Chinese School Pilots a New Way to Prepare for the Summer

Director Jianhua Bai’s final summer with the Chinese School was perhaps the most successful in his 24 years. The number of students attending the school totaled 140, including 113 in the eight-week undergraduate program and 27 in the master’s program. Twenty of these were Middlebury College undergraduates, and 10 were U.S. government employees. Twenty-six were new to the language and began their studies at the 101 level.

Maximizing Learning

These students were taught by a faculty of 34. Faculty members arrived two days before the students for a teacher-training workshop led by Director Bai, the lead teachers for each level, and Director Designate Cecilia Chang. Prior to their arrival, all faculty members had received and reviewed the syllabus and related materials for their courses, as well as recommended readings on Chinese teaching pedagogy. This preparation allowed faculty members to hit the ground running when classes actually began. Teachers who had demonstrated teaching excellence in previous years were also invited to make presentations and lead discussions on various aspects of Chinese-language pedagogy and classroom management during the two-day preservice teacher training. The major topics for the teacher training workshop were the philosophy and pedagogical principles of the Chinese School curriculum; the theme-based approach to teaching and learning Chinese as a foreign language; and the guiding principles for designing learner-centered language class activities that are engaging, challenging, and intellectually stimulating. Samples of learning activities designed to help students to master both the functions and forms of the language were shown to teachers and demonstrated. Other sessions focused on teaching and learning Chinese characters, teaching reading strategies, and effective classroom-management skills. Lead teachers led discussions on various aspects of the design and implementation of the curriculum for particular levels. They also demonstrated how different kinds of classes should be conducted at different levels. All lectures in the Chinese School are entirely in Chinese, but the speakers prepare vocabulary lists or use PowerPoint with definitions. That makes the classes more accessible to beginning and intermediate students.

Putting Chinese into Practice

While classwork is the heart of the school, cocurricular activities continue to be an important source of learning and relaxation for students. The major public activity last summer was the traditional Chinese music performance by Music from China, based in New York City. The event was well attended and greatly enjoyed by students and faculty alike. The school also offered a total of 11 official cocurricular activities, including soccer and volleyball, hiking, singing (both popular and folk songs), cooking, poetry, tai chi, calligraphy, mahjong, and Chinese chess. An additional, informal cocurricular activity—badminton—was added as a result of special interest and expertise from the students. The school also organized schoolwide lectures, weekend picnics, weekend parties, two films each weekend, and China Night. China Night was especially popular with the students; it showcased their enthusiasm for Chinese culture and their progress in language learning.

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