Curriculum Development Part 1: Choosing Assessment Tasks

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As I mentioned last week, the current stage of our curriculum development is creating our own curriculum and materials.  Given time constraints (a constant in teaching!) we are focusing on doing this only in our second year class in the upcoming academic year, and making only minor modifications to the other classes.  With the permission of my colleagues (and yes, they read this blog) I’m going to try to document this process here as we go.  يالله بينا!

Step 1: Choosing topics/tasks: We knew that we wanted to basically have our entire curriculum be a sequence of Can-Do Statements, with periodic formal assessments of our students abilities to do this activity.  In our end of the semester reflection meeting, we reviewed the Can-Do Statements we had targeted last year in Arabic 211, looking for shared themes.  A key in our development of the curriculum so far has been a distinction between Can-Do Statements as language functions (e.g. I can ask and answer simple questions) and Can-Do Statements related to a particular topic (e.g. I can ask and answer simple questions about an apartment I want to rent).  This may seem obvious, but it took us several years to make this realization/distinction!  Based on the topics we had covered last semester, we brainstormed the following main topics in our reflection meeting (this is a screenshot of part of our google doc):

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We also discussed our next steps, and came up with the following.  Notably, we want to incorporate news (a student interest) and emotional responses (something that is generally lacking in our academic-focused classrooms) in all topics:

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At our next meeting, we focused on designing assessment tasks related to these topics, specifically ones that we could implement in our actual classroom (possibly with the help of higher level Arabic students, so students aren’t waiting to role-play a simsaar situation with a teacher).  Here is a screenshot of our brainstorming of tasks related to housing:

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As you can see, this is fairly complicated.  So was our other task (organizing an end of the semester party for language students), so at this point we decided we could probably drop the jobs topic entirely, especially as intermediate level students are unlikely to apply for jobs in Arabic (they might use Arabic, but would apply in English or another language they are more fluent in).  To be sure, we made a semester chart (I love charts! But apparently I’ve converted my colleague because she suggested it first :-)).  The semester chart basically involves making a chart of all 17 weeks of the semester, adding in holidays and days we’ll be at conferences, and then putting in our units.  Once we looked at the time we had to finish the first year textbook and  fit in the housing and party units, it was pretty clear we could drop jobs.  Here is the part of the semester chart related to housing (the first column is the week of the semester, the rest are Monday-Friday):

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For each unit, we also made a list of texts (e.g. related listening or reading items) we’ve used in the past.  We may or may not use these, but at least we know we have them! We also brainstormed cultural information related to the topic we’d need to cover, as a key part of our curriculum redesign will be incorporating this in a meaningful way.  

We also thought about ways in which these topics are multilingual.  For example, while students could negotiate renting an apartment in Arabic, if they read an ad for it, it is likely to be in English, because it will be an apartment targeting rental by foreigners, not locals.  In previous years, we’ve used rental ads for villas in Arabic, which were interesting and fun, but also contribute to a monolingual ideology that is unlikely to match the reality of abroad (although if you are a foreigner who has rented an apartment in the Arab world using a housing ad in Arabic, please let me know!).  In terms of our end of the year party, we thought it would be fun to have our students (who all speak languages besides English and Arabic) design invitations in these languages as well and we could invite all the languages students to the actual event.  

Next Steps: Our next steps (to be continued after we finish with our summer program) will be to look for reading and listening texts that can be considered examples of the Can-Dos we want our students to do, or of subtasks leading up to them.  This (in our experience) is by far the most difficult part of our curriculum development, as hours of scouring the internet for texts accessible at the intermediate level and related to our Can-Dos can still leave us short  (So if you know of any Arabic texts related to housing or party organizing, send them to me!).  We’ll also analyze these texts for the grammar, vocabulary, pragmatic, sociolinguistic, and cultural information students need to complete the task, and then incorporate all of this into our lesson plans. 

So, stay tuned (later this Summer) for our next steps in curriculum development! If you have questions or comments, let me know!