Curriculum should align with ISEB & WIDA— How about making it engaging as well?


The Independent Schools Examination Board’s (ISEB) Common Entrance Exam, along with WIDA’s English Language Proficiency Standards, represent the highest measure of high-school-age educational assessment, and language development in multilingual students, respectively.

However, ISEB and WIDA are ultimately incomplete if not paired with education material and methods that better engage and motivate today’s students, an area in desperate need of improvement. Education research has a lot to say about the relationship between engagement and performance in a country where boredom is the top motivation cited by high school dropouts .

The impact of increased engagement in early childhood education.

One study, conducted at a Montessori elementary school, is particularly illustrative of this relationship. Montessori an educational approach at use in thousands of schools across the US that emphasizes self-directed learning, guided by student passion and interest. The model was developed in contrast to the early 20th-century conventional wisdom that emphasized a “teacher-imposed” structure of punishments and rewards.


The study’s author, Justin E. Tosco, a Montessori teacher, noted that the school’s philosophy aligns with the goals of instructional design and education technology, making the school a natural place to study the relationship between technology, engagement, and learning. Despite this alignment, Tosco pointed out that the school was slow to adopt new techniques and technology. Curriculum appeared, he wrote, “dull and dated to children that experience media and technology in the form of digital imagery that is flashy, fast-paced, interactive, and fun.”

Results showed that students overwhelmingly preferred the technology-enabled lessons, experiencing greater engagement and improved information retention. Those who were taught with technology also scored 16 percent better in a vocabulary retention evaluation, with the most significant gains experienced by traditionally lower-performing students.

The study’s author concluded that more research into this area was needed, but added that technology proved to be a “valuable addition” to his classroom. Ultimately, it served the purpose of “meeting students where they are,” and would be used further in his class as a complement to—and not a replacement of—existing curriculum.

Innovative learning tools and engagement in higher education.

The challenges faced by today’s college-aged students differ significantly from the previously-mentioned elementary-age cohort. Research shows, however, that engagement still plays a fundamental role in overall academic success, in addition to information retention.

In a comparative study of international and traditional college students, Texas A&M researcher Gail D. Caruth outlined five factors as being the most predictive of student success and satisfaction. Engagement plays a significant role in these factors, which are as follows:

  1. Course demand
  2. Depth of student-faculty relationships
  3. Number of inspirational experiences related
  4. The degree that the educational environment feels helpful
  5. Strength of “caring” in the college environment

As one may note, a great deal of success can be predicted based on the establishment of an environment that better accommodate student needs (Which can also be seen as a validation of WIDA’s advocacy of multilingual family learning). Such findings are complemented by the centrality of engagement, seen in the inspirational nature of their scholarly experiences, relationships with educators, and the relatively demanding nature of courses.


And beyond this broader analysis, course-level research has also shown that engagement—boosted by the implantation of technology and interactive learning—also increases retention and student success. One study evaluated an Utah State University nutrition course, and compared the impact of two online learning tools to historical class performance.

In their conclusion, the study’s authors emphasized that colleges have a “duty” to society to meet the learning needs of its students, somewhat a reversal of more traditional approaches that place the burden of engaging solely on students. Ultimately, whether in the heightened expectations of ISEB, WIDA, or blended learning, research appears to show that the future of education lies in, as Tosco noted in his elementary-level research, meeting students precisely where they are at.