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Archive for April, 2012

Second Life in Chinese language learning

Posted by Tommy Lu on April 20, 2012

I went to the First National Chinese Language Conference in 2008 and made a presentation about heritage community, “the hidden treasurer.” To my surprise, one of the sessions, “Learning Chinese Online: Program Models, Issues, and Resources”, was talking about developing an online language learning tools in second life. Dr. Youg Zhao, an expert in education psychology, developed this online learning tool based on MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) basically changed whole concept about language learning.

In this virtual world, a student may enter a door and into an airport at Beijing. He (or she) can walk around to do different things. He has to interactive with different situations. He will also get hungry or thirsty and if he does not eat something, his engery level will be reduced and he is shrunk. Students in this environment may experience different things in different level. The amazing thing is that learners can upload new stuff they created and enhance or change the environment. When student has reached a certain level, the learner may conduct a live chat with another learner online just like IM. Dr. Zhao’s idea does not stop here. According to his plan, when enough data is collected, he is going to regroup leaners by this virtual world and track their peogress. The site was launched today and started its beta testing. The site address is I registered tonight but have not got any confirmation yet.

Second Life has been considered for language learning. After I discussed this idea with my wife, we came up another idea for Chinese School. One of the problems Chinese school teachers are facing is that there is very few learning activities between weekends. What if we modify the third period and set up 12 “themes” in 12 classrooms. The theam could be bank, post office, super market, restaurant, school and so forth. Students can learn the words, phrases, etc. and practice them, using blog to exchange information about these themes with other students or teachers during the week and come to school to role play it. Students may enter one theme each week and teachers will only have to prepare for one theme for the entire year. Unfortunately this idea was shut down in the faculty meeting because there are just too much preparations and it is difficult to monitor student’s learning. The other point is that we will need more space to do this and that is at premium considering we have limited space.


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Democracy of Learning

Posted by Tommy Lu on April 20, 2012

Another term I learned at the First National Chinese Language Conference in 2008 is “democracy of learning.”  This is opposed to the “dictatorship of learning.” Dictatorship of learning means teachers dominate the teaching. They decide what to teach and how to teach the material. Democracy of learning says that students take their time to choose what to learn and how much they can take at a time. It may sound like democracy of learning is just like self-pace study but there is a subtle difference. Self-pace study still let teachers decide what to teach. The democracy of learning allows students to choose what they want to learn. It is probably close to what Dr. Hofstetter has been doing for his courses.

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Why students like MMORPG?

Posted by Tommy Lu on April 20, 2012

I was interested in the concept of using MMORPG to lead Chinese language learning at the conference. After browsed several sites about MMORPG, I made the connection that my son, who is 11 years old, has been playing this kind of games for quite some time and he would play these games online for hours. When ask him to do his Chinese school homwork, he was either tired immediately or begged to have some extra time to play before he can finish the current level. Tonight, I asked him to explain to me about those games and I was suprised that he already knows this term. In fact, he even explained to me the differences between RPG, ORPG, and MMORPG.

He showed me on of his favorite ORPG games, Mech Quest, and how he learned to play this game. He explained that he had to enter this “university” to learn how to use those weapons. He then uses what he has learned to this city called “Soluna.” The interesting part is that the site: keeps uploading new stuff and give him new instructions. He can earn “credits” to buy “stuff” he needs. He is never tired of playing and now I am watching what he is doing because I remember some parents warned me about these sites.

Anyway, if this kind of virtual environment can be created and continuously updated or added, students would be interested in learning because according to Dr. Zhao, this is how they would like to learn new things.

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Assessment – Revisit the Topic

Posted by Tommy Lu on April 20, 2012

Several presenters at the First National Chinese Language Conference in 2008 brought up the issue of assessment. They claimed that assessment should be “enjoyable” and “effective.” At one of the sessions, “Assessment for Learning: Considerations for the Profession”, the presenter (Greg Duncan) mentioned several assessment tools that are being used in different levels. I am only familiar with STAMP (Standards-Based Assessment of Proficiency,, and OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview). However, based on the responses from the audiences, there are more assessment tools such as MOPI (Modified OPI). There are even assessment tools for K-2 levels as well as 3-6 grade levels. One assessment tool, I just could not remember the name of it. is used to assess language proficiency for the K-2 grade levels where assessment was conducted by an informal interview with students. Students are not aware that they are being assessed and it was conducted in a way that is enjoyable (no pressure) and more effective. Does anyone know the name of this assessment?

