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On June 2, the school will conduct textbook survey.  Hope you could all participate.

On June 2, parent group will give out a $5 gift card to every student.  On June 16, there will be a Pizza party for graduation.  Please come and enjoy!

The purpose of this article is to help the school administration choose appropriate Chinese textbooks used in Grade 1- Grade 8 Mandarin Classes at the London Chinese School. To achieve this purpose, several steps have been taken: First, a role of textbook in language learning at London Chinese School is reviewed.  Second, a set of criteria on evaluating Chinese textbooks is suggested.  Third, several textbook options are reviewed based on the criteria.  Fourth, a procedure for the school administration on the textbook selection process is suggested.  Last, some teaching strategies are discussed.  By providing these suggestions, I hope that the school administration can choose an appropriate textbook for the next school year that satisfies the student’s learning needs and parent’s wishes.

1. Why a textbooks is important

Students at the London Chinese School receive 2.5 hours of instruction at a classroom each week. In addition to class instruction, they need to review the course contents and complete homework during the week. Hence, it is essential for them to have a textbook and workbooks for review and practise.  As most of students are from Chinese background, they can get a lot of help from their parents.  Textbooks can serve as a tool for parents to guide the student’s learning. Well organized and durable textbooks and workbooks have great impact on the outcome of student’s learning.

2. Criteria for evaluating Chinese textbooks

A set of criteria for evaluating Chinese textbooks is listed as follows:

  1. Learner focus:  designed suitable for overseas children to learn Chinese
  2. Coverage: consisting of a series of books in an increasing level of difficulty from Grade 1 to Grade 8
  3. Course load: designed suitable for part-time (weekend) study.
  4. Availability: readily available in the market, stable source of supplies
  5. Cost
  6. Content variety: Lesson content should be representative of the variety of literature, such as a story and short poem.
  7. Content guidance:  lesson contents are compiled following certain guidance
  8. Teaching approach:  how four skills (listening, reading, speaking, and writing) are taught
  9. Language authentication: the language is authentic for the targeted group of students, grammar is appropriate for targeted language
  10. Publish history
  11. Learner base
  12. Presentation, physical appearance and durability

3. Review of textbook options

Four textbook options are reviewed and commented.  They are Zhong Wen (used prior to September 2011) [2], Ma Liping’s Chinese [5], Living Mandarin and its handout sheets (currently in use)[6], and teacher-generated materials.  Based on the review with the evaluation criteria, Zhong Wen and Ma Liping’s Chinese are recommended.  Living Mandarin (handout sheets) and teacher-generated materials are not recommended. 

3.1 Zhong Wen

1. Learner focus Overseas children
2. Coverage Grade 1- Grade 8 & up
3. Course load Weekend part time study
4. Availability Stable, available in Toronto Chinese Consulate General
5. Cost $ 5 per year (including 1 textbook, 2 workbooks)
6. Teaching approach Reading and writing in equal weight
7. Content guidance  Chinese language proficiency level standard and  grammar curriculum by Chinese official for teaching Chinese as a foreign languageCurriculum on Chinese language proficiency in phrases and words by China national committee for Chinese proficiency testModern Chinese frequently used words by State language commission and Ministry of education.
8. Content variety Short poem for children, diary, story, fable, riddle
9. Language Authentication Appropriate
10. Publish history Since 1997.  Currently in 2nd edition published in 2006
11. Learner base Used in most weekend Chinese schools in Ontario
12. Presentation, physical appearance and durability Good

Comments:

This series of textbooks are based on curriculum in Chinese language proficiency in grammar, phrases, and words.  It is widely used in teaching Chinese at weekend schools in Ontario.  There is a stable source of supplies, and the cost of the textbook is very low.  It is a very good option.  Hence, it is recommended as a textbook option for next year.

3.2  Ma Liping’s Chinese

1. Learner focus Overseas children
2. Coverage Grade 1- Grade 8 & up
3. Course load Weekend part time study
4. Availability Stable, available through a mailing order
5. Cost $ 50 for two years (including 3 textbooks, related workbooks, CD, flash cards, with the assumption of 1.5 level for one year)
6. Content variety Chinese history story, fable, humour, short poem for children, riddle
7. Content guidance 1400 words, 2000 phrases, covering 90% frequently used words in the first 12 books.  Those words are arranged in an increased level of difficulty in lesson content. 
8. Teaching approach Direct word recognition first, pinyin afterward.  Word recognition is practiced through reading interesting materials and reinforced with repetition without introducing Pinyin.  Pinyin is taught in 7thbook after the work recognition ability (about 700 words) is built.  This addresses the issue that after many years of learning Chinese, students cannot recognize Chinese words without Pinyin.Word recognition first, word writing afterward.  Word recognition more, word writing less.  The principle is to use limited time to enable students to recognize more words. Only 500 words are required for writing. These 500 words can further form 1000 phrases.Word structure teaching: use “meaning clue” and “sound clue” to help students recognize and remember words.
9. Language Authentication Appropriate
10. Publish history Since 1994.  Several revisions
11. Learner base Some US Chinese schools for weekend study
12. Presentation, physical appearance and durability Clear presentation. 

