#Iatefl15 Joy Egbert’s Plenary Talk

Engagement and practice in classroom learning, language and technology

Joy Egbert

Joy started her talk with an example of how people think they can learn a foreign language. She shared her story. Joy is American, so when she got invited to present at Iatefl, she thought it appropriate to learn British (British as a foreign language as she said). So, she decided to watch episodes of Doctor Who in an attempt to pick up a few words. She didn’t learn much though.


The people in the TV show were talking too fast and she didn’t always catch what they were saying. There was no support, no feedback, no social interactions. There was no engagement.

Engagement matters. If you want to learn something, you need to be engaged. Engagement in technology is also important. Joy talked about her experience learning Spanish on a website called Plato. She didn’t manage to learn a lot because it was all about drilling and not very interesting for her.

So, the next question that Joy Egbert mentioned needs to be asked is, how can we engage the learners? We need to understand how languages are learnt. According to Spolsky (1989) knowledge and skills in the future are a result of knowledge in the present. This is connected to abilities, motivation and opportunity (see pic for actual slide). The teacher is the provider of opportunities. The more opportunities we provide, the more chances of learning.

Screenshot of Joy Egbert's slides

Screenshot of Joy Egbert’s slides

Joy Egbert then talked about how important it is to also understand why students are unengaged. This may be because they are unmotivated by the ‘opportunities’ to learn. For example, drills, lists of words, incomprehensible tasks are not engaging. What the teacher wants to see in the classroom is students participating, being focused and engaged.

Principles of engagement

1). Authenticity (authentic to the learner)

2). Connection to life

3). Provide social interaction or deep individual focus

4). Offer practice and Feedback

5). Challenge/ Skills balance

In terms of technology, Joy Egbert pointed out that technology cannot do something by itself. It provides resources, support and opportunities among other things. This leads to the next part of the talk which had to do with ‘issues’ with technology. Issues have to do with no use of technology at all, no pedagogy regarding technology and no principles of usage.

Engaging lessons

Lessons will be engaging for our learners if we know our learners. We need to know who our learners are, their interests, their jobs, what they like and don’t like. If we do not know who our learner is, it is difficult to plan.

1st Principle- Authenticity

Choose material that will be interesting for your learners. Different material for different learners. In terms of reading texts, choose for example, different reading texts based on the learner. If one learner likes animals, choose a text about animals. If the other one like fashion, choose something about fashion. Once you have chosen the right reading material for example, move on to different activities that will appeal to each learner. Different types of technology for each learner. If your learner likes writing, use word documents. If your learner likes videos, go for an exercise based on a YouTube video.

Website recommendation: Fakebook

2nd Principle: Connection

Why is connection important? Well, students need to know how what they are learning is connected to their life and studies. The teacher needs to say, “This connects to your life this way…. “ Be explicit. Your learners will not always see the connection. You should tell them.

Website recommendation: Big huge lab website

3rd Principle:  Social Interaction

Make sure your students interact when doing activities. If you are using technology, a simple task on a website for example, something that has a drill, get one learner to look at the screen, the other to face the other way. One learner reads, the other types and so on. Get the learners to work with each other. Another thing to consider in terms of interaction is to give students a reason to interact. If one learner is presenting something, the others should be taking notes because later on they will be doing something with the notes.

4th Principle: Feedback

Feedback needs to be on time and relevant. In terms of technology, choose different types of feedback based on the type of learner. One learner may like text feedback, the other may prefer voice feedback.

5th Principle Challenge/Skills balance

Make sure the challenge is not too great and that the skills are appropriate. Take into consideration what the students can do. It is very important to work on your students’ weaknesses as well as strengths.

You won’t be able to engage all your students all the time. If you mange to engage let’s say 80% , that’s great!!


Once again, Joy Egbert pointed out that technology cannot do anything on its own. Teachers need to look at technology and work on it,/ with it. There is a lot of technology which has to do with different interests. Teachers need to evaluate the technology.

Screenshot of Joy Egbert's slides: Evaluating Technology

Screenshot of Joy Egbert’s slides: Evaluating Technology

Website recommendation: Popplet

If as a teacher you think technology is too hard or you do not have time, choose something simple like email writing for example. Why emails? Well, they

  • Are free
  • Are safe
  • Include loads of attachments etc

Closing remarks

When thinking of technology, teachers need to think of, not what is better but who it is good for. Technology needs to be used effectively. It needs to meet goals. If it doesn’t help, then the teacher shouldn’t use it.

Joy Egbert

Joy Egbert


5 thoughts on “#Iatefl15 Joy Egbert’s Plenary Talk

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