Thoughts on Teaching Chinese Online during COVID-19
By Ping Wu
My school is an all-girls, private, K–12 school. Currently I teach Form VII and VIII in Middle School, and Form IX and X in Upper School using a Comprehensible Input philosophy. My school runs an A–F block schedule so I see each class every other day for 80 minutes. This is my 10th year teaching at the school and the students and I have a strong bond with one another.
Essential Questions to Ask (assuming technology is adequate):
- How would the online classes differ from the face-to-face instruction? Missing body language and subtle facial expressions? Sound delay? Glitchy video quality? Lack of timely student-to-student interaction? Distractions at home? Note there are new opportunities in a non-classroom setting.
- What are the most important contents to cover? (Instructional design preferences, give and take; homework and assessment, etc.)
- How to achieve the greatest learning effectiveness while doing a manageable amount of work? (Evaluating the effectiveness of instructional activities; sustainability in teaching; implementing the joy factor and novelty in teaching; less is more.)
- What tools can you use to best facilitate your teaching needs? (Course delivery format: Zoom, Google Meet, or others; tools for speaking/listening/reading/writing: Flipgrid, Edpuzzle, Lingt, Book Creator, Ponddy Chinese Reader, Padlet, Google Doc, Qwikslides, etc.; interactive games: Quizlet Live, Kahoot, Gimkit, Deck Toys, etc.; recorded lesson or live lesson: Screencastify, Loom, etc.)
- Limit the course content during each session (only teach the most essential) and present repetition in various settings;
- Create real-life context for language use, such as actually cooking a meal with students, eating with students, doing a garden/house tour, use real-life objects in lessons – directions, colors, size, distance, etc.;
- Blend in free voluntary reading time in the target language (reading), personalized questions, (listening and speaking), show-and-tell (speaking), and some timed writing (writing) – just not all four modes in one session.
- Lots of information gap activities can be used during an online session, such as a virtual scavenger hunt, hide-and-seek, cooking tutorial, introducing family members, pets and rooms, showing a favorite space in your house, cooking a meal, etc.;
- Students could Facetime their partners/team members during an online Kahoot/Gimkit/Quizlet Live game, or a music essay collaborative writing session, or simply to discuss a question;
- Screenshots or interesting pictures can be used for picture talk via screen-sharing; students will need to watch any videos on their own due to the video delay in an online format;
- Build in some routine activities such as Weekend Chat on Mondays, asking the students to say a secret password (phrases or sentences) to enter the meeting room, talent/secret show time for students to show an odd/their favorite object at home;
- Make available the common expressions and questions words for students so they can still be scaffolded by some given language during the online session (just like in the classroom);
- Frequent changes of activities and learning mode (every 20 minutes if possible), asking students to move around, getting up, dancing and singing to music, grabbing something by following instructions, acting out weird faces, etc. (unexpected novel things keep the students’ attention).
- Establish mutual understanding with students on being patient and problem-solving-minded in the online sessions, such as: what to do when the sound is off, what to do when you need a bathroom break, what if you want to talk – mute and unmute, public or private comment – when to share your screen, what gestures you need to do when students understand or have a question for comprehension check, what is sharable and what is not to protect privacy of each student;
- Speak slower and wait a little longer for students to respond;
- Provide written agendas with detailed instructions (write things down and share the screen so students understand the procedures clearly).
Since I have watched so many Youtube videos, I feel we Chinese teachers can certainly draw
inspirations from them! What kind of videos kept your attention? Here are some of mine:
- Unique content such as trying weird foods, traveling to a stunning site, showing a special talent, etc.
- Beautiful music, somewhat exaggerated facial expression and acting
- Witty and humorous comments
- Not too long (15 minutes at most)
No one-sized online lesson plan will fit all of our needs, but as the Chinese proverb goes, 因材施教，因地制宜 (teaching to one’s aptitude, adapting to local conditions), I believe that each of us will gradually find something which works the best for us to keep ourselves happy and to keep our students educated in a joyful environment, should it be in-person or online.