Friday, October 16, 2009

Mandarin Kids Classes

I teach Mandarin classes to young children and their parents. I offer small hands-on classes that engage children with each other, allowing them to become familiar with the Mandarin tones connected with familiar everyday items. We use the simplified Chinese version, yet we expose the children to the written Chinese characters as well. We have been using My First Chinese Words from because my goal is really to prepare pre-immersion kids for eventual matriculation to immersion. Some kids do ultimately move up to the Zhongwen series, but it is mostly for students living in Chinese speaking homes. Initially, we begin with fruits, colors, shapes, animals, familiar daily household objects. We fully synchronize to what the kids are currently learning in their own natural progression. We try to create a varied, playful interactive atmosphere where Mandarin introduced is very natural and logical.

I have also contracted with preschools to teach Mandarin. Contracting for 6-12 week sessions (for an hour 2-3 days per week) offers schools flexibility, and lets them also introduce the Mandarin option to their students, which is appealing to many parents. The key with alternative immersion is shorter exposures more frequently.

Ideally, children learn faster when they have a chance to be immersed in a language. Unlike many other Chinese language schools in this area, most of our students do not come from homes where Chinese is spoken. Since Mandarin is a major 21st Century language of commerce and human affairs, basic exposure lets young children become relaxed and familiar with the language, which will help them with later, more rigorous formal training, should they choose to do so. When parents learn Chinese with their children, it makes practicing during the rest of the week much easier and results in more effective learning as well. But parent participation is not a necessity for good results--it simply adds to the mix. We consider our approach "pre-immersion." And indeed, many parents decide that being here in America they prefer a middle ground, a non-full immersion approach because they want their kids to acculturate better and avoid potential enclaving.

For preschoolers and early readers we use varied texts and a varied lesson plan approach. We also use the concepts of learning center and circle time.

We also teach level 1-3 students, and have a migration path for them as well. We work closely with a group that specializes with intermediate level middle school students. And I also teach middle school students in the classroom. We will refer our students (and parents) to them, if they wish to pursue Mandarin further. One we currently use is the Cengage Learning Asia series text, "Mastering Chinese Language and Culture" by Wang Shuang Shuang. We have also used the "Go! Chinese" text series by Julie Lo and Emily Yih. (see: We continue to examine and explore new texts and new approaches, and opt for best practices...and best results.

For more information about lessons, please call me--Joanne Hall--at (408)733-1893. Or email me at

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Integral Play

"Imagination is more important than knowledge."
--Albert Einstein

This survey report will review the background research that supports the notion of ‘Integral Play’, to explain some of the theoretical foundations of ‘Learning through Play’, and to consider its potential promise for wider adoption here in the U.S. I will note various literature on the subject and some models currently being applied in both Asia and Australia. The importance of play in early years learning has been universally acknowledged in academic literature. Friedrick Froebel, the founder of kindergarten, made play an integral part of a child's early education. David Elkind, chair of the Department of Child Development at Tufts University, suggests that “children play for personal, experiential reasons, and any developmental value beside the point.”

It is widely understood that work both now and in the future will be largely about teams and collaborations, hence learning—literacy and numeracy--is fundamentally social and interactive (Hunt, 1969). This said, finding ways—amongst educators--to coordinate approaches to learning strategies, agreed upon values to be emphasized and standardized methodologies--to date--has been challenging in light of the various experimental real-time
“laboratories” occurring throughout the advanced world. Indeed, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, Sweden...even important American states such as Illinois, currently have running pilot preschool programs and even broader national initiatives that hold great promise in furthering our knowledge as to the efficacy of play in formal pre-school settings. Most of these pilots recognize the importance of toddler/preschool programs and focus on the notion of “Integral Play” as a centerpiece of their framework. As national preschool education initiatives advance—in a quest for a standardization of quality--“integral play” as a framework becomes more critically interesting. Today, most researchers have come to understand child development and the learning process as articulated by the constructivists. However, this view has not been widely translated yet into practice, which motivated my survey. Many kindergarten teachers and parents still believe that young children are not ready for school unless they can recite the alphabet, count, and have the ability to follow instructions from adults. And although maturationist and environmentalist theories also still play a role in our understanding of modern child development, many see these as belonging to an earlier era; at the moment play theorists seem to have every-one’s attention.

