Multilingualism is a cornerstone of academics at The New Century School. The Mandarin Chinese program is therefore a “jewel” in the school’s crown, along with the Spanish and ELA programs. Speaking of jewels, the current TNCS Chinese team has the ongoing support of Xie Laoshi—aka “Jewel! Xie Laoshi is a veteran TNCS instructor, having led the classroom and multiple summer camps, including StarTalk! Xie Laoshi is very pleased to have mentored the newest member of the elementary/middle school Mandarin team, Jia Liu (“Liu Laoshi”).
Meet Jia Liu!
Liu Laoshi came to the United States in 2021 to pursue a master’s degree in Music Education at the University of Auburn. After graduating, she moved to Baltimore with her partner. As luck would have it, her neighbor turned out to be TNCs’s K/1 Mandarin immersion teacher Cui Laoshi, who recommended she apply at TNCS for the 2023–2024 school year. Xie Laoshi was immediately impressed with her work ethic, and she is now fulfilling what is known as Optional Practical Training during her time at TNCS.
Liu Laoshi is originally from Luoyang, an industrial city in central China’s Henan province, where evidence suggests Chinese civilization originated.
She plans to bring her musical prowess into the Chinese classroom in various ways to make learning fun and well-rounded for her students. Although she teaches Mandarin Chinese at TNCS, she has a rich background in teaching music—her family owns a music school (Golden Vienna Academy of Piano) in Luoyang, and Liu Laoshi still helps run it long distance.
Mandarin Chinese Curriculum
Together, the Mandarin team (that also includes Cui Laoshi in K/3 and Wang Laoshi in preschool) have ensured that the curriculum is up to date and effective. As before, Xie Laoshi’s approach aligns with that of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). ACTFL continues to promote the 5 Cs—an ingrained part of the Mandarin program at TNCS from the very beginning, but they have adapted and innovated over the last decade to promote additional effective language instruction and assessment practices that align with current research in education and language acquisition. Among these, two prominent instructional approaches are “backward design” and “project-based learning” (PBL).
Xie Laoshi explained these two approaches in detail and how the Mandarin Chinese team implements them in the classroom.
The essence of backward design is to start with the desired results (end goals or objectives) and then design instruction and assessment to achieve these goals. This ensures that educators first identify the desired outcomes and proficiency levels for students, then they design the learning experiences and assessments to achieve these targets. ACTFL’s standards emphasize performance goals, which align well with the backward design model. By first determining what students should be able to do in the target language, educators can then plan meaningful instruction to help students reach those performance goals.
In PBL, students work on a project over an extended period, which challenges them to solve a real-world problem or answer a complex question. PBL encourages authentic language use in meaningful, real-world contexts and promotes the integration of the three modes of communication (interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational). It encourages students to research, collaborate, communicate, and reflect in Mandarin Chinese, which makes the learning experience more engaging and relevant.
Part of PBL is the “can-do” statement: these are performance descriptors that articulate what language learners can do in terms of communication at various proficiency levels. They offer a clear way to describe language skills in the domains of speaking, listening, reading, and writing. They also serve as benchmarks for assessing a learner’s progress and growth over time; they help educators and learners to understand where a student is currently and what they need to work on to reach the next level of proficiency. In essence, can-do statements act as a bridge between the theoretical framework of the proficiency guidelines and the practical application in the classroom.
Want to see PBL in action?
For their first-quarter project, TNCS students were asked to create characters and elaborate on who these characters are and what their lives look like. To familiarize students with what they were trying to achieve, Xie and Jia Laoshi used teaching language proficiency through storytelling (TPRS). They start with a one-word image and collaboratively build on that (such as with a name, gender, age, personality, and so on) to tell a story. Their launch visual was “door.” “Each day you circle around the image, building first maybe the appearance and continuing from there,” explained Jewel. Lots of repetition happens, and students start understanding grammar patterns and how to use conjunctions. They love this character, so they want to keep talking about it.”
Then, they were let loose to create their own individual characters! Part of the genius of this TPRS project is that students had to read, write, and think in Chinese, and they also had to present their characters to the rest of the class. As one student described it, “I thought it was a really fun project. It was really great to make our own characters. I learned a lot, and it helped improve my comprehension.” This student, by the way, is learning Mandarin Chinese for the first time! (Xie Laoshi credits the prework they did as a class as well as the concept of “comprehensible input”—a linguistic theory that states that second language learners need to be exposed to linguistic input slightly above their current language level so that they can understand new inputs—for this student’s success so far).
And here is a sample presentation!
Other projects that TNCS students have been working on are what Liu Laoshi calls “mini Chinese dramas.” Fortunately, she is an accomplished videographer and captured one on film for us.
All in all, Mandarin Chinese class is a highpoint of TNCS students’ day. Xiǎngshòu nǐ de xuéxí, TNCS students! 享受你的学习