Thursday, March 7, 2013

My Philosophy of Teaching Chinese as a Second Language


My teaching philosophy came into being from my dual identities: I have been a teacher of CSL (Chinese as a second language) for 17 years, and a learner of ESL (English as a second language) for 30 years.  Both experiences provided rich soil for the growth and ripeness of my perspectives of good teaching.  Center to all my beliefs, is a key that opens many doors—Differentiated Instruction: there is no one-fit-all size with respect to efficient and successful teaching, because there is always a need to differentiate our teaching, based on students characteristics (age group, proficiency level, learning style, language and cultural background, socioeconomic status, self expectation and purpose of learning, etc.) as well as the characteristics of the language programs students are put in (short term/long term, immersion, bilingual, weekend school, high school, college, business, etc.).

I would like to outline some general principles I adhere in my classroom practice as the following. 

1.  I teach with communicative methods focusing on students’ language proficiency.

 Second language is a skill.  I provide learning experiences that help my students build up their language skills in listening, speaking, reading and writing.  For beginning students, I create scenarios that resemble real life situations such as greeting and self introduction, dining out, shopping, asking for directions, replying a letter, etc., to work on their BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills); Intermediate to advanced level students need to develop their CALP (Cognitive and Academic Language Proficiency), so I use tasks such as question asking and answering, summarizing a text, writing or talking about the pros and cons of a topic, debating,  and translating English text to Chinese language. The focus of my lesson planning is to create opportunities for students to use their Chinese proficiency so they can survive, communicate with others, express themselves, and conduct educational or professional activities in Chinese language.

2.  Teaching vocabulary is the most fundamental part in my teaching.

Vocabulary size is the foundation on which language proficiency is built, the more words students know, the better comprehension and language application they will reach.  My approach to teaching vocabulary is “repeat, repeat, and repeat”.  Studies of human brains showed that in order to save a word in our long-term memory, we need to review the word for 7 times across a period of time.  In my vocabulary teaching, I try to present the key vocabulary in different modes and formats repetitively, and provide students with opportunities to encounter and practicing using them frequently.  We watch pictures and videos to learn the meanings of them, work on vocabulary brainstorm and word maps to categorize them, we used flash cards, memory games, matching games and graphic organizers to work on the definition, pronunciations, and parts of speech, we practice using them in sentences, and compare them with their English equivalents.  Since Chinese language has a different writing system from the phonetic one, being able to pronounce the word does not mean students can read it, I created videos teaching students about radicals— the semantic elements of Chinese characters, so they could get a fix of the meaning of new vocabulary by reading the radical of it.

3.  Maximize “Comprehensible Input” is a concept overarching my class design.

Many people believe that “immersion” is the best way to learn a second language and teachers should only use target language in the classroom.  However, Krashen has mentioned that it is the quality, other than the quantity of language input students are receiving that counts.  In order to learn a language, students have to understand what is being talked about.  From my own experience of learning English, “total immersion”, without any support or aid from first language or other forms, was frustrating and daunting, because I could not make any sense out of the language I heard.  

Now as a teacher, I try to provide my students with various supports to increase the amount of comprehensible input. Pictures, comics, slideshows, videos and movies help students visualize and understand concepts and contents; Music, songs, art, games, and TPR strategies help lower students’ affective filters and increase understanding.  I incorporate cooperative learning activities so students can interact with and learn from each other; I allow students’ use of English so they can find support from their first language and transfer their English knowledge and literacy into Chinese language; I encourage them to compare Chinese with English, and find out the similarities and differences.

4. I make efforts to support overall cognitive and academic development of learners, which is especially important for students of young age.

