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Student engagement: Principles and strategies of cognitive and affective development in a high school's French class

1 December 1991


A common ailment in many secondary classrooms is apathy. Aside from the· extrinsic motivation of grades there is very little intrinsic motivation to participate and progress in the learning process. Research suggests that students must find interest and relevance in what they are learning and also experience enough success in their attempts to learn the material to engage themselves further. Studies in traditional grammar-driven second language instruction reveal low achievement and high attrition. Specialists in the field recommend the following elements for greater student engagement: (1) development of a sense of community, (2) use of a thematic syllabus, (3) development of strong listening skills before demanding speech production, (4) use of authentic materials, and (5) group work to increase individual performance time. Through observations of a high school's French classes over a five week period and informal interviews of the French teacher I studied student engagement and methods used by the teacher to promote engagement. These observations substantiated much of the research on second language instruction. Additional engagement promoting considerations that arose from my observations include: (1) a strong initial emphasis on correct pronunciation, (2) early rather than delayed involvement in speech production, (3) mastery teaching, and (4) the use of culture points to expand student awareness and experience with the target culture.


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