Spring 2019 by the numbers

Note: This blog will be going on Summer Break for June and July! I’ll see you again in August.  


For several years now, I have tracked how much time I spend on particular work tasks, as part of an attempt to make sure I’m properly balancing the various components of my job (research, teaching, service/admin).  I track this in a google spreadsheet by month (pictured below for May), and update it each week (from my planner daily pages) when I do my weekly planning.  I tend to look at the numbers on a weekly and monthly basis, but I have not looked at the larger picture of the semester as a whole.  So, I thought I’d do that in this post!  In this post, I’m focusing on work, but you can see that I also track dance, home admin, and sleep hours*.

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Since my spreadsheet is set up by month and today is the last day of May, I’m counting Spring semester as going from January-May.  Technically, we are not in class for the beginning of January (although I start teaching prep the first week) and finals ended May 10 (although grading and reflection lasted for another week).  So I suppose if you count the semester by teaching, these numbers include two weeks in May where I did not do any teaching activities, but I think it is still enlightening (for me, anyway).  So, what happened in those weeks?


Total Hours: 167

Percent of work time: 22%

Activities included:

  • Revising two chapters for edited collections 

  • Interviewing students from my Fall Arabic class for research on our curriculum development

  • Preparing presentations for and attending two conferences

  • Writing four conference abstracts to submit

  • Writing a grant proposal (rejected)

  • Reading articles and books


Total Hours: 162

Percent of work time: 21%

Activities included:

  • Curriculum development for our second semester Arabic class

  • Teaching, prep, and grading for half of the second semester Arabic class (3 out of 6 credits)

  • Teaching, prep, and grading for an online Intro to Languages and Cultures class (minimal prep since this class was designed by my colleague

This actually seemed like a low number of teaching hours for me, so I went back and looked at Fall 2018, when I taught two language classes and was also doing curriculum revisions.  Indeed, in Fall 2018 my total teaching hours was 251.5 hours, which just goes to show how much work goes into teaching language classes!


Total Hours: 436

Percent of work time: 57%

Activities Included:

  • This blog

  • Editing and admin tasks for the AATA blog

  • Applying to become co-editor of the Critical Multilingualism Studies Journal (accepted!)

  • Recording, editing, and presenting videos focused on language issues related to racial and social justice in general education classes with a faculty cohort focused on this

  • Administrative tasks for our STARTALK Program

  • Two college level committees (internal search and teaching awards)

  • Guest lecturing

  • Coordinating reviewers for a conference

  • Email and other correspondence

  • Forms and other bureaucratic procedures

  • Faculty and other meetings

  • Writing letters of recommendation

  • Planning

  • Other random tasks I don’t consider research or teaching but don’t remember


So, what are some interesting observations from this semester1) If the Research/Teaching/Service percentages for research faculty are supposed to be 40/40/20, and mine are 22/21/57, clearly I’m way out of balance, mostly due to the service/admin percent.  This was so interesting to me that I went back and calculated the same percentages for Fall 2018, and they were (19/31/50).  As noted above, I spent more time on teaching during the Fall as I was teaching two language classes, but most of the extra time went to service/admin rather than research in the Spring.  So, no wonder I always feel behind on research and teaching!  

2) On the other hand, I find some of these service and admin projects (particularly those focused on sharing research publicly, like the blogs and videos) more meaningful.  They don’t “count” towards promotion the same way research does, but if I’m doing enough research to progress, do I want to discontinue them?

3) Throughout my weekly reviews this semester, I wanted to improve feelings of scatteredness.  Looking at the list of activities from this semester, I think I can explain this, as there are a lot and they are quite varied.  Having to jump from activity to activity probably explains the scattered feeling.  The thing to do is probably to cut some of the less meaningful service/admin activities, but unfortunately those tend to be required (filling out forms).

Do you track your work or other hours? What interesting trends do you find? And how to you decide what to do with them?

*The sleep is tracked by my Fitbit—these are the hours it says I was sleeping, but I am usually in bed 7-8 hours, it’s just that my kids don’t always sleep through the night so I have a lot of “restless” hours.  

End of Semester Review

Photo by  Kelly Sikkema  on  Unsplash

As I’ve mentioned before, my larger scale unit of planning is the semester, and I’ve discussed how I make my semester plan for Fall and Spring.  At the end of each semester, before making the plan, I also conduct an end of semester review, looking at what went well and what didn’t, and what I want to focus on or change in the following semester.    I’ll share my Summer plan at the end of this post (yes, I plan summers too!), but before that I thought I’d discuss how I do my end of semester review.  

Reflection Questions

First, I start with my standard reflection questions, which I also use for reflecting with students and teachers

1) What did I accomplish this semester? How can I magnify this?

2) What can I improve? How can I improve it?

When I list my accomplishments, I do it from memory first, and then go back and look at my monthly reviews to see what I missed.  Usually, it’s about 50% of the things I did, which is one reason I like keeping track of everything—once I see the notes I remember that I made those revisions, or organized that part of my house, or completed that service project, but without going back my sense of what I’ve accomplished is at about 50%.  

After this, I move on to the next two questions:

1) What do I want more of? How can I get it?

2) What do I want to let go of? How can I let it go? 

I should probably consider renaming these the space and stress questions, since it seems like mental and physical space is always the answer to the first question, and stress is always the answer to the second.  There are some variations, such as wanting more sleep, or wanting to let go of rejections, but even these related to the first (quality sleep=more mental space and rejections=stress).  While it is sometimes frustrating to always feel like I have the same answers, I do feel like there is incremental improvement, and some of these things (like my kids sleeping through the night) just take a long time to improve.  

Goals Review

Next, I look at my goals, and ask the following questions:

1) Which goals did I accomplish? Why?

2) Which goals did I not accomplish? Why?

3) Thoughts moving forward . . . 

Again, these questions seem to have consistent answers, which is itself enlightening.  Goals completed tend to be planned into my schedule and have specific deadlines, often involving other people like editors or students (which is why they get into my schedule first).  Goals not accomplished are those that can wait longer, and thus get bumped when I run out of time.  While again, always having the same answers might seem like a lack of progress, I’ve definitely gotten better at realistically estimating what can happen in a semester, and my ratio of goals accomplished to unaccomplished has gone up (by having fewer goals overall).  

Areas of Life Review

Finally, I do what I call an areas of life review.  When I reflect on my life, I think of it in four broad categories with subcategories.  I rank each subcategory, and then ask what can I improve? and what should I do next?

Career: This includes my academic career (divided into research, teaching, and service/admin) as well as my dance career (this is more between a passion project and heavy volunteer load than a career, but still very important to me!).  I usually score myself fairly high here, although balancing between the three components of my academic job is always a challenge.

Relationships: These include relationships across all areas of my life.  Family and friends are the obvious ones, but I also include relationships related to my academic and dance careers.  This category is usually my biggest challenge.  

Environment: This is the physical and digital spaces I am surrounded by, so things like physical and digital organization of my home and work spaces, finances, and systems for managing time and space.  This category tends to score high in some categories and low in others, depending on what I’ve prioritized this semester.

Self: This includes things related to the health of my mind, body, and spirit, like exercise, nutrition, sleep, learning, creativity, etc.  This category tends to score medium across all the categories, except low on sleep.  

Planning for the Next Semester

Once I’ve done this reflecting, I then brainstorm potential goals and areas of improvement for the next semester, and then map them onto a calendar to see how realistic I’m being.  Then I cut a few, and make my semester plan.  Below, you can see my semester plan for the Summer.  I’ll see how it goes!


Reflecting with Students

Photo by  Samuel Ferrara  on  Unsplash

Photo by Samuel Ferrara on Unsplash

As is probably clear to readers of this blog, I think reflection is a crucial skill for learning and teaching.  I’ve discussed making time and space for reflection as a language teacher, and ethnographic projects as a way to encourage reflection during study abroad. In this post, I’ll discuss reflecting with students, another valuable practice.

As we redo our Arabic curriculum (described in various places on this blog), we have had a reflection day at the end of each unit.  Students’ homework is to complete an evaluation sheet that asks about what went well and what didn’t in the unit, and their recommendations for improvement.  In class, students discuss their reflections in small groups, and then we discuss as a class while the teacher takes notes in a google doc displayed on the screen.  The exact questions depend on who is teaching the class, but I tend to stick to my standard set of reflection questions that I use to reflect on almost everything:

1) What went well?

2) How can we amplify this?

3) What can be improved?

4) How can we improve it?

So, for each question, students discussed it in small groups, and then we discussed it as a class while I made notes on the board.  I love this process because it gives me insights I would never have had without the students, and it gives me the opportunity to think with them through the details of actually executing some of their suggestions.  

For example, for our last unit on social media, both my co-teacher and I were under the impression that this unit was not that great, as students were attending less and turning in less homework.  Yet as it turns out, the students loved this unit as they felt it was relevant to their lives, and some of them even mentioned that they had started to use social media to engage in Arabic outside of the class, and they wished the unit was longer! So, this was an excellent opportunity for me to realize that what I saw as a problem with the unit was actually more of a problem with the end of the semester.  Similarly, while some of our assignments (like following hashtags of the Sudanese revolution) seemed really difficult, they were also popular with students because of course they are the most real.

In terms of thinking through the details, when students proposed things like doing this unit earlier, or having class social media accounts, I got the opportunity to ask them questions about things I thought might be challenging.  For example, do you think you could have done this last semester? How could it be modified? Would you be okay with using your own social media account or making a fake one? What platform(s) do you think would work best? If you all choose your own hashtags to follow, will you be okay with us not providing vocabulary lists? And so on.  

Of course students have different opinions too (we should use Facebook! we should use Instagram! We should use Twitter—elhamdulillah no one suggested Snapchat so I don’t have to learn that!).  However, the discussion also allowed us to discuss these issues (Facebook is great for groups, but hard to have a fake account, etc.) and think through ways that everyone’s needs could be met.  

Language issues also come up, and of course as someone interested in language ideologies and how they inform our expectations for language learning, I find these discussions fascinating.  In this case, I was thrilled when students asked for more lessons on Arabizi and internet language as it was clear to them through experience that these were important to understand online communication.  We did have a lesson on what to do when you are trying to follow an event through a hashtag and don’t understand all of the language (something I have ample personal experience in!) and they felt this could be expanded even more.  

So in addition to reflecting as a teacher, and with co-teachers, I find it extremely valuable to reflect with students, as they clearly have insights that I would not see otherwise.  Do you reflect with your students? If so, how? 