 At Dallas Modern Chinese School, my students are teenagers aged 12-17, a stage characterized by rapid physical growth, earnest desire to explore life and the world, constant searching for their identities and pondering “Who am I?”   I believe a Chinese as second language course for these students should be a lens through which they see and learn about the world, not only Chinese language and culture.  Therefore, I work on bringing the real world into the classroom (example: use authentic materials from Chinese newspaper articles and ads for teaching, talk about current affairs and events that happen in both China and the U.S.), and making connections between Chinese language and other school subjects (example: use texts on a variety of topics such as world history, science, politics, art, music and social study).  Two years ago, when Tiger Mom by Amy Chua aroused heated discussions in the U.S., I led a similar talk among my Chinese-heritage students.  We compared the different parenting styles between the west and east, shared their feelings about their Chinese parents, dug into the cultural roots of both parenting styles, and eventually came to realized that there was really no formula for a standardized parenting style, and that good parenting is a balance. Throughout this activity, we practiced Chinese language, made connection to their family background and the real world, and most importantly, raised the awareness of their cultural identity, which I believe would play an essential role in their future adulthood.

5.  I promote global awareness and multiculturalism through teaching Chinese.

Language and culture are closely related and interdependent to each other.  The experience of second language learning will be inevitably expanded to a cultural dimension.  Just like we cannot take for granted that each English word will find an equivalent in Chinese, or each sentence in English can be translated word by word into Chinese and still make sense (as Google translator assumes), we need to be open-minded not only to the differences of language, but also to those of culture, value system, religion, social belief and so forth.  In our explorations of language and culture, I help students learn the equal importance of each culture, and show respect to different views and opinions.  I believe having this mindset will help them effectively collaborate with people from other cultures, in this increasingly globalized world.

6. Technology enhances second language teaching and learning.

Technology opened a new horizon of teaching second language. I am greatly passionate about technology and use technology as my teaching assistant.  I use photo editing and infographic tools to create signs and posters, create videos to teach Chinese characters, make podcasts on text recording, create online flash cards, word clouds, and games to teach vocabulary, make Prezi presentations for culture events, offer online learning experiences by making Sidevibes and Webquests, publish students’ work on online blog, conduct online teaching via virtual classroom on WizIQ, and create online learning groups on Voicethread.  I conduct assessment and surveys through online tools such as Google forms. I also allow students to demonstrate their understandings in different modes with help of technology.  Examples of my technology implementation can be found in my online portfolio:

Using technology in teaching increases students’ interest and motivation; provides visual and aural aids for comprehension; help students gather information fast and easily; enable them to present their learning in various modes and creative ways, share their products with broad audience, and make learning fun! It also helps students practice their computer skills called for by the future work places.

As I mentioned in the beginning, good teaching is all about “differentiating”.  I am always prepared to tailor my instruction to meet students’ needs and help them succeed in their study of Chinese language, as well as being a good learner of the world.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Chunk & Chew: An Effective Strategy for Second Language Teaching

