TNCS Chinese Immersion Summer Camp 2017!

tncs-chinese-immersion-summer-camp-2017Over 2 weeks in July, The New Century School hosted a Mandarin Chinese Immersion summer camp that not only boosted participants’ language acquisition and speaking skills, but also emphasized the importance of having fun while learning. Xie Laoshi (a.k.a., Jewel) believes that young learners will gain fluency faster when they are doing something while learning a new language, rather than focusing just on the language itself. Thus, camp was built around activities, and specific lessons in vocabulary and grammar related to those activities.

Jewel has a lot of experience in teaching Mandarin summer camps for children. She taught Startalk camp at TNCS in summer 2014 and again in summer 2015 as well as developed her own camp last year. She 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 Chinese Immersion Camp achieves, as photos throughout this post eloquently demonstrate.

This year, Jewel was joined by assistants Monica Li and Maggie Tao and 15-year-old volunteer Dylan Wang. Each week had a unique focus.

During week 1, campers “去中国旅游 Visit China,” in which a group of friends sign up for a trip to China. Students first decided the city that they want to travel to and then researched basic information about the city: the price of tickets, the weather, the transportation, the hotel, and the attractions in the city. Their learning objectives, which were differentiated based on the student’s current skill level) included:

  • Purchasing tickets
  • Making a hotel reservation
  • Developing itineraries
  • Conversing with taxi drivers
  • Creating a passport

tncs-chinese-immersion-summer-camp-2017For week 2, campers paired up and studied Chinese endangered animals. Each pair selected an animal to research, such as both of Chinese and English names, current population, where they live, what they eat, and why they became endangered, and used their findings to make a poster as a culminating project.

They also made papier-mâché masks of their selected animals as well as animals of their choice (or bowls of wontons in a couple of cases) with air-dry clay.

Side activities included lots of cultural activities—origami, singing, dancing, cooking, and eating . . lots of eating including during a Chinese tea and snack session.

Attendees really did learn by doing—another TNCS Chinese program tenet. Plenty of movement and physical activity also took place each day to work off all of that delicious Chinese food they made and consumed!

Their last-day party was also an occasion to be remembered—campers gobbled up take-out Chinese with gusto!

If you notice a bump in your child’s Mandarin skills over the next few weeks, you have the rich cultural experience of TNCS Chinese Immersion Camp 2017 to thank. If you notice a simultaneous craving for green onion pancakes, well, thank Jewel for that, too (and see slide show below for how to make your own—they’re delicious)!

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TNCS Chinese Summer Camp: Promoting Healthy Lifestyles and Happy Campers!

Over 2 weeks in July, The New Century School hosted a Mandarin Chinese Immersion summer camp that not only boosted participants’ language acquisition and speaking skills, but also emphasized the importance of physical health. Xie Laoshi (a.k.a., Jewel) believes that young learners will gain fluency faster when they are learning something new in a new language, rather than focusing just on the language itself. Thus, camp was built around a theme, and specific lessons in vocabulary and grammar related to that theme.

Jewel developed this year’s camp and its theme based on her experience teaching Startalk camp at TNCS in summer 2014 and again in summer 2015. After years of research into how people most effectively achieve fluency in another language, Startalk developed these six evidence-based best practices for replication in language programs:

  • 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 . . . and reading and writing, too!

Jewel 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 Chinese Immersion Camp achieves, as photos throughout this post eloquently demonstrate.

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Ailing Lulu visits the doctor and is told in not uncertain terms to stop eating so much junk food!

For Week 1, Xie Laoshi, Li Laoshi, and TNCS interns Ariel and Mary (who had just joined the staff), started by introducing the concept of a sick panda named Lulu. Within this beginning scenario, opportunities to speak to one another and to the teachers abounded. Why is poor Lulu not feeling well? Isn’t Lulu cute? What do pandas eat? Students at both novice and intermediate levels quickly acquired the words they needed to discuss this compelling situation—who doesn’t love pandas?