Organizing my work with Trello

I’ve written previously about how I use Trello to organize my teaching and large programs/events, so in this post I thought I’d take a look at my Trello “Workbox”, which is the overall system that links these together at work (I use similar boards/boxes for home and dancing).  I call it a workbox as I’ve borrowed concepts from the Organize365 workbox system. I’ve also borrowed from the Getting Things Done (GTD) system.  

My workbox is just a board, that has three main parts: inbox, action, and reference.  

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The inbox is where I put things as I’m going through email (you can save directly to Trello from Gmail or Outlook!) or any of the gazillion other ways information comes into my life (social media, random thoughts, chats, calls, calendar events, etc.)*.  As long as it can wait until I’m doing my weekly planning (usually on Friday) it heads to my Trello inbox.  In this case, I took the screenshot pretty soon after going through the inbo, which is why there’s only one item in it (some interesting looking final assignments saved from Twitter!)


The action section has five lists: Service/Admin, Teaching, Research, Waiting, and This Week.  Service/Admin, Teaching, and Research are the main components of my job, and so these lists host all of the projects and tasks I have to do in these areas in the current semester.  Anything beyond the current semester is on another board (one for each of these areas), and I will start to pull from those boards towards the end of the current semester.  So, for example you can see in my Research lists that I have the 2020 AAAL call for papers, which is technically a summer due date (although notably I haven’t actually added the due date yet, which I would if it were in Spring).  

The “Waiting” list is for projects that I’m waiting on someone else for (it’s under review, I’m waiting on a colleague’s feedback, to hear about a grant, etc.).  Having these here also reminds me to follow up if it’s been too long.  

The “This Week” list is what I need to work on this week.  During my weekly planning each week, I pull projects from the Service/Admin, Teaching, and Research boards into “This Week” and then plot the times I’m going to work on them on my calendar (to prevent me from having overly ambitious plans).  Some cards, such as my classes, basically live in this list all semester long.  Most of these cards also link to separate Trello boards for these projects.  For example, if I click on a class card such as ARAB 212, you can see that I can click through to the board for this class.

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The transitional list between action and reference is my “Done” list for the current semester.  As I complete projects and tasks, they move here, and become a reference of what I’ve done during the semester.  This is useful for my end of semester review and also for updating my CV, which I try to do at the end of every semester.  While I’m unlikely to forget major events (such as a paper being published), there are plenty of smaller things that I would forget I accomplished if I didn’t have this list. Since there are always more projects to be done, it is also nice for me to see that I’m in fact completing things as well.  

The more standard reference lists are “Reference” (for the current semester), “Loaned”, and “Read”.  The reference list is where I put cards that are attached to another card.  I use this system when the project doesn’t quite warrant it’s own board, or I have information I want to keep separate.  For example, for AAAL 2019, I attached my travel and presenter information to the “AAAL” card, and then just put those cards in reference.  Because every card in reference is attached to another card, I just dump them there without worrying about how they are organized in that list.  

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The “Loaned” list is for things I’ve loaned to other people (so I remember to ask for them back).

The “Read” list is for articles (academic and otherwise) I want to read, usually while reading other things on social media or for research. I try to add in some reading time at the end of my Weekly Review, but it doesn’t always happen, so I try (not always successfully) to just delete from this list every week so it doesn’t get overwhelming. This is admittedly more aspirational than reality, as there are just so many interesting things to read!


Each week in my weekly planning session (usually on Friday), I rearrange my board by moving stuff from the Inbox to the appropriate list, moving stuff from This Week to Done if I can, and moving things from the action lists to This Week.  Then I plot the “This Week” stuff onto my calendar to make sure it all fits, and if it doesn’t, move it out of “This Week”.  I also do a quick “filter by due date” on the whole board to make sure I’m not missing something coming due (usually buried in the Service/Admin list).  

I use similar boards and process for home and dance, and I also have actual physical boxes for work, home, and dance that I keep actual papers in (I tend to leave things in the form they arrive in, so mostly digital, but still some paper).  Every semester, I do a major cleanup of the board during my end of semester review.  

So, that is how I keep my semesters organized! How do you link your projects and tasks together throughout the semester? Do you use Trello in a similar or different way?  

Can-Do Assessments: An Update

Image by Wokandapix on Pixabay

Image by Wokandapix on Pixabay

In an early post on this blog I talked about making assessments based on what students “can do” with language.  This year, as we redo our Intermediate Arabic curriculum, we also decided to have no tests.  In some ways, this is just a change in terminology, as we have a week of Can-Do Assessments at the end of each unit, in which we repurpose some of our old test materials.  In other ways, it is new, as even the materials we repurpose (such as a description of a celebration for students to read, describe to their partner, and then choose which student’s celebration they will attend) are very different from the traditional language tests I took as an Arabic student, and gave my students in the early days of my career.  These usually had a vocabulary section (such as a cloze test), some grammar drills (e.g. fill in the correct verb form), and a skill section (reading or listening plus comprehension questions or a writing prompt). 

Now that we’ve had Can-Do Assessments for four units (housing, party, celebrations, and education), I thought I’d give an update on what is going well, and what can be improved from my perspective.  

What’s going well

1) Clear path from lessons to assessment: Because each lesson has a Can-Do and falls under a theme, there is a clear buildup to the assessment, as opposed to just a “test on chapter 7” (what does that even mean outside of the textbook?)

2) Clear relation to language functions: Instead of testing discrete vocabulary or grammar items (which really only makes sense in a class informed by folklinguistic language ideologies), we can focus on things we do with language, such as explaining the importance of language learning, planning a party, renting an apartment, or asking questions to a study abroad student

3) Impact beyond the classroom: While we haven’t managed this for every assessment, giving it life beyond just the students and teachers in our classroom makes it seem more authentic.  For example, having a real party, interacting with higher level students, or making projects that will be seen by other people on campus.  

4) Less anxiety: Even when students are doing literally the same activities that we called a “test” last year, there is significantly less anxiety in the room.  

5) Showcasing our students’ skills: When we give students an idea of the content we want them to demonstrate, but let them choose the form, it turns out to be way more interesting.  For example, last year they had to write a persuasive letter to the provost arguing for this importance of learning languages.  This year, they had to do the same thing, but got to choose the form.  While one group went with the letter, another made a plurilingual video, and a third made a meme.  Much more interesting to experience (and grade!).  

6) Integrating multiple modes of communication: Instead of having a “writing test” or a “listening test”, we can work across modes of communication, for example by reading about a celebration, discussing with a partner which celebration to attend, and then writing about that decision.  

What can be improved

1) Timing: Last year, we tried several lessons then an assessment, and this year we are doing four weeks of lessons, then a week of assessments plus reflection.  This is better, but still doesn’t seem quite right.  I’d also like to give students more time to polish some of the assignments, as I think this is what you would do with some of them in real life.  

2) Rubrics: While we want to be consistent in our grading across units and assessments, it’s hard to make a general rubric to cover vastly different assignments that is still meaningful.  We might need a series of rubrics, for example one for presentational, one for interpersonal, and so on? But then, how do we allow students to choose different forms for the assignment? So this is a work in progress.  

3) Specificity of instructions: Related to the point about rubrics, sometimes it’s hard to give specific instructions and also give students a lot of flexibility.  Students also vary in how much specificity versus freedom they would like.  

4) Impact beyond the classroom: While we’ve had some success (as described above) it would be nice to have all of the assessments extend beyond the classroom, not just some of them

5) Anxiety and seriousness: The flip side of point 4 above is that sometimes students are less dedicated when it’s not officially called a test.  While I still prefer this to high levels of anxiety, and they are certainly more dedicated when there is impact beyond the classroom, I feel like we’re still working to balance this.  

So, that is our assessment update! How do you do assessments? What are your challenges?

The Whiteness of U.S. Study Abroad

At the recent conference for the American Association of Applied Linguistics, I organized a colloquium with Rhia Moreno Kilpatrick called Disrupting the Whiteness of U.S. Study Abroad.  The other presenters in the colloquium were Uju Anya and Wenhao Diao, whose work I also recommend checking out, especially as Uju’s amazing book Racialized Identities in Second Language Learning: Speaking Blackness in Brazil won the AAAL first book award this year! For some numerical background, according to the Open Doors report, 71% of U.S. Study abroad students are white.  

This post is a summary of part of my talk where I used photos on a program website to demonstrate how even when we take real steps (such as financial support) to promote and support including underrepresented groups in study abroad, we often still do it in a way that doesn’t really challenge what I called the “default whiteness” of study abroad.  That is, we focus on trying to increase the numbers of students of color studying abroad, but don’t really think about some of the problematic ways in which we represent study abroad.  To explain what I mean, I’ll look at two pages of a program website. 

In critiquing these pages, I want to make it clear that while I chose this website for my example, this is not so much a critique of this specific program (which I have worked with for a faculty-led study abroad in the past), but of U.S. study abroad generally (which I am also a part of as a researcher, practitioner, and former study abroad student).  The problems I describe are readily apparent in most study abroad websites I look at, even to a larger degree than the pages I’m critiquing here.  In fact, I chose these particular pages because this program is in fact making some concerted efforts to include underrepresented groups in study abroad.  

So, what are the problems? We’ll start with this page, which is focused on increasing access to study abroad.  As page content changes (hopefully for the better), I’m putting screenshots of the page as it is when I’m currently writing this (March 2019).  

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The page opens with a “challenge”, explaining “More of the world's jobs require language skills, intercultural knowledge, and international experience than ever. And most U.S. college graduates aren’t prepared.” It then offers increasing study abroad as a solution to this problem.  While fully support increasing the numbers of students studying abroad, presenting study abroad as the only solution to getting “language skills, intercultural knowledge, and international experience” is highly problematic, as it erases the language skills and intercultural knowledge students gain within the United States, for example by being raised in multilingual communities, or needing to accommodate to dominant white middle class cultures that differ from home or community ones.  International experience is also something that students could have if they emigrated as children, or live in border areas.  Racially minoritized students are almost certain to fall into one or more of these categories, and yet the skills they develop are not recognized as relevant to study abroad.  

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Next, the page talks about solutions, and how to address the “three C’s”—Cost, Curriculum, and Culture.  Again, cost is a major barrier, especially as we know there is a racial wealth gap.  Curriculum is also important, and we know that including more short-term programs in a variety of disciplines has helped more students study abroad.  So, addressing these problems is essential.   However, I want to focus a little more closely on the “culture” aspect of study abroad, where the website presents the solution as “nurture acceptance, approachability, value, and adventure in the study-abroad landscape.”  Nowhere is race mentioned, even though we know racially minoritized students are underrepresented in study abroad, and the “culture” of study abroad is predominantly white and (upper) middle class.  While racially minoritized students are not the only groups underrepresented in study abroad, not mentioning race perpetuates a “colorblind” ideology that obscures the real structural problems we face in overcoming racism.  

