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How to engage students in foreign language lessons

By Candice Bland on October, 31 2022

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Candice Bland

Candice Bland, PhD., Metalinguistics, is a former Spanish/ ESL teacher of 18 years as well as Supervisor of Bilingual/ESL & World Languages from her home state of New Jersey. Candice has spent her career leveraging instructional technology to enhance her lessons, provide assessment simulation for her students, had an average AP rating of 4.5, and awarded over 1200 students the Seal of Biliteracy.

Asking myself as a teacher, “were my students engaged throughout the entire lesson” is one of those subconscious/metaphysical aspects of delivering instruction. I wholeheartedly believe that the two most clutch necessities to capture students’ attention are: rapport and passion for what you are teaching. 

How to engage students in your classroom

How to engage students

Again, are students “engaged” throughout the entire lesson? Or “How do you measure student engagement” are two buzzword questions administrators may ask you in your pre or post-observations.  How do you answer these questions? It’s simple. Students are engaged because of the teacher’s efforts to sustain a mutual working rapport in their classroom with their students. This is an in-depth dedication to consistency and flexibility. We educators need to be consistent. Students actually gravitate towards consistency more than anything else. Students respond to the ambiance that the teacher defines daily. However, all educators know that flexibility is a must when it comes to interacting with our students. We must be flexible in that students will need to arrive late from another class to our class, miss an assessment due to a trip with another class, or simply change up the lesson because of unforeseen circumstances. However, maintaining student engagement, rapport, and consistency is at the heart of capturing a student’s interest. Then, and only then, can teachers genuinely engage their students in discourse, comprehension, communicative exchanges, and actual acquisition of another language and culture. 

how to engage students

Students are incredibly perceptive, more than we give them credit for. The moment they sense that the teacher slacked off in any way, students pick up on this vibe and run with it toward complete disengagement. how to engage studentsHowever, suppose students feel the fire, the spark, the passion, and the infatuation that a teacher has with the content they deliver. In that case, students will absorb this vibe in the same, lending themselves to complete engagement on any topic presented. For example, I distinctly remember that one topic that I loathed presenting as a high school Spanish Teacher, diphthongs, triphthongs, etc., and boy did my students sense this aversion. I definitely knew that letting them know of this aversion turned them off to the topic as well.  However, if it was the one topic of the millions of other topics I presented to which I poured every bit of my mind and heart into, then so be it. Perhaps my students finally saw me as more of a human in this way? Of course, but returning to student engagement, if the passion is there and sensed by the students, all students will undoubtedly be enthralled by this passion and seek more. 

how to engage students

How to engage students with technology

One of the most impactful resources I implemented into my teaching repertoire was SmartClass Content and the SmartClass HUB software. At first, I created all my own activities catered to my students and their specific needs in the HUB across all four domains. They especially were excited about the paired activities, where organic interactions between students in the target language popped. I didn’t have to worry about “How to engage my students”, it just happened naturally. As I listened in on academic conversations regarding activities they completed in pairs (vocabulary, reading, writing, listening, visuals), it was then I grasped how my students acquired the L2, how they deduced and re-explained content to one another, and most importantly their opinions on the activities they completed, unbeknownst to them. You see, during these paired activities, a teacher can listen in on students, with them knowing, and this insight provides the much-needed information to pivot and enrich content being presented or to revisit and re-teach content. This is just one example of how the SmartClass HUB enhanced my instruction while also engaging my students in L2 banter that would be impossible to monitor without this software tool.  Then Smart Class added English, Spanish, and German content to the HUB, unique, authentic activities across all four domains to choose from, which can be easily aligned to my school's curriculum. Eureka! I had hit the jackpot! The content included in the HUB was created by teachers for teachers, which made for a seamless combination of my own homegrown activities coupled with their well thought and relevant reading, writing, listening, and speaking activities. 

How to engage students

Engaging your students in the L2 classroom, in any classroom for that matter, is, in my humble opinion of being at this for 20 years, derived from two metaphysical pillars harbored by the teacher.  The first being student-teacher rapport and the second is student awareness of a teacher’s infatuation with the topic they are delivering.  Establishing and perpetuating these two attributes in every lesson will ensure that your students remain engaged and motivated to tackle any task you challenge them within your lesson. My enthusiasm and the students’ technological-orientated mentalities were perfectly aligned to implementing the SmartClass HUB and SmartClass Content.  This pedagogical synergy lends itself to my students having heightened levels of engagement in each lesson we shared in our (Smart) classroom.

 

Candice Bland

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