I am teaching Chinese at several local Chinese Heritage schools.  For this project, I chose my class of Advanced Chinese Reading at Dallas Modern Chinese Language School (DMCLS) at Richardson.  DMCLS is a non-profit, community-based Sunday school, with a history of 15 years of teaching Chinese language and culture, and 300-400 students (aged 4-17) enrolled.   Chinese language courses of all levels in two different tracks have made our school stand out among other Chinese schools in Dallas area.  Besides Chinese courses, we also offer interest classes such as chess, math, art, basketball, webpage creating, etc.   The majority of students are of Chinese immigration background from Highland Park, Plano, and Allen.  Chinese is their home language, but their Chinese proficiency, especially reading and writing may vary, depending on the years of learning and the degree they are using it.
My class consists of 16 Chinese American students aged 12-14.  Most of them were born in the U.S., they speak Chinese at home and started going to Chinese schools since they were 5 or 6 years old.  The class meets on every Sunday afternoon for 2 hours and each week they need to spend an average of 2-3 hours on their Chinese homework.  When I took over this class, each student has at least spent 720-900 hours on Chinese learning.  However, just like all heritage language learners, there is a discrepancy between their oral proficiency and literacy: they could carry on chatty and hilarious conversations with me in Chinese (although mainly in simple sentences), but when it comes to writing, the simple (sometime babyish) oral tone, undetailed descriptions, loosely connected text, and frequent errors appeared in their writings all indicate that their writing proficiency is at intermediate level (ELPS).
The textbook we are using this year is Boya Chinese (Intermediate Spurt I), by Peking University Press, China.  Originally designed for international college students who learn Chinese as their second language, this textbook includes more academic language materials and discussions on up-to-date social/cultural phenomena and issues.  I am feeling my students are at the transforming stage from BISC to CALP (Cummins, 1978).  As a language teacher, I think my role is to help them learn academic language through reading and writing.
Chunk and Chew
Chunk and Chew means the teacher pauses after delivering a “chunk” of lessons, and allow students to “chew” the information in the “chunk” either individually, in small groups, or whole class.   Chunk and Chew has been one of the most effective teaching strategies I use in my classroom, because it allows the teacher to tap into students’ understanding frequently along the way of teaching, as well as gives students time to think, reflect, and discuss the information and lead to better and deeper understanding of both language and content.
I decided to use Chunk and Chew strategy in my teaching of the text Joking about Chinese. This article summarizes the characteristics of Chinese people, how overseas Chinese strive to keep their heritage, and what the essence of Chinese culture and philosophy is. The text is written in a tone of banter.
  I chose Chunk and Chew for this class, because my intermediate level students  will need more time to pause and think about the academic vocabulary, process and practice using the academic and complicate language structures in the text, they also need to pause and reflect on cross-cultural communication questions related to their own experiences and respond to open-ended questions. Through activities of small groups or whole class discussion, they need to develop their higher order thinking skills, as well as the language skills to express their opinions, to agree and disagree, to compare and contrast etc.  In addition, reading and writing abilities are closely related, the more comprehensible input students receive from their reading, the more language output and better language use would show up in their writing.  Chunk and Chew will help my students gain better understandings of the text and provide more opportunities to practice their language skills which will in return help with their writing in the future.
These are things I do for building background before the Chunk and Chew:
·       New vocabulary. I require my students to pre-study the vocabulary list I hand out each week.  Each lesson starts from checking on the vocabulary, in which each of them receives a sheet with Pinyin (the roman letter phonetic system) on which they are supposed to write the Chinese characters.
·       Check on pre-study language exercises.  Students are required to finish some language exercises on the book with a pencil. When we meet each week, we will share how each of them did on these exercise in whole class.
·       Brainstorm.  We will brainstorm the common stereotypes people have for Chinese and categorize these stereotypes under positive and negative.  We will talk about stereotypes are not necessarily true.
Following is a sample lesson plan for using Chunk and Chew in my reading class:
Lesson 7: Joking About Chinese

Chunk and Chew
V: Vocabulary             LP: Language Point                        RQ: Reflective Question            A: Activity
Paragraph 1, 2
(Chinese are addicted to work.)
V:  crazy, nationality, labor
LP:  there is nothing more…
       simply (for exaggeration)
RQ: What examples are offered in the text to support the main idea?
A:  whole class discussion
Paragraph 3, 4
(Chinese love land.)
(Chinese love saving.)
V: figure out
LP:  no matter…
RQ:  What Americans plant in their backyard?  Why do a lot of Chinese Americans plant vegetables in their backyard?  What are the social/economic roots that bond Chinese to land?
How Chinese and Americans differ in terms of spending?
A: Think Pair Share
Paragraph 5
(Chinese don’t care about privacy.)
V: privacy, inquire, break up, psychiatrist
RQ:  What are considered as privacy?  How do Chinese and Americans think differently about privacy?  How do you respond to inquiries of your privacy?
A:  whole class discussion
Paragraph 6, 7
(Chinese are moderate.)
 (Chinese are proud.)
V:  traditional, moderate, confident, well-educated, compliment
LP:  call…as…
RQ: What is the characteristic of the Chinese –style moderate?  What are you expecting to respond to the Chinese moderate?
A: Insert Method (Students mark on the materials they already know, they didn’t know before, and they are surprised to find out)
Paragraph 8
(Overseas Chinese try to keep their heritage.)
V:  Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia
RQ:  What traditional traits can you find in your family?
A:  whole class discussion
Paragraph 9—end
(Chinese philosophy.)
V:  philosopher, survive
RQ:  What was the moral to the story? What do you think is the major difference between Chinese and Western culture?
A:  whole class discussion

