Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Making the pedagogy explicit

Something I am trying very consciously to do this semester is make my language teaching pedagogy explicit to my students.  I have very specific ideas about what constitutes good language teaching  (and I also have a PhD in this field) and in order for this pedagogy to succeed in the classrom, students need to be socialized into it.  In first year, this isn't so much a problem, but there are several problematic assumptions I've encountered thus far that need correcting, as well as some points I want to drive home before they hit second year and third year and it's too late to resocialize at the right level.  Specifically, here is what I want to counter:

1) Homework is for practicing what we do in class.  Um, no.  Homework is for learning material for the first time, which we will activate in class.  Preparation is essential, or you will not be able to keep up.  Worse, you will hold back your peers in groupwork, which is 75% of our class.

2) Class is when you explain Arabic to us.  See above.  You read the explanation at home and work with is, we activate in class.

3) If I do the assigned homework drills, that's enough preparation.  Nope.  The assigned homework drills will probably take 1-1.5 hours.  You should be putting in 2-3 hours for each class session.  There's no such thing as too much practice.    

4) I don't have 2-3 hours to spend on this.  Sure you do.  You have ten minutes between each class, and 4-5 classes? Put the textbook mp3s on your phone, mp3 player whatever, and listen.  That's 40-50 minutes right there.  Add in walking to and from your dorm, and you're at an hour.

5) I can't learn this on my own outside of class.  Then get help.  You have office hours, your classmates, free Arabic tutoring in the language lab, language partners, your classmates.  Especially your classmates.  Don't be afraid to ask them for help, as explaining it to you will make them understand it better, so they should be grateful you asked!

6) I won't understand if you speak only in Arabic.  Sure you will.  You don't have to understand every word I say, just what I'm asking you to do.  If you understood every word, you wouldn't need to take this class.  Concentrate on my actions, gestures, and the words you do know.  Being comfortable with not understanding every word is one of the most important language learning skills you can learn.

To get these points across, I have:

1) Put them in the syllabus (rather more gently than here :-))
2) Had a syllabus discussion (in English, alas, but it is 101) the second day of class, where I modeled the type of group work we'll do in the future in Arabic--you read the syllabus, now find these answers with your peers.  I'm here to direct you, not give you the answer.
3) Answered direct questions: Why was this homework when we didn't do it in class beforehand?
4) Modeled it: Here are my directions in Arabic, oh, look, you did get what I wanted you to do, even though you don't know any of those words--see?
5) Modeled it again: You aren't prepared for class? Okay, today you will be a partner to this student who did prepare and you can listen.  I won't explain things to you, but they can.
6) Gone over these points again in 30-60 seconds in the announcements part (English again for now): how are you going to fit that extra hour of listening in again? In your car, aywa, walking to class, aywa, with your friends, aywa,  mumtaaz).

So far this is working great.  More and more students are prepared for class.  They are excited, energetic, and entertaining, which makes me love my job.  They are coming up with their own study groups and ways to practice outside of class.  I'm super excited to get finished with the alphabet and be fully 3arabiyya miyya miyya!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Yom 1

Last week was full of interminable ice tea fueled meetings, the low point of which was being read aloud to from the online faculty handbook, and the high point of which was a useful discussion about lower division language assessments.  The weekend was full of scheduling, as I've found it's better to plan out my daily homework schedule ahead of time before I get too caught up in the semester.  It also involved some serious struggles with the course management software grade book (what the hell kind of grade book doesn't have grade categories?! Blackboard and Angel, I am so sorry I ever complained about you).

Today was the first day of classes here at Andalus U*, which feels more like my official debut as Ostaza Shedding.  I'm teaching Arabic 101, which I haven't taught for a while, and I'd forgotten how lovely and enthusiastic 101 students are, when they are just really excited about Arabic and no frustration has set in.  In fact, I'm still hyped up from their energy, despite last night's insomnia (I can never sleep the night before classes start) and an evening dance practice.

Of course, the downside of 101 is having to explain to native speakers (not heritage speakers) that no, they can't take 101 to raise their GPA.  No, 101 is not just tests you can take, and in reality you will probably die of boredom (or at least fail the homework) if you have to spend an hour clicking through alphabet drills in your native language.  Yes, I know you have to take a second language, but Arabic is not a second language for you, and thus it doesn't fulfill the requirement.  Also, it's probably not a good idea to tell someone you want to take her class to raise your GPA.

