Cultivating Learner Attention and Engagement


Mr. Jeff Goodman believes that human beings are motivated by mystery. With that in mind, he scaffolds his lessons in ways that motivate his students by giving them a social context. He wants his students to feel connected to abstract concepts by starting with an experience. He begins his lessons with an experience, builds toward the abstraction, and then has students experiment with the abstraction with a new experience. In this interactive method, Mr. Goodman can assess student comprehension.

One of Mr. Goodman’s fundamental goals is to instill enthusiasm in his students, most of whom will become elementary school teachers. He expresses this goal in the following way;

I always hope that people will be enthusiastic, so I looked up the word ‘enthusiastic’ recently – because their job, if they’re going to become teachers, is to become an enthusiasm engineer. The Latin word for enthusiasm is ‘enthuseos,’ and ‘theos’ means ‘the spirit inside,’ so to be enthusiastic is to be spirited inside yourself, so as a teacher, their job is to help people feel spirited. Everything is towards that end. The whole way, I have to figure out how to scaffold that excitement and make little steps feel exciting.

Mr. Goodman teaches media studies and elementary education at Appalachian State University. For the past 20 years he has served as Practitioner-in-Residence. During this time he took one year off and taught high school, and spends one day a week in his wife’s middle school classroom “trying to see if this stuff actually pans out – and it’s hard!”

Goodman’s focus on developing enthusiasm may have broad application across many careers and content areas.

UDL Alignment

Each College STAR module will explain how a particular instructional practice described within the module aligns with one or more of the principles of UDL. For this module, the focus will be on Provide Multiple Means of Representation, Principle I; Provide Multiple Means of Action or Expression, Principle II; and Provide Multiple Means of Engagement, Principle III.

Module Alignment with Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression

Mr. Jon Pope uses action-oriented multimodal experiences in his classroom. This practice is linked to each of the three guidelines under multiple means of action and expression: Provide options for physical action, provide options for expression and communication, and provide options for executive functions. Mr. Pope’s use of dramatizations and collaborative role playing provide options for physical action. In his open ended television pilot project, students can choose various methods for response and navigation since the parameters are broad. Students also choose how they create their project, and how to respond to and move forward with the network executive’s feedback. In the dramatization of miscommunication, students act out the interaction to gain insight, moving from unidirectional understanding of conflict to multidirectional.

The TV pilot project uses multiple media through the numerous avenues of communication. Students write a TV script, record their pilot on video, and create business letters, network proposals, advertisements and presentations using the media and tools they prefer.

The long term project also offers options to enhance executive functions. Since the TV pilot project is a group project with many facets, students need to set appropriate and achievable goals. They need to plan and strategize when to accomplish each step in the process and provide the necessary documents at each step.

In summary, the use of multimodal experiences in the classroom offers multiple options for both action and expression.

Module Alignment with Provide Multiple Means of Engagement

Multimodal experiences stimulate student interest by offering options for choice and autonomy throughout the open ended experiences, and employ real life experiences that increase relevance, value, and authenticity.

The collaborative design of the projects helps students to sustain effort and persistence. Because the TV pilot project entails varying and diverse activities, students become more aware of their academic strengths and weaknesses. This process optimizes challenge and fosters collaboration and community. Using previous students of the class as network executives who have the ability to accept, reject, or offer feedback to groups increases mastery-oriented feedback.

Instructional Practice

Example #1 Using Social Media

Mr. Goodman teaches media studies courses to students at Appalachian State University. When he identifies a concept that he wishes students to learn, he also identifies something in the students’ sphere of interest that illustrates the concept. He often finds items of interest in popular culture. In the example below, Mr. Goodman uses social media to help students understand how media influences school children and describes it in the following way.

Let’s say I want people to analyze commercials. I do this in a class called ‘Teaching in the Digital Age’ where I want students to think about how the media affects schools, kids, that kind of thing. I want them to look at not just advertising, but at things like the news and Facebook. I have to get them to feel like it means something to them, so I start with something that I know they’re interested in, so maybe I start with the ads on the side of their Facebook pages.

