Creating Language Curriculum for Gen 2.0
Professor Blake Atwood shares his thoughts on creating the Persian language textbook, Persian of Iran Today with co-author Anousha Shahsavari.
What was the genesis for this project?
From the beginning, we understood the scope of the project and how big the scale would have to be. We recognized that to be faithful to our teaching philosophy, we needed to control, sequence, and pace all of the information to which students had access. Every unit needed to build off of the previous units and include plenty of space for repetition and review. We wanted to do it right, even if it meant undertaking a much bigger and more detailed project than we had ever imagined.
Our expectations were exceeded in two ways.
First, the project began as a labor of love because we are passionate about teaching Persian. We were using our own resources. However, the Department of and Center for Middle Eastern Studies quickly recognized our efforts and went above and beyond with their support for the project. Kristen Brustad has been especially supportive. She has been a pedagogical/methodological mentor to the project and she helped secure funding for its development.
Second, we never expected that Persian of Iran Today would catch on and spread so quickly. We are really enthusiastic about the positive feedback that we have received from Persian instructors from around the world.
The story of Persian instruction (especially in the United States) has been wrought with complaints that there isn't a single textbook that gets the job done. Instead, most instructors piece together their Persian language curricula using some existing resources and creating some of their own. Before Persian of Iran Today, this was our fate, too. We would create, supplement, and quilt together a patchwork curriculum to the best of our abilities, but it was time consuming and never fully satisfactory because each set of materials is grounded in a different philosophy and draws on different sequencing patterns and vocabulary.
We began this project to improve our own teaching efforts and with the hope that it would also help other instructors of Persian. By having a curriculum that is well-conceived and effective, we are able to focus more of our energy on teaching and being innovative in the classroom. Anousha and I approached the need for this kind of project from slightly different perspectives. Anousha, as an experienced teacher whose career spans the United States and Iran, understood from the very beginning what this kind of project would mean for teachers and how it would potentially impact the field of Persian language teaching. I, on the other hand, was a student of Persian myself not long ago. So I saw the need for Persian language materials that were more in touch with how young people learn today and I was sensitive to the affect that this kind of curriculum would have on Persian learners.
From our very first conversations, these slightly different viewpoints have led to many wonderful discussions that have really strengthened the project as a whole.
What makes Persian of Iran Today unique?
There are a number of things that make this textbook unique. The most important is the philosophy that informs it. At the core of this project’s philosophy rests the belief that students learn Persian best when they are pushed to make inferences and connections on their own. Persian of Iran Today is unique because it provides thousands of audio-visual files and detailed inductive modules in order to facilitate the student’s first encounter with new material. Because students take responsibility for learning new vocabulary and concepts on their own, the textbook provides designated in-class activities that allow students to use, activate, and master the material they learn at home.
The book is also unique because it carefully controls the amount of vocabulary that students receive and the emphasis is on actively mastering all the vocabulary words, rather than having a loose handle on many vocabulary lists. In many other Persian textbooks, there is long list after long list of vocabulary words that are never reinforced or activated. The book also features inductive grammar lessons that feature questions and activities that encourage students to generate for themselves the rules that govern new structures. Traditional language textbooks describe and explain grammar rules, but we have found it is more effective to have students more engaged in the process of learning grammar.
Finally, we have produced a narrative film called "Cafe Denj" specifically for the textbook. This is, as far as we know, the first film that has been created for a Persian language textbook. The film has been broken up into episodes and each episode corresponds with a unit of the textbook. The film serves as listening comprehension, but it also models different kinds of language use (narrative modes, conversation, etc.) The plot engages students and makes them excited to move forward in the curriculum. And it also adds a sense of cohesion to the work they do, because the film was carefully scripted to include familiar vocabulary and structures.
Persian of Iran Today Volume 1 is available on Amazon.
Persian of Iran Today is also available as an open-source text online and can be found here.