Each “Chunk” is 1 or 2 paragraphs in the text. I usually have 1 student read through the chunk, during his/her reading, the other students are required to underline words/phrases they either do not understand, feel confused, or they think important.  For most of the times, the students can accurately pinpoint the words/phrases I planned to have them “chew” on.
 Vocabulary and language points are the first things we look at. I will write these words on the board, ask the students to explain them either in English or Chinese, and practice using some language structures in relevant context.  Some common exercises we use are: finishing the teacher’s sentence, answering teacher’s question, and translating between Chinese and English.  After chewing on the language, I will pose some reflection questions on the content for students to discuss and encourage them to use the newly learned words in their speaking. The discussion will be carried either in small groups or whole class.  In the above lesson plan, the whole text was divided into six chunks. For each chunk, we will spend about 10 minutes to chew on.
 I will assess the effectiveness of Chunk and Chew through the following means:
1. An end-of-class activity “Stand Up and Sit Down”.  In this activity, I will ask students to listen to a list of statements made based on the text we just learned.  Some statements are about the meanings of words, such as “The word 民族 means nationality”, while others are ideas and opinions expressed in the text such as “The author believed that the essence of Chinese culture is soft from outside but tough and durable in the core”.  Students stand up from their seats if they agree with the statement they hear, and vice versa.  This activity functioned as a summary of the language and content objectives and can check everything from small words to big ideas. The teacher will have chances to find out students’ confusion or misunderstanding if there is any, and fix these problems if necessary.
2. The after-reading homework.  Usually I hand out a class review sheet for the students to finish as homework.  In the review sheet, I would include a list of sentences excerpt from the text with important words underlined, the students are supposed to explain these words either in Chinese or in English. Or, I would include some language practices such as finishing sentences with certain language point within given context.  Sometimes I make students write a short passage to recap our class discussion on one question.
Assessment Results
According to the result of assessment, I think Chunk and Chew works well in my classroom.  For the language part, the students had at least learned the essential academic words and language points for 4 times—through pre-study, Chunk and Chew, end-of-class activity, and homework.   Most of the students showed correct understanding of these language elements.  For the content objectives, most students had no trouble organizing their language and expressing their ideas on the topic.  Chunk and Chew strategy was effective at helping students build up their academic vocabulary, deepening the understanding, and supporting the practice of language use.
Chunk and Chew is good for language learners of all levels, because it reflects the way human brains process information.  Through this activity, language learners are allowed to process materials step by step, without being overwhelmed in the ocean of information.  Chunk and Chew supports both direct instruction and student-centered instruction.  When I recall the progress of my learning of English as the second language, many of my English teachers had been using this strategy in their direct instruction and it worked well.  I believe those are the reasons that make it a long lasting and effective teaching strategy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Heart House Dallas Tutoring Project Report