In this example, Mr. Goodman is directing students to Facebook, a popular social media platform that most university students are intimately familiar with. Using this high interest medium, Mr. Goodman directs student attention to the advertisements seen there by asking questions, as he describes below:

How did they get there? Do we all have the same ones? People are motivated by mystery. So I have everyone get on Facebook and write down what the ads are, and have them all compare. And we talk about why we got different ads, and it’s immediately grounded in their own experience.

Note that using this social media platform is not only relevant and interesting, it is authentic in that the social medium and the advertisements are real, rather than contrived or invented for the purposes of a lesson.

Mr. Goodman then leads the students to think more deeply about the subject while scaffolding the conversation. He explains:

I’m leading to a point about big data and about the way that values and ideologies are conveyed through advertising and all these larger ideas.

But we start with what they have. What are some of the words they’re using; what are the pictures? So it’s not too threatening. They’re open-ended questions; they’re not right or wrong. The answer is in the student, not in me.

Asking open-ended questions is key in the exploration; it is critical that students’ engagement be nurtured, not shut down by questions which have a “correct” answer. It is only after students are engaged with the information that Mr. Goodman expects them to participate in higher level processes through the scaffolding he describes below.

[T]hen we build up to some larger ideas. So if I want to talk about media communicating some values and the social and political implications, those are abstractions…[If] I start with that, it’s a snooze. But if we start with something that they can ground it in, like their own Facebook ads and the fact that theirs are different from somebody else’s, I can then say, ‘What we’re really talking about is a political implication. You might vote differently depending on what’s there. Do you think you’d really vote differently? How do you decide? Why do they spend money on advertising the way they do?’

Example #2 Using a Fairy Tale

Similar to the above example of obtaining students’ interest using social media, in this example, Mr. Goodman uses a fairy tale to introduce a law of physics, the rule of how light reflects off of mirrored surfaces. Mr. Goodman again employs the strategy of inductive reasoning, beginning with detailed facts to arrive at general principles. Rather than dryly introducing the concept of refraction with a definition from a physics book, he captures student’s imaginations, as shown in the video clip in Figure 1 [transcript], with a gruesome story, The Kingdom of Darkness, about a princess trapped in a dungeon.

Kingdom of Darkness

After introducing the story of the princess’s dilemma, Mr. Goodman gives students an opportunity to actively solve the problem by applying the rule of light reflecting off a mirror. The dungeon diagram drawn on the board resembles Mr. Goodman’s classroom and even mimics an alcove in which the fictional cage would be located. In small groups, students draw a diagram of where they think the rat should stand in the dungeon as well predict the angle at which the rat should hold the mirror, as shown in the following video, [transcript] Figure 2.

Mr. Goodman asks students where the mirror should go

To provide practice with the rule of light, Mr. Goodman asks students to draw their hypothesized mirror location and light angle on the board. (This is also the point at which Mr. Goodman begins to transition into demonstrating UDL Checkpoint 8.3 , which involves varying demands and resources to optimize challenge.) Mr. Goodman actively increases challenge by introducing “surprise” features of the dungeon, such as rotating knives and vats of acid described in the video below in Figure 3 [transcript]:

Students come to the board and draw where the mirror should go


To further explicate the principle, Mr. Goodman provides another in-class demonstration using another medium, as he describes:

After we’ve discussed where the mirror should go, and why they think it would work, I actually show them how light moves. I turn on a laser and bounce its light off of a mirror with some spray that allows me to turn the lights out so they can actually see the laser beam coming in and coming off of the mirror. Then, I can move it so they can see the angle change. So in that situation, the angle is changing and then we can say, ‘What’s the principle here?’

This example is shown in the following video clip, Figure 4 [transcript] in which he talks about lasers.

