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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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Syllabi Considerations

Posted by Tommy Lu on September 24, 2008

Dear teachers:
Thank you all for providing your current syllabi. Now we have syllabi posted on our wiki, I think we can start next step. Pleaset of  check and compare the grade you are currently teaching, the grade before and the grade after. For example, if you are teaching grade 4B, please check and compare the syllabi for grade 3B and grade 5B to see if they are aligned.
Please do not make any changes but make a note of the changes you would like to have and either post it on the wiki on the current grade you are teaching or post it on the blog at
When we have collective information after this practice, we should have a pretty good picture on what kind of changes we would like to make at our next meeting.

I noticed that several teachers have posted new information for her classes. That’s great! If you have some successful strategies or stories, please share them also on the wiki or the blog.

In case you have not noticed, there are two new links: Learning Resources and Teaching Material that contain some useful stuff for you to use.


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Traditional Characters vs. Simplified Characters

Posted by Tommy Lu on May 7, 2008

Following article comes from and my comment is at the end of this article.

寫簡體字 省時間 【聯合報╱張巧鳳/陸籍配偶(基隆市)】 2008.05.07 03:02 am 在台灣,似乎任何物品的名字前面,只要冠以「大陸」兩個字,總代表著不好。「大陸妹」、「大陸貨」,台灣人一提起大陸,口氣裡總或多或少地帶著蔑視。 身為嫁來台灣九年之久的「大陸新娘」,我頗多感慨。大陸貨不好,台灣不要進口嘛!愛台灣的台灣人也不要買大陸貨,讓大陸貨在台灣失去市場!可是有多少台灣人嘴裡邊罵著大陸貨,手裡卻不停地往家裡搬,還笑呵呵地說,「呵!好便宜!」你既然選擇便宜,就不要責怪品質,因為你付出多少就該得到多少。 我在台灣總被人以文盲對待,尤其是有人看到我翻閱台灣報紙,覺得很不可思議,最常得到的問候就是「你看得懂繁體字嗎?」然後對方會語重心長地說,「學繁體字好啊,只有繁體字才是正統,你們大陸的簡體字是什麼東西呀。」 在台灣多年的經驗告訴我,人家再怎麼批評你,也不要回嘴,大陸人在這裡討不到好處。所以此時我往往起身離開,心裡卻頗不以為然。 沒錯,是有很多簡體字脫離了原來的意思,可是這個社會是不斷演變不斷進化的,寫一個繁體字的時間,足以用來寫好多個簡體字了,我想這也是文字不斷演變的初衷吧。社會的節奏越來越快,對於我們這種不鑽研歷史不懂得文學的普通人而言,文字只是一種符號,傳達意思而已,寫簡體字恰恰節約了很多的時間。而繁體字也是由象形文字演化而來的,如果說正統,何不乾脆提倡學習象形文字?然後人人拿支毛筆慢慢書寫,不,古人是把文字刻在甲骨上的,我們是不是要效仿這所謂的正統呢? 當然,我並不是說台灣人應該放棄繁體字,如今人人使用電腦,電腦打字的速度可是驚人的,時間已經不再是問題。文字,就讓它順其自然吧,大可不必因為某個政治人物說繁體字是正統它就是正統,也不必為反對大陸而反對簡體字吧。 【2008/05/07 聯合報】@


It is true that simplified characters are easier to write, however, I have to argue that simplified characters are not easy to recognize (from my students’ comments). It is also true that Chinese characters have evloved from the beginning symbolic or pictorial form. However, the evolvment was gradual and incorporated many cultural aspects. If today’s simplified characters were derived from that perspective and are accepted by most Chinese without political pressure, then I will have no problem with that. The debate is not about which one is the “standard” (standard can and will be changed), the discussion should focus on which one (or another one) is best for the language and culture. We need to understand the background of simplified character movement first before we jump into the conclusion.

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