Some questions

After designing the broad content and aims of a course comes the nitty-gritty stage of preparing lesson content. We have enjoyed exploring the fascinating options opened up by choosing a pedagogical approach based on capabilities and rooted in Palestinian culture; now we are dealing with the very practical requirements that such a course model implies. It feels that we are learning a lot while designing a tool to help others learn. This blog is about sharing questions as well as discoveries, so here are some of the more challenging questions we are grappling with for you to ponder on too.

This course is designed to teach Palestinian Arabic to students from all over the world: there is no guarantee that students and Palestinian teachers will have a language in common to begin with. In language teaching, this shared language is often referred to as the ‘bridge’ or ‘pivot’ language. The language that is being taught and learned is called the ‘target’ language.  We are designing our lessons assuming that everything will be in the target language from the start. One reason for this decision is logistical: there is no point in incorporating a bridge language – English, for example – if students may not be English speakers in the first place.  Our choice is also informed by our experience as teachers: most of us have successfully taught a variety of languages in different countries without using bridge languages.

Moving from decisions to practicalities is proving interesting and challenging. It is relatively easy to avoid using a bridge language if, as a teacher, you can substitute other ways of communicating the concept you are getting across. Facial expressions, body language, gestures, miming actions and even singing are crucial elements in the repertoire of someone teaching language at beginner level. But how does this change if the interaction is mediated by a screen? How do you get things across when you are not in the same room? How do you design a first lesson using only Arabic if students can’t read what you are asking them to do? We have many ideas: the challenge is crafting them into something concrete that works.

Another challenge particular to this course is that we are building it in collaboration but at a distance. Getting into Gaza is difficult; getting out of Gaza is almost impossible. We are a team of colleagues who may never meet face to face. We lead very different lives, between Glasgow in the icy winter and Gaza under siege with limited electricity. We rely on Skype meetings. We are working to many deadlines but have different weekends (Saturday and Sunday in Scotland, Thursday and Friday in Gaza) so effectively we only share three working days (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday). How do we build and maintain team spirit and team work? How do we stay open to new ideas and different ways of working while keeping to a schedule and working efficiently?

The answers to all these questions are not obvious, and we will gladly share them on this blog. Now – back to timetables and lesson plans…

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