Engaging Ideas for the L2 classroom

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  • Engaging Ideas for the L2 Classroom Presentation at Teachers Helping Teachers 2015 in Kyrgyzstan

    Brent A. Jones Konan University, Hirao School of Management

    Abstract - The word Engagement appears often in educational literature, and learner engagement is seen as an important precursor for deeper levels of learning. However, it is often unclear in this literature what exactly is meant by Engagement. Intuitively, as a teacher, I feel that I can recognize engagement or disengagement in my own learners when I see it. However, I am less sure of exactly where this recognition comes from, and wonder how well my perceptions align with learner realities. This workshop style presentation outlines an investigation into Engagement as an educational construct in EFL contexts and instructional practices that promote engagement in university EFL classes. Participants will go away with a set of resources for further exploring the theory and practice of learner engagement. Overview - Defining Engagement - Types of Engagement - So what? - How do we get there? - My Study (IF we have time) - References Defining Engagement Reeve (2012) borrows from Wellborn (1991) to describe engagement as, the extent of a students active involvement in a learning activity. The three most-commonly cited dimensions of engagement are behavioral, emotional and cognitive engagement (Fredricks, Blumenfeld & Paris, 2004; Parsons & Taylor, 2011). Reeve (2012) proposes adding agentic engagement (i.e. the extent to which a learner tries to enrich a learning experience rather than passively receiving it as is). Conceptually, this type of engagement is a process where learners, proactively try to create, enhance, and personalize the conditions and circumstances under which they learn. (pg. 161) Together, these four perspectives provide a more complete framework for judging how actively involved a learner is in a learning activity (Reeve, 2012). Types of Engagement Nystrand and Gamoran (1991) distinguish Procedural engagement (roughly corresponding to behavioral) from Substantive engagement (including both psychological and cognitive), the later describing students committed to academic study. Researchers have also recognized the social nature of school engagement. Dunleavy and Milton (2009) define social engagement as a combination of students sense of belonging at school, their acceptance of the goals of schooling, feelings of being connected to and accepted by peers, and experiences of relationships with adults who show an interest in them as individuals. (pg. 8) Using a Qualitative Research Synthesis (QRS) approach, Wimpenny and Savin-Baden, (2013) systematically synthesized findings from nine studies, and came up with four overarching themes as follows:

  • - Inter-relational engagement - whereby student engagement was characterized and

    experienced through connection to a wide set of relationships including student to tutor, student to student, student to family, and student to career.

    - Engagement as autonomy - this related to how students shifted from unfamiliarity and self-consciousness to self-sufficiency in learning.

    - Emotional engagement - this was illustrated by intra-personal capacity, in terms of student resilience and persistence.

    - Engagement as connection and disjunction - there was a variety of student experience from those who made associations to those with a strong sense of disjunction. (pg. 316)

    So what? Learner engagement is now recognized as being closely tied to both academic achievement and overall well-being (e.g., self-esteem & sense of belonging). Increased or deeper levels of engagement lead to greater success at school and can help learners flourish in their various endeavors. This understanding alone justifies a closer look at the construct in my teaching context as well as how engagement can be promoted and disengagement can be mitigated. Dunleavy and Milton (2009) have a good answer to the so what question: Today, knowledge forms a major component of all human activity, and human (intellectual and social) "capital" has become the foundation for accessing and being able to make genuine personal choices about social, political and economic opportunities. In this context, all young people need to learn to use their minds well through deep engagement in learning that reflects skills, knowledge and dispositions fit for their present lives as well as the ones they aspire to in the future. More than ever, their health and well being, success in the workplace, ability to construct identities and thrive in a pluralistic society, as well as their sense of agency as active citizens, depend on it. (pg. 10) How do we get there? Several attempts to design instructional materials and interactions that boost student involvement and engagement have been reported on. One such attempt (Bopry, 2005; Bopry & Hedberg, 2005) was a simple instructional design organizer based on the assumption that effective learning experiences engage learners in activities that generate phenomena that foster an active understanding of the way things work and are not limited to mere descriptions of them (all-too-common in textbooks and lectures). In a similar vein, Zeeman and Lotriet (2013) share their innovative approach to teaching classical Greek dramas in South Africa. The mantle of the expert approach (Heathcote & Bolton, 2005) provides a theoretical framework that puts learners in the driver seat in terms of important decisions and make them stakeholders in each learning event. As the authors describe it, knowledge and understanding is collectively generated and not transmitted. (pg. 181) In designing game-based learning experiences, Bahji, Lefdaoui and El Alami (2013) take a three-level approach to design. At the Macro Level, they use a framework consisting of Strategy - Platform - Process (referred to as the S2P Learning Model), described as being applicable to any instructional design initiative. At the Meso Level, they are concerned with formalizing the pedagogical scenario, the didactic tools, the pedagogical activities and roles. Finally, the Micro Level focuses on game mechanics and gamification of activities and tools in an attempt to engage learners at deeper levels during the learning experience.

