The Welcoming Languages project reaches a milestone!

As you may remember, we are designing and delivering an Arabic language course for Scottish primary staff, so they can welcome Arabic-speaking children and families recently arrived in Scotland (the ‘New Scots’) in their own language. The project is funded by the AHRC and will last till the end of 2022 and as soon as the word went around about this opportunity, we had lots of Scottish primary education staff interested in taking the course. It was heart-warming to see how much Scottish educators care, and the lengths to which they are willing to go to create a welcoming and caring environment for children and families who chose to make Scotland their home.

At the end of July, most of the Scottish primary educators and Arabic learners have completed five out of the ten 2-hour lessons the project offers. To get an idea of how the project is doing, the Glasgow team conducted brief interviews with over half of the staff learning Arabic, to explore their reflections on the course, what they liked, what they found challenging, how close the newly developed Arabic course matched their needs expressed in pre-course needs analysis, and what they would like to see for the next block of lessons.

During our mid-course interviews, the Scottish educators and learners of Arabic showed great enthusiasm and positivity towards many aspects of their learning, including their Palestinian teachers, the teaching materials, and reflected on how this has already positively impacted Arabic-speaking children. The Scottish educators told us how professional and patient their Palestinian teachers are, how they responded to all their inquiries about the language and how they engaged the Scottish educators in different role plays, to practice their learning as much as they can.

The course design and materials increased learners’ motivation as they are carefully developed to respond to educators’ needs in their daily school context. Some Scottish staff were enthusiastic to try out some of the expressions they learned with the children directly after each lesson. They also told us how the teaching materials were suitable not only in terms of functionality and usage in their day-to-day context but also in terms of their level, as they were “just the right amount” in each lesson. Scottish educators described how Arabic-speaking children are excited to know that staff in their school are learning their home language, to better understand them and celebrate their identities and knowledge. Children are also becoming impromptu teachers of Arabic themselves, preparing lessons for their educators, giving their educators some “homework”, teaching them new expressions and correcting their pronunciation!

For further information, we have written a detailed interim report about the evaluation of the first five blocks. You can download the report from the Welcoming Languages website.

As Scottish primary educators start their new school year after a well-deserved break during the summer, teachers in Gaza are putting the final touches and getting ready to teach the next block of the course in the coming few weeks! Watch this space for more news on how the Welcoming Languages project develops!

Teaching has Started!

In this blog post, a detailed account of developing the course materials as well as teaching it (done in parallel) is provided.

The second stage of the project is adapting Online Arabic from Palestine (OAfP) course to match the language needs of the Scottish educators, Arabic-speaking parents/carers and children. A team of linguists, researchers, and language experts from both Glasgow University and the Islamic University of Gaza have gathered to work on adaptating and developing course materials that better meet the needs of the Scottish context.

We’re making this possible by following a few steps:

1) Creating A Map of Common Expressions

In the first step, a list of expected common expressions that can be used generally and in alignment with Scottish educators’ language needs was written. The agreed list is used as a map throughout the adaptation process. However, it is not strict; it has been further filtered (prioritising and changing expressions) while developing dialogues in each lesson.

2) Discussing the Table of Content

In the second step, the team agreed on the table of content to formulate a bigger picture of what to include in each unit. The course is divided into five units. Each unit consists of two lessons that serve a certain theme, as revealed in the language assessment data analysis. In this sense, these units include the following:

  1. Greetings and hospitality
  2. School Instructions
  3. School requests/ daily routine
  4. Emotion and Wellbeing
  5. Parents Meetings

3) Developing the First Lesson and Discussing Challenges

In the first lesson, we decided to build up on the OAfP course by first following a storyline that links all themes together and second by including similar interactive activities. We discussed what format we want the final materials to be including a variety of options (PowerPoint presentation, interactive PDF, articulate story designed materials). Due to the time limit, we started with the first option, PPT. During the teaching, ideas and challenges were discussed in every meeting to ensure better quality and enjoyment of the learning process, and as a result, improve and change whenever needed in the next lessons as discussed below.

4) Following the Structure of the First lesson as A Template (with major flexibility!)

The first lesson was taken as a pilot. The tasks and the content seemed to be enjoyable and attainable for the learners. So, we kept the same structure in the next lessons. Though flexibility has been the main rule during adapting the materials and teaching it. One of the things that we added in the next lessons was motion-graphic videos for the main and additional dialogues to engage the learners as well as to help them listen to it as many times as they want at their own pace whenever needed. PowerPoint is still the main format (in the second and the third lesson). The PowerPoint for each lesson includes the videos, audio sounds for main vocabulary and instructions, images, as well as interactive tasks.

Positive attitudes are generally shared among the learners towards the materials and the teaching as a whole so far. However, we believe this is a work in progress and we aim to present it in its best form that could be done. The team is working on presenting the materials using Articulate Story for the final version. This will allow learners to access the materials from one place as well as enjoy the simplified and interactive presentation of what they covered/will cover in their future lessons.

Once learners complete half of their journey (i.e., on their fifth lesson) and before they go off to their summer holidays, we will ask them for their feedback to further reflect on the teaching practice as well as better develop the second half of the course materials. So, stay tuned for the coming updates!

Parents/carers and Children Needs Analysis

Similar to what we did with Scottish educators (discussed in detail in the previous post), we met the Arabic speaking parents/carers and their children. We asked them what “Arabic” they would love to hear/see in Scottish schools.

We conducted semi-structured focus group interviews with Arabic speaking parents and their children. After introducing the project idea and asking all parents/careers and children how they felt about it, all children gathered around two of the researchers to discuss what they would love to hear/see in Arabic inside their schools, and what they would like to teach their classmates and teachers in Arabic. Verbal language was not the only way we used to get the answers from children, but we also used visual posters where the children drew, wrote and coloured the most important phrases or linguistic skills they thought their educators should learn in Arabic.

In the same room, the third researcher gathered with the parents/carers and discussed the questions multilingually, using Arabic and English to hear their reflections on the project’s idea, and what they would love to hear/see in Arabic in their interactions with school staff.

Similar to what we found in staff needs analysis, both parents/carers and children were very keen to see their educators able to greet and welcome them in their own language as a very first step of breaking the ice between them, and a step to getting closer to them in their own native tongue.

Feelings and emotions seem to be important to all three groups as well. Children wanted to know how to express their emotions to their teachers and wanted their teachers to understand and support them in sensitive situations, bypassing the language barriers between them. The parents too mentioned that they wanted to know if something wrong happened to their children. They wanted to understand what happened, so they can come to the school immediately without the extra time that might be wasted while looking for an interpreter.

Parents wanted to ask about their children’s performance and behaviour at school too. They also mentioned they would love to see Arabic included as a school subject in the future and for it to be officially recognised through certification.

Children included many different topics such as colours, animal names, fruit, vegetables, days of the week, school objects, and the alphabet. These topics, as mentioned by one of the teachers, are similar to what the students learn themselves in the English as Additional Language (EAL) classes. The school staff need to become learners like them!

All needs analysis collected from Scottish staff, parents/carers and children are all taken crucial to adapt the OPAC course so that it meets the needs of Scottish educators and Arabic speaking family and children.