Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Teaching Foreign Languages K–12

A Library of Classroom Practices

Arabic: Comparing the Weather
Class Context
- Wael Fawzy

I cannot call it learning a language if there is no authentic opportunity for students. If you don't use what you learn, you're going to lose it, pretty much. Lots of people learn a language over their life, but they lose it. The reason they lose it is because they never had a chance to connect it to their personal life.

- Wael Fawzy

Year at a Glance

MSA and Dialects

Roots and Patterns

More Greetings and Farewells

Who Am I in the Arab World?

Family and Relatives

My Neighbors and Community

Family and Social Traditions

School Profile

Mr. Fawzy teaches Arabic to students in sixth grade at LaSalle II, a pre-K through 8 magnet school in downtown Chicago, Illinois. LaSalle II started offering Arabic to its students seven years ago. The school accepts students of diverse racial backgrounds from within a six-mile radius around the school based on an application and random lottery. The student population is 39.5 percent Hispanic, 32.1 percent white, 18.0 percent black, 3.6 percent Asian, and 6.8 percent other. Of the 577 students currently enrolled, 36.4 percent are from low-income families, 13.2 percent are diverse learners, and 6.2 percent are English Language Learners. LaSalle is a language academy. Students choose from among Arabic, French, Spanish, or Mandarin as a second language and also study the history and culture of the nations where these languages are spoken. Since language study is the main mission of the school, a content-based FLES model is in place for all languages taught at LaSalle II. Languages are taught four times weekly for grades 1–8 for 45 minutes per class. The 180 total minutes of language instruction exceed the usual format of most FLES models.

Lesson Design

Mr. Fawzy uses backward design when planning units and lessons. In developing thematic units, his primary goal is to increase students' language and cultural awareness and to build upon their prior knowledge. He is attuned to his students' different learning styles and needs, which he considers the "launching point" of his planning. "It takes me about two to three months to find out the points of interest with every child that I have," he says. He observes that some students respond better to visual materials than audial ones, while others express their thoughts better in writing than by speaking.

Mr. Fawzy breaks each unit down into lessons that correlate to the main performance outcomes of the unit. "My lessons are always small pieces of my unit and are scaffolded to reach the big picture of my unit." Unit and lesson objectives serve the Five C goal areas and three modes of communication. He designs a summative assessment for each mode of Communication (Interpersonal, Interpretive, and Presentational) and develops rubrics to measure the performance outcomes. He makes students aware of these outcomes by posting Can-Do Statements at the front of the class at the beginning of each unit.

Mr. Fawzy tries to build into his lessons authentic activities that will be meaningful to students' lives. To promote target language development, these activities minimize the use of English. Mr. Fawzy builds in at least some writing in each class. While students almost always write in Modern Standard Arabic, he introduces dialect to improve listening and speaking skills beginning in fifth grade. He estimates that the Interpersonal mode and the reading portions of a class outweigh the writing portion by 80 percent to 20 percent.

Mr. Fawzy tries to incorporate the Five Cs into every lesson. While he thinks that Communication, Cultures, and Communities (through authentic visuals and videos in particular) are relatively easy to build in, Comparisons may be more challenging, especially for younger students. However, he admits that students sometimes impress him by making unprompted comparisons between Arabic culture and their own.

The Lesson

Mr. Fawzy has been teaching at LaSalle II for seven years. This year's sixth-grade class, some of whom he has taught since kindergarten, has no heritage speakers. The lesson is a part of a unit called "Who Am I in the Arab World?" Students gather information and then demonstrate an emerging understanding of an aspect—weather—of the Arab world. The unit's learning objectives, posted on the wall as "'I Can' Performance Outcomes," read:

I can:

  • compare the weather in Chicago to that in Egypt and the other Arab countries during the four seasons.
  • develop and answer questions using different Arabic dialects.
  • identify the temperature in different countries.

Prior to the lesson, each student researched the weather in an Arab country during each of the four seasons. Students also learned a few Arabic words related to the dialect of the country. The lesson emphasized interpersonal and presentational communication, as well as language and cultural practices and perspectives.

To begin class, Mr. Fawzy displayed slides showing details about the four seasons in Chicago and in Egypt. Students practiced asking and answering questions about the weather in each place. For the next activity, students were divided into two groups. A few weeks prior, Mr. Fawzy had asked students to find a picture that showed the weather in Chicago or elsewhere and a second picture that showed the weather in an Arab country in the same season. Students also had to prepare to say something about both pictures, such as naming the month in which the picture was taken and the temperature during that month. Back in class, using a timed round-robin format, each student had one minute to present his or her research to the rest of the group.

After the presentations, students completed a writing activity. Mr. Fawzy gave students a worksheet with eight different pictures related to the weather on it. The students' job was to label the pictures. In a subsequent class, students would use these short descriptions to develop more complex sentences. "This is how we start from a small thing and then we build on top of it," says Mr. Fawzy. Finally, Mr. Fawzy had students develop a question based on the topic, trade their question with another student, and then take the question home to read and answer.

During the lesson, students used dialect expressions alongside MSA, which supported one of the main unit objectives. Mr. Fawzy has students practice these dialect expressions, particularly in speaking activities, because it is something they are likely to encounter in an Arabic-speaking country. "I feel it is very important that students have a taste of the dialects," he says. "If they hear them in the future, they'll know how to communicate." Students used expressions from Moroccan, Egyptian, Iraqi, and Gulf-area dialects.

Key Teaching Strategies

  • Content-Based Instruction: The teacher promotes language acquisition and/or cultural knowledge through subject matter from a range of disciplines.
  • Incorporation of Technology: The teacher uses technology, including school-sanctioned social media, to support or enhance opportunities for practicing the three modes of communication. Technology enables students to engage in more authentic tasks, interact with authentic audiences, and access information from authentic resources. They can do this by writing a blog or posting a podcast; exchanging messages with native speakers online or via video chats; and tapping materials from the target cultures for listening, reading, or viewing.
  • Theme-Based Curriculum: The teacher chooses themes as the organizing principle for a series of instructional activities in a unit, providing a meaningful context to explore through all three modes of communication.
  • Visual Support for Learning: The teacher uses illustrations, models, or other visual elements to promote conversation and cultural learning.

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