Nov. 29, 2022

Sparking Excitement and Curiosity for Learning - E108

Sparking Excitement and Curiosity for Learning - E108

This week, we are diving deeper into the UDL (Universal Design for Learning) framework by exploring multiple means of engagement in the classroom. Specifically, we are focusing our discussion on how to spark excitement and curiosity in the classroom.

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Featured Content
**For detailed show notes, please visit our website at**

  • UDL Guidelines from
  • Providing multiples means of engagement pillar (the WHY of learning):
    • Recruiting Interest
      • Providing options, different modalities
      • information that you have, that your learners are not, engaged with or interested in is actually information that's inaccessible to them
    • Sustaining effort and persistence
    • Self-regulation

Recruiting Interest:

  • Optimize individual choice and autonomy
    • Curriculum is not a choice but we can build in opportunities for choice elsewhere
    • Skills-based courses can provide more choice in terms of student interests
    • Choice in how information is obtained
    • Doesn't need to be a lot of choices
    • Involve students in success criteria, themes, resources in projects
    • Involve learners in setting their own goals
    • Point-less by Sarah Zerwin book
  • Optimize relevance, value and authenticity
    • CRRP
    • Resources that are socially relevant, age and ability appropriate, first languages
    • Instructional videos on YouTube for auto-translated captioning
    • Google Translate is useful too
    • Active participation and participation - hands-on activities, whiteboards
    • Authentic tasks
  • Minimize threats and distractions
    • Creating a safe learning space for students
    • Maslow's hierarchy
    • Language as a threat - shutdown, fear can happen
    • Too much sensory stimulation can be a threat/distraction - minimize the fluff, use the same templates, routine is great for student learning
    • Self-pacing with Modern Classrooms
    • Whole class discussions - think about your extraverts and introverts, use backchannel tools (padlet, google chat), video presentations
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[00:00:40] Rachel: In this episode, we are gonna begin exploring the idea of engagement through the Universal Design for Learning framework.

[00:00:48] Katie: We're gonna start by looking at how we can get students interested and spark some excitement and curiosity in our classroom.

[00:00:56] Rachel: Let's get started.

[00:01:04] Rachel: This week Katie and I are chatting about engagement and we're we're chatting about engagement in terms of the universal Design for Learning framework.

[00:01:13] Katie: Yeah, so before we talked about learner variability, and that's through this organization And so they break down UDL and it's 

one of the very first pillars for UDL talks about student engagement, and so they go into some pretty big details, like great details to kind of let you know as an educator how it impacts student learning and strategies to help work on that.

[00:01:39] Rachel: Yeah. So this, this sort of part of the UDL framework, like each of their pillars. Looks at different kind of parts of engaging our brains in learning. And I love this brain-based stuff, you know? I get nerdy with it and I've been doing a lot of reading on my own for sort of my own things that I'm dealing with in, in terms of uh, some health issues and stuff like that.

So I've been learning a [00:02:04] lot about the brain recently, but it looks. This sort of pillar of engagement is about dealing with those emotional kind of centers in the brain. Specifically the limbic system, I think is what it's called. And really it's about, you know, setting the stage for learning and, you know, helping our students become really comfortable with their learning environment.

Minimizing any kind of like threats or distractions or something that a student might encounter so that their brains are open for learning and that they're really engaged with, I guess, the why of learning.

[00:02:44] Katie: Yeah. And that's actually kind of how they break it up. So they actually break up engagement into like, Recruiting interest and how, how you can spark excitement and curiosity. And I love that wording because that, makes me excited to even do the learning further on UDL because I'm like, Ooh, words, I don't know.

And then there's also tackling [00:03:04] challenges with focus and determination and then harnessing the power of emotion. And motivation and learning, and that's pretty big. And that's under the self-regulation. And so that's, I think that's exactly what they're trying to do. They're trying to get you to think about the things in the classroom that might elicit some emotional responses from students and how we can center them in the learning and provide opportunities to help continue to get these students engaged.