Mr. Goodman uses lasers to show how light bounces off a mirror


After demonstrating how the laser beam bounces off the mirror, Mr. Goodman further optimizes value, relevance and authenticity by giving students the opportunity for hands-on experimentation. He distributes lasers and mirrors, asking them to manipulate the laser and mirror in order to aim the light at a target, as shown in the video clip [transcript] below in Figure 5.

Mr. Goodman and students continue to manipulate lasers

By allowing his students to use the lasers and mirrors themselves to track the movement of the light beam, he makes the scientific principle of refraction more relevant and accessible.

Mr. Goodman then returns to solve the original problem: where should the rat stand and at which angle should it hold the mirror in order for the princess to see the lock combination? Note that throughout this lesson, Mr. Goodman employed several ways of engaging students to obtain and maintain their attention: animated storytelling, small group problem-solving, posting solutions on the white board, and manipulating materials. Figure 6 below [transcript] shows Mr. Goodman working with the students to obtain the answer to the problem.

Mr. Goodman and students continue to manipulate lasers

Even as he concludes this lesson, as shown in Figure 7 [transcript], Mr. Goodman continues to solicit attention by posing questions to the whole group.

Mr. Goodman tells the end of the Kingdom of Light story

Engaging the students’ imagination and captivating their attention through a fantastical scenario, Mr. Goodman taps into a side of playful motivation which creates an authentic and unique learning environment where students interact with and synthesize the principals of the lesson.

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Literature Base

Editor’s Note: The Literature Base section of each College STAR module provides a brief summary of support for the Instructional Practice in the module. This is not an exhaustive literature review. It is designed to give the viewer an introduction to the literature about the module Instructional Practice. Please consider using the Learn More section of the module to supplement the information you obtain through this Literature Base summary.

Bergin (1999) purports that there are individual and situational factors that increase learner interest, and that instructors should make an effort to understand and implement these factors into their teaching to increase interest. A sense of belonging, social support, emotion, and competence can all promote engagement on an individual level. In conjunction, situational factors include hands-on activities, novelty, social interaction, discrepancy, games and puzzles, humor, fantasy, and narrative (Bergin, 1999).

Studies performed on middle school and college-aged students, respectively, show that even in cases of low individual interest in subject matter, situational learning factors can captivate student attention and increase motivation. In other words, situational factors can hold student interest that may otherwise have not existed within a student’s individual or inner motivation alone (Durik & Harackiewicz, 2007; Tsai, Y., Kunter, M., Lüdtke, O., Trautwein, U., & Ryan, R. M., 2007).

Researchers at the University of Kansas’ Center for Research on Learning developed strategies, known as Course Enhancement Routines, to serve students with learning disabilities. However, Course Enhancement Routines have also been used successfully with students without learning disabilities, by showing how information is linked and how to remember and recall details in course content. Four studies conducted on these routines have shown that students are more likely to recall new information if instructors link it to information that was already familiar to them. One particular strategy, called the Concept Anchoring Routine, works to help instructors link course information to the wide array of background information that students already carry with them (Deshler, et al., 2001).

References & Resources

Bergin, D. A. (1999). Influences on classroom interest. Educational Psychologist34(2), 87-98.
doi: 10.1207/s15326985ep3402_2
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CAST (n.d.) About CAST: What is Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from

CAST (2009). CAST UDL online modules. Retrieved from

CAST (2011a). Universal Design for Learning guidelines Version 2.0. Retrieved from

CAST (2011b). UDL guidelines version 2.0. Principle I. Provide multiple means of representation. Wakefield, MA: Author. Retrieved from

CAST (2011c). UDL guidelines version 2.0. Principle II. Provide multiple means of action and expression. Wakefield, MA: Author. Retrieved from

CAST (2011d). UDL guidelines version 2.0. Principle III. Provide multiple means of engagement. Wakefield, MA: Author. Retrieved from

Deshler, D., Schumaker, J., Bulgren, J., Lenz, K., Jantzen, J., Adams, G., et al. (2001). Making learning easier: Connecting new knowledge to things students already know. Teaching Exceptional Children33(4), 82-85. Retrieved from
Retrieved from Education Research Complete

