The Preview Phase For Teaching Authentic Materials
Teachers' Voices Series
In this article, Fangzhou Zhang shares her best practices of using the "preview phase" as a crucial step in preparing students to better learn through authentic materials in Chinese language classrooms. Zhang is a member of the Asia Society Chinese Teacher Leadership Program, an online, part-time certificate program aiming to help its participants make a positive impact in their classrooms, academic institutions, the greater community, and the Chinese pedagogy field.
By Fangzhou Zhang
Montclair Kimberley Academy, New Jersey
As a middle school Chinese Teacher with several years’ professional experience, I have always sought effective ways to teach authentic materials in my class. From my own classroom observations, as well as from discussions with my fellow world language colleagues, we’ve discovered several common issues and challenges that often occur when teaching authentic materials. We noticed that while teachers are more passionate about teaching with authentic materials, students often seem to not respond with the same level of interest, and they tend to have difficulty fully understanding the material as well as the cultural nuances of the topic.
For example, when I taught the poem <Jing Ye Si> (《静夜思》by Li Bai), I noticed an obvious lack of interest among the students due to the insufficient understanding of the core cultural concept of the poem. Specifically, the moon in Chinese culture also represents the family reunion, but not in western culture, and so students were not able to relate to the deeper meaning of the poem. As consequence, the authentic material used in the lesson was not as effective as I had hoped it would be.
Last year, I had the opportunity to attend the Asia Society Chinese Teacher Leadership Program and got the chance to learn from and discuss the book Enacting the Work of Language Instruction High-Leverage Teaching Practices. This book gave me guidance and helped me realize a very important and key aspect of teaching authentic material is the preview phase. In chapter 3, the authors explain that the preview phase is also referred to as pre-reading or pre-listening, where “Learners are prepared for the text and their interest is piqued by previewing the text, activating their background knowledge and world experiences, and anticipating pertinent vocabulary and text language.”
Following the idea of the preview phase, I designed and taught several lessons to practice this technique I learned from the book.
In one lesson I taught the poem <Hua> (《画》by Wang Wei), and instead of introducing the poem directly I started with showing students two traditional Chinese landscape paintings and asked them to observe and discuss what they see in the paintings and what they like about them. During the discussion, the students not only gained the background knowledge about the traditional style Chinese paintings, but also got to review the related topics and vocabulary they learned before. At the same time I introduced few new key words that will appear in the poem later on as well.
In a separate lesson, I taught the ancient Chinese story <Lan Yu Chong Shu> (滥竽充数). To help students relate to the new lesson, I asked the students who play instruments to bring their own instruments to class. I first asked each of them to play a little solo demo. Meanwhile, I introduced the new word 独奏 (dú zòu, solo performance). Then I asked all the students who have instruments to play few simple notes together and taught them the new word 合奏 (hé zòu, ensemble). This set up students’ knowledge of key vocabulary that would be used to teach the story, as well as relating the topic to their own experience.
In terms of cultural context, I then showed the students some pictures of the traditional Chinese instrument Yu 竽 and also a video of a Yu performance on stage. Then asked all the students to pretend to play a Yu, and at the same time I taught the word 假装 (jiǎ zhuāng, pretend) which they will read in the story as well. After completing the entire lesson, I noticed that the students were much more engaged and interested in learning the story throughout the whole lesson. They also understood the content of the story better and were able to comprehend the ideas more quickly.
In conclusion, the preview phase is a crucial step to prepare students to better learn through authentic materials. During the preview phase, teachers can bring out students’ prior knowledge, and fill in the gaps in that knowledge necessary for understanding the authentic material. They will then apply and practice with that new knowledge in subsequent phases of the lesson. At the same time, it also facilitates students learning the cultural concept behind the topic, as well as introducing key vocabulary and text language in context during discussion which will help them comprehend the text better later on. Implementing the preview phase will ultimately motivate students by developing interest in the topic, and build confidence in their language abilities while learning the authentic materials.
I believe these foundations are crucial factors in ensuring our lessons become more effective, and students will retain the knowledge more successfully.
You can also watch a sample instructional video by Fangzhou Zhang, which demonstrates how learning can “go real” to make connections with the real world and the students' lives. Watch Now