Speaking of boring alphabet drills, I'm also quite excited that the Arabic textbooks now have a companion site where students can complete the drills online and thus save me from grading piles of mind-numbing drills where they need to listen and distinguish between haa and 7aa or taa and 6aa.  Pedagogically, this is also of great benefit, as the students get instant feedback on their work, rather than waiting until I correct it, at which point they never go back to listen again.  Things have come a long way since I went through these same books on cassette tapes . . .



* Yeah, I couldn't resist.  I mean, the fountain in my apartment courtyard is an Arab star.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

And it all starts bokra

Tommorrow is the first official day of my contract, as well as the first day of new faculty orientation.  Between all the orientations (university, college, department) I am pretty much booked solid until Friday.  As in I had to set up an 8am meeting with a TA because that is the only time possible in the schedule.

So, I have been working on completing my syllabi and submitting a conference abstract that has a deadline next week.  The syllabi are going well, and I am basically super-excited that I am in charge, which means I get to actually implement modern and sociolinguistically appropriate pedagogy (proficiency-based assessments! 3ammiyya! yay!!!).  I'm teaching two sections of 101 and a supplemental 101 class.  Technically, this is a one-class overload (3 classes), but since in my world any beginning language class worth its salt meets five days a week, it only seems like 1 3/5 classes.

What has been more difficult is condensing a 95-page dissertation chapter into a conference abstract.  I'm basically focusing on the application of the theory to my data.  To me, this is very interesting.  However, my dissertation topic datawise belongs to a strand of SLA that has traditionally been very focused on post-positivist, quantitative approaches, but is sort of looking for a change.  My theory comes from a strand of SLA that has basically drawn from literature, anthropology, and sociology to toss that type of approach out the window.  I obviously think this is a perfect match.  The question is, who will read my abstract? Someone from the data part? Will they be open to new theoretical approaches, or view this whole field of theory as invalid? Someone from the theory part? Will they agree with my application, since I had to change it a bit for the data? Basically, I'm just really curious what they will think.  I've presented papers at this conference before, but they have all been pretty mainstream.  This one, I'm not sure.

On a totally unrelated note, I discovered the best internet/iphone application of all time, yala.fm.  A little Abdelhalim makes everything easier, and there's a whole section of pop lubnani to look forward to!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

IRB Headache

This morning, I decided to get the paperwork together to open my dissertation study with the IRB at my new university.  I thought, given that I had IRB approval at my old university and I am not longer collecting data, but just analyzing it (but it has identifiers, damn photos!) this would be relatively straightforward.  I should have known that with the IRB, nothing ever is.  

Eight hours and three phone calls to the IRB later (with different answers from different people each time) I think I have all the documents ready to go to my chair to sign and then send on to the IRB.  I also have a headache, and a hipache from too much sitting.  Ugh.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Random Things I have done since last posting


  • Spent 3 hours at the DMV getting a new title and license
  • Attended two weddings on opposite coasts
  • Danced in two competitions (and winning one!)
  • Arranged, and rearranged, and rearranged the teaching schedule for the Fall (I think I know what I'm teaching now? Inshallah?)
  • Attended a demonstration of online language learning software that has real potential if a few things were fixed, but they are not and thus it is crap
  • Visited assorted family and friends on multiple coasts
  • Unpacked an appalling amount of boxes
  • Visited many furniture stores full of hideous furniture
  • Gave up on finding a wardrobe, storage bed, and china cabinet in store 
  • Ordered a garment rack and storage closet online
  • Found a wonderful store selling old trunks, office furniture, and decorative doors (only, but we needed the first two).  It also has a dance floor for Saturday night tango.  
  • Eaten at lots of tasty restaurants
  • Fit in lots of cat-snuggling time
  • Visited a lovely botanic garden
  • Turned 31
  • Found and cooked several tasty dishes, including "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic"
  • Broke up a cat-fight
Meetings start the 13th and classes the 20th, so hopefully I will get my act together in time to blog a bit more regularly!