- The Nature of a TPRS Curriculum (4/5/2018) - Last night, I received an email from a Chinese teacher who has been wanting to try out TPRS for a while. Although she hasn’t had any official training, she has been learning everything she can […]
- Meet the Main Characters in Kittens’ Series (4/5/2018) - I hope you are interested in finding out what these 7 books are about. Well, they are about cats. Yes, we used cats as our main characters. They all come from different background and have […]
- Not the Same as Kittens – Story Intros (4/6/2018) - Book 1: I am Beibei! Beibei is a newcomer to Wonzel Town. He is cute, but timid. He really wants to fit in and make friends. So, who will he become friends with? Will it […]
- Navigate Through Kittens’ Supporting Materials (4/6/2018) - I have received quite few emails from teachers who are using “Not The Same As Kittens” curriculum. Two of the most frequently asked questions are: 1) Where do I start with all the supporting materials […]
- How Do You Do Today? (4/8/2020)
What we are going through is so unprecedented. While teaching online reinstalls a form of normality, at the same time, it reminds us how unusual the whole situation has been. Watching the COVID19 cases and victims increase each day, when US’s death toll easily crossed over 10,000 while key politicians are still playing a game of self-worship and personal gain, any reasonable and conscious person would feel the pain, frustration, anger, desperation, hopelessness… inside. And at the same time, we must be the anchor for our students.
I haven’t felt so much tension in my shoulders since I started meditating regularly. Even though, I meditate a minimal twice a day now, I still have to work so hard to keep me at peace. I also notice how quickly I “lose” it.
During a turbulent time, meditation is a survival instinct and a need. I refuse to give in the negative thoughts and feelings, instead, I choose love. Although, I need to remind myself all the time to practice love and choose love.
In a previous post, I wrote about the Wheel of Emotions. Today, I’m going to show you what I have been doing with it and what looks like in my online classroom.
- Mindful Journal. There are three sentences’ writing prompt: a. In my body, I feel… b. In my heart, I feel… c. In my head, I feel…
Students write a new entry in their mindful journal everyday. Once a while, I go in to read everybody’s journal. If someone is really showing a hard time, I either message the person, invite him/her to my office hour or report to the administrators. I believe talking and sharing feelings alone could help us feel better. Please also notice the end of the first sentence, due to typo, I couldn’t understand what she was trying to say until I confirmed with her next class.
2. Small group mindful emotions check in. Following up their mindful journal, students join their small groups in Google Meet and check in with each other. Here is a sample of my Intermediate 1 (Chinese 2) students’ dialogue. Due to their privacy, I have taken out their images from the recording.
3. Teacher facilitation. Here is a clip of me checking in with my intermediate 2 (Chinese 3) students regarding their feelings.
4. I often end my classes with Loving-kindness meditation. Here is a clip of guided meditation with novice level students in English.
With my upper level classes, the guide is in Chinese. It looks like it would be beneficial to record that and share as well.
May you be happy!
May you be healthy!
May you be safe!
May you be held in loving-kindness.
- Guess Who Online: Who’s the Thief? (4/6/2020)
By Pu-mei Leng:
Once we are online, I realize the input activities need to be shortened and students will need to speak more simply because they need to talk. When Lu laoshi showed me her new version of the old mafia game, I was excited. She said that we can simply use private chat to assign the roles to students. I was eager to test it out with my students.
To play a game is a privilege in my class. I do not play very often and they will have to listen to the story carefully. And I usually play with my bigger classes. It has been one of AP class’s favorite games. Most of them are seniors and they are not in high spirits at this time. I want them to have some fun.
What turned out to be a surprise was my least engaged class. I simplified the game as much as I could. I eliminated the doctor and the police and only keep the killer. As I was typing the vocabulary since they have never played the game, I changed the killer to the thief which is a word they have heard and I decided to assign two thieves. I did not even go over the rules but simply told them that we will play a simplified and modified Mafia and I will assign the thieves via private chat. This way I also eliminated the process of whom they will kill.
This was the story I narrated: There is a thief who is very hungry since he did not have money to buy food before the governor’s order of staying at home was announced. He decides the hospital will have food for their patients. He went to the hospital intends to steal some food. But instead, he saw some masks there and thought if he steals masks he will be able to sell them for extra money and buys more food. Everyone is angry (These are the words we have been using all the time since the outbreak in China).
Who is the thief?
They unmute themselves one at a time to speak. They will have to tell who the suspect is and why they think the accused is a suspect. I allow two English words as a rule. Then, for people who really cannot fully express themselves, I let them speak in English. It really does not matter because I repeated and confirmed their reasoning. And some others agreed or disagreed. They ended up have received a lot more input than I thought. They need to convince each other and decide to put one in jail (could be the wrong one). Then, the story continues…the hospital is still missing the masks, is there another thief or the one in the jail is a wrong one? I did not reveal the answer until the last. We played for 35 minutes. Everyone was engaged.
I kept the same storyline for the AP class but added three characters in Lu laoshi’s game. I add a kind doctor, a smart detective and a stupid policeman. I was not clear about the rule because no one was killed and was saved. What happened was other than the thief, the doctor, the police and the detective were identified. Three of them never agreed on anyone. As the accusation goes on, it obvious that they were suspects as well. Sentences such as “the police pretended to be stupid, he is the thief” would come out. I am teaching idiom expression to my seniors and I happily supplied the expression of监守自盗. We did not finish the game, only sent the wrong person to the jail and let out several times (In Zoom, the student used a jail scene to be a virtual background). The game turns out to be a rich language of accusation and arguing, sometimes with English, and I have provided with tons of input.
As I was listening to Pu-mei’s class recording, I was inspired by her ability to paraphrase students’ expression in a simply, easy and comprehensible way. When a student got stuck either with his/her idea or language, Pu-mei paraphrased what they were trying to say, in doing so, she provided another round of compelling and comprehensible input.
For the first time, we are releasing Leng laoshi’s teaching audio. We hope it can benefit Chinese teachers who strive to continue to use comprehensible input and storytelling online.
In a separate post, I’ll share my experience of using Pu-mei’s storyline with my Novice 1 class in a storytelling format.
- Addressing xenophobia (4/1/2020)
By Pu-mei Leng
I still feel the need for addressing the issue of Xenophobia in the Chinese classes even though our students are stressed and even depressed now. For my lower-level classes, instead of discussing and debating the issues directly, I only focused on a simple message: intentionally or unintentionally, discrimination and prejudice hurt people. In a crisis we are facing, we do not need to hurt more people. I believe my students can get this simple message.
What I did was to come up with a simple storyline: A panda was sad and hurt because people call the virus “Panda virus” since his parents were from China. I ran the basic storyline for three classes.
The first class was story-asking, the culprit turned out to be a pig who said “panda virus.”
The second class was a puppet show—I had a bag of finger puppet with me and I told the story. The culprit was a hen (a dog toy with a bikini)
The third class was a story-listening- I drew the figures as I was telling the story.
The class got the same story with different details as their homework. I gave one class reading comprehension and the others listening comprehension and ask them to draw.
Here is the copy for the homework
但是有一天Jose （Jose is my class character, a stuff toy penguin）看见熊猫哭了，Jose问他为什么哭了，是不是因为有冠状病毒，没有人来看他了。
Jose 说：“ 当然不是。不哭了，不要伤心了。”
大象听了，大象很生气。河马听了河马也很生气。他们都从非洲来。他们说：“没有人叫Ibola virus 非洲病毒，为什么叫Covid19 熊猫病毒？岂有此理！”
- Wait, Google Meet? What about Small Group Activities and Interactive Collaboration? (3/30/2020)
By Haiyun Lu
The preparation for teaching online is ramping up in my school. The tech department and administrators have been super supportive. At the same time, they have also provided an overwhelming amount of information regarding teaching online. Supports, protocols, challenges, and unforeseen complications… have been pushed out on a regular basis. This morning, I had three hours’ meeting back-to-back online. Boy, my eyes got so fatigued to a point of getting watery.
I guess you have been reading tons of information regarding teaching online as well. I’m going to keep this post short and simple.
We will be using Google Meet primarily to conduct online instruction. There are so many wonders regarding Google Meet. There are some inevitable challenges associated with it as well. The biggest challenge is the lack of breakout sessions for small group activities/discussion.
How to get around that problem?
- Assign your students into different groups and number each of your groups.
- Create an individual Google Meet link for each group and post it on your course page.
- Design and post your small group activities.
- Set up a specific time for all students, and designate a group leader to bring everyone back. Because they CAN’T be in two Meets at the same time. They would need to log out the whole class meet and join the small group one; then log out the small group meet and rejoin your whole class.
- You can request them to record their Meet if you want to assess their speaking later.
- *** It looks like I need to modify the time which I set. 🙂
Possible solution for interactive/spontaneous responses & small group writing activities.
- Assign your students into different groups and number each of your groups.
- Create an individual Jamboard link (a Google product) for each class, and share the link with your students.
- In the same Jamboard, you could create many different frames/pages, each group could take one frame/page to do collaborative writing/chatting activities. To add more frames, simply click the frame icon in the top center.
- The physical Jamboard is very expensive to purchase, up to $5000. The digital Jamboard doesn’t have all the features like in the physical device. It is okay. We do the best we can. No need to cry over of anything.
- In a big class meet, students need to mute their mics to avoid echos, if a Jamboard is set up and shared with students, you can share your screen when you are using the Jamboard, all students would be able to see each other’s written response live. I’m thinking of playing a Mafia game online with Jamboard. Students can accuse each other and give their rationale live there. It would be so fun.
Additional spontaneous written response solutions:
- Students could use a small physical whiteboard.
- Students could use a drawing APP on their phone or iPad.
- Students could use a clipboard with white paper.
- Google doc/Google slide.
- Chat function (although small to read, difficult to monitor while you are speaking.)
- Classroom Jobs Going Online (3/30/2020)
By Haiyun Lu
Many of you around the globe have already dabbled in different platforms for teaching online. I saw many posts sharing challenges, stresses, ideas, suggestions and success. We are starting first day of online teaching tomorrow. I have been thinking about the need and the importance of creating an online community. I hope to bring in the wonder of classroom jobs online. May this post be a conversation starter for us to all chime in sharing and contributing ideas. Since I haven’t started teaching online yet, I have no expert opinion to offer yet.
Introduction to students:
Dear students, as we are migrating to an online platform, there are many unforeseen challenges we need to discover and adjust to yet. I invite you to share various classroom jobs to facilitate me in this new endeavor. I hope our time together could be productive and we enjoy “being” with each other. There is a sense of community in our online classroom as well. Okay, let’s start…
“Mute” leader: Please use “chat” to remind your peers to mute their mics unless they are called upon or sharing information in class. Especially, after one speaks, it is easy to forget to “mute” oneself again.
“Greeting” leader: In chat to send out your greetings and get everyone to say “hi” in Chinese to each other.
“Mindful Journal” leader: In chat at the beginning of each class, please remind your classmates to start their “Mindful journal”. Any question related to how to do it, please consult the document I created in Google Classroom. (Chinese teachers, you might not see it in this photo, there are two additional versions of Wheel of Emotions in hanzi and pinyin.)
“Mindful break”: Whenever you sense your classmates are getting overwhelmed, send me a private chat to request a mindful break. Or share your peers’ mindful break suggestions as well.
“Class Writer”: Add a slide next to today’s new material slide, take notes during daily report on news/stories, feeling, complains, or collaborative story-asking……
We will have more jobs as we become more familiar with the online platform.
- The Daily Pandemic Report (3/29/2020)
By Pu-mei Leng
Our school had two half-day classes for us to get used to online teaching and last Friday (March 27) was my first day of whole day class. I watched CNN to check the pandemic numbers in the morning before the class. And I made a quick slide intend to teach the current event. As I was teaching, I realize it is the best time to teach Chinese big numbers as a routine as long as we are having online school. The big number in Chinese is confusing to students as we all know. I usually teach big number to high level students when we teach world population. Now if you have students who love to watch contemporary television show may ask you about “几个亿.“ Other than that they do not hear enough big numbers for acquisition.
So I seize the opportunity to teach big numbers as our routine, the daily pandemic report. By the time I heard the congress finally pass the 2 trillion economic stimulus, I was overjoyed that I will teach the word “zhao” for 1 trillion. So I made three slides now:
Page 1： change the data daily (my newer slide added Maryland state’s numbers) since my school is in Maryland.
Page 2: Congress Pass 2 trillion
Page 3 Show this as information. Better yet, challenge your students to compare the Chinese way of counting big number with the English way and find out the “pattern” themselves.
Each day, you can insert a new slide to add in the updated information for that day.
If you’d like to access the PowerPoint, download it here, it is free.
- How Are You Feeling Today? (3/28/2020)
It was close to midnight, my son still struggled to fall asleep. He asked me to snuggle with him. I laid down on the floor on his home camping spot since my niece took over his bedroom, and a friend is staying with us and taking over the guest room. I wrapped one arm around his tommy, he bursted into sobs.
“I’m so lonely. My friends are the only ones who understand me in my world. I can’t see them with my own eyes.” He complained. “Awwww, baby! Didn’t you FaceTime them for three hours today?” I knew this kind of comforting was useless, for some reason, I still said it. “But, it’s different. You don’t understand me.” He protested and got sadder. I wrapped my arm tighter around his waist and asked: “What could make you feel better?” “I don’t know! I am worried that it would be a very long time before I could walk down the halls at USM…”
I kissed him on the forehead, “It does feel lonely to be the only child at home, and feel scary for not knowing when it all ends, yes?” He paused a little. “You worked so hard with dad in the yard and started to prepare the vegetable garden, shell we plan one plant for each of your friends, then we will have a garden of your friends at home, what do you think?” I suggested eagerly. “Maybe… I’ll think about it.” I stopped talking, pulled him even closer, and kissed him repeatedly, a few minutes later, he fell asleep.
I’m not an expert at handling and talking about emotions. There are times, I even choose to run away from my own emotions. Often, when I get too overwhelmed by others’ emotions, I shut off or tune out.
As more COVID-19 cases ramp up around the global, more and more kids are stuck home out of their normal routine, a sense of out of control, the feeling of uncertainty, fear, loneliness, frustration and stress… are inevitable. My husband and my friend reported the loss of sleeps, I got restless when I couldn’t take walks, then I became more agitated. Next Tuesday, we will be officially “over” our spring break and resume classes online. I wonder how my classes could be effective. I fear whether my family members might walk into my virtual class in an underwear, or like in some trending videos, people honestly forgot they were on camera and started going to bathroom alive…
The most challenging task is how to bring comfort and support to my students. Back in 2013, I took my first mindfulness class from the Mindful Schools. I remember how helpful the exercise of mindful emotions is. Researches show that when we acknowledge and accept whatever we are feeling and experiencing, it helps us to reinstall a sense of wellbeing.
I have been thinking of my class routine online, as Bill VanPatten has repeatedly said, “Language is too complex and abstract to teach as a subject.” I wonder how my classes could really meet the needs of students during this turbulent time. Then, one idea popped into my head. Let’s talk about emotions as a part of an opening routine.
- Mindful Journal: Looking at the Wheel of Emotions, in your Google doc, please complete the following phrases:
- Mindful emotions: in small breakout rooms (Zoom has this feature), or as a big group, students use the Wheel of Emotions to share about their feelings and emotions, we will set up a body system for them to check in with each other.
- Introducing new materials plus various activities.
- Closing: Loving-kindness meditation.
The Wheel of Emotions is not in a perfect design yet. It took me more than 15 hours to watch countless online tutorial videos, and tried relentlessly all day yesterday to get it together. There are PDF versions in English and Chinese as well as English and Pinyin. A blank editable version and an English editable version are provided as well.
Wish you a mindful day! I hope talking about emotions can bring some calmness and peaceful in little ones’ hearts.
- Listen & Draw (2/13/2020)
Many students like to doodle, especially when they are given an opportunity to be creative, imaginative and novel.
Listen and Draw is one of our shared favorite activities in class. We love it for several reasons.
- If there is not a time to finish a story, “Listen and Draw” is a perfect way to recap what has happened so far.
- A screenshot of the “Listen and Draw” provides a perfect visual clue for a homework assignment:
- a. Either looking at the illustration and telling the story
- b. Or looking at the illustration to speed write
- It is a novel way to provide more repetition
- It is a well received brain break after one has been working so hard on co-creating a story.
- It’s a good way to assess who needs the teacher to slow down and provides more repetition.
