As I’ve detailed in my curriculum development posts over the last two years, we have slowly been replacing our textbook with our own materials, generally based on texts we find on the internet or create ourselves. Although I’ve frequently been asked when we will make our own textbook, I’ve actually never been interested in making a textbook–my dream has always been to create an open access website that serves as a textbook in the sense that it provides materials and structure, but is also flexible enough to be adapted by teachers in a variety of contexts.
Today, I’m excited to announce that my dream has come true, in the form of the We Can Learn Arabic website! In this post, I’ll describe what we’ve done so far, as well as some future plans for the site. While we use it in place of a textbook, it could also be used alongside a particular textbook or materials of choice.
Thematic Units and Can-Do Statements
One of our very first adaptations of our Arabic program, back when we still pretty much followed our textbook, was to add Can-Do Statements based on the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements. However, it quickly became clear that forcing Can-Do Statements onto a textbook resulted in pretty random collections of Can-Do Statements. Thus, as we moved away from the textbook by just using the texts, supplementing with our own, and then using only our own, we started using thematic units to group the Can-Do Statements. This inspiration came from STARTALK training as part of running our summer program. So, the We Can Learn Arabic website is set up in thematic units, with targeted Can-Do statements underneath each one. So far, we have units on Introductions, Personal Relationships, Routines and Plans, and Housing, with ones on Social Media, Event Planning, and Holidays and Celebrations coming soon!
Example Texts and Activities
I’ve written before on this blog about how we use example texts for Can-Do Statements, drawing inspiration from genre-based pedagogies. On the website, each Can-Do Statement in the unit links to a page of example texts, which are written or video examples of people doing the Can-Do Statement in various ways. To help students understand the example texts, we have a vocabulary and grammar list for each video, which includes audio recordings and grammatical color coding, emphasizing that these are resources, not something to memorize or abstract from context. Perhaps more exciting, we have partnered with Playaling, a program that captions videos for Arabic learners, including sociolinguistic and pragmatic information, so have them add our videos and use theirs.
We’ve also created activities for each text, following the understanding, analyzing, applying sequence we’ve developed in our curriculum inspired by genre-based pedagogies. These are google doc links, with the idea that teachers could copy or download them to repurpose for their own settings.
The understanding activity helps us figure out what students understood/where they need help understanding the text. Generally, especially in lower level classes, our goal isn’t for students to understand everything in the text, but this helps us figure out where to guide them in the main details we are looking for. The final question on the understanding activity guides students to focus on a sociolinguistic, pragmatic, or cultural feature of the text, with the goal of developing greater critical linguistic awareness.
The analyzing activity is perhaps the most unusual, and this again comes from genre-based pedagogies. The goal of this activity is to help students think about how the text does the Can-Do Statement, and how they could repurpose parts of it to do the Can-Do Statement themselves. We’ve used the terms stages and phrases to help guide students. Stages are the parts of the text as it unfolds, such as an introduction (This is my friend) and details (more information about them). Phrases are parts that students could repurpose to describe their own friend, such as changing “She lives in Albuquerque” to “She lives in _______” and filling in the relevant information. Our goal here is to push students beyond thinking of language at the words placed in grammatical structures level to think how these stages and phrases connect to social structures. This remains a challenge of course.
The applying activity essentially asks students to do the Can-Do Statement themselves, structuring it a bit, so students prepare by thinking of a friend and details about them, and then share it with their classmates. Then, they answer reflection questions about how it went to help them prepare for the next time. We’ve deliberately left the details of creating and sharing vague, such that they can be adapted to different classroom context (or even the same classroom in pandemic and non-pandemic times!). For example, in the past students often shared in small groups, now they do it in breakout rooms or a discussion forum.
We’ve also developed assessments for Can-Do Statements and the units that are essentially a more complicated version of the applying activity, basically asking students to prepare, do, and then reflect upon a particular Can-Do statement or statements. These assessments are visible to students at all times, so there are no surprises when it comes time for the assessments.
In finding example texts, we’ve also deliberately chosen to include texts from a variety of dialects, as well as those that mix languages and dialects, as these are examples of the ways that people actually talk. Our goal is to use these texts and activities to help students develop metalinguistic awareness about these practices (and the social judgements they entail), and help them use this knowledge to make their own linguistic choices.
Of course, this is just the beginning, and as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, one of the major appeals of a website is the ability to update it frequently and easily. So, here is a list of our future plans for the website!
- Adding transcripts–currently these can be downloaded from texts in Playaling, but we would like to add them for those not in Playaling
- More integrated cultural assignments–currently we have an assignment for each unit that guides students to find information, and then we raise these points throughout the unit with the various texts. However, this could be improved.
- More texts and more representations–as mentioned, we are working to include numerous varieties of Arabic, but finding texts is time-consuming, so this remains a work in progress. If you have favorite texts, send them in and we’d be happy to add them!
- Better website setup–we are currently using Wix, which I use for my Highland Dance site. It’s working for now, but for a variety of reasons it’s clear that we’ll eventually have to switch. Squarespace, which I use for this blog, isn’t an option due to a lack of right to left language support, so I’ll have to learn another system–send me any recommendations on this as well!
I think that pretty much sums it up for the website introduction! If you’re an Arabic teacher or student, we’d love your suggestions, feedback, and text recommendations, and let us know if you find this resource useful!
Leave a Reply