Podcast episode 2: Engaged Students

January 9, 2023


Making sure students stay engaged 

Getting students to be engaged during your lesson can be tricky, especially when you want all students to be engaged.

Teacher perspective

As a teacher, what can you do to make sure students are actually active?

First of all: don't ask students to raise their hands, but randomly ask students to answer a question. You can use a wide variety of tools for this.

Something else you can do is make sure students don't get away with 'I don't know'.

Again, easier said than done, but they should know that just passively being in your lesson is not an option. And there are consequences.

Coordinator perspective

Instead of telling teachers what to change, give them suggestions and ideas on what they can focus on. And mention what you see happening in class, not your opinion about what you see.

Transcription (click to show)

Welcome to the podcast CLIL for Teachers and Teams. I will share practical tips and tricks for implementing CLIL to your organization within your team, or if you're a teacher in your lesson. Let's go.

Here we go. Episode two of the CLIL podcast. I've thought long and hard about what I should do as a second episode. And the thing that came to mind is, well, let's just talk about what's CLIL is and then go from there and see what topics I can explore.

In my opinion, CLIL is about two things:

First, making sure that all students are engaged and active in the lesson because you can't learn the language because listen to it.

And secondly, actually have that language being salient, as Phil said, making it something that students are actively working with. Now, that second part is something that I will discuss in the next podcast. But in this podcast I want to talk about that first thing about making sure that all students are engaged or students are active, and that is easier said than done.

It's very easy to come up with ideas for activities in your lesson that really make sure the students are working. But making sure that all students are working, that is a challenge.

When I observed a lesson a couple a year ago, I happened to observe a series of lessons with the same class at that school, and I noticed there were a couple of boys in the back of the room who were not doing anything during a lesson. But then that happened two or three lessons in a row. I don't exactly remember, but I do know that at that time I was surprised by the fact that those same students were able to keep up that specific attitude of working in the back of the room for multiple lessons in a row. Obviously, this has to do with motivation of the students.

I'm not saying in any way their attitude is something that the teacher can change with a snap of the fingers, just something that's going to happen. But I do think there are some choices that a teacher makes during a lesson to make sure that students are actually all engaged and all active, and students who are not that willing to participate then have some kind of responsibility there. They are held accountable for that attitude, for that specific way of working.

And that's what I want to talk about now in this in this podcast.

I had a discussion with a CLIL coach yesterday, and he told me that he was observing some lessons and he noticed that a lot of teachers were just talking and students were not.

And there's actually been some research in England on that topic. About a decade ago there was research done observing a lot of teachers and checking how many words a student said. And the surprising result was of that was that on average an English student in those classrooms was only talking or only saying four words a lesson, which is not a lot.

And if you could put that into a little context, if you think about, okay, so I have a clear situation where I want students to learn a second language and you can only learn the language by actually using it. Then having them only talk for four words a lesson is obviously not going to help them.

I want to talk about with you from two different perspectives in the podcast about how you might be able to tackle this.

The first perspective is that of a teacher, so I'm going to share some ideas on what you can do as a teacher and within this lesson, but also as a coordinate or coach within your school dealing with CLILand how you can help your teachers actually solve this, because it's very easy to just say: we do it differently.

But I also know both from personal experience, but also from talking with teachers, that, you know, there's that thing called time and there's only so much you can do in a day. And I don't think it's realistic to ask teachers to completely change things if

a) they are don't know what the relevance of it and

b) do not get any support for it.

But that's something I want to talk about later on this podcast. So first, from a teacher perspective, what can you do to make sure that those students are actually active, that you are making sure that all students are engaged?

One way to do that is to not ask students to raise their hands. Simply don't ask them. Don't ask: “Okay, so who knows the answer or even worse? Does anyone have any questions?”

Because if they don't raise their hands, it doesn't mean they don't have questions. It just might be that there is a barrier. That they don't want to ask a question, they don't feel safe enough or that they just don't know yet that they have a question.

A very easy way to solve this is by not asking students to raisehands, but by asking students randomly to answer a question you have.

There's a lot of tools that you can use for this like wheel of names, random name generator, or class dojo. There are various different tools you can use to really randomly generate a name for your classroom, and that makes it very easy for you to make sure that all students are engaged because students simply know they are not safe.

Which sounds a bit scary maybe, but in my particular case, that means students know they can be selected for the homework check multiple lessons in a row, which I as a teacher would never do. It also means that students might be selected to explain something in class multiple times in a row, which is something I, as a teacher, would never do.

So that really means that they constantly need to be, well, I wouldn't say on the edge of their seat, but at least they are triggered to pay attention because they know: “okay, I just said something, but it doesn't mean I won't be selected next”.

I used to have a teacher back when I was still a student who would have the list of names and it would just go through the list from top to bottom. In other words, if I knew that I might have been, and I knew that I would not be selected for another four or five weeks or something like that. So then I didn't feel any pressure to actually do something the next four or five weeks, which doesn't mean that I didn't do anything, but you get the idea.

Another way to make sure that students are involved is making sure that there is no room for, you know, sitting back and enjoying the show. They should all be engaged.

And you can do that by implementing activities were all students have to do something and this can be something where you ask them all to write to instead of just asking the question.

First, ask everyone to write down something so you can see everyone is doing something and then randomly asking for an answer.

Then they can’t say: “Well, I don't know why” or “I didn't have the time” or whatever, because they had to write it down first. There is language output as well!

