Chinese is an essential foundation of our life.
—— Yu Dan
When pupils begin to enter the bilingual school, they are very much stepping into a glorious intermediate zone where they may encounter both the conflict and integration of Chinese and Western cultures. Families choosing the bilingual school are often worry whether a bilingual environment, compared with public schools’ Chinese-only environment, may disadvantage children in their learning of Chinese, or whether they can truly possess “fish” and “bear’s paw” all together.
I would like to introduce to you an overview of how we deliver Chinese lessons at Huili, highlighting a few practical teaching cases along the way, to help you gain insight into how Huili pupils develop their learning skills of Chinese through practice and exploration.
Chinese learning begins with text reading. When preparing lessons, teachers have to understand the texts first before they settle down to teaching planning. Traditional cramming methods often means that teachers will resort to merely impart their understanding of texts or alleged “standardised analysis” to pupils. Consequently, pupils lack the ability to understand the text independently because they passively accept too many of these “standardised answers”. At Huili, text teaching of Chinese will never resort to the cramming method. Instead, we guide pupils to explore independently while assisting them to form their individual understanding of the texts by following the fundamental reading process.
Take the article The Poor in grade 6’s textbook, for example. The article is set in a distinct time background and has an explicit theme. Based on the title of the article, teachers put forward three questions for pupils to consider in advance.
- Who are the poor in the article?
- Why do they live in poverty?
- What kind of poor people are they?
In order to answer those three questions, by means of independent learning methods including studying the text and searching materials, pupils found out that the poor refers to the lower class living in the period of the Russian Czarist autocracy, which led them to explore the social background at that time. Through their perusal of the story, pupils came to the conclusion that impoverished as the poor may be, they still retained their inherent sense of human warmth and compassion. Centred around the theme of “human warmth in the miserable society”, our teacher raised a key question again: how did the author depict “misery” and “human warmth” in terms of the “description of characters”, “arrangement of plot” and “rendering of setting”?
After the teacher assigned the specific tasks, pupils worked as groups to discuss the details of the text, prepare the presentation collaboratively and finish their report via a presentation. During their presentation, they complemented others’ exposition and proposed diverse opinions, which helped them to achieve a deeper exploration of the text.
In grade 3, teachers asked pupils to read the book Rosie Revere, Engineer. With the aim of encouraging pupils to read the book completely, teachers conducted a quiz contest on the content of the book. Pupils were excited about sharing their individual understanding of the details in the competition and all agreed on the theme of “chasing your dream bravely”. Later, teachers designed a bespoke task named “Window of Soul”, which enabled pupils to enter the inner world of Rosie through reading the story. Pupils then wrote their spiritual dialogues with Rosie on the handmade paper “windows” you can see in the picture above.
We aim to teach pupils how to read and let them to acquire their own understanding through a fundamental reading process. This is how we practise our philosophy of reading-based teaching.
Applying—recreation based on understanding
Understanding is furthered by applying knowledge, which in turn produces better understanding. In Chinese learning, it is important for pupils to express their emotions and thoughts based on reading properly and effectively. Speaking of Huili’s Chinese teaching, our teachers often design the conditions that help pupils to express themselves in accordance with text. Meanwhile, these conditions are meant to deepen pupils’ understanding and establish a creative platform for them.
During the exploration of the article Comparing Tails, grade 1 pupils had a good command of this children’s song through various interesting activities. Then, our teacher changed the theme from “comparing shapes of tails” to “comparing functions of tails” and led them to talk about functions of tails of different animals by starting with the sentence: “Whose tail is most useful?” As a result, pupils investigated the special usage of many different tails. For example, they asked and answered: “Whose tail is most useful? The swallow’s tail is most useful. Its tail is like a pair of scissors used to help the swallow keep its balance in flight.”
In this activity, pupils extended their knowledge of tails. More importantly, they gained the opportunity to express themselves and apply the relevant language more widely.
In the textbook of grade 3, the article Venetian Gondola introduces the unique transportation and local customs of water city Venice, from the aspects of appearance of the gondola, the steering skills of gondolier and the role of the gondola in the life and work of citizens of Venice. After pupils completed their understanding of the text, our teacher assigned an open task to pupils to design an advertising brochure for gondoliers to attract tourists. The brochure should highlight the features of the Venetian gondola, the adept rowing skills of gondoliers along with some local customs of Venice. Finally, performing as tourists, pupils picked out the most attractive and intriguing brochure.