- 谁是#Coronavirus的第一个“吹哨人”? (2/10/2020)
当我在收集这两位医生的信息的时候，我读了很多不同来源的消息。为了能够帮到对外汉语老师的忙，能够用更多的普通的中国人的故事让学生们更多，更全面地了解到中国老百姓在疫情猖狂下的生活，我尽量用最简单的文字来讲述他们的故事。在课堂上，我会采取的一个教学方法是由 Dr. Beniko Mason 发明的 “Story Listening”. 在这里我跟大家分享一下。如果觉得有用，请自由转发。
这里是一个The Whistle Blower的文本。
- Up the Culture Game: Teaching Holiday Celebration Through Content-based Activities! (1/14/2020)
By Pu-mei Leng
Spring Festival and Lantern Festival are coming up fast! Read the following post to learn how Leng laoshi teaches Lantern Festival in her Chinese class!
The riddle activity for the Chinese Lantern Festival was created for the topic of Celebration of Festivals. All of my festivals were first taught on the calendar talk, very basic vocabulary and one or more important features on a specific festival, like everyone did, for example, Chinese in the north eat dumplings in the New Year. As their level advances, more details are added to the celebration of the festivals. This will give students multiple exposures and different aspects of the same festival and deepen their understanding of cultural perspective.
The process of teaching a festival can last for four years or more. By the time I plan the caimi (riddle guess) game, the students have learned a few things about Lantern Festival: It is on the 15th of the first month in the lunar calendar and it the first full moon of the year. Lantern Festival is like the Mid-autumn festival, the celebration is in the evening because both are on the 15th of the month, the day of the full moon. Lantern Festival (shang yuan jie) is the celebration of the moon. Here is a topic of cultural comparison, the sun worship vs. the moon worship in Ancient cultures.
The three major activities on the day of Lantern Festival are eating dumpling (元宵so the name of 元宵节) watching the lanterns displayed or participating in the parade with lanterns, and riddle guessing. I think most teachers will bring the 元宵 to the classroom for students to taste at least once. There are plenty of videos of people watching colorful and intricately designed lanterns on Youtube. Riddle guessing can only be found in written descriptions or literature. This prompted me to create an activity that students can experience the process of riddle guessing during the Lantern Festival.
I like the idea because it is an input activity in which students will engage in reading. However, to create a comprehensible input riddle guessing is a challenge. I eliminate the riddles for guessing Chinese characters and only focus on the description of simple objects only because I remember some riddles I played as a kid:
I did test them with some advanced students and it was difficult for them. So I decided to choose objects only and print the pictures to give them some clue. It worked very well. I have tested on Level 3 and above.
This the how the activity was set up: 10 red lanterns were hanging in the classroom and I printed two sets of riddles in two different color papers. They were cut in strips and folded in half with words inside. The riddles were randomly taped on the lanterns. Students could only pick 1 at a time, if they figured it out, they will sign their names, folded with the name outside and place them under the pictures. If they could not figure out what they picked, they could put it back for others to guess.
Even though they do not know every word, the words they know will give some clue for them to figure out. They are used to figure out the meaning from the context. Riddle guessing is a fun game for them because it is challenging enough to keep their interest and satisfying when they are rewarded with the right answers.
In a larger context of culture, riddle guessing reflects Chinese’ fascination with playing with words and word games both in spoken words and written words. We will see this fascination in a particular style of riddle guessing, 拆字, taking apart of the Chinese characters for the riddle next time.
- Discover joy in Reading (1/14/2020)
By Pu-mei Leng
I usually avoid typing on my phone. In response to an NTPRS 2018 Chinese teacher’s question of how to cultivate students’ interest in reading, I write this blog which has been long overdue.
Winnie’s question is specific to her students with Asian origins, particularly the ones whose families speak one of the dialects. As we all know Asian parents believe in reading for its educational value and effectiveness. Some students would work for grade and read the things will be included in the assessment. We all have them in second language classrooms because reading is one of the language skills they need to develop. We all know how many of them hate reading.
There is enough research out there to show the evidence of how reading enhances the language as a byproduct. Actually, in Dr. Krashen’s Pleasure of Reading, you can find cases of reading may be the only input one needs to produce a good language. I say byproduct because it is often not the purpose of reading. People want to read because they want to find out what is in the book.
In the Chinese classroom, they are conditioned to read books in Chinese because they are the only books available to them. Everything else is FREE. Free reading is a privilege they have only for 10 minutes every class. That is the tone I introduce FVR (free voluntary reading) or SSR (self-selected reading). They are free to choose any book in our library. They can change the book any time if they find the book is not interesting. There is no assessment related to their FVR reading.
For me, the best way to cultivate students’ interest in reading it to provide an environment for them to experience and find out the joy of reading on their own. Therefore, I will only focus on this direction and not to cover how to teach reading. Of course, oftentimes, students may be inspired to read if you teaching reading and the story happen to intrigue them and prompt them to read more.
10 minutes Free Voluntary Reading
Build a Library:
Find books that are written for second language learners, not the children’s book in Chinese unless they are the right level for your students. There are more level-appropriate books written by CI teachers now than a few years ago. We wish all CI teachers can write and publish their own books for all of our students. I emphasize CI teachers because I found many so-called “level-appropriate” readers not written by CI teachers have two issues: a) not enough repetitions for beginners; b) too many new vocabularies to discourage reading flow. They may be good for your highest level students, but not for most of your students.
Terry Waltz has published many books for true beginners. I have all of her books, 2 to 5 sets each; Linda Li has two books; I have published 10 books, 4 for the beginners; I also used Haiyun Lu’s Beibei books as beginners’ readers because we do not use these as a textbook in our high school. The Brendon Brown book translated by Haiyun Lu is a good reader for beginners. You do not need to get enough copies for the whole class, just get a few books for each title. Do not copy the book, not only for the copyright issue but reading a real book has a different effect that cannot be replaced by xeroxed copies. If you use any of these books for teaching, do not include them in your library as FVR readers.
You can use your own or your students’ “books” as a reader as well. Make sure they look like a real book (I created them on the Publisher). They are level-appropriate for sure and there is a joy to read their friends’ creation. Again, do not just copy the stories. Take your time to make a real book format with illustrations or pictures. It has to feel like a real book.
I attended Michelle Kindt’s (A CI French Teacher) session in ACTFL this year. Michelle teaches in a public school so she had to purchase the readers on her own. She tells her students that these books are purchased by her because she thinks it is important for them to read and ask them to take care of the books. I LOVE the message she sent to her students. It shows how much she values reading and their benefit as well as the privilege of reading these books in her classroom.
Display and Label Your Books
If you have room in your classroom, display your books to show the front page. It’s easier for them to pick and it is more “inviting.” When new books are added, students usually notice them immediately.
I use the circular color stickers to show different levels of the books we have. It is easier to put them back in the right place and easier for me to spot if they are reading something, not their level. I do not check them, but if I see someone reads a book too difficult or too easy by the label color, I will suggest they change.
My log sheet is very simple: name on the top with three columns, the date, the title of the book and the page they finished reading. It is for their own convenience to resume reading in the following classes. I only check when I notice someone’s language showed noticeable improvement after reading for a few books. I will convey the message to that student. This is how I usually start and I make sure everyone else hears me: “I noticed that your language improved a lot, especially the structures (vocabulary, whatever you notice). Just out of curiosity, I looked at your reading log sheet. I see you read x books. It works, Don’t you think?”
I know it is a luxury to have a large classroom with a reading area that has a sofa and pillows. But do let them sit the way they feel it is comfortable in reading. My room is not big, but I put desks away and they can use the floor.
Set the Boundary
Here is the rule I put on the whiteboard. You can download from Bryce Hedstrom’s site: https://www.brycehedstrom.com/wp-content/uploads/SSR-Reading-Poster.pdf
I usually move that poster in the middle of the whiteboard and said nothing. They get the message.
There are many good tips on Bryce’s site about reading, FVR and teaching reading. Bryce holds his students mildly accountable and has designed many wonderful tools you can find.
You will gain a lot of reading time for yourself. I am in my eighth book this semester just from the 10 minutes I gave each class every class period. More importantly, your modeling makes a big difference. The class will be quiet down immediately and read. I often brag about my reading: “Hi, class, I just finish yet another one!” and I wave the book I just finished.
That’s all I do for my FVR. Note that I do not hold my students accountable.
Last year I attended Mike Peto’s workshop. My takeaway was to have students produce reading trailers. It can be used to promote reading. When I gave the assignment to my students, I decide to have a free run, not providing a rubric, not telling them what I am looking for. I only want them to choose their favorite book among the ones they read and produce a trailer. They watch enough movie trailers to know the function of a trailer. I am curious to see what they will come up with.
I have received a few well-executed trailers from students who are familiar with the trailers; others just do not like those feel too promotional and commercial style and produced a retelling the story of their own style; some are good in the summary and gave me a short version of the book; others are detailed readers who told the whole book with pictures. The trailer let me see how much they got from their reading and what is their favorite book.
With a rubric, you can use this as a project. I just have them do a trailer as a fun project and gain some easy grades. It is my present for the readers. Here is a short one:
Includes book talk in a “Social” Conversation
I will make a conversation, just mentions certain contents in a book and ask if anyone happens to read the book. I will “forget” one or two things for them to tell me and continue the conversation to the class, but more towards the “insiders” who know a little more about what I am talking about. The conversation is usually very short and end up with something like, “we can talk next time, it’s so funny…” This works like a champ, especially to our socially sensitive teens.
- Book Review: The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us by Paul Tough (10/16/2019)
October 16, 2019 is a sunny and windy day in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Coming into school in 42° degree weather on this crispy cold morning, USM’s hallways are unusually quiet, classrooms are all empty. That is because today is filled with preACT/SAT test. All students are gathering in 3 different gyms throughout the High School campus to take the standardized tests.
8:15, Dr. B started test taking instruction. “Please clear your table with only a pencil, the instructional menu and the answer key package, everything else needs to be put away. Phones are off, calculator is only used during the math session, no food and drinks are allowed during the test either…”
I am one of the 4 chaperons in the aux-gym with the freshmen class. Suddenly, murmur erupts, some little fearful voices start to echo, “What? Not even water? I’m always thirsty.” Already anxiety-filled gym is stuffed with worries, concerns and stress… “You will have breaks in between, you can drink water…” Dr. B added, the crowd started to settle, but the tension was growing high.
One girl raised her hand and called me over: Would I have a chance to have a sip of water? I whispered quietly, “Have a sip now.” “But, I didn’t bring a bottle with me.” “Oh, Dr. D should be giving you a break before the official test starts, then you can go.”
Finally, the 5 minutes break came, students rushed out the door to get some water or go to bathroom. Some just needed the movement to get blood flowing. Three of my freshmen boys locked eyes with me, “Ms. Lu, let’s do tree meditation.” I smiled back, “Come on, I’ll lead you in 30 high jumping jacks.” We jumped on the side of the gym, quickly, we were all out of breath. “Ready?” I asked. “Ready!” They all gave me a thumb up and nodded.
“Get back to your seats NOW!” Dr. D barked out in his booming voice. Silence quickly took over the entire gym. The preACT was ready to start. My 90 minutes chaperoning shift ended. I left the freshmen in the gym while more colleagues trickled in to take over our spots.
I felt annoyed, irritated and frustrated, and strangely, at the same time, hopeful.
Hopeful? How? Why? You might wonder.
Well, I think largely it is because that I met Paul Tough, one of the national best selling authors, last night. A few years ago, I became Tough’s fan after I first read his How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, if you have not, I highly encourage you to.
On September 16th, 2019, after six year’s research on high education and social mobility, after visiting 21 different states, sitting in a freshman calculus class for a semester in University of Texas and philosophy seminars at Princeton, devotedly spent time at giant flagship state universities as well as tiny storefront colleges, interviewing more than 100 students, and following a half dozen of them closely for years from their home, high school to their colleges, his new book, The Years that Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us was released. Tough started a book tour immediately.
Our school librarian, Laura Klein is a forward thinking and multitalented person. Upon her arrival at USM, she has launched many unique projects beyond her job description: Study Buddies, film festival and many research related projects, besides being a busy librarian. Due to her close working relationship with a local independent bookstore, Boswell Book Company, USM fortunately snatched Paul Tough last night while he was on a book tour in Milwaukee.
Tough, despite his last name, is a gentle mannered, thoughtful and deep thinker. When he smiles, his face and eyes all lighten up, very genuine. Tough was born in Canada, dropped out of college twice. He called his six years research on college campus was meant to make up the void. Certainly, his personal college path did not predict the normal trajectory of high ed and social mobility. However, how many others could also break the odds?
In Tough’s book, he cited a well know economist, Raj Chetty, a USM alumni, throughout. Raj is famous for using big data to analyze trends and patterns. He discovered the income-dependent nature of SAT/ACT scores: the more well off a family is, the higher SAT/ACT their children could score. Why? Because they could afford additional SAT/ACT preps and tutoring. The higher SAT/ACT scores one has, the better chance one could get into a highly selective college, especially, the ivy leagues. If you could graduate from one of these ivy leagues, regardless of your family background: poor or wealthy, the future income you could bring in is pretty similar. In other words, four years of an ivy league college could wipe out the financial disparity between you and your college classmates potentially.
The troubling fact is this: in these highly selective colleges, 75% of the students come from families in the top income quintile – and only 2 or 3 percent come from families in the bottom income quintile. In other words, the poors often remain poor. The rich often remain rich.
We have to ask: can a college degree still be transformative? Is a successful college experience designed for all? Or only for a selective few?
Even when the lucky few poor students could get into a highly selective college, the culture shock and profound unease these students experience can be disheartening, demoralizing and disabling. Because in order for them to succeed, they need persistent and time-intensive mentoring programs for academic, social and emotional well being as well as psychological adjustment. Many colleges simply ignore it. Many people think that these poor students, on a full scholarship ride, should simply be grateful.
The book sounds disturbing and heavy. Tough did not leave us in complete despair, though. Toward the end of his book, he spent a lot of time writing about University of Texas (UT) and math professor, Treisman’s study group program. Under a law in Texas, each year, UT automatically admits the top 6% of high school graduates cross the state. these high GPA students could come from a vigorous college prep or an inner city classroom. UT’s admission office designs many effective mentoring programs to help students from low-income families to adjust to UT socially, emotionally, psychologically as well as academically. In Treisman’s freshman calculus class, he teaches students how to find confidence and self-belief through calculus.
Prior to Tough’s public talk at USM last night, Laura also organized a small dinner gathering with a group of Tough’s loyal fans. I was lucky to meet him in person. At the dinner, I asked him about “hope” because the idealistic side of me wants more UTs and Treismans in the world. I asked him whether he would think that his book would create a dominos effect: more people would want more UT like colleges and Treisman’s study groups in every state, therefore, the better world everyone is in.
He smiled and said: I hope so.
That was why after I spent nearly 90 minutes with the class of freshmen to only get their preACT test ready to take, my heart remained hopeful. I believe the change will come sooner or later.
- 5 Compelling Reasons to Join #CIMW19 (9/21/2019)
The fourth annual Comprehensible Input Midwest will be held at University School of Milwaukee on 9/28/19, the pre and post conference workshops will be hosted at Hilton Milwaukee. Six days to go! Here are 5 compelling reasons to consider and join #CIMW19!
5. We care.
CIMW is found by a group of passionate educators and second language “parents”! We care what we do and how we teach impact on our next generations. We all share a version of creating a world of multilinguals. Beyond the classroom, we care how our lifestyle affects the world we live in. We care and we believe that you care as well. Together, we can make a difference!
We Give out 50+ scholarships, we create all different combo tickets, we offer variety discount options… Our goal is to make this conference equitable. Especially for teachers who rarely have funding for a great professional development, for minority teachers who often fall short to advocate for themselves, we make this conference affordable, equitable and inclusive so ANYONE could join.
The conference locates in the heart of U.S., by the beautiful Lake Michigan. its convenient location can easily bring anyone from as far as the east and west coasts, and many local people.
2. National and international level presenters
CIMW lineup is impressive! Alina Filipescu, Carol Gaab, Bob Patrick, Laurie Clarcq, Tina Hargaden, Justin Bailey, Sarah Breckley, Sr. Wooly… Every presenter we have is ready to share, connect and support every participant’s needs.
1. You matter
This is a conference about YOUR NEEDS. Your professional, social, psychological as well as emotional needs. It is more than a teaching pedagogy or strategy conference. It is also a conference about how to stay in present moment, self-care, networking, mentoring and more… It is a conference about YOU!
- Celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival In A CI Way (9/10/2019)
Zhōngqīujié, Mid-Autumn Festival, is around the corner. As the second largest celebrated traditional holiday in China, it is often widely introduced in schools. The obvious challenge, linguistically for Zhōngqīujié, is that it is a fall holiday. It usually happens shortly after school resumes. Novice level students are not ready to hear the legend in Chinese using traditional teaching method. Even higher level students, who could comprehend jargons, loaded idioms, proverbs and citation of ancient poems? If only making it into tasting mooncakes, making art crafts or reciting ancient poems, it seems to be superficial. Therefore, I received quite a few inquiries regarding how I could teach this holiday in a comprehensible input way.
Here are my lesson plans:
- For novice level students, I only have them for two weeks so far. Therefore, Friday in class, I’m going to use a combination of pictures, gestures, body language and exaggerated facial expressions to make the legend in a comprehensible way and tell my kids the story. The goal is for them to comprehend the story in Chinese and have a good time together. No expectation of writing nor speaking of anything. Then, we will taste some mooncakes, drink some tea, look up some mooncake recipes, sign up for China Light field trip, and get ready for their mooncake baking contest.
- For my intermediate low level student. I will refresh their memory with the story. During my storytelling process, I will pause, point, go slow, shelter the vocabulary, personalize and incorporate music and video clips as well. I will also repeat this process as much as it is needed. Then, I’m going to ask students to look at a story worksheet. I have divided the whole story into 6 panels. Their arrangement is random. I will describe a panel and ask students to find out which one I am describing. I could ask them to put the story into the right order. I could also ask them to add caption for each panel. Then I’ll lead students to read an embedded reading which is appropriate for their level. Lastly, we will engage in the cultural related aspects: mooncakes, baking contest and the field trip, etc.
- For my intermediate mid level, they will receive the extended the Legend of Mid-autumn Festival reading to refresh their memory. They will also read the story of Jade Rabbit as well. I have blogged about Jade Rabbit before. My intermediate mid level students will read about the Jade Rabbit together. Without a single doubt, if I take away any cultural related experience from them, there would be a riot. I do tea ceremony in class serving them different types of tea upon their request as long as we all stay in Chinese.
Here is the embedded reading which I wrote. Mid-Autumn Embedded Reading Intermediate
Here is the story worksheet which I have designed: 中秋节的故事图画
Bellow is the slides I have created for story telling. They match the third version of the embedded reading. I also use this version to tell the legend to my novice level students. If you’d like to create matched versions for all embedded reading, I’d suggest that you rearrange the slides in the way you’d prefer.
Happy Mid-autumn Festival!!
- Our Shining Days – Part 1: Movie Analysis (9/9/2019)
Alice Wang, a Chinese teacher from Indiana, shared a clip of Our Shining Days with me and asked me how I would use it in class. After watching it, I liked it. Unlike many other youth movies in China, which often takes on the lack of sex education in Chinese tradition. They often depict hormonal driven and horny teens to engage in experiential learning of sex. As a consequences, quite few female leads, in the film, always end up with an abortion and abandonment by her lover. Tragedy!!!
Our Shining Days take on a relevant and pressing challenge: In an era of modernization, post-industrialization and globalization, it’s inevitable that many ethnic and cultural groups are losing their traditional values, practices and crafts. Trible languages and regional dialects are dying out, folklores and traditional arts are going extinct. In China, in the music field, Beijing opera has already become a part of history. Chinese traditional instruments are struggling to keep their existence under the ferocity of classical instruments.
In deed, Chinese instruments are constantly in a battle with classical instruments. So are their players.
For many Chinese, this is a battle not only about preserving traditions, but also reserving the national pride. Is there any possibility that Chinese traditional instrumentalists could defeat the impact of globalization? Even when globalization is in a disguise of the attack of classical instruments?
This is where the story starts. The outcome? Well, don’t let me spoil it for you, it is on Netflix.
- Puppy love obsession. Chen Jing, a yangqin player, has a crush on a piano player. Although, yangqin and piano share the same root, the social status and worldly acceptance between these two instruments have day and night difference. Chen Jing’s crush is the best piano player at their school. His eyes aim at getting into the best music school in the U.S.. He doesn’t want to get distracted. Any side track could prevent him to achieve his goal, he will not allow that to happen. It unfortunately includes dating and love. Especially, being loved from a low class instrument, a yangqin player. As for Chen Jing, love struck for the first time, She wants to prove her worth to him by assembling a traditional Chinese instrumental band. She wants to impress him with her yangqin performance. She goes through many hurtles to get closer to her goal one step at a time. When she finally is ready to confine her feelings to him, his treatment was cruel. Her heart-breaking experience drives her to disable the band she works so hard to put together. She wants to give up playing yangqin for the rest of her life. Well, we have all been a teenage before, we know how strongly we felt about an emotional breakup. Is there any future left for Chinese traditional instruments?
2. Xiaozong (minority) of 2 Dimension: honestly, this is the first time I heard of this term. Apparently, it’s been a popular phrase for a while. After much research, I’m not uncertain whether or not I have understood this phrase completely. I think that 2 dimension refers to a small group of people who are unique from… the majority or conventional expectations. In this perficular film, they are a group of people who are determined at pursuing their passion for Chinese traditional instruments. They are courageous at chasing their obsession of anime. They are persistent at achieving their dream – revitalizing Chinese traditional music. They are brave at portraying their uniqueness through explicit express of costumes, wigs and unconventional behaviors. That often yields misunderstanding, ridicule, demonization and physical as well as psychological abuse. However, even under trendy pressures, 2 dimension people willingly carry on the task and burden of cultural preservation. Often, it is their persistence and grit speak the loud volume and alter the outcome.
3. True friendship plus… true love! Chen Jing has a guy friend who is a drummer and called Li You. He is her side kick, partner in crime (eating hot pot illegally in a hot water dispenser and grilling BBQ with a curling iron), loyal companion and secret admirer. He is on her side through highs and lows. When she was treated with cruelty by her crush, he was the one who stood up for her. When she struggled to find a place for the band to rehearsal, he was the one who bribed the theater guard so she could continue to chase after her crush. Whenever she got into trouble, he got into troubles with her. Whenever she was punished by school authorities, he got punished as well. When she fell asleep on a bus, knocking her head on the window, he was right behind her to put his hand on her head as a cushion.
It is only then, friends become aware of his selfishless love for her. However, she has no clue. Is he ever going to confine his love to her??? Watch, then you will know.
Female lead: Chen Jing. A rather free spirit and carefree person. She is direct, funny and bold. She certainly doesn’t like to be subtle or wait around for her chance. She takes every measure to secure her love obsession. She plays yangqin, not out of love or passion. Because her mom made her to. She is so real, ordinary and sometimes… dumb… Just like you and me! Well, there is something about her which definitely is different from me. Her love confession scene was courageous and dramatic. She arranged a hundred of candles in a shape of heart, lit them all up, in the flickering flames… she stood in the middle…. Quite romantic, isn’t it? She shouted out her love publically to the piano player, but only received humiliation in return. She felt blue for a day or two, thought about quitting yangqin once for all. Then, miraculously, she bounced back emotionally and psychologically… Wow! What a hero!
Male lead: Li You. Royal, loyal, smart, funny, resilient, self-sacrificing, diplomatic, capable of problem solving… When people called him “ugly” directly to his face, his feeling was hurt a little, but it didn’t dispirit him much. When he was offered a chance to stay in the band with his idol, he chose to be on Chen Jing’s side instead. Although, that had been his dream. He is your hand warmer in a harshly cold winter… He is your popsicle on a sweaty hot summer day… He is your soft and comfy pillow on a bumpy bus ride… He is your curling iron for your BBQ… He is a character who brings so much warmth into your heart and so much laughter into your belly.
Female supporting role: Qianzhi Dawang. She is a girl who passionately loves guzheng. She works hard to improve her craft. She is a famous internet celebrity. However, she is at odds with the world and the society she is in. Not too many people really understand her, let alone to appreciate her for who she is. She escapes into a video game world to find her sovereignty. Unfortunately, people use that to against her. They are afraid of her and her associations. As they often dress up in their favorite COS (a term I actually don’t quite know.) They act as if their avatar has become alive…
Villains: school authorities and classical instrument players. They are arrogant, snobby, cold, cruel and ruthless… They all seem to have a similar personality – being a bad person. I wish the complexity of humanity could be more actually depicted in them as well.
Clown + nerd: There is also this character in the film. Unfortunately, he is portrayed as a narcissist, femine, annoying and coward gay. So much punch for being a different kind of minority in the film. Where is true acceptance for all?
Movie Talk always starts with a deep understanding of the film. Our analysis of the film directs our focus in class. I will blog the actual lessons once when I start.
Meanwhile, watch the movie and I hope you will enjoy it.
- Peek Into Future Through “American Factory” (9/3/2019)
Back in 2008, GM closed one of its assembly plants in Dayton, Ohio. It casted a devastating impact on more than 2,400 blue collar automobile workers’ lives. Years later, many of these people still struggle with unemployment, healthcare and/or a place to be called “own” to stay… Due to many obstacles standing in their path: aging, no education, lack professional skills for a modern economy… maybe self doubt, frustration or depression (mental health) was in the way as well.
Then, hope and excitement were blown in from the far east. A Chinese billionaire, Cao, DeWang, was willing to invest millions to reopen the deserted GM plant and turn it into an automobile glass factory. They would employ at least 2000 people from Dayton. People were relieved and happy. However, under the veil of hope, there dwelled fear, uncertainty and doubt. Still, many people kept on good faith and stepped into their new work.
East meets wests! Clashes are unavoidable! Film Makers, Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar, kept themselves completely off the screen. They let workers, Americans as well as Chinese, tell their stories, perspectives and personal views. They let viewers to think for themselves… The documentary is so powerful as it presents …. everything as the way it is…
After you watch it, you gain insights for both sides. You understand and emphasize with all of them! Even the big capitalist, you would not want to call him an “evil boss”. Everything is so complex. There is not a simple line to divide white from black. There are so many areas of grey.
Rooted in human rights, Americans expect a safe working environment with decent pay, vocations and benefits. They don’t expect to work less, standard 8-hour days and they don’t mind to rotate through 3 shifts. However, in comparison to their Chinese counterparts, they work on a 12-hour shift, they melt their personal happiness with company goals (production), they work overtime regularly without compensation, they work in dangerous conditions without showing fear or weakness. They even wear their work related injury as a badge of honor… Therefore, from Chinese point of view, Americans are inevitably … LAZY and SLOW. Americans just couldn’t decode how and why Chinese are so willing to sacrifice. They can’t even see their family for two years!!!
Then, there is this communication style difference. Americans are casual, direct and speak their minds. They also have the freedom to joke and criticize their president. On the contrary, Chinese often keep their feelings deep inside. They are afraid to let people know how they truly feel, including how much they miss their families. Chinese bosses and leaders are strictly to be revered. Their status and murals are in the most prominent place for visitors in their company.
There are unresolved classhes between different business cultures, generalized psychological responses when criticism comes down, individualism vs. collectivism, self-advocacy vs. obedience …
Dayton people are making far less, $13 per hour, under the Chinese boss. Back then, they made $28 per hour with GM. Still, many people gave up their right to vote “yes” for unionization as they were afraid to loss this only meager income…
For many underprivileged people, survival seems to be bigger than “rights”…
Surprisingly, Chairman Cao, or Cao Zong, is quite self reflective. Although his philosophy is “the point of living is to work…”, he ponders after so many factories have been built, is he really a contributor to the booming economy? Or a destroyer of environment?
The film ends on an unsettling note: Cao Zong is touring the factory. He is informed that they have started using robots during their production. Every robot could replace four human workers. Robots will work 24 hours non stop in any inhuman or dangerous conditions. Well, robots are robots, they are not human. When they are tired, broken, or mistreated, they wouldn’t even bother to look for a shoulder to cry…
We live in a globalizing world… the result of globalization is the uncertainty and unpredictability of the future….
Now, it is time to talk about how I have used this film in my classes.
- On my syllabus, I have a culture and current event session. I assign students to watch it over a long weekend on Netflix. They need to fill out a Van Diagram while they watch it. Since this is a time sensitive documentary, I asked all of my students to watch it.
- After I finished the documentary, I did a quite extensive research and designed a reflection sheet. American Factory Reflection Sheet
- In class, students are asked to fill out the above sheet on their own quietly. High level students need to write in Chinese. Novice and Intermediate 1 level students could reflect in English.
- Pair-share their reflection
- Class discussion
- Then, I hand out the reflection cheat sheet. Students could add in any information they see as fit. American Factory Reflection Cheat Sheet
- My intermediate 3 students are asked to write a reflection/review in Chinese. I’ll be happy to share sample writing samples with you after they hand in their work.
I hope you will find some time for this film.
PS: I had three students who didn’t get a chance to watch the film. One totally forgot about it. Two run out of time. Therefore, I asked them to read reviews while others were filling out the reflection sheet. So they would have some understanding of what would be discussed in class. Life is not perfect, isn’t it?
- Summer, Summer, Dare You Go! (9/1/2019)
Back to school is a clear indication of that summer is over! If you live in a pretty cold climate and you are not a person who enjoys polar vortex or watch snow flakes for 6 months of a year, then, letting go of summer can be … Reluctant, challenging, and depressive… Oh, even heart-broken!
Well, I have never been excited nor happy to let summer go. On the contrary, I would do whatever it takes to keep summer lingering longer.
By creating more memories!!! By personalizing my classroom with shared memories of summer.
Here is how!
- A few days before the official start, I send out an email to all of my colleagues and ask them to share one photo which represents their summer the most. In addition, please explain the time, location and the significance of the photo. It would be better if they are not in the photo, then we can play “Guess Whose Summer Is This?”as well. If they send a photo with themselves in it, equally welcome. I often use these photos for my lower level classes, and focus more on the things they are doing, mood and the people they are with, etc.
- After I get a nice collection, sometimes, I would need to ask a few follow up questions to make sure I have all the necessary information which I need, then I embed these photos into a PowerPoint.
- I also create a Google slide with the same request for my classes and ask each of my students to share a summer photo.
- I arrange both faculty and students’ photos around a similar theme, such as by the ocean, summer camp, travel, family, etc.
- See – Think- Wonder. This is a well liked and familiar routine . They are allowed to ask for vocabulary if there are something they don’t quite know how to say it yet, since one image is worth a thousand of words. Typically, with my lower level classes, students speak one person at a time. However, with my high level class, since their ability to communicate is at “a string of sentences” or “paragraph” level, I ask them to switch off after each sentence. Otherwise, a listener is going to stand there for 4 or 5 minutes without talking. It can be boring. For some, they can easily get distracted. I ask students to stand in two columns, face each other. Whenever their conversation naturally die off, I would ask the student at the end of column A come to the head of the column, everybody else takes one step over to get a new partner.
- Share with the class. After they switch partners a few times, now, it’s time to ask a volunteer to share with the class. During this process, a teacher listens, ask more clarifying questions, personalize the prompt and even design some fun activities. Here are some visual clues of how it looks.
The first photo was shared by a colleague from our college guidance office. He and his wife were on a Greek Island during the last week of July. Watching sun rise and sun set is one of his favorite things. They were there to celebrate their 30th anniversary. In the distance, you see a rectangle structure, it is an unfinished temple for a Greek god from the 4th century. Wow!
My students failed to guess who was the owner of the photo. After I revealed my colleague’s identity. All of my girls let out a big “awwwww…”, another girl let out a big sigh and said, “No wonder I’m still single… I can’t find a romantic partner yet…”
This is a group of juniors and seniors in class. I also designed a Four Square game to survey their opinion as the follow.
In the center, it’s a question of “In your opinion, you think a romantic person…” In the green, it says: “it’s everywhere. It makes our lives better.” In the blue, it says: It’s not that important to be romantic, many people don’t care.” In the purple, it says: “A romantic person is everywhere. Only lucky ones can find them.” In the red, it says: A romantic person is rare. Lots of people don’t know what is romantic.”
Based on their personal beliefs, students move and stand on a square accordingly. Then, we discuss. Fun, fun, fun!
Next class, two more oceanside photos were added into the discussion. Above is a photo of a student who spent her summer in southern France with her grandparents. In the distance, you can see a snow covered mountain, that is Alps. Below, it is a photo from California, a student took a family trip there.