[00:03:29] Rachel: And really sort of the, the whole goal of this pillar of UDL is creating expert learners who are purpose. And motivated. So really understanding the purpose of learning and engaging in their learning. I mean, I guess it goes with the word right, Engagement, but are motivated and motivated intrinsically and not requiring all this extrinsic type of motivation.

So really working towards learners who have these sort of traits that they're

displaying in the


[00:04:03] Katie: And how [00:04:04] can we get them to display? I like that part of it because kids aren't naturally gonna come into your classroom and be super excited and motivated to learn. So it's like how can we get them thinking and how can we get them to want to learn?

[00:04:17] Rachel: So the framework itself in this pillar, it breaks down engagement into kind of three key areas. So what we're gonna do is we're gonna chat a little bit about each area, some of the strategies, as well as some of the ways that we sort of structure this in our classroom and, and think about each of these pillars.

So the three pillars are recruiting, interest, sustaining effort, and persistence and self-regulation. So let's start with recruiting interest

[00:04:46] Katie: And this one sometimes can be the most challenging

[00:04:51] Rachel: I know. Let's start with the difficult one first.

[00:04:54] Katie: Yep. And so this one is all about like how we as teachers can provide opportunities for our kiddos [00:05:04] and our classrooms to learn without. So it, it could be creating options, different modalities and just making sure that we recognize that one size fits all is not an approach that's going to work for all students.

[00:05:17] Rachel: What's really kind of interesting here, and I'm, I'm just sort of reading the little blurb about recruiting interest, which has made me connect a couple of of things that I, I know together. But it says that information that you have, that your learners are not, engaged with or interested in is actually information that's inaccessible to them.

Like that's a really kind of interesting way to think about it, and the reason being is that relevant information is gonna go unnoticed and unprocessed in the brain. If there's no interest in there, and I, I don't know, I guess I'm getting a little nerdy with this episode, but I know there's a part in the brain that if you're interested in [00:06:04] something, you'll recognize it and you'll notice it, and that information, you know, becomes forefront.

It's, it's like, You think about buying a white car and then all you see are white cars on the road. You know, it's, it's that sort of same kind of deal. So if we're not getting the attention of our students, if we're not really engaging them, where their interests lie, that that material is actually inaccessible to.

[00:06:32] Katie: It makes a lot of sense. Like when I think back to my courses and my own learning. courses that interested me. It was always top of mind. And I, I was always making connections outside of that course, whether it be languages, history, whatever. Whereas things that I found boring, I avoided it at all costs.

[00:06:49] Rachel: Yeah, same. Same. Like thinking back to. , any of the school I've done, right? Yeah, you're right. All the, all the courses that I had a, a deep interest in, I was really, really engaged with them and I [00:07:04] always tended to do better in those courses as well. And the ones that I had no interest in, like I remember grade 10 French, I hated it and I did not do well in it.

I ended up dropping it and so I think it was grade 11, but. that, that's beside the point. 

But you're right. I, I just find it really interesting that it's not even just like the interest is not there, but then that makes that information inaccessible to you.

[00:07:30] Katie: And so that becomes a challenge as educators because some courses we teach. They're required courses, right? And they're gonna lead to other senior level courses, et cetera. That could be prerequisites for post-secondary, whether it be college or university, et cetera. So how can we get students to be engaged?

How can we get them to be interested in our course material?

[00:07:53] Rachel: One of the strategies that suggested here is optimizing individual choice and autonomy, and I think this one is definitely, you know, it's, you can't [00:08:04] really give choice in terms of what we're learning per se, because we do have curriculum that's prescribed in terms of the topics you need to cover.

But where we can offer choice, that's where we're going to be able to build. , those opportunities for our students to select what interests them, I guess the most.

[00:08:26] Katie: Yeah, and, and that's a little less true for English and ESL because they're skills-based courses. Languages are skills-based courses. You can give individual choice and a little more autonomy to help. To get students involved in designing the topics. Like we have skills that we have to teach, but the vehicle in which to teach those skills is very, very flexible.

so one of the things I find when I'm teaching ESL is like, I don't need to have these prescribed units or themes that I think are relevant. Like, like I just kind of tap my, my students on the shoulder and say, What do you want to learn about? What are your interests? What are things that [00:09:04] you enjoy?