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Then, the website moves on to “opportunity” explaining that by increasing study abroad, we can make more U.S. students valuable job candidates.  This raises other concerns I won’t go into in this post, such as the neoliberal connection with jobs and “value”, and the colonial perspective in emphasizing only this value to U.S. students and using words like “adventure” to describe study abroad, but perhaps in other posts!

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What I’d like to focus on next though is the pictures at the bottom of the page, above “The CIEE Pledge” and the “$20,000 CIEE Access Grant”.  The students above the former, presumably already abroad, appear to be mostly white.  In contrast, more of the students in the latter appear to be students of color.  Now, race is a social construct, so I want to make it clear that judging someone’s race from photos is a problematic practice, and certainly influenced by my own racial position (white).  However, I think it is also problematic to juxtapose photos of students abroad and students who needed extra access to study abroad where the former appear mostly white and the latter mostly to be students of color.  While it is true that many study abroad websites don’t represent students of color at all, and this is even worse, I think we also need to be careful how and where we represent students of color in our study abroad websites to avoid reproducing deficit perspectives that dominate in education settings.  

This issue is even more apparent on the next page, which is the main college study abroad page for the organization.  If we scroll past the tourism photos (another subject for another post!) till we get to people, the following four photos appear in a gallery you can scroll through

 If you hover over the photo, there is a testimonial quote from the student, and the program (which I’ve just screenshotted as separate pictures).  In three of the four photos, there are pairs or groups of students who present (to me) as white, with no specific location given for their studies.  The fourth picture is of a student who presents (to me) as black, alone with some penguins, and listed as studying in South Africa (with no personal quote).  Again, it is important to represent students of color in photos of study abroad, so this is an improvement over no representation at all.  And yet, why is this student alone, why is she the only one with a specific geographic location, and why does she have no voice in a testimonial quote?  Again, it seems that in pictures of study abroad, white students are everywhere, and students of color, if they are pictured at all, only appear in limited spaces within the study abroad structure.

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Scrolling down further (past more tourism photos) we see more evidence of this.  White students bicycling and scuba diving are pictured next to titles like “design your own semester” and “highest quality programs”.  Students of color appear next to “access & opportunity”.  Scrolling further, we get a silhoutted person on a camel, and white students with an elephant (want orientalism/colonialism much?) and then the pictures end.  

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So overall, what do we see in these pages? White students having adventures, with students of color inserted as needing access and going to specific locations.  Meanwhile, the language and intercultural skills they have acquired at home (and that a white student like me for example would need to rely more on study abroad for) are erased, even though there is research demonstrating they build upon these skills to expand their linguistic and intercultural knowledge abroad.  Yes, this is only one website, but take a look at some more—what do you see? 

Furthermore, this is the website of a program that is in fact trying to address this issue, and is putting real resources to it (and again, financial support is a major barrier that cannot be ignored).  If these problems are this apparent when we are trying to help, what about when we are not? If we want to address the very real problem of the underrepresentation of racially minoritized students in U.S. study abroad, we need to be able to see just how white it is, and how we uphold this culture of whiteness in our representations and expectations of study abroad.   Yes, this is uncomfortable for those of us who are white and were raised with colorblind ideologies, but we can’t fix problems that we won’t admit exist and don’t understand how we perpetuate. 

Once we are aware of the problem, there are lots of things that can be done, as the other speakers in the colloquium pointed out, including hiring faculty of color on study abroad programs, representing students of color in study abroad, connecting them to experiences and locations abroad they find culturally relevant, listening to their experiences and not expecting them to be like those of white students, and having returning students of color interact with potentially interested students (again, check out their work!).   

So, what do you see in our representations of study abroad? If (like me) you work in this field, as a researcher, practitioner, or participant, what will you do to shift these representations?

(Hands image from stokpic on pixabay, rest screenshotted from linked pages)

Using Trello to organize large events and programs

Last Fall, I wrote about how I use Trello to organize my teaching.  Another area I find Trello very useful for is organizing large events or programs, in my case dance competitions and our summer Arabic STARTALK program.  Although a dance competition and a summer program for middle and high school students seem like very different events (and they are!) the structure for organizing them is similar.  So, while I’ll focus on planning the STARTALK program in this post, I think a similar structure can be used for any event.  

New Board, Old Todos

The first thing I do is make a separate Trello board for the event.  The first list in the board is the “Inbox”, which is where I save items pertaining to that event (usually from my email).  Then, I copy the “done” and “notes for next year” lists from the previous year, and these become a large todo list.  Then, I add lists for the months leading up to the event, and distribute the todos across them.   Once that month is passed, I move any remaining tasks to the next month and archive the list (so you don’t see January and February anymore).  Since these types of events are on top of my regular job and life, I usually have very limited time to work on them in a given week, so it’s important to evenly spread out the prep tasks for months in advance so I’m not caught by surprise in a time crunch.  Some of them are also time-sensitive, for example marketing needs to start in January, and admissions needs to be completed by April.  When I get closer to the event, I split the monthly list into weekly or daily lists, as the event starts to take up more of my time.  For STARTALK, I usually switch to weekly lists in May and June.  

Screenshot 2019-03-07 08.53.00.png

Reference and Notes for the Next Year

Following these lists, I have a “done” list, a reference list, and then a “Notes for 2020 list”.  The done list is where completed tasks go (yay!).  The reference list is for information that isn’t actionable, but that I need, such as a quote, or reservation information.  I store these cards in the reference list, but also attach them to whatever actionable card they are relevant to using the Trello attach function.  As you can see, there is nothing in this list yet, but there will be as we get closer! For example, if I get an email with the bus reservation information for a field trip, I would save it to this list but also attach it to the card for that field trip.  

Screenshot 2019-03-07 08.53.05.png

The notes for 2020 list is perhaps the most useful, as most of these events repeat on a yearly basis.  As things happen that I want to record for next year, I put them in this list.  Then, the following year, I copy this list to the new Trello board and distribute the cards on it among the todos.  Most of these items are minor details that make the programs run more smoothly, but that I would not remember a year later (such as the fact that the building is locked from the outside at 5:00, so our orientation should start at 4:30, not 5:00).  By continually recording them, and then copying this list to the following year, I’m able to stay on top of these details without exerting mental effort to remember them.  

Checklists for Everything

Another useful feature is checklists, for example for daily admin tasks during the program, a list of contacts to send marketing material to, or tasks for a specific program activity, like the closing ceremony checklist pictured here.  Again, because I copy these cards from the previous year and add any notes I made, I don’t have to worry about forgetting steps from year to year.

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Linking to the Semester Board

I also link this board to a card called “STARTALK” in my semester board, which is where I keep track of all my projects for a given semester.  Then, when I’ve blocked time to work on STARTALK, I just click through to the special STARTALK board, and start working on whatever tasks are listed that month.  

Hopefully, this can give you some ideas of how Trello can organize large projects and events for you, especially if they repeat on a yearly basis.  Do you use Trello or a similar system in another program? Let me know if you have comments or useful tips to improve my system!

Lesson plans: Genre-based approaches and the interpersonal mode

Photo by  Caroline Veronez  on  Unsplash

Photo by Caroline Veronez on Unsplash

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) describes three modes of communication: interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational, and lists Can-Do statements in each of these modes.  The presentational mode is for sharing information, opinions, etc, and usually consists of one person communicating with a larger audience, either in writing, speech, or multi-modal forms.  The interpretive mode is what we usually think of as comprehension, understanding a written, oral, or multi-modal text.  The interpersonal mode is when one or more people are interacting with each other, and again this could be in speech, writing, or multi-modal forms.  In focusing on language functions and finding example texts, we try to find examples that are in both the presentational and interpersonal modes (and these all become the interpretive mode for our students at home, to recreate in their presentational or interpersonal forms in class).  However, we have found that it is much easier to find texts in the presentational mode (either oral or written) than in the interpersonal mode.  On the one hand, this makes sense (who records their conversations?), but this can also mean that it is challenging to find examples in this mode.  Ones we do find, are often somewhat presentational as well, such as an interview where there are two people interacting, but there is an expectation for a larger audience as well that would not be there if those two people were talking in a more informal situation.  The same thing would apply to something like a Twitter conversation.   

However, short of surreptitiously recording people, there is nothing really to be done about this! In this post, I thought I’d describe a successful lesson I did using an interpersonal text found by my colleague to show how we incorporate the text, linguistic elements (including pragmatics), and guide students through the stages of understanding what the text means, understanding how it means, and recreating their own versions.  

For this lesson, the Can-Do Statement was “I can express my opinions about marriage” and the text was this video , which shows someone asking a variety of people in a mall which they think is more successful, an arranged marriage or a love marriage. At home, students did the example text and google drive homework described at the end of this post .  

In class, we first focused on the meaning of the text, by having students in small groups review their example text homework (what they understood and didn’t understand) and ask questions.  To focus further on the meaning, I made screenshots of the people interviewed in the video and passed them out (one picture per group).  Students had to listen to the video again, and write down that particular person’s answer.  

To focus on how the text means, I had students identify words useful for giving one’s opinion, like بالنسة لي (according to me), which could be used to give any sort of opinion.  To draw their attention to pragmatic features, I also had them focus on how certain they thought the person was of their opinion.  Did they start their reply with أكيد! (Certainly!)? Or did they hedge, saying something like والله يعني طبعا يعني (Well, like, of course, like) . . .? Once the students thought about this, I had them place the picture on a line I drew on the board from uncertain to certain.  As the students finished placing one person, I would give them another one, and when all of the pictures were up on the board, each group presented the opinion and degree of certainty for the people they had listened to.  In this way, students were able to focus on not only what the opinion was, but also how to express an opinion, and how to be certain or uncertain in it.  

This took us to the creation phase, where students had to express their own opinions.  First, I had them write polarizing questions, following the format of the question asked in the video ايهما أنجح الزواج التقليدي أم الزواج عن حب؟ (Which is more successful, arranged marriage or love marriage)  by presenting it with blanks for them to fill in:

 ايهما أــــــــــ   ـــــــــــــ أم ــــــــــــــــ؟

Which is more _________,  _________ or ___________?

The students wrote a bunch of questions, such as which is better, dogs or cats? or which is better, peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and honey? I then had them ask each other the questions in a speed-dating format, where they switched partners every 4 minutes.  As they answered, they needed to not only express their answer, but also how certain they were of this opinion, by using the pragmatic features explored earlier in the class.  

Overall this was a successful lesson, leading students to understand not only what the text meant, but also how to use words related to opinions and degrees of certainty, and then to apply it in contexts more meaningful to them (probably not arranged marriage v. love marriage).  

