Posts Tagged ‘spring 10’

Getting Ready Part 2

Monday, January 10th, 2011

In Part 1 I detailed all of the hectic events that will surely accompany my senior theses, but I have left out another crucial change for this semester. I have left DTLT to take on more responsibilities tutoring students studying Chinese. Last semester I spent about six hours a week working with them, but now thanks to Professor Koos I have ten hours I can devote to 102 and 202 students. In order to be of even more help I want to…need to improve my own language skills. A teacher who isn’t learning is a weaker teacher. Regardless of whatever level you teach, you have to work with new material and advance your understanding of what you already know. Not only does such a method keep you apprised of what new developments are happening, but it also shows your students you are willing to put in the effort.

For this sort of model I am considering everything that would make me a better student of Chinese language. I have to admit that I take my inspiration from Jim Groom’s Digital Storytelling class. Jim did every single assignment with his students. Whatever struggles they went through, Jim did the same. It created an atmosphere of collaboration where students knew that the instructor was also grappling with the material. Although I didn’t take the class myself, I could see that students really enjoyed having that type of support. The success of this model for learning and teaching hinges on the notion that a teacher doesn’t ask the student to do something he wouldn’t do himself. Not a huge revelation, but I want to run a Chinese study group like Jim leads his digital storytelling. End of story.

How does one study Chinese Mandarin? No one method could safely stand as the correct way, but having realized that studying language in its respective country is far easier than in the United States, I now know that I need more creative methods to make progress happen. While inside of the US, it seems as if the best one can do is tread water, maintaining her skills but perhaps losing a little each day. I earnestly want more than that. The opportunities I have to go over to China are growing smaller and smaller. Whether there is lack of free time or a need to make cash, the long stretches of Chinese studies could become a thing of the past if grad school doesn’t work out.

What tools, methods and ideas have I come up with? Frankly not a whole lot, but allow me to stumble through my thought process on the matter. The big considerations are

  1. goals
  2. tools
  3. time

But after having spent today introducing students to any number of tools, I felt I had this whole language thing worked out. At the end of the day teacher (老师)mentioned a couple of items for me to work on more specifically. I just added those to the ever growing list of goals. At this moment my main goals include developing and maintaining vocabulary, increased proficiency talking with Chinese people on a wide range of topics, and now developing a better eye for writing characters (汉字 hanzi). I have to laugh because 老师noticed how poor my characters were. I also need to get a better sense of Chinese culture through reading more stories and using the language. Since the beginning of my studies, I have merely passed myself off as a funny American who just so happens to know quite a bit about Chinese history. In all actuality my knowledge of Chinese culture is pretty bare.

Tools often help to further shape one’s goals. What you have or do not have can limit your progress. It’s hard to study without materials. So I have any number of websites and radio programs at my disposal. Over the past two years I amassed a healthy collection of books but no easy reading stories. The majority of my collection is textbooks. While textbooks are helpful, they can be a little cumbersome or, if nothing else, less than fun. For all my advocating for having fun while studying Chinese, I take a very serious, drill like, attitude to the process. I need to use games, books, media and other tools to enjoy the process. Why am I not talking to Chinese people on MSN, Skype or QQ on a daily basis? Why should studying Chinese always be a matter of “hitting the books” that a university vets? Frankly, I still have a lot to work out, but the progress is most certainly there. I do at least need to get a hold of another collection of books as well as some special materials for practicing writing. 老师recommended I pick up a few books by 金庸(Jin Yong). Who is 金庸?You’ve got me there, but this individual has apparently written a mass of novels that are great for advanced learners to pick up vocabulary and knowledge on culture. As to my penmanship, I don’t know why I didn’t consider picking up some writing materials while I was abroad!

