. Rather than have them submit the assignment to you, consider using a tool like Nearpod, to have students post and share their thesis statements. When students know that their work will be shared, there are fewer excuses and fewer long moments of silence as you call on names via Zoom or some other vehicle.

Collaborative board on Nearpod

Strategy #2: Build in Peer-to-Peer Learning

Being an active learner, also means being an active partner or group member. Whether you are using breakout rooms, or discussion boards, it is important to set clear guidelines as to what you want students to accomplish. Using a model is often very helpful, especially for our lower levels. The below example is taken from Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod. Here students need to share with a partner, then post their findings.

Read-Pair-Share in Nearpod

Peer-to-Peer learning may also mean peer-to-peer competition. Students love to ‘race’ against one another. I have found that warming-up with a race is a great way to get class going. It is also very effective in setting the tone for the rest of the class period. It communicates many messages—from how prepared I expect you to be to how active I expect you to be.

Time to Climb Activity, a race for students
Time to Climb activity: a race for students

Strategy #3: Break Learning into Small Pieces (Microlearning)

Microlearning is not a new term. However, it really has been coming to the forefront during these unprecedented times. Attention spans are dwindling and seem to be more so with the distractions of sitting in one’s own home taking classes. Microlearning is about presenting learning in small manageable pieces. This makes learning more accessible. The best practice is presenting content in small pieces, and then building in active tasks so students can immediately apply what they have learned. A great example of microlearning exists in Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod: Grammar. Within each grammar lesson there is a short video lesson on the grammar structure. Within these lessons, there are formative questions that students have to answer to move on. It makes their learning real and immediate.

Grammar lesson in Nearpod

Strategy #4: Personalize Learning

Lastly, in an online environment it becomes even more important to create lessons that are tailored or personalized. Tailored or personalized learning allows students to make greater connections to course content. How can you personalize lessons? Well, most simply, incorporate students’ names into lessons and include information about students into learning materials. What about personalizing or tailoring learning on a more global scale, or in other words, tailoring to your specific program or course?

Well, using a tool like Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod, you can add, modify, or delete content. This allows you to customize the content to best meet the goals, objectives, and student learning outcomes of your course. By doing so, you are able to give your students exactly what they need to master your course and programmatic goals.

Personalizing with Nearpod

Overall, engaging students online is not much different than engaging them in the classroom. It is about selecting the right tools and implementing those tools strategically.

References: Student Engagement Definition. (2016, February 18). Retrieved January 05, 2021, from https://www.edglossary.org/student-engagement/


Christina Cavage is the Curriculum and Assessment Manager at University of Central Florida. She has trained numerous teachers all over the world in using digital technologies to enhance and extend learning. She has authored over a dozen ELT textbooks, including University Success, Oral Communication, Transition Level, Advanced Level, Intermediate Level and A2. Recently, Ms. Cavage completed grammar and academic vocabulary curriculum for the new Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod, which is now available. Learn more here.

Get Students Working Together Online

By Dr. Ken Beatty

Think. What’s a common job that someone does individually, never working with others? It’s a surprisingly tough question. Astronauts, surgeons, and even star athletes don’t work on their own. Instead, they work with partners. Why then, is there such an emphasis in schools on students learning on their own and being assessed individually?

astronaut

Part of the answer is the traditional purpose of schools. In the last century, schools were sieves, sifting out more-able students from less-able students. The best students would go to universities, and the best graduates would get the best jobs. But many of those so-called top students left school without the people skills necessary to work with others. But language learning is–and always has been–different.

To learn a language, students need to use it. Students need to use critical thinking and communicate with others in speech and writing, just as they need to communicate with partners when they enter the world of work.

Your student textbook doubtlessly features many pair, small group, and whole class activities. Some of these are easy to do online using breakout room features found in Zoom (integrated into StartUp) and other meeting platforms. But there’s always much more you can do to promote student collaboration and increase students’ opportunities to use language. Here are six practical tasks you can use to get students more engaged with English and with each other online. To better imagine them, consider a sample unit from StartUp, an eight-level English series for young adults and adults. Level 4, Unit 10, What will the future bring?

