Being awarded a Startalk grant was just The New Century School‘s first step in quite an arduous process to come in order to “Let the World Be Filled with Love” (TNCS’s very own Startalk camp theme). Months of planning came next, followed by the proof in the pudding—implementation. Well, by only Day 5 of Startalk summer camp at TNCS, it’s exceeding all expectations, and all of the hard work is paying off! On the heels of Day 4’s hugely successful on-site evaluation by Startalk administrators, TNCS got the green light to keep up the great work (“We passed with flying colors!” said Director of Admissions Robin Munro happily). All week, our three groups (Novice Low, grades 1–2; Novice High/Intermediate Low, grades 2–3; and Novice Low, grades 3–4) have been busy, busy, busy—listening and learning, cooking and eating, singing and drumming, and engaging in Chinese cultural activities like calligraphy and learning the abacus (see slideshow below). Their progress in those 5 short days is nothing short of astounding; the Startalk methods really work!
Startalk’s mission is to teach Americans modern world languages and currently offers programs in 10 of them, including Mandarin Chinese (yay!), Arabic, Dari, Hindi, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu. After years of research into how people most effectively achieve fluency in another language, Startalk developed six evidence-based best practices that can be replicated in participating programs, with a dual focus on both the learner and the instructor. They include:
- Implementing a Standards-Based and Thematically Organized Curriculum
- Facilitating a Learner-Centered Classroom
- Using the Target Language and Providing Comprehensible Input for Instruction
- Integrating Culture, Content, and Language in a World Language Classroom
- Adapting and Using Age-Appropriate Authentic Materials
- Conducting Performance-Based Assessment
Students are truly immersed in the language, but the point is that, through the proven six-pronged approach, they develop the confidence to communicate—to start talking.
Startalk also employs the 5 Cs of language acquisition developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) that TNCS has been using all along in its multilingual language program curriculum. Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities inform every language-learning activity the day holds. The most effective language program designs activities in which these five concepts intersect, which is exactly what “Let the World Be Filled with Love” achieves, as these photos eloquently demonstrate.
By Day 5, campers were well acquainted with their daily routines and expectations. They are growing more comfortable communicating in Mandarin by the minute. Novice-level campers went out on their first field trip to visit a Chinese immigrant family in their home. They will lunch together, do a craft, and talk.
Intermediate-level campers enjoyed a more typical Startalk camp day, with group activity followed by a language/writing lesson, cultural enrichment, and finally language review. The video below shows them during their morning group activity. The 3-week program will culminate with a performance, which will take the form of a Farmer’s Market, in which Startalkers will adopt roles as buyers and sellers and enact transactions, from identifying fruit to describing it to bargaining for it. Today’s morning group activity was practice for the Farmer’s Market, and, as you’ll see, the kids are well on their way. Note how Liang Laoshi speaks very clearly, repeats her phrases several times, and accompanies her instructions with explanatory gestures but never utters a syllable in English!
Part of why this method works so well is that it hinges on so-called “can-do statements.” Students know right from the start what they are expected to learn and then set up for success to get there. For the end-of-program performance, for example, Intermediate learners will say, “I can recognize different fruit words.”
Another ultimate goal, expressed as a can-do statement, is “I can understand the story of ‘Kong Rang Li’.” This traditional Chinese fable is about a little boy with five older brothers and one younger brother. When their father offers them pears, Kong Rang opts for the smallest one. When questioned by his father about his generosity, the boy replies that his older brothers are bigger and should therefore have the bigger pears, whereas he is older than his younger brother and should let him also have a bigger pear. The story demonstrates the core Chinese value of selflessness and also shows how to spread some love. It’s the linchpin of TNCS’s Startalk camp, bringing everything together—the ability to discuss fruit, the love theme, and interacting with the story via several different media including reading, writing, and pantomiming.
With only one week of Startalk under their belts so far, campers are already wonderfully enriched and enjoying every minute of their immersion in Chinese culture and language. By the end of Week 3, expect to witness some pretty incredible transformation!