Or you can do activities like Think Pair Share, where you ask students to share with each other what they have before you share it in a classroom?

And of course, that means in some cases that if two or three people are together that are not really working, then you will see your professional, as a teacher, you will see that that's not working. So you do something about that.

And that's the next thing I wanted to say. Another thing to make sure that students are engaged is by not allowing “no” for an answer. If a student says: “Well, I don't know” or “I didn't understand” the first thing I do is say: “okay, so when I started the task and I asked, does everyone understand a task? You didn't raise your hand, why don’t you understand the task now?”

Because that's, you know, I am going to hold themu accountable for that.

For example, I’d say: “At first you say: I understand and then you don't, that doesn't fit. So can you explain that to me?”

So I really put student on the spot. And the other thing is that if a student really doesn't understand, that can happen, you know.

Then I will say something along the lines of: “I want you to pay attention now because I'm going to ask someone else to answer your question, and then I want you to rephrase that in your own words.”

You know, so then they have to do some thinking because we're not allowed to just say it, only to say the same thing. But then they have to rephrase that and listen very carefully.

And that also is a way for me to make sure the student then actually is involved, engaged and there is language output.

Again, I will talk about that a lot more in the next episode of this podcast. But you see I already implement a lot of those language elements by doing something like this.

So those are just a few ideas from a teacher perspective that you can do to make sure all students are engaged. And if you listen to this and think: “Well, it doesn't work for me” or “it's a different situation”, please let me know. I'm curious to hear what you think of this.

Now, as I said, I also want to talk about this from the coordinator/coach perspective, because as I said, a teacher might have to do these kind of things in a lesson.

But as a coach or coordinator of bilingual education within your school, you have to facilitate this. You have to make sure that teachers know what is expected of them, and they also know why it's important. And they have to know how that how to implement this. They have to know that they are supported by this. One way you could do this as a coordinator or a coach is by giving them ideas.

So making sure that instead of saying: Well, I want you to change this” tell them “okay, in this specific situation, you solved it by doing it this way. Here are some possible other ways you could have done this”. And that shouldn't be things that take 3 hours to prepare. It might be things that I just mentioned, but maybe you have other ideas and it's not a thing I already just said.

It's observing lessons and keeping an eye on that engagement element is something I think is really relevant as well.

Some years ago, I trained student ambassadors. I trained students to observe teachers based on an observation sheet that they developed themselves. So they had things on that observation sheet that were priorities for them, that they thought were relevant things for a lesson they observed.

One of the things they had to do, because they always observed in pairs, one of them had to keep an eye on the activities in class. So every time there was a change of activity or change in the lesson, they had to write down what was happening, how long it lasted, but also what the teacher and the student were doing.

And a lot of times when I was reading that, students wrote down that the students had to listen, they had to write down and a teacher was talking and let's just say the amount of minutes that that happened was more than the amount of minutes students actually got to do some work.

So that's something as a coach, you could also observe.

It doesn't mean it's a bad thing, you know. If it's just something complicated to explain, it might need some extra time. That's perfectly fine. But if the result is that you have to listen for 30 minutes in a row and I'm not really engaged, then that's something you can observe and comment on.

Now, I don't mean commenting on by saying: “Well, you're doing this and this wrong”, but by saying “what I observed, is this what you want to achieve? What's another way you could have achieved the same thing by getting students to actually be more active?”

I would even argue there is more learning going on as students figure things out on their own, then if they listen to a teacher all the time

Another thing you could do as a coordinator or a coach is by discussing this during your team meetings. I know, team meetings, especially for bilingual education, well, let's just say that are not always top priority at schools.

So that's something else we might discuss another episode. But once you are together sharing these kind of ideas. What are your best practices, your ideas? Because there's so much to teach, you can learn from each other. I'm always surprised by the amount of knowledge available within a school that is not being tapped. You know that there's so much knowledge and people are not sharing because they just have to well, go through the daily grind, if you will.

Those are just some ideas for a teacher and a coordinator or coach to tackle this engagement element of CLIL to make sure the students are engaged.

Now, what makes this specifically CLIL? Well, as I said already, if students work together, if they communicate, they work together. So in this particular case, I assume they talk English.

So that makes it clear because they are creating language output and they're all engaged.

And one could definitely argue, well, this also works in a non CLIL lesson or a non-bilingual lesson. Yes, I agree.

A lot of elements of CLIL work in a non-bilingual lesson as well, but they are primarily focused on that second language acquisition setting of a regular CLIL lesson in a bilingual school and how to go about actually making sure this target language is the focus of the activity or of the lesson that is, and the topic of the next episode.

That’s it for today. I discussed what I observed, as a teacher and as a coach, when it comes to student engagement. And I think there is still a world to win there with just some simple tweaks. And as a coordinator or coach, I highly recommend talking about this with teachers sitting down, asking them, okay, so what do you need to do this?

Because you can demand things or you can ask them things, but if there's no support, it won't happen. So talk about that. What do the teachers need to actually make this change? These changes happen, which is something that might be of interest for another episode as well.

That's it for this one. I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you listen to the next one as well. Make sure that if you listen to it, you like it, you share it with people around you. And you can leave me five star reviews if you like it. If you don't like it, don't give me a review and be sure to, because that way other people also see it pop up in the lists, on the podcast channels and hopefully will be able to help out more people.

Thank you again and see you in the next episode.

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