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: A Place I Call Home
Class Context
- Manar Mayalah

Around 95 percent of the time I speak Arabic. I feel it's really important to speak in Arabic all the time. This is the only access for the students to hear Arabic and to practice and to communicate.

- Manar Mayalah

Year at a Glance

Getting to Know E-Pals from Various Arab Countries

Life of Arab High School Students

Arabic Cuisine: A Way for Healthy Living

Fashion, Traditional Clothes, and Shopping in the Arabic-Speaking World

A Place I Call Home

Taking a Virtual Tour in the Arabic-Speaking World

School Profile

Manar Mayalah teaches six levels of Arabic at Granada Hills Charter High School, a top-ranked independent charter high school in Granada Hills, California. Granada Hills is an ethnically diverse section of Los Angeles with more than 50,000 residents. Of the nearly 4,500 students enrolled at the school, 38 percent are Hispanic, 27 percent Asian, 27 percent white, and 4 percent African American. Granada Hills offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program, a pre-university course of study for students in grades 11 and 12; the AP Capstone Program, a flexible, rigorous two-year program also for juniors and seniors designed to help students develop research, critical-thinking, and communication skills; and a STEM program, a four-year curriculum designed for students interested in postsecondary courses and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The school has offered Arabic as a foreign language for six years. In addition to three levels of Arabic for nonheritage speakers, two levels of Arabic for Arabic Speakers accommodate the school's relatively large number of heritage speakers.

Lesson Design

Ms. Mayalah creates the curriculum and assessments herself, and incorporates authentic materials she locates through online sources. She uses backward design to plan each lesson and, before that, each unit. She identifies the language needs, the culture, the vocabulary, and the structures she needs students to learn and then divides the unit into small lessons or segments of lessons.

Ms. Mayalah works to incorporate the Five C goal areas into each lesson and prioritizes Interpersonal, Interpretive, and Presentational communication and the cultures standards. She differentiates instruction in various ways. At times, she groups students by shared interests. At others, she mixes stronger students with weaker ones to provide additional support within the group. For particular projects or tasks, she encourages creativity. For example, if students are talented in music, they can write a song about the home and different rooms in the home. If they are talented in drawing, they can draw a house. To stay in the target language, she provides comprehensible input using a variety of strategies. "I try to help them understand by using gestures, drawing on the board, acting, and Total Physical Response (TPR)," she says. She encourages open questions and discussion among students. To help build their confidence, Ms. Mayalah has students practice speaking in small groups before they share information with the entire class.

Some of Ms. Mayalah's students are English Language Learners. Others have grown up with parents of Arab descent, but may or may not speak Arabic in their household. She gives a placement test to any student with exposure to Arabic, whether it has been through his or her family, religious background, or prior study.

The Lesson

In this lesson, Ms. Mayalah's class consisted of 12 students. Normally, her classroom has 22 students. Arabic II and Arabic III classes are taught together. Students typically enter these classes with one to two years of experience with the language and progress to Novice Mid to Intermediate Low performance levels.

At the start of class, Ms. Mayalah played SabaaH's song Ya Bayti ("O, My Home!"), a well-known song from the 1970s that tied in with the unit theme and provided the students with exposure to colloquial Arabic. Consistent with her usual practice, Ms. Mayalah projected the lesson agenda for the class and reviewed it with her students. For this lesson, the goals were:

  • I can share information about my dream house with my classmates.
  • I can ask questions about houses.
  • I can describe my dream house.

In this part of the unit, Ms. Mayalah wanted the students, who had been taught the names of the rooms in a house and of furniture in the previous lesson, to learn how to describe different houses, including their dream house. She also wanted them to learn about culture, showing students examples of different styles of houses in the Arab world: an older, traditional house in Damascus (referred to as Ms. Mayalah's house in the video) and a modern one owned by Nancy Ajram, a celebrity singer who lives in Lebanon. Ms. Mayalah's lesson moved from guided practice to independent practice, and this is reflected in the sequence of activities. Students developed confidence with new vocabulary, learning words first through listening, and building familiarity with them in the reading/matching and writing activities. They then demonstrated their learning in conversation, first with a partner and then in presenting to the class. This lesson was followed by one about traditional and modern roles of family members, with a particular focus on household chores.

Key Teaching Strategies

  • Creating Cultural Experiences: The teacher designs activities in which students can see, hear, or touch a cultural artifact, create their own cultural artifact, and/or observe or engage in cultural practices in or beyond the classroom. These direct or simulated experiences lead students to discover the perspectives of the culture being studied.
  • Scaffolding: Scaffolding is a method of structuring an instructional task in a way that helps learners gradually advance through the process. Initial portions of the task are designed to be within learners' competency so that they can complete them on their own. As students' confidence, skill, and knowledge increase, the teacher provides less and less scaffolding for that task in a gradual release of responsibility.
  • 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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