Now, it is time to find out about each other’s opinion furthermore! I designed another Four Square game. The question prompt says: In summer, lots of people enjoy going to an ocean, watching waves, sunrise or sun set… However, as for you…
In the green, it says: If nobody is going with you, you would rather not go by yourself. In the blue, it says: regardless there is someone or not, you would always go. In the purple, it says: Unless there is a friend or family members to go with you, otherwise, you would rather stay home. In the red, it says: You would only go with a romantic person. Otherwise, it is not as interesting…
Now, you can see we spend quite a lot of time to create and share summer memories together. Lastly, I would ask my students to do a quick speed write on their computer. It would be next week!
Oh, one more thing, I bump into my colleagues who have shared their photos with me in hallways, these photos and students reactions are the best conversation starter. I could not remember who has said the following: If we know everyone’s story, we would love everybody because we know them as a person. I’m hoping by small acts of personalizing my curriculum, we could all learn more about each other.
- Back To School Bingo (8/31/2019)
Some of you have already been in the full swing of the fall semester. Many of you are going back to school on Tuesday, right after the Labor Day. On social media lately, I have seen a dramatic increase of inquiry regarding “WHAT TO DO? I’M GOING BACK TO SCHOOL NEXT WEEK!”
Okay, okay!!! I got your urgency! From various social media posts, I sensed some unwillingness to say “goodbye” to summer if you are like me. Or being super excited and anxious about going back if you are like me as well. Therefore, I’m going to help you out little bit. One of the things I always do is “Back to School” Bingo.
It’s a double side bingo. I give it to all of my students. I mean it, I give it to my novice level students who has not had one day Chinese yet. I also give it to my highest level students who have no problem of reading hanzi (Chinese characters). In an ideal world, yes, I might create a version in Chinese. In reality, life is not perfect. I give myself permission to use one generic version in English for all of my students. Here is how it works.
For my novice 1 students, it is a team building activity to learn about each other and become comfortable with each other. It is all done in English. We joke around, share stories, wows, ohhhs, or sigh together. It means to create a community in my classroom through a start of many shared experiences.
For my intermediate low student, it is both a team building and testing water activity (How much Chinese do you still remember?) I provide a word bank, project it on the whiteboard, no pressure, use it as you feel fit. Students walk around and speak both English and Chinese to complete their questions and answers.
As for my Intermediate 2 & 3 levels, most of them use the bingo sheet (English) as a prompt. They use the above word bank as reference. Mostly, they conduct their bingo interview all in the target language. After we finish the bingo, we then have a HUGH discussion about it.
Lastly, with my intermediate 2 &3, there would be a reading to follow. You can check it out here. The reading, no kidding, it is all in hanzi (Chinese characters)!!! How does that work? It would be another post! 中文四 的暑假 怎么样 .
- Infuse Deep Thinking in a Book Trailer (5/30/2019)
I was talking with Pu-mei Leng, another nationally renowned TCI Chinese teacher and author, about our classes, I got the idea of book trailer from her. She humbly claimed that it was not her original idea. Unfortunately, I could no longer recall where she might get the idea from.
“It’s like a movie trailer, but it is about a book for students to make. I don’t even set any criteria, only tell them to surprise me. It was for a homework assignment, some kids really blew me away.”
Pu-mei is a teacher who doesn’t need to control her students at all time. Her tolerance for ambiguity allows her students’ creativity come to life. I always admire that character treat of hers.
That was exactly what I did. One day in class, on a fly, I asked students to create a book trailer as homework over the weekend. When students bombed me with questions on how, some kept asking what I wanted from them, I shared few links on “How to create a good book trailer” with them and then I said, “Show me what you understand and surprise me!”
Just as Pu-mei indicated, I was impressed by few really good ones, at the same time, wondered how I could raise the bar high for the class as whole.
Some students’ work was so shallow, a feeling of the lacking of depth kept gnawing me. After students captured the plot and core message, what else is there that I haven’t directed their attention and thinking to yet?
When we read a book, what truly captures our heart and mind so we would keep reading? Reflecting back on my own pleasure reading experience, I know besides a good plot, it is the mixture of feelings, emotions, relevance, and a sense of belonging or purpose draws me into a good read. Then, why only asking students to demonstrate their comprehension of a plot? They have more to offer, I need to offer a platform for them to demonstrate it.
Many teachers at this point would ask: but my novice level students (even intermediate low level students) don’t have the language to do the deep thinking, we already ask them to retell a story, to summarize a plot and capture the core message, now you are telling me these are not enough? That’s crazy!
As I’m exploring how to use simple languages to express big ideas and reveal deep thinking, I agree that novice level students don’t have the proficiency to output everything in a target language. Even high level students struggle with how to use target languages to completely express their ideas, then, how to make it feasible?
Here is a question I’d like to ask you: After you provide abundant compelling, comprehensible input and keep your class in a target language during the vast majority of time, do you think it would be okay to allow your students to do some critical thinking for few minutes in their native languages?
My answer is a definite yes. Allowing students few minutes to think critically in their native tongue drives your message home deeply.
Therefore, I started to brainstorm what would be included in the book trailer rubric .
Now, it’s time to spill the bean. How did the book trailer turn out exactly?
Honestly, picking up each kid from where they are to wherever the next high ground they could reach is always a work in progress, isn’t it? Two types of students struggled with this project initially: 1. concrete thinkers. 2. students who are not used to tune into other’s feelings and emotions, let alone to be comfortable to show their feelings and emotions.
Concrete thinkers don’t read a text between the lines. Nor, they could think about relevance to the real world. In kittens’ series, there is a character named Elvis (formally Elves), a black cat who was abandoned by his owner at birth due to the owner’s superstitious belief: a black cat was unlucky. He was also an outcast in the cat society. Nobody wanted to befriend him. Until one day, he could prove himself… When I was writing this book, I wanted to draw a parallel of racism in the story. My concrete thinkers in class simply took the story at the face value. It was only when I presented the question, the relevance to the real world, to them, they started to think differently. The end of project from them is more than gratifying for me. As for the conscientious students who are typically kind, thoughtful and empathetic, they could connect with the project right away.
In a previous post, I briefly blogged about a sci-fi fantasy story: Panda 008. A Panda was born in a lab. Evil scientists want to use him to clone pandas since there is only 2000 pandas left in the world. He strategically orchestrated several escape plans until he succeeded in the end. One freshman student, who won the academic award at my school, and took two AP classes during his freshman year, really struggled with creating a book trailer with this story. When I was giving him feedback regarding “an emotion you could identity with…”, he said: “I have never been locked in a lab and have people doing experiments on me constantly, I don’t share the same emotion with him.”
What I reminded him was: he was talking about sharing a direct experience. It is impossible for us, human beings, to directly experience everything in the world. However, emotions are universal. Regardless of our ethnicity, race, religion or culture… The way we express our feelings might be different, however, feelings are universal. Love is love, we all feel it in our heart. Betrayal is betrayal, we feel in our gut. Fear is fear, which we fear in our stomach…
Sometimes, I wonder: can we really teach empathy to kids? I had doubts before. Now, I firmly believe in “yes”.
If you are going to use this book trailer rubric, another difficulty for kids to overcome is “the questions you are going to raise to demonstrate critical thinking…”. A lot of them would fall back directly to the story, they came up with reading comprehension questions instead. When I pointed out the questions should be related everything above: the core message, the personal and worldly connection and the conflicts… They often got it immediately.
Of course, the biggest obstacle is how to put everything in less than 90 seconds!
After the project is done, I asked students to write a brief reflection on what challenged them, which aspect extended their horizon, and what they would take into the next project. Here is a quick glimpse into their experience.
As we are wrapping up this school year, you might be looking for a project to do with your students. Give the book trailer a try. If you run into any problem, please let me know.
Lastly, please allow me to share one more book trailer. This girl talked about how much she related to Elvis and being different. She thanked me for the opportunity to express herself. I am the one who is in gratitude for her trust and demonstration of vulnerability.
Transcript: I know I’m different. Everybody sees me, they see my difference. But am I having a different heart from yours? …
- Bringing in the Language of Identity into Collaborative Storytelling (5/15/2019)
Developing a sense of identity has to do who one thinks one is and how one perceives oneself. It is about how one defines oneself. As a person’s identity is formed by many factors, such as race, gender, nationality, talents, interests… Which message we repetitively inform our children/students regarding who they are matters so much.
There is no other classroom can be richer in embracing and forming students’ identities than a TCI classroom . On a regular basis, we have class artists, actors, performers, story writers, quiz writers, time keepers, greeters, helpers… On top of all being a storyteller together.
One question keeps lingering in the back of my mind is: our students take on various “jobs” in our class, are they aware of they have multiple identities?
Another question I keep pondering on is: Who are my students becoming as thinkers and learners as a result of their time with me? I truly believe that the language of identity is one of the main culture forces in the classroom, along with the language of community, listening, naming and noticing, and feedback and praises, etc. Many educators use these languages to create cultures of thinking AND challenge students to go above and beyond their primary role of being a student, in preparation for an unpredictable future.
However, do we make our belief explicit? Do our students know it for sure? Or it is this kind of thinking: we do it all the time, we have so many different jobs, they should know it… It’s no brainer…
“They should know it.” is different from they know it and embrace it.
In my intermediate class, we co-created a fantasy character “008”, a panda was born in a lab. The scientists want to use him to clone more pandas. They want to solve the world problem of rare animals are going extinct. Some disagreed the approach, some thought that these scientists were “forward thinking”. “What are the pros and cons if we start a mass clone?” I pushed further. The whole class became quiet.
I pointed at the phrases “risk taker”, “thinker” and “critique” then waited. “Well, it could be a good thing, if they clone mass pigs and cows, there would be enough meat for everyone.” One student took the risk. “I see your point. But, the cloned animals share the same DNA, if one gets sick, they all get sick…” Another student challenged back.
I pointed at the word of “leader” on my poster and said: “As future leaders in the world, how would you like to solve these problems?” The debate went on…
In my class, I hope to create a belief that we are more than one thing, and we all need to work together. I hope to achieve that through the power of story and the languages I use through the collaborative storytelling process.
Formal president Obama, on many different occasions, talked about how reading helps one to connect with others who are very different from oneself and help us to develop empathy.
Neuroscientists have discovered that we have mirroring neurons in our brain, when we hear a good story, the same brain region of a listener is activated as the storyteller. A good story can create an emotional journey that makes us want to act. A good story widens our direct living experiences…
Robbert Kagan proposed five stages in adult development, even though the majority population does not pass stage three of being socializing mind. On the other hand, we also have Carol Dweck inform us about growth mindsets: if we keep our mind open, if we believe we can change and we are willing to change, changes will happen.
Most of TCI practitioners work in a K-12 setting. Our students’ mind and heart are so malleable during the time we are with them.
Few years ago, I was encouraging my 7-year-old son to try out a play. He said to me: Mom, I’m athletic, not artistic. I don’t want to be in a play. I looked at him and puzzled where his perception of himself came from. I said to him: You can be more than one thing. You are too young to define yourself in one way. He was challenged to be an orphan in Oliver! He had a great experience. This year, he happily participated in Winnie the Pooh, he took on a leading role as Christopher Robin. At the same time, he’s been practicing Taekwondo for nearly three years, he has his eyes set on becoming a black belt. He also plays piano beautifully.
“You can be more than one thing!” This is what I always say in my class. When I want to push students to become an independent learner, a problem solver, a delegate or a risk taker…, I provide them with specific vocabulary and opportunities to embrace these roles.
Last night, on my hike, I was listening to a talk by John Kabat Zinn on mindfulness. He said that back in 1979, practicing mindfulness was pretty much an alone “me” thing. Decades later, when enough “me” cumulated, slowly, a mindful “we” phenomena formed.
Some of you might think that you are the only one in your building doing what you are doing. It is the nature of being a pioneer. You are not a teacher alone. A teacher is never a teacher alone! We are a performer, director, writer, singer, dancer, critique, thinker, explorer…
Embracing your multiple identities and make it happen for your students.
- Bringing Empathy into Storytelling (5/14/2019)
Please meet Chloe the Optimistic! This is a story I co-created with my novice 1A session.
Please take a minute to observe Chloe’s portrait which was drawn by two in-class artists.
What do you see?
What do you think?
What do you wonder?
Do you see an eye with tears on the bottom of Chloe’s face? Do you see a tiny little nose on the right side of her cheek? Do you see a big red mouth on her forehead? Do you see two hearts, one is intact, one is broken…?
What do you think? Do you think this is a master piece of drawing? Do you think this is a target of ridicule? Do you think this is an expression of uniqueness? Or do you think this is a cry for fitting in?
What do you wonder? Do you wonder why we created this character together? Do you wonder what is Chloe’s story? Do you wonder whether or not she is ever going to be happy?
Well, please meet Chloe the Optimistic!
Some of my students intended to make Chloe the Optimistic to be a target of ridicule. Could you imagine someone only having one eye, but her eye and her mouth switched around? She has a proportionally small nose, but not in the middle, it’s on the side of her cheek? Could you picture the energy in my class? Some kids laughed and giggled and other kids got super upset?
It is not because that I lacked sensitivity and let chaos happen or lost control of my class. Within the yinyang symbol, chaos and order are in constant changes.
In the mid of chaos, we could always bring clarity back. Simply, all we need to do is asking questions:
Is Chloe similar or different from us?
How would she feel about being different?
Would someone laugh at her because she looks different?
Would someone talk about her because she looks different?
Is there a time, you feel that you are different from others?
Is it bad to be different?
The moment I started to question whether or not Chloe is different, the energy in my classroom shifted. Giggles diminished, seriousness and concerns grew.
I asked about Chloe’s personality. The class agreed that she is friendly and optimistic. I inquired about the things which Chloe liked to do. As it turned out, she is sporty as well as artistic. She plays basketball well, but she plays alone because nobody likes her appearance. She sings well but nobody knows because she either sings alone or in a band who all wears masks.
“Okay, students, we are going to give an appropriate name to Chloe’s band. Please take out a whiteboard and write down a name for her band.” Students happily complied. I walked around and questioned their choices.
“Hmmm, Chloe and her band…” I pointed to the words of “thinker” and “logic” on a poster board and pressed on, “We are all thinkers, think logically, she wears a mask and sings in a band, would she really call her band with her name?”
Then, we arrived at the classical part of storytelling. What was the main conflict?
“Chloe wants a friend and she likes someone, but that person doesn’t like her!” A student suggested.
“A very good suggestion! So, does Chloe really knows that that person doesn’t like her or Chloe feels that that person won’t like her?”
Everybody paused, took a breath and thought about it. “She THINKS that person doesn’t like her.”
“Laoshi, does she want a friend or “friend friend”? A girl put up her fingers and made a quotation mark.
“I really don’t know. Does that really matter?” I pushed back. The class decided it was not a big deal to have a “friend friend” instead of a friend.
Next, it comes to a moment of truth whether or not Chloe should embrace her vulnerability.
What should Chloe do? What would Chloe do? If you were Chloe, what would you do?
Walk way from her longing for connection? Say something to that person? Or better yet, she is a singer and has a band, how about writes a song and sings?
“SING!” Everybody shouted.
Chloe sang the song on a Friday concert. We don’t know whether the person she likes is there and hears her.
But we know Chloe would be okay once when she starts to embrace her difference and feels okay about herself.
I also know that my students have become more acceptable of others due to this collaborative story together.
- Who is Allergic to Girls? (1/10/2019)
I have a 9 years old boy who apparently is going through a stage of being allergic to girls. If I ever mention a girl’s name or acquire anything about a girl in his class, literally, he would scream and run to the opposite direction. Sometimes, I wonder when this phrase is going to pass.
Yesterday morning in my level 2 class, I noticed a girl who was quite late. She’s a strong, outgoing, playful and happy girl. We have a good relationship together. I called her over and asked whether I could use her in my story. It was going to be someone who was late to school because on the previous night she stayed up too late doing something, therefore, she could not get up this morning… So she was late for school…
I figured students would help me to fill in all details.
I started the class by making a statement that Bee (not her real name) was late for school. I interacted with other kids first to find out whether they were late for school. If they were late, how they felt, or how other teachers reacted to it.
Then, I turned around and asked Bee, “Why were you late for school?” I paused for a second, then I started to offer answers: “Did you sleep over?” “Was it because nobody woke you up?” She shook her head and said, “No, it’s because my old brother…”
I immediately sensed this was going to be an even more interesting story than the original one I had planned. Quickly abandoned the original idea, I inquired more about her old brother, Sky (not his real name either). Sky is a local college student who visits home frequently. Whenever he does, Bee’s mom asks him to take Bee to school the next day.
