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Category: Authentic materials

Observing Arabic SILP

by Alicia Brill

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to observe an intermediate level Arabic SILP class.  This particular instructor seemed to epitomize Graves’ book on The Energy to Teach.  Arriving to class on a gloomy Friday morning, the teacher hummed with energy – as evidenced by his smile, light in his eyes, expressive eyebrows, and so on.  While the students were called on to participate in class, the teacher had clearly built up enough of a rapport with the students that they were willing to speak and didn’t seem overtly put out by being called on.  There was a jovial atmosphere in the classroom; students were willing to try out the language, even if they didn’t always pronounce the vocabulary correctly or inflect for the proper tense.  The teacher did praise and encourage the students for their efforts, and seemed to try and put the students at ease through the use of humor, expressive facial features, body language, and more.  I felt immediately at ease in his classroom; I even tried to use my very minimal Arabic to share what my favorite fruit is (strawberry – الفراولة).  For me, learning a language is all about putting students at ease with a bit of a push for good measure.  To stretch the song a bit – I was thinking of “A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down” – well maybe sugar could be you’re the affective atmosphere you cultivate in your classroom while the medicine is the push needed to make students break outside of their comfort zones a wee bit?  Anyhow, all I know is that I would follow this particular teacher halfway around the world – to Jordan – to take his Arabic class myself during the regular school year; he was that good!

Last thought, this is the video the instructor used with the class to work on fruit names in Arabic.  It’s a catchy song – was humming it all weekend – like it or not.  The teacher actually tried to have his students sing the song, but to no avail.  This might have been because the students didn’t know the actual lyrics – rather than due to not wanting to sing and/or participate.  Finally, if you do watch the video, notice that the apple was being WASHED in the video (presumably before the kids eat it) which could draw out a really good conversation about germs and bacteria, the importance of washing food, health and hygiene, etc.  Language learning is possible through even the smallest of details. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XP3i0ZAhhAo

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Childhood Reading – what inspired you?

by Alicia Brill

I am curious to know – what was your favorite childhood book [or series of books] and why?  This can be in any language; I am just interested to know!  Was it a required reading for school or something you read on your own?

While it’s hard to select just a few – I would say that the Nancy Drew series and Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech had the greatest impact on me.  Walk Two Moons was a required reading in the 6th grade about a girl named Salamanca Tree Hiddle and while I don’t remember much of the plot line, the book had a quite memorable saying that has stuck with me ever since – “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.”  I think that this captures the essence of our field as language educators, who are trying to bridge cross cultural barriers, helping people to suspend judgment about the unknown and approach others who are seemingly ‘not like you’ with compassion and an attempt at understanding [this reminded me a lot of Jennie and I’s Speaker-Understander session, with her talking about her high school international students].  The Nancy Drew books were just for fun, but I guess Nancy Drew was like a girl’s version of MacGyver – Nancy could accomplish anything she set out to achieve – and why not?  I can see how the books I read as a child really shaped me as a person, and wonder if others have similar stories to share?

Review of lesson plan issues

by pshaw48

Here are some thoughts on the six questions posed about lesson planning during our needs assessment discussion.  Responses welcome here (especially additional ideas) and there will be a discussion in class.

  1. Connecting lessons to units to syllabus & program goals

Let’s take the goal issue first.  I think the most tangible and significant connections are the following:

COGNITIVE GOALS:  these should be reflected in the content of units and lessons.  They may also show up in the tasks which focus on learning about language.

PERFORMATIVE GOALS:  these will be seen in the task menu you draw from:  goals related to particular skills (reading for main points, accurate pronunciation, etc) will show up in corresponding tasks, including rehearsal and feedback activities.

AFFECTIVE GOALS:  these are the least likely to appear in planning artefacts,  though they may be suggested in community, class and team building exercises.  They are more visible in your pedagogy and teaching style, as well the organization of the classroom, what appears on the walls, and so forth.

METACOGNITIVE GOALS:  these statements will be reflected in processing tasks: Crabbe’s Learning about learning type and Bloom’s levels 4 and 5.  They may also be seen in such projects as learning journals, guidelines for course blog posts and the like.

