Wednesday, March 2, 2011

We're back!

     Sorry I've been out of commission with this blog for a while. School, preparing for my upcoming China trip, and some technical difficulties with this site have prevented me from posting for a few weeks. Luckily I can report that our classes have been amazing! We have made so much progress, and I am so impressed with each and everyone of my students. I'd like to go back to the original blogging format now and give y'all a report of our last few classes.
    During the week of February 14th, I thought it would be a good time to take a "culture class" and learn a little bit more about some Chinese traditions. We learned the story of "Chinese Valentines Day" and had fun acting out different parts. We also reviewed our colors with a new color game. I think learning culture is just as important as learning grammar or pronunciation when it comes to learning a new language. That's how I have studied both the languages that I'm currently learning, and it has given me a new out look on the world.
   Last week I was just absolutely blown away by the kids. Every single student could introduce themselves in Mandarin without thinking about it. I am so proud! I'm beginning to see that it takes about four-five classes to completely master one subject, and review is VITAL. We review all of our subjects briefly at the beginning of each class and I think this is really important for the class. Afterward I was equally pretty shocked to see that pretty much everybody could count to ten/twelve and had *most* of their hand-motions down. Colors are equally improving, seriously these guys have better tones than I do! We also had a ton of fun playing the parts of the twelve zodiac animals! We had quite the little zoo going on!
   I know I'm gushing, but it's really nice to see this paying off. At first I was a little apprehensive about teaching, I'm still learning the language myself, how am I supposed to teach anyone in 45 minutes a week?  But now I'm feeling more confident than ever about what a great impact this class is having on our students. Everyone is enthusiastic about the class, eager to learn, and honestly pretty talented. These kids just have such a natural ability to pick up new words and such a willingness to learn about a different language and culture that they make every long hour or desperate search for a lesson plan worth it. I thought I would be inspiring them with this class, and in all honesty as corny as it sounds they are the ones inspiring me.

Monday, January 31, 2011

On a technical note!

I apologize, I still haven't figured out how to upload pictures there seems to be a problem with my connection to the site, but I am working on it! Also, I changed the settings allowing everyone to comment, so please comment if you have any advice, comments, etc.! We really appreciate feedback!

With times like these our class could really use a Houyi!

     What is the greatest threat to an elementary mandarin program? Not the frazzled teacher, the tortuous pinyin instruction, or even the tired and hungry students settling in after a long day––no, the greatest threat to our class is by far the sun. As we found out last Thursday, the bright and unforgiving sun bearing down on us from the huge windows in our classroom makes everyone a little cranky. That combined with some poor planning on my part made this our least successful class so far.
     It started out well enough, as always I was surprised to see how well the children remembered the introductory phrases we had been learning. Remembering the numbers took slightly more prodding, but we got there. We introduced a new counting song which everyone enjoyed, (singing seems to be a prefered activity), and I was really very impressed with the way that our oldest student who is one of our two second graders was very eager to help out in class. This was a relief, because at times I worry the class might be too slow for our two older students even though we try our best to keep them especially engaged.
   Things began to turn south when the light coming through the windows began to get a touch unbearable. No one could concentrate and learning the hand motions for counting became a bit tedious. Next time I think we will move everything to the back of the class and away from the windows as Mrs. Dalton suggested.
     The biggest problem of the class was my fault. I printed out Chinese counting coloring books and with heat of the sun after a long day the children had little patience for copying down Chinese numbers. Although I do have to say the soldiered along admirably, and their writing really is fantastic! Sadly, we ran out of time to actually color much to everyone's chagrin. At least they have the books to take home with them and review. If there is anything I've learned from my work with the Central Mississippi Chinese Language and Culture School, making something for the children to take home and to reinforce their lessons is really VERY IMPORTANT.
     I'm determined for next week to be better. As I have to remind myself, this is a learning process. I'm really excited about next weeks class. Class falls on Chinese New Year day and we are going to shift gears a touch to take a moment and learn about the New Year. To me, learning about culture is key in any language instruction. Wish us luck! 再见,佐伊姐姐!


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's as easy as 一,二,三!