Because if I can engage them that way, that is a big part in how I get engagement in my course.

[00:09:10] Rachel: And it can be things like as, as simple as providing a choice in terms of how they're gathering the information themselves. So you could be providing a choice of, here's an instructional video, here's a reading, or here's a podcast that you can listen to and they can have choice in terms of how they're getting that information.

So even a choice, just simple as that. And you, it doesn't need to. so many choices. It just needs to be a choice. Could even just be two things.

[00:09:41] Katie: And sometimes even when you're working towards an assignment or, or you're a big project, it could be involving them in that project and in some of the success criteria and, and. , that simple act of walking through, Hey, what, what should this look like with the students? That will do a lot to get them to better understand and engage in that project to begin with.

[00:10:02] Rachel: We recently [00:10:04] did a podcasting project with our grade nine

course and the, the choice that we gave them, like it. You know, we were creating a podcast but their choice was they had to go onto the UN sustainable Development goals, and they could pick out of any of the 17 on which theme they wanted to focus their podcast on as long as they could then find an article, again, their choice to connect it back to not only their theme, but also what we learned throughout the.

[00:10:35] Katie: Nice.

[00:10:36] Rachel: Yeah. So while we still, you know, it was still the topic of ecology, it was still doing a podcast. There was a lot of choice built in there for our students, and you could see it in terms of their engagement. I've listened to a few of them and I'm like, Wow, these are, these are actually pretty good.

[00:10:53] Katie: The, the other thing I like that they have here is they suggest involving learners in setting their own personal, academic and behavioral goals.

I think that's huge because I, I don't think we [00:11:04] often give our students enough credit for recognizing that there are challenges in the classroom and, and they do have things they wanna be able to accomplish or perhaps they're struggling to pay attention.

And involving them in those conversations and getting that buy-in from them. It's a big way to kind of really build that trust relationship and also get them more motivat.

[00:11:24] Rachel: I think there, in terms of building in and setting those goals, that works really nicely hand in hand with going grade less or doing some of these un grading strategies that we've talked about in previous episodes. I finished reading the book Pointless. I forget who it's by, but we'll, we'll link it in the show notes and.

She talks a lot in her book. It's, it's about teaching English and, and going grade list, but about having her students select and set their own personal academic goals that then they work on and build their sort of portfolio of evidence for throughout the whole [00:12:04] semester, which, you know, is.

[00:12:06] Katie: Yeah. No, that's great. And I just got that book,

[00:12:09] Rachel: It's a good one I think. I think Katie, you're gonna enjoy it more than I did. I, I kind of, you know, skimmed past a lot of the English examples cuz I'm like, okay, you know, this is, this is good. But I've, I've read better books in terms of going grade less and, and assessment and evaluation that are maybe a bit more relevant for me.

It was still a good book.

[00:12:34] Katie: Yep.

[00:12:34] Rachel: The other thing you can do is uh, optimize relevance, value, and authentic authenticity. So again, this, this kind of, I think really speaks to culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy, which we did talk a lot about in previous episodes. But finding those, Resources or books or information that has connections back that are socially relevant that are appropriate [00:13:04] for our learners,

[00:13:05] Katie: Yeah. And it's, I even like the whole age and ability appropriate because a lot of times the accommodations that are provided to a lot of our learners are, Oh, just use a dictionary or use a translator. Why instead, aren't we looking for articles that we can.

Adapt the language level cuz there's lots of databases and programs out there where that's possible. Or shift it towards something that is perhaps a little easier to read or even letting them read in their first language as an example. I get it. It's hard and it takes time. But involving students in these conversations and perhaps, coming up with a solution together is, It's not terrible and you might find it makes a big difference.

[00:13:49] Rachel: I've been learning a lot about that, teaching ESL science this year. it's, I don't know, it's very eye opening in terms of I'll select sources and I'll think I'm picking the right ones and then, you know, it just, it, it, it goes south [00:14:04] and, and we figure stuff up. As we go, it's yeah, it, it's definitely been a learning experience.

