Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Teaching Mandarin in Ohio

What enhances acquisition of another language? Most would say regular exposure to a native speaker. And even better, a native speaker who is also a trained and experienced teacher. In Ohio, videoconferencing is bringing Mandarin Chinese, the most widely spoken language in the world, to select sixth grade classrooms. (English is the second most widely spoken language.)

In the Columbus Dispatch, Kevin Joy sums up the uses of a range of tools adding "spark" to classrooms in central Ohio. In addition to SMARTboards, podcasts, Moodle and MP3 players, he reports on how some central Ohio schools use videoconferencing to teach Mandarin to sixth graders. Two televisions, a camera and microphone allow Dun Zhang, a teacher at Bishop Hartley High School in Columbus, to teach live, daily, 40-minute classes to sixth graders at Trinity Elementary School near Grandview Heights and classes in Newark and New Philadelphia, Ohio.

Zhang can see and hear the students in the linked classrooms on one screen, split so everyone can see and hear each other in real time. The other screen displays Zhang's notes; an electronic pen lets her highlight particular points or trouble spots or just help answer student questions. Students like the notes display especially. A student in a Columbus classroom, Brianne, said, "You can see what she's writing. Her hand isn't in the way...You get a better view of the notes." Though students also use pen-and-paper workbooks, the class focuses on dialogue to really teach the students the language.

Trinity isn't just using videoconferencing for Zhang's class. Recently, students videoconferenced with a class of high school students in Taiwan. There are plans for other Trinity classes to virtually visit a museum and also to talk to an author. Though the videoconferenced Mandarin class has its technical drawbacks at times, like occasional screen freezes and subsequent audio delays and lack of one-on-one time with a teacher, students and staff welcome the addition to their curriculum and the excitement it offers. Another Columbus student, Valerie, said of the Mandarin class, "It's so much different than what we usually do...It makes you look smart, and you're excited to come to class."

Foreign language instruction through videoconferencing creates more options for students -- now, with the right equipment and access, schools, no matter where they are located, can offer more than French and/or Spanish -- and can level the playing field for rural school districts. Videoconferencing can also enhance language acquisition and fluency in general and truly prepare students for a more global future. There are many videoconferencing options, from VoiceThread to WiZiQ to Skype, with varying benefits (and drawbacks) for teachers and students. Our earlier entry, "ooVoo? Yugma? WiZiQ? How Do You Get Connected?," discusses a few of the free options out there.

SOURCE: "Plugged in: New technology adding spark to schools " 03/05/08
photo courtesy of kevindooley, used under this Creative Commons license

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