As a result, Bee had a difficult time to wake her brother up to take her to school on time.
In Chinese, the action to wake up someone and the phrase you say when you wake up someone are different. The action word is “jiaoxing”, the word you say when you are waking someone up is “xingxing”. Since these are my targeted vocabulary, I stayed here to milk them.
Stepped out the story, I asked my class: “Who wakes you up in the morning?” Most kids said their own alarm clocks, one kid has three different alarms set up each morning. When I came to Lancaster, he said that his DAD woke him up in the morning. I stopped here to bring in different family members and relatives for a quick review, then I asked how his dad woke him up in the morning. As it turned out, his dad grabbed his feet and pulled him up till he was awake. We acted out that little mini-drama in class, then I turned back to Bee and asked how she tried to wake Sky up while I was also soliciting answers from the whole class.
“She turned on the light!” One shouted. “Did you turn on the light?” “Oh, yes, I did!” “Did he wake up?” “Yes, but I also yelled.” Bee said.
“No, no, no, in my story, you turned on the light while you yelled “xingxing – wake up”, but he didn’t wake up.”
The class laughed, Bee laughed as well. “What else did you do?”
“Oh, oh, she grabbed his feet and pulled him off the bed!” Just like Lancaster’s dad. “Oh, yes, you did, right? But, did you wake him up?”
Looking around, I asked my class whether they’d like to know how I wake up my son each morning. They always love to hear stories about my son. Of course, I made them guess first. In their mind, they pictured me to be this angelic mother who rubs her son’s back gently, whispers into his ear and slowly wakes him up.
No, that’s not how my son’s morning goes each day, I inform them.
“Guys, here is how: I open his door first, then open his curtains, after that, I go downstairs to make breakfast for him, when the breakfast is close to be ready, I start to yell from downstairs to upstairs. Would anyone like to act out how I would yell?”
Now, my whole class were standing on their toes.
After that episode, I returned our attention back to the story, how did Bee eventually wake up Sky?
The class suggested to pour water on his face, punch him, bring food…. different kind of food…
Nothing worked, because I had something else in mind.
Finally, I said: Well, it just occurred to Bee that Sky has a secret. What is his secret?
After some good guesses, I announced:”He is allergic to girls! If Bee starts to say girls’ names, he would wake up immediately!”
Nobody was expecting that was coming. I smiled and gave thanks to my son.
- Re-approach Novice Level Student with TCI (10/12/2018)
This year, I have decided to start my Novice level classes little differently than before. Instead of jumping into TPRS immediately, I started with Total Physical Response first. 1. I have two sessions of Novice level classes, which include students from 7th grade to 12th grade. Due to the attention span of my youngsters and the nature of how our brain works, getting students out of their seats with movement and ignite their brains on fire would be very beneficial. 2. I hope to build up a big repertoire in high frequency phrases faster for students so they would be able to communicate earlier. There is no other tool better than TPR to achieve that.
At the meantime, the guiding principles of my curriculum design have shifted as well, here they are:
1. We acquire language through Comprehensible Input, when we read or hear a message which we understand, then we can acquire it. Therefore, everything I do in the classroom needs to be comprehensible.
2. Our brain seeks patterns to connect new information with prior knowledge and craves novelty to stay engaged.
3. Our brain is evolved through constant motion and threat. Human species are built to survive first, therefore, creating a safe environment fosters better learning.
4. Students have different learning styles, creating a multi-sensory input classroom will help a teacher to meet different students’ needs, strengthen their weakness and expend their strength.
5. To prepare students for the unpredictable future, teaching is no longer about how to deliver content. There is a paradigm shift in education to help students to develop their critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, resilience and self-care, etc in order to succeed and live in a happy and productive life.
A. Find ways to woven each lesson with actions/gestures, songs, video clips, pictures/illustrations, and reading.
1. Use actions and gestures fall into TPR’s realm, here it is a post I wrote on how to TPR. please click here.
2. Connect TPR vocabulary with a song and a video clip: Tim Urbonya, A native Wiconsin from Action Learning, has composed and recorded an album of catchy action songs in Chinese. I often connect my TPR lessons with his songs and few video clips, then create reading for students. For example, I TPR “walk”, “run”, “jump” and “stop” along with Tim’s song “Walk, Walk, Walk, Walk!”, then I embedded an Ad from Nike, The Greatness, to PQA and Circle. Then, I add directions in, such as: jump up, walk forward, run toward left, etc. I use another Tim’s directional song to strengthen the lesson again.
3. Use illustration as comprehension check, also it gives students another path to process information. Students are instructed to use stick figures to illustrate each action, then we spell out the pinyin together.
4. After they have successfully stored the sound and meaning of each words in their head, then it’s time to introduce reading. Action packed reading not only develops students literacy, it allows them to get out their seats to act out again.
5. Implementing various mindfulness practices into the classroom. In recent years, teens’ mental health situation has worsened dramatically. While technology connects people globally in an instant, more and more people feel isolated and disconnected on the contrary. The rate of depression and anxiety has been on the rise. Therefore, helping students to develop effective self-care strategies has been another earnest effort which I make is in my own classroom. Typically, it takes a novice level student about two weeks to get down a practice in English, during these two weeks, designing your lesson mindfully to include body parts as well as essential phrases that related to meditation. Then, you will be able to conduct your meditation instruction in the target language.
I asked my students to give me a quick feedback on what they thought how our classes have been going. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
They love the multi-sensory approach and they shared that they have acquired more Chinese in 6 weeks than spending few years in their previous languages. One girl said: “Please don’t change anything! It’s fun and effortless!”
So what can my novice level students do now?
Today, I created a mini drama in Chinese with them: Grahm likes to eat ice cream. He has ice cream and he’s eating happily and slowly. Mike also likes to eat ice cream, but Mike doesn’t have ice cream, Mike is sad. Mike stands up and walks to Grahn, Mike hits Grahm and eats his ice cream. Grahn yells at him: No, no, no! My ice cream!” Mike quickly runs away while he’s eating Grahn’s ice cream. Grahm doesn’t cry, Grahm wants to hit Mike, Grahm runs after Mike. Mike runs quickly, Mike runs away.
I have paused the actions, asked questions, check for comprehensions and dramatized the input over and over. They giggled and laughed the whole time.
They have also finished the first two chapter stories from I Am Beibei. TCI rocks!
- Everyday Heroes (9/4/2018)
There are many teachers in the world. Lots of them are great teachers. Among the great teachers, quite a lot are outstanding.
In my desire to better meet students’ needs and become a better teacher every year, I have encountered many marverlous teachers. If opportunities allow, I love to observe them in action, or attend their workshops and presentations, read their books or blogs, or talk to them in person. After a while, I have noticed a pattern that all amazing teachers share. Here, I’m going to share three.
This summer, I was very fortunate to be able to attend the Project Zero Classroom Summer Institute (PZC18) at Harvard. Nearly 400 educators came from 67 different countries and 20 different states. The intellectual stimulus and engagement, the diverse cultural and ethical background of the participants, the fascinating conversation I had and the lectures I heard from the educational icons such as Howard Gardner, David Perkins, Ron Ritchhart, Tina Blythe… had all contributed to my daily experience beyond being blissful. However, what truly was awe-inspiring was being a witness of these giants’ humanity.
During a book-signing session, Many PZC authors were presented. The line for Howard Gardner stood all the way outside of the library lobby. Gardner, with a head of shinning white hair, a sincere smile and a calm demeanor, took his time to chat with his fans and stroke a short conversation as meaningful as time would allow. He never rushed anyone, nor only asked about your name in order to write on the page. When it was my turn, he smiled at me first and then said: “What do you do?”
“I’m a language teacher, I teach Chinese.”
In his best effort to start a meaningful conversation, he continued: “I heard that learning Chinese is difficult, especially, to master the writing system.”
Being a TCI teacher and Stephen Krashen’s follower, of course, not only I have a different answer, I have a totally different perspective based on my own students’ experience. Therefore, the nerdy side of me started to explain to him about Comprehensible Input and why everyone can acquire language at any time. How easy and fun TCI has made for students to acquire Chinese…
He listened with a big smile on his face, truly engaged and I felt I was so valued in front of this educational giant. The humanity in him brought me into tears that night when I was meditating. For an outstanding teacher, there is no important student or powerless student, there is no good student or bad student, there is only a human who is seeking knowledge and striving to develop intellectually, psychologically as well as socially. An outstanding teacher is like everyday heroes, she’s there to support, value, recognize, calm, inspire, nurture and mentor… a learner.
Anyone who uses embedded reading might have heard of Laurie Clarcq and Michelle Whaley. These two are amazing TCI teachers who were the inventors of the embedded reading. Laurie Clarcq has a unique story to share regarding how she started with embedded reading. She had a student, Justin, in her class. Everyday he came in with a hood on, sat in the back, head on the desk… Justin was an unbreakable wall, there were only walls surrounding him. One time, Laurie asked her Spanish class to write something. Justin did some bare minimal work in comparison to his more proficient and fluent Spanish classmates. Laurie didn’t despised his meager production. On the contrary, she cherished it! She cut out the sentences he wrote, along with others, pasted together and created a reading piece. By the time Justin figured out his own writing had become a part of a reading, that was the true transformational marker when Justin started to get involved in class, put down the hood and let down his guard… Laurie is a true embodiment of humanity and empathy. As Dalai Lama has said, “Many of the problems we face today are our own creation. Creating a more peaceful world requires a peaceful mind and a peaceful heart. As human brothers and sisters we must live together in tolerance and affection.” Amazing teachers teach with empathy, let’s become one of them.
We live in a culture where people idolize big heroes and anticipate catastrophe to happen, therefore, one or two individuals could shine through. However, people typically ignore small heroes in life. In my opinion, it is much more challenging to be an everyday hero. An everyday hero is super courageous and patient. They are the one who challenges the status quo, they act based on their conscious, they don’t follow rules blindly. They are the ones who have often been ignored and unrecognized, however, they do what’s right, not for a show.
The most important aspect about everyday heroes is that they are courageous at pushing themselves out of their comfort zone and striving to become better daily. Amazing teachers never stop learning. They don’t cover up their vulnerability and pretend to be a giant. They foster their skills by grasping on all possible opportunities to learn and share. That’s why many of them are attending conferences, workshops, online learning communities and take classes… That’s why a conference like Comprehensible Midwest (CIMW) exists .
Comprehensible Input Midwest conference was born out of passion, in a dear effort to provide equal, equitable and inclusive professional development to everyday teachers. We are projecting 350 attendees at CIMW18 this fall. 40 partial scholarship will be awarded to 40 Chinese teachers who register and attend the conference. 25 scholarship spots have been filled, only 15 remains as I’m typing tonight.
- Total Physical Response and Its Classroom Application (8/22/2018)
This article has been published by Chinese Language Teaching Methodology and Technology, Vol. 1 , Iss. 3, Art. 4
Special thanks to my editor, Huiwen Li, for giving me permission to post it here. Click here to read from the journal.
Part I: What Is Total Physical Response?
Total Physical Response (TPR) is one of the most powerful tools we can use in a language classroom. It is a comprehension-based strategy and built on the coordination of language and physical movements. In TPR, instructors give commands with body movement to students in a target language, students respond with whole-body actions.
Dr. James Asher (2009), the initiator of TPR, was puzzled by his own language learning experience in school, because he had no trouble mastering other school subjects, but only had trouble with languages. Therefore, he was determined to embark on a journey to discover the secret to foreign language acquisition. He observed that children spend at least the first year of their lives in listening comprehension before they even utter a single word. The caretaking languages that children often receive are full of commands and directions and are filled with facial expressions, emotions, and gestures which helps make them comprehensible and compelling. In addition, many children have acquired a large amount of vocabulary before entering school which indicates that language is not acquired in school only.
Also, to determine whether or not the popular belief of children’s superiority in language learning is a myth, Dr. Asher designed an experiment in which they offered similar Russian lessons, synchronized with body movements, to adults as well as children. The result was inspirational. When adults had the opportunity to acquire language through body movement, they actually outperformed children of all ages. Children’s superiority only remained in the domain of pronunciation.
Here are the characteristics of TPR that can help understand the reasons for the practice. First of all, it offers multi-sensory input: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Secondly, it provides memoizable chunks rather than isolated word-by-word instruction. Thirdly, it helps students to internalize input faster and retain what has been acquired longer. Fourthly, TPR instructions create a unique phenomenon in which “output-is-more-than-input”. Learners can not only respond to the exact utterances used in training, but also understand novel commands as well. Fifthly, TPR instructions create a pleasant and enjoyable learning atmosphere. In terms of current theory, it reduces the Affective Filter. Last, it taps into the power of how the brain acquires information best.
Part II: TPR Instructional Procedures
Some teachers use TPR solely for 6 weeks (approximately 150 – 200 words) and then ease into other Comprehensible Input based instructions. Others might mix TPR with different TCI (Teaching with Comprehensible Input) strategies from Day 1.
1. Classroom Set-up
(1) Seating Arrangement:
A classic TPR classroom typically contains three “Home Base Chairs” in the back as Ramiro Garcia (2009) explained it. This is where TPR instruction starts. The teacher often sits in the middle while she invites two students to sit on her side. The rest of the classroom is divided into two halves, facing each other. The advantage of this particular set up is that it provides more flexibility when offering varied instructions: in different groups, pairs and individuals, using modeling with oral commands, or oral commands only, etc.
However, different setups are possible. Some teachers have their students sit in a “U” shape in class and some others have a semi-circle formed in their classroom.
(2) Visual Aids:
Classroom expressions, survival phrases, rejoinders, and high frequency verbs are made into posters and posted in the classroom. Realia and props are stored in the classroom as well. This allows the teacher to offer rich and dynamic instructions and easily make input comprehensible. It also helps to lower students’ affective filters.
There are many ways to assign students into various groups: by country, by famous landmarks, cities, historical events, and figures, or simply by different favorite foods, fruits, beverages, or animals. Often, teaching thematically is still required by many school districts. For example, I like to start with famous cities in China: Team of Xi’an, Team of Beijing, Team of Hong Kong, or Team of Shanghai. Similarly, there could be the Team of Great Wall, Team of Hua Shan, or Team of Yellow River. The most outrageous teams I came up with are: Team of Stinky tofu (臭豆腐队), Team of Chicken Feet (鸡爪子队), Team of Roast Duck (烤鸭队), and Team of Dumplings (水饺队). Kids often love these names. On a piece of paper, I have a team name in both character and pinyin accompanying by a photo. If it is possible, I suggest laminating them for reuse.
2. The Classic TPR Procedure
The classic TPR procedure normally contains the following steps: demo, delay demo, remove demo, and assess. During the assessment stage, there are some specific strategies as well: eyes closed, in sequence, in random order, various groups, to illustrate the actions, novel commands, and chain commands, etc. Lastly, reading can be added.
(1) Steps in detail
“Demo” means that a teacher demonstrates an action or gesture while giving verbal commands. After students become confident in responding to the teacher’s commands, then, TPR teachers use “delay demo,” that is, the teacher gives the verbal commands prior performing the action, acting out the commands soon as she observes hesitation. The next stage is “remove demo”: upon sensing that the majority of students show great confidence in what they are doing, the teacher removes her demonstration completely.
“Assess”: Assessing students’ acquisition takes place throughout the whole class period. In this way, teachers know how to pace the class, who needs extra attention or assistance, and who needs extra challenges.
A simple requirement such as “eyes closed” reveals a great deal about who has acquired what, and who is still struggling. It also discloses which vocabulary items have been stored in the brain, which ones still need further input.
(2) The 9-squre activity method
One of the challenges many teachers of Chinese is face is the difficulty of “thinking on their feet” in creating different combinations and providing instructions as well assessing students in random orders. Seasoned TCI practitioners and teachers’ coaches, Teri Wiechart and Gary Dibianca (2014) invented a 9-square activity to be used in these situations (see Table 1). It’s quite simple yet effective.
Table 1 A 9-square Form Developed for Learning Activities
走 跑 停
站起来 坐下 看
快快地 不 慢慢地
Steps to break down the 9 square activity:
Step 1: Choose any three vocabulary items as a group. You can choose vertically, horizontally or diagonally. Introduce one group at a time using classic TPR procedures and various assessment strategies.
