Since its inception, multilingualism has been an integral part of The New Century School‘s identity, with instruction provided in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese as well as English. With long-time Mandarin teacher Wei Li (“Li Laoshi”) returning to China this fall to help her family, an important position opened up. As you’ll see, TNCS could not have found a more perfect new teacher to take over Mandarin Chinese instruction than Yujie Peng!
Meet Yujie Peng!
Peng Laoshi came to Maryland in 2012 from her hometown of Wuhan in Hubei Province in central China. She enrolled at Towson University to pursue a Master’s Degree in secondary education, having gotten her undergraduate degree from Wuhan Polytechnic University with the plan of returning to China to resume teaching English as a Second Language to high school students. She says, “It was really fun to be a high school and homeroom teacher in a public high school in China because I enjoy communicating with young people. After 4 years, I sought further education because the more I taught, the more I feel I want to improve myself.”
She gets her desire to teach (and to always keep learning) genetically—both her parents are educators. She says she always knew she would follow in their footsteps:
I love being a teacher. When I was in high school, I really appreciated my English teacher, and I knew I wanted to be a teacher like her because she was so encouraging and very caring. Now, we’re more like friends, and I still keep in touch with her, sharing updates in my career. I have also kept up with my professional development.
But returning to her high school classroom in China never happened. While at Towson, Peng Laoshi met and married her husband, who was studying information technology, and wound up staying here. Coincidentally, he, too, is from China, from the capital city of Fuzhou in Fujian province. The couple settled in Howard County and now have two children, both TNCS students as of this year!
But before coming to TNCS, Peng Laoshi taught for 3 years at Oyster-Adams bilingual school, a public preK–8 school in Washington, D.C. She taught students in 4th through 8th grades. The school was a dual language school in which students take some courses in English and some in Spanish and then switch them the following year. Peng Laoshi was brought on to teach Chinese as well as to create a Chinese curriculum for 4th- and 5th-graders (Chinese was already being offered at the middle school level). Peng Laoshi even picked up a little bit of Spanish herself while there!
While at Oyster-Adams, she took a graduate course in Trinity Washington University and earned K–12 teaching certificates for both D.C. and Maryland. She also attended as many Chinese education conferences as she could to learn from different teachers. She really is a born educator!
Peng Laoshi at TNCS
As for how she brought all of this teaching talent to TNCS, we have her 4-year-old daughter to thank. Peng Laoshi was eager to get back into the classroom after her children were born, but only half-day programs were available for toddlers. Coming to TNCS means that her daughter can be in Ms. Sharon’s primary Montessori classroom and her son in Ms. Weiskopf’s 2nd-/3rd-grade classroom all day, and she even gets to take them to school and bring them back home with her! Her children are “heritage speakers”—they were born in the United States and speak Mandarin at home. So far, they are both adjusting very nicely. Her son is her “helper” in Mandarin class, and she thinks the Montessori program is just great for her daughter: “I see kids working very well like in the mixed ages. They can learn from each other. The older students take the leadership to help the younger ones, and the younger students learn from the older ones.” Even on the weekends, her daughter is asking to go to school!
Back to Peng Laoshi, she joined TNCS in September and learned the ropes from Li Laoshi, who stayed through October to ensure a smooth transition. (Peng Laoshi covers instruction for students in 2nd through 8th grades, while Cui Laoshi continues teaching her K/1st immersion class.) The challenge has been differentiating instruction within age groups. She was accustomed to differentiating by age group, but now, she explains, she has multiple layers of differentiation to manage.
She quickly adapted and has figured all that out beautifully. Really, her philosophy of teaching is probably a big reason why. She also credits the foundation that Li Laoshi built, using a textbook focusing on real-life interaction rather than abstract linguistics. Peng Laoshi has used this foundation—and her education and experience—to develop and formalize the curriculum. She says that engaging the students is critical, not only to keep their interest so they continue to learn, but also because they work in different capacities to accomplish the needed differentiation, sometimes with her, sometimes in small groups, and sometimes independently. The work also needs to be meaningful to them, so, for example, the younger cohorts made mooncakes out of Play-Doh for the Mid-Autumn Festival in September, and all students are learning songs in Mandarin for the upcoming Winter Concert. Other “hands-on” activities for older cohorts include taking a walking field trip to a Chinese restaurant and ordering in Mandarin. “I love the idea that students can learn not just in school, but everywhere!” she said
The 6th- through 8th-graders went first.
And the 4th- and 5th-graders were next.
