I have integrated the use of asynchronous and synchronous communication in a networked environment into my classroom activities and student's regular homework assignments during the first quarter. I have also designed a project for Chinese III and Chinese IV students to collaborate on designing and developing their projects.
1. Tapped-In is a powerful tool to create a multi-user virtual environment, in which synchronous ("live") communication on the network is used. Students can share ideas and interact with each other in an electronic environment. Chinese III and Chinese IV students have used Tapped-In at www.ti2.org, a language rich virtual room, to make their dialogues in Chinese about the topics that we learn in the classroom as homework. In this way, even the students are out of my classroom they still have an environment that is language rich to visit, especially, since these students are from non Chinese-speaking families. My students also have used this virtual room to discuss the meanings and usages of the new vocabulary and grammar points to construct their new knowledge. Normally I do not attend their Tapped-In sessions because I think they would talk more liberally without me. Therefore, they can simply talk to learn and learn to talk freely. One of the advantages of synchronous interactions is that language interactions can easily be recorded in the form of logs. Unlike the chat session itself, which is transient and dynamic, the log provides a stable reference for discussion later. These logs are used for discussion and analysis by the student alone, through pair work, or through teacher-student discussions.
2. Blogger.com, based on Vygotsky's theory, provides work space for peer instruction and collaboration, and promotes and encourages student interaction. I have asked Chinese III and Chinese IV students to do writing in blogger.com. After they finish writing, I ask them to read each other's writing, comment on each other's writing, and reflect on what they learn. I found this is an effective way for them to learn from each other, and they learn new knowledge deeply. Thus this virtual classroom becomes a Community of Practice (Lave & Wegner, 1998).
One day during the Chinese IV class, when I was introducing some new grammar points, some students seemed to be confused, and misunderstood the grammar points. In the past, I would explain to them again and again until they understood. Now I thought, instead of repeated explanations, I would ask them to learn from each other in Community of Practice using blog. I would ask each of them to make three sentences for each grammar point they had learned, then read each other's sentences, and make comments on these sentences for better understanding. This was a more efficient way of learning for gaining deeper understanding. I believed student-centered approach was more powerful than teacher-centered approach. The next day was Chinese IV class's computer lab day. All students signed on to their blog sites, and worked on the grammar. It worked very well because the students who understood the grammar better helped the students who did not understand. By taking part in this blog activity, the students helped each other and learned the grammar deeply. The best thing was that one of the student's posts was commented by a native speaker in Canada . He just happened to visit the site. He not only made positive comments on this student's good work, but also corrected the mistakes and suggested a better way in which a native speaker would use in the sentence. The student was thrilled.
3. When describing learning environments in which children collaborate around meaningful projects and powerful ideas, the learning theorist, Seymour Papert states that kids will work in communities of common interest on rich projects that will connect with powerful ideas. ( Seymour Papert). Projects allow students to get a new sense of themselves as learners - that learning is something valuable, that setting a goal and working to achieve it is something important to them.
A group project was assigned to Chinese III and Chinese IV students in the beginning of the first quarter. The objective was to make a presentation that was both appealing and instructive. It was a project that the students in a group put together should be viewed as a teaching tool for their classmates or other people who had never learned the materials. The project consisted of four parts, grammar instruction, background and culture information, the use of any multimedia technology for presentation, and self-reflection on this learning. The students spent two days a week in the computer lab collaborating on their projects. I saw them asking questions to each other, and helping each other solve problems. On the last day of the quarter, all groups presented their projects in the computer lab successfully. They all enjoyed this project learning. The students' sample projects are shown in the DATA section of this report.
As a graduate student at Pepperdine University , I have studied the learning theorist, Lev, Vygotsky's theory, Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). To see how Vygotsky's theory applied to my classroom, I conducted a case study in the first quarter. This case study showed the importance of the sociocultural context in relation to our learning and development. In a Vygotsky model classroom, a teacher has a role to assist the emerging competencies of the students. The teacher creates social environments of what the students could achieve independently, and what the student could achieve with assistance from more capable peers. One way a teacher could encourage socialization is to create group activities. Through social interaction with peers in group activities, students could verbalize their thinking, and deepen their understanding.