Do you have techniques for finding interpersonal texts and helping your students recreate them? Let me know in the comments!

Color-coding to develop meta-linguistic awareness in the classroom

Photo by  Agence Olloweb  on  Unsplash

Photo by Agence Olloweb on Unsplash

In genre-based approaches to language learning, one of the key goals is to teach students not only what texts mean, but how they mean, so students can use (or resist) these conventions when they express themselves.  While the goal of understanding WHAT a text means is fairly straightforwards for students and instructors, I find that the goal of understanding HOW a text means is more complicated.  To give a precise example of what this means, in a “recount” which is the retelling of an event, there are usually three stages: an orientation, a description of events, and an evaluation.  So for example, it might be something like the following:

Orientation: Last weekend, I went to the zoo with my family

Events: We saw the giraffes, and fed the ducks, and rode the carousel . . . (etc.)

Evaluation: It was a really fun time!

Focusing on WHAT this text means would include what specific animals we saw, or where we went, etc.  Focusing on HOW this text means would include noticing the use of the past tense to describe the events, a time phrase in the orientation, and a phrase giving an opinion in the evaluation.  These could then be used in another recount, describing a different event.  By helping students understand how texts are structured, in addition to what they mean, they can use these structures when they create language.  Importantly, understanding structure is not just about understanding grammar, which is where we sometimes get confused—grammar (such as using the past tense to describe past events) is only one part of understanding how texts achieve their communicative goals.  

For this stage, which I call “analysis” or “ta7eel” in my lesson plans, I have tried various techniques, from presenting my own analysis of the stages and important linguistic elements to each stage to asking students to find specific phrases and language that achieve the goals of the text.  However, I have never felt that this was particularly successful—while some students were able to recycle this language when creating their own versions of these texts, others were not.  

However, this semester I have finally hit on a technique using color coding and google drive that seems to be more effective. As I’ve noted earlier, in our curriculum students work with a text each night that serves as an example of the Can-Do Statement targeted in class the next day.  So for example, for one of my lessons, the Can-Do Statement was “I can describe a holiday” and the read a text that describes how Ramadan is celebrated in different Arab countries (from the Al-Kitaaab textbook).  To understand the meaning of the text, students work with it at home, recording what they understand and don’t understand, and then we discuss this in class.  

For the analysis stage, I split the class into four groups, with each group responsible for a paragraph describing a particular country (which I pre-typed into a document in a shared google drive).  They then had to color-code the text, with one color for information specific to Ramadan, and another color for parts of the text that would be useful in describing any sort of holiday.  To start them off, I gave them the following example:

Screenshot 2019-02-07 09.12.44.png

After they have analyzed the text, the students can then rework it, by substituting the information specific to Ramadan with information about another holiday, while keeping and using the more general language.  In this class, I actually just had them illustrate their paragraphs with pictures of the information specific to Ramadan, as many students were unfamiliar with these customs, so obviously I don’t always follow this technique myself! However, when we did a lesson with a text on weddings instead, I had them edit the text to describe a wedding in another location/religion/social group, etc.  

If the texts are listening ones, I’ll either have the students transcribe a specific section (each group has a different speaker for example) or I’ll transcribe it for them (if I think it is particularly difficult).  They can then conduct the same color-coding analysis, but in the creation part I’ll have them make their own video (if it’s presentational) or conduct interviews (if it’s interpersonal).  

So far, this has been working really well, and I’ve even heard students say things in class like “Oh, I’m starting to see how this describing works” in addition to having them produce higher quality examples of the Can-Do Statements.  So, I’m excited to see how this continues throughout the semester! 

Multilingualism and Plurilingualism: Implications for the language classroom


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Last year, I did a series of posts on language ideologies (What is language?) arguing that while these frequently inform our expectations and actions in the language classroom, we don’t think enough about this.  Recently, I’ve been delving into the literature on plurilingual ideologies and pedagogies, and thought I would discuss the differences between these terms here.  

Based on my reading thus far, plurilingual and multilingual were not always distinct terms.   In discussing situations involving multiple languages, the term “multilingualism” was more common in English, and “plurilinguisme” more common in French, and when some French writers wrote in English they used the “pluri” rather than “multi” prefix.  However, this could refer to the same situation and/or come from the same type of language ideology.  

However, there are two ways in which more recently the terms “plurilingual” and “multilingual” have diverged.  One is in making a distinction between the use of multiple languages at the societal level (multilingualism) and the use of multiple languages at the individual level (plurilingualism).  For example, in a multilingual society, speakers of different languages may be socially separated from each other, such that the multiple languages at the societal level do not correspond to the multiple languages in individuals’ plurilingual repertoires.  Similarly, an individual’s plurilingual repertoire may include languages not represented at the larger societal level.  

The second way in which the terms are used distinctly relates to language ideologies, where the term plurilingual is used to indicate a language ideology that views language boundaries as fuzzy, and emphasizes connections between these languages in an individual’s linguistic repertoire.  This can be contrasted with a monolingual language ideology that emphasizes language boundaries and is rooted in the European nation-state.  A multilingual approach could in fact take either of these ideological lenses (emphasizing plurilingual connections or expecting multiple monolingualisms) which is why the term plurilingual has been used to distinguish the former rather than the latter.  

This is a useful distinction to make, which is why I will probably use the term plurilingual, rather than multilingual in the future, although I have used multilingual in the past (in academic works now forthcoming and on this blog) to mean the same thing! It’s also worth noting that the only reason we need to develop these special terms now is because language teaching in English dominant environments like the United States is firmly rooted in monolingual language ideologies.  After all, people in many parts of the world (such as Makalela’s students mentioned in my post on learning about translanguaging practices from African contexts) simply refer to this as “the way we talk”, no special terms needed.  

So, what are components of a plurilingual language ideology? First, there is a focus on the individual’s plurilingual repertoire and an emphasis on the connections and relationships between the languages and varieties in this repertoire.  In contrast to a multilingualism rooted in monolingual language ideologies, plurilingualism takes an unbalanced mix of the languages in an individual’s plurilingual repertoire as the norm—the so-called “balanced bilingual” is not expected.  In terms of linguistic competence, this is established in particular contexts and interactions and is always in progress—there is no “mastery” or end state as the repertoire continues to change throughout the lifetime.  This is a very different definition of competence than that expected in monolingual global proficiency tests.  Furthermore, plurilingual approaches emphasize making connections between linguistic elements in an individual’s repertoire, either to communicate in plurilingual situations or to expand the linguistic repertoire.   This is called plurilingual competence, and it extends beyond measurements of linguistic competence.  For example, an individual with high plurilingual competence may be able to successfully communicate in contexts where their linguistic competence has little overlap with that of their interlocutors.  

There are clear parallels between the ideological approaches informing plurilingualism and translanguaging theory.  As far as I can tell, the major difference is that the former is rooted in work on language policies in multilingual Europe and the latter has been more focused on the context of working with minoritized students in English dominant settings like the US and UK.  Proponents of plurilingualism consider translanguaging a plurilingual practice, and plurilingualism the overarching theory or ideology.  However, translanguaging has also been developed as a theory of language, and scholars working from this background would consider translanguaging both a theory and a practice.  

As for the pedagogical implications of a plurilingual language ideology, here again we see many overlaps with what is called translanguaging pedagogy. Plurilingual pedagogies view students’ previous linguistic knowledge (of languages and dialects) as a tool to expand their knowledge of new languages.  Since competence is contextualized, plurilingual approaches focus on specific situations, and ways in which to use both plurilingual and linguistic competencies to communicate.  There is also a focus on developing meta-linguistic awareness, or an understanding of how language works (including pragmatically, sociolinguistically, not just grammatically!) such that existing linguistic knowledge can be used in new situations.  

While researchers and practitioners taking a plurilingual perspective on language teaching in the fields of bi/multilingual education and TESOL would probably also say there is much progress that needs to be made in this area, this perspective seems to be particularly lacking in what I call the “other TESOL”, or Teaching English Speakers Other Languages.*  While this is no doubt a result of our roots in monolingual ideologies of language, and there are real challenges in implementing plurilingual and translanguaging pedagogies (as you can see from my description of our attempt) I think it is crucial that we move towards a plurilingual perspective for a number of reasons.  

I hope to elaborate more on this in a future post, but it essentially boils down to this: the contexts in which English speakers use English and in which they might use other languages are not the same.  Without a plurilingual perspective, we focus on being able to do everything we do in English in other languages, which is a) not realistic and b) obscures some really important contexts in which we need other languages.  For example, as I’ve argued before, we don’t necessarily need the other language to complete transactions (e.g. ordering a coffee or engaging in a Q&A following an academic conference presentation), though of course it’s nice to be able to do this.  However, the nature of our relationship will be fundamentally different with the person in that transaction if we share multiple languages, or even just the existence of a plurilingual repertoire.  This is true even if the person speaks “perfect English” and we complete the transaction in English—there is still the relationship part, where we might make small talk or joke as we wait for the coffee or interact in a reception at the academic conference, and need to use the other language, or even more likely, translanguage.  Yet, which of these are we more likely to focus on in the language classroom: ordering coffee, or making small talk while we wait for it? Participating in an academic presentation or talking to the same person at the reception afterwards? Will we learn to translanguage, or just the multiple monolingualism perspective of doing something completely in English or completely in the other language?  

Learning other languages through a plurilingual perspective can also make us better speakers of English, as we develop meta-linguistic awareness and the ability to listen to speech that is difficult for us to understand, and try anyway.  This is extremely valuable in the situation of English as a lingua franca, where we encounter and (hopefully) desire to communicate with English speakers whose English differs from ours.  We frequently hear about English speakers learning “English grammar” for the first time when they study other languages, but grammar is not the only type of meta-linguistic awareness—developing our sociolinguistic and pragmatic awareness in other languages can also make us more aware of these issues in English.  This awareness can impact our relationships with other English speakers, as we realize how our pragmatic expectations may differ even though we are speaking the same language.  Perhaps more importantly, this type of awareness can help us prevent ourselves from using language to reproduce racial and social inequalities through our judgements of the “appropriateness” or “correctness” of linguistic elements and language varieties.  We can also start to ask hard questions, like why aren’t we spending more time listening to speakers of varieties of English we find hard to understand?

So, what do you think about plurilingual approaches in the context of the “Other TESOL”? If you’re a teacher and/or learner in this context, have you tried them? Would you try them? Why or why not?

*Usually referred to as ”foreign” or “world” language teaching, but really I think what makes this different is not the “foreignness” of the languages but the fact that the learners speak English, the actual world language.  This includes both monolingual English speakers and plurilingual English speakers learning other non-English languages (like an English-Spanish bilingual learning Arabic!).