  • Finally, Harmer and Cates (2007) describe how they developed an online, problem-based, science inquiry method to engage middle school students in authentic inquiry into the spread of the West Nile Virus. As they describe it, their work on the related materials and activities generated design and development guidelines useful to others interested in designing for engagement in middle school science. (pg. 109) My Study (IF we have time) My research aims to clarify Engagement as an educational construct in EFL contexts, while addressing the following research questions as related to university EFL classes in Japan: (1) What instructional practices promote or hamper learner engagement? (2) What teacher characteristics promote or hamper learner engagement? (3) What contextual features work in favor or against teachers efforts to engage learners? I have decided that the best way to explore engagement as a construct in my teaching context is to focus on individuals teachers of university-level EFL in Japan. One concept that has influenced my methodological choices is sociological hermeneutics, or the idea that it is only possible to understand an event or action in context through the worldview of the participants (see, for example, Baert, 2002). My plan is to compile three or four detailed case studies on experienced teachers of EFL in Japan. To compile these case studies, I plan to follow these teachers over the course of a full school semester (15 weeks), and will rely on classroom observations, semi-structured interviews and questionnaires. I also plan to keep reflexive analytic notes throughout, and will include my feelings, thoughts and questions about what I observe. References Appleton, J., Christenson, S. & Furlong, M. (2008). Student engagement with school: Critical conceptual and methodological issues of the construct. Psychology in the Schools, 45(5), 369-386. Baert, P. (2002). Pragmatism versus sociological hermeneutics. In J. Lehmann (Ed.) Critical theory: Diverse objects, diverse subjects (pp. 349-365). Bingly, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Bahji, S. E., Lefdaoui, Y. Y., & El Alami, J. J. (2013). Enhancing motivation and engagement: A top-down approach for the design of a learning experience according to the S2P-LM. International Journal Of Emerging Technologies In Learning, 8(6), 35-41. Bopry, J. (2005). Levels of experience: An exploration for learning design. Educational Media International, 42(1), 83-89. Bopry, J. & Hedberg, J. G. (2005). Designing encounters for meaningful experience, with lessons from J.K. Rowling. Educational Media International, 42(1), 91-105. Dunleavy, J. & Milton, P. (2009). What did you do in school today? Exploring the concept of student engagement and its implications for teaching and learning in Canada. Toronto: Canadian Education Association (CEA), 1-22. Fredericks, J. A., Blumenfeld, P. C. & Paris, A. H. (2004). School engagement: Potential of the concept, state of the evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74(1), 59-109. Harmer, A. & Cates, W. (2007). Designing for learner engagement in middle school science: Technology, inquiry, and the hierarchies of engagement. Computers in the Schools, 24(1-2), 105-124.

  • Harris, L. R. (2008). A phenomenographic investigation of teacher conceptions of student engagement in learning. The Australian Educational Researcher, 5(1), 57-79. Nystrand, M. & Gamoran, A. (1991). Instructional discourse, student engagement, and literature achievement. Research in the Teaching of English, 25(3), 261-290. Parsons, J. & Taylor, L. (2011). Student Engagement: What do we know and what should we do? AISI University Partners, Edmonton: Alberta Education. Retrieved May, 2015 from http://education.alberta.ca/media/6459431/student_engagement_literature_review_2011.pdf Reeve, J. (2012). A self-determination theory perspective on student engagement. In S. Christenson, A. Reschly, & C. Wylie (Eds.), Handbook of research on student engagement (pp. 149-172). New York: Springer. Wellborn, J. (1991). Engaged and disaffected action: The conceptualization and measurement of motivation in the academic domain (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Rochester, Rochester. Wimpenny, K., & Savin-Baden, M. (2013). Alienation, agency and authenticity: A synthesis of the literature on student engagement. Teaching in Higher Education, 18(3), 311-326. Zeeman, E., & Lotriet, M. (2013). Beyond the expected: An enriched learning experience through learner engagement and participation. Teaching In Higher Education, 18(2), 179-191. Appendix - Five Minitheories that comprise Self-Determination Theory (Reeve, 2012)

    Biographical Statement - Brent A. Jones has been teaching English as a second or foreign language for nearly 30 years, first in Hawaii, and then in Japan and other parts of Asia. He is currently the Director of Language Programs at Konan University, Hirao School of Management, which leaves him almost no time to pursue his true passion, brewing beer. He has been involved with Teachers Helping Teachers since 2006.