After the session, it made me think about assessment again. Are we truly assessing what students have learned? The so called standardized test really a fair and accurate assessment tool? Deborah Meier, in her “In Schools We Trust”, argued that the traditional standardized test, which was based on IQ test, is biased against black students, is not a good and effective assessment tool. In language assessment, most Chinese school teachers as well as public school Chinese language teachers are perhaps also using the out-of-date assessment. For example, many teachers still test students with fragment sentences. From the College Board AP Chinese training I have attended in 2006, the assessmenet should be authentic and in communicative mode. That perhaps is why all my three daughers learned Spanish from 7th grade but still could not conduct a short conversation in Spanish or still could not understand anything from the Spanish channel after years of Spanish learning despite they got As in their Spanish courses.

It looks like there is a need to assess the assessment itself before those assessments can be used and analyzed. Maybe that’s why ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, only classify students’ proficiency level into novice, intermediate, advanced, and superior levels instead of grade levels.

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What is curriculum?

Posted by Tommy Lu on April 20, 2012

We all know the term “curriculum” and we probably can explain what we think the curriculum is and should be. When we see a bad one, we can also identify it. However, exactly what is curriculum? Interestingly enough, this is the most difficult term to define.

My take of curriculum is that a curriculum is a theory or a concept. All other things or objects we have associated with curriculum such as syllabus, schedules, text books, teaching plans, teaching methods, content delivery, and so on are the “products” of curriculum. To me, the most important question to ask or the most important “thing” to design is “what do we want our students to do or perform after they finished their learning?”

Based on the above, I think curriculum design should be outcome based, formative, and focus on application. I am not just talking about teachers at Chinese School of Delaware, many teachers from other schools (whether they are elementary, middle, high, or even college professors) often focus the learning outcome on the tests. Even worse, the so called tests are merely a repeatition of what teachers said or what appeared on the text books. That’s why many of our students could not be a critical thinkers or problem solvers.

So what is this “concept” about curriculum? In my mind, this “concept” is what I have mentioned in the beginning of this post. This “concept” is what we want our students to be able to do? Therefore, a curriculum can be as high level as K-16 education or as low level as individual courses in each grade. In this blog and the wiki for our school, I think we need to address each level in its own space. However, the high level curriculum concept should drive the low level curriculum concepts. All viewers are welcome to voice their ideas of this concept but allow me to address mine here first.

My curriculum concept for the entire school is that students, after complete 12 years of learning, should be able to meet intermediate-low to intermediate-mid proficiency level for heritage students and novice-high to intermediate-low for non-heritage students. These proficiency levels come from ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) standards. You might wonder how many levels are there and what are these levels. Well, ACTFL divide language proficiency into novice, intermediate, advanced, and superior levels. Each level can be sub divided into low, mid, and high. Novice level is achieved by single character recognition, simple and common phrases, be able to construct simple but not necessarily connected sentences, be able to identify basic objects (colors, shapes, weekdays, month names, and so on), and can conduct simple conversation. Intermediate level is achieved by more character and phrase recognitions, can describe own feelings and past experiences using simple sentences, be able to give simple directions, relay messages, and can solve simple and basic problems such as asking for directions and placing orders. Advanced level is achieved by applying characters and phrases to express a complete idea, be able to compare both couture and context differences, can engage an argument or serious discussion or even lead a discussion, can write well connected sentences into paragraphs and linked those related paragrpahs into an article. Superior level is achieved by understanding language, culture, and literature and can transfer the knowledge to others (AKA teach).

After the “concept” is formulated, syllabus is next followed by teaching plan, content knowledge, teaching activities, teaching methods, content delivery, and finally assessment.

Syllabus contains topics covered, schedule, sequence, and evaluation methods Teaching plan contains breadth, depth, how to…, and assessment plans Content knowledge contains what to teach Teaching activities includes different in-class and out-of-class type activities for both teachers and students Teaching methods refer to the way how teachers teach and how students learn Content delivery refers to methods teachers and students can use to achieve their learning objectives

One thing I would like to stress is that we need to focus on learning, not teaching. Can you see the difference?

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