1 Change pairs tasks into group tasks: The following task asks students to remember things they’d learned, done, or decided by certain ages. Beyond comparing the answers with one partner, how could the task be expanded to include more partners? One way is to ask students to rate the most impressive one and then discuss in a group, ranking achievements. A second way is to ask students to talk to other members of the group in a rapid fashion, finding other students who had had the same achievements, perhaps at different ages, e.g., learning violin at ages 5 and 12. A third way is to ask students to create a group timeline and then talk about it: “When I was five and Emily was six, we each learned to swim.” The aim is to get students talking more.

Try it yourself activity from StartUp

2 Read and reflect: Each StartUp unit features a reading and each one is a topic that students can further research. Ask them to search online for related articles or stories, and share in central online file, such as a Google document. Make students responsible for making sure there are no duplicate readings. Each student then chooses two of the readings and reports on how they are similar or different. It’s a task that will naturally encourage students to read and reflect more widely.

3 Argue the opposite: The writing tasks in StartUp come with graphic organizers like the one below. In this task, students brainstorm about advice. Once students have finished filling in their outlines, they can photograph them with their phones or computers, and share them with the rest of the class. Each student then chooses one and argues the opposite, suggesting, in this case, why the advice might be bad. This helps to develop critical thinking skills.

4 Watch and explain: In StartUp Levels 1 to 4, an end-of-unit Put it Together project inspires students with a video, after which they answer a few comprehension questions to make sure they understand. They then go on to take or choose photos, or record a video, using their phones, then share it with the class to get feedback. One way to expand the activity is to have each student watch and explain another student’s photos or video, ensuring that they understand perfectly.

5 Take apart the test: Besides pairs of mid-term and final tests, each unit of StartUp offers two tests. Having two tests means that one can be given as a practice test, as formative assessment. Rather than just give students the answers, let them work together, comparing their own answers to see where they agree and differ. They can then peer teach the points that some students may not have understood. It’s not just about getting the right answers, it’s about making students more reflective and providing opportunities for them to use their reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills in an authentic way.

6 Connect students: The above tasks are all suited to classroom discussion, but to get students working together outside of class, they need to connect online, by email. However, privacy can be a problem; students should not be asked to share their permanent emails with the risk of them being shared with strangers, leading to cyberbullying. A solution is to ask each student to get a unique email for the class, such as a .gmail account. A sample email format might be studentfirstname_coursename@gmail.com. After the course is over, students can delete the accounts and continue communicating with trusted new friends on their permanent emails. 

Online learning is here to stay. Getting students comfortable with it is a great way for them to continue along the path of lifelong learning, personalizing their studies, making use of virtual resources, and connecting with other English language learners.


StartUp is the new general English course for adults and young adults who want to make their way in the world and need English to do it.


Dr. Ken Beatty has worked in secondary schools and universities in Asia, the Middle East, and North and South America. He is author of 77 textbooks for Pearson and has given 500+ teacher-training sessions and 100+ conference presentations in 33 countries. His most recent books are in the LEAP series and he is Series Consultant for StartUp.

Exploring Engagement in ELT Teaching

Part I: Emotional Engagement

Exploring Engagement in ELT Teaching banner
By Christina Cavage

English language educators are bridge builders. We build bridges not only between people and their goals, but also between people. Language is all about connecting with others. When we learn a language, we are opening ourselves up to those personal connections.  Our entire field is centered around connecting and communication. If you are like me, you probably gave very little thought to that pre-COVID. But, how about in our COVID world? How can we build those bridges when there are walls, borders and oceans between us? As I am planning my course for the Spring term, I can’t help but reflect on how I can be that bridge builder. How can I connect my students to others when it’s challenging for us to connect? Or, when my old ways of engaging learners do not translate in this new medium? It’s important to define engagement in this new environment of remote instruction. What is it? Why is it so critical to student success? And, how can I build it? Before we look at how we can build engagement in our ELT classes during this new COVID age, let’s examine what engagement is.

What is Engagement?

Engagement in learning is about “the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education.” This engagement involves behavioral engagement—are our students participating? Are they working in groups effectively and efficiently? Then we have cognitive engagement—are they interacting with content and applying the new content? Are they developing autonomy? And, emotional or affective engagement—are they motivated? Do they see relevance in what is being studied? Are they comfortable in the learning environment?

