What is Effective Curriculum in the Minority Language Learning Classroom?
Curriculum takes content (from external standards and local goals) and shapes it into a plan for how to conduct effective teaching and learning. It is thus more than a list of topics and lists of key facts and skills (the “input”). It is a map of how to achieve the “outputs” of desired student performance, in which appropriate learning activities and assessments are suggested to make it more likely that students achieve the desired results (Wiggins & McTighe, 2006, p. 6).
The definition of curriculum by Wiggins and McTighe above, while not a perfect representation of my personal definition, conveys several points that resonate with me and my teaching pedagogy in minority language instruction.
First, their definition speaks of shaping content to be effective. In my most recent course with University of the People we discussed the relationship between content and context. “Focusing primarily on content produces student learning that may be unconnected to life events and largely meaningless” (Schunk, 2012, p. 40). In my perspective, language learning curricula are too often focused on “the acquisition of pre-determined skills” (Talebi, 2015) rather than a flexible-enough curriculum to adapt to a students’ language needs and desires. And the quote above also echoes this idea by pointing out that content is “from external standards and local goals” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2006, p.6).
I have experienced this myself as a student. When I took Arabic in college, my course was built solely on writing and reading the language with no time spent on conversation skills. This was frustrating for all of us, but especially for my classmates who were in the military and would be shipped out at the end of the semester; their dire need was to be able to communicate effectively in the language. Compare this with my experience learning Hungarian in preparation for a two year church mission. The sole focus of our learning was on being able to serve the community and teach; our classes were founded on these priorities and as a result, our ability to communicate improved significantly (almost shockingly) with every day.
Second, their definition of curriculum also speaks of the “outputs” of our lesson plans. For me, language teaching must be focused on the outputs of communication and connection. Do my students leave my American Sign Language class eager and able to converse in the Deaf community? Are they able to connect with their Deaf peers or meet the needs of their Deaf customers? Having a clear output goal is key to effective and efficient language learning. That said, when we speak of “outputs,” we as teachers walk a fine line with the negative elements of a behaviorist theory approach; where, like a computer, we input numbers and expect standard and uniform responses from our students. (An approach that I feel reigns in most language learning classrooms with an exclusive focus on grammar, conjugations, and examinations.) In essence, we sacrifice meaningful and applicable learning (context) for content that is “easy to measure” (Borich & Tombari, n-d).
Borich, G. D. & Tombari, M. L. (n-d). “Behaviorism in the Classroom.” Lumen Educational Psychology. https://courses.lumenlearning.com/edpsy/chapter/behaviorism-in-the-classroom/
Richards, J.C. (2013, March 11). Curriculum Approaches in Language Teaching: Forward, Central, and Backward Design. RELC Journal, 44(1), 5 –33. doi: 10.1177/0033688212473293
Schunk, D. H. (2012). Learning theories: an educational perspective (6th ed.). Pearson. https://www.researchgate.net/file.PostFileLoader.html?id=53ad2847cf57d75c068b45c5&assetKey=AS%3A273549456019456%401442230680395
Talebi, K. (2015). John Dewey - Philosopher and Educational Reformer. European Journal of Education Studies, 1(1). https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED564712.pdf
Wiggins G, McTighe J (2006) Understanding by Design: A Framework for Effecting Curricular Development and Assessment. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1885909/