Connecting Chinese Teachers and Students, Virtually
An Interview with Wang Yan [王雁专访]
Editor's Note: Wang Yan, an accomplished Chinese language teacher in Lexington, Kentucky, continues to think creatively outside the box while connecting students and educators virtually during this challenging time of the COVID-19 global pandemic. We are pleased to share a few video projects that were initiated and led by Wang laoshi and her colleagues; we also invited her to share stories from behind-the-scenes.
Q1：What motivated you to produce these videos by collaborating with teachers from 8 different states?
A1: My school switched to remote teaching in March because of COVID-19. At that time, I was thinking about how to make language learning more meaningful given the fact that students are learning from home. So I came up with a bold idea which was to record a video to show the at-home activities in some American Chinese families, and use it as an authentic material for learning Mandarin. I received tremendous support after sharing this idea with a few teachers that I know well. I met and got to know these teachers mostly from attending meetings and professional development trainings in the field. With their trust and support, which I truly appreciate, I organized a brainstorming meeting with a group of teachers. We discussed a lot of ideas thoroughly, and decided to take paper plane as a connecting idea to bridge American Chinese people living in different places, and to demonstrate their optimistic outlooks while overcoming challenges in this difficult time. Thanks to everyone who contributed to and participated to the video production process, it took us only two weeks from my initial concept to produce the video. We believe that it can offer some help to teachers during this very unique time.
Before kicking off a new school year, I always record a video to demonstrate what to expect in my class, and show it to my students so they can understand my classroom’s disciplines. Before fall semester of this year, I learned that most schools will continue remote teaching and learning. So I wondered, should we produce a video about virtual class expectations? Some teachers who participated in the Paper Plane video expressed interest in working on another video together with me. So I shared my idea again and received overwhelming feedback. This time, we had teachers joining from not only many states in the U.S., but also from China and Singapore.
During discussion, some concerns were raised, including that it might be less effective if we role-played some of the behaviors that exemplify breaking the rules. Instead, we decided to mock up a virtual class as a group, and invited some teachers who are good at role-playing to record individual scenarios. It took us a week to finish this video. It was released and shared right before the new semester, which was timely for the teachers. We had more than 4,000 views within two weeks. We all feel it is rewarding to have contributed our ideas and efforts to serve the field at this special time.
By curating these two videos, I gained some experience and takeaways. To further share my best practices, I worked with my colleagues to present a report entitled “Make the Language Learning Real and Fun through Authentic Videos” at a virtual conference run by the Kentucky World Language Association. In addition, over the summer I produced another video with bitmojis, and named it “Virtual Birthday Party." I shared it with CLASS network teachers as part of summer lesson plans.
Under the new normal and its challenges, it has pushed me to open my mind and explore creative ideas to teach the Chinese language in a more effective way.
Q2：Would you please briefly introduce how to use the “A Visit by Paper Plane” and “Virtual Class Expectation” videos?
A2: In addition to the video of “A Visit by Paper Plane,” I also designed a full lesson plan on this theme.
The video was cut into multiple versions. The one with background music can be used as a lesson's introduction; the one with script can help students develop reading and learn new characters; the one with Pinyin script suits novice-intermediate proficiency level students; and the one with indoor and outdoor activities could be helpful for teaching with different phrases. The lesson plan also includes instructions for making a paper plane, as well as a vocabulary list, and the website contains a page with teaching resources. To help other teachers prepare for a lesson, I designed the "thinglink" lesson plan with links that combine all related language key points, cultural information, and expanded vocabulary learning resources together. As far as I know, many Mandarin teachers have adopted this lesson plan in the past spring semester in U.S., and some of them even shared their students’ work with me. For example, Brook Chen from Chicago’s Barrrington Middle School shared her lesson plan for her students’ 3D animal video project, which is very creative and impressive.
The video of “Virtual Class Expectations” helped to turn boring online class expectations into an engaging and fun experience. Students were encouraged and inspired by teachers’ role playing activities in the video. It has helped thousands of teachers kick off a new round of remote teaching successfully. The video includes 8 principles of Chinese language virtual classes, which are concise and quite easy for students to understand and follow. Teachers could totally take these principles as daily class commands and use them anytime as they see fit in order to achieve their teaching goals. The chant toward the end of the video is very catchy too, and well-received by students. Students who are in novice to intermediate-low levels can practice the chant with teachers in class, and then, after school, each student could be asked to record one sentence on Flipgrid. Teachers can then collect and combine all the recordings from students, and turn them into a full chant recited by the entire class. For those students who are at an advanced proficiency level, they can explain each sentence in Chinese (target language), or run a group discussion on virtual class expectations, or even conduct a debate on a related topic, for instance: Should we turn on the video camera when having virtual classes and why?
