Through QFI’s Michigan Arabic Teachers’ Council, Arabic teachers Samah Idris and Shaima Basuni developed a four-unit lesson plan for novice-level learners of Arabic in the third to fifth grades. The four units target basic speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills by encouraging students to talk about the world around them. The units cover everything from simple greetings to the school and family, to weather, the seasons, and sports, to a comparison of the Arab and American diet.
QFI’s Arabic Language and Culture intern, Tim Hursen, interviewed Samah and Shaima to gain insight on their experience. More information can be found about the Michigan Arabic Teachers’ Council at their website.
Could you give me a brief biography of yourself?
Samah Idris: I was born and raised in Syria; I earned my BA in English Literature from Damascus University. I lived between Syria and the United States for several years before I moved permanently back to the States to continue my graduate education at Wayne State University to obtain my Master of Arts in teaching.
Shaima Basuni: I was born in Yemen, and came to the United States in the early 2000s. I attended the last year of high school in USA which was a challenge. I motivated myself and went on to community college and then to university. I earned my bachelor’s degree in Arts and Master of Arts in Teaching – Secondary Education/ Foreign Language Education.I am also a certified Arabic teacher and my certification area is K-12 Secondary area, teaching arabic as a second language.
What languages do you speak?
Both: Arabic and English
Where do you teach:
Samah Idris: I teach Arabic at Riverside Academy West in Dearborn, Michigan to middle and high school students for grades sixth to eleventh.
Shaima Basuni: I teach in Ann Arbor Public Schools in Michigan. I am the only Elementary level Arabic teacher in my district and I teach in three different Elementary schools which are: Allen, Carpenter and Mitchell Elementary. I travel between the schools based on my schedule.
Why did you decide to become an Arabic teacher?
Samah Idris: I wanted to be a teacher ever since I started volunteering with my daughter’s kindergarten class. I decided to become an Arabic teacher because I wanted to take part in the development of Arabic as a foreign language taught in the United States and to help revive the importance of Arab culture in the Arab community.
Shaima Basuni: I have always wanted to be a teacher since I was child. The great teachers I have had throughout my education are my heroes and my role models. I always wanted to be a good model for young learners. I decided to become an Arabic teacher to make a difference and make learning Arabic more fun for students.
Advice to new Arabic teachers:
Samah Idris: I advise using the target language most of the time because it has a significant positive impact on the students’ learning. Also, using a student centered classroom in which the students guide the learning process in order to yield the best results. A student centered classroom will teach students independence, confidence, and how to take charge of their education.
Shaima Basuni: Patience goes a long way. Remember that not every student possesses the same level of comprehension. Repetition is always helpful to students and setting up an organized, detailed schedule for the students to follow is key. Keep the lessons creative and interesting by incorporating visuals, hands-on activities and technology. Also, remember that your goal is to raise open-minded adults for the future.
What is your top recommended/favorite Arabic teaching resource:
Samah Idris: I use Al-Masdar because it provides numerous valuable resources for teachers.
Shaima Basuni: I use different websites but mostly I visit Little Thinking Minds and Al-Masdar.
How have you been involved with QFI programs?
Samah Idris: QFI supported me in participating in a workshop at the Concordia Language Village in Minnesota, the ACTFL convention in 2014, and I am also a QFI Teacher Fellowship grant recipient. QFI provided me with a professional advisor to follow up on my graduate studies towards my Master’s degree in Arabic at Wayne State University.
Shaima Basuni: QFI supported me in many ways to become an Arabic language educator and effective teacher. I was a QFI Teacher Fellowship grant recipient for 2013 through 2015. I have also participated in many QFI professional development opportunities for Arabic teachers since 2013.
What does the profession of Arabic teaching in the U.S. most need?
Samah Idris: The profession of Arabic teaching needs more certified teachers, more demand for the language, and support to get educational materials such as books.
Shaima Basuni: We need updated and modern materials especially for our non-heritage students. We also need access to books that are age appropriate.
Why did you choose to develop units for elementary level education?
Samah Idris: I love working with elementary school children; they are in need of resources appropriate for their age. The elementary age is the time when the child absorbs most information about a foreign language and has the best opportunity to learn the language and speak it fluently like a native speaker. Therefore, I wanted to invest my resources in the elementary level education.
Shaima Basuni: There was a lack of resources and units to develop. I want to reach today’s generation, rather than focus on older units that are outdated. Today’s students need constant ways and techniques to keep their interest in Arabic alive.
Do your units assume students have previous knowledge of the Arabic alphabet?
Samah Idris: No, our units provide for learning the letters of the alphabet.
Shaima Basuni: No. The units are targeted towards non-heritage students.
Can you tell us a little bit about the process of developing the units? Who was involved? What were the challenges?
Samah Idris: Dr. Wafa Hassan directed us and gave us the guidelines to develop the units. She guided us through. Some of the challenges I faced were that my laptop did not support the cursive Arabic alphabet; it would only type the separated form of the letter rather than the cursive form.
Shaima Basuni: We choose units with the students’ interests in mind. By making personal connections, the students feel more at ease with the unit. We set up a plan and developed a template for the unit. This included identifying a target, objective, standards, essential questions, tasks to be performed, etc. Besides Samah Idris and myself, Dr. Wafa Hassan, the director of the Michigan Teacher’s Council, guided us and provided critical and helpful feedback. The challenges we faced were in the editing process. To go back and forth with editing material was difficult before we discovered Google Docs.
Many YouTube videos are incorporated into your units. How did you find these videos? Why did you choose these videos over others?
Samah Idris: It took a lot of research and time to find the material on YouTube. We chose it because it was age appropriate, authentic, informative, and fun. We also chose some videos that included songs because songs can make learning easier; we focused on the videos that were mostly or all in Arabic.
Shaima Basuni: We believe in visual learning, especially with the younger students, because it holds their attention and focus. Also, to refrain from using English, we specifically chose videos that were strictly in Arabic. These videos were carefully chosen to teach about a certain culture and songs were included. We chose those videos that most accurately aligned with our objectives and criteria.
How do you determine which supplementary teaching materials are useful and which are ineffective?
Samah Idris: I can determine this based on my experience as a teacher with previous students. I mostly depend on my students’ reactions to the materials and adjust the teaching materials accordingly.
Shaima Basuni: It’s almost a type of trial and error, you have to try something a certain way and if that way does not work well with the students, then you try a different approach. Keep the lessons fresh and new, and focus on the lesson objectives. Teaching materials that are ineffective for some teachers may be effective for others who employ a different teaching method. It is all about approach.
How would you describe your involvement in the Michigan Teachers’ Council?
Samah Idris: I am an active member. I attend all meetings. It’s very beneficial as it provides resources for teachers, professional development sessions, and allows for communication between teachers so that they may benefit from each other.
Shaima Basuni: I am a board member in the Michigan Arabic Teachers’ Council. I attend almost all of the meetings and try to stay as involved and active as possible in discussions, activities and sharing my own personal experiences.
What inspires you to continue teaching Arabic?
Samah Idris: Teaching the new generation a language and culture that I love and keeping the Arabic language alive in the United States.
Shaima Basuni: The workshops and training I attend give me a fresh perspective and motivate me to move further with my students by incorporating different approaches to teaching into my methods.
Learn more about QFI’s Arabic Teachers’ Councils.