Challenges of Teaching The Graduating Class in Chinese Language School

Ifay F. Chang, Ph.D.

Northern Westchester Chinese Language School

Somers, New York

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Before Chinese language becomes available as a foreign language elective in regular middle and high school curricula, the Chinese Language School will continue to perform its traditional role offering a supplemental curriculum to regular K-12 students who wish to study Chinese. A typical Chinese language school has classes labeled as K-12 consisting of students corresponding to the American education system of K-12 levels. A rigorous Chinese language school adheres to a standard of achievement level for each class so the average student in a class will progress from K to12 as he or she synchronously progresses in the regular school system. Some exceptional students with high achievement in Chinese language studies (typically first generation immigrant students had Chinese schooling prior to immigrating to the United States) can graduate from Chinese language school's 12th grade while he or she still in the 10th or 11th grade of a regular school.  Conversely, a student with low achievement level in Chinese language may not reach the Chinese language school's 12th grade while he or she has successfully completed the graduation requirement (12th grade) of a regular school. Since Chinese language study is an extra burden to the regular schooling, an excellent graduating student in a regular high school unable to graduate from the Chinese 12th grade experiences a tremendous psychological impact. Therefore, some Chinese language schools will either relax the 12th grade standard to allow  otherwise not qualified students to attend and graduate synchronously with the regular school 12th grade or to allow any regular 12th grade student to graduate from the Chinese language school so long he or she is also graduating from a regular high school. On the other hand, an early graduate of Chinese language school, because of his or her high achievement, may have one or two years gap in Chinese language study before enrolling into a college with Chinese language electives. Concern of this gap may cause a serious set back in Chinese language often makes the parents to demand the Chinese language school to maintain a higher standard for the graduating classes (11th and 12th grades) so that the students will not be forced to graduate early.   

The above scenarios present a great challenge to the Chinese language teachers (and the school administration) who teaches the graduating class in Chinese language schools. Because of these scenarios, the parents of students of different categories will have different expectation and wishes of how the graduating class and how the graduating students are taught. In addition, the final two years of regular high school can be very hectic as students must prepare and take PSAT, ACT and SAT tests, participate in graduation activities and focus on visiting and applying desired colleges. These activities do cause a lot of absenteeism in Chinese Language School in the final year which makes the teacher very frustrated. Presently, the Northern Westchester Chinese School offers only one semester study for the 12th grade and holds the graduation ceremony in the month of Chinese New Year. It obviously is not a solution but a default compromise to the above scenarios.

In this presentation, the author wishes to examine the various issues involved in determining an optimum curriculum for the graduating class of Chinese language school under the following premises:

  • The regular education system will not have Chinese language studies as electives (Present situation)

  • The regular education system will have Chinese language studies as electives in High School (May happen soon as more colleges are offering Chinese language studies and exerting influence on high schools through student admission)

  • The regular education system will have Chinese language studies as electives in Middle School (As language studies are more effective when taken at young age, it is a logical step to add Chinese language to middle School. Congress may legislate.)

As we are in the juncture that a transition of the above premises may take place fairly soon, it is timely for Chinese language teachers to initiate a forum to discuss the issues and explore the solutions. Anticipating that premise 3 may become a reality, we should take a critical look at our current system. We may also review the historical evolution of other foreign language curricula (French, Italian, Spanish) in American education system to guide us to develop the most effective curriculum for Chinese language studies. There are many more issues can be considered within the time allotted in this session. However, the author hopes to draw the wisdom of many experienced and jaded language teachers into this forum by throwing a few pebbles to pry open the jade gems. These pebbles which will be examined more in detail here are listed as follows:

  • What changes the current Chinese language school system we should make to meet the expectation and demand from graduating class point of view (students and parents)?

  • What do the colleges offering Chinese language studies expect the 6-12 schools to prepare their graduates in Chinese language studies? How should Chinese language schools modify their curricula and pedagogy?

  • What can we learn from other foreign language pedagogy in 6-12? Can we learn anything from the model of foreign language honor societies in 6-12 and colleges in promoting their languages?

  • What will or should American Chinese language schools evolve to, given that Chinese language may become a main stream foreign language in United States? General purpose to special purpose?   

The author appreciates your interest and comments. The author intends to broaden the scope of discussion in the full paper to be written.

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Author's Biography


Dr. Chang is an inventor, research scientist and an educator with many years of academic and industrial experience. Started his career with a dual job as an assistant professor with Syracuse University and as an engineer with IBM, he has traversed both the academic and industrial path in his career. In 30 years with IBM, principally at the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center he engaged in industry research and development in several disciplines and evolved from research scientist to people manager. External to IBM, he has been invited by the Computing Center of the Executive Yuan, Taiwan, Republic of China as a consultant to initiate office automation as well as invited  by the Computer Board of Singapore Government and National University of Singapore to participate in Singapore's IT2000 plan taking the challenge of creating an information technology research institute from null to an internationally recognized research organization of 80 staff. One of the highlights in his leadership and creativity has been demonstrated by the completion of an Intelligent Public Information System (IPIS), an embryo of today's world wide web.  Internal at IBM, he has been invited by the Office Products Division at Austin, Texas to explore an office transformation which led to the concept of principal workstation for offices. In later years,  he has chartered the application research for IBM and created the Application Solution Institute within TJ Watson Research Center to steer IBM into customer focused application research where he led and completed the development of IBM's Image Document Management System, Managed Care and Clinical Information Systems. Motivated to extend his research on Internet based systems and apply to education, he accepted an invitation by the Polytechnic University in Brooklyn and was granted an extended leave from IBM to create an academic and industry collaborative research institute devoted to inventions and innovations. He led a team and developed the world's first complete online education system known as I-CARE and fostered an entrepreneur incubation environment. While serving as the Executive Director of PRIDE, he also served as an Industry Professor at the Computer Science Department as well as the Dean of the Graduate Center of Polytechnic University - Westchester Campus. Presently, Prof. Chang is the CEO and President of TLC Information Services, a company he established to bring information technology to help schools and small businesses. In this entrepreneurial mode, he has devoted considerable time to education, his passion, by working with elementary school teachers and Chinese language schools in developing creative teaching pedagogy. He teaches 12th grade and culture class at NWCS. He is also serving as a policy board member of the Northern Westchester Putnam Teacher Center,  a funded organization by New York State for enhancing education and teacher training, and as a trustee of Somers Central School District, New York State.

Dr. Chang received a B.S.E.E. from NCKU and M.S. and Ph.D. from URI, published over one hundred technical papers and a dozen patents. Dr. Chang is a fellow and past president of Society for Information Display and members of several academic societies. His hobbies are game invention, tennis and reading.

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