Pacing, not Sprinting: My Semester Plan Spring 2019

It’s the start of a new semester, so time for a new semester plan! In the Fall, I shared my Fall semester plan and one thing I like to do at the end of the semester is review how that went (as it is never exactly to plan!).  So, here is the plan at the beginning of the semester:


And here is the plan at the end of the semester:


As you can see, a variety of things got added in, and not everything that I planned got accomplished.  However, I tend to view this not a failure of the plan, but as a flexible adjustment.  When I make my Spring plan, I can focus on whether the projects I didn’t complete need to be carried over (because they take longer than I allotted or got replaced with something new) or just deleted (painful, but sometimes necessary).  

So, here is my Spring 2019 plan:

This semester, my main goal is to make it to the end of the semester without being exhausted (hence REST as my focus word).  Last semester was a particularly challenging one due to a variety of anticipated and unanticipated things that took more mental and emotional energy than I expected (on top of the physical exhaustion of having young children that don’t sleep through the night).  While the pattern of pushing to exhaustion and then resting on the semester breaks seems to be the dominant one in academia, and there are people who really thrive on this type of sprinting, deadline-based approach, I have decided that it is not for me, and I’m working on figuring out a more paced approach.  One reason this doesn’t work for me is that my “breaks” tend to be filled with catching up on life admin activities I neglect during the semester or hanging out with my kids and family.  The first can be mentally exhausting and the second physically exhausting, if a nice mental release.  

So, the question is, how to make a semester plan that has a pacing strategy?  I have to admit, this is unclear as the beginning of the  semester is already jam-packed, is unclear, but I hope to report back with things that worked and didn’t work in May.  As I mentioned in my Fall post, I make my semester plan by putting in the relevant dates and deadlines that are already scheduled, and then adding habits, goals, projects, and tasks.  This semester, as part of my pacing goal, I brainstormed everything I wanted to do separately, and then tried to select only a few to actually make it onto the plan.  You’ll also see I have nothing planned in May—this is the buffer time for things that take longer than anticipated or that I don’t know about yet.  I’m also trying a new variation on my weekly planning, where I organize my days by energy consumed and generated rather than category, that I’ll report back on in a later post.  

Do you pace your semesters? Or are you more of the sprinting type? Let me know if you have ideas for pacing!

Curriculum Development Part 8: Week 6 Recap, and Final Thoughts


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

In my last post, I described Weeks 3, 4, and 5.  In this post, I’m back with a recap of Week 6 and some final thoughts on the project.  I’ve also placed links to all of the curriculum development posts leading up to this unit at the end of this post if you want to follow the story from the beginning!

Week 6 Recap

There were only two days in this week before review/finals, and overall they went well.  On Monday, students’ assignments was to describe what they did at the party, and then in class they read each other’s descriptions and asked questions while my co-teacher worked on correcting their drafts.  On Tuesday, their homework was to reflect upon their party planning experience with my favorite set of reflection questions (What did you accomplish? How can you magnify this? What can be improved next year? How?).  They then discussed their answers in their committees, before I led them in a full class discussion.  This took much longer than I anticipated (the entire 75 minute class!) but was a fruitful discussion, as students realized that despite their frustrations, they did pull off the party, and they also had some excellent ideas about how to improve the planning experience next time, or at least feel less frustrated with the combination of bureaucracy and many moving parts (truly a valuable life skill!).  They also noted that when they felt frustrated, they were less likely to use Arabic as they didn’t have the words to express themselves—another reason I think it’s important to incorporate social and emotional language into the language classroom.  

In week 7, my co-teachers and I had our end of semester reflection meeting, and our thoughts were similar to the students in terms of the overall success (we had a party!) and the improvements (wow that was more stressful than we thought for planning, bureaucratic, and communication reasons!).  Many of the students seemed invested in the party, and far more attended than has happened with other events.  It was also a fun way to end the semester.  We also made specific plans for improvement (focusing on breaking tasks into their component parts, written agreements of what the class and Arabic club will take care of) that we noted in our shared google drive*.  

So, that concludes our curriculum development for this semester, where we used genre-based approaches to language learning and Can-Do Statements to ditch the textbook to learn about renting apartments and plan a party.  If you’d like to follow this series from the beginning, here are links to all of the posts:


Part 1: Choosing Assessment Tasks

Part 2: Finding Texts

Part 3: Introducing Intentional Translanguaging Pedagogy

Part 4: Unit Plan and Week 1 of Party Planning

Part 5: Week 1 Recap, Planning Week 2

Part 6: Week 2 Review, Planning Week 3

Part 7: Week 3 Recap, Weeks 4 and 5, Planning Week 6

Part 8: Week 6 Recap and Final Thoughts (this post!)

*This practice bore amazing fruit toward the end of our reflection meeting, when we needed to choose topics for the Spring fourth semester class—and lo and behold when we looked in the curriculum development folder, we had already done this at the end of the Spring semester when the class was fresh in our minds! Neither I nor my co-teacher had any memory of this, but there they were and it was just a matter of going from our four suggestions to three actual topics (five weeks per topic seemed to be a good fit in the Fall).  So yes, planning and reflecting takes time, but it also saves a lot of time!

Curriculum Development Part 7: Week 3 Recap, Weeks 4 and 5, Week 6 Planning


Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

In my last post, I reflected upon the second week, and plans for week 3.  As I’m posting every other week, the class is going faster than  my blog, so this post will cover a week 3 recap, plans for week 4, the week 4 recap, planning week 5, a week 5 recap, and planning week 6.  Almost the end of the semester!

Week 3 Recap

This week, we had two Can-Dos on Monday, “I can write a program for the party” and “I can introduce a speaker”.  This turned out to be too much, especially as the video for the second can-do was challenging, so in the future we should split it up.  Following this and the TalkAbroad assignment on Tuesday, we moved on to planning.  Students had task lists for their committees, and then had to essentially create their own homework of carrying out the tasks (using a structured assignment sheet that asked them what they discussed/did in class, what each person was responsible for, and what they needed to do before the next class).  Each group also had to report at the end of class on what they had accomplished.  Here, my co-teacher and I were surprised to discover that these assignments were extremely challenging, though not for linguistic reasons.  Rather the challenges came from breaking tasks down into smaller activities (such as printing posters being a necessary step between designing and hanging them) and coordinating all of those activities in a group.  This definitely led to some frustration for students who felt like they no longer knew exactly what to do, and for my co-teacher and I, who felt like the activities were clearly listed, why were they confused?  This led us to wonder whether students were really benefitting from these activities, especially linguistically.  On the other hand, learning the skills of breaking tasks down into smaller parts and coordinating committee work are rather valuable life skills, so why not learn them in Arabic class?

Week 4 Planning

Week 4 was a short week due to the Thanksgiving holiday.  While we originally were not sure how much planning time students would need, after Week 3 it was clear that this would take longer than we had originally anticipated.  So, the plan was as follows:

Monday: I can carry out my tasks for the party

Tuesday: I can carry out my tasks for the party

Wednesday: I can learn a song about a party (this one, as a fun pre-break class)

Week 4 Recap

Week 4 continued to see challenges related to planning and coordinating more than language.  An additional challenge was coordinating with the Arabic Club, who had the funds to actually make purchases for the party (departments can no longer spend money on food at my university).  Many of the students’ tasks involved emailing the Arabic Club President (in Arabic, cc’ing the teachers) to reserve rooms, technology, and decide on food and decorations.  After several rounds of emails, two things became clear: (1) we needed a lesson on email pragmatics, and (2) the teachers needed to keep track of and respond to the emails 

To address number 1, I spend most of class on Tuesday discussing pragmatics, using the diagrams from this great book by Rémi A. van Compernolle to help students understand how language places them on continuum of formality, social distance, and relative status, and how they need to consider both how they want to present themselves and what is expected in the situation.  I then had them analyze two example emails I wrote (one just a list of decorations, and the other including more information, a greeting, and introduction, etc.) and then write some more example emails taking into account the pragmatics information and their analysis of the emails.  

To address number two, and also the planning challenges discussed earlier, my co-teacher and I responded to individual emails, and I also wrote group emails to each committee breaking their todo lists into products (to bring to class Monday) and activities (to determine when and who would complete these).  

Week 5 Planning

For week 5, we continued planning, but also focused on how we could help students with the challenges of breaking things down into smaller tasks, coordinating, and mapping these tasks to their schedules.  The schedule was as follows:

Monday: I can present my final report for the party (based on the products and activities in the group email I sent on the previous Wednesday)

Tuesday: TalkAbroad assignment: I can discuss party planning

Wednesday: I can plan my schedule for the day of the party

Thursday: I can prepare for the party

Friday: I can celebrate in Arabic! 

The major question going into this week was would the party be a success? Would it happen? Would it be worth the frustration?

Week 5 Recap

Week 5 did not start off well, as on Monday, the students were still missing some of their products, and did not have plans for completing all of their activities.  There were also challenges in coordinating between the Arabic Club and the students, which led to hurt feelings, stress, and frustration.  Tuesday, another TalkAbroad assignment went well as students compared their first recording of the semester with their most recent one and were able to see improvement! Wednesday, students had to prepare their schedules for the day of the party, which was challenging for many (due to thinking about schedules, not language) but then my co-teacher went over the group schedule in class with them, writing it down, which led to a good schedules discussion.  Thursday, I returned to the group emails, and printed them out for each group to discuss together and then report item by item to the class.  While this look longer than anticipated and printing emails feels a little strange, by the end it was pretty clear that everyone was set for the party in terms of their product, activities, and when they were going to do them.  Finally! Following this, I had the student re-read the texts from the first week of party planning, and they were excited to discover that while they still didn’t understand everything in the texts, they understood a lot more after five weeks of party planning.  Friday in class students completed final arrangement for the party (like picking up technology) and then Friday at 4:00 started setting up.  

And as it turns out, the party (a languages clubs mixer) was a great success! Many of the languages clubs showed up and shared about their activities, and everyone enjoyed the food, music, and mingling with other language students.   So while on Wednesday I was considering never doing this unit again, post-party I changed my mind :-)

Week 6 Planning

This is the final week of classes, so we basically have only two days of class activities before review and exams.  The plan is to help students reflect upon their party-planning experience, first by describing what happened at the party and what they did, and then by discussing the successes and challenges they experienced in planning the party, and how they can amplify/address these in the future.  So:

Monday: I can describe the party (using picture taken at the party, especially if they were unable to attend)

Tuesday: I can reflect on my planning skills

And that concludes the party unit, as Wednesday-Friday are exams and reviews! I’ll be back in my next post with a final report.  