According to “Play & Educational Theory & Practice,” by Donald E. Lytle (2003), many new proposed early childhood learning frameworks derive from the constructivists, i.e. social development theories initially developed by Piaget, Montessori and Vygotsky. Most recognize that play is good for children yet are often confused by the dangers seen in the wider environ-ment and so often restrict children's natural opportunities to play. As a result children's play has gained increased awareness amongst a variety of professionals working with children, many of whom have different approaches to play and children. In “The Value of Play” by Perry Else (Continuum, 2009) the Integral Play Framework is represented as a model that draws together differing views on the purpose of play and its various types. It asks, Why do people engage in learning? Is extrinsic motivation enough to make people want to learn in depth? Can learners’ intrinsic concerns be integrated into the what and how models of a fixed linear/sequential curriculum, teacher/textbook, exam-centered education system; or should there be other ways? The capacity of play in generating and facilitating self-searching and promoting self-compelled deep learning by looking into the history of play-as-learning, and reporting on the emerging possibilities of contemporary playful learning systems is still an emerging area within child development academic research.

Indeed, Marcon’s (1990) research showed that, in both short and long term, gains were higher for children who experienced a ‘play based’ early childhood program compared to more structured approaches. Play encourages exploration, risk taking, socialization and engagement in learning. And, through play children can explore and reflect on interests and issues relevant to and meaningful in their lives. Finally, in the Swedish preschool curriculum play is described as an 'omnipresent activity’ and central to children’s learning. Australia’s new Early Years Learning Framework [derived largely from UK academics] recognizes its children as outdoor, active citizens. Play is central. Hence, indoor and outdoor learning environments are seen as equally important for all ages. Its national policy priority is to create “Enabling environments: Learning through exploration, engagement, enquiry, investigation, hands-on real life experiences, risk-taking and problem-solving…as an investment in tomorrow’s workforce. There are significant opportunities for exploration, discovery and learning for children aged birth to 8 years in outdoor environments or play "spaces.” It cites: “The ‘aliveness’ and ‘uniqueness’ of natural outdoor play spaces ensures that with each new day there are new discoveries and new sensations for children to experience (Elliott 2008). And, Dwyer (2007) recommends a combination of large spaces for running, intimate spaces for children to play alone or in a small group; places for water, spaces where children can play above or below others; spaces that give different perspectives of size and location; materials that are flexible and easily manipulated by children; areas that are aesthetically beautiful; places for animals; spaces where children can
easily connect with the natural world and spaces for art works.”

The Australian program, scheduled to be rolled out in July 2009, cites that “Learning theory has become synonymous in many educational contexts with a theory of child development. In these contexts, play is conceptualized as a developmental aid or catalyst in achieving some advanced cognitive stage in which play is less useful. Within this developmental framework, play is best understood as a means to an end and is well defined only as regards its efficacy in achieving that end, which, for one, severely limits research capabilities into the phenomena of play. Moreover, even when its educative value is recognized, play is often assigned a secondary role vis-a-vis work and science, often defined 'play as work' (Makedon, 1991).”

Finally, Jane K. Frobose notes, “Play is the way children learn. Through play, children learn about themselves, their environment, people and the world around them. As they play, children learn to solve problems and to get along with others. They enhance their creativity and develop leadership skills and healthy personalities. Play develops skills children need to learn to read and write. Play in early childhood is the best foundation for success in school. As a child learns to reach, grasp, crawl, run, climb and balance, physical skills are developed. Dexterity develops when the child handles toys or other objects. Language increases as a child plays and interacts with others. A baby's cooing games with parents evolve into the language skills of a child sharing stories. Learning to cooperate, negotiate, take turns and play by the rules are important interpersonal lifetime skills, all of which play fosters. Positive play experiences develop positive emotional well-being. Through play and imagin-ation, a child can fulfill wishes and overcome fears of unpleasant experiences. Play helps the child master the environment. When children feel secure, safe, successful and capable, they acquire important components of positive emotional health.”


Teaching imagination in conjunction with grasping prior state-of-the art knowledge is a huge challenge. We're at once trying to teach innovation as we try to instill a reverance and recognition of prior innovations. And, we find that kids are innately very wise and resourceful. Because active interaction with the environment and others are necessary for learning and development, play theorists [and constructivists generally] believe children are ready for school when they can initiate many of the interactions they have with their environment and those around them. My own anecdotal empirical experience tends to affirm this theoretical foundation. Today most educators pay a lot of attention to the physical environ-ment and the curriculum of the early childhood classroom. Kindergarten classrooms often are divided into different
learning centers and are equipped with developmentally appropriate materials for young children to play with and manipulate.

At around age 5-6, most kids are starting an attempt to distinguish cartoon super-hero worlds and the real-physical time space world. Questions like, "Can a giant robot eat the moon in one bite?" or "Are robots the size of mountains real?" are not uncommon. Indeed, "Is Godzilla real?" is a common question. We need to appreciate this transitional stage in its profundity.