I, I love the idea though of, of letting students read in their first language if they want to. I, I am very purposeful in. That all the instructional videos I make, I put on YouTube because then those students can, if they need to, they can go in and auto translate the closed captionings. And that's the only reason I, I put them all on YouTube and make them accessible that way because then my learners can access that content.

And we don't have to sit there and struggle together, have Google translate open and are typing things back and forth to each other, which I have done as well this semester.

[00:14:48] Katie: have I I have a lot of step one beginners and when they need to have complicated conversations with me. Hey, the Google translates out. , no judgment.

[00:14:58] Rachel: the Google, Oh, Google Translate has been a life saver I would say. [00:15:04] It's been fantastic. I also love this, providing tasks that allow for active participation, exploration, and experimentation. That's a big one in science. Doing lots of hands on learning, exploring. , even if it's just getting up and getting to whiteboards and working together in groups and, you know, really sort of fostering some of those sorts of activities in your classroom, I think are great ways to build in some of that active participation.

[00:15:35] Katie: I also enjoy designing activities so that learning outcomes are authentic, communicate to real audiences and reflect a purpose that is clear to the participants. I think that one's especially powerful for, for my classroom. In that I, I want them to develop English skills that they actually need and are relevant to their real lives.

And communicating with other people in the school community or even community at large, that's, that's a big deal and it can be very challenging. So making [00:16:04] sure I'm developing tasks that empower them and make them feel confident in those interactions.

So essentially like this whole idea of optimizing relevance, value, and authenticity, it's, it's really all about looking at what materials we're using, what tasks we're doing with our students, and, and how we are making it something that is tangible for them, something that they can participate in and they see the big picture.

[00:16:28] Rachel: So the third sort of piece of recruiting interest is minimizing threats and distractions and really creating that safe space for our learners. And there's some really interesting like little nuggets in here that you don't necessarily think about.

I think, in terms of minimizing those threats and distractions. Like for me, when I first hear that, I think of, like Maslow's hierarch hierarchy, right? Like meeting the basic needs of students, but. What exactly are those basic needs?

[00:16:58] Katie: I know so I, I'm just gonna pop in cuz I'm an ESL teacher and I see this on a daily basis. [00:17:04] Even something as simple as language, as a threat. You walk into a classroom, your teacher's teaching you and they're speaking to the class and you have no idea what is being said. that shut down that fear that like, what am I missing?

What have I done? Cuz there's no real time translators in classes. Even something as simple as that can be something that is a bit of a threat or distraction to student learning.

[00:17:28] Rachel: Yeah. And that was, that was kind of the big thing when I sort of dove deeper into this area of udl is like, oh my goodness. Like even language can be a threat. Uh, Even something like too much sensory stimulation. It can be a threat, it can be distracting. Like we know that too much sensory can be distracting for students, but it's even just thinking about some of those pieces of, for example, putting together a lesson or a video or template slides, Minimizing how much fluff goes [00:18:04] around. Even though you know you wanna make it look pretty and you wanna make it look nice, that might actually be contributing to creating this sort of threat or distraction 

of student learning.

[00:18:15] Katie: Like when I look at slide decks and they're, they're really wordy, but then also lots of images all around it and lots of transition and animations, and I'm just like, What is happening? I don't know where to focus my attention. What am I supposed to be doing here? So, so yeah, it, it really does come down to anything in a classroom that you may not even think about.

So language sounds that maybe you don't clue in on, but other students do that can be very distracting are lessons.

[00:18:43] Rachel: And that's why I've gone to just using a template and always using the same template. I, it gets a little boring for me in terms of design, but then it also helps me in terms of my time management. So, you know, there's, there's bonuses for doing that, but the reason why I've been doing that is.

because I've done so [00:19:04] much learning on learning sciences in the brain that I know that even just changing a layout of a slide between different slides causes your brain to have to shift attention and it distracts you and you, you get focused on what's on the slide and not necessarily what the learning.

