How to use the GSE to boost learner engagement

GSE learner engagement

The Global Scale of English (GSE) is a tool that helps anyone engaged in the English language learning process get a better understanding of learning objectives when planning, teaching, and evaluating progress.

When used correctly, it can have a positive impact on everyone, from the learner and teacher, through to our language support institutions and policymakers.

So let’s dig into some ways in which we can use the GSE, starting with a challenge that many of us in education can relate to: learner engagement.

The classroom engagement challenge

Imagine you are watching or teaching a class and you notice that one student in the group has clearly become disengaged. Perhaps they are playing with a pencil, or staring off into space. In any case, you notice that they’re not focused on the content and activities you’ve worked so hard to make useful, engaging, and interesting. What is the problem and where have things gone wrong?

When it comes to learner attention, there are a variety of factors that can have an impact. It can be down to the facilities, other learners in the class, the general nature of the curriculum, and the relationships between learners and facilitators (Parsons, J., and Taylor, L. 2011).

While you may not be able to adjust for all of these at the moment, the curriculum – and how the learner relates to that curriculum and achieves progress – is a challenge we can begin to address using the GSE.

And, with some thoughtful consideration, the GSE can improve learner engagement. At the same time we can achieve the important goals set by our administrators. What’s more, we can also meet the objectives of larger institutional policymakers (like the ministry of education) and other stakeholders like parents, or educators in private institutions who may also work with our students.

Creating progress

The GSE will help you understand how and where the current content, curriculum materials, and skill development aligns with learner needs (Ramaley, J, 2005). Some questions you can ask include:

  • Is my curriculum setting the right level of challenge for my students?
  • Is the current course of study meeting my students’ goals?
  • How is the current performance of my students aligning to administrative expectations of performance and the expectations of other stakeholders?
Figure 1: Looking into a learner’s current ability across the four skills using the GSE.

As you can see in Figure 1, as I begin to think about these questions in the context of my learner, I can use the GSE to see their abilities at different levels. Their overall abilities are around a 30 GSE, however, their oral communication skills are much higher than their reading and writing skills. This helps me think about how I can plan for teaching to support areas of need (reading and writing) while using areas of strength (listening and speaking) to help make improved progress in class.

Using the GSE, you get a deeper understanding of how your learners’ current abilities align with the objectives and standards of your institution, as well as the larger requirements set by national curricular standards.

This allows you to start thinking about how to incorporate achievable progress which, in turn, builds a more engaging environment for your learners (Claxton, G., 2007).

Now, that I can see the challenge more clearly, I can think about how to meet the larger curricular requirements while supporting the learning of my individual students.

Figure 2: Curricular Standard with GSE objectives for clarification

The student I want to support (figure 1) needs to meet a specific literacy standard, seen in Figure 2. In the literacy standard, there are several smaller requirements, like determining a theme, being able to read a story, a drama, or a poem; and being able to summarize a text. Those are all different skills for my language learner. Using the GSE, I can see the challenge of each of these as individual skills.

This gives me immediate information I can use to support the learner. The learner I am working to support should have no problems with summarizing, as this is close to their current level of speaking ability. However, the reading skill will be a bit more challenging, as it is above my student’s current ability. This allows me to plan for some extra support like visuals for vocabulary, an illustrated story with the specific themes, and additional question prompts to guide learners to key information. Now, I can be sure my learner will be supported, even though they are challenged. This can improve overall engagement and help to keep learners on task throughout the activity.

The GSE as a communication tool with stakeholders

The deeper insights we can get with the GSE help us to talk to all the stakeholders impacted by our learners’ engagement and performance in the classroom.

It can be used to show other teachers in your school where learners need additional support. This can also be communicated to your principal, letting him or her know how your students are currently performing. Moreover, you can also give a clear sense of the progress you hope to achieve, and outline a plan to achieve it by the end of the course.

If you’re working directly with your learners’ parents, you can help them understand your course focus, by showing the various resources and activities you will incorporate as part of a comprehensive learning plan. This might include activities parents can encourage at home, like nightly reading time, or encouraging the use of the home library and books of interest to students.

Perhaps your students are already receiving some additional tutoring or opportunities for language development at a private institution. Using the GSE, you can coordinate with them and other educators to create a supportive development plan that takes into consideration their strengths and areas for development.

By developing a plan that aligns to your ministry expectations, you can also feel confident that it will meet the needs of future standardized assessments and national expectations.

Using the GSE to communicate to the learner

The GSE can also help you communicate action plans and new goals to your learners, using the numerical scale. In a one-to-one meeting with each student, you can talk about where they are truly excelling and where they may feel extra challenge. This, of course, provides a deeper level of personalization and relevance of learning, which also boosts engagement.

You can use the GSE Teacher Toolkit to highlight some reading goals that will help you both achieve success in learning (see examples below).

Figure 3: examples of different GSE Learning Objectives for Reading

Using the GSE to achieve success

Overall, the GSE can help you pinpoint key learning objectives, boost student engagement, communicate needs to learners, parents and other stakeholders, and help you be confident that your curriculum aligns to national expectations.

Have you tried the GSE yet? What was your experience? Do you have any doubts about how to use the Teacher Toolkit? Let us know in the comments.


Claxton, G. (2007). Expanding young people’s capacity to learn. British Journal of Educational Studies. 55(2), 1-20.

Parsons, J., and Taylor, L (2011). Improving student engagement. In Current Issues in Education Volume 14, 1-32, from

Ramaley, J., & Zia, L. (2005). The Real Versus the Possible: Closing the Gaps in Engagement and Learning. In D. Oblinger & J. Oblinger (Eds), Educating the Net generation, pp. 8.1- 8.21). Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE. Retrieved October 30, 2010, from

Windham, C. (2005). The Student’s Perspective. In D. Oblinger & J. Oblinger (Eds), Educating he Net generation (pp. 5.1-5.16). Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE. Retrieved December 2010, from

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