Founded in 2000, Heart House Dallas is a free after-school program serving at-risk students of Northeast Dallas.  Since many parents work two jobs, their children had to stay home alone afterschool from 3 to 6 pm.  These students are “at extremely high risk due to gangs, crime, violence, teen pregnancy, predators, drug trafficking, and other dangers that threaten to destroy their lives” (Heart House, 2011).   
As a non-profit organization located at Wildflower Apartments complex, Heart House is currently serving hundreds of students of low income, refugee families from Thailand, Burma, Nepal and other Southeast Asian countries.  To be illegible for the free after school program, students and their family have to be residents in this complex.  The application process is easy: parents only need to fill out an application form.  Bus transportation is provided from the public schools the students attend to the afterschool program.  During the 2.5 hours each day, students receive snacks, helps with homework, and academic support from the program staffs and volunteers.
For the first 3 weeks, I served as a volunteer ESL teacher at Wildflower clubhouse, where the students are in grades K-3. The first day, I was impressed by the new playground outside of the clubhouse, as well as the clean and neat classrooms with lots of books and art supplies.  I was amazed by how much Heart House had done for the children with limited funding from foundations and donations.
My learning group consisted of 6 children aged 7.   They spoke 3 different home languages: Chin, Karen and Nepali. Most of them showed a strong sense of identity, frequently offering to tell us how to say an English word in THEIR languages.  Their oral English skills varied greatly, from almost zero output to near-native proficiency, depending on the time of arrival.  I noticed that the students with low English proficiency were the ones that stayed quiet for the most of time.  Besides language and cultural difficulties, they also need to deal with things happened in their families: Cece’s mother just left home, and Cece had no idea of when she would come back again; Dominic tried hard to draw my attention, by requesting to sit next to me, and expecting to be treated differently from other children, which I believed derived from the lack of attention from his parents/guardians.  Although apparently they are as happy as the children in Highland Park, their refugee experiences, language and cultural background, family structure, and SES will inevitably affect their learning and academic achievements.
 We worked on the poem The Naughty Word by Bill Dodds to go along with the Poetry Karate at Heart House.  Since their English proficiency is at the beginning level, they read with high frequency words, and concrete words represented by pictures (ELPS), I decided to employ pictures, visual supports (highlighters), card games in the vocabulary teaching. We started with highlighting the interesting/difficult words in the poem, and drawing pictures to illustrate these words.  Then we played a flash card game with the high frequency and sight words in the poem and a rhyming game to help them learn the pronunciation of words.
I think pictures, drawings, illustrations, even highlighters and markers worked well with these young children.  They showed great interest in learning vocabulary and found clue of meanings through these forms.  Games are good strategy, as long as the class management is effective. Playing game was a sweaty experience for me, because I (had never taught young children before) had a hard time trying to control their voices and keep the game going smoothly.
I had to adjust the content and language objectives of my instruction, because it would be impossible for most of them to memorize the poem.  I tried to help each of them know how to read the whole poem.  I also learned I should break down the whole poem into several parts and work on one part at a time for these young children.
The students at Pineland location are older than those at Wildflower.  My little group had three girls and one boy aged 12-13.  Their first languages were Chin and Nepali.  They also had some literacy in their first language.  The time of their residence in the U.S. ranged from 3 months to 3 years.  The boy who just arrived 3 months ago could understand and speak very limited English, but luckily, he sought help from Sui, a girl speaking the same language and had been here for 3 years.  Sui was also the interpreter between me and the boy.  From this I learned the support of the first language is very important for ESL students of older age. 
My Asian face brought me closer to them, and made them very curious about my first language and background.  They found a book written in multi-languages and invited me to read the Chinese part, while they read in their first languages.  They asked me how to say “hello”, “goodbye” “Where are you going” in Chinese and made me repeat again and again, even asked me to give each of them a Chinese name.  Later, I had to remind them I was here to teach English, not Chinese.  However, these interesting interactions indicated that these students were very self conscious about their culture and language.  In order to lower the affective filters of ESL students, their culture and language, their first language skills should be valued by the teacher.
The theme of our first class was the poem I Don’t Want to Do Homework.  I started planning for the instruction by looking at my ELPS for their language proficiency level.  The boy was definitely at beginning level, while the girls are at intermediate level.  I tried the following 3 things in my group:
1.  Music.  Since the poem goes well to the tune of Take Me Out to the Ball Game, I used the music ( of the song.  I chose the version without lyrics so that the students could match the music and the poem perfectly without being distracted.  I brought my laptop to Heart House and led students to sing out the poem with music.  The students were excited and enjoyed the singing.  I think using music to teach English is an effective strategy, especially for younger learners.  Music helps with their memorization of the poem, and helps them retain the memory that related to the leaning of language.

