How do you keep your students engaged? A conversation with Eddie Woo

This video was originally published 2 August 2017.

Eddie Woo chats to CESE about maths, teaching and what works best. Listen to the full conversation.

Eddie Woo explains how he keeps students engaged

Relationship with the kids and rapport is definitely the first ingredient, you know. If you don’t have that, all you’re doing is lecturing at kids and all you would have to do is walk into a university lecture hall and have a look at the attendance rate to know how effective that is as a mechanism. Not that lecturing is unimportant, but as a tool for connecting with students and convincing them to learn, learning is a social process. The primary job of a teacher is not to convey information, but through the social environment, help students feel accountable for doing the work of learning. That’s how they’ll learn. Not by having some really flashy presentation. So definitely, relationship as a foundation and you can’t go anywhere beyond that.
I think the other thing, after relationship with the students, that really improves the dynamic within the classroom so much, so dramatically, is for the teacher to make the commitment to do the work of the learner, to wrestle over a concept that’s challenging and not settle for a basic level of understanding, or just enough understanding to answer questions in an exam or a textbook. So you know, labouring over the book and saying okay, there are five lines of working here. What’s really going on from line one to line two. What’s going on and why are they doing that? Why would they even think to do that? And just pushing relentlessly on asking the questions on every single line that you’re working out. There are two benefits I think that flow from that immediately. Number one, when you spend the time to do that work, you develop empathy with the students and you understand very intimately yes, here’s a really challenging thing about this question. I know because I just experienced it and I can convey that live sort of, yeah I didn’t just learn this twenty years ago and this is self-evident to me, why isn’t it evident to you? Having that experience in the classroom is deadening for a child, because when they find something as challenging and their teacher, the person who’s meant to help nurture their learning, is patronising to them and is just frustrated that they don’t get it, which is understandable because the teacher’s work is hard, that’s really difficult for the student to get over because then they’re going to stop asking questions. They’re going to feel like, okay, you don’t really want to help me because you don’t understand how difficult this is for me.
But the other benefit that comes from it is that when you do the work of a learner, you discover cool stuff. You realise patterns. You understand things that you won’t do if you just skim the surface. I often like to say to pre-service teachers ‘you want to be engaging? Be interested in what you’re learning. Do the work to be interested because interested people are interesting’. People can tell if you are bored and if you are bored then what hope do the students in your classroom have, regardless of your key learning area, but I feel especially for mathematics. The teacher at the front of the room or the sides of the room talking to a student and having an individual conversation, the teacher is the lens through which your students experience the subject. So if what they’re getting is something which is tired and frustrated and really quite bored with this because it’s been the same for years and years and years, then they’re going to have the same kind of experience that you’re having. So we owe it to our students to recapture that interest and that excitement in what we’re learning, because learning things is amazing. It’s a miracle what human minds are capable of, so reconnecting with that, or connecting with it for the first time, I feel is just very powerful for teachers with students.


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  • Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation
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