Comments:

This series of textbooks represents a new way to teach Chinese for children. It addresses the issue that students can’t recognize Chinese words without Pinyin after many years of learning Chinese.  Dr. Ma Liping, the author, started to teach this textbook in 1994.  Now there are many students using the textbook in other Chinese schools as well.  For the advantage and benefit of this textbook, please refer to several papers written by teachers [1, 3, 4, and 8].  Samples of the textbook can be found in [5].  This series of textbooks is recommended as a good option for the textbook next year.

3.3 Living Mandarin (handout)

1. Learner focus Overseas children with traditional Chinese background
2. Coverage Grade 1- Grade 8 & up
3. Course load Weekend part time study
4. Availability Available
5. Cost Could be free on certain conditions
6. Content variety Short poem for children, conversation
7. Content guidance  
8. Teaching approach Speaking and listening as guidance, use E-pen to assist word writing
9. Language Authentication Grammar and usage are somewhat different from most students’ background
10. Publish history Textbooks since 2005. Combined traditional and simplified textbooks level 1-4 were published in 2009
11. Learner base Traditional Chinese learners
12. Presentation, physical appearance and durability Presentation of mixed traditional and simplified characters, three phonic systems causes confusion to studentsHandout: pieces of paper are easy to get lost and broken. 

Comments:

While this series of textbooks may be suitable for traditional Chinese learners to meet the need of learning simplified Chinese, it raised the following concerns as the textbook at London Chinese School:

  • As the mandarin class teaches most students in simplified Chinese, the textbook causes confusion with two writing systems and three phonic systems presented together. 
  • Many words presented in simplified writing may be right in the context of traditional Chinese, but are wrong in the context of simplified Chinese.
  • As a remedy, handout sheets are used to correct above issues.  However, the handout sheets usually only cover the main text in simplified Chinese, but exercise in both textbooks and workbooks.  The students can’t receive the full benefits that a textbook is supposed to offer. There is no pinyin for the main text.  Since one set of handout sheets is used for a couple of weeks.  It is easy to get broken or lost. 

Despite the efforts of producing handout sheets, the series of textbook has its inherent issues:

  • Some grammar or usage of the language is not suitable for most students’ background [6, 7].
  • The lessons are lack of variety of styles. For example, the lessons in the grade 3 book are presented in short poems and conversation only.  The students don’t have an opportunity to learn other typical styles of the language, such as a story.
  • The lesson contents appear not appropriate for the targeted age group.  Using the materials lower than their age group, the students are lack of motivation and interests in learning the lessons.
  • Some materials are not compatible with the culture and values promoted in Canadian education system.  In some occasions, the lesson materials are lack of respect of a senior citizen, family member, and self [6].

Based on above points, the living mandarin and its handout sheets are not recommended as the textbook next year.

3.4 Teacher-generated  materials as a textbook

Teacher-generated materials can be a good option for supplementary materials.  However, a series of textbooks require good coordination among different levels, which is hard to achieve through a collection of individual teacher-generated materials.  Teacher-generated materials can also be time consuming and costly.  On the other hand, it is not appropriate if the majority of handout sheets are copied from other Chinese textbooks that have copyright.  Hence, the teacher-generated materials are not recommended as textbooks.

4. Suggestion on survey

There are a limited number of textbook options available if we consider there should be a stable source of book supplies for our students every year for a selected series.  As parents, we don’t expect the school to find a superior textbook. We are also aware of diversified needs among students attending London Chinese School.   To choose appropriate textbooks, we need a fair and transparent process.  If the school can open to all available options recommended by parents, teachers, and the school administration, and choose a series of textbooks supported by majority parents through a fair and transparent survey, most parents could accept the outcome.  Some suggestions on conducting the textbook survey are listed as follows:

4.1 Survey design:

  • The school administration should open to all the textbook options recommended by parents, teachers and school administrations, and include them in the survey.  All options including the one to be used next year should be included in the survey questionnaires and are made transparent to parents.  That means the selected series of textbooks should go through the survey process.
  • The survey should ask a straight forward question on which textbook option is preferred.  The survey result should directly reflect the answer to the question asked without aggregation of answers to multiple questions. 
  • The survey should ask the class/grade that a student is in. It is helpful that a parent can fill in one survey per student instead of per family, as there might be different needs for different grades. 

4.2 Survey process:

  • Parents should be encouraged and feel welcome to take part in the survey.
  • Survey questionnaires should be freely available.  In addition to the questionnaires distributed to students by teachers, they should be available in the principal office as well; so that parents who do not received them from a class still have access to the survey.
  • The collection boxes should be public accessible, so that parents can make sure that their surveys are counted in the process.
  • School should make effort to collect as many surveys as possible.
  • Survey counting process should be transparent as well.  School could invite Parent group executive to participate in the process.