      Sorry i'm just now getting around to posting this, being a senior can be surprisingly hectic. Our second class was also a delightful surprise. This time, roster in hand, the collection problem was really easy.  All the kids seemed really excited and were singing the "Ni Hao" song on the way to class. We decided to begin the class by reviewing what we had learned last time (four basic phrases "ni hao" "zai jian" "xie xie" and "wo jiao"). I was shocked at how much the children remembered after only one 45 minute class. With a little bit of prompting everyone remembered all of the words, how to introduce themselves, and had pretty much perfect tones. The complexities of the pinyin system are a bit advanced for children who are themselves just now learning how to read and write proficiently in English, but their pronunciation is flawless.  Instead of getting into the buisnes of the four tones we simply speak slowly and add the correct tonal hand motions (I.E. if a word is fourth tone and pronounced high to low we make a slashing motion with our hands), and the children are very diligent in mimicking our behavior. I think this comes from the fact that it is natural to them to copy the sounds of the words as well as the words themselves. Research has shown that this is a key window of opportunity for language learning and even just two classes have made this apparent to me.
     In this class we decided to delve into the world of counting, and I was a bit concerned that the writing aspect of it would be too much for the children to handle. Once again, most of these kids are just now learning how to write in English. I thought the best way to begin learning to count was with a craft. These children are at a very hands on stage, and at the end of the day you have to keep them engaged or risk total chaos. We ended up making counting caterpillars: ten circles from construction paper hole punched, linked together with brads, containing one a circle with a googly eye and a smiley face. I have an incredible respect for all teachers after experiencing exactly how long it takes to prep a craft.  After we managed to get all of the caterpillars assembled my wonderful assistant Meg (who has much better handwriting than myself) would write the character for one, yi 一 on the board. We would explain that this is number one, have everyone pronounce it, and then write it and it's pinyin on the first segment of the caterpillar's body. I think the most impressive thing about this class, is how easily the children took to writing. They easily managed to write one through ten on their caterpillars (many of our Central Mississippi Chinese Language and Culture School leading the way!) and seemed to enjoy doing so. I'm really excited to see this, and I hope it continues as we progress.
    Huge thanks to Mrs. Ford this week for taking photos! I seem to be having some difficulty loading them right now but I will try to have them up before the next class. Meg and I have our hands full during class and can't snap any! Also another huge thanks to Mrs. Every for providing some Chinese cookies for the class which we all enjoyed! Until next time, 再见,佐伊姐姐。 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pleasantly Surprised!

      Surprisingly, our first class wasn't a complete failure. Though I have never in my life been more nervous, managed to lose my roster, barely made it to class on time, and chose a craft that fell apart in mere moments, in retrospect it was actually a pretty successful first class. Thank goodness for Mrs. Dalton and Mrs. Ford!  After the whirlwind of activity that involved meeting the parents and ushering all thirteen (12 girls, 1 boy, grades K-2) of our eager students into our designated room, things went relatively smoothly. Never in my life have I felt more nervous than when I saw those thirteen sets of bright eyes smiling up at me. I froze for a moment, who was I to be teaching these children? I've only been studying Mandarin for four years, and my own language skills aren't particularly advanced. Luckily, with the support of my friend Meg (who I could do none of this without), I was able to choke back my feelings of insecurity and lead the class.
      To my great surprise the children were really excited and interested in what we were learning. It seemed completley natural to them to learn "ni hao" "wo jiao..." "xie xie" "zai jian." Everyone seemed really happy to be there and picked up the phrases in no time, easily mastering our "ni hao" song. Four of our students are apart of the Central Mississippi Chinese Culture and Language School, an absolutely amazing program I have been working with for the last three years. It was formed by a group of parents who, after adopting children from China, decided it would be good for their children to learn about their native language, culture, and heritage. I think having those girls, who I know and have taught Mandarin to before, in the class really helped me to relax and get into the groove of teaching. I also think a big part of the reason this class went so well was due to the fact that Meg and I are both still in high school. As strange as it sounds, I think the children respond to us and our energy positiviley because we are younger than the other authority figures they are used to. We connect on a different level, and I think this will be a very positive thing as our class progresses.
     Wish us luck next week as we will explore the mysteries of counting and *cross your fingers* writing! 再见, 佐伊姐姐!

If It Doesn't Crash and Burn...

       Charlemagne once said "To possess another language is to possess another soul."  My name is Zoe, and this quote is something that has always stuck with me.  Languages have always been fascinating to me, and as I grew older they became my passion. Through my studies of Spanish and Mandarin Chinese I have found that what Charlemagne said is true. When you learn another language you aren't simply learning a new vocabulary or a series of sentence structures: you are learning a completley new way to look at the world. With a new language comes a new culture, new customs, new peoples, new outlooks, and new opportunities. So this is why, I am optimistically if not a tad nervously, embarking on a quest to spread my love of languages in my community.
     I'm currently a Senior here at St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Jackson, MS and as a part of my work with our School's Global Certification Program I decided that for my "Senior Project" I would start an after-school Mandarin program for grades k-2. Encouraged by my work with the Central Mississippi Culture and Language School, my incredible Mandarin teacher Pei Laoshi, and our amazing Director of Global Studies Dr. Chris Harth I thought that this might be a really wonderful way to inspire future generations to pursue language study.  The title of this blog, which roughly translates into "expect our sons to be dragons, expect our daughters to be phoenixes," means that we expect the very best for our children and hope for them to have the best lives possible. I believe that because we expect the best from our children, we should help them by giving them every tool possible to succeed. In our increasingly global society, learning another language such as Mandarin or even getting excited about language learning will prove instrumental. Wish me luck!