Curriculum Development Part 2: Finding Texts

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This post is part of an ongoing series as I document our process for developing curricular units inspired by genre-based approaches to language learning and translanguaging pedagogy.  Previous posts in the series include a background post and choosing tasks (Part 1).  

After choosing our tasks as the first stage in curriculum development, our next step is choosing texts that serve as examples of people doing these tasks in Arabic.  This (for me at least) is the most challenging part of developing this type of curriculum, for a variety of reasons I’ll describe below.  However, I think making connections between the language functions, or Can-Do statements we’re trying to do, and example texts is essential.  It’s also worth noting that here, and in genre-based approaches generally, texts are not limited to written documents—they can be written, but they can also be audio, video, or multi-modal.  With that as background, here are some considerations for selecting texts and processes for finding them.  

Considerations for selecting texts:

1) Text as example or text as information: In the paragraph above, I described finding texts that were examples of people doing the can-do statements.  In the party planning unit, this includes videos of end of the school year parties, which show introductions, class presentations, and awards, and so on.  However, there are also texts that can be used for information.  For example, I found an article online that describes the steps and recommendations for planning a party celebrating someone’s success.  While I will not ask my students to write an article using this text as a model, they can use it to make sure they are following the necessary steps in planning their party, and getting ideas of what to do.  

2) Language level: This is where I have given up on texts in the past, as the texts I would find on the internet just seemed so far above the level of my beginning and intermediate students that it wasn’t clear to me how they would be useful examples of people doing our targeted Can-Do statement.  However, the more I do this, the more this become less of an issue.  First of all, if the example text is way above the students’ level, but is an example of a language function I’m expecting them to do, perhaps this is an indicator that this whole language function is above their proficiency level.  If it seems just a little out of reach, this may be because there’s a mismatch between the language needed to perform the language function this text is an example of, and what I’m actually teaching in class (because I’m using a textbook that is based on different texts).  In this case, I just need to change my teaching to focus on what is in the example texts I want to use, rather than what is in the textbook.  After all, the reason the textbook texts are more accessible (perhaps) is that they come with vocabulary lists, and grammar explanations, and cultural information, and written transcripts, etc.  So rather than ask myself will my students understand this text right now, I ask can I lead them up to understanding these example or informational texts? Finally, I don’t have to use the entire text.  In my party planning example, I’m not going to expect that my students watch and understand several hour long videos of end of the year parties.  Within the party, there are several different functions, so I’ll group those together (introductions, introducing people, performing, awarding prices, thanking people, etc.) and just assign those parts of the text initially.  This also has the benefit of steering what I teach to the language function, rather than looking for intriguing texts that “activate” certain vocabulary or grammatical structures assumed to be the starting point of language learning (see formal approaches).  This looking for texts to activate vocabulary or grammar seems to be a fairly common approach in language teaching, and while I support including interesting texts, I think we need to start with texts as examples of functions, not linguistic elements.  

Processes for finding texts: 

In professional development workshops and readings on using texts in the language classroom, I have found that there is a lot of emphasize on why we should use authentic* texts, and how to use them in different ways, across different language levels.  However, HOW to find these texts is not usually discussed, even though this is in my experience the most challenging and time-consuming part of using texts.  I basically find texts in three places: the internet, existing textbooks, and making my own.  

1) The Internet: This is perhaps the most obvious place to find texts, especially given the proliferation of videos, articles, and social media interactions today.  It is also usually where I start.  However, there is also so much information, it can be overwhelming—who has time to sift through the entire internet looking for the perfect video of an end of the year party? To remedy this, here are some strategies I use in looking for texts:

A) Set a time limit: Depending on the size of the project, I’ll usually give myself 2-6 hours (not necessarily at once) and commit to using whatever I’ve found at the end of that period or moving on to another method of finding texts (see below).  

B) Searching by medium: While I might start with a general google search, I’ll then narrow it down by medium (YouTube for end of the year party recordings or Google Images for examples of invitations).  

C) Using suggested results:  This can include suggested search results by google, and also recommendations based on the text I’m looking at.  For example, if I look at a few end of the year party videos, YouTube will start recommending more.  The first article I read on mawdoo3.com (found via google) was about birthday party planning, but then in the recommended articles section, I found the article on planning a party to celebrate someone’s success, which was more relevant to my unit.  

2) The textbook: As detailed in our background post, this is a strategy we’ve used to save time as we develop our curriculum.  It simply requires viewing the textbook not as a sequence in itself (usually vocabulary to grammar to text) but as a collection of texts from which you can pull to address certain language functions (and that usually have accompanying vocab lists!).  Using this strategy, rather than following the sequential order of the textbook, you just pull the texts that address the language functions you’re targeting.  For example in our housing unit, we’re using some (but not all) of the videos from Al-Kitaab 2 where Khaled discusses repairs in his apartment, or Ustaaza Kristen searches for an apartment.  

3) Making our own: If we can’t find something on the internet or in the textbook, we make our own, either recording a video or writing a text.  This is also time-consuming, but has an end product, as opposed to spending that same amount of time searching more and possibly not finding a result.  

So, that is step 2 in our curriculum development, finding tasks.  I hope this is a helpful description of how we find texts to address the tasks, or language functions, we’re choosing to address, and what we take into consideration in choosing them.  Do you have favorite ways of finding or selecting texts for class according to language function? Let me know!

 

*In language teaching this usually means “by native speakers for native speakers” a highly problematic definition I’ll come back to at some point.  For now though this would include the texts I find on the internet (e.g. a recording of the end of the year party in a school in Morocco), but not the ones from the textbook or the ones I make.