Teachers and adults have direct conversations with children, children move actively from center outward, and daily activities are made meaningful through the incorporation of children's experiences into the curriculum. At home, parents engage their young children in reading and storytelling activities and encourage children's partici-pation in daily house hold activities in a way that introduces such concepts as counting and language use. In addition, parents may provide young children with picture books containing very large print, and toys that stimu-late interaction (such as building blocks and large puzzles). After researching this topic of play, I find myself to be largely in agreement with the constructivist view.


“Play in child development and psychotherapy” by Sandra Walker Russ

“Handbook of Research on the Education of Young Children” by Bernard Spodek, Olivia Saracho<


Makedon, Alexander. 1991. Reinterpreting Dewey: Some Thoughts on His Views of Science and Play in Education. Annotated article - Chicago State University.

Rieber, L. P., Smith, L., & Noah, D. (1998). The value of serious play. Educational Technology, 38(6), 29-37.

Yannis Karaliotas, “The Element of Play In Learning” (1999)

(Written For Early Childhood Development class with Prof. Zarghami--Spring 2009--at De Anza College)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cultural Biography

My family tree goes back to my mother’s grandfather who was my great grandfather.
He had one brother, one sister. His name was Bin Quan Chao. He was born in Wu Xian,
Jiang Su province, and he and his family moved from there to Shanghai in 1890. At that
time people called Shanghai “the Paris of the East.” There were many brothels and shows
and fun activities for those with money. Lots of people come to the city from outside
China and from the nearby countryside to find business opportunities. Fortunately, Bin
and his brother both attended a top university in Shanghai, and spoke French very well,
which in much of Asia at that time was a prerequisite for civil service employment. My
great grandfather became a French translator in Shanghai’s French colony. He was a top
representative for China as well.

His brother worked in the French colony also, and was a chief at the police station.
With their local political power and position in society, they became friends with
most of the important people in Shanghai society, including Guo Ming Dang (Taiwanese)
and Gong Chan Dang (Communist). My great grandfather helped Sun Zhong Shan who
later became the “father of Taiwan”--he helped to hide him when he was in trouble. Also,
my great grandfather supplied information to Zhou En Lai, who later became the Chinese
premier, which helped the then underground communist party to escape arrest. My great
grandfather also gave money to his own hometown (Wu Xian) to build an elementary
school. He was a good friend of Shanghai’s “God Father” of the Green Gang. My great
grandfather had two simultaneous wives, which at that time was allowed. With his first
wife they had four kids; with the second wife, they had eight kids. He built a three story
house in the French Colony, and by all standards was considered very well-to-do.
The house was quite gracious, at the time. It had fifteen rooms. Connected with the main
house was a two story house where the servants and driver lived. The house no longer
exists due to government rezoning and condemnation. The area has been redeveloped.
Most of the old houses of that era were torn down to make room for what are now
skyscrapers. At that time, men were seen to be superior to women. Great grandfather
sent his sons to university, but not his daughters. My grandfather who was the oldest son
from his father’s first wife--according the Chinese culture--was considered the most
important member of the family, and essentially the first heir. He would carry on the
family business. When Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931, and Shanghai in 1932. (see:, great grandpa retired from his
employ at the French colony to become a business man. Because of his connections and
title in society, people invited him to be the CEO of Da Zhong Hua Tire Factory. He died
in his early sixties due to health reasons. Many of his generation were heavy smokers.

My grandfather attended university and studied law. He too spoke French very well.
He worked as a manager in a small family business. Like most others, his marriage was
arranged. He married when he was 18. My grandma—his wife--was age 16. Grandma
came from a rich merchant family which traded in jewelry and antiques. Together they
had six kids, my mother was the eldest. In 1956 grandma took the youngest son and
moved to Hong Kong. She never again returned to China. Fortunately she escaped all the
violent revolutionary events in China. Nine years later grandfather rejoined grandma in
Hong Kong. He brought his oldest son and youngest daughter with him. The other three
daughters stayed in Shanghai--they were my mom and my aunts.

My Father’s Side

My father’s grandfather was a government official at the end of Qing dynasty. They had
one son who was my father’s father, born in 1898. His mother died early, why is
unknown. My great grandfather taught his son many poems and taught him western
education. He became an early communist and was involved in some early revolutionary

My father was born in 1937 in Jia Xin, near Shanghai. He had two older sisters and
one younger brother. When he was a baby the family moved to Shanghai. Shanghai
dialect is his mother tongue. When he was a baby, their family fled Jia Xin because the
Japanese bombed the city of Jia Xin. According to my dad’s keenest memory, grandpa
was a very wise man. He could have left with Gong Chan Dan, but he didn’t because he
refused to abandon his wife and kids. When the Guo Ming Dan government invited him
to become a secretary, he refused. He said he would rather be poor, but clean. He wound
up teaching and writing and drawing words…calligraphy. He developed a strong
following of loyal fans. Grandpa died early--my dad was only 10 years old and his
younger brother only 6 years old. Life was very hard for them. Grandma was a typical
Chinese woman, a good mother and good wife. She was handy and sewed clothing for
people, but it was not enough to support her young family. The oldest daughter left
school to work in a factory to help support their family. China at that time seemed much
like England during the time of Dickens.

