Taheerah: Reflecting on Riyadh


Al Yamamah University

Teaching at Al-Yamamah University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as an SIT INTERLINK Fellow since January, Taheerah Ahmad shares some of her recent thinking.  Doing so, she provides an example of developing a reflective teaching practice.

There are several illustrative aspects to her statement.

  1. She refers to the triangle of I-Thou-It, a helpful framework often invoked at SIT to differentiate teaching and learning relationships.
  2. Taheerah demonstrates each aspect of the experiential learning cycle: description, analysis, hypothesis, application.
  3. She refers to SIT faculty by their first names, a symbol of their personal and collegial importance to her, and as a reflection that all classroom participants are learners, including teachers.  (Links to their bios and blog posts are at the bottom.)
  4. MAT faculty don’t lecture about good teaching, they model it.
  5. Taheerah exhibits the joy of teaching and learning.  Her students respond in kind and take joy in learning — and in teaching Taheerah.  This is a classroom that demonstrates self-nurturing cycles of joy and learning.

Isn’t this the kind of classroom every student wants to have?

I have had so many learning experiences in my time in Riyadh. My first lesson, that happened rather early, was that all teachers are not student centered. There are “I” centered teachers as well as “thou” (student) centered teachers. There was a conflict in registration with our students. I had 17 students and another teacher had 3. We were supposed to come up with ideas about how to put the groups together. I suggested that we give the students some choices and let them vote. To this teacher it was utterly absurd that we ‘allow’ students to take part in the decision making process.

Another lesson that I learned is that being culturally sensitive is a gift. Generally, every teaching skill I learned at SIT was a gift. The first two weeks of the semester here were trying. The college had moved into a new building when I arrived. I had no books, no internet, no speakers, and no help. I really felt that I had to pull out every skill I had acquired at SIT. I used Elka’s name games to facilitate group dynamics. I used some of Alex’s plans to evaluate students’ prior knowledge.  I used Pat’s intercultural communication skills to survive in a new country. I also used many of Pat’s skills to understand who I was teaching and how their culture affected their acquiring of language. I use Bill’s approaches. My students don’t have a particular style that they like. It takes lots of action to keep their attention.

The students do well learning from practical applications of the language. We have been viewing the assassination of President Kennedy. Using recycled materials, my students recreated the crime scene in Texas. They put their new vocabulary to use and saw it in a practical application. Then they did a show-and-tell of what they created and how it was a part of the crime scene. We did this activity in the middle of watching a documentary to enhance their comprehension. This enhanced their knowledge of the language, gave them a visual representation, and a piece of the culture. Students learn best when they are fully engaged.

lexmed21Another thing that I am learning is how to recognize students’ language gaps. I teach a high level English class. I asked to students to fill out the dialogue for one of Pat’s Lexicarry stories about two love birds that were fighting. My students wanted to make the story funny, but could not find the words they needed. I asked them to tell the story in Arabic which they did with much laughter and joy, and then translated into English.  They said one of the things that they did to make it funny was to speak the Arabic with an Egyptian accent instead of Saudi. They also told me that they would like to joke in English, but they simply don’t know how. At that moment I began to understand what they needed.

They don’t need just vocabulary and grammar drills. They need to understand what we understand. They need to understand the dialects, history, culture, trends, proverbs, and fashion. They need to understand what is normal to English speakers. They need to be able to enjoy the language in order to feel comfortable with the language. They need to be able to tell a joke.


Pat Moran (Read Pat’s blog post.)

Alex Silverman (Read Alex’s blog post.)

Elka Todeva

Bill Conley


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One Response to “Taheerah: Reflecting on Riyadh”

  1. Mohammed Ahmed Says:

    The story about having to teach students when the school itself was new and not equipped with books is an amazing story. I can remember Marshall Brewer telling us this story during the open house and how amazed everyone was. Sounds like a wonderful experience!

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