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.