Project-Based Instruction in Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language

Project-Based Instruction in Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language

Juanjuan Zhao (University of Cincinnati, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6603-0.ch007
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In this chapter, Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) is used as a framework to examine Project-Based Instruction (PBI) in a Chinese foreign language classroom at a U.S. high school. The implementation of PBI arose from an action research project that resulted from a teacher's perceived need to improve students' engagement, cultural knowledge, and communicative language skills. Data collected include interviews, surveys, classroom observations, teacher reflective journals, and student projects. Data is first analyzed thematically and then reframed from the perspective of CHAT. Findings reveal that PBI motivated students in learning, enhanced cultural understanding, and improved their language skills. Despite the positive evaluation of PBI, there are contradictions within the activity reported such as the tool of language as a barrier. Students wanted to keep traditional learning activity and PBI. Furthermore, analysis of the findings suggest that CHAT is a suitable framework for educational research.
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Project-based instruction (PBI) is a teaching and learning method that uses authentic, complex and real life projects to motivate learning and socialize students through a series of individual or group activities (Beckett, 1999; 2006). These activities generally include the steps of selecting project topics, designing project activities, researching and gathering information, developing products, and oral or written reporting (Hedge, 2002). Completion of such activities integrates various skills ranging from basic information processing to project producing that mirrors real-life tasks. Students may find these tasks motivating, empowering or challenging yet helpful in their aspiration to obtain learning autonomy and boost confidence (Stoller, 1997).

The approach has been widely employed in English as second and foreign language education and numerous studies have reported positive outcomes of it. The benefits include authenticity of students’ experiences and the language they are exposed to (Ke, 2010), enhanced motivation, engagement and the joy of learning (Lee, 2002), promotion of communicative competence (Wu & Meng, 2010), improved language skills (Levine, 2004), cross-cultural knowledge (Abrams, 2002; Bateman, 2002), simultaneous language learning, content knowledge and skills (Beckett & Slater, 2005), and increased learning autonomy and independence (Coleman, 1992). In addition, the favor toward PBI is due to its distinguishing features of a student negotiated-curriculum (Doherty & Eyring, 2006) in which learning is student centered with the teacher playing the role of a facilitator (McDonell, 1992). However, despite the popularity and benefits of PBI for teaching and learning English as second and foreign language, little research has examined the effectiveness of the approach in teaching and learning Chinese as a foreign language (CFL).

Meanwhile, interest and enrolment in learning Chinese as one of the critical languages in the U.S. have surged as American economic ties to China deepen (Zhao & Huang, 2010). As a result, an increasing number of native Chinese speakers who were previously educated outside U.S. came to teach Chinese in U.S. (Lin, 2009). These teachers are great sources of knowledge to students in terms of their combined linguistic competence and cultural knowledge. However, concerns have been raised towards their lacking of training and understanding of US education in general and pedagogy in particular. Such shortcomings may affect students learning outcomes negatively (Schrier, 1993). This is so because these teachers act out an education system that demonstrates a teacher-centered and exam oriented method. American education, on the other hand, is student-centered in which the teacher act as a facilitator for the students’ learning. It focuses on establishing an engaging learning environment where teachers are able to work collaboratively with the students (Haley & Ferro, 2011). As a result, native Chinese speakers are criticized for their traditional grammar translation approach to teaching and learning. They are also criticized for a teacher-centered environment that fails to address the needs and expectations of learners in K-12 contexts, i.e. in primary and secondary education (Chu, 1990). Under this circumstance, it becomes imperative for researchers and educators to look at pedagogies and strategies that practitioners can adopt to meet the learning needs and interests of students and also sustain the growing interest and development of CFL (Wang, 2007). For this study PBI is defined as a student-motivational approach implemented in a CFL setting to address the demand.

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