Step 2: After all three groups have been introduced, mix them up. You can give oral commands by simply following the square from left to right, right to left, top to bottom, bottom to top or diagonally. This will guarantee covering all possible combinations.
Step 3: Novel commands. Input can be made more interesting by combining the words you have introduced. For example, “don’t”, “slowly”, and “walk”. Which combination could you come up with?
Step 4: Chain commands. Even more interesting are chain commands, e.g., when teachers feel students are ready, presenting 不慢慢地走, 快快地跑, 不停不坐下.
Subsequent commands include illustrations. Students can be commanded to draw a representation what of what the teacher has said.
In addition, TPR teachers can point to commands written on flash cards (Pinyin or Pinyin and Chinese characters together).
Part III: Additional TPR based strategies: The Three-Ring-Circus
There are some limitations on TPR. The first one is that the vocabulary has to be concrete and result in an observable action. It is difficult to use TPR to get across words such as “ideal”, “hope” or “greedy”. If one solely uses TPR and gives commands, a dead-end will be reached rather quickly. Another limitation of TPR comes from the usage of command forms. Commands forms are not much a problem in Chinese. However, for a language like Spanish or German, when gender, pronoun and tenses, etc. all require agreement, teaching only command forms runs the risk of introducing incorrect grammatical patterns. Therefore, a world-renown TPR trainer, Bertha Segal Cook (1998), invented a technique called “Three-Ring-Circus”. It allows presenting input with a variety of tense, conjugations and agreements from the beginning and in a natural way.
The Three-Ring-Circus Procedure: 1) Select three TPR words; 2) Use the classic TPR procedure to present these words; 3) Enlist three student volunteers and assign them one action each; 4) Place them into different corners in the classroom; 5) All students perform their actions individually at the same time; 6) The teacher asks questions about who is doing what.
Example for the Three-Ring-Circus Procedure:
Sam is looking at Celia.
Johnny is crying.
Charlie is running.
Questions teacher asks:
Is Sam crying?
Is Sam running?
Is Sam looking at Celia or Johnny looking at Celia?
Is Sam looking at Celia or Ivy?
Who is Sam looking at?
Who is looking at Celia?
Is Celia looking at Sam?
Typically, the class only needs to respond with one-word answers: Yes, no, a name or an object. As the class progresses students eventually start to respond with two and three-words, short phrases or longer phrases and complete sentences.
Here is an example of teaching numbers with TPR: 1) Write a number on a flashcard and create a deck of numbers (1-10). 2) Give two numbers (5 & 8) to a student. 3) Ask questions such as:
Part IV: Expending TPR
Krashen (2013 & 2015) suggests that there is even more we can do with TPR, especially if we are not limited by having to work on target structures.
We could expend TPR into the following areas:
• Exercise and Yoga instructions
• Martial arts and simple self-defense moves
• Simple magic tricks
• Party games
• Party tricks
• Outdoor survival skills
Slocum-Bailey wrote “Linear procedures—a repeated sequence of actions, for instance, or step-by-step instructions—tend to work well, because they involve a limited amount of vocabulary, much of which is naturally repeated, and students listen for understanding in order to be able to follow or complete the action.” (Slocum-Bailey, 2016, p. 20)
Personally, I have implemented “Guided Meditation”, in several ways, e.g., “body scan”, “mindful eating” and “tapping” in class as well. It not only provides compelling comprehensible input, but it also helps students to acquire life skills for self-regulation and self-reliance.
Krashen 1998 has pointed out that “TPR is not a complete method. It cannot do the entire job of language teaching, nor was it designed to do this.” (Krashen, 1998, p. 94) There are other ways to provide comprehensible input to beginning students, such as TPRS, Story-Listening, Embedded Reading and Movie Talk. TPR has made an important contribution and nearly all successful methods have included movement as a means of making input more comprehensible, though.
Asher, J. (2009). Learning another language through actions. Los Gatos, CA: Sky Oaks Productions.
Cook, B. (1998). Teaching English through Action. Brea, CA: Berty Segal, Inc.
Carcia, R. (2009). Instructor’s notebook: How to apply TPR for best results. Los Gatos, CA: Sky Oaks Productions.
Krashen, S. (1998). TPR: Still a very good idea. Publicado en NovELTy (A Journal of English Language Teaching and Cultural Studies in Hungary), 5(4), 82-85.
Krashen, S. (2013). The case for non-targeted, comprehensible input. Journal of Bilingual Education Research & Instruction, 15(1), 102-110.
Krashen, S. (2015, July). TPRS: Contributions, Problems, New Frontiers, and Issues. In Keynote address given at the National TPRS Conference, Reston, VA (Vol. 20).
Slocum-Bailey, J. (2016). Non-targeted comprehensible input: How it works for my students and me. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 12(1), 17-26.
Willis, J. (2008). How your child learns best: Brain-friendly strategies you can use to ignite your child’s learning and increase school success. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc.
Wiechart, T., & DiBianca, G. (2014). Delivering CI: Kinesthetic connections – Classic TPR and gesturing, transition to reading and speaking, transition from TPR to narratives. Presentation, iFLT.
- Book Review: Feifei’s Field Trip (5/23/2018)
据说，那个晚上熄灯后，一群8岁的小男生，打着手电筒，在睡袋里玩不同的游戏玩了很久。”Filed Trip” 实践学习对于儿子来说实在是太开心了。可是，那个晚上，当我跟他们一起联欢的时候，看到有两个男孩，无论他们的父母怎么劝说，都拒绝参与。看来，不是所有的人，即便在这么小的年龄，也不见得都合群，或者喜欢大众游戏。
- 你会被学生气着吗？ (5/22/2018)
你注意过，当你生气的时候，在生理上你会有什么症状吗？比方说：血往上涌，面红耳赤，呼吸急促，胸部发紧，有时候胸闷气短，手脚出汗, 或者，不知所措… 有时候，生气的时候，你感到想要爆发，不然，那份怒火憋在心里会把你焚烧。有时候，生气的时候，你会惊慌失措，因为这不是你想要看到的自己。有时候生气的时候，你会逃避现实，把幻想放飞到一个虚拟世界中…
- Everybody Eats, How Many Cooks? (5/7/2018)
Talking about food could be a fun and nonthreatening topic for anyone to strike up a conversation with others. Especially, for me, an immigrant who lacks knowledge of cultural insights, jokes and references, when awkwardness falls upon me during a social gathering, I try to steer the conversation into food and cooking, to cover up my inadequateness. Often, it is an interesting topic for students to be engaged in the classroom early on as well.
Everybody LOVES to talk about their favorite foods and restaurants! However, for teens, how many likes to cook?
When my students reach Intermediate Mid level according to ACTFL’s Proficiency Standard, most likely, I’ll launch a cooking show project.
Here is what I do normally.
1. Preparation on students’ understanding of Chinese Regional Cuisine
Students research Chinese regional cuisines. To find out how geographical locations, weather and local resources, etc impact the development of Chinese regional cuisines. Then, they use a thinking routine, “Connect-Extend-Explore “, an adaptation from “Connect-extend-challenge” and “think-puzzle-explore” to activate their previous knowledge of Chinese cuisine, to expend on their understanding by researching more and eventually, they are asked to choose one representative dish from two of the regional cuisines which they are interested in, eventually, they will narrow down to one, that would be the dish they will cook and make a cooking show on it.
2. Cooking instruction preparation via TPR
One of the most challenging grammar structures in Chinese is the “Ba” construction (把字句). . Because it changes the Chinese sentence pattern from Subject + Verb + Object to Subject + Object + Verb. Quite many students can get confused. In cooking, “ba” construction is essential in giving instructions in Chinese.
This portion takes place way before we launched into our cooking show unit. It takes 5 minutes of daily practice at the beginning of each class. We divided the TPR verbs into four categories: A. Cooking method B. Cooking Preparation C. Cutting method. D. Describing/tasting a dish
A. Cooking method: pan-fried, deep fried, stir-fry, boil, grill/bake/roast, and steam (煎炸炒煮烤蒸）along with different food items which typically associate with these cooking methods. For example: pan-fried potstickers (煎锅贴), deep-fried chicken (炸鸡块) or steamed vegetables/fish (蒸蔬菜/鱼).
After they have required these essential phrases, create a personalized Q/A session regarding their diet preference, frequency and health projection.
B. Cooking Preparation : wash, cut, stir, flip, put in, pour in, mix together, add in, take out, put on side, pinch together, and wrap together. (洗一洗，切一切，搅一搅，翻一翻，把…放进/倒进，把…搅在一起，把…加进，把…拿出来，把…放在一边，捏一捏，包一包.) Be creative during this part. Each phrase can give so much fun when you are flexible and focus on having fun. For example, “to wash”. I brought in different body parts, doing laundry/dishes (in Chinese, it is the same word), different food items, acquiring about their/siblings’ personal hygiene habits including whether they wash hands before meal and after using bathroom. Trust me, I got lots of laughters out of them.
C. Cutting method: in Chinese, this part could be tricky. as “dice”, “mince” or “cut” are different in English. In Chinese, it all starts with cutting, plus a complement. “把…切成块”, “把…切成丁”, “把…切成条”, “把…切成丝”, “把…切成末”, “把…切碎”.
D. Describing/tasting a dish: smell, taste, sweet, sour, bitter, salty and spicy （闻一闻，尝一尝，酸甜苦辣咸）.
3. Cooking Show Project guideline
Now, it’s time to warm students up for the actual cooking show project. The project guideline and rubric are posted. Chinese Cooking Show Rubric Cooking Show Project Students are asked to narrow down their choices to one final dish. They are asked to get their ingredients together and be ready to cook in 3 weeks.
4. Movie Talk authentic Chinese dishes
At this point, I start to Movie Talk some typical dishes in China. Some is based on its popularity such as “dumplings” and “steamed baozi”, some is based on its regional representation. I often chose a short video clip less than 4 minutes. The video includes a clear ingredients list, preparation process, cooking procedure and final product. Few samples I used are: Orange beef, Hong-sue spare ribs, park dumplings, Kongpong chicken, mopo doufu, tomato and eggs, stir-fry vegetables, etc. Students are asked to narrate along the lip, describe it to each other or write about, depending on which skills need to be enhanced at different points.
5. Draft their recipe and cooking procedure
Once they turn in their recipe and cooking procedure, I discuss each one with them individually. Some choices could be either too simple or complex, some procedure could be too minimal. After students receive a constructive feedback from me, they will be sharing with each other about what they were going to cook and how.
6. It’s time to cook and share your dish. Here is a cooking show sample for you to enjoy!
During this project, most students were excited. However, there was one student in particular who dragged his feet through this whole process. When I contacted his mom, mom was very protective of her son. She explained to me that this kid doesn’t like cooking at all, that was why he was procrastinating so much. I replied as: “I could totally relate to him as at different points, we all have to do something which we are not 100% passionate about it. The chance to challenge oneself under this circumstance, to build grit and resilience is much greater than staying in a comfort zone.” That kid, in the end, came through. He made delicious potstickers for his family, his mom praised him so much.
Due to this unique episode in class, I thought it would be beneficial for students to reflect on this process. Therefore, I used two more different thinking routine to help them to think deeper.
I took a big post paper and divided it into four sections: What went well. What could be improved. I used to think of cooking as… Now, I think cooking as…
It helped students to become aware of their effort and areas for improvement. Most importantly, to realize that cooking is not as tidioues, strange or difficult as they had thought. It is an important skill to have, it is simple and can be fun. It bonds a family together.
So, what are you waiting for?
- Edcamp Lake County Experience (4/26/2018)
The Edcamp organized by a group of Chicagoland educators back in December had all the wonders! I felt so inspired and stimulated and I felt like a sponge to soak up my new learning experience. Now, I’m excited to share some with you.
That morning was snowing. The dense, drizzling and fine snow made the feasibility to be very low. On a 70 miles per hour speed limit freeway, I could only drive between 45 – 50 miles per hour. I knew I would be late. My thought didn’t dwell on the road condition at all, I simply kept on driving and reminded myself to see God in everything. As it turned out, the drive was as beautiful as on a sunny day.
I was there for the first TCI session on time. Elaine Winer, a season TPRS Spanish teacher, demonstrated the whole process on how to ask for a story within 45 minutes. She started with TPRS step 1: Establish meaning. She used TPR, illustrations, props and realia during her establishing meaning process. Then, she called an actor up front and started TPRS step 2: ask a story. For Elaine, she prefers to have a storyline developed before she starts a new lesson. This technique is called “story-telling”. For me, if we are creating a new story, I often select few essential phases I’d like to weave into a story, I then start to ask for details, often, students provide details to drive the story. This technique is called “story-asking”. If I use a legend or an existing story, then often I use story-telling technique.
Elaine’s storyline was simple: There is a man. His name is Muhammad. He wants to have dinner with a woman. He enters a restaurant, sees a woman there and asks her whether she would be interested. She rejects him because he has 11 fingers. He goes to another restaurant and experiences the same rejection, until he finds a woman with 12 fingers who accepts him wholeheartedly.
That was a typical TPRS story which meant to be funny, entertaining and comical. In recent years, a group of TCI teachers have also become conscious about expressing equity and inner qualities in our stories. The shift is to focus on characters and values instead of physical treats. The leading figures are Anna Giltch and Rochelle Adams. If you have time to attend NTPRS18 this year, please make sure you check out their session.
The second Edcamp session I attended was on “A teacher’s journey through Ben Slavic’s Invisibles and One Word Image- No stress storytelling” by Greg Schwab.
I am familiar with Ben Slavic’s One Word Image, however, in recent years, Ben and Tina have developed a new technique called “Invisibles”, which I have not had an opportunity to learn about. I was very happy that Greg presented on this topic.
From One Word Image to Invisible has a total of three simple steps.
Step 1: create a character by using One Word Image.
You start with a one word: What is there? (有一个…?) And then you start to create a character from there by asking the following treats:
Size: Big Small
Height: Tall Short (if applicable)
Mood: Happy Sad
Cheerful Depressed (add on later, you don’t need to use the same ones)
Excited Nervous (add on later)
Wealth: Rich Poor
IQ level: Intelligent Stupid
Characters: Friendly Mean
Often, as Gregg has said, the character is an animated cartoon like object or talking food. Once your character is created, then it would be time for step 2.
Step 2: Develop a character. Students take a total of 30 minutes to finish step 1 above and step 2 here. The following information are included in step 2.
Favorite phrase in the target language:
Favorite greetings in the target language:
Date of Birth:
Step 3: Ask for a story. Creating a story for an invisible involves 7 steps.
Town Hall Meeting – choose a character from students’ drawing collection
1. Town Hall meeting is held in English. Because the class needs to agree on what the main character would be and whose storyline is most appealing to them. This is a process which needs to be dealt with efficiency and clarity. Teacher selects the best creation from step 1 and shows to the class. Students discuss and choose one out of the samples.
Even though the character has been created. This is a process for everyone truly understand and develop a deep bond for the character. Teachers don’t spend too much time on circling.
This is a step where students’ imagination at work. Teacher makes many suggestions, from a desert to an island, a mountain top to a farm house, a evil forest to a disco place, students stay in the target language and make their argument. Teacher personalizes it and circles.
This is another creative step when students suggest another character to be in the story. During Greg’s demo, participants cleverly brought all the 3 characters into the story. Or it could be a totally unrelated person for a good reason to be there.
This step has already been established by the author. Teacher doesn’t spend too much time here. It helps to get to the solution party quickly. For many people who really need a closure for a story, this could be a good strategy.
This is another creative step. It takes time and patiences to reach a satisfying conclusion.
Wait, wait!!! Retell right away? Don’t panic! Here, let me reveal one extra set-up during the Invisible process.
Illustration. Greg had a big poster size post-it ready. He has the illustrator to divide the paper into half. The upper half is a scene focusing on “problems”. When the character starts to have problems, with whom he’s having problems, what are the problems, where they are…
The bottom half is a scene focusing on “solutions”. How the problems have been solved.
The third session I attended was presented by Meg Grossnitz. She is an elementary teacher, fun and dynamic. Meg’s presentation was on “Special Person Interview”.
Meg was intended to interview Greg, however, being a busy organizer, he was not there when her session started. Meg selected me to be her “special person”.
I am a quiet introvert who prefers to live behind the scene. I am also a unique person who is into meditation and nature. Not a common type who enjoys social, party or sports. I was feeling self-conscious about my answers to her questions. While I felt the needs to stay true, I was concerned about that I might sound off-putting to others. It was an interesting insight to gain through this whole process. I have done this activity many times in class, only when I was pushed under the spotlight, I realized that how stress this could be for some people. Meg’s handout is here.
