Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
Teaching Foreign Languages K–12
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Arabic: How We Spend Our Free Time
Katie Quackenbush teaches Arabic levels 1–4 to students from grades 8 to 11 at Boston Latin Academy (BLA) in Boston, Massachusetts. The 1,700 students enrolled in the school come from all over the city of Boston and make up a culturally, racially, ethnically, linguistically, and socioeconomically diverse student body. BLA is an exam school; while it is part of the Boston Public Schools district, students are admitted based on past grade point average and the results of an academic entrance exam. About 43 percent of students are English Language Learners. First languages include Spanish, Haitian Creole, Vietnamese, Somali, Mandarin, Urdu, Cambodian, Bengali, and Pashtu. BLA offers students an education that combines classical and contemporary curricula. All students study Latin starting in seventh grade and add a modern foreign language, including Chinese, French, Japanese, Spanish, and Arabic, beginning in eighth grade. BLA had been offering Arabic for five years prior to this lesson.
Ms. Quackenbush uses backward design when planning lessons. She starts with a thematic unit related to the cultures of the Arab world and develops objectives for the unit based on state frameworks as well as the World-Readiness Standards and the Five C goal areas. From there, she creates subunits and then individual lessons. Ms. Quackenbush designs each lesson to maximize student language production and help build student confidence during the first year of study. She plans a lot of student-led hands-on activities, and infuses cultural and linguistic authenticity into her curriculum. She also seeks to balance language skills across the three modes of communication (Interpersonal, Interpretive, and Presentational) connected with cultural knowledge so that students are able to function with the language in varied contexts.
Ms. Quackenbush feels that setting learning in real-life contexts naturally enables her to bring in all of the Five Cs. In addition to communication, she emphasizes cultural understanding in her teaching. She views language as a means to learn about other peoples—in this case, about different Arab cultures. She believes relating the language to something that can help them understand the world better improves students' motivation to learn. To discourage students from resorting to English, she intentionally avoids translating directly between Arabic and English.
Ms. Quackenbush uses conversational activities as opportunities to informally assess student learning. She listens for the target vocabulary and structures that are the focus of a unit or subunit. When she notices repeated mistakes being made, she tries to be reflective and conscious about how much she corrects students. One strategy she uses when giving corrective feedback is to repeat what the student said in a questioning way to encourage students to notice their own errors and build self-correction skills.
Ms. Quackenbush uses classroom setup and materials to support her teaching. She fills her classroom with tables (not desks) because she feels that tables promote conversation. This year, she is piloting an Arabic I high school textbook that includes authentic readings, audio recordings by native speakers, and videos in which native speakers act out culturally relevant scenes representing authentic scenarios. She supplements textbook materials with YouTube clips, children's books, and authentic materials that she has collected during her travels in the Arab world.
All students in Ms. Quackenbush's Arabic I class were in their first year of study. None were native speakers. Several of the students were Muslim and had been exposed to the letters and sounds of the language through their religious upbringings, but they did not enter the class with any communicative proficiency. In this lesson, which comes partway through a unit on hobbies, students activated vocabulary they had been learning and asked and answered questions using "you" and "I." With respect to grammatical structure, Ms. Quackenbush focused on helping students recognize patterns among different kinds of words and then had students use them in a meaning-driven, communicative fashion.
The lesson activities were designed to follow an authentic reading that students had done in the previous class session about how Saudi Arabian students spend their free time. Students worked in groups to answer some questions in their textbook about the reading. They followed that up with a full-class conversation about how they can use the Saudi Arabian students' responses to formulate questions to see if the Boston Latin Academy students liked to do those activities as well.
Ms. Quackenbush designed the lesson to be student-led to maximize student production yet allow students of different abilities to work at their own pace. The lesson was carefully scaffolded: the warm-up game required students to practice the question formation that would be necessary for the main activity. Instructions were communicated to students twice in the target language—first on the whiteboard in visual format using both words and images, and then orally by the teacher. These were restated in English on the students' handout. This variety of formats for instructions differentiates learning for all students.
After students completed the main activity, Ms. Quackenbush explained the extension: in the next day's class, they would compare what they liked to do in their free time with what Saudi Arabian students like to do in theirs. This provided students a mental roadmap of what was coming next.
Key Teaching Strategies
Arabic: How We Spend Our Free Time >
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