Curriculum Development Part 6: Week 2 Review, Planning Week 3


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In my last post, I reflected upon the first week, and plans for the second one.  In this post, I’m reflecting upon week 2 and describing planning for week 3.  


Week 2 involved texts focused on the following tasks and the students carrying out versions of these tasks in class: reserving a room, ordering food, planning decorations, deciding on appropriate dress, and writing invitations.  Overall, this went fairly well.  The texts were challenging for the students, but they were able to follow enough to do the task in class, which of course was the goal.  There were also technical difficulties, where for example the video explaining how to order food uses a different version of the website than the current one.  Overall, I’d probably also spend more than one day on each activity in the future.  


The plan for week 3 is to have one day related to tasks, and then start planning the party. As we also have a day focused on a TalkAbroad assignment (a telecollaboration program sponsored by our language lab) and I’ll be at a conference one day, that’s actually only two days for planning. So, the schedule goes as follows:


I can write a program for the party (text is the very beginning of this document)

I can introduce a speaker (text is the introduction of this lecture)


TalkAbroad Reflections


I can write a plan for the party and carry out the necessary tasks


No class, conference


I can carry out my tasks for planning the party

For Wednesday, I wrote todo lists for three committees (Food and Decorations, Entertainment, and Logistics) in coordination with the Arabic Club, and these are the text for Wednesday’s lesson. In class, they’ll sign up for the committee they want to belong to, and start planning their next steps. Each committee also has order sheets for various items (food, decorations, sound systems, room reservations, etc.) that I made based on what is actually available. They then have to email the president of the Arabic Club (since the club has the money for the event) to make the necessary arrangements. At the end of class, they students will give a report on what they plan to accomplish before the next class. Their homework is to fill out a sheet describing what they talked about in class, what each person on their committee needs to do, and what they need to do for the next class (and of course do it!).

In terms of my lesson planning, the big question of course is how long will carrying out these plans take? In addition to language skills, this part will also require planning and coordination skills, which the students may also need to develop. So, it should be an interesting week, with lots of potential revisions for next time!

Curriculum Development Part 5: Week 1 Recap, Planning Week 2


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In my last post, I talked about planning the overall structure party unit as well as the first week.  In this post, I’m back with a recap of week one and planning week two! 

Week One Recap

This week focused primarily on understanding the steps for planning a party, and the greatest challenges for students were the texts themselves,  as this is a new unit with new vocabulary and authentic texts.  There were also some technical challenges with accessing the vocabulary lists the first few days which didn’t help.  However, by the end of the week, following activities like breaking the texts into jigsaw discussions and continued repetition of the party planning words, students did seem to have a clear idea of possible steps in planning a party, and which ones would be relevant to our party.  Including questions specifically targeting sociolinguistic and pragmatic elements on the homework also seems to be helpful in getting students to notice and think about these parts of language, instead of just focusing on vocabulary and grammar (which is still important, but not the only important part of language!)

Week Two Planning

For this week, each day focused on a specific step in planning a party, and I searched for texts that supported this step, coming up with the following plan (click on the day to see the supporting text):


I can understand the necessary information to reserve a room for the celebration

I can write a request to reserve a room for the celebration


I can order food for the party according to my budget


I can discuss ideas for decorating for the party with my classmates


I can discuss appropriate clothing for the party

I can decide on appropriate dress for our party

Friday: Multiple Examples

I can write invitations

As with Week 1, some of these texts are quite challenging for my students, and quite frankly, I find some of them a little boring, and would prefer to find more appealing texts in the future. However, there is only so much time to spend searching for texts, so at some point I have to go with what I have.

As with the first week, after planning the schedule, I then analyzed the texts for necessary vocabulary, grammar, pragmatic, sociolinguistic, and cultural elements.  Using this analysis, I made an example text homework, helping students focus on what they understand, don’t understand, and sociolinguistic and pragmatic elements, as well as a google drive chart focused on vocabulary and grammar for them to study and create their own sentences related to the Can-Dos in preparation for class.  In class, we focus on activities that have them doing whatever the Can-Do is for that day, using the homework text as a model.

Week 3 will involve putting the students in committees to plan the actual party, and I hope to be back with that in a few weeks!

Curriculum Development Part 4: Unit Plan and Week 1 of Party Planning

As I mentioned in my previous curriculum development posts, this year in our Intermediate Arabic classroom we are moving away from the textbook and designing our own units informed by genre-based approaches to language learning.  We are concluding our unit on housing, and starting our unit on planning an end of the year party.  This is the unit I’m primarily responsible for developing, so I thought I would blog that process as I do it.  In previous posts I’ve discussed background information, choosing assessment tasks, finding texts, and introducing intentional translanguaging pedagogy. In this post I’ll discuss making the unit plan and planning the first week of the party unit. The goal of this unit is to have students develop the skills to plan and carry out a language clubs mixer at the end of the semester.

Unit Planning


My first step in planning the overall unit was to map out the weeks for this unit on a large sheet of drawing paper (stolen from my kindergartener 😀).  Here, I listed the weeks and days, and then referred to the original plan my co-teacher and I had made for the semesters to fill in holidays, conferences, and other events that occur in that time period.  This left me with a specific number of days to work with.  I then consulted our original idea about putting students in committees to plan a language clubs mixer/end of the year party as well as the texts I had found this summer representing language functions related to parties and party planning.  Incidentally, I’m really glad I did that over the summer! Based on this, I used different colored post-its to plan out where these language functions could fit into the unit.  I decided to start with texts describing the necessary steps for planning a party, then move to specific pieces of party planning (like ordering food or setting up entertainment), then students’ committee work, then some practice time.  I was also able to leave a flex week to work in challenges we face as we get closer, and a reflection week for review and reflection after the event.  If there’s anything I’ve learned in teaching and planning, it’s that you need to fit in some flex/buffer time to plan for the unexpected, and also some reflection time after the event or project!

Week 1

With a rough plan for the unit laid out, I moved on to planning Week 1 in detail, since that’s starting next week! At the start of each new unit, we include a culture day focused on that topic, where we ask students to research questions related to the unit at home, and then discuss them in class in small groups and then as a class.  This is primarily in English, although, as in all parts of a language class, you’ll find some translanguaging as well.  So, I put that on the schedule for Monday, and made a note for myself to create a culture assignment.  Tuesday was already taken up finishing a telecollaboration assignment from the housing unit, so that left me with Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday to plan lessons working on understanding the steps of planning a party.  For each day, following our incorporation of genre-based approaches, I would need Can-Do Statements related to the topic and an example text of these Can-Do Statements.  

Since I knew that I wanted to focus on the steps in planning a party, I first looked at the texts I’d gathered over the summer on this topic to select the three I thought would work the best.  I narrowed it down to an article on party planning generally, an article on planning a party celebrating someone’s success (since we are celebrating a successful semester inshallah!), and a video on planning a birthday party.  I chose these texts from the ones I’d gathered because they were relatively short and had more accessible language (though my students will likely still find them quite challenging!).

With the texts selected, I made notes on my to-do list to analyze each text, create a homework sheet, and create a google drive chart for each text.  I’ll explain these more later, but essentially because I didn’t have a big chunk of time to work on this unit, I needed to make clear notes to myself about what to do so I could do each task later, without first having to figure out what was it I needed to do again? As you can see in the picture, my list is in three categories: Make, Analyze, and Discuss.  


I also focused on creating clear Can-Do Statements for each day.  Although I have been writing Can-Do Statements since 2014 for our regular year and Summer STARTALK programs, it remains a challenge to write ones that are functional (e.g. I can describe what I did yesterday not I can use the past tense), specific enough (I can describe what I did yesterday, but not I can describe events in the past), and clearly assessable in a class period (I can describe what I did yesterday, but not I can talk about yesterday).  So, for this upcoming week I tried to imagine how students would be performing language functions based on the texts and write examples based on that.  I came up with the following, and then made a note on my to-do list to make a schedule for the students and teachers formatted appropriately.  


  • I can write the steps of a successful party and my ideas for implementing them for our party

  • I can present my ideas to the class


  • I can write the steps for planning a party celebrating success and my ideas for implementing them in our party

  • I can exchange my ideas with my classmates


  • I can write the steps to plan a child’s birthday party

  • I can follow these steps in planning a birthday party for my teacher’s child

The next step was to analyze each text by making a list of vocabulary, grammar, pragmatics, sociolinguistics, and cultural information necessary to understand the text. Because I had time, I chose to analyze all the texts before making the homework related to them, but if I were more pressed for time I would analyze and then make the homework for each text.  As I read or listened to each text (multiple times), I tried to pull out key elements in each category.  For example the vocabulary included words like steps, confirm, reserve, decorations, etc.  The grammar included the imperative form, as well as al-maSdar.  The pragmatics column included works for giving advice, such as “be sure to” or “don’t ever”. The sociolinguistics category included features like the use of MSA or dialect, or the use of English for phrases like “party center”, and under culture I listed specific cultural information that would be important to understanding the text.  Some of these would be obvious to my students (like a graduate cap) and some might be less obvious, like giving perfume/cologne as a party favor.  Of course, there was also overlap between these categories, such as the use of the female second person imperative in two of the texts, indicating that the primary audience for these party planning texts is female.    

I then drew from my analysis to plan the homework students would do for each text, and I’ll draw from it again when planning my lessons, as I couldn’t cram everything into the homework and review is helpful!  For homework, we have students do two items: (1) an example text homework and (2) a google drive chart.  The “example text homework” asks them what they understood and didn’t understand and prepares them to do specific tasks in class (as opposed to just asking comprehension questions).  For these texts, I asked students to identify the party planning steps listed and items they understood and didn’t understand from each step.  There is also a section where we try to draw students attention to what language they can identify in the text that will be useful for doing the Can-Dos in class.  In the past, students have tended to focus on vocabulary and to some extent grammar, so for these texts I chose to specifically target sociolinguistics and pragmatics in these questions (such as who is the audience, how do you know? Or what are some possible reasons the article refers to “party center” in English rather than Arabic?).  We’ll see how this goes.  

In the google drive chart, we list linguistic features (usually vocabulary and grammar, but I’m trying to incorporate more pragmatic features) from the text and have students create sentences using these features that they can (in theory) use in class the next day to “do” the Can-Do Statement.  We also allow students to add to the chart with words that are important to them.  After class, we correct these sentences to give feedback.  For this unit, I chose to copy or transcribe the example sentences from the texts themselves, to give students more context and also show how some of these words repeated throughout the text.  

So, that’s week 1! Hopefully I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with a recap of how it went and plans for Week 2.  