The biggest takeaway for me is that Meg has created a quiz templet by using Google Form, she asked a fast processor student to fill out the form (with my answers) while she was interviewing me. When the interview was over, Meg was ready to launch a Quizlet Live game for us. We got to play a game and review the interview. I LOVED it!
The last session was presented by Sean Lawler, the title was Asking Stories with Anne Matava Scripts.
Sean used chalks and a chalkboard. Along with a stuffed animal (dragon) and an actress, very low tech! Then started a mesmerizing story! The basic storyline is typical TPRS style: a dragon is hungry/thirsty, he goes to location #1, #2 & #3, then…
What I LOVED about Sean’s session is how charmingly he infused his personality treats into the class. Sean seems to be very musical and he incorporates rhythm into his lessons. Would you like to get a glimpse of Sean’s rhythmical raps? Here is a sample.
Each Edcamp session is 45 minutes in length, then there is 10 minutes Q & A session followed immediately after the presentation. I love how efficient this organization can be to introduce new ideas and expose participants with new tools.
Certainly, I was feeling very grateful for this learning opportunity.
- 你有学生抱怨你偏心吗？ (4/26/2018)
3. 学生不写功课敷衍了事的时候，不要把行为和人格混在一起批判。儿子星期二回家报告他在班上捣乱了，又被老师点名批评了。差不多一个星期以来，我们都在为儿子在课堂上遵守秩序而教导。那天晚上，我终于生他气了。要把他最喜欢的一套神奇宝贝卡拿走。儿子大哭一场后，过来说：“妈妈，对不起，我不是一个好男孩。” 我用手捧住他的脸，看着他说：“你从来都是一个好男孩。你善良，勇敢，充满同情心。你也很幽默，你很会别人着想。但是，你犯了一个行为上的错误。犯错误不等于你就是一个坏孩子。犯了错误要反省的是我怎样才能改进。”学生也一样。也在我中文三，有一个学生，几乎什么功课都不做，每次上课都迟到，每次下课都主动道歉，可是，没有丝毫改变。我能够做到的就是以“初心”来看待他。我真的不知道他什么时候会醒悟过来，什么时候会真正开始改变。但是，我看到在他的掩饰的无奈中，他渴望被人重视，理解和尊重。
5. 一个令人失望的项目，不代表失败。那可以是反省和成功的一个新的起点。今年是我第七年在中文课带学生做我们的MTV。7年来，除了去年一组学生没有按时完成他们的MTV之外，每年都会有非常好的作品出来。特别是我们有名的”Tribe of 5″团体，每年的作品都让人刮目相看。
6. 不要加入教师休息室的聊天组去抱怨你的学生。有一次，我偶尔跟一位数学老师坐到一起吃午饭。我们在聊我们的一天。“都还好呀，没有什么特别的事情。”我们两个好像都轻描淡写地说。在沉默中过了一会儿，他突然说，“在我即将成为老师的时候，我父亲对我说，儿子，我只有一个建议。就是不要天天跟其他老师扎堆，一起抱怨你的学生。现在，我教了快20年了，那条建议真的是金玉良言呀。” 所以，不要觉得没有跟其他人一起抱怨，就好像你落单了一样。闲言蜚语吸收的是负能量。把一份淡然带到你的课堂，一切都会好的。
- 为什么要上钢琴课？ (4/24/2018)
圣诞节到了，儿子不是太想要架子鼓了。他在朋友家看到一个桌游，觉得更好玩。所以，我就在亚马逊上买了回来。结果，先生不买账，说我们不应该失言。跟他争吵了几次，觉得心太累，就说，“随便吧！” 先生兴颠颠地买了架子鼓回来，装好之后的第一天，儿子狠狠敲了一阵，然后就说，“不是我想象的那么好玩。” 又把钢琴打开去玩了。现在，7个月过去了，儿子开始弹贝多芬的《致爱丽丝》。每次上课，老师都对他赞不绝口。“有天赋，真有天赋。” 可是，儿子每天练琴的时间从都不操过20分钟。以前有了新曲子，左右手分开练，然后再慢慢加到一起。一两个星期一首曲子。现在会读五线谱了，左右手同时上，弹个5，6次就差不多合到一起了。老师夸他有天赋，是真的。不过，儿子的认真精神不知道什么时候才能磨练出来。如果他愿意花时间，会怎样呢？
- Screenagers Review: 拥有电子产品就优越吗？ (4/23/2018)
Screenagers的制片人是一位医生，Dr. Delaney Ruston。在医院，她看到形形色色的上瘾症：毒瘾，酒瘾，是人们的生活中比较常见，无论在医学上还是在社会上都有很多相应的措施。可是，游戏瘾，电子产品瘾，是新出现的现象，科学研究还比较少。在她12岁的女儿强烈要求得到一部智能版手机的时候，她没有很多现成的答案来帮她回答，所以，她就决定做一些调查。
对于两个大人来说，我们规定了”Electronic Free Zone”。每天从下午5点到晚上8:30，全家人都不许用任何电子产品。妈妈不在电脑上工作，爸爸不在iPad上看新闻，全家一起活动，交流。我现在躲在星巴克写这篇博客，马上就要到托管接儿子了，所以，电脑要关闭几个小时。不能在儿子在家的时候上电脑。
- 小喵电台采访第三期：TPRS的具体步骤 (4/8/2018)
要想谈论什么是TPRS, 我需要解释一下TPRS的一些基本特征。说到这些我们就需要先讨论一下 Dr. John Medina的 “Brain Rules for Baby”. 真是一本好书，我建议每一个父母都应该读。其实我在教学上的转型也是在我儿子出生之后，我首先呢想做一个好妈妈，一个称职的妈妈，所以就开始读一些关于育儿方面的书。最大的收益就是养儿育女和教书育人是相通的。所以是在无意中想做一个好妈妈的同时，我变成了一个更好的老师。我的学生其实是需要感谢我儿子的。
那么，在Brain Rules for Baby里呢，有一节视频叫”Parentese”，就是说父母是怎么跟小宝宝对话的。Dr. John Medina总结出几个特点：1）把元音拉长。2）把声母剪短。3）把声调提高。他没有说第四点，我自己觉得也是很重要的，就是 4）把词汇或者交谈的内容简化。
第一部曲是”establish meaning” – 就是说首先，我们需要奠定一个词汇确切的含义或者一个结构的确切的用法。这一步其实是有很多方法的。比方说：
Betty White打篮球吗？/ Betty White喜欢打篮球吗？
Obama 和Betty White打篮球吗？
你喜欢看Betty White打篮球还是Obama 打篮球？
Tyler Swift 打篮球吗？
其实，问故事是有很多不同的方法的，比方说你可以只问学生的信息，或者观点和感觉，再者对某件事的反应或者看法。在问的过程中，把不同学生的观点不时地进行比较。这就可以是一种问法。循环式提问的经典就在于让大家有很多问题来回答或者讨论，其实TPRS教学并不是说你一定，你必须得发展出一个故事来。只要你一节课都在跟学生互动，在给他们提供“可理解输入”，就是成功。第二种问故事的方法是，你可以列一个大致框架出来，比方说像我刚刚举得Dr. Krashen上课的那个例子。我在上课之前是有一个框架的。我知道我想要一个主人公，他想要某个人做他的朋友。这就是我的故事框架。至于他是一个男孩还是一个女孩，我的学生可以决定。决定性别之后，我们再一起讨论他叫什么名字，他贵姓，他住在哪儿，他多大了，他在哪儿上学，等等。这些，学生们都可以决定，我只要问问题就可以了。然后我要看那天的重点词汇是什么： “想要SB做朋友”。我就又开始问了，他想要谁做他的朋友呀？是JB？Harry Potter？Braca Obama? 自己班上的同学？问来问去，就出来了。就这样一步步走下来，其实一点都不难。
“比较的目的在哪里？” 或者 “循环式提问”的优势在哪里？
“首先，我们的大脑在习得语言的过程中需要大量的有意义的重复。如果我们的教学目标是让我们的学生可以达到一定的流利程度（Fluency)和一定的精通程度(Proficiency), 以便他可以得心应手地与人在用二外，三外交流的话，我们就需要给学生提供大量的有意义的重复。第二点就是我们的大脑喜欢猎奇。如果我们只给他们重复的信息，没有变化，我们的大脑和耳朵会自动关掉。我想大家都听说过”Autopilet” 这个词，就是这个道理。第三，在比较的时候，我们才可以把很多个不同的问题在不同的语境中，把对主谓宾的提问都一一涉及到。这样就会避免课堂变得重复单一。第四，在比较的时候，我们是以学生的答案，也就是他们的兴趣为中心的，就可以把轻而易举地把学生的学习情绪和兴趣都带动起来。”
TPRS的第三部曲就是阅读了。说到阅读我们就需要提到Embedded Reading. Embedded Reading就像俄罗斯的套娃一样。由简单到复杂，一环套一环。Embedded Reading有很多优势。比方说它给学生提供一个徐徐渐进的阶梯，在心理上给学生提供一个安全网。另外在当今社会汉字要怎么学？怎么认？
在ACTFL的时候，有一天晚上，我请Dr. Krashen读了一个我新写的一个小故事。《什么都吃的Willy Goat》。他老人家一开始的时候是结结巴巴的，我一边给他做手势，一边在旁边当他实在想不起来的时候就提醒他一下。因为故事的重复性非常的高，他读着读着就看着眼顺了。那些本来陌生的汉字也慢慢的变成了熟人似的。所以，他在ACTFL提到我的时候说我给了他一个personal demonstration，当我们把汉字放在可以理解的故事里的时候让它们多次反复地出现，汉字就会顺理成章地成为我们的朋友。作为一个native speaker, 这种写法是很违背我们的作为母语者在我们写作过程中的训练的。给母语者的读物是：语言要简洁，同一个词尽量不要重复，表达内容要有深度呀，要显示我们的文学修养呀等等。不过，我们也可以考虑一下美国的Step readers. 给孩子们的读物都是语言很简单，重复性很强。TPRS的读物以及Embedded Reading其实遵循的就是这个一个原理。
- 小喵电台采访第二期: 可理解输入在教学中的具体体现 (4/8/2018)
我上课的时候主要用的就是根据 “可理解输入” 而延伸出来的实际的教学方法。 在上一期的节目里我们已经提到了 “TPR” – TOTAL PHYSICAL RESPONSE, TPRS – TEACHING PROFICIENCY THROUGH READING AND STORYTELLING, MOVIE TALK, 等等，这些都是从“可理解输入”延伸出来的实际教学方法。
我在最开始接触到TPR的时候，我对这个方法的理解比较肤浅，我以为只是给几个COMMENTS，让学生站起来，坐下，走，跑。每一次，做几个动作，动作之间也没有多少联系，怎样和其它的教学内容结合起来呢？这些都没有多想。后来接触到的多了，其实TPR IS MORE THAN COMMENTS. 用这个方法其实是有很多的变动的。比方说，老师可以先一边说一边示范。然后，老师可以说，但是把示范延迟或者去掉。再者呢，可以让学生们闭上眼睛，听老师的指令，看看学生能不能听懂，做出动作。这样我们就知道哪一个指令还需要加油变换花样让学生们习得。另外，我们可以让一个学生出来做，或者将学生们分区，分别给他们不同的指令来做。还有呢，这个其实是TPR最重要的一点，很多人都不做，那就是在学生新习得的语言中，有没有可能把那些词汇重新组合？比方说，开学的第一天，我们是以这三个词汇开始的：好，看，听。我给他们做手势，学生们做手势，然后就是上面所描述的全部的过程。突然，我把游戏规则给变了，我说：“好看！” 我说：“不好听！” 或者，我会说：“看好！” “听好！”。学生们就要想，就要猜一下了。我们的目的当然不是把他们留在一个迷谷里，但是善于运用新合成词可谓是一石多鸟。
那么TPRS 呢？这个说起来就话长了。TPRS的全称是 TEACHING PROFICIENCY THROUGH READING AND STORYTELLING. 因为主要是以问故事为主，我经常简称为“故事教学法”。用故事来传承语言文化在人类的文明史上可谓是源远流长。比方说苗族人，他们是没有书面语言的，但是，他们的传说，风俗，语言及习惯是怎样保留下来的呢？一是故事，通过老一辈人讲故事，还有一个就是他们的歌谣。苗族人唱山歌非常的厉害。
现在我们再回到TPRS 上。TPRS的创始人叫 BLAINE RAY。也是一个非常温和有趣的先生。他当时是一个西班牙文老师。很年轻，家里有很多小孩。上了一年课之后呢，学生的评估很低，大家都不喜欢他的课。他的校长就把他叫到办公室去，对他说，“你这个教学方法需要改进一下，不然，我无法续签你的合同。” 他这一听就着急了。家里有一群孩子等着吃呢。所以，快想个办法呀。在他的收索的过程中，他就读到了DR KRASHEN的可理解输入的理论，他一边读一边想，“这个太有意思了，这个听起来很有道理呀。那么，到底什么方法是可理解输入呢？” 然后，他就读到了 JAMES ASHER的 “LEARNING ANOTHER LANGUAGE THROUGH ACTIONS”， 也就是 “TOTAL PHYSICAL RESPONSE/TPR”. 一开学，马上就跟学生尝试，最初的两个月，大家都兴致非常的高，两个月之后，动作做完了，上课就又走到了这个瓶颈之处，没办法，只好再给学生题写生词，做练习题。一下子，学生的学习兴趣又降低了，学生们又开始抱怨了。
创新呀？世界上最好的一位TPR的老师是在加州，她叫BERTY SEGAL. BERTY SEGAL 对第二语言教学的贡献也很大，她创作出了 “THREE RING CIRCUS”. 另外了，她开始了 TPR PLUS STORYING. BLAINE从这里开始，不断地完善，不断地创新，在这整个的过程中，很多其他的老师也开始运用，大家一起改进，所以就有了今天的TPRS的模式。
要想谈论什么是TPRS, 我需要解释一下TPRS的一些基本特征。说到这些我们就需要先讨论一下 Dr. John Medina的 “Brain Rules for Baby”. 真是一本好书，我建议每一个父母都应该读。其实我在教学上的转变也是在我儿子出生之后，我首先呢想做一个好妈妈，一个称职的妈妈，所以就开始读一些关于育儿方面的书，最大的收益就是养儿育女和教书育人是相通的。所以是在无意中想做一个好妈妈的同时，我变成了一个更好的老师。我的学生其实是需要感谢我的儿子的。那么，在Brain Rules for Baby里呢，有一节视频叫”Parentese”，就是说父母是怎么跟小宝宝对话的。Dr. John Medina总结出几个特点：1）把元音拉长。2）把声母剪短。3）把声调提高。他没有说第四点，我自己觉得也是很重要的，就是4）把词汇或者交谈的内容简化。
- 小喵电台采访第一期： 可理解输入和 Dr. Krashen学中文趣事 (4/8/2018)
关于可理解输入的定论和解释有很多资源。要是想深入理解的话，肯定是需要到Dr. Krashen本人的网页上。Dr. Krahshen把他一生的心血基本上都转为免费的资料放在互联网上。所以，如果听众朋友到 www.sdkrashen.com，在他的左手边就会看到一个链接，叫“Principles and practice in second language acquisition”. 可以免费下载。有时间的话，大家慢慢拜读一下，一共是202页，一定会受益匪浅。不过今天我要给大家所解释的可理解输入的简化版，是由 Dr. Terry Waltz总结出来的几个特征。Dr Terry Waltz是也是一个做TPRS的专家，她的总结和分析能力是超人的。
可理解输入有几个特点：1）我们的大脑需要多次的有意义的富有变化的重复才可以习得新的信息。所以如果我们只给学生过几遍新词汇后者结构，就都期待着他们会自己灵活运用，是不现实的。2）掌握一段新的语言是需要时间的。并且每一个人需要的时间都不一样，就像孩子们学说话一样，我们不知道哪一个孩子会在多大的时候开始说话。所以，作为老师，我们不应该期待每一个学生都是我们的super star学生，特别是当我们遇到比较慢一点的学生，我们就感到很失望。3）语言输出是在语言输入积累到一定的基础上自然发生的。好比是泡茶， 你的茶壶里需要达到一定的水量，你才可以把水倒出来。不然那就真的成了“巧妇难为无米之炊“。4）i + 1。要是想让学生每次习得新的东西，我们需要在他们现有的基础上，加上新的信息。如果过难，学生的 “affective filter”就会过高。如果过于简单，学生得不到新的挑战，就会觉得课很无聊。
有呀，有很多。比方说有一次我们在用几个新的句型跟学生们一起创造一个故事。当时的两个句型是：”对…说”, “跟…玩儿…” 在这之前的一堂课是 “想要…做朋友。”
在我们教 “想要…做朋友” 这个句型的时候，刚好DR KRASHEN亲自到我们的班上观摩上课。当时我们用的是大头儿子作为我们的主人公。故事开头是，在中国有一个男孩，他没有名字也没有姓，但是因为他的头很大，所以大家都叫他 “大头”。然后就是说大头有家，有爸爸有妈妈，但是没有朋友。他想要朋友，不光是想要朋友，而且是想要一个美国朋友。所以他就去了美国，在美国他问问这个 “你想要我做你的朋友吗？” 再问问那个 “你想要我做朋友吗？”，结果，我的学生都挺捣的，他们都说“不”。我当时有一个学生扮演大头，于是他就走到DR KRASHEN那儿，问他，“KRASHEN 老师，您想要我做你的朋友吗？” KRASHEN老师很认真地想了想说，“当然可以”. 当时，那节课就这么结束了。快乐结局。
所以，在我们要开始用 ”对…说”, “跟…玩儿”的时候呢，我的学生就很自然地把DR KRASHEN又带到了我们的故事里。也就是把大头的故事向下走。我们一节课全部花在第一个句型上，我在课堂上来回问，“如果是你，你会对DR KRASHEN 说什么？” 因为我的教室的墙上贴有很多最常用的表达语，所以，有的学生看着墙上的句型就说，“我要对DR KRASHEN说 ‘行行好’！另一个说，“我要对DR KRASHEN说 “拜托！” 还有一个学生呢，他最喜欢吸人眼球，他就不合常规地说，“我要对DR KRASHEN说 ‘你疯了？’”
就这样说来说去的，等到我们要开始下一个句型“跟 DR KRASHEN玩儿…” 我就开始问了，“大头想要跟DR KRASHEN玩儿什么？” 你知道我的学生是TEENAGERS, 大家就又开始争了，争来争去，但是没有一个结果，然后就下课了。
结果，他很快就回了一封信过来说，‘我不要跟大头玩儿游戏，我要给大头弹钢琴，我要他听我弹钢琴。” 在英文里，这个PLAY GAME 和 PLAY PIANO都是同一个 “PLAY’, 但是，中文就不是了。这不是同一个词。这样就需要更改故事的航线，另外还要再加新的词汇。所以，我就回了封信过去说，如果是一个游戏呢？比方说WII呀？或者MINDCRAFT呢？
所以，我就说 “好吧，好吧。” 我还要到课堂上看看学生买账不买账。所以，第二天，又上课了，我就问学生，“大头想要跟DR KRASHEN 玩什么？”
TEENAGES, 就说， “大头想要跟KRASHEN老师玩儿球。” 我就看看我的那个扮演DR KRASHEN的那个学生，一边摇头一边问他，”DR KRASHEN,你要跟大头玩儿球吗？” 学生演员马上就得到我的暗示了，就说，“玩球？我不要跟你玩球！” 然后，大家就得继续猜下去。把运动和游戏都猜遍了，DR KRASHEN就是不跟大头玩儿。最后，我告诉了我的学生我给DR KRASHEN写EMAIL的事情，然后告诉他们 KRASHEN老师不想要跟大头玩儿，他想要给大头弹钢琴。
- Navigate Through Kittens’ Supporting Materials (4/6/2018)
I have received quite few emails from teachers who are using “Not The Same As Kittens” curriculum. Two of the most frequently asked questions are: 1) Where do I start with all the supporting materials which you have built? 2) Could you give me a timeline for how long each book would take from start to finish?