Camp wasn’t all vocabulary by any means, however. Attendees learned by doing—another TNCS Chinese program tenet—and made arts and crafts, cooked and ate dumplings by the dozens, and sang Chinese songs. Plenty of movement and physical activity also took place each day. The week culminated with the performance of a short play. Each student was part of a four-person troupe, and each troupe acted out one of two level-appropriate vignettes involving either a short sing-song message or a scripted visit to the doctor. And that was just Week 1!

 

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Ailing Lulu visits the doctor and is told in not uncertain terms to stop eating so much junk food!

In Week 2, students extrapolated what they learned about health from Lulu the panda to apply it themselves. The first half of the week brought more arts and crafts, interacting in the target language, and having lots and lots of fun. Jewel was extremely pleased with her students’ progress after just a week. “I am very happy with how the students are talking,” she said, “and they are very happy, too. They told me they don’t want it to end!” She says that she wanted to make sure they remember camp fondly and so planned both a field trip and an end-of-camp party for Week 2.

On Wednesday, campers set out for Rockville, MD to visit the Washington Cathay Future Center, “an educational enrichment center [whose] aim is to cultivate students’ artistic expression, intellectual development, and leadership potential” all against the backdrop of Chinese culture. There, they painted kites using traditional materials and techniques (and were given the gear they needed to get it aloft to take home), ate authentic Chinese food, watched traditional dance, and participated in some t’ai chi. They had a fantastic time, needless to say, even before they received take-home gifts of tapestry necklaces depicting one of the 12 animals from the Chinese zodiac.

Their last-day party was also an occasion to be remembered. Campers gobbled up homemade barbecued pork and red bean paste steamed buns (fashioned into porcupines! So cute!); vegetarian and chicken mini dumplings; crispy shrimp snacks and snack cakes from China; and fresh, local watermelon. This cultural feast did not end with food, however. Students also performed “Xiong Mao Mimi,” a song about saving pandas by making sure bamboo is plentiful. Finally, they watched Kung Fu Panda 3—in Chinese!

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If you notice a bump in your child’s Mandarin skills over the next few weeks, you have the rich cultural experience of TNCS Chinese Immersion Camp to thank. If you notice a simultaneous inverse decrease in his or her consumption of pizza, fries, and cotton candy, you can give a similar shout out to Lulu the panda.

Meet the Teachers: Wei Li and Yangyang Li!

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In a true blending of cultures, Li Laoshi and Yangyang Laoshi enjoy some Mexican food . . . with chopsticks!

Although neither Wei (Vivian) Li nor Yangyang Li is exactly new to The New Century School, they have each adopted larger roles within the language department for the 2015–2016 school year. Having first joined the TNCS community in summer 2015 as one of the Lead Teachers on the 2015 STARTALK team, Li Laoshi is now heading up the Mandarin department as Director of the Chinese Language Program and Lead Mandarin Elementary Teacher. Yangyang (first name used to avoid confusion with Wei Li) Laoshi’s first experience at TNCS was as Mandarin Assistant Teacher in the 2013–2014 school year, followed by teaching in the 2014 TNCS STARTALK program. She is now serving as the Primary Mandarin Teacher as well as helping Li Laoshi run the Mandarin department.

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Li Laoshi is ready to take on the world!

Both teachers are eminently qualified to teach Mandarin. A native of China, Li Laoshi  moved to the United States and dedicated herself to personal development and education after having taught International Business at the Hunan Vocational College of Science and Technology for over 9 years. Interested in enhancing her teaching experience, she earned a Master’s Degree in Education: Teaching Chinese as a Second Language from the University of Maryland, College Park in the spring of 2015 as well as a Maryland State Teaching Certificate. Before coming to TNCS, she completed an internship at the Baltimore International Academy, a full language-immersion elementary school. Li Laoshi is experienced in program design, curriculum development, lesson planning, classroom materials preparation, and assessment.