Ethnographic Projects for Study Abroad


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In my very first post on this blog, I discussed how despite popular belief, language and intercultural learning are not automatic outcomes of study abroad.  I also mentioned three key components of study abroad programs necessary to promote these outcomes: language and intercultural contact, reflection upon this contact, and connecting the pre, during, and post sojourn experiences.  In this post, I want to focus on one of my favorite interventions for study abroad, that of ethnographic projects for study abroad.  

What is an ethnographic project for study abroad?

Ethnography is a research method where the researcher(s) spend a lengthy period of time (usually years) within a community, with the purpose of describing the culture of that community from an inside perspective, traditionally through the production of an ethnography.  The tools ethnographers use include participant observations, informal conversations, interviews, photographs, videos, and other visual data.  They then analyze this data to describe the particular culture or cultural practice as it is viewed by members of the community (as opposed to outsiders).  

Ethnographic projects for study abroad use the same tools and methods of analysis, but differ from traditional ethnographies in key ways.  First and foremost, students do not have the training of professional ethnographers, nor do they spend an adequate time in the field.  Secondly, the primary goal is developing students language and intercultural skills, not producing a research project.  The basic sequence is for students to complete training in ethnographic methods at home (the home ethnography) then collect their data while abroad, and then write up their project upon their return home (the abroad ethnography).  

The two main examples of ethnographic projects for study abroad in the research literature I am familiar with are the Language and Residence Abroad (LARA) Project described by Celia Roberts and her associates and the Special English Stream (SES) analyzed by Jane Jackson.  The LARA Project focuses on students from England studying abroad in Germany and Spain and the SES Project on students from Hong Kong studying in England.  More recently, there is the Ethnographic Encounters Project from the University of Southhampton.  I’ve also written about my experience designing an ethnographic project for study abroad (and the challenges therein) in my chapter in this book. I would highly recommend reading the literature on these projects as a basis for creating your own.  

Why are ethnographic projects an appealing intervention? 

I find ethnographic projects for study abroad particularly appealing because they incorporate all of the elements research shows is necessary to promote language and intercultural learning during study abroad: language and intercultural contact, reflection upon this contact, and connecting the pre, during, and post sojourn experiences.  They can also encourage critical approaches to language and intercultural learning, which is something that I think is frequently ignored in language classes, and yet has so much potential for social change if we only made it a focus.  

1) Creating language and intercultural contact:  By forcing students to engage in observations, informal conversations, and interviews, students have to find opportunities for language and intercultural contact.  Even if the possibility of conversing or interviewing in students’ own language exists, the fact that this is part of their language class may make them more likely to incorporate the target language as well, or even better develop an understanding of the social connotations of  different linguistic behaviors.  Second, they have to sustain this contact in order to develop their project—it’s not enough to have one conversation or observation.  

2) Reflecting upon this contact: Due to the emphasis on interpreting data from an insider perspective, students also have to reflect upon multiple ways of interpreting their data, and how their own interpretations may differ from those of community members.  This includes not only their interpretation of what particular conversations or practice mean, but also understanding how their own views are encoded in their data collection (for example if they describe a cafe patron as “attractive”).  This ability to understand situations from multiple perspectives is key to the development of intercultural competence.  

3) Connecting the pre, during, and post sojourn experiences: Students receive training at home, collect data while abroad, and create their final project after their return, which allows for a natural connection between these periods as well as continual focus on language and intercultural competence.  While this can be difficult to orchestrate bureaucratically, research demonstrates that it is essential to create these connections.  

4) Encouraging critical approaches: The potential of critical approaches in the language classroom is probably worthy of an entire post in itself, but for now I’ll focus on a few ways I think ethnographic projects for study abroad can play a key role.  First, a focus on interpreting linguistic and cultural practices can be an introduction to sociolinguistics, particularly how we use language in our construction and interpretation of social identities, and how these identities connect to larger structures of power.  Although all of us do this daily, and learn these identities and power structures in new languages and communities, language students rarely have the opportunity to reflect upon how this works, especially in lower level classes that focus on “neutral” or “standard” varieties.  This takes me to my next point, which is really perhaps the most important one: learning how to critically analyze relationships between language and power in “new” communities can give us new insights to these relationships in familiar ones, because our “new” insights now open up cracks in our previous worldviews, and allow us to see problems in our cultural practices we were previously unaware of, or aware of but unable to describe.  

Designing ethnographic projects for study abroad

Now that I have hopefully convinced you that ethnographic projects for study abroad are a key research-based intervention, the question is how to design them? I’ve designed two of these projects so far, one an independent study for a student abroad for an academic year, and one part of a faculty-led study abroad that included an 8 week at home component and two weeks abroad.  I’ll be revising this latter one when I do this program again later this year.  Based on my experience, I’d say the main considerations are as follows:

1) Timing—how many course hours are available for the project and how long do things actually take? In my academic year project, fitting in extra independent study hours was a major challenge for both the student and myself.  In the faculty-led study abroad, the short time frame meant that I couldn’t simply use materials made for a semester long course as there weren’t as many hours, but then it took me much longer than I anticipated to adapt those materials for a shorter time frame.  Understanding the timing is of course something that gets better with time (and time-tracking!), but it’s definitely worth thinking about from the outset.  

2) Materials—what materials will you use to teach the course? In the academic year project, I used an undergraduate ethnography textbook by Murchison, and in the faculty-led study abroad I modified the LARA project materials.  While I do think it’s easier to start with materials already made for undergraduates, it’s also almost certain that these will need to be modified to fit your context.  For example, some of the LARA project materials had references specific to England (like pub culture) and I had to think about how this might be more relevant to my students.  Alternatively, there might be things you want to include that aren’t in the materials you are using (in my case, critical approaches, which are usually thought of as “advanced”, but I disagree and would like to use them from the beginning).  

3) Activities—what activities will students do and how will they encourage language contact and reflection upon that contact? In both projects I’ve done, I’ve followed a pretty traditional sequence of moving from observations, to informal conversations, to interviews.  While this has worked well, it’s also key to think about how your feedback will fit into the sequence such that you can encourage reflection in subsequent assignments—this is something that was a challenge for these projects as I fell behind upon grading or students fell behind upon completing the activities.  

4) Final project—what will the final project look like? In the two projects I’ve done, I’ve had students write a final paper and also turn in their data collection and analysis, since using these methods for language and intercultural development is more of a focus than the final paper itself.  In my next iteration of this project, I may consider expanding the options to a video and/or recorded presentations to give students more options for expressing themselves, since producing a written ethnography is not actually a key outcome of this type of project.  

5) Post-project reflection—I think this is important for all projects, but especially research-based interventions in language learning.  Both of the projects I’ve done have helped students develop their language and intercultural competence (e.g. making them speak to more people, or use more Arabic, or giving them tools to consider alternative interpretations of situations in subsequent study abroad).  However, neither of them when exactly as I envisioned them going after reading the research literature.  This is party contextual differences, but I think also stems from the fact that we are encouraged to gloss over the challenges of implementing these types of projects in the classroom when we write research articles (as I was when I wrote about these projects in my book chapter, I had to actually argue with the reviewer comments to keep my discussion of the challenges in!).  However, reflecting on what worked and what didn’t, and how much time things actually take, and what materials were more or less accessible to students, and what they need more training on is key to further development of these projects.  

Have you tried these ethnographic projects for study abroad to promote language and intercultural learning? How did it work out? Would you try them in your own program? 

Weekly Planning, Daily Adjustments

As a tenure-track professor with small children who also teaches Highland dancing, I sometimes find it challenging to fit everything in, especially as there are so many parts to all of these that it’s easy to lose track of.  As a professor, I have research, teaching, and service time to fit in, and each of these also has multiple components or projects within it.  For example, with teaching I also have to account for prep, grading, meeting with students, curriculum development, and so on.  For research and service, I have multiple ongoing projects, that can also require coordination with other people.  As a dance teacher, I teach classes and also have to do administrative items like tracking payments, emailing students, planning lessons, and so on on a weekly basis.  I also have larger projects, such as volunteering to run several dance competitions a year.  Finally, with children, in addition to fun family things, there is a significant amount of chores/paperwork etc to divide up with my husband and do my share of.  

While I use my semester plan for the big picture, the key to my current strategy for managing the details is weekly planning and daily adjusting, so I thought I would describe this system in this post.  After all, I like to read about other people’s planning systems for ideas, so maybe you’ll want to read about mine? 

Weekly Plan

I make a weekly plan on Friday afternoons (usually) that goes through the following Sunday (weekend planning is probably a post unto itself).  On my google calendar, I have two calendars, one that shows my ideal weekly plan and another scheduled events.  These never match, so the first step is matching them to come up with a plan that incorporates the events and also has time blocked for everything I need to do.  This results in hard decisions, as I always want to do more things than there is actually time for.  

Then, I copy the plan into my paper planner (yes, this is redundant, but it help me focus so I keep doing it).  This is pictured below for the week of September 10-15.  It is also color-coded, which gives me a quick overview of what my week is focusing on. I also try to leave some blank spaces, I never know what will come up, but I know something will! However, you can see I was not especially successful at that in the week below.  

However, the real key to my system is thinking of this weekly plan as a compass, rather than a strict map.  In nearly three years of following this system, my week has not once followed my actual plan.  Perhaps it’s a sick child, or an unexpected meeting, or I’m just too tired to make significant research progress, or on a more positive note something took less time than planned and I have a free afternoon! 

Daily Adjustments

This is where the daily adjustments come in.  Each day (or better yet, the night before) I make a plan for that day, blocking out time for things with the same color code on the left side of the page.  I use the weekly plan to guide my daily plan, but don’t worry about following it exactly.  For example, I might refer to a previous day to catch up, a subsequent one to work ahead, or add in something new that has come up.  As I go through the day, I also track what I actually did in the right column, and this too doesn’t always match, for the same reasons the weekly doesn’t always match the daily.  

For example, on Monday, there is a pretty good match between my weekly plan, daily plan, and what I did (I find this happens more often on Mondays).  In contrast, you can see that Thursday doesn’t match quite as well.

 And just to keep it real, you can see on Friday I didn’t make the daily plan at all (but did record what I did), and here’s an example from another week where the daily and what I did don’t really match either.  Yet because I have the weekly plan, I’m still able to keep on track when my days get off.  

At the end of the week (Friday afternoon) I do a weekly review (inspired by various productivity systems, but mostly those from Getting Things Done and Organize 365). This allows me to see how I’m doing overall, and where I need to focus the next week.  You can see this recorded at the bottom of my weekly plan.  

Do you do weekly planning and daily adjusting? What systems work for you? Let me know!

