Fatima Dabboussi is an Arabic teacher at SOAS Language Centre, a part-time lecturer at London Metropolitan University, and a teacher trainer at My Arabic House Weekend School. Below she recounts her experience at one of The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) Summer Institutes.
Before, my understanding of the characteristics of a great teacher were as follows: engaging well with students, allocating time to prepare excellent materials, being approachable and fun, and last but not least, receiving positive feedback from students. However, throughout my teaching journey, I kept pondering on the question, ‘What aspects do I still lack?’ My language competence, teaching strategies, lesson preparation, and classroom management were all there. So, had I done all the jobs I needed to do?
The answer was yes until I met Martha, she taught me how to put myself in my students’ shoes. She had inspired me not only to teach my students the Arabic Language and Arab culture, but also to teach them how to learn through discovering their learning styles: the strategies they are using to learn and what new strategies they need to acquire.
I met Martha at the University of Minnesota in July 2017, she is an associate professor at Indiana University who came to Facilitate one of CARLA’S summer education programs, the ‘SSBI’ which stands for ‘Styles and Strategies Based Learning Instruction’ (SSBI). Not only did I benefit from the course, but I also enjoyed a lovely week filled with sunshine and sightseeing! I visited the University Museum and the Mississippi River, I ate falafel and shawarma at Dinky Town, I visited the Mall of America, and I was awestruck during my visit to Minnehaha Falls!
The SSBI course was focused on the teacher’s role in introducing learning strategies to maximise student learning, to raise students awareness of their own learning styles, and to testing which learning strategies work well in order to transfer them to appropriate learning tasks. As a result, it became obvious to me that not every student knows why, how, and when to use certain learning strategies. Rather it is the teacher’s role to put this into practice and guide the students through their learning journey.
During the course, we discovered our own learning styles and teaching strategies. My classmates were from different countries and teach different languages. Some of these languages included Chinese, Spanish, Dakota, English, and Arabic. They were very enthusiastic, experienced and committed. From them, I learned the name of certain fruits in Chinese, the colours in Dakota, and the numbers in Spanish. I taught them adjectives in Arabic, they were amazed by the script and how Arabic letters can join to make a nice pattern.
Our colleague, Nicole, volunteered to explain how she uses TPRS ‘Total Physical Response-Storytelling’ in her school for achieving real language acquisition. She recommended a book by Blaine Ray and Contee Seely: ‘Fluency through TPR storytelling’. This method is of great significance in the foreign language teaching field because it introduces the language using comprehensible input, which makes the students use meaningful things in real-life communication.
I enjoyed the role plays we practiced in the course. We were asked to find good strategies to tackle situations such as; dealing with a noisy neighbour, shopping in the future, and bumping into someone’s trolley in the shopping centre. The role play I enjoyed the most was when we split into two groups to debate the benefits of the course. Our group won the debate, hooray!
The five days passed very quickly. We worked together, debated, and powered through many activities. Most importantly: we learnt from each other. After the completion of the course, we decided to make a Facebook page to exchange good practice and keep in contact. For instance, soon after we returned, Hong, a colleague of ours shared an eBook with us: ‘Applying Science of Learning in Education: Infusing Psychological Science Into the Curriculum’.
This course has been opening so many doors for me and has kept me motivated to become the best educator I can be. Thank you, Martha, you inspired me and taught me a lot. Thank you QFI for opening this opportunity to me.