Learning to Teach Chinese in Local Classrooms

This July, the Rutgers Graduate School of Education is hosting the Rutgers Chinese Language Teacher Program for the seventh year. STARTALK is a federally-funded initiative that aims to increase the number of students in the United States that are learning and speaking critically-needed foreign languages and building teaching capacity for these languages.

The GSE’s STARTALK program cultivates qualified teachers of the Chinese language by offering 15 pre-service teachers and newly certified in-service teachers supervised field experiences.

More than seventy pre-k through sixth grade students attending the Highland Park Borough’s Camp is Cool program are participating in the engaging two-week summer experience that exposes them to the Chinese language.

The theme for 2013, Our Chinese Garden, was developed around the storyline of the book The Ugly Vegetables. Author and illustrator, Grace Lin, visited the summer program to speak with participants about her experiences growing up as a Chinese American and being a writer and illustrator.

While immersing students in the Chinese language and culture, campers learn basic language forms and functions to describe plants and their parts and express likes and dislikes.  Campers bought and sold vegetables at a classroom farmer’s market, gave a shadow puppet performance of The Ugly Vegetables, planted tomatoes and carrots, and took a trip to Rutgers Gardens. In addition, campers participated in activities such as Tai Chi, plate spinning, kite flying, and Chinese yo-yo.

Dr. Mary Curran, Associate Dean of Local-Global Partnerships at the GSE, directs the program with the help of lead instructor Ms. Lucy Lee, a Chinese language teacher at Livingston High School. This is their seventh year operating the summer STARTALK program together. Four certified teachers designed the curriculum, lead the instruction and serve as mentors to the practicum teachers. Past-program participants also work as teaching assistants so they can have the opportunity to continue their professional development in the summers as well.  The practicum teacher participants are pre-service teachers and newly certified in-service teachers who are looking to gain field experience in teaching Chinese.

“We feel the best way to learn to teach is through practice, working with children under the guidance and supervision of experienced teacher educators,” said Dr. Curran. “We want them to leave with a better understanding of standards-based practice, thematic unit design, and classroom management.  Most of all, we hope they leave the program committed to being life-long learners.”

Practicum teacher participants began by observing the mentor teachers’ instruction.  After gaining an understanding of the STARTALK best practices, through daily observation, discussion, and reflection, the practicum teacher participants began working with small groups of students to teach mini-lessons. Upon completion of the program, practicum teacher participants will be able to design standards-based lessons, create materials, adapt lessons to various needs of the students, and implement the lessons.

Practicum teacher participants span a variety of Rutgers schools, departments, and institutes including the GSE, the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, and the World Language Institute. Additionally, three participants are from the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, where they teach Chinese to Spanish-speaking students. 

For more information about programs for Chinese language teachers, please contact Dr. Mary Curran at mary.curran@gse.rutgers.edu