Exploring Engagement in ELT Teaching

Part III: Cognitive Engagement

Reflecting back on the last year has me, and most likely many of you, asking were my students engaged in this new normal? If this is to be a normal way of delivery, how can I engage them even deeper?  Well, if you have been following along, you are probably pretty familiar with the definition of engagement I have been working from–“the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught”. We know that engagement involves emotional engagement, which we looked at in the first blog, and behavioral engagement, which we looked at in the last blog, and cognitive engagement, which we will unpack in this blog.

What is Cognitive Engagement?

When we think of cognitive engagement, we may ask, Are my students interacting with content and applying the new content? Are they developing their learner autonomy? It’s really about effort and investment. However, this effort and investment begins with the teacher. The delivery of the content, or the manner in which we teach the content, can either foster or discourage cognitive engagement. What exactly do I mean? Well, the content has to be accessible to leaners, and that includes the terminology we use to teach the content. We also have to scaffold learning or take them up Bloom’s taxonomy. So, how can we build lessons that cognitively engage our students?

Strategies to Build Cognitive Engagement

Very much like both behavioral and emotional engagement, it’s all about leveraging our traditional teaching methods and the types of activities we have students participate in. When we unpack this a bit more, we can really break this down into four key segments: language of our delivery, allotted time for ‘learning’, scaffolding content, and time for learner engagement with content.

Element #1: Language of Delivery

Have you ever explained an English grammar lesson, used the correct terminology, albeit subject, object, participle, etc., and looked out at your class and saw blank stares? Or worse yet, called out a question on Zoom and were met with silence? For many of our students these terms may be familiar, but for many more they simply aren’t. The level at which a student entered your program may be a factor in how familiar they are with terms. So, how can we overcome this? Well, a silver lining in our COVID world is the tools we have available to us and are using. Imagine teaching a grammar lesson, and students ‘watching’ the grammar come alive.

video

Take a look at the screenshot of this video from the Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod. It is done in the Khan Academy style. As the teacher is talking through the lesson, students are hearing the lesson, but also seeing it. The visual helps to support the terms the students are unfamiliar with. Furthermore, we need to make sure we focus on not just the what, but the how and the why—think language, form, meaning, and use.

Element #2: Allotted Time for Learning

We often have a lot to do in a little time. We may use our entire class period to present one lesson. However, how many of our students are truly able to absorb it all? How many are ‘engaged’ the full amount of time? In today’s digital world, with today’s digital learners, it is not realistic to think that they can listen to a lecture for an extended period of time, and ‘learn’ all the content and that is why microlearning has become some popular. Microlearning is about learning in small digestible pieces. Students learn in chunks, and then have an opportunity to practice one chunk before moving forward. Studies have shown that microlearning enhances retention and engagement for students. So, when planning a lesson, consider the chunk-chew-check method. Chunk the learning, give students a task or simple activity to chew on the new information, and then check—think formative assessment.

formative assessment

Element #3: Scaffolding

When we deliver a lesson, it is natural to build tasks and practices in complexity. That is really what scaffolding is all about. However, we often work on remembering and understanding in the classroom, or during class time, and then allow students to do the heavy lifting at home—creating. In order for students to be cognitively engaged, and not lose their motivation, it is important we walk them through each step in class, giving them the tools and skills they need to walk themselves through each step outside of class. Scaffolding needs to be thoughtfully designed in and out of class tasks. Take a look at a lesson in the Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod. You will notice how the lesson walks students up Bloom’s taxonomy, each time asking a bit more of them, all the while engaging students in their own learning process.

grammar lesson

Element #4: Learner’s Time

Lastly, our students have busy lives, but we know that for a student to be truly engaged in learning, they need time outside of class to engage with content. This allows them to interact at their own frequency rate, but it also helps ELT students build those very critical academic skills, like autonomy. As educators, we need to set that expectation. We need to let students know that learning a language is a partnership—we can provide lessons, but outside of the classroom, they need to dedicate time. The digital world has once again come to our rescue and provided tools that we can use to engage students outside of class. Whether you use a Learning Management System (LMS), or another digital environment, your students can interact with content outside the classroom through additional practices and interactions.

live or student-paced lesson

Imagine launching a lesson in class, but students being able to work through that same lesson again outside of class. With the Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod, you can launch a lesson during class, or as a student-paced lesson, or both. The engaging platform allows students to interact, scaffolds the lesson, and provides a microlearning lesson.