In July, 1997 I came to United States. My husband was born in California but his parents are of of Irish/German descent. We have two sons, ages 6 and 9. Two years ago we moved from Los Gatos to Sunnyvale; my husband’s parents live nearby. My husband is the oldest of five siblings, raised Catholic—they all live nearby. I have one older sister who now lives in Sydney, Australia
with her husband and son, age 10. Both are Public Accountants. My parents, too, have
emigrated to Sydney and live near them.

When I was school-aged I lived with my parents in one room of the old house that my
mom’s grandfather built. After the revolution, that building no longer belonged to one
family. People from outside all came to live in the house. On the Second and third floors
lived all the relatives; on the first floor lived people from outside the family. I remember
my parents worked on weekends--their day off being Thursday. Weekdays after school
and weekends our relatives cared for us, especially my grandpa’s sister. She would also
cook. Each day I was so happy to see my mother come home from work. I liked to dig
through her bag to see what snack she had brought for us. I also looked forward to seeing
my father come home. He would review my homework or correct me if I had difficulties.

My mother was born in Shanghai, 1936. Shanghai dialect is her first language. There
are around fifty different ethnic groups in China. Both of my parents are Han, the ethnic
majority. They didn’t belong to any political group, and obeyed communists. They were
not political. They believe, actually, in Buddha but would never go to temple. It was not
allowed during the revolutionary era. They both belonged to the workers union.
For my past family, the most important objects are the golden birth sign necklace,
almost every one wore one. It supposedly brings luck and health and wealth. Shanghai
dialect was our main language—at the same time we all learned to speak Mandarin which
became the official language in China, in efforts to unify the country after the revolution.

We have our very traditional clothing called Qi Pao--people only wear it on special
occasions. We have Chinese New Year celebrations; Moon Festival celebrations. With
my own family, our first language is English. We celebrate Chinese New Year; we
also celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving, July Fourth, and generally any holidays that are
celebrated in United States. And, we welcome new holidays, such as Diwali as an excuse
to light candles and have fun.

One of the greatest writers from the Han ethnic group is Lu Xun. His original name is
Zhou, Shuren. He is considered the founder of modern Chinese literature. He issued harsh
criticisms of social problems in China in the late 19th Century, at a time when it was
dangerous to do so. Many of his works are now translated into English.

One of the famous scientists was Li ShiZhen. He was one of the greatest Chinese
physicians and pharmacologists. His major contribution to medicine was the book Ben
Cao Gang Mu, which he spent 45 years writing and perfecting. It details about 1800
drugs and herbs, with 1,100 illustrations and 11,000 prescriptions.

Our main cultural values are: respect for the elders. We were told to listen to the
elders, listen to teachers and parents. We honored and followed their direction. This dates
back to Confuscious. We don’t challenge them.

Be Loyal to your family. We always use the chopstick as an example . It is easy to
break one chopstick but it is hard to break many at once. People should learn from ths
example. If they don’t get along they are easily defeated when an outsider invades. So be
loyal to your family then your family in order to stay strong. (In this regard, many
similarities to traditional Judaism.)

Be honest: don’t cheat, don’t lie. Otherwise, community breaks down.
Only when you are honest can people trust you, and be your friend.

Be modest. We always regard modesty as good character. Even when you are very
good at something, and people praise you, don’t take it to heart and believe too much in it.
Modesty lets you become a better person.

Work hard. No one gains without working hard, even if it seems easy afterwards.
Some make it look effortless. We usually say, “You plant a melon, you harvest a melon;
you plant a bean, you harvest a bean.” Similar to “You reap what you sew.” Very naturalistic
agrarian tradition. We encourage our children to study as hard as they can so they may be better than us. It's about order to profit in the future.

Be a Good Citizen. We obey the law. We don’t do anything to harm people or society. Basically, be a good person.

Seek peace and harmony. Only amid peace and harmony we can create wealth for
society, and society thereby can grow more prosperous. We’ve learned lessons from our
country’s hard earned history. Balance is prerequisite for sustainability.

These values resemble the Protestant Work ethic.

