As part of their final Oral Project, I asked my Students of Beginner Arabic II to create a video guided by an arm’s length list of criteria (linguistic and nonlinguistic). Incorporating a cultural element was one of the items on that list and students were left to their own devices to choose what the element would be (they were allowed to consult the internet should the need arise).
So far, nothing is really new or surprising; incorporating culture is a procedure that the absolute vast majority of Yale language faculty members adopt in one way or the other, on some level or the other. What was surprising – and pleasantly so I might add – was the fact that students went the extra mile to incorporate a challenging cultural element into their project when in all honesty, they could have taken a much easier path. They taught themselves a musical piece from pop Arabic music and designed the plot of their video round the idea of an international young man who aspires to be a student of Arabic music in an Arab country. Moreover they actually managed quite successfully to tie in this cultural aspect from material that I had taught them the previous semester. As a language faculty, I always wonder as to the nature of the aspects of knowledge (linguistic and otherwise) that students retain in their memory over time, and the reason behind this retention. And here was the answer, presented to me on a silver plate; students dig culture. And I am not only talking in terms of the current notion of this American English idiom, but I am also saying that they will dig and recover cultural aspects that penetrated their memory, finding a permanent place in it where they’re ready to be unearthed willingly even if this is not the easiest path.
When other students were asked to give peer review using the form below, they – unanimously – gave this project excellent for creativity. And when asked why, they all attributed it to incorporating the music.
This project was an eye opener for me as a member of language faculty. It highlighted language teaching/learning perspectives from the students’ point of view. It is like a huge red X sign in a treasure hunting map. And when you reach that coveted X sigh, you know to dig here.