I thought I’d answer the first question here.
As in the video on my webpage I have said, “Many Chinese teachers are the hardest working people on the planet. Often, they have to share classrooms, teach multiple levels and travel to different locations…” I’m deeply convinced by the power of teaching with “Comprehensible Input”(TCI) based instructions. However, under current working condition for many people, without building a supportive and mentoring center first, it would not be practical for many teachers to switch over to TCI. It’s my mission to make TCI accessible for as many people as possible.
Now, let’s assume you have ordered a class set of the first kittens’ book, I Am Beibei. So you are eligible to subsccribe to our supporting materials. Here is what you will see after you click open the book 1 folder.
This is what you will see. The most essential folder you should open, before you jump into anything else, it is Teacher’s Guide. It spills out in detail how the whole book is structured and how each lesson is evolved in a spiral sequence. How to start a class with Total Physical Response (TPR), how to do “Daily Report” and mini story units. Once you have gained a comprehensive understanding of the course structure, then it is time for the first folder on the top: the Mini Reading folder.
The “Mini Reading” folder contains 8 more sub folders. This year, Yuan created a Mini Self Intro folder, it contains two lessons of self-introduction. The second sub folder is called “1.5 Super Seven”. This is a folder which contains several “Super Seven” asking stories. The goal is to ponding these Super Seven phrases into one’s head and lay out a solid foundation for a learner first.
The third and fourth folders have the same contents but in different file types (PPT and Word document both are available).
If you follow the Teacher’s Guide, at certain points, after few mini readings, your students would be reading for chapter stories. Now, it would be the right time to open it. All PowerPoints, reading/listening comprehensions as well as audio files are available in this folder.
If you follow the mini stories in Teacher’s Guide, after students read it, there are interactive activities as well as assessments designed for them.
The Homework folder contains many different hanzi sheets for students to practice as well as other activity suggestions.
Feeling this is quite enough? There are more! What about Movie Talks and Embedded Readings? Yes! You could find those in the supporting materials as well.
It normally takes me about 4 months to finish Book 1. We teach for proficiency. Let’s focus on the students and go slow. Let’s don’t lose anyone at this crucial beginning stage. “Less is more” and “Slow is fast” leads to optimal acquisition results.
I sincerely hope you will pick up a kitten’s book and start to enjoy using it.
- Not the Same as Kittens – Story Intros (4/6/2018)
Beibei is a newcomer to Wonzel Town. He is cute, but timid. He really wants to fit in and make friends. So, who will he become friends with? Will it be the active and energetic Bravo? Will it be the mischievous and impulsive Piano? Perhaps it will be the kind, friendly and intelligent Xingxing? What about the beautiful but sensitive Xiaotian? Or the mysterious and distant black cat called “13”?
This book employs 75 high frequency Chinese phrases. The author uses a special technique – “visual circulation” to increase a learner’s reading comprehension via meaningful repetition. Its structure is perfectly suited for beginning language students.
Dylan’s birthday is coming up and everybody is excited. Bravo and Feifei long for the birthday feast everyday. Piano is looking forward to all the fun. Beibei is still curious about the mysterious “13” who is the only one Beibei is not friends with yet. He wonders about why 13 keeps his distance. Beibei soon discovers an unacceptable stigma in Wonzel Town – a black cat is viewed as unlucky here! Elves, which is 13’s real name, was abandoned by his owner right after his mom named him! Beibei is determined to break the stigma. Can he succeed? Will Elves become his friend? Will Elves eventually become accepted by others? …
This book employs 59 high frequency Chinese phrases. The author uses a special technique – “visual circulation” to increase a learner’s reading comprehension via meaningful repetition. Its structure is perfectly suited for novice level language students.
“Who are Elves’ family – his mom and his 12 siblings?” The townspeople whisper. Elves’ new friends go on a quest to find his family. Will Elves reunite with his family? Will his previous owner accept him back in? Is the quest in vain? What if no one from his past can be found?
This book employs 40 high frequency Chinese phrases. The author uses a special technique – “visual circulation” to increase a learner’s reading comprehension via meaningful repetition. Its structure is perfectly suited for novice level language students.
Besides the obvious catwalk, meowing, and purring, what else do cats go to school for? Do they take a strategy class in order to survive from their enemies or to become a successful predator? Should they jump on the trendy bandwagon and take Chinese? Who would succeed in the classroom? Who wouldn’t?
This book employs 58 high frequency Chinese phrases. The author uses a special technique – “visual circulation” to increase a learner’s reading comprehension via meaningful repetition. Its structure is perfectly suited for novice high and intermediate low level language students.
Bitten by wanderlust, Miss Basil, a beautiful and charming turkey, traveled all the way from France to Wonzel Town, unaware that she has blindly entered into a life-threatening situation. On Thanksgiving, roasted turkeys are served in American kitchens. Will Dylan, Elves, Xingxing and friends be able to find her in time to warn her about this holiday custom? Has she been eaten? Is it too late? Will a miracle save her?
This book employs 29 high frequency Chinese phrases. It is a perfect review or novice high and intermediate level students.
Food lover Feifei can be proud of his ability when it comes to eating, but not so much with sports. There is a field trip planned for his strategy class. In order to prepare for surviving Wonzel Town’s harsh winter, they will be going on a ski race. Will Feifei be able to challenge his inner demons and try his best? Or he will break down and embarrass himself in front of his classmates?
This book employs 56 high frequency Chinese phrases. The author uses a special technique – “visual circulation” to increase a learner’s reading comprehension via meaningful repetition. Its structure is perfectly suitable for Novice high and Intermediate low level language students.
Ms. Basil is leaving Wonzel Town. But not until after a dance party! Dylan really wants to ask Xingxing to the dance. He is also thinking of telling Xingxing his feelings about her but he doesn’t know how. What can Dylan do? Will Dylan and Xingxing go to the dance together? Or will Xingxing dance the night away with others? Will she ever find out Dylan’s true feelings for her?
This book employs 32 high frequency Chinese phrases. The author uses a special technique – “visual circulation” to increase a learner’s reading comprehension via meaningful repetition. Its structure is perfectly suited for Novice High and Intermediate Low level students. It is also a perfect review for them.
- Meet the Main Characters in Kittens’ Series (4/5/2018)
I hope you are interested in finding out what these 7 books are about. Well, they are about cats. Yes, we used cats as our main characters. They all come from different background and have their own little personality.
Gosh, a friend has asked me that which cat I could identify with? Well, honestly, all of them! Wait, I’m not saying I’m an overly complex person. All I’m saying is that I could identify myself with different aspects of each cat.
For example, I could relate to Xingxing’s (星星”) “nerdyness”, well, is this a word? When I was in school, I was just a book worm. Honestly, my social skills have just started to develop recently. Shhhhhhh, please, please don’t laugh at me.
At the meanwhile, I have always been a food lover. I’m a great cook. My kitchen is an international cuisine hub. Over the years, I have really fallen in love with the simplicity in life. But, being a good cook it could also means to be a picky eater. So I have lots of recipes in my head which are “fool proofed”. So Feifei, as a food lover in the story, you can certainly see me in him.
I used to be a shy and timid person. Xiaotian (小天) and Beibei (贝贝) have all of my heart with them. I’m very clumsy when it comes to sports. When you meet Feifei (菲菲), you would understand. Well, I didn’t grow up in an all boys’ family. But, there is a mischievous Piano, she’s naughty all the time. When I was growing up, I was a model girl. When I was in school, I was a model student. Deep inside, I wish I could be like Piano – a happy, sunny and free spirit person who can be so careless and boyish.
Of course, there is elegant and royal Dylan. He’s so graceful, friendly, warm-hearted and supportive. In contrast, I have been so worried about the outcast black cat, Elvis! Homeless, friendless, foodless… Is he ever going to make through the harsh reality of his life…
The only person I don’t like, or you wouldn’t like much is Tugger in series one. I have actually been thinking that I might have been little too cruel with him. In the next series, maybe, maybe, I’ll give him some opportunities to prove himself? Hmmmmm, it almost feels like a strange thought.
Okay, okay, don’t let me spoil everything for you. The stories really get interesting after the 2nd book because there are more vocabulary available. After Yuan proof read the 3rd book, 《Elves’的家》，Yuan really wants to know what would happen to Elves’ family? Well, I haven’t told her the answers yet. So I won’t tell you here either. Zhe, my illustrator, cried when she was reading the 5th book, 《Basil老师的感恩节》。Let me tell you it’s not that easy to get a native speaker, who is also an adult, to cry over your stories.
Now, would you like to hear more about each book?
- The Nature of a TPRS Curriculum (4/5/2018)
Last night, I received an email from a Chinese teacher who has been wanting to try out TPRS for a while. Although she hasn’t had any official training, she has been learning everything she can online: reading blog posts as much as possible, watching teaching demos on Youtube and trying out with her students on a small scale. Her biggest challenge is not the lack of training. The most delicate aspect of her teaching is that she has to coordinate her curriculum with others in her school. Here is a part of the email I received from her:
……By the way, I would like to know: Do I need to follow the sequence of the book?
I am thinking to try TPRS with one of my classes first, but this year I still need to follow the curriculum as we planned since I am not the only teacher. Would you please let me know about the other two books, I would like to have some materials on the stories about families, three meals, ordering food, asking directions, traveling, visiting drs. I am working on applying for budgets to purchase your other books with the supporting materials.
It’s always heart-warming to receive an email like this. A teacher’s eager to offer the best for her students, and at the same time, dilemmas she faces in real teaching situations are all clearly displayed here.
In a nutshell, I want to say that TPRS materials don’t copy a typical thematic unit per say. You just can’t put all the vocabulary together and call it a story. However, a TPRS curriculum provides way more authentic communicative topics and mocking “real-life communications” than any existing materials out there. Here are few reasons.
One nature of the TPRS materials is using the high frequency words repetitively in a spiral manner. Typically, it would be best to follow the sequence in these supporting materials (mini stories), as they build on top of each other. Occasionally, if you skip one here or there, if you do lots of circling, it wouldn’t be too big of a problem.
Another nature of the TPRS materials is that it breaks thematic unit patterns. We touch on many different topics, at the same time, over and over, which is very similar to how we communicate with children.
For example, I start to introduce food right way in book 1, I Am Beibei. This topic becomes frequently revisited, in book 2, Dylan’s Birthday. Well, ask oneself, which birthday party comes with no food nor drinks? It reappears in book 5, Ms. Basil’s Thanksgiving and lastly in book 6, Feifei’s Field Trip, the book finishes with a banquet and karaoke party in a restaurant (ordering and Chinese cultural practice – karaoke).
Same with family members, the topic is first introduced in book 1, then it is brought back in book 3, Elves’ Home. However, a TPRS curriculum is much more in depth than the existing thematic unit that I have known of. In book 3, although the chapter stories are focusing on helping Elves finding his family and family members, In its mini stories, students are reading and acquiring biographical information about Yao Ming and Lang Lang. Their reading assessment is on Li Na and listening assessment is on Jeremy Lin. (A special shout out to Erika Cheung for designing the assessment.)
Currently, my Chinese II is in book 4, School Starts. This is a story unit about school life. Besides acquiring typical subjects, our students go in depth to talk about being mischievous, making friends, bullying and other social aspect of their school life. However, this same unit is revisited in Chinese III, we are using 《匆匆那年》第一集 as our movie talk topic to make cultural comparisons, how the teacher-student relationships are different from China to America? What’s the main transportation in China vs. in America? What’s the advantage and disadvantage for each mode of transportation? What’s a typical school day like in China vs. here in America? Where do you prefer? Why?… Along with few other short video clips on “bullying”. Students’ end of chapter project is an anti-bullying campaign. To Read More, Click here and this unit.
Students in level 1 acquire about directions, left, right, front, back… In Chinese II, we add in walk toward left, right… In Chinese III, we add in more. Typically, by Chinese III, kids are proficient on these topics.
Similar with visiting doctors. My kids in level 1, just begin to acquire how to express “I’m sick, my ____ hurts. I throw up or… ” In level 2, they acquire all the body parts and ___ hurts and go to a doctor. In level 3, the topic is revisited again, they acquire detail symptoms, tell personal injury stories… Everything becomes more elaborate, meaningful and personal.
Kittens’ series offer completely Teacher’s Guide and supporting materials. Each book is aided with movie talk clips and embedded readings in its supporting materials as well. I really encourage more story-writers to provide interesting and meaningful level appropriate readers for our students; more curriculum writers to supplement your materials to better support teachers.
I have not only witnessed the power of Comprehensible Input, I have experienced it and I’m living in it daily. It is my dream and passion to introduce Comprehensible Input based instruction to every Chinese teacher.