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Keeping Things Moving to Avoid Boredom in Classroom


If students are disengaged in class, they will continue to be disengaged even if they do not have cell phones.  Thirty years ago, passing notes in class was a sign of disengagement. In fact, I have found that 95 percent of the cell phone use in my classes is to support the learning task at hand, and using mobile phones helps my students to be engaged in class and to achieve the lesson learning objectives.
If I am bored, my students will be bored. I think the key to keeping students engaged is to keep things moving.  I try to plan lessons that move from one part to the next every 10 minutes or so.  This format is based on a very traditional five-phase model for communicative language teaching which could be applied to classes in most disciplines:

  1. Warm up. In my classes I use various techniques to motivate students to begin to think and speak in the language they are learning.
  2. Presentation of new material.  This part of the lesson is especially important, and it determines whether or not students will be engaged and how much they will learn during class.  I try to involve students in the presentation phase  because if they are involved, they don’t have a chance to be distracted
  3. Comprehension check.  This part of the lesson is a way to be sure that students understand what has been presented and can demonstrate this understanding.  They need not produce the new language that has been introduced.  Indeed, demanding such production is usually detrimental to the learning process. Comprehension checking is typically done through questions of various types depending on what is being verified.  Display questions, referential questions and forced-choice questions all have their place but must be asked strategically so that students stay engaged and can see the connection(s) between the presentation and the questions being asked. 
  4. Guided Practice using the new knowledge.  This phase involves a lot of instructor-student interaction. I see myself as the conductor of an orchestra who leads them while they “play.”
  5. Independent (student-student) practice. 

When done well, the parts of a lesson seamlessly overlap, and key active learning strategies for engaging students are used in each phase.  For example, one key is to tap into their prior knowledge or experience and relate it to what we’re doing.  Another is to make the content relevant to students.  For example, I share statistics and real-world situations in which students have personal investment to make the content relevant for them.  In this way, the material also has individual salience, which increases the likelihood of long-term retention and future recall.  Regardless of the nature of the new material, I involve students by encouraging them to express their opinions on a particular topic.

The class is even involved in my presentations. For example, the other day in French 3, students were learning how to make comparisons. The subject in the textbook was equality between the sexes, which involved a lot of politics.  At the beginning of the presentation, I asked if they knew how many U.S. states had female governors and to which party these governors belonged. I gave them a few minutes to consult with each other so that they could access collective prior knowledge and at the same time fill in gaps together.   Then in a brief presentation, I shared some statistics about the history of female governors in the U.S. and about female leaders around the world.   This presentational phase of the lesson set the stage for their making comparisons and using the language material necessary to do so, to wit French comparative and superlative structures.

Physical movement also contributes to students’ staying alert.  They do frequent group work with students in other parts of room.  Groups are sometimes self-selected by students, sometimes assigned by drawing numbers from a bowl, or sometimes by finding someone in class with a particular characteristic or trait.  Physical movement in the form of gestures is part of a “total physical response” strategy used for comprehension checking.  For example, in an elementary French I class, students would mime an action to demonstrate understanding of my verbal description of a daily routine.

Mobile phone technologies help my students learn in a variety of ways.  For example, when students do independent practice, I encourage them to use their cell phones to access dictionaries, word references, or a thesaurus.  I want them to use these tools.   Some students have even found special “apps” for French and shared them with other class.  I encourage them to share information about who has what app on phone and use it as a connector to foster collaborative learning.  For example, when we were talking about sexual equality students quickly used their phones to access the internet for statistics to support their positions.

By Carol DeArment, CIDDE Senior Instructional Designer



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