by Maryam Moeini Meybodi, Graduate School of Education
Teaching Effectiveness Award Essay, 2020
At the first day of my Persian 11 series classes, designed specifically for heritage speakers, I ask my students what has motivated them to learn Persian. Ninety-nine percent of the time learning about the Persian culture/history is among the top answers. Teaching a heritage language to a diasporic population is a challenge in and of itself, let alone when the target language is a less commonly taught language with limited access to instructional and cultural resources. A couple of weeks into my first semester of teaching, I realized that the most pressing pedagogical challenge was the incorporation of cultural lessons into daily grammatical instructions. The quest was to design activities that enabled students to practice different forms of communication while learning about their culture.
In order to target multiple skills, I developed an activity called the “Detective Game.” In this task-based exercise, students are divided into two groups: detectives and famous cultural figures (e.g., singers, actors, poets, etc.). Each detective receives a quest card listing the characteristics of the person they should be looking for. The cultural figures group also receives an identification card listing their most important characteristics/biographical information. After reviewing their cards, I ask the students to spread out, and the detectives to start looking for their lost figures. Successful completion of this activity requires students to engage and practice multiple language skills: reading, speaking, and comprehension. As one of the most popular exercises in my class, this activity creates a quasi-situation for students to interact with each other, practice their conversational skills, and become acquainted with famous cultural and literary figures.
In order to evaluate the effectiveness of this activity, I used multiple assessment methods. First, I would oversee students as they engage in inquiry-based conversations and evaluate their communicative skills. Furthermore, students’ understanding of interrogative sentence format in Persian would be quizzed at the end of the week in order to ensure the effectiveness of the activity. Lastly, another indication of this activity’s effectiveness has been students’ feedback in mid-/end of the term evaluations as well as increased curiosity about the different cultural figures they did not know about. Similar task-based activities have been used at different stages of my classes in order to provide students with the opportunity to engage in various cultural customs while developing their language skills.