4.3 Survey communication:

  • Before survey questionnaires are distributed to parents, school should communicate to parents and allow parents to provide feedback on the following:
    • Textbook options to be included in the survey
    • The decision making process, such as the percentage of parent survey contributing to the decision, and the percentage of teach survey contributing to the decision
  • Before the survey, school could provide an opportunity for parents to view the textbook samples to be included in the survey.
  • For parents who choose not to participate in the survey, the school should make them aware that their choice by default is the majority choice from parent survey, not the status quo. 
  • Teacher survey: School should make every effort to avoid conflict of interests imposed to the teachers during the survey. Along with the survey questionnaires, the school should assure the teachers in writing that their answers are taken only as their professional opinions, and will not negatively affect their employment and career/professional development in anyway.

5. Discussions

To address the concerns that the recommended textbook “Zhong Wen” is too difficult for students, especially in intermediate and senior divisions, I have the following suggestions to encourage students of all levels to continue their studies:

  • Be flexible for the teaching schedule. Slow down the pace if necessary.  If one level can’t be completed in a year, continue to teach that level next year.  It is possible that the students only learn 7 levels in 8 years, so the level of difficulty is automatically decreased.
  • Writing by memory for all the new words is not mandatory for all students.  Like Ma Liping’s method, a teacher may assign fewer words for writing by memory for the benefits of mastering word structure and strokes, and give more attention to reading and word recognition.  
  • Focus on building a good foundation in speaking/reading aloud, reading, and word recognition.  Let every student feel a sense of accomplishment.
  • Basic skills, such as word structure, strokes, and pinyin etc. should be reinforced and practised over several years, so that students have an opportunity to catch up.
  • Teachers are encouraged to use interesting supplementary materials to motivate and encourage students, and enhance students’ learning experience.

To address the concerns that after several years of studies, students cannot recognize Chinese words without PinYin, Ma Liping’s Chinese uses the direct word recognition method which seems to be successful in other Chinese schools. If there are enough interests in Ma Liping’s Chinese from parents, the school may consider offering one or two classes for experimental teaching to evaluate its effectiveness. 

We should also keep in mind that maybe different series of textbooks are suitable for different grade divisions, such as Gr. 1-Gr. 5 and Gr. 6 – Gr. 8.  By evaluating their different needs through the survey, the school should be able to find a right fit.

In conclusion, I hope the suggestions help the school administration choose appropriate textbooks for next year.

6. Reference

[1] He, W. 2001. ‘New hope on teaching Chinese overseas’. In Chinese. http://www.mychineseschool.com/share/HeWeiyun.php

[2] Jinan University Press, ‘Zhong Wen’. 2006

[3] Ma, Liping, ‘Introduction to MaLiping’s Chinese textbook’. In Chinese. http://www.mychineseschool.com/cirric/shuoming.php

[4] Ma, Liping, 1996. 汉语拼音与海外华裔儿童中文教学. In Chinese. http://www.mychineseschool.com/school/articles/hanyupinyin.html

[5] Ma, Liping, Textbook samples. http://www.mychineseschool.com/sample/yangben.php

[6] Sky Mandarin Ltd. ‘Living Mandarin Level 3’. 2009. Page 29, 34, 53.

[7] Sky Mandarin Ltd. ‘Living Mandarin workbook B Level 3’. 2009. Page 25.

[8] Wobus, D.   ‘Introduction of Direct Recognition Method of Dr. Liping Ma Chinese Language Curriculum ‘.  http://www.wellesleychineseschool.org/curriculum.php

  1. 《马立平中文教材》编辑说明(要点)

  2. 籍志松: 马立平中文教材介绍

  3. 张丹: 马立平中文教材特点介绍 .     English version.    

  4. 马立平: 汉语拼音与海外华裔儿童中文教学

  5.   An Introduction to the MLP Textbook Series (in English)

  6. 何纬芸:  海外中文教育的新希望 

  7.  暨大《中文》和《马立平中文教材》进度的说明

  8.  《马立平中文教材》教材样本

Date:  Saturday February 4, 2012

Location:  School Library

Time:  9:30 to 11:30

Agenda:

1.    Approval of the Minutes of the Meeting of November 5, 2011

2.    Chair’s Report

3.    Treasurer’s Report

4.    Principal’s requests for funds:

·     2 HD Projectors – Epson EX7210 Multimedia Projector (2 x $699 taxes not included)

·     2 Laptops – Toshiba Satellite L745D-00D  (2 x 499 taxes not included)

·     2 HDMI cables  ($?)

·     Year Book funding ($500 – $1000)

·     Piano to the School  (approx. $500 taxes not included) 

·     Office Assistant’s honorarium (about $500)

5.    Replacement of Secretary.

6.    Need for more members on the executive.

7.    Mandarin Textbook Committee

Minutes from the Parent Group’s meeting on November 5, 2011, are now available here.

Minutes from the Parent Group’s meeting on October 29, 2011, are now available here.

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