In the end, we know the more engaged our students are, the more they learn. That is our goal, isn’t it?


Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod
Want to know more about the Pearson English Content Library Powered by Nearpod? Visit pearsoneltusa.com/nearpod.

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.

Useful tips for your English classes

Browse the resources below to find some useful tips and resources for your English classes.

As our library of useful tips and articles grows, we’ll be adding to this page, so be sure to check it often.

Addressing the 4Cs with online learning
Click here to read and download the full article.
Priming the brain for teaching and learning: Mindfulness goes to the classroom
Click here to read and download the full article.
Reimagining student engagement in distance learning
Click here to read and download the full article.
How to find free grammar resources using the teacher toolkit
Click here to read and download the full article.

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 in the time of remote instruction, 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.

Re-thinking the Purpose of Grammar

Stacy Hagen
By Stacy Hagen

There is still controversy about whether or not to teach grammar, and some teachers are unsure of its purpose.  It’s helpful to look at this quote from Martha Pennington.

Grammar is “nothing more or less than the organizing principles of a linguistic or (broader) communicational system, without which, there is no system.”

Basically, explicit grammar instruction helps students organize the language.  It forms the BASE for the other skills we teach:  reading, writing, speaking, and listening.  It’s simply a base.  It’s not about teaching students terminology for the sake of terminology.  In fact, as a teacher, I try to avoid using terminology as much as possible.  Our students don’t need to be grammarians; that’s our role.

Explicit grammar instruction helps students see patterns.  This is critical because cognitive science tells us that the adult brain is a pattern-seeking organ.  Adult learners are looking for rules.  That’s why grammar charts work!  According to neuroeconomist Arkady Konovalov at the University of Zurich, humans try to detect patterns in their environment all the time because it makes learning easier.

As you know, other, another, and the other can be really confusing for students.  One way to show the pattern is by using circles, as in this new chart from the fifth edition of the Fundamentals of Using English Grammar:

Chart 6-15 from Fundamentals of English Grammar, 5E

While visuals work well, summaries, as in the green words in (c) and (d), are also helpful.  In other words, clear, uncluttered charts help students see patterns. 

We can also show patterns in exercises.  It’s very typical to tell students (via a chart) that the passive is formed with the verb be plus the past participle.  And then we expect students to begin forming passive sentences. But students can really be confused by the various forms of be and whether a verb is a past participle or not.  In the following exercise, students are asked to find the be verb and the “past participle” and then decide if it’s passive or not:

Exercise on the passive voice

In item 1, they will see there is no be verb and no past participle, so it can’t be passive.  But item 2 is passive because both the be verb and the past participle are present.

By going through several items like this, students begins to realize that they need BOTH the be verb and past participle necessary for the passive to be formed.

Seeing patterns makes learning more efficient.  Let’s help our students become aware of them.


References:

Grammar and Communication:  New Directions in Theory and Practice.  Pennington, M.   From:  New Perspectives on Grammar Teaching in Second Language Classrooms, edited by Eli Hinkel, Sandra Fotos, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates 2008.


Stacy Hagen is a teacher, teacher trainer, and co-author of the best-selling Azar-Hagen Grammar Series. The new, fifth edition of the intermediate level, Fundamentals of English Grammar, is available now. www.pearsoneltusa.com/azar.

How do we design programs that lead to measurable progress?

