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Teaching is knowledge building and skill development

The second constituent of FLT is that it has elements of knowledge building and skill development. Until recently on the Mainland, the overwhelming emphasis has been on building linguistic content knowledge in the context of the exam system by learning vocabulary and grammar. However, the teachers see the pendulum of practice swinging toward an emphasis on skill development. The goal for all six teachers is for students to communicate well in L2. P25 notes that 'As you observe some teaching contest, you can see the focus on skill. ... From my eyes I seldom see there is explicit instruction of grammatical rules' (338-340). And P21 has his students do communicative activities every class. 'I want to interact with my students. Yes, I give them assignments, they are supposed to have the discussion, and then, ummm, I will hear their opinions, and then I will give my comments on them' (113).

Helping students learn L2 through student-focused teaching

While teaching is a difficult art of knowledge-building and skill development, the main task of FLT is helping students learn L2 through student-focused teaching. This teaching is unapologetically teacher-directed, but necessarily involves paying attention to students' needs and abilities, and doing whatever is necessary to facilitate students' learning. For example, speaking is the most important thing in the US-side teachers' minds, as they perceive students' need to build a foundation of spoken language to be of first importance. 'If you teach [Chinese] as a foreign language, you must emphasize speaking. This is the most important thing a learner must establish before doing anything else' (P5: 15). China-side teachers, to counter the traditional focus on knowledge building, see their students as needing to practice language skill more than in the past. In addition, because Chinese exam culture emphasises 'only one correct answer', the teachers in this study perceive students as needing to think more broadly, deeply and creatively. Thus P25 works to bring in supplementary materials for her lessons, and P41 uses stories based on current issues and events to encourage spoken interaction. P21 assigns several students to do a current events report in each class in order to force them to engage with what is going on in the world beyond campus. In the teachers' minds, each of these student-focused practices help students learn L2 more effectively because it engages them in interesting, relevant content.

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