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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Eavesdropping or An Observation, You Decide

This week I got the chance to eavesdrop.  I'll admit it.  And, what's better is that I learned A LOT!

While my kids are in their Language Stars* class on Saturday, I use that time to do my "computer work."  I am very glad that there's a Starbucks right next door so I can not only hang out in a quiet place and get work done, but I can also grab a much needed second cup of coffee.  (I believe that you must have at least as many cups of coffee a day as you have children.  For me, that's 3!)  Anyway, I spent most of the time at Starbucks, then came back to LS and sat at a little table they have in the back of the center to finish the rest of my work.  

First of all, I should tell you that parents can only sit in on classes for the older students on certain days.  I completely agree with that because my children are actually more well-behaved with other people (what's up with that, anyway?).  I understand why LS has that rule.  So, imagine my delight when one of the teachers left the door to his classroom open!  Even though it's around the corner and I cannot see the class in action, I can now hear EVERYTHING going on inside. 

Being a truly unobtrusive observer rarely happens.  As a teacher, I know that when I do an observation just the act of observing changes the dynamics of the classroom, whether it is for the students, the teacher, or both.  So I recognized this right away for what it was:  A valuable opportunity to "see" exactly what the kids only classes were really like.  

I have to admit that sometimes I get discouraged.  I helped my son put on a cat tattoo the other day and he couldn't come up with the Mandarin word for cat (which I think I learned in the very first class).  Moments like this discourage me.  I know I shouldn't assume that he learns the same material I do or even in the same way or at the pace I think he should.  But, nonetheless, I get discouraged.  Then something like my unintended observation happens and I am reassured again.  Language Stars really has some solid teaching going on!  

The class I "observed" (i.e. eavesdropped in on) was in Spanish.  But, I speak more Spanish than Mandarin, so I think that was a good thing.  I could actually follow along without needing to see the props.  I heard 3 very important and specific things from this class that reminded me our 30-minute trips to class twice a week are well worth it:

1.  The teacher repeated, repeated, and repeated the material.  
                 We do this in parents and tots, but it was nice to hear that it is going on in the kids only classes, too.  He sang the song of the week over and over again, substituting different vocabulary words from the week's list.    He used the vocabulary over and over again in different ways.  

2.  He prompted the students to expand their sentences.
Once he got a correct response from a child, he would then ask another simple question and/or model an extended sentence using her answer.  Our teachers do this, too, but perhaps it was just easier for me to hear it done in Spanish.  It was more obvious to me because I was observing and not trying to learn the vocabulary myself!  

3.  He kept adding in new vocabulary.  
There were a couple of times that I was tempted to peek around the corner to see what he was talking about!  It would be "vocab I know, vocab I know, vocab I know, NEW WORD" for me.  This is perfect because it's easy for students to pick up the new word's meaning through context clues (which I was lacking due to my vantage point).   

So, in short, I was impressed and reassured by what I heard on Saturday.  I know that all of the teachers not only have backgrounds in teaching/working with children/related fields, but they also receive the same training from Language Stars.  So their approach is almost exactly the same.  Therefore, I know that what's happening in the Spanish kids only class is the same thing my children are getting in their Mandarin class.  Good to know.  Now, off to review the word for "cat" with my son!  

*We receive 50% off of our tuition for sharing our Language Stars experience.  But all opinions expressed here are my own because we really enjoy going to Language Stars!  :)

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Toy Box With a Higher Calling . . .

          I am happy to report that we have been working on our Mandarin more at home the last 2 weeks!  As a teacher, I know that a parent's attitude toward learning and academic encouragement are crucial to a student's success.  Therefore, I know that Mandarin cannot only be a priority during Language Stars* class time, but it needs to be made a priority at home, too.  So, we pulled out our little books this week and I ordered the workbooks that accompany them.  We've been doing the workbook pages (some of them are cut-and-glue, my favorite!) on our "down days" when we have more time.  In fact, my older two were BEGGING to do some workbook pages last night.  Imagine that!  

       But, I also need to think more about just incidentally using the language.  For example, take a look at this picture from our Language Stars* Parents and Tots class this week:

Objects that encourage language development
       What do you see?  They seem just like random toys, right?  But they aren't.  To me, it's not a toy box, but a "vocabulary box."  The items were chosen specifically to elicit as much language from the child as possible, as well as from the teacher, I suppose, so that the child can hear the language.  There are colors; various vehicles; little people (girls and boys); different shapes; animals and common "child" items pictured on the blocks; as well as objects that can be used to illustrate prepositions such as under, over, in, and on.   They are all in one big box, presented to children at the beginning of the class during a powerful "play" time filled with language.   

       I have to ask myself, where's our "vocabulary box" at home?  Some of it is currently on the refrigerator.  We have a set of magnetic animals.  I put a few out so we can practice their names in Mandarin.  Box items are also on our bookshelf.  While we do have some books in Chinese, I should take my cue from Language Stars* and just use the  English book to review Mandarin vocabulary--or, as much as I know, anyway.  My "vocabulary box" also consists of the Halloween decorations we just put up.  My youngest son and I have been using these to practice colors, although I also need to learn a few more words like "ghost" to go with it.  

      So, this week, my goal is not only to keep up reading the little books to my kids and doing the actually engaging little worksheets I bought, but it's also to keep in mind the "vocabulary box" and it's purpose.  I need to go around the house, gathering materials that I can use to teach and reinforce vocabulary (even if I have to look up a few words).  I need to remember to use the words while we play together, eat together, and get ready for bedtime.  My support and interest in the language will help determine their success.  So, just as math and learning to read in English are stressed in our home, Mandarin has to be, as well.  A "vocabulary box" is a great place to start.   

Thank you so much for reading, 

*We receive 50% off our tuition for blogging about our Language Stars experience.  

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