Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

Student Teaching

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

While studying at ICLP I have been confronted with a great deal of questions concerning how to approach Chinese upon returning to my home institution. Thus far, everyone’s answer has been, “Language Partner”. This is just fine considering that the surrounding Fredericksburg area does in fact have a, albeit small, Chinese population who speak Mandarin (dialectal issues can come up given that most Chinatown residents happen to speak Cantonese). Language growth on my part isn’t what I am necessarily worried about, I am certain that with a history professor who speaks Chinese and the Chinese language professor being a resident of the Mary Washington campus, I can continue to work on conversation everyday as well as do private work on vocabulary and grammar. Additionally many of the ICLP teachers have opened up their email inbox to any and all questions I could have while studying. The icing on the cake of course is my study abroad to China coming up next year in February.

What I am concerned about is, where other students sit on studying Chinese. Having now been studying in an intensive environment where language classes is the only type of class you take, I realize that at universities across the board you are merely treading water, at best. I have found students who although have been studying Chinese for several years have major issues with pronunciation. To be fair, I still royally suck at tones, however this is the downfall of almost every single non-native speaker of Chinese. The problem lies in there not being enough time for people to practice their Chinese outloud and have someone over them helping to correct their pronunciation. At ICLP we have a class called a “Dan Ban Ke” which is literally a single person class. The process is excruciating as you no longer can hide your voice in the crowd. Just you and the professor, no where to run or hide. The reality of the normal university’s situation is that first and foremost they do not have the manpower in terms of language instructors to do this for every student enrolled in a Chinese course, which mind you can sometimes go upwards to 25 people in smaller institutions. This is problematic as students learning a new language require individual attention to address their needs. I recall many days in 101 and 102 being able to not have to speak at all for the entire class unless I wanted to. No one is at fault for this situation, it is merely how it has to be given the fact we have only one instructor who already teaches four classes. Another force at work here is the student’s schedule. Unless they are majoring in Chinese, currently not possible at UMW, they will not be using or even studying for Chinese everyday. We only have class every MWF so there are two down days per week plus the weekend where many students won’t practice their Chinese. As the program at Mary Washington is still very young many students cannot yet hold fluid conversations for a long period, and we don’t have upper level students that can help guide and tutor lower levels. That’s a little bit of a lie since we did in fact have tutoring services available from some of the upper crust students of the 200 level classes. However, maybe it doesn’t matter whether students need tutoring or not, but that they require more opportunities to speak out.

Chinese, as an English speaker, feels horrifically awkward to speak at first, and I personally felt very embarrassed to be making these weird sounds in my dorm room or in any public space. Where do you practice? Where do you go to work on tones and the subtle differences between sounds? My question to you, readers, is what do you do to help overcome the above situation? I have come up with some of my own answers to address this, but feel that they are limited. For instance, 100 level students do not really have the ability to speak but you could potentially hold pronunciation clinics to get them to understand how to make some of the more awkward sounds. Many students still pronounce “xue” as “shui” because the x u e combination produces an umlaut that non-native speakers do not produce clearly. So although I am only an intermediate student, can I actually effectively run a say once a week pronunciation clinic? Would students even show up? Ultimately I would like to see 200 level students meeting up with 100 level and working through the beginner’s book, do practices and drills together. This I feel would benefit both learners as going through the old material can refresh your mind on grammar structures and potentially forgotten vocabulary.  I started checking into a book series that is big in mainland china called “Crazy English” where an instructor will take students outside and just have all of them shout english phrases out collectively so no one feels nervous.  I could definitely imagine a rack of Mary Wash students outside on Ball Circle yelling “Nihao!”


Faculty Academy Thoughts! (FAT!)