By Sara Davila

In institutions around the world there is increasing pressure to demonstrate how program design will lead to demonstrable progress in English for learners. It raises a key question: how do we design programs that lead to measurable progress. Over the last three years, numerous schools have begun to work on how they can address this challenge using the Global Scale of English (GSE). This year, at TESOL 2019, it will be my pleasure to facilitate a discussion between two administrators who have worked through this process. For me, it’s an opportunity to share some of the best practices I’ve seen developed by experienced educators in the field. For my colleagues, it’s a chance to talk about what they learned during the process, the benefits to their learners, and their future plans.

Salem State University

 Shawn Wolfe, the Associate Director of English Language Programs and International Enrollment Management at Salem State University, will be the first to share his insight into applying the GSE in an institutional environment. At the institution—located in Salem, Massachusetts—Shawn began to explore how the GSE could help to address a greater need for insight into progress given the time ELLs had to prepare in order to enter their degree courses. How much time was required to achieve success in English? How could progress be measured in a way that was tangible to professors and students? These are just a few of the questions that lead Shawn to begin to explore the Global Scale of English.

While the process has been slow and steady, Shawn can provide first hand experience from his use of the GSE, including how he is working to secure facility buy-in by embedding professor views in the curriculum alignment process.

Sacred Hearts University

 Alla Schlate, Academic Director at Sacred Heart University based in Connecticut, will be our second speaker, sharing her process of curriculum review and alignment for her various English programs. At Sacred Hearts, like Salem State and other schools that enroll international learners, there is a significant challenge with both the diversity of language ability and degree interest areas demonstrated by students. In order to address these challenges, Alla has developed a four pillar approach to support learner development. Her long-term goal is to create a curriculum that can be easily adapt over time to the changes in learner needs, instructor needs, and available materials and content. At her institution, like Shawn, she faced similar challenges with aligning the program to the GSE: from gaining faculty buy-in to addressing the challenging and changing needs of the student population.

How did Shawn and Alla achieve success in their institutions using the GSE? What can other schools learn from their experiences? At our TESOL 2019 panel discussion session (on Friday, March 15 at 2pm, Room A407) we intend to explore answers to these questions, and more. We look forward to seeing you in March, and sharing our experiences with you.


Shawn Wolfe is an associate director of the Center for International Education at Salem State University in Massachusetts, where he oversees student recruitment and the core academic components of the center’s English language programs, including accreditation preparation, curriculum and student assessment, instructional coaching, and professional development for English language specialists. Shawn has more than 11 years of EFL/ESL teaching and administrative experience in Japan, Mexico, and the United States. Prior to working at Salem State, Shawn oversaw a community-based English language program for adults and was a recognized state leader and advocate for adult language learners in West Virginia. Shawn holds an MAT-TESOL from the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education and has research interests in teaching English for Specific Purposes (ESP), second language Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT), and E-learning.

Alla Schlate is the Academic Director of the English Language Institute at Sacred Heart University. Professor Schlate is responsible for academic oversight of the ELI. She is in charge of the content of the Intensive English Program: curriculum, instructors, books, etc., as well as makes sure that the curriculum meets the rigorous requirements of higher education accreditation organizations. She leads Professional Development meetings providing the instructors with the best opportunities to keep abreast with the latest research in Language Acquisition Methodology. Her goal also is to ensure that international students are actively engaged in meaningful language learning process exploring all opportunities offered by numerous Departments at SHU. Prior to working at Sacred Heart, Professor Schlate worked at the Institute of International Relations, Yekaterinburg, Russia, and was an acknowledged leader in Education in the Ural Area of Russia. Professor Schlate holds an M.A. in Linguistics and an M.A.T in Teaching EFL/ESL and Literature from Udmurt State University in Russia (Evaluated by WES); an M.A. in Educational Leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University, New York; and a CELTA in Teacher Training and Material Design, from Cambridge University, UK.