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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
I first learned about genre-based approaches to language teaching in a pedagogy class in graduate school, where we read two articles describing various aspects of the Georgetown German Curriculum. I was immediately attracted to this approach, and have been working to implement this type of curriculum for the last six years in our Arabic classes (it’s been a long process!). In this post, I want to focus on the reasons I find this approach so appealing, and why I keep coming back to it despite the challenges I’ll discuss, and also how I hope to expand it in the future.
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 بنا!
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.
In my very first post, I noted the importance of reflection for intercultural learning during study abroad—that is, it’s not enough to simply have intercultural contact, but it’s also necessary to reflect upon this contact. This is also true for teaching—it’s not enough to receive training, and design curricula, and implement lessons, we also need to reflect upon our practices in order to learn from them. Yet oddly enough, it is this step that is rarely built into our jobs as language teachers—we attend conferences and professional development, we make curricula, we design lessons, we teach classes, we grade, and all of these have specific times and places assigned to them. Sure, we can get behind on grading, but we’ll still finish it by the end of the term, and we’re unlikely to show up to class without some sort of plan (hopefully). Yet despite the importance of reflecting upon what we do and how we teach, there’s rarely scheduled time or space for this, and even when we recognize its importance, it’s the first thing to go in the crunch of grading and prepping (at least in my experience). So, in honor of the end of the semester, I thought I’d share some ways that I’ve built reflective practice into my own language teaching (and our Arabic section as a whole).
Last week, I discussed several popular methods of organizing beginning language classes under the overarching critique of focusing on either decontextualized sets of language or prioritizing transactions over social relationships. This week, I’m focusing on what I am interested in implementing in my classroom, drawing from both functional theories of language and translanguaging pedagogy. Language teaching contexts and preferred ideologies vary, so I want to be clear that I don't think there is a one size fits all for the beginning language classroom. However, I do think that too often we don’t even think about what ideologies are informing our practice, and if these are ideologies we even agree with! So, here are some things that my colleagues and I are working on or plan to implement in our classes: