Hello again! It has been one week, and already I hit my first wall. At the same time, though, I had a rare moment of brilliance.
(I’m gonna start with the moment of brilliance).
While looking over the syllabi for my other two courses this Fall, I had a stunning realization about the way they worked together with this Arabic course. One of these classes is Classroom Discourse Analysis, and other one is World Language Curriculum and Methods (not apparent from the name is that this course is about designing language curricula with storytelling). I realized that the former could potentially provide a theoretical background for the effectiveness of my TPRS course, which partially hinges on the teacher’s discourse in the classroom. Meanwhile, the latter would help me learn the principles of effective storytelling for language classrooms. This lineup of courses could not have been more perfectly aligned with the goals for this Arabic course.
As exciting as this realization was, the past week brought its fair share of frustration.
Any of my professors will tell you I am a zealous advocate for TPRS. If TPRS were a sports team, I would be the loud and crazy season-ticket holder in the front row with his face and body painted up.
Another passion of mine is setting clearly-defined goals that give purpose, meaning, and structure to any endeavor.
While it would seem, then, that planning goals for my Arabic TPRS course would be a match made in heaven, it has felt more like greek yogurt and spaghetti – two foods which I enjoy separately but when brought together, are a repulsive mess.
I reflected on why it was so difficult to set goals for this TPRS course and boiled it down to two reasons:
1. TPRS courses teach language in context – using stories and conversations rather than lists and rules.
This makes TPRS highly effective, but difficult to attach specific and measurable language goals to. It seems ‘normal’ and ‘right’ to use contextualized language from stories or conversations to teach the language, but when it comes to setting concrete, measurable goals for students’ language acquisition (and finding ways to assess and track those goals), I feel tempted to de-contextualize the same language I sought to contextualize in the first place.
This seemed pointless until this past week, when I perused the syllabus for another class I am taking this semester – World Language Curriculum Methods. This course (taught by Dr. Patrick, who taught me TPRS), focuses on how to use the concept of story to deliver contextualized language. I read the final project for the course and laughed in disbelief – our final project is to write a language unit (hmm… does a 5-week Arabic course count?), the goal of which is for students to be able to listen, read, understand, and have conversations (to their appropriate level) about a story. This story will feature all of the target language vocabulary and grammar that you will want them to have acquired by the end of the unit.
That’s it. If they understand the story, they will understand the vocabulary and grammar that was used to tell it. Looks like I’ll be working on that “final project” a little early…
2. Structure and Spontaneity are not friends – or so it seems. On the surface, setting measurable goals and working towards them in a methodical and disciplined manner seems completely antithetical to the pursuit of creativity, spontaneity, and discovery.
Last semester, though, I made a discovery about the relationship between constraint and creativity, between structure and spontaneity. I took a class with Dr. Cahnmann-Taylor called “Poetry for Educators,” in which we were often prompted to write poems under sometimes-annoying constraints (ex. rhyme structure).
I soon realized, though, that constraints seem, at first, to rain on our creativity-parades, but they are actually sharpening our minds and training them to dig deeper for the most brilliant and effective ideas.
What if the reason setting language goals for a pro-spontaneity classroom is difficult because we are making too many goals? (many of which are not important?). For example, all a story needs is “rajul (a man),” “biddu (he wants),” and “bishuuf (he sees).” With simple goals, and simple structures, the potential for creativity actually grows.
Bottom Line: It is not impossible to set goals for a TPRS course. It is necessary.