Similarly, the method was applied to teach grade 2 the poem Viewing the Waterfall at Mount Lu. Our teacher came up with a special task which required pupils to act as tour guides and conceive tour words for the waterfall of Mount Lu. They can begin with words: “Dear tourists, welcome to waterfall of Mount Lu and please turn your attention to…”. Standing in the front of the class and actively acting as a tour guide, pupils described the spectacular scenery in the poem with their own words and added more descriptive and enthusiastic phrases of their own.
The activities described above are useful examples of our engaging and steady learning process which allows pupils to not only deepen their understanding of various texts, but also lets them be creative in practical real-life situations.
Development—broadening horizons to form a holistic viewpoint
It is widely acknowledged that learning deeply about one’s native language is essential. It is not merely a communication tool for us but a significant factor that affects our cognitive functions, cultural beliefs and sense of individual identity. At Huili, our Chinese lessons are not only limited to cultivating pupils’ abilities in language and literacy, but also focus on developing the whole person. Hence, the main goals of our Chinese lessons lie in: “bridging gaps among disciplines, broadening horizons on culture and developing strong critical thinking skills”.
Interdisciplinary application of Chinese curriculum
Due to the rapid development of information and science technology, knowledge in different fields is more frequently interwoven and merged together. Pupils’ Chinese ability greatly influences their understanding, retelling and interpretation of information when they study other areas of our curriculum.
Grade 6 pupils practised their interdisciplinary application of knowledge when they learned the expository text The Mystery of Universal Life. Our Chinese lessons aimed to train pupils to be able to describe scientific experiments and research activities accurately yet engagingly by using the various elements of the Chinese language, both its ability to be precise yet also highly descriptive. Meanwhile, these pupils were also doing an experimental study: “what kind of cylinder has the strongest bearing capacity” in their science lessons. These two sessions built the groundwork for the interdisciplinary collaboration of Chinese and science.
Three to four pupils worked as a group. Firstly, they discussed the purpose, procedures and results of the scientific experiment. Then, they wrote their outlines according to a logical order and added further details to the whole structure. During the process, they had to think about how to outline their intentions in an engaging manner, how to record the experiment’s procedures clearly and strictly, how to make a conclusion from the experimental results and then think about how they would improve the experiment further. After they discussed and planned all the details, different tasks were distributed to particular pupils based on their own strengths. Finally, every group completed a scientific expository writing and made a speech with the help of PowerPoint (PPT).
During the whole learning process, pupils reviewed related knowledge acquired in science lessons and combined them with writing and speaking skills taught in Chinese lessons, which led them to carry out the interdisciplinary collaboration thoroughly.
Broadening your horizons and way of thinking
At Huili, our Chinese teaching attaches great importance to enabling pupils to think out of the box and help them to form holistic viewpoints with different angles and levels.
In the short story In Berlin of the textbook of grade 6, a compartment of the train leaving Berlin epitomised the society at that time, which also showed the enormous harm that the war brought to the common people. When studying the story, pupils truly empathised with people who had suffered from the “wounds of the war” depicted in the story and were eager to know the history of WWⅠand WWⅡ further. According to this, our teacher designed an exploration task— a Model UN. Supposing that the United Nations would hold a summit, the main countries participating in WWⅡ were required to make a summary and report on the war. Each group, representing a country, had to draft their speech and deliver it. The speech was comprised of the represented country’s reason for participating in the war, its main strategies and battlefield situations, the results of the war and its impact on the country as well as their reflections on the war.
Pupils adequately researched and discussed the relevant historical materials that they discovered independently as part of the task. On behalf of the different countries, each group expounded their standpoints, which required pupils to consider the war from diverse perspectives and develop their own critical thinking of this momentous world event.
We firmly believe that native language is not only a communication tool that we take for granted, but an irreplaceable foundation of our lives.
If pupils have access to truly practical learning process, they are sure to take their own path and embrace a bright future.