Emotional Engagement

Now that our learning environments look quite differently, how can we build and assess engagement? Well, as ELT educators we are very cognizant of the importance of emotional engagement.  We know our students need to feel comfortable to take those language risks. We have spent a lot of time thinking and designing lessons that lower that affective filter– making students more comfortable in the classroom. Thinking of my old ways of teaching, this may have involved ice-breakers and small group or pair introductions. What does that look like today when I can’t easily pair students, or I have some students online and some face-to-face? How does that happen when we move to a digital or hybrid model of teaching?

Strategies to Build Emotional Engagement

It’s all about leveraging the tools we have. And, on the upside, there are many benefits.  Often times that ‘everyone is looking at me’ intimidation goes away in a virtual or digital environment, and students feel freer to share and engage.

Strategy #1: Build a Community Before Class Begins. If you are using an LMS, such as Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle or Google Classroom, consider posting a video of yourself describing your interests, expectations, etc. Ask your students to submit a video of their own. Then, begin class by asking follow-up questions, or noting individual interests. Pair students up by interest. Create a task where students ask targeted questions. “I saw you play soccer. How often do you play?” They can then introduce their partner to the class that extends upon what the video included.

Post a video introducing yourself
Post a video introducing yourself

Strategy #2: Hold a Coffee/Tea Hour. This should be an informal open house type of meeting where students can drop by virtually and ask questions about culture or language.

Strategy #3: Use Collaborative Tools. Consider using collaborative tools like Nearpod. The collaborative board within Nearpod allows learners to share their ideas, see everyone’s ideas and even like one another’s ideas.

Collaborate! activity in the Nearpod platform
Collaborate! activity in the Nearpod platform

Strategy #4: Think-Pair-Share/Zoom. Rather than immediately putting students in a breakout room, and giving them tasks, give students time to think. Model what you expect to happen in the breakout room. Assign pairs via Zoom breakout rooms and have them share in their rooms. Providing students time before you open breakout rooms, allows for students to better use their pair time, and be on task while in the breakout room.

Strategy #5: Races. Students love competition whether online or face-to-face. These races can also serve as great formative assessments. Consider grammar. Create a Powerpoint with common errors, then have students race to type in the correct answers. Or, if teaching vocabulary, put a sentence up with a missing vocabulary word. Provide students choices (A, B, C) and then have them type in the correct choice. For quick formative assessments, have students use the thumbs up or other reaction tool to indicate if something is correct or not. My favorite is the Time to Climb in Nearpod. Students can choose their avatar and you set the time limit. Students answer questions and race up a hill. They are awarded points by both their correct answer and how fast they answer. These races build community and you will find students ‘talking’ about these races for weeks to come.

In summary, moving learning online isn’t easy. It takes thoughtful planning and careful execution. However, there are numerous tools out there that can help build that engagement. Well-planned digital and hybrid lessons can even be more emotionally engaging to students today. Stay tuned for next month when we will look at strategies to build behavioral engagement.

References:

Student Engagement Definition. (2016, February 18). Retrieved January 05, 2021, from https://www.edglossary.org/student-engagement/


Christina Cavage is the Curriculum and Assessment Manager at University of Central Florida. She has trained numerous teachers all over the world in using digital technologies to enhance and extend learning. She has authored over a dozen ELT textbooks, including University Success, Oral Communication, Transition Level, Advanced Level, Intermediate Level and A2. Recently, Ms. Cavage completed grammar and academic vocabulary curriculum for the new Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod, which is now available. Learn more here.

When does technology aid language acquisition?

C_Cavage Christina Cavage

If you are like me, you are probably willing to try anything to engage your students and help them make significant gains in their language learning. Maybe you have jumped on some bandwagons like myself—early CALL trends. Back in 1992 when I got my first teaching job, I used to create ‘interactive’ lessons using HyperCard on Apple 2es. I spent laborious hours making copies for my students on floppy diskettes, just so they could line up in our one lab to try out these lessons. Even with those early HyperCard lessons, I saw how students reacted when something was new, engaging and different. Those light bulb moments kept me digging deeper into not only the impact technology has on learning, but also the most effective and valuable ways to incorporate technology into my classes. Continue reading