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Yangyang Laoshi and her cast of STARTALK characters!

Yangyang Laoshi is from Chengdu in the Chinese southwestern Sichuan province. She has a Master’s degree in teaching Chinese to speakers of other languages from Sichuan University, which is one of the Top Ten universities in China, as well as a Certificate of Accreditation for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language. Before she came to TNCS, she worked as a Chinese teacher in the Chengdu American Center for Study Abroad and the Sichuan University Overseas Education College for 1 year, teaching students from New York State University. She also worked as an English Teaching Assistant in a Private English Training School, assisting British teachers with their classes of preschool children ages 3–5 years. Yangyang Laoshi also has the very special distinction of being an accomplished pipa musician.

Qualifications aside, what makes them true educators is their approach to teaching. Seeing them in action is to understand that teaching is their life’s calling, not just a job. They guide, they coax, they laugh—learning is interactive play. They are rarely—if ever—not smiling. No wonder TNCS students respond to them so readily! They have these qualities in common with the other TNCS teachers, and it’s nice to see how disciplines and departments have meshed so well this year. And, to maintain continuity with what and how students have learned in past years, they have regular contact with Xie Laoshi (Jewel), who remains a vital part of the Mandarin program, albeit in a behind-the-scenes capacity.

As such, they have devised a curriculum that is:

  • National standards guided
  • Theme based
  • Age- and language-proficiency appropriate
  • Relevant to daily life
  • Integrated with culture
  • Student centered (what Li Laoshi considers most important)

See examples of some of their past months’ lessons in these links: September, October, and November. As you can see, body parts, family life, and food comprise a large part of these lessons, which makes sense given their criteria in the bullets above. What could be more relevant to kids this age than those three topics? And, see for yourself how easily they connect to these topics, which translates into ready fluency. This video features a Primary student, who had never encountered Mandarin Chinese before enrolling at TNCS this academic year reading Chinese characters aloud about the hours of the day. She is developing her English language skills at the same time. These students are also able to write some of the characters they read.

With only 45 minutes per class, the Chinese teachers nevertheless work in a lot of practice with the language—which is the only way students are really going to be comfortable speaking it. So, they incorporate card games and other games, role-playing, songs, and body movement, based on the proven effectiveness of Total Physical Response (TPR)*. In this video that employs TPR, you can see it in action. (I love my [insert family member.])

Older students additionally take on larger projects, such as “making” and “selling” food. This provides ample opportunity for learning vocabulary related to various foods and cooking as well as working with Chinese currency, the yuan. They “earned” their money by answering questions correctly, a built-in incentive to demonstrate their proficiency.

A similar project was test-run in last summer’s STARTALK, and it was a runaway success. The kids could not stop talking about their “Night Market” and felt excited and proud by what they accomplished. The genius of this kind of project, in which the kids completely lose themselves, is that they are conversing and interacting completely in Mandarin, almost effortlessly. Contrast this with more traditional language classrooms in which students commonly feel self-conscious and struggle to overcome their reticence. “Students feel happy in my class,” said Li Laoshi. “They are enjoying learning; they don’t feel it’s a burden—even the shy ones and those who have never learned Chinese,” she said, even confessing to nearly crying with joy at their achievements. “The Chinese language is totally different from English and Spanish,” she continued. “Because it’s so complicated, the first step is to get the students interested, to motivate them. Then, they really open their hearts.”

Yangyang Laoshi agrees. “I search for games that relate to our lessons,” she said, “but if the kids don’t like them, we find something else instead.” This ability to organize and plan outside of the classroom but adapt and be flexible within the classroom has allowed them to easily meet their goals of cultivating happy, engaged, Mandarin-speaking students. They say their Chinese friends and colleagues are thoroughly impressed by how good the students’ speech is, including some of whom have previously known these children, such as dear Fan Laoshi, who interned at TNCS last year and who remarked on their clarity of pronunciation.