The Han group (China’s majority), whether it be now or in ancient times, has in fact
discriminated against minority groups, for differing reasons. One reason being geography:
the Chang Jiang River divides China into north and south. The land in the south is more
rich and the climate more ideal. South China has tended to be richer in economics. People
in the south look down at people in north. In the middle of China is vast farm land, near
the rivers. More and more people from the rural farmland are moving to city centers,
around the country built with the intent to accommodate this mass shift. Young girls
come from the farm land to work as nannies in the cities--we call them Wai Lai Mei. Men
come from farm land seeking construction work in the city. We call them Min Gong.
They don’t speak the same dialect, and not all of them even speak Mandarin.
Many city people look down at them, and treat them as new immigrants, indeed as
foreigners within their own country.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Social Interaction Observation

This past Thursday morning I went to Minigym Explorations in San Jose. I arrived at
9:00. The classroom is structured as a gym. It has slides, monkey bars, lots of mats, climbing house, kitchen and etc. Its theory aims at optimizing physical interaction.
At one side of the classroom, there is a plastic track, up and down like a wave so kids can ride on a car and the car can ride through the whole track. A girl named
Aden is riding on the car and calling her friend to come over to look at her. So her girl friend goes there to see her also a boy Matty goes there too. Aden is at the beginning point of the track, ready to ride and her girl friend gives her a push so the car rides right through the track. Once Aden is done, Matty runs to grab the car. Aden’s girl friend says, “It’s my turn, take turns.” So she runs to the car and takes it from Matty. Matty lets go and watches her ride through the track. He goes to the car again and rides again. The girl at the side is ready to give Matty a push to start. Matty says, “I don’t need your help.” He stands on the car and the car goes through the track. The teacher sees this and tells Matty to sit down and just ride.
One boy—Ben--is standing by the Thomas train table playing. Boys Tyler and
Matty come over to play with the train, too. They both grab the same blue train. Matty gets it first, and Tyler says, “It’s mine, it’s mine.” He grabs Matty from behind and tries to take the train from Matty. Somehow both fall on carpet and tussle. Tyler gets the train. No one cries or yells. Both get up and Tyler goes back to the train table. Ben is there still playing. Tyler starts to chase Ben around train table. They are laughing and chasing.
A boy Ryan is pushing a truck. Tyler goes to the truck place, picks one up and starts to push a truck around classroom with Ryan. They go under the slides and pretend it is a tunnel. They stop by another slide and pretend it is a gas station. They start to fill their trucks with gas. Matty joins their group, too. Very soon they all go off to do other things. Matty starts to stack building blocks. Tyler and Ryan start to push trucks again. When Tyler gets near Matty, Tyler slows down and looks at Matty, then pushes the truck right through the blocks. “Hey, what are you doing?” asks Matty. He picks up the blocks and start to build again. Tyler and the other boy still carry on, pushing the truck around.
Aden is wearing a yard duty vest. Amentha is wearing a pink Ballarina skirt. They are climbing to top of the side. Aden is in front, one hand holding a camera, and says, “I’m stuck, I can’t climb any faster.” Each time she steps on the outfit because it is too long. Amentha--at her back--helps her by lifting Aden’s outfit. Finally both reach the top of the platform. Aden tells Amentha to stand still--she is going to take a picture of her. “Say cheese,” she says. Aden also comes closer to Amentha and turns Amentha’s face to the right a little bit, then Aden moves backward. “Say cheese,” she says and then takes the picture. “How about you do it now,” she says, and both switch positions. They toss the camera aside and slide down the slides and take off the dress.
In the corner of the classroom is a climbing house. Wendy, another student, is on top of the house, calling out, “I’m stuck. I’m stuck.” The teacher comes over. “You have to come down by yourself,” she says. “I’ll show you how. First you need to sit down. Now put your hands on the top bar and your foot on the lower bar. Come down slowly. You got it.” Once Wendy is down she goes underneath the slide where two boys and a girl are sitting, pretending to make a phone call. One boy says to Wendy, “This is our house, please go away.” Wendy turns away immediately and goes to a doll house. The boy that asked Wendy to leave follows Wendy to the doll house and says, “Actually, it’s ok, if you only visit.” Wendy says, “Don’t follow me, I don’t care.” The boy goes back under the stair. Soon Wendy is back to the climbing house again. She also asks the girl in the green shirt to follow her. The girl in green is pretending to be a cat. She says, “meo meo” and crawls on the floor. Quickly Wendy climbs to the top of the house . Again she calls, “Help help.” The teacher comes over and says, “Have you heard story about crying wolf?” “I already know the story,” says Wendy. She manages to get down on her own.
Towards the end of free play time, a few kids leave the classroom to go outside.
Teacher calls them in. They get a time out: they either stand by the closet or sit in a chair for 2 minutes. The teacher sits across from them and asks, “Who knows the reason why we can not go outside?” As this is happening, Ben wanders outside classroom again. The teacher has to bring him back and asks him to sit in the chair for 2 minutes. She talks about the reason again. One girl comes over to sit next to him to accompany him. Teacher mentions to Ben how nice the girl is. Very soon Ben is dismissed from sitting. The kids are going to have circle time. But before that is clean up time. The kids sing songs and pick up toys. I finished my observation. at 10:30.

