Module 5: Engaging Learners

Engaging Strategies for ALL Learners

Welcome to Module 5! Engaging our students in the learning process is an important part of teaching. But with so many different students with different strengths, needs, goals, and interests, how do you as a teacher engage everyone in learning? In this module, you’ll explore ideas and strategies for how to infuse engagement into your teaching practice.

You’ll explore strategies for active learning that you can integrate into lessons and activities.

You’ll also explore Universal Design for Learning, or UDL, a useful framework for increasing engagement. UDL applies the neuroscience of learning to inform curriculum design and teaching. The first principle of UDL is to provide multiple means of engagement, and this principle offers practical and effective strategies for engaging all learners.

You’ll also have an introduction to learner diversity and variability, inclusivity, accessibility, and academic accommodations. Understanding more about who your learners are, supports that are available, and ways to remove barriers, will help you create equitable and engaging learning environments for everyone.

To teach every student, we need to reach every student. Engaging teaching strategies help us do that.  Let’s get started!

There are a few concepts about teaching and learning that are important to grasp when you begin your faculty role. In today’s College environment we use outcomes-based education, which is a term that may be familiar from the previous material on learning outcomes. Outcomes-based education has a student-centered and results-oriented design and it is premised on the belief that all individuals can learn. This means that, as faculty, we need to use engaging teaching strategies to teach all learners.

Engaging Strategies

Active learning was first defined by Bonwell and Eison (1991) as “anything that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing”.

Active learning may be distilled into two kinds of activities:

  1. Doing things: Activities like discussion, idea mapping, and debate require students to construct knowledge through higher-order thinking (such as recalling, applying, analyzing, evaluating, synthesizing, and verbalizing concepts). This contrasts with knowledge only passively transmitted to students by listening, transcribing, memorizing, and reading.

  2. Thinking about what you are doing (metacognition): Promotes active learning for students by familiarizing them with their own learning habits. Metacognition promotes students’ ability to self-assess and self-regulate themselves as learners. 

Learner Diversity & Variability

You can think of diversity in students in terms of ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical abilities, political beliefs, socio-economic status, etc. Diversity can represent the differences among students. Diversity can also consist of the students’ background and experience that they bring with them to College (for example, their reasons for attending college, passions, level of family support, past learning experiences, etc.). Your students are highly diverse. You already know this. 

But what about the invisible differences in how brains learn? Your students are also highly variable. How your students actually learn is critical information for us as teachers. “Research shows that the way people learn is as unique as their fingerprints.” Learning isn’t just diverse, it’s also variable and it is constantly changing. In this talk by neuroscientist Todd Rose, he explains why variability matters to teaching and learning.

Universal Design for Learning

UDL has three principles: Provide multiple means of engagement, multiple means of representation, and multiple means of action and expression. While all principles and the supporting guidelines and checkpoints can support engagement, let’s focus on the first principle that focuses most on engagement. 

One useful way to use this framework to inform your teaching is to phrase the checkpoints (the items with the bullets points) as questions. For example, the first bullet states “optimize individual choice and autonomy” and can be rephrased as “How can I as a teacher optimize individual choice and autonomy for my students?” Think about how you can provide student choice and autonomy. If you need some ideas, the CAST website has examples for each checkpoint on the UDL framework. http://udlguidelines.cast.org/engagement/recruiting-interest/choice-autonomy

You can also visit this website with an interactive UDL framework with multiple examples of how you might use each checkpoint. http://udlguidelines.cast.org/

Universal Design for Learning Guidelines

Inclusivity

Active learning is commonly associated with inclusive teaching. Studies show that active learning strategies decrease the achievement gap for minorities and first-generation college students across student populations (Handelsman, et. al, 2007). So using active learning in your teaching can help improve class climate by building connections between students and increasing the sense of belonging and motivation for all students. Active learning techniques can help you build a learning environment in which students feel equally invited and included.

Accessibility & Accommodation

Accessibility in a teaching and learning context means that you want to identify, remove, and/or prevent barriers to an equitable student learning experience. The Learning Design and Support Team website offers valuable information and tips around accessibility and how to make courses more accessible to all learners. This includes links to information about our shared responsibilities under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). 

Some students may also need academic accommodations. Academic accommodations are individualized plans that come out of a collaborative process with Accessible Education Services (AES), the student, and the faculty member. Keep in mind, students are not required to disclose personal information to faculty members; however, you may invite students to discuss their learning needs with you. When a student has an accommodation, you will receive a letter of accommodation from Accessible Education Services (AES) via email. Then you can approach the Accessible Education Services Counsellor for clarification and further discussion. 

Try this activity

Pick a card, any card Click here to download a pdf copy of our active Learning Cards which might give you a new idea or two to try with your students. Decks of these cards are also available on reserve in the Fleming libraries. Let us know how it goes!

Wrap Up

Now you know more about engaging teaching strategies for all learners. You’ve had a chance to think about

  • the diverse student population in College,
  • planning for all learners using UDL and,
  • creating engaging learning materials to capture your student’s interest.

In the next module, you will learn more about assessments.

Resources

  1. Tipsheet: Resources to Support Faculty Members

  2. UDL on Campus has resources about Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education including UDL basics, UDL and assessment, and UDL and course design.

  3. Students who struggle with academic or personal concerns can access Fleming College’s Counselling Service

  4. Accessible Education Services supports academic accommodation planning for students with disabilities. 

Module 5 Reflection


Please rate your current confidence level on the following items using the following 5-point scale in which 5 = Very confident and 1 = Not at all confident.