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 very first post on this blog, I discussed how despite popular belief, language and intercultural learning are not automatic outcomes of study abroad. I also mentioned three key components of study abroad programs necessary to promote these outcomes: language and intercultural contact, reflection upon this contact, and connecting the pre, during, and post sojourn experiences. In this post, I want to focus on one of my favorite interventions for study abroad, that of ethnographic projects for study abroad.
As a tenure-track professor with small children who also teaches Highland dancing, I sometimes find it challenging to fit everything in, especially as there are so many parts to all of these that it’s easy to lose track of. As a professor, I have research, teaching, and service time to fit in, and each of these also has multiple components or projects within it. For example, with teaching I also have to account for prep, grading, meeting with students, curriculum development, and so on. For research and service, I have multiple ongoing projects, that can also require coordination with other people. As a dance teacher, I teach classes and also have to do administrative items like tracking payments, emailing students, planning lessons, and so on on a weekly basis. I also have larger projects, such as volunteering to run several dance competitions a year. Finally, with children, in addition to fun family things, there is a significant amount of chores/paperwork etc to divide up with my husband and do my share of.
While I use my semester plan for the big picture, the key to my current strategy for managing the details is weekly planning and daily adjusting, so I thought I would describe this system in this post. After all, I like to read about other people’s planning systems for ideas, so maybe you’ll want to read about mine?
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.
“Ideology” can be a dismissive turn people use to critique or undermine certain ideas or practices by contrasting this “ideology” with facts, or science, or reality. On the one hand, the dismissers are right—these are “just ideologies.” On the other hand, it’s also not the case that there is a reality free of ideologies. Ideologies may simply be a collection of beliefs, but these beliefs shape our perceptions and experiences of what we call “reality.” Thus, the problem is not the existence of ideologies, but rather our lack of awareness of how ideologies are always shaping our world. Below, I’ll address some reasons I think it’s critical to be aware of language ideologies in the language classroom.
Trello is my favorite digital organization tool, and I use it to organize basically everything in my life. It essentially consists of “cards” that you put into “lists” on a “board”. I make a board for each class I teach where the lists are the weeks of the semester (including the week before and after) and the cards are things I need to do for my class each week. There’s also a “Done” list that cards get moved to as they are completed.
Translanguaging as a concept and translanguaging as a pedagogical practice are hot topics in the field of Applied Linguistics these days (or at least the circles I’m in). As I’ve written earlier on this blog, I find translanguaging pedagogy a compelling approach for language classrooms, including Teaching English Speakers Other Languages (my version of TESOL :-)). However, while translanguaging pedagogy is certainly a new mindset for those of us raised with and trained in monolingual ideologies of language, it is worth emphasizing that these practices, including their pedagogical applications, are not new at all. In this post I’m going to highlight work on translanguaging in a few different African contexts. I think these are examples from which those of us who are less familiar with translanguaging can learn about translanguaging as a social and pedagogical practice and begin to adapt these practices to our own 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.
This blog will be on break for a bit as I run a summer program and dance competition among other things, but I'll be back soon!
The meme above seems to be making the rounds for everything these days, and the image above popped up in my Facebook feed the other day. I smiled, because it my experience it captures a common conundrum in Arabic teaching—we usually focus on Modern Standard Arabic, MSA, الفصحى in the classroom, much to the dismay of many Arabic students, especially those who go abroad. In my own research on Arabic study abroad students, many of them complain about the “uselessness” of fus7a, and support studying Arabic dialects prior to study abroad, so they don’t lose time learning 3ammiyya (although my research also shows they pick up major dialect features quite quickly, sometimes within a few weeks of going abroad). Students and teachers that oppose dialect teaching typically point to the regional variations in dialects, and that students travel to different locations and teachers in the same program may be familiar with varying regional dialects. In this perspective, MSA is seen as being a “neutral” variety because it is used across geographical regions (although research also shows that there is geographical variation in MSA, and speakers of different regional varieties do not necessarily switch into MSA to speak to each other). Thus, whether to teach dialects or not is a seemingly never-ending debate with strong feelings (and not much research) on both sides.
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:
Last week, I talked about how the language of social relationships is often overlooked in beginning language classes, and I think this is one reason students use English. As language teachers, I think we tend to view beginning language classes as the start of a language learning journey, or a step to more advanced classes or study abroad (despite the fact that it’s actually also the end for many students, especially with the way language requirements and offerings are being eliminated these days in the U.S.). Yet choices about what is taught in beginning language classes are also excellent insights into ideologies of language, that again we rarely think about as teachers. Here are some examples:
In my last post, I discussed some practices where I think translanguaging pedagogy simply gives us a new mindset on practices that already occur in the language classroom (or at least in my classroom). In this post, I want to focus on an area of the language classroom where I think we could be more intentional about the use of translanguaging, namely social practices in the classroom.
As is most likely clear from previous posts on nation-state ideologies of language and the multilingual turn, I find the latter a more appealing ideology for my language classroom, especially when combined with functional approaches to linguistics, that emphasize what learners do with language in actual contexts. Yet, as usual, the challenge for combining theory and practice is in the implementation—the theory sounds good, but what does it look like?
The “Multilingual Turn” is a term used to critique the monolingual ideologies originating in the nation-state that have dominated research in Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition in the U.S. Although multilingual ideologies of language have long existed in highly multilingual contexts, they have recently gained traction in critiques of the fields of Second Language Acquisition, Multilingual education, and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). However, there is certainly a gap in bringing this ideology to the U.S. language classroom where English speakers are learning other languages. These are my thoughts on the implications of a few key tenets of the multilingual turn for the language classroom.