Motivating Underachievers

My education philosophy centers on a number of components and strategies:

(1) People learn by doing;
(2) Knowledge is ratio;
(3) Reduce to essential fundamentals, then repeat, repeat, repeat.

In my view, students learn by doing. The second point is, inasmuch as comparison requires
contrast, knowledge is a function of ratiocination. Let me explain.

I believe that the best way to Motivate Underachievement is Through Doubt. Many children who are under-achievers have made up their minds with absolute certainty that the world is a certain way, people are a certain way, and “I simply can’t learn it…I’m not good at math, languages, piano, etc.”

A number of teachers recently shared their thoughts (and questions) on motivating excellence versus bare minimum completions. One woman, in particular, said she has a boy in her class who always turns his assign-ments in on time and that his work always meets a passing level, but she feels he's capable of so much more. Her note made me think of Phil Jackson, coach of the Champion LA Lakers basketball team. Over the years, in various interviews, he has said that for top performers just winning is often not enough to motivate. Her note also caused me to reflect on the years when my parents had me take music lessons, and all the hours of practice, which I hated. Learning my instrument seemed so mechanical. It never seemed to click. Hence, I never reached the next level. How are Phil Jackson's ideas and my music lessons as a child related? Perhaps it has to do with "aspiring to a vision of what's possible." Great players and teams don't just win...they set new levels of what's possible, like artists that break new ground. Music never became second nature enough to me to move beyond trying to learn its basic mechanics. In retrospect, I suspect the ways I was taught did not truly help to convey a vision that I understood. I never reached a Eureka moment of "Hey, I can do this!" I never grasped the fact that my stringed instrument as an essentially simple instrument. I never really learned its fundamentals as a tool containing many possibilities. I was simply tauhgt scales by rote and told that "you'll be glad one day when you can entertain friends at parties, or that music is a gateway to learning other subjects." Growing up in Maoist China had a lot to do with teaching methods at the time--during the Cultural Revolution. It was very military and strict. Perhaps a sense of music appreciation was missing. I never saw how my practice tied into the developing evolution of music as a whole, especially to popular music. School work, on the other hand, was another story. I was fortunate enough to have had an Uncle (and various tutors) who taught me how to be critical of my assignments and to approach things critically. He taught me to imagine reviewing my work through my teacher's eyes. There were questions to ask and things to watch for before I could claim my work was "finished." It was like I had been given Quality Assurance tools for homework. "The key," my Uncle would say, "is to understand the background and see the bigger picture of what you're studying so that the specifics make sense." Hence, I always made it a point to learn this first, before starting a new chapter. It helped me see where things were going and to gain a sense of what was possible. I sometimes even aspired to turn in the best work my teacher had ever seen, all because my uncle was able to pry open my eyes to visualize more.

Recently I attended a parent/teacher discussion group. They were sharing thoughts about teaching respect for rules and authority. It's a fine line between respecting and challenging authority. We are not trying to raise sheep. It became apparent in our exchange that my views of obedience, respect and consideration are somewhat unconventional. Too often, when kids ask, "Why must I obey?," adults respond by saying, "Because it's the law...the rule says so...obey or be punished." All kids can see the need for rules, i.e. traffic signals and stop signs. But not all rules are so apparent. When a kid is defiant, my first response is to dig deeper to learn what's causing the defiance. A while back I tutored a kid who asked, "Why should I obey bad rules?" I replied by asking, "What if everyone were to pick and choose the rules they wanted to obey?" We both agreed, things would be a mess. We discussed obeying versus challenging rules. We concluded finally that rules should merit obedience and that any rule can be changed. I realized (yes, my students are often my teachers) that sometimes the best way to fix a bad rule is not by disobeying it, but rather to offer a better solution. I sometimes think that adults are
offended when kids question authority. But I see this as Quality Assurance, actually. Authority is broad, there's legal authority, academic authority, engineering rules, accounting guidelines, business name a few. Kids need to learn rules and their background. Indeed, Math, Science, and Language all involve rules.But simply because an established rule exists doesn't make it right. Not all rules deserve obedience. In sum, motivating kids to question rules (and the reasons behind them) and to fix bad rules is one way to encourage obedience.

