Curriculum Development: The Background

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Image from Comfreak on pixabay.com  

Last week, I discussed ways to make time and space for reflection as a language teacher, a practice I think is generally overlooked in teaching.  For me, an outcome of reflection is a plan for the future, and this is how we work to make our courses and curriculum better over time.  Now that I have this blog, I thought it would be interesting to document this process, especially as this upcoming Fall is the first one where we will be ditching our textbook entirely for the second year class. 

The more I teach, the more I become interested in the process, and the complex interplays between theories of language, theories of pedagogy, context and practice.  When I first started teaching, I would become frustrated when I couldn’t match what I envisioned as the “ideal” theory or practice to the classroom.  Yet as I gain more experience, I find these interactions between theory, practice, and context to be the most fascinating, and I think my teaching is the better for it.  But, before I get into our current plans, I thought it would be useful to provide some background on the phases our Arabic curriculum has gone through since I’ve been involved with it.

1) Textbook as curriculum: This is probably my least favorite curriculum model, but it is easy, especially when you are starting a new job, or developing multiple courses at once.  Essentially, in this phase, we just followed the activities in our textbook, which was based in communicative language teaching using a folklinguistic theory of language.  So, students would learn some vocabulary, then practice it in various interactive activities, then listen to a textbook story using it, then learn some grammar, practice that, listen/read another textbook text, and so on.  Homework and classwork was mostly based on activities in the book.  The issue with this, of course, is that I prefer functional theories of language to folk linguistic ones.

2) Integrating Can-Do Statements: To move from a curriculum informed by folk linguistic theories to functional ones, our first step was to integrate Can-Do Statements, using those developed by NCSSFL-ACTFL.  However, we also weren’t ready to ditch the textbook, so we matched those Can-Do Statements to the chapters in our textbook, and those became the goals of our lessons.  So, for example, a chapter where the textbook character describes her family would include the statement “I can describe my family.”  With these as our lesson goals, we moved away from using the textbook activities in class, but still assigning related ones as homework.  This allowed us to align our curriculum to things people do with language, rather than the activities in the textbook.  The challenge was that there was not always much of a relationship between the activities students would do at home, and what we would do in class.  

3) Integrating texts to use Genre-Based Approaches: To integrate our homework and classwork activities, we also started drawing more from genre-based approaches, which I talk about more on this page of my site.  The first step was starting with texts, where texts are oral, written, or multimodal, but essentially provide examples of people doing our target Can-Do statements.  We used texts from the textbook, scoured the internet, and also recorded or wrote some of our own.  As you might guess, this was extremely time-consuming, but did seem effective.  

The challenge, after implementing steps 2 and 3 (in addition to the time spent finding and making materials) was that we were still following the sequence of the textbook, so our sequence of Can-Dos was rather random.  One day might be “I can describe my family” and the next “I can make a purchase”.  In addition, we found that some of the Can-Dos developed by NCSSFL-ACTFL were very broad, such as “I can understand a YouTube video” while some were oddly specific “I can understand a voice mail from an exchange student about why she is late”.  For this reason, while our individual lessons seemed successful, the overall sequence of the curriculum seemed off. 

4) Sequencing according to Can-Do, rather than textbook:  To improve the overall sequence of our curriculum, we stopped grouping Can-Dos (and their example texts) according to their place in the textbook, and tried to group them based on their relation to each other.  This meant spending a week or so on a particular Can-Do with several example texts, rather than jumping from Can-Do to Can-Do because that was how the texts were sequenced in the book.  At this point, the textbook became simply a source for texts, rather than something we followed in sequential order or used  activities from (although we did keep to the overall unit structure, for the most part). 

5) Can-Dos as the curriculum: Our final step (thus far) and the one I’ll be talking about on this blog is our decision to get rid of the textbook entirely and have our entire curriculum be formed around Can-Do statements.  Stay tuned for more details as we implement this in our second year class in the upcoming academic year!