2.  I used graphic organizer in the teaching of vocabulary.  As one type of instructional scaffolding, graphic organizers help students organize and visualize the information they are learning.  I used a revised Frayer Model to teach vocabulary such as “math” “parade”.
3.  For the third class, I prepared a work scramble game on the theme of Thanksgiving. I chose this game mainly based on the consideration of differentiated instruction. I wanted to use something that allows both my beginning level boy and the intermediate girls to create their answers of their levels.  This word scramble game provided us with this flexibility. 
I also prepared a reading article on Thanksgiving for the very last class, and included 2 reflection questions, “ Did you ever move to a place that was very different from your former home?  Was it hard to get used to?  Did anyone help you find your way around?” “Thanksgiving is an American holiday celebrating harvest and giving thanks.  Is there an important holiday in your culture?  Use the Venn diagram to compare Thanksgiving with a holiday in your home culture.  Consider the difference of their names, time of celebration, tradition, history, foods, purpose, etc.)  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to use these materials since the children were making art projects and we felt hard to interrupt them.  Anyway, I think I had some good thoughts on relating the learning materials to the students’ real life circumstances. 
Tutoring at Heart House was an unforgettable experience.  Children benefited from this after school program.  Ms. Jenny in the Pineland location said she witnessed great progress children are making months after their enrollment.  The safe environment and academic support provided by Heart House made these immigrant children’s adaption to the U.S. easier.  Heart House also helped build a community where these students can speak their home language, make friends, and find support from their peers.  At the same time, Heart House also benefit the employers since the working parents could remain focused on their jobs in the afternoon knowing that their children are safe and supervised (Heart House, 2011).
Through the tutoring at Heart House, I learned in order to help ESL students, an ESL teacher should:
1.             Respect and value their first language, relate learning with their prior experience and real life circumstance, praise their bilingual skills, celebrate their culture and build their confidence and self-esteem.
2.             Focus on teaching vocabulary, because learning vocabulary is essential for learners of all proficiency levels.  Provide visual support for younger learners and learners at beginning level.
3.             Allow the use of first language among students.  Provide support of first language when possible. 
Echevarria, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D.J. (2008).  Making content comprehensible for English learners: the SIOP model (3rd ed.).  Boston, MA: Pearson Education Inc.
English Language Proficiency Standards (ELPS). (2011).
Heart House (2011).

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Final Reflection--Technology is Awesome!

        Along with the fast progress of human innovation, technology provides today’s education with new horizons and unlimited possibilities for technology use in schools and classrooms.  I believe this technology course helps prepare today’s classroom teachers with current and wide knowledge of technology uses in educational settings, as well as chances to learn and practice their technology integration to serve their teaching works.
I would still recommend using the same textbook (Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching, by Boblyer & Doering), organized, based on solid educational theories, including rich and up-to-date information of software and websites, which is one of my favorite parts of this course (my most memorable moments are those when I was playing with the technology tools, software, and exploring the websites recommended in the chapters).  It is great when you don’t have to search aimlessly and take lessons from your failures.  With the guidance, you are simply learning the best and most successful practices of technology.  Now I have better and clearer pictures of the categories and types of educational technologies.  In my area of teaching, I know where to find these technology resources and what websites and software are reliable and top-rated.
I also learned the foundations of effective technology integration are learning theories, essential conditions and Technology Integration Planning (TIP) Model.  TIP model is central to the successful technology implementation.   Classroom teachers should always use this model to guide through their practice, starting from self-assessment of their knowledge, determining relative advantages, deciding on objectives and assessments, to designing integration strategies, preparing for the instructional environment, and evaluation. 
The best thing I took out from this course is I actually started using some of the technologies in my teaching.  I tried using Voicethread, the digital story telling tool, to model reading for my students who speak a different home language, and provide opportunities for them to learn each other.  I created podcasts and uploaded the recording of text and stories in second language for students to listen and finish assignments.  I polished my skills of using Microsoft Word Processor, in the preparation of teaching materials and test papers.  I feel like I am no longer afraid of using technology.  I also received positive feedbacks from both my students and parents.
I took one of Dr. Tiffily’s courses in the spring, and she closed our course by recounting a true story happened on her:  trying to save a failing marriage, she went to a book store and started reading a book that was supposed to help.  As she browsing through the pages, she noticed the book offered strategies such as writing little love notes and hide them under the pillow, or having a romantic dinner in a fancy restaurant to recall the old memories and so forth.  “Nothing special, everybody knows these little tricks”, she came to the last page, which seemed to respond to her thinking, “These small things might not be big deals, but how many of these things did you actually TRIED to save your relationship?” 
I am always inspired by the story and believe this also suits the situation of educational technology integration.  Ask yourself: How many of the technologies and strategies have you actually used in your teaching?  Keep in mind: It is good to think big, but it is also important to start small.