Chinese Majors Provide Elementary Language Education Through BOCES Program

Throughout the spring semester, students of Chinese 495 Language Practicum are participating in a BOCES-sponsored program that supports Chinese language instruction in local schools. The program, which collaborates with the Oneida-Herkimer-Madison Board of Cooperative Educational Services, is funded through a U.S. Department of Education Foreign Language Assistance Program (FLAP) grant. 

Nine Chinese language majors are currently participating in the program: Ebony Doyle ’10, Michelle Fisher ‘10, John Garrison ’10, Hong Huynh ’10, Casey Jones ’10, John Lofrese ’10, Danielle Raulli ’10, William Statesman ’10 and Anna Ying Zeng ’11. The students are working to integrate Chinese culture and language instruction into the curriculums of schools from around the area including Holland Patent, New York Mills, Whitesboro, Clinton and the Utica school districts.

Extensive preparation is required prior to teaching lessons. Each week the participating students meet for a presentation, given by a Hamilton Chinese Department professor, instructing them on combining Chinese culture with language-teaching strategies. From that point, students are responsible for designing thematic lesson plans focusing on three main Chinese culture-related topics: Lunar New Year, Chinese family and Chinese art. Lesson plans include various instruction methods, such as storytelling, skits, games and PowerPoint presentations. 

Students emphasize language integration within their presentations by including theme-related Chinese characters and basic vocabulary memorization strategies. 

Once lessons are prepared, groups of two students visit participating schools approximately twice a week to teach elementary students, ranging from kindergarten through grade 5. Teaching settings vary from small group discussions to assembly-size presentations.

For the first lesson presented, Lunar New Year, students concentrated on crafting innovative and interactive teaching methods to engage young learners. For example, central to the lesson was the story of the Chinese zodiac animals, complete with a PowerPoint, zodiac wheel and props. Hamilton students involved the elementary school students by having them find their own corresponding zodiac animal and describing how those animals can reflect individual personality traits. 

The students were also taught various “animal” vocabulary and characters to supplement the lesson. To conclude, as part of the Chinese New Year tradition, Hamilton students prepared “hong bao” or red envelopes filled with candy to distribute to all grade levels.

The participating Hamilton students agree that teaching Chinese language and culture is beneficial not only for the elementary schools but for the instructors as well. Ebony Doyle ’10 believes the program is valuable due to the extent of participation. She notes, “It’s hands-on. When it’s just you in the room as the teacher, and all eyes are on you, it’s rewarding when you can put smiles on their faces and get feedback on a topic that not only interests us but them as well.” 

Michelle Fisher ’10 has a similar opinion. “I enjoy sharing the knowledge I’ve obtained over the years, and it’s awesome seeing their faces light up as they learn something new.” Hamilton participants are often surprised at the amount of interest in Chinese culture as demonstrated by the elementary schools students. Hong Huynh ’10 affirms that she “never expected the kids to be so excited about learning Chinese language and culture.”

The FLAP grant initiative was jump-started by former President George W. Bush—a $114 million project aimed at increasing the number of critical languages, such as Chinese, that are taught in U.S. public schools. As China’s economic and political dominance increases in national media, schools across the country have been clamoring to establish Chinese language programs. According to a Washington Post article regarding the urgency of learning Chinese, the vice president of a Virginia school board wrote, “Forget engineering. Learn a critical language. That’s what’s going to give you the edge.”
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