For particularly tangible and specific links, you can try making a poster of key syllabus goals and, as a reflective task, directing students to re-read one or two and discuss how that goal has been met during recent class activities and learning outcomes.  An alternative is for student teams to have course goals available on cards in an envelope; from time to time, they spread them out on the table and (a) identify one which have recently been advanced and/or ones which are currently stalled or neglected; (b) rank them from most achieved to least achieved or most to least challenging;  (c) identify one or two which most need attention in coming classes.

  1. 2.      Confidence in lesson plans;  Over/underestimating time

I think the solution to both issues like is being PREPARED as well as having a feasible and effective lesson plan.   The problem of over- or under-estimating time goes away as long as we remain attentive to how things are going.  If students need more time and the task is significant, then we permit more time;  this means that subsequent tasks are postponed for the next lesson, combined into fewer tasks or abandoned.  If tasks are completed more rapidly than planned, then our preparation (extra materials, more options for learners, etc) kicks in to fill the gap.  One traditional example is having plenty of materials on hand so that students can engage in sustained silent reading of personally chosen items when time permits.  We shall also see this when we discuss work stations: the guideline is to always provide more stations than students could complete so that they always have options and so that your PREPARATION supports your PLANNING.  This also provides us with the confidence in our lessons that making teaching such a delight.

  1. 3.      Balance between structured/flexible plans; task specification; Incorporating teacher-centric activities

(a)    Structured/flexible:  remember that moving from Beginning through Emerging and Applying involves gradually becoming more flexible.  I think this also applies to moving through a course: add more flexibility as students become more and more comfortable and confident making choices.  If you want to seriously consider student input and suggestions, be sure to give yourself enough time to consider them; ask for a moment or two to reflect.

(b)   Task specification:  be sure to break down tasks into steps;  refer specifically to relevant materials; demonstrate or model whenever possible;  ask students to tell you what they are going to do (don’t ask them if they understand; have them tell you what they understand).  Then check around the room during the first 2 or 3 minutes to make sure all individuals or teams are on task.

(c)    Teacher-centric:  in the end, this is a question of available resources, class size, your beliefs about learning and your own style.  Planned presentations should be carefully prepared and rehearsed until you become confident enough to start improvising a little.

  1. 4.      Variety of format (knowing when collaboration is good or not necessary); variety of skills

I hope we addressed that sufficiently through the series of Language Arts lessons which carefully balance individual, pair, teams of 4, four corners, half class and full class formats to provide variety in a lesson and appropriate forms of participation for all learners.  The same applies to variety of skills and to the way skills are sequenced.  Note for example, the way that reading led to analysis and discussion, then group brainstorming and preparation; then individual writing; then team responses and editing.  We should remember to ask Luke about his use of fastwrite techniques in his reading and writing class.

  1. 5.      Providing right amount of background knowledge

This means involving students in assessing what they already know before moving into new material.  One technique is a KWL chart:  K means “know (already)” and is a charted list produced by the learners; W is Want (to know) and represents student interests and needs, again preferably produced by them.  L is completed at the end of the lesson or unit: it represents what was learned.  Put up all three charts at the outset and leave K and W up throughout the unit.

  1. 6.      Incorporating authentic materials

This relates to #5, of course, and also with #1 (content goals should point to relevant authentic materials – as should needs assessment findings).  Authentic materials work best when students actually want to read them (which probably should include them selecting them), have enough background knowledge to make sense of the main ideas, enough skills to sort out important details and figure out unknown vocabulary, and take enough away that they want to talk about the information and ideas and use them to solve problems.

In the Fulbright programme, the students have a data-base searching workshop and then an immediate assignment to find an article in their field that they would like to read.  This is shared with the instructor and I use some (not enough time for all) to use for discussing reading comprehension skills and discourse features across different disciplines.  Groupwork involves students providing their colleagues with background knowledge for understanding a particular article.

Watch out for examples of using authentic materials during the rest of the course.