Recently a teacher emailed asking for my thoughts on motivating underachievers. She noted that many of these kids are extremely bright, but don't believe in a larger purpose, and so opt to skate by with minimal effort. My husband has coached youth sports. Motivating the determined pessimist is just as hard as persuading the blind-faith optimist that their belief might not be 100% true. Both share a steadfast certainty in their respective beliefs. The true believer sees doubt as a defect in faith, while the pessimist doubts everything to the point where s/he's sure that all effort is point-less. Doubt, to me, is a healthy motivator. To the pessimist that asks, "Why try, when in the end all is dust to dust?," I ask, "How are you absolutely sure, beyond the slightest doubt? Is there a remote chance that your efforts could make a difference and defy eternal odds?" The usual reply is, "I suppose until it's all over there's always at least a slim chance." Many people quit before getting in the game because they see the whole pageant as pointless. "What difference does my little life make in the grand scheme?" they ask. "I'll never compare to Mozart, let alone Michael Jordan. Besides, odds are that one-day all life will become extinct; all monuments will vanish to sand. So, all effort is futile." Again I ask, "Is this certain? Any more certain than the belief that all we do has significance in some record book of ages?" While we don't wish to detract from faith-based approaches, it often turns out that more critical, doubt-oriented methods are more effective at motivating the underachiever.

--Oct. 2008

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Naturalistic Observation

Jacob will be 2 years old on May 14. His family just moved into the neighborhood

a few months ago. Both parents are Chinese. He has an older brother, age 8.

Grandparents visiting from China live at their home. He speaks only Mandarin.

Last Sunday at 12:30, I visited Jacob at his house. His mom and he were playing

together. His mom knelt down on the carpet. She stretched both hands and held

Jacob’s hands to help him to jump. Jacob lifted up his left foot and stepped onto

mom’s right thigh, then he lifted up right foot and stepped onto mom’s left thigh. He

started to jump and giggle. After a few times he put his feet on the floor and jumped

while holding his mom’s hands. Mom sang a Chinese nursery rhyme. Jacob repeated

what his mom sang.

After a while Jacob lied down on the floor. He lifted his upper shoulder by supporting his right elbow on the floor. He turned toward his right side then his left hand came over, then both hands were on the floor. He started to walk on his hands and feet. Face looked down at the floor. His whole body shaped like an “n”. He got up tow feet jump forward to his mom. At this time the mom throw a ball to him. He holds the ball in the right hands. He turns the ball then throw the ball. The ball spins then dropped. He picked up the ball with right hand, put the ball in front of his left foot, he kicks it, then he giggles then he turn around goes back to he cough. There is a bowl of cheerios on the cough. He picked up cheerios with his right index finger and thumb and moved it to his mouth, his tough is licking his whole right palm. 12:50, I left his house because it will be his nap time soon.

The next Monday morning , I went to see Jacob in the park. I started my observation

at 10:20am. Jacob knelt down on the bark at the play ground. His right hand held a

shovel. Four containers were in front of him. Two buckets, one bear shaped container,

one castle shaped container. Jacob scooped bark and put it in the bear shaped container.

A little boy came over, picked up a spare shovel. Jacob raised his head to look at the boy.

He continued to scoop bark. He sat on his bottom and stretched out his feet. The little boy

came over, sat next to him. Jacob stopped scooping and looked at the little boy. The boy

stretched out his right hand and pulled the shovel from Jacob’s right hand. Jacob held his

shovel tight and didn’t let it go. Jacob turned his head back to check with his grandma.

Then he turned his head back again and looked at the little boy. The little boy released the

shovel. The little boy picked up a fork-shaped shovel and offered it to Jacob. Jacob took

it with left hand, then the little boy took the shovel from Jacob’s right hand. This time

Jacob let the little boy have the shovel. Jacob looked at the boy for a while then started to

use his fork to scoop the bark. The little boy found a train. He picked it up and handed it

to Jacob. Jacob reached out with his right hand. The little boy got up and walked to

Jacob’s right side and took one of the buckets. Then he came back and sat next to Jacob

again. The whole time Jacob was watching the little boy. . Since the fork-shaped shovel

didn’t work well he started to use the bear shaped container to scoop the bark. He placed

the bark on the train and then tried to bury the train.

Jacob carried his train in his left hand, and shovel in his right hand. He started

to walk around the slide. His grandma helped him to put the train on the fifth step

of the stairs. Jacob was standing on the side of the stairs. He lifted his right foot on the

first step, then put his left hand on the second step and gave a push so that his left foot

moved to the first step, too. The he raised his right foot to the second step, left hand

touched down on the third step while he still held the bark-filled shovel in his right hand.

