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Lillian, Colleen, Kirsten, Marina Discussion 2

Please post your second blog discussion here.


I also read Donato’s article about “Assessing Foreign Language Abilities of the Early Language Learner.? I have the same question as Colleen has: “What communicative abilities and culture knowledge need to be assessed in the early learner?? It is mentioned on the third page. This question has been bothered me for a while. We can’t definitely realistically import models and understandings of adult assessment to the early language learning context; however, what kind of assessment would be suitable for young language learners? I currently did a lot research on Standards for Chinese language Learning and noticed that students should be able to communicate in Chinese on four levels—Speaking, listening, reading, and writing, in order for them to reach the goal one—communication. But, I was told by several experienced Chinese language teachers that we should not spend much time on reading and writing, and speaking and listening would be enough for the young learner. If that case is true, how can we comply with the standards? Does any one have ideas?

I totally understand that teachers should have enough latitude to teach what they want to teach according to the characteristics of their students. As teachers, we know different students have different ways to acquire, process, and transfer what we teach, of course, standards can’t cover the unique situation. Thus, I agree with Donato “the picture to emerge was that assessing the young learner required multiple perspectives and that no single measure or test was capable of providing a profile of achievement and proficiency.

Lilian, I think your question has raised a very practical question. When to introduce the reading and writing Chinese language to the teaching? Although some researchers have indicated that writing and reading should come later then speaking. However, none of the researchers wanted to delay to teach "pinyin" as a form of Chinese language. Thus, in my opinion, all students including young children should learn some form of "writing" Chinese doesn't matter if it is pinyin or bopomofo (Taiwan style). From there, the students should be introduced to Chinese words (characters). Chinese is ideographic language. The character is the language.

Hello everyone,

First, I want to comment on Lilian's question regarding the teaching of Chinese reading and writing. It seems to me that in both this class and the reading and writing class (that Kirsten, Lilian, and I are taking) there is an emphasis that languages are best taught through all four modalities; speaking, listening, reading, and writing. I can't help but think of the immersion schools. Those children are writing in a second language before they can write in their first language! And, to my understanding, they do quite well in school. Therefore, I don't understand completely why some researchers and people recommend waiting to teach reading and writing. As for Chinese writing specifically, I think Sherri has some great points. (Thanks for joining us Sherri!) Teaching pinyin may be easier to begin with because the students would be using an alphabet with which they are familiar. I think that would help me if I were a Chinese learner. I'm very visual, so to see the words in an alphabet I can recognize would help me greatly in beginning to understand the language. Later, I personally, would want to learn the characters as they are so "cool" in society today. I'd want to know what everyone's tatoo really says. (Smiles.) Anyway, in short, I think Sherri is correct. Does anyone else understand why or support the theory of waiting to teach reading and writing?

My next comment is regarding the Collier article, "Acquiring a second language for school." I couldn't help but notice the strong argument for two-way bilingual programs. This is certainly not the first I've heard of the positive outcomes of such programs. After reading this, my understanding of the benefits increased dramatically. In traditional schools, ELL are not only at a disadvantage liguistically, but they are often at a disadvantage academically and cognitively (because their learning slows dramatically in the majority-language classroom while the rest of the class continues to learn at great lengths) and often are at a disadvantage socially (as they are often minority students with few role models, story characters, and examples that reflect their culture.) Clearly, these students will struggle to catch up to their same-age peers. However, in a bilingual school, these same children continue learning in their native language while learning the second language. The majority language speakers also benefit. I was happy to read that majority-language students scored proficiently in their second language by about 5th or 6th grades and outperformed their monolingual peers. Very cool.

Now, I wonder how these bilingual schools can help those schools that cannot be bilingual. With the different languages in this area, for example, it seems unrealistic to create bilingual schools for the many different languages spoken. How can a school with numerous languages spoken best meet the needs of those language learners? And, if students learn best in cooperative, interactive, and meaningful ways why are they not typically assessed in such ways? Is it realistic to assess them in this manner?

Thank you, Sherri and Colleen. I really appreciated your advices; however, Pinyin is not Chinese characters/words, but a guideline for language learners to be able to pronounce them and is only taught in elementary schools in China. Chinese characters are marked on the top with Pinyin, along with four tones. After that, there is no Pinyin in any books, newspapers, novels, magazines, and so forth. If just pinyin is presented without tones, we, even well educated Chinese people, are still not able to know what writers mean without context because same Pinyin with different tones represents different Chinese characters. We introduce Pinyin to language learners to help them pronounce Chinese, not to write Chinese. Therefore, I personally don’t think it is proper to teach writing Chinese in Pinyin.

I think there is a myth: we always thought languages are best taught through all four modalities; speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Actually, are there distinct stages for language learners to pick up certain language skills during different periods? Reflecting my learning L1 and L2 experience, they are not distinct from each other, and on the contrary, are always coupled among them. Therefore, why can’t we teach them all together from beginning level, intermediate level, to advanced level? At that point, we don’t need to separate the four modalities.

I also want to tell everybody that Cummins's article “Language, power, and pedagogy: Bilingual children in the crossfire.? was not posted at Http://eres.lib.umn.edu. I suggested you to google and I found this article through this way.

Hello everyone,

This is a very interesting discussion. It seems like most of us here are in agreement that all for modalities, including reading and writing are important to foster in the second language classroom, but exactly how to do that (especially in languages that don't use the Roman alphabet) can be a difficult decision.

I agree with Colleen and Sherri that there is a need from the beginning to teach reading and writing. I also understand that Pinyin is typically only taught in elementary school in China and that it is not an "authentic" form of writing in so far as books are not written in it. Keeping that in mind, what would make sense to me would be to emphasize reading and use writing (with characters) in very simple ways. For example a teacher could create in the classroom a print rich environment by labeling items or stations with the Chinese character followed by the Pinyin in parenthesis so that the children could "read" the character by reading the Pinyin. Gradually the Pinyin could be taken away. Also, simple books could be made by the children using these characters that they have had a lot of exposure to (maybe even just simple illustrated word books) and then those books could make up a reading library for the kids.

This is a very complicated issue, but I think a teacher has to find a way to include reading and writing in the curriculum at level.

As Collen's comments on two-way bilingual education, I totally agree that two-way bilingual education seems to be the best way to address many of the issues sounding the education of ELLs. However, as you mention, it is not practical or plausible in communities such as ours that are rich in linguistic diversity to offer two-way bilingual programs in every language, so we must continue to look for the best way to teach those children that don't have access to two-way programs. It seems to me from my readings that much more emphasis must be placed on valuing the L1 of our students no matter what educational situation they find themselves in. I do however want to make one critique of two-way bilingual programs, in the Cummins 1979 article that I read for this week the author states that students progress much slower in their L1 & L2 in two-way bilingual programs than they do in full immersion programs. He references Swain in saying, "children in French-English partial immersion programs who have had approximately 50% of their instruction in English (L1) throughout elementary school take as long as total immersion students to catch up with regular program students in English achievement. In addition, their French skills are considerably lower than those of total immersion students". He goes on to say "the French achievement of grade 2 total immersion students is similar to that of grade 4 or 5 partial immersion students".

So, even though two-way bilingual education programs may seem ideal, there are some disadvantages to two-way programs in comparison to either a standard monolingual program or a full immersion program.