The final factor I have to worry about is time. I am not a 100% how to best schedule time to work on all of this language stuff. I used to be much more industrious, but some days I seem to lack energy for actively studying the language. I float along the doldrums. Even writing blog posts or just getting lists together for what needs to be accomplished in a day takes more time than it should. I am certain that most of the problem settles on a mental block. In order to succeed at something, you must see yourself successfully completing the task. So as I am putting together my Chinese study schedule I need to be willing to put in the time. Nothing comes without effort, no matter what I might think. I hope to plug in a lot of hours working on Chinese. With any luck studying alongside the other students will be a big motivator. The more I study, the better I can help them. Even if my future with Mandarin is wholly uncertain, the others could do very well with the language. So how many hours? I would like to do three hours a day. Maybe if I plan it out well, even when I am busy I can work on it.

Suggestions for language study under a busy schedule?

The moral of the story with studying Chinese is that you can think big, but what can you honestly do? I always talk about making great progress despite the fact that nothing ever comes out of such talk. Whether it is semester hustle and bustle or just my own laziness, I get stuck in my tracks. Just a confession, you know?

Now that we have gotten talking about Chinese out of the way, I hope to touch on some of the problems and hey maybe even effective strategies for dealing with them. For those playing at home, feel free to step in with advice and opinions; I always could use it!

Gearing Up #1

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Over the next few posts I will lay out winter break, the upcoming semester and how everything can just go utterly wrong. These posts will be messy and perhaps….utterly disturbing! Nah, mostly just rants about how difficult things could be mixed with anecdotes about how I can make it all the worse. Sit tight and enjoy the ride.

Now that we are at New Semester Eve, it is worth taking note of this winter break, call it inventory if you will. What was done? Not done? How could it have been done better feels like an irrelevant question, there are no more winter breaks after this, maybe? Either way, taking account of one’s work is crucial to understand how to progress towards your next goal. I started the semester with a sweet trip to Scranton Pennsylvania to see some family. Before fall semester I never had any interest in what used to be a small mining town, but after a classmate in Dr. Moon’s immigration class presented the story of Polish mine workers from that area, I grew more fascinated with my family’s ties to the place and trade. I came back with a UMW zippo lighter and a piece of coal. The coal, ironically, was a gift from Mr. Ferri who owns a coal mine themed pizza shop in Moscow PA. I learned a great bit about how coal miners lived and unfortunately were almost always exploited. I will have to do another post on just the pizza joint, utterly wonderful! The reconnect I had with my family was also immensely awesome, but that’s too gushy for this space, so we’ll skip that. I did come away with something that I can share. Hearing stories about my father’s college experience and pursuit of knowledge, lit a new fire in me. Whatever that means, right?

Around Christmas time, my girlfriend headed down to Fredericksburg and has now taken residence in my apartment building, one floor up. My roommate–tech guru Matt Keaton– and I found some free furniture to help get the apartment looking sweet. Luckily for my girlfriend, I have stumbled onto any number of objects which now furnishes her flat. Am I just trying to gain some good boyfriend points? Well of course, you can never be sure when you will need them. Christmas itself was pretty quiet. We had a small family celebration, but at least I was able to gift everyone some chocolates I found at Gertrude Hawk located in Scranton PA. I also got crafty and made a present for the girlfriend. To be honest, it’s one of those crafts your five year old gives you…then you put in on the fridge maybe; nothing to scream about but still cute.

The girlfriend and I scored big for the holidays at least. We landed a trip to Florida with my mom. She has been living in a newly developing area between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach. I lived there for a little while last winter before taking off to China. Most of the time when I go, I meet the locals, who are primarily “immigrants” from New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. It’s a great area to relax and explore historic sites. I visited a light house on Ponce de Leon islet. The museum exhibit surprised me. With a wealth of detail about working conditions in the mid 19th to early 20th century. You could see where lighthouse workers slept, some of the living conditions for the family and of course climb the light house itself. Little did I know that this is actually, “the tallest lighthouse in Florida and the second tallest masonry lighthouse in the nation.”(see their website!) I tend to be a museum junky, but it is a little hard on the non-museum obsessed family. Despite how museum-ed out they may have been, I convinced everyone to check out Castillo de San Marcos, an amazing stone fortress in St. Augustine. While I want to say I liked the light house better, the sheer grandeur of the castle structure is just too wonderful to not become enamored.