He moved his left foot to the second step. Finally he reached the train. He dropped the

bark on the train. He decided to climb down backwards on his knee. Step by step his feet

reached the ground. He continued to cover the train with bark.

Jacob sat atop the slide with two feet stretched out and gently banged the slide. He

let the shovel drop from his left hand and watched carefully as the shovel slid down.

Then he let his train go from his right hand. Once all the toys reached the ground, he

pointed his index finger to the toys. His grandma picked up the toys and handed them to

him again. Jacob happily slid the toys down again several times. My observation ended at

11:30 am. During my observation, Jacob didn’t talk much, but he is very observant. He

was constantly watching other kids around him and listening to the sounds around him.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Moral Development

The most important moral value I would like to pass to my children is honesty. Honesty means telling the truth, whether it’s good or bad. Sometimes, in our era of confessionalism, accepting truth is as vital as disclosure. Often, telling the truth is painful and requires courage. My husband and I agree on this, very strongly. For example, assume a kid plays ball, and accidently breaks a window. If no one is around, it is easy just to leave the scene rather than to admit to an adult what happened. But it is so important for kids to tell the truth. Only when you are honest with others will others be honest with you. It is mutual. Only when you are honest can others see the real you. This quality is vital for a successful life, and for all relationships. People can understand what you’ve done right or wrong, and can help you to find the right direction. To teach my kids honesty I show them how honest I am. Also I often tell them the story that my dad told me – about crying wolf. It was about a boy who herded sheep. One day he was bored and called out, “The wolf is coming!” People heard his voice and so put down their work and ran to save him. When they arrived, they didn’t see a wolf and the boy was laughing. The boy did this twice. The third time a real wolf actually came. He called again, but they didn’t believe him. The wolf ate his sheep. I hope my kids learn the lesson from this story.

The second important moral value is respect. Respect (and tolerate) others, their different cultures and their religions. Treat others the way you wish to be treated. Show respect for elders, other parents, teachers, and peers. For example, at home, respect your own parents by listening and obeying, and do not talk back or yell or shout. A legitimate debate is fine. Also, respect those who are younger than you, even babies. Ask permission beforehand. When you respect others, they will respect to you—it’s the basis of developing good relationships with others. We teach respect by being respectful to them and others. They learn from what they see.

The third value is being responsible. Try your best. Do good work. Live up to your promises. Own up to your mistakes. Take responsibility for what you are doing. A responsible student should study hard, finish work on time, prepare for tests, be involved in school activities. Be responsible for your behavior. Do things that will make you proud. Aspire to excellence. For adults to be responsible is to raise kids in a positive way, educate them, provide safety and security for them. Direct them. Parents are there when they need you. Only when everyone takes responsibility can the job be done right and well. Each day we show kids responsibility because we’re there for them—they can count on us. We are serious about what we are doing, and we consider consequences. The fourth is having empathy. It means walking in other people’s shoes, understand how others feel. Nowadays, a lot of kids don’t understand what it means to be poor. Kids waste food, spend money on toys that they quickly discard. They don’t appreciate that in many parts of the world some kids have few books to read, and sometimes go to bed hungry. Also as more and more kids with disabilities join regular class, we should never look down or make fun of them. We should recognize and be encouraged by their strength. Imagine how well you can do if you are in the same situation. Teach empathy by example. Such as, volunteer work for at the Food Bank, or help drive an elderly person to the doctor and so on.

The last value I hope to teach is loyalty. Every one should be loyal to their family and to their country. Being loyal to your family means you stand up for them. There is an old saying. “It is easy to break one chopstick, but four or five together are hard to break.” A family member is like a chopstick. If we stand together, stand up for each other we can overcome all the difficulties we have. This also may involve bravery and standing up for what is right. The family is the smallest unit of society. If you can be loyal to your family then you will be loyal to your community and ultimately to your country. That’s why loyalty is important. Teaching loyalty is best by modeling it and using real life experience to show kids what loyalty means. For example, imagine you live in a very poor village. Since you are one of the smart kids, your parents work hard to save money for you to go to university in the city. Your village people also contribute money to allow you to study, too. When you graduate, and should you become a leader, it becomes your time to give back to your parents and village people. You do not just think about your own interest and benefits. Being loyal to family also means showing your support when times are hard.

(My husband asks: "How does the value of survival fit into all of this? Does the imperative of survival trump these other values? If so, when? I explain to him that this is just a class assignment, and I will consider his question over the long-term, because right now thinking about it is making my brain tired.)

(For Middle Childhood Class--Winter 2009--at De Anza College - Prof. McKeithan)