Chinese Curriculum Development

CAL and the National K-12 Foreign Language Resource Center (NFLRC) at Iowa State University teamed up to help improve and expand the teaching of Chinese in grades K-2 by establishing an articulated long-sequence language instruction model and conducting research on that model. Project activities (2006-2010) included: (1) developing a Chinese K-5 conceptual overview, (2) drafting a proficiency-focused and standards-based Chinese curriculum for grades K-2, (3) mentoring pilot teachers in classroom techniques reflecting best practices, (4) training teachers in the administration of the Chinese Student Oral Proficiency Assessment (SOPA), (5) collaborating with two schools in the implementation of their Chinese programs, and (6) researching students’ language development in those schools (and in two matched control schools) over a three-year period. The following is an overview of the first two activities of the project.  

Chinese K-5 Conceptual Framework Documents. The project team (including CAL K-8 specialists, Iowa State University curriculum specialists, Chinese language education specialists, and teachers from two Midwest pilot schools) drafted conceptual documents to serve as a foundation on which to build the thematic units and instructional materials for the curriculum. Four documents were drafted as outlined below.

A.  The draft Conceptual Overview is designed as a blueprint to guide the entire four-year project.

Chinese K-5 FLES Conceptual Overview
It incorporates (1) a backward design approach to curriculum development (that defines enduring understandings and essential questions) (see Wiggins & McTighe, 2005), (2) the goals of the national foreign language student standards (National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project, 2006), and (3) learner profiles based on research-based K-5 performance assessments. The framework also outlines the integral components of the overall project: curriculum and instruction, assessment, and project research.  

B.  The Chinese K-5 Grade Level Expectations: Learner Profiles

Chinese K-5 Grade Level Expectations
The document outlines what proficiency level students studying Chinese in elementary school (60-90 minutes per week) should attain at each grade level (if they start studying Chinese in kindergarten). The grade level expectations are based on K-5 performance assessments (e.g., SOPA, ELLOPA, and NOELLA) as well as the ACTFL Performance Guidelines for K-12 Learners (1998). The document is organized by grade level, and for each grade level includes (1) approximate grade-appropriate benchmarks from SOPA and NOELLA for listening, speaking, reading, and writing and (2) descriptions of grade level expectations (in listening, speaking, reading, writing, and culture) for students following this curriculum.  Portions of the document include illustrative examples in Mandarin. 

C.  The Chinese Curriculum Scope and Sequence: download the one-page document for each grade level below.

Kindergarten Scope and Sequence
Grade 1 Scope and Sequence
Grade 2 Scope and Sequence

These define the “enduring understanding” for the curriculum, the overarching theme, the overarching essential question, three essential sub-questions (for Units 1 – 3), and approximately nine thematic units, each with its own thematic questions. Each of the three units also includes suggested hands-on cross-cultural activities in which the children participate (focusing on comparisons with their own cultures, e.g., Moon Festival [moon cake, family get-together] vs. Thanksgiving [turkey, family get-together]).

The enduring understanding (far-reaching goal) of the curriculum states that “Students will understand that they need to learn other languages and learn about other cultures to communicate and work with people in this interconnected world.” The overarching theme of the curriculum is “This interconnected world!”

D. The Enduring Understanding, Essential Questions and Themes document

Grade Level Essential Questions and Themes
This defines the topics included in the title of the document (also described in the Chinese Curriculum Scope and Sequence document), and, most importantly, delineates six essential strategies to be used in implementing the curriculum which are listed below:

  • School partnership – A U.S.-Chinese Elementary School partnership in a cornerstone of this curriculum model. Exchange includes online and mail communication, exchanges of drawings, photographs, work samples, and artifacts.
  • Voices and perspectives – American and Chinese children’s voices and perspectives are woven through the curriculum.
  • Awareness of the world – Current events are used to help connect the Chinese language and cultural learning to real life experiences.
  • Spiraling of themes – Themes are reinforced, broadened, deepened, and enriched across grade levels.
  • Comparisons of languages and cultures – Comparisons are embedded throughout the curriculum and instruction.
  • Transfer task – Children will reflect upon their worlds with the world of Chinese children.

The Chinese Curriculum Drafting and Field Testing
The curriculum units were drafted by a team including CAL and Iowa State University NFLRC staff and pilot school teachers and have been systematically reviewed and edited by Chinese K-8 language consultants.

The thematics and content based curriculum is organized around units, each of which is divided into themes that include formative assessments as tools for teachers to enhance the teaching-learning cycle. Included in the overall structure of the curriculum is frequent correspondence (both e-mail and regular mail) between the American school and a designated Chinese partner school. This correspondence is intended to establish a tangible cross-cultural link for students and staff in both schools based on ongoing exchanges of cultural and personal information (focusing on school and community life).

View the following sample draft units:

As of June 2010, teachers in the two Midwestern pilot schools had field tested all of the units. The teachers’ piloting of these units has resulted in a number of adjustments to the activities and to the implementation of the curriculum. As always, working with students in the classroom is the true test of realistic and attainable outcomes. As with all curriculum, once it is field tested in the classroom, major and minor adjustments and fine-tuning need to occur. Preliminary revisions of the curriculum have been completed. 

About the Project

Funder: National Foreign Language Resource Center
January 2006 – January 2010