An abiding love for teaching and for their TNCS students is what they attribute their current classroom happiness and success to. “That’s why I came back here from China.” said Yangyang.

Speaking for the TNCS community at large, we are certainly glad to have you both at TNCS!

 

*Total Physical Response (TPR) was developed in the mid-1960s by Dr. James Asher as a method of learning a second language. Asher noted that the conventional approach to learning second languages differed dramatically from how infants learn their first language. Infants learn to communicate by internalizing language, a process of protracted listening and absorbing. TPR is a technique that replicates that process for learning second languages and beyond by giving a command, modeling the action described in the command, and then having the student imitate that action. Students are not initially asked to speak, but to comprehend and obey the command. Understanding is at the root of language acquisition, according to Asher. This makes a lot of sense when you consider how babies learn to respond to increasingly complex utterances before ever verbalizing a thought.

Research demonstrates unequivocally that brains work more efficiently when the body is also engaged. In fact, neuroimaging shows that during movement, more brain areas are lit up, meaning that more of the brain is active and in use. Language acquisition via TPR takes full advantage of this “powered-up” state.

Excerpts from Exercising that Mind–Body Connection, from the Immersed archives

STARTALK 2015 Campers Get a Taste of Taiwan!

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The “costume room” at TECRO was filled with all sorts of interesting artifacts!

For the second year running, The New Century School is honored to be hosting STARTALK, the renowned language immersion program for students across the United States. As a key component of the program is cultural exploration, on Tuesday, July 14th, the lucky STARTALK campers traveled to Gaithersburg, MD to visit The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) Cultural Center.

TECRO is the Republic of China (ROC)’s principal representative office in the United States and maintains and develops bilateral relations between Taiwan and the United States. There are 12 satellite offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Guam, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, but the Gaithersburg office is the main center. Its mission is to provide ROC expatriates and the locals in the greater Washington, D.C. area with an opportunity to learn more about Taiwan’s culture.

From decorative art, to dance, to cuisine, STARTALKers experienced Taiwanese culture firsthand! After exploring the displays of fine ceramics, figurines, and beautiful puppets, campers watched several dance performances. As the campers learned, China has 56 ethnic minorities, each of which has a culture that is characterized by (among other features) a unique folk dance. Each ethnic group’s folk dance reflects the particulars of that group’s geography, culture, and history through choreography and costumes. Although not all 56 groups were represented, STARTALKers certainly got an idea of the breadth of Chinese folk dance, from the Tibetan Xie Dance, to the Han Lantern Dance, to the Dai Peacock Dance, and more. They were understandably in awe of the talented young dancers!

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Authentic Chinese cuisine was served for lunch, which the kids devoured—and this was no “American” Chinese restaurant fare. Fried egg with spinach and tomato over rice, meatball with cabbage, and five-spice chicken made up the meal, and it was so good that some kids asked for another, to go!

The visit ended with some physical activity, as the kids learned how to perform the ribbon dance themselves, a welcome treat. Each camper also got a poster and a CD of traditional Taiwanese music to take home. Xièxie, TECRO, for a super day! 谢谢!

Startalk Is a Huge Success at TNCS!

On Day 4 of Startalk camp, campers wore their "Let the World Be Filled with Love" tee-shirts in honor of the site evaluation by Startalk administrators!

On Day 4 of Startalk camp, campers wore their “Let the World Be Filled with Love” tee-shirts in honor of the site evaluation by Startalk administrators!

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.

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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.

Being able to converse about fruit is one of the end-goals of camp.

Being able to converse about fruit is one of the end-goals of camp.

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!

1. I can recognize different fruit words. 2. I can ask and answer about favorite foods. 3. I can understand the story Kong Rang Li.

1. I can recognize different fruit words. 2. I can ask and answer about favorite foods. 3. I can understand the story Kong Rang Li.

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!