Curriculum Development Part 3: Introducing Intentional Translanguaging Pedagogy

In my last post, I talked about why it is so important to be aware of language ideologies in the language classroom.  One major reason is the class in expectations that can occur between students, teachers, and textbooks when there are ideological mismatches, as there is no ideology free classroom (despite what we sometimes pretend with “neutral” language and so on).  This past week, we embarked on our first unit (housing) without the textbook (though keeping some texts from the textbook).  As an introduction, I held a discussion of intentional translanguaging pedagogy with my students, as I feel like being explicit about the language ideologies informing how I design my classes is important.  I wasn’t sure how this would go, as at least initially, I think translanguaging often flies in the face of what people imagine to be the “ideal” language classroom (all Arabic, all the time).  While some students were certainly more interested than others, most of them seemed to like turning the lense on their language use, and to really think about it in a less restrictive way than is this Arabic (great!) or not (bad!).  So, I though I would share the actual process I used in case it might be helpful in other classrooms.  

First, I asked if anyone had every heard of translanguaging.  No one had.  I then asked if anyone had heard of code-switching, and several students immediately perked up.  So, I presented the following example (taken from my data on study abroad in Jordan) of an language partner explaining why he was participating in the program (I’m presenting all these examples as screenshots of my slides as apparently I was not smart enough to pick a website platform that supports rtl languages and translanguaging: 

Screenshot 2018-09-20 17.06.26.png

I then showed the following slide, explaining that looking at this utterance from a code-switching perspective would focus on the two codes (Arabic and English) and how the speaker was switching between them to speak.  

Screen Shot 2018-09-20 at 11.39.36 AM.png

I then showed this next slide, explaining that from a translanguaging perspective, this utterance came from the speaker’s unique linguistic repertoire, which overlaps what we call certain languages.  I also pointed out that it is contextually based—since the speaker was talking to me, he drew from parts of his repertoire that overlap with Arabic and English, but not Russian for example.  

Screen Shot 2018-09-21 at 8.50.45 AM.png

Then, I asked the students to discuss this idea in small groups, and in five minutes each group had to ask me at least one question about this idea.  They had some great questions, which also allowed us to get into ideas like the fuzzy and liquid nature of linguistic borders, psycholinguistic representations of language, and so on.  

Next, I had the students reflect upon their own linguistic repertoires, emphasizing that this was not just limited to “languages” but also included dialects.  I was inspired to use Scottish Highland Dance theory as an example of how my linguistic repertoire does not overlap theirs entirely, even though we all “speak English”.*

Then, I introduced what I like to call intentional** translanguaging pedagogy with this slide, and assured students we were about to get to some actual examples:

Screen Shot 2018-09-20 at 11.40.04 AM.png

Then, we went through the following three examples, with students discussing in small groups how these could be examples of intentional translanguaging pedagogy, and then sharing their discussions with the class.  These are all made up examples, but if you teach a language class, I think you will recognize their patterns.  

The first example is an exchange between a student and a teacher:

Screenshot 2018-09-20 17.07.27.png

Here, we discussed how when the student runs into words they don’t know in Arabic, they simply say them in English, because in a bilingual environment like the Arabic language classroom, they know their peers and teacher will understand.  This allows the student to actual use more Arabic than if they had stopped to look up or ask for these words, so it is an example of translanguaging to expand their linguistic repertoire to use more Arabic.  When the teacher responds, they have the linguistic repertoire to say “health insurance” in Arabic, so they are also drawing from their full linguistic repertoire to help the student learn Arabic (by understanding the English and speaking the Arabic).  This is only possible because they are bilingual, and differs from if they had simply responded to the student with the Arabic words for “health insurance” and “ceramics”, correcting them.  Overall, the message is taking advantage of the bilingual environment to expand one’s linguistic repertoire, rather than looking at the use of English as a failure.  

The next example is between students, in the context of students translanguaging to prepare a skit to perform in front of the class and then performing the actual skit monolingually.

Screenshot 2018-09-20 17.07.34.png

Here, we discussed how students translanguaged in process to present a monolingual product.  Students noted that when planning, using English could save time and help them organize their thoughts, but it was useful to use Arabic so they were sure they knew how to say what they were planning to say and it helped them get ready.  So again, this is an example of drawing from the full linguistic repertoire to expand it to more Arabic.  

The challenge with the examples presented thus far is that of course they present translanguaging as a scaffold to monolingualism, and while it certainly can be a scaffold, it’s important to keep in mind that monolingualism is not necessarily the goal.  To present the idea of a creative translanguaging space that transcends monolingualism, I presented the following slide with bilingual jokes.  Unfortunately, I felt like I didn’t have enough time to really emphasize this point, but at least I included it.  

The final example was one from outside of the classroom, as something that is coming up more and more in my own research is how a classroom focused on a monolingual, Arabic only ideal, doesn’t necessarily prepare students to interact outside of the classroom in multilingual situations, where multilingual people will, for example, not always speak only in Arabic with them.  So, the final example was from a discussion between an Arabic speaker (not a teacher) and an Arabic student.  

Screenshot 2018-09-20 17.07.41.png

This example led to a lot of interesting discussions.  Students noted that in this exchange, both parties got to use a language they might want to practice, and the student got not only language information, but cultural content information (something also of interest to students!).  We discussed how this allowed both speakers to identify as speakers of both languages, something that is generally important when you’ve invested a lot of effort in learning a language! Students suggested that perhaps the Arabic speaker repeated themselves in English to ensure that the student got the language and the information, and we discussed how this could be especially important in an Islamophobic context, where speakers are concerned about misrepresentations of their culture and religion.  I also pointed out that sometimes bilingual English and Arabic speakers use English for emphasis in an Arabic conversation, and this could also be an example of this practice.  So, lots to think about! 

I concluded with this slide, which asks what I think is a common question when we discuss translanguaging pedagogy in the language classroom, especially in the context of English speakers learning other languages:

Happily, at this point in the discussion, students were able to offer a resounding NO! I then proposed the following question as an important one to ask that is more nuanced than am I speaking Arabic or not.

This was my first attempt at introducing translanguaging pedagogy in the language classroom, and I’m sure it could be improved, particularly in terms of helping students realize that translanguaging isn’t simply a scaffold to monolingualism.  However, I was impressed overall with the topics we were able to discuss in such as short period of time (about 50 minutes!).  Do you have favorite strategies for teaching about translanguaing pedagogy in the language classroom? If so, let me know in the comments!

*I’m not sure transpassioning is a term, but I am always super excited when I get to use Arabic and Highland Dancing in the same context!

**In reality, translanguaging pedagogy is always intentional, but I think we are especially likely to forget this when we think about English speakers learning other languages so I put it in the term as a reminder.

Why awareness of language ideologies is important


Photo by Tim Huyghe on Unsplash

“Ideology” can be a dismissive turn people use to critique or undermine certain ideas or practices by contrasting this “ideology” with facts, or science, or reality.  On the one hand, the dismissers are right—these are “just ideologies.”  On the other hand, it’s also not the case that there is  a reality free of ideologies.  Ideologies may simply be a collection of beliefs, but these beliefs shape our perceptions and experiences of what we call “reality.”  Thus, the problem is not the existence of ideologies, but rather our lack of awareness of how ideologies are always shaping our world.  Below, I’ll address some reasons I think it’s critical to be aware of language ideologies in the language classroom.  

Ideologies inform our expectations

A key reason to be aware of our language ideologies is that they inform our expectations for what should be taught in the language classroom, what is “good” language, and what proficiency in a language means.  For example, if our expectations are informed by nation-state ideologies of language, we will seek to make an environment of monolingual immersion in the classroom and expect students to produce “standard” language that gets as close as possible to the linguistic behavior of a monolingual native speaker.  If our expectations are informed by folk linguistic theories of language, we will expect lots of vocabulary and grammar exercises, followed by texts or interactions applying this vocabulary and grammar points.  In contrast, if our expectations are informed by formal theories of language, we will expect little or no grammar lessons, and extensive input and use of the language in activities.  If our expectations are informed by functional theories of language, we will expect a strong connection between classroom activities and social functions.  If our expectations are informed by translanguaging theory, we will also expect a connection between language and social function, and instead of worrying about target language immersion as how our linguistic choices contribute to our language learning.  Clearly, there are lots of potential expectations for a language classroom depending on what types of ideologies are contributing to our expectations for this setting.  

Real life consequences

Thus, while ideologies are imagined, they are certainly very real in the way they shape our expectations for the language classroom.  In a program where the curriculum, teacher, and students all subscribe to differing language ideologies, but these ideologies are not explicitly recognized, there can be frustration and even conflict—why is the teacher speaking so much Arabic? Or why is she speaking so much English? Why does she mix language? Why are there so many grammar activities? We need more grammar activities! Why won’t the students use the target language? Why don’t they study the vocabulary? Why can’t they conjugate verbs, we learned this two years ago! Why does the textbook teach such pointless vocabulary? Why does the textbook teach non-standard language? Why does the textbook only teach the language of the most powerful speakers of this language? 

If you’ve taught a language class, I’m sure you’ve experienced this conflict of expectations in designing curricula, using textbooks, reading student evaluations, talking with students, and discussing teaching with peers.  Yet in all of these discussions, some of which seem never-ending (e.g. the great fus7a-3aamiyya debate), I find there is rarely an explicit discussion of our language ideologies and how they impact our expectations, even though these ideologies are the root of the conflict.  Being aware of our ideologies means we can explain why we have certain expectations.

Open to reimagination

It can certainly be disconcerting to discover that beliefs and practices you assume are natural are actually imagined.  However, this realization is also quite powerful, because it means that there is the potential for reimagining a better world (or language classroom).   For example, if we are aware that an expectation of learning vocabulary, then grammar, and then putting it together comes from a particular ideology of language, we can consider what other options there are, and whether these are more appealing for our language learning (or not!).  If we’re aware that our desire to achieve a certain “native-like” pronunciation has it’s roots in nationalism, perhaps we’ll question this goal, or even stop judging and categorizing accents generally.  

Language learning for real social change

Language learning (especially during study abroad!) is frequently viewed as a way to reduce social conflict (or even promote world peace!) by promoting intercultural dialogue and tolerance.  Now, intercultural dialogue and tolerance are certainly crucial elements of social change, but they are not automatic results of language learning nor are they enough on their own.  As with study abroad, reflection upon this contact is also essential.  Taking this reflection a step further, to critically examine how our language ideologies shape our expectations and evaluations of intercultural conversations can let us question whether these are the ideologies we want to be shaping our world.  If they’re not, how can we reimagine them?  What would you like to reimagine?