So the more routine that you can put into your slide decks and into your lessons is actually better for student learning.

[00:19:34] Katie: Yeah. So when we look at threats and distractions, know that yes, there are physical threats and yes, you know, the basic needs of, you know, have we have, has the student eaten? Can they even focus? How are they feeling? What's going on at home? But it's also even within the classroom. So just I would say try to have a more critical eye and think about the things. you're doing the structure of your classroom, you know, routines that you have. Set a and look at how you can create some predictability and some, some routine.

[00:20:03] Rachel: I [00:20:04] even love they, they sort of mentioned variation and pace of work, length of work sessions, availability of breaks or timeouts or timing or or sequence of activities like this. Tells me that a lot of the work that I've been doing with setting up modern classrooms in my classroom is really working nicely hand in hand with some of these UDL principles, because you think about that, even that could be, you know, internalized as like a threat or a distraction to learning.

if every student has to work at the same pace in your classroom, if you're not understanding something that's gonna cause a shutdown.

[00:20:42] Katie: Yeah. And so offering that flexibility of self-paced. You know, maybe a little bit of extra help from a teacher to help stay focused and do that learning while others are moving on. That's not a bad thing. It's actually quite great.

[00:20:54] Rachel: Yeah. And uh, even like involving all participants in whole class discussions or varying the social demands required for learning or [00:21:04] performance. Thinking about all of the learners you have in your classroom, and maybe that this comes from the fact that I. A very introverted type of person, but I always look for ways to engage my learners that are not extroverts in my classroom.

Like how can I bring them in and help them participate in a whole class discussion or whole class activity without requiring them? Have to speak publicly necessarily, because maybe that is, I know in high school, for me, that would've been very threatening for me and I 

[00:21:42] Katie: Mm-hmm. . 

Yeah. And it's even that. in front of the class presentation. Why does everybody have to do an in class presentation? Why not kind of, I, we've said this so many times, but let them record their presentation ahead of time. They can record it in a safe space practice, et cetera. And then that video can be shown to the class, right?

And, and that's so much less on [00:22:04] display, so to speak. Like you're not as fearful or feeling scared. Because maybe you're gonna mess up a word or a concept, cuz you're gonna forget when you're nervous.

[00:22:13] Rachel: Or making use of tools like Padlet or back channels. So things like Google Chat while you're having a whole class discussion, like having that place where students can also type their thinking or write out their thinking instead of staying out there, thinking in your classroom like that is going to bring in and engage more of your learners into that whole class activity.

[00:22:39] Katie: And, and why not, right? That, that lets our multi benua learners do some quick translations there where they can copy and paste those questions onto your Padlet or whatever the case may be. And then there's less fear of having to say that out loud or that translation piece.

Yeah. Lots of good things here and, and this is only engagement, like this actually kind, it's only one piece of engagement. It's not even all of it.[00:23:04]

[00:23:04] Rachel: Yeah, I think, I think we were a little over ambitious here.

[00:23:07] Katie: Yeah, so I, We do apologize. I think that today's episode, instead of all of engagement, I think that we're gonna have to just kind of stick to this first pillar within, so recruiting interest, because we could keep going and going and going. This could be hours long,

[00:23:24] Rachel: It could. So uh, yeah, we're, we'll definitely wrap up our conversation here. I think we've, we've definitely worked to try and spark some excitement and curiosity for learning. Through our recruiting interest and our discussion here today. And so what we'll do is we'll include any of the links or resources we talked about here today in our show notes.

You can access our show notes for this slash 1 0 8. That's edu G A l oh.

[00:23:55] Katie: And if you like what you heard, then feel free to share this with a colleague or a friend. And don't forget to subscribe on your favorite podcast app so that you don't miss out on any future [00:24:04] content.

[00:24:04] Rachel: And as always, we'd love to hear from you. So if you have an idea for an episode or. Have different ways that you engage your learners by recruiting their interest. We'd love to hear them. You can go onto our flip at edu and leave us a video message there, or you can leave us a written comment on our

[00:24:27] Katie: Thanks for listening, and see you next week.