Durik, A. M., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2007). Different strokes for different folks: How individual interest moderates the effects of situational factors on task interest. Journal of Educational Psychology99(3), 597-610.
doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.99.3.597
Retrieved from PsycARTICLES

EnACT. (n.d.) 14 common elements of UDL in the college classroom. Retrieved from

Evans, C., Williams, J. B., King, L., & Metcalf, D. (2010). Modeling, guided instruction, and application of UDL in a rural special education teacher preparation program. Rural Special Education Quarterly29(4), 41-48. Retrieved from Education Research Complete

Immordino-Yang, M., & Damasio, A. (2007). We feel, therefore we learn: The relevance of affective and social neuroscience to education. Mind, Brain & Education1(1), 3-10. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-228X.2007.00004.x
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National Center on Universal Design for Learning. (2011). About UDL. Retrieved from

Rose, D., & Dalton, B. (2009). Learning to read in the digital age. Mind, Brain & Education3(2), 74-83. doi:10.1111/j.1751-228X.2009.01057.x

Rose, D. H., Harbour, W. S., Johnston, C. S., Daley, S. G., & Abarbanell, L. (2006). Universal design for learning in postsecondary education: Reflections on principles and their application. Journal of Postsecondary Education & Disability19(2), 135-151.
Retrieved from Education Research Complete.

Rose, D. H. & Meyer, A. (2002). Teaching every student in the digital age: Universal design for learning. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum. Retrieved from

Tsai, Y., Kunter, M., Lüdtke, O., Trautwein, U., Ryan, R. M. (2008). What makes lessons interesting? The role of situational and individual factors in three school subjects. Journal of Educational Psychology100(2), 460-472. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.100.2.460
Retrieved from PsycARTICLES database

UDLCAST. (2011, October 7). Introduction to UDL [Video file]. Retrieved from

Additional Resources

APA Style: A DOI primer. (2009). Retrieved from

Bulgren, J. A., Shumaker, J.B., & Deshler, D.D. (1994). The concept anchoring routine. Lawrence, KS: Edge Enterprises, Inc.

CAST: Center for Applied Special Technology. (1999-2013). Retrieved from

CrossRef. (2013). DOI Resolver. Retrieved from

Guthrie, J. T., McGough, K., Bennett, L., & Rice, M. E. (1996). Concept-oriented reading instruction: An integrated curriculum to develop motivations and strategies for reading. In L. Baker, P. Afflerbach & D. Reinking (Eds.), Developing engaged readers in school and home communities (pp. 165-190). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

International DOI Foundation. (2012). Resolve a doi number. Retrieved from

Lepper, M. R., & Cordova, D. I. (1992). A desire to be taught: Instructional consequences of intrinsic motivation. Motivation and Emotion16(3), 187-208.
doi: 10.1007/BF0099165
Retrieved from Springer LINK Archive – Behavioral Science

Parker, L. E., & Lepper, M. R. (1992). Effects of fantasy contexts on children’s learning and motivation: Making learning more fun. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology62(4), 625-633.
doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.62.4.625 
Retrieved from PsychARTICLES

Smith, J. L., & Herring, J. D. (1996). Literature alive: Connecting to story through the arts. Reading Horizons37(2), 102-115.
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Retrieved from Education Research Complete

The Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt. (1990). Anchored instruction and its relationship to situated cognition. Educational Researcher19(6), 2- 10.
Retrieved from
Retrieved from

The Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt. (1993). Anchored instruction and its relationship to situated cognition revisited. Educational Technology33(3), 52-70. Retrieved from

Vye, N. J. (1990). The effects of anchored instruction for teaching social studies: Enhancing comprehension of setting information. Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Boston, MA.

Xin, F. (1996). Multimedia reading: Using anchored instruction and video technology in vocabulary lessons. Teaching Exceptional Children29(2), 45-49.

About the Author

Jeff Goodman

Jeff Goodman

Curriculum & Instruction
Appalachian State University