Games are another way she keeps students engaged. In one, she had students build towers out of vocabulary cards they made themselves. The group with the tallest tower won a prize. The hitch? Students had to demonstrate their understanding of the word to be able to make the cards and to correctly write them in Mandarin. “Students love to play vocabulary card games to review vocabulary. This year they make vocabulary cards for each lesson by themselves (a set of different color cards are given to them for each lesson,” she said (see photo). Here are some of the games they play:
1. 听音找字/Find a word
Student A: Read aloud a vocabulary word (e.g., 学) or term (e.g., 老师) or ask a question (e.g., How to say goodbye? Or when you first meet someone, you will say…)
Student B: Find the correct word card and lay it out on their desks.
2. 翻读认卡/Flipping Cards
Instructions: Spread the words out face down on the table. Students take turns flipping a card over and reading the word on the card. If they read it correctly, they win and can keep the card. If they do not read it correctly, they have to place the card back in the pile. The winner is the one with the most word cards at the end of the game.
Variation: To make this game slightly harder, mix up the cards when replacing them in the pile to avoid students remembering what word was on which card.
3. 排字卡/Make a sentence
Student A: Say a sentence (e.g., 你好吗？)
Student B: Find the word cards to lay out in the right order. (你+好+吗)
- Student A and Student B put their cards together and mix them up;
- Spread cards out on the table face down;
- Students take turns flipping over two cards.
- If the cards are the same, then the student can say the word out loud and will win this pair of cards and may take another turn;
- If the student reads it incorrectly, they must return the cards to the table.
- Whoever wins the most cards wins.
5. 字卡宾果/Bingo (Group game)
- Group chooses the word cards they have decided to review from their own sets.
- One student piles up all his/her cards and mixes them face down;
- Other students lay their own cards out in a 3*3, 4*4 or 5*5 squares like a bingo card.
- Students take turns to pick one card from that pile and read it;
- Students who have this word card can flip that card over.
- Students who are able to flip over all the cards in a row, column or diagonal can say “宾果bin guo”. The student must read all the flipped over cards to win.
6. 拖拉机/Choo Choo Train(Pair/Group)
- Students pile up their cards and mixes them face down;
- Students take turns to pick one card from that pile, read it, and lay it down face up in the central area (All the face up cards connect like a train);
- If a student lays a card that is the same as one of the cards in the train, the player can collect all the cards between those two cards, including the two same cards;
- Whoever wins the most cards wins.
Although her classes are only 40 minutes long, she does everything she can to make them productive, often coming up with ideas during her half hour commute to and from school. She reflects regularly on what is working well and what might need some adjusting to make sure every student is supported. Routines are important, she explains, so that students always know what they should be doing and in that way making the most out of class time. Each class starts with deep breathing to help students get calm and focused, and then they dive right into the lesson of the day.
Her students did a beginning-of-year assessment and will do another at the end of the school year to see their progress throughout the year. “By the end of each unit, they do both a project and a quiz to assess how well they learn in four language domains: listening, speaking, reading, and writing,” she explains. “I also monitor students’ progress everyday through their work, their interaction with me, and with their partners. I give students frequent feedback and support whenever needed.”
Independent work often comes from a website and app she uses regularly called GimKit, through which she can set up games, homework, quizzes, audio, and so on. Correct answers earn either more power to continue playing against other opponents or in-game “cash” that students can use to enhance their profiles with upgrades or buy “powerups.” Peng Laoshi is able to monitor students’ progress within GimKit and verify that they have completed assignments. She also adds her own layer of earning rewards in the class as a whole. These rewards might be Fun Friday activities, extra time to complete homework, or stickers.
Duolingo and Hello-World are also still in the mix. No matter what students are working on and in what capacity (independently or in groups, in class or on field trips), Peng Laoshi makes sure that lessons are consistent so students continuously make connections.
It’s kind of a funny twist that in China Peng Laoshi taught English and in the States she teaches Chinese! But that kind of multilingualism in practice is very important to her:
I really love to see students grow. I really feel rewarded when I see students make progress, and I believe being multilingual helps their brains. They can see the same thing in different ways, and they are more open minded. It prepares them to be global citizens—they know different cultures, so they can accept different perspectives from different people.
In the coming year, we can anticipate another “visit to Chinatown” via the TNCS auditorium to usher in Year of the Rabbit for the Lunar New Year and lots of Mandarin Chinese learning. We are so glad to have you, Peng Laoshi, huānyíng (欢迎)!
The weekends, says Peng Laoshi, are for spending time with her family!