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Engagement Strategies for World Language Classes: Understanding What Works and Why


Drafting a syllabus or plan for an upcoming class always gives me pause. Though we all include the obligatory admonition of “successful participation in class,” it is perhaps naïve to believe that students understand what this means.

In fact, I don’t believe we’re thinking about participation at all. What we really have in mind is more along the lines of engagement. We can easily see that students are participating when they join their classmates in choral response to teacher questions. We convince ourselves that they are with us when they track with their eyes and raise their hands among the throng of others, hoping not to be called upon.

So, if our eyes can deceive us into believing that observable behaviors like movement constitute participation, then are we potentially deceived when we make judgments based on lack of movement as well?

Engagement is a condition that extends beyond what can be observed from a single vantage point in the classroom. It is rather an intersection of what we can see (the behavioral) with what students are thinking (the cognitive) and what they are feeling (the emotional) with respect to the topic at hand.

Targeting engagement in world language classrooms requires attention to the conditions, actions, and feelings surrounding the learner over time. We must put forth the effort to engage learners before, during, and between classes. We must remember to “see” our students not only with our eyes but also with our hands and our hearts.


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Statement of Personal Passion

Don’t neglect a single moment. As a world language educator, I love what I do. More importantly, I’m in love with why I do what I do. Through my career, I am invited to temporarily walk with students, to be impacted by their experiences, and in turn, to contribute to their growth. While orchestrating learning experiences for the here and now, I don’t neglect the call to join the chorus of others whose voices, internalized by the student, collectively forge a bidirectional lens for looking out and looking in. 


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