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

I can’t just keep myself out of the conversation happening about Faculty Academy 2009 here at Mary Washington! Held at the Graduate campus in Stafford, the talks so far have been both highly enlightening and also filled with unanswered questions. While I wanted this post to focus on discussing each talk I went to in exacting detail, I am simply wiped from the day and just want to ramble about the event itself. [Who knows maybe we will touch on each thing anyway!] I honestly had no clue how much was going on with this conference, even though I saw the program well in advanced. For instance, did you know our tech crew has a steaming video running of all the talks in University Hall, the main room of the building? This stream is located on the main website page @ I invited a good friend of mine to watch some the keynote talk without the use of power point! I know it is absolutely insane to talk in front of tons of people without the use of technology. James Boyle highlighted our tendencies to stray away from viewing openness as a very plausible potential for our projects, yet despite this eagerness to break our Cultural Agoraphobia, Boyle managed to provide a cautionary note that sometimes closed off items are okay and in fact necessary. During my session with Dr. Harris, Fersebner and Lexy Degraffenreid, I noticed that like many things, new innovations are taken almost too far. Right, that is a pretty vague statement on my part, but consider that one may be so overwhelmed by the new potential of the tools that his project fits the tools rather than the tools fitting the project. These new tools that we as academics have readily available should be serving our projects. All that being said, it can all be simply reiterated as such: the project should, and indeed must influence the tools. If you have imagination, wonderful! Use it to your fullness, but be warned new innovation can cause you to start artificial projects. Oh I can do such and such, well forget whatever I was doing before, let’s try everything else.

A gentleman in my panel Wednesday morning talked about how far we can push our projects and expand them to greater and more ambitious undertakings, while another man cautioned the crowd that a project can collapse under its own weight. What we really have here is a conversation (definitely the buzz word for this conference) concerning the very nature of projects in this new medium. Professor Harris with his Russian and soviet history site had a very specific audience in mind, Mary Washington students looking for sources just down campus walk at the Simpson Library. What our projects, in my mind and I say this over and over again, is a definitive vision and thoughtful rationale behind each of our projects. Dan Cohen’s digital campus talks about the basic training where we have to ask ourselves why we want to use digital media at all, what if your project would do better in some other form? The trend with any new innovation is to beat it into the ground until it is old hat. Proceeding thoughtful is really the solution to that trend. Another problem arises, we don’t have a solid understanding of what all of this technology and conversations have for the normal ways we handle courses and classwork. At Faculty Academy 09, I think, whether consciously or unconsciously, we are challenging a model set up by our medieval and closed approaches to learning and teaching. The University at its heart is sadly a business and needs to generate a profit somehow. Jim Groom (author of Bavatuesdays) and I have talked multiple times on the number of institutions that would go down if open source ruled the playing field, certainly academic journals would be an endangered species.

Allow the Project to Set the Need!

To move gently to the second panel I attended in the afternoon, since I noticed few people took advantage of the foreign language talk, I want to discuss the role of technology in facilitating learning language. The program, upon sitting and chewing on the material, held great insight into the multiple techniques available to a language class to fully develop. There were a wide range of opinions (e.g. whether or not blackboard is ok). What you learn is that no one method is a 100%. A number of factors play into what a course needs, sometimes just how the students themselves interact with the technology we (by we I mean you the teacher!) implement makes all the difference. While each speaker offered a lot of fodder, I wanted to touch on Jeremy Larochelle’s tremendous success with his use of blogs. Language requires a great deal of interaction. If you attempt to develop language solo and never interact, at least with modern language, you miss the full benefits of real experience. He mentioned that a student received a very critical post from an individual in Latin America attacking his grammar. Now, that seems problematic, but imagine if one were able to get native speakers reading the blogs and bringing their expertise as natives to the learning experience. Sadly (or perhaps wonderfully) we are in the experimenting stage, attempting to understand what works and what does not. Students really have an opportunity to open up and use the tools they gain through social network sites etc. for a more academic purpose. Maybe we need to make learning more fun and interactive? As a student diving into this world, I have found Faculty Academy to be the best experience I could possibly have in my training.

With Coffee in hand let us, as boldly as our brew, move forward!