Q3：Would you like to share a story behind the scenes? Anything fun or challenging when producing the videos?
Although each short video in the “A Visit by Paper Plane” series last about 10–20 seconds long, it was not that easy to record them. How to make a paper plane fly in and out on the right tract is a technical skill, literally. Sometimes we needed to record it nearly 20 times to find the best angle. Also, in the video of feeding a cat, the little furry friend always ran away when the paper plane came over; and for the weightlifting video, the camera operator needed to squat down on his/her heels repeatedly to film the video, which challenged their body. While the “Virtual Class Expectation” video is only 6 minutes long, it took us three hours over the weekend to do the filming on Zoom. Sometimes, it is very difficult to match the audio and video tracks exactly. So, I really want to take this chance to extend my deepest appreciation to all participants for a seamless collaboration and generous sharing of their time and efforts. Ruthless as the pandemic is, we are deeply touched by the compassion shown to us from every one of you during this challenging time.
A1: 今年三月，由于COVID-9学校全面停课转为远程教学。我当时就想如何才能结合学生居家学习的现实情况，把语言学习变得真实有意义，于是有了录制一个体现美国华人居家活动的视频作为真实语料的大胆想法。 我把这个想法和几位志同道合的老师分享之后，得到积极的响应。这些老师多数是通过一些会议和培训结识的，感谢老师们的信任和支持。我很快召集了项目讨论会，老师们群策群力，设计用纸飞机作为媒介链接美国各地的华人，展现华人在疫情期间坚强乐观的生活。非常感谢所有视频参与者的全力配合，从有想法到视频合成分享一共仅用两周的时间，我们相信《纸飞机的拜访》在非常时期为中文教学提供了帮助。
与上次不同，这次讨论会时，老师们有些顾虑。因为要以学生的角度去表演一些违反规则的行为，老师们担心达不到应有的效果，最终决定模拟网课，集体表演，邀请一些善于表演的老师录制单镜头。 因为开学在即，这次仅用一周时间就完成了整个视频。分享之后，老师们都觉得这视频是及时雨，近两周时间就有4000多次浏览。我们也感到很欣慰，能在特殊时期为中文教学贡献绵薄之力。这两次视频制作也让我积累了一些经验，在 KWLA (Kentucky World Langauge Association) Virtual Conference 上，我和同事做了Make the Langauge Learning Real and Fun through Authentic Videos 的报告。同时暑期录制了用bitmoji 制作的《网上生日会》的视频，作为CLASS暑期课件的一部分与老师们分享。机遇和挑战并存， 新形势下开拓新的思路，把中文教学做得更好。
A2: 我将《纸飞机的拜访》做成了完成的课件, 详细信息可以查看: https://sites.google.com/fayette.kyschools.us/paper-plane。视频被剪辑成多个版本：带音乐背景板的版本可以用来作为课程导入预览；字幕版有助于学生阅读理解和认识生字词，字母加拼音版适合初级水平的学生使用，室内外活动版有助于分段教学。 课件还附有纸飞机的叠法及生词表。网站还单独设立了一个教学资源网页。为了帮助老师备课，我设计了"thinglink"课件，把相关的语言点、文化信息和词语扩展学习等资源在一起。很多美国各地的中文老师春季学期使用了这个课件，还有一些老师主动和我分享的学生作品也列在其中。比如：Barrrington Middle School，Chicago, IL 的 Brook Chen 老师还把她教案与我分享，最后学生呈现的3D animal 视频作品更是新颖别致。
《网课规则》通过生动的表演把枯燥的网课规则变得生动有趣，看到老师们的表演都学生也是很大的鼓舞，帮助几千位老师正确开启网课模式。视频归纳了八个中文网课规则，语言简练，易于掌握。教师完全可以在网课中把这些规则变成日常的课堂指令随时使用，达到目的与教学。视频最后的《网课规则》说唱，朗朗上口。 初级水平的学生可以课上和老师一起练习，课后每个学生读出一句，用flipgrid 录一个小视频，然后合成在一起，就成为全班说唱。中文水平高一些的学生，可以用中文解释每句话，或者就网课规则做小组讨论，或者作为正反方进行辩论，比如，网课到底应不应该开视频，为什么。
In addition to this article, we also had the pleasure of interviewing Wang Yan back in 2019 when she was recently awarded Kentucky's "Early Language Learning Teacher of the Year," and named "Outstanding Chinese Teacher" by the Chinese Language Teacher Association of Secondary-Elementary Schools. She has created strategies for implementing the Common Core into world language classrooms, and her instruction has been featured multiple times in our TEQ Video Series. She is also a teaching fellow of Asia Society's Chinese Language Teacher Leadership Program.