curriculum development

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? 

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


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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


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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 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 (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.  

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):

Screenshot 2018-05-30 17.43.23.png

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:

Screenshot 2018-05-30 17.44.46.png

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:

Screenshot 2018-05-30 17.48.20.png

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):

Screenshot 2018-05-31 07.06.33.png

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!


Curriculum Development: The Background


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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!