Now that the semester has drawn nigh, I am back at my home base in Fredericksburg just at the foot of the university. The semester has its own challenges that will become evident soon enough! Actually it came to me this morning. Like the high school science project you put off until the day before the fair, the moment you wake up a certain fear, no doom dances before your eyes! Perhaps not nearly so grim, but this is my blog, so there.

I have grown accustom to busy, yet manageable semesters. Even when I don’t think I will make it, everything works itself out through some late nights, prodigious amounts of coffee, determination and a little stress. This semester provides some new challenges. I call it the double senior thesis. I have been reviewing my schedules for both the history and the anthropology theses, but both of my projects still feel horrifically abstract. Granted, I did in fact do some book work and bibliography compiling over break, everything I completed feels inconsequentially when backed against looming deadlines. A capstone project needs to be beyond good. It is one of those things that you just don’t blow.

My history thesis is perhaps the harder of the two. With the history department’s call for excellence in writing and depth of research, my project will require a host of hours in order to complete it with any sort of quality. The history department has put up the thesis syllabus (we students and faculty call the course History 485) for all those playing at home. The proposal for the project is due just before the end of January, the literature review is in February, and the completed (but not final) draft of the research paper is due March 28th. I knew that the proposal date would be set early in the semester, so I started a little bit of the legwork ahead of time. The only problem I have now is setting a solid schedule for when to read what…not to mention how to note everything properly. I spent a lot of time trying different systems with nothing being a happy medium of efficient yet comprehensive. Well, just keep trying right? I plan on having a full schedule (i.e. not only when papers are due but when I am reading and doing the writing) by either Wednesday (unlikely) or Friday afternoon (more probable). Not only will such a schedule keep me moving forward, but it gives me a sense of accomplishment. To me a project becomes manageable when it is on paper. I want to share what my project is, but let’s save it for when the full blown schedule is written, right?

Of course the fun does not stop there! I have my anthropology thesis to contend with as well. While I had last semester and this break to accomplish something, my progress has been remarkably slow. I encountered any number of setbacks with my research on the Nation Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington D.C. I have the project thesis or range of questions narrowed down in order to be feasible, but in all honesty I have my work cut out for me. The structure of the thesis is a little less rigid, which can be rather deceiving. Dr. Gable requires a half an hour meeting by the end of the third week to discuss our progress and bibliographies. Figuring out how to discuss and research Native American Cosmology has been a bear to wrestle with, but after another trip to the NMAI and a talk with a cultural interpreter working there, I have made substantial progress. I want to have a full, detailed schedule written by the end of this week, after I have gotten my schedule for history completed. My other main struggle with this project has been transportation costs, in terms of time and money. A trip to DC from Fredericksburg takes no less than two hours when driving to Franconia-Springfield and catching the Metro. I have yet to have a class schedule that allows for trips using the VRE, which would be far more advantageous. I find my topic to be quite interesting, but I just don’t have the level of familiarity with it that I do with my history project. Over the past few months I have had nothing but obstacles to even thinking about my anthropology thesis, but like the other one, I need to have a stellar paper before I even feel willing to call this thesis “completed.”

On top of these two big guys, I also have a few classes that will always require a little more attention. At first I rued the fact I had to take other classes, but it may give me an artificial break from bashing my head against the thesis projects. This semester I have a gen ed class to complete as well as an anthropology elective with Professor James. I really want to join band at UMW, but I missed an audition at the end of the semester…so it’s a little up in the air. I have never been in a school band, but it could be fun. These classes could definitely offer a productive destruction distraction from senior theses. It’s always a matter of doing things on time…and not letting schedules clash but so badly.