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.