We have consolidated all of our University news sources into one location called BingUNews. Inside stories published through 2016 will remain available here. Stories published in 2017 and later will be found at BingUNews. Enjoy!
Participants in the "Sound of China" summer camp perform a water-sleeve dance during the camp's production of "The Tale of the White Snake" at the Anderson Center's Chamber Hall. The camp was hosted by the The Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera at Binghamton University and sponsored by the STARTALK program.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Binghamton students help teach ‘Sounds of China’
September 3, 2015Tweet
Jiawei Mao has been interested in emphasizing the importance of Chinese language and arts since she was a freshman at Binghamton University.
“My dream is to promote Chinese culture in the western world,” said Mao, a senior who is a triple major in music, linguistics and comparative literature.
Mao took a step toward making her dream come true when she and other Binghamton University students helped teach at The Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera’s “Sounds of China” summer camp in late July and August.
The camp, held at Binghamton University for the second year, welcomed 37 schoolchildren entering grades 6-12. Following an orientation talk from Zu-yan Chen, director of the Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera at Binghamton University, the campers split into groups based on age and Chinese language ability.
In the mornings of the three-week camp, students developed language skills and engaged in arts and crafts. In the afternoons, the groups worked together on Beijing Opera, a form of traditional Chinese theater that combines music, vocal performance, mime and dance.
“We integrate language teaching and Beijing Opera together,” said Chenqing Song, assistant professor in the Asian and Asian American Studies Department and lead instructor of the camp. “That’s why the program is called ‘Sounds of China.’ Students not only learn the language in the classroom, but in a real-world setting – a Beijing Opera performance.”
The Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera received a grant for the camp from STARTALK, an organization that aims to increase the number of U.S. citizens learning, speaking and teaching foreign languages.
“STARTALK is not only promoting critical language instruction in the United States in K-12, but it’s also about promoting a particular way of teaching,” Song said.
That methodology includes student-centered teaching using authentic materials and integrating real-life scenarios. The teaching style also calls for using the Chinese language about 90 percent of the time in the classroom.
“That’s why you don’t see any textbooks (at the camp),” Song said. “We use authentic materials and scenarios to promote language learning. … I believe this is the future direction of foreign language education in the U.S.”
To help teach the schoolchildren, Song relied mostly on Binghamton University undergraduate and graduate students. The students serving as Beijing Opera instructors trained with Linghui Tu, a visiting professor of Chinese opera, while those serving as language instructors took part in a two-week summer workshop with Song.
The student language instructors then received three weeks of STARTALK training in Rhode Island.
“I don’t have a strong background in teaching Chinese, but other instructors and I went to Bryant College, where we were prepared for this (camp),” said Mao, who worked as a teaching assistant in elementary Chinese classes at Binghamton and plays the guqin, the oldest string instrument in China. “I became more confident after the training and enjoyed teaching at the camp.”
For Daniel McMonagle, the camp provided him with the opportunity to learn teaching methods after he won a national Chinese language competition.
“This is a chance for him to use Chinese to teach others and be a role model for students,” Song said.
“Professor Song has taught me for a semester,” said McMonagle, a junior linguistics and Chinese studies major. “When I started teaching in this (camp), I noticed the methods we used were the same as what she used in my (Binghamton) classes. A lot of planning, review and more review goes into this.”
Qiufeng Cui, a graduate student in the Asian and Asian-American Studies Department, has taught English and French in China. He was impressed not only with the camp’s teaching methods, but with its students, as well.
“I found that they learned quickly and that they were able to grasp what I taught,” said Cui, who worked with eighth-grade heritage students who cannot speak advanced Chinese. “They wanted to practice, speak out and understand. These students were willing to learn and make progress.”
Mengxie Luo, a junior majoring in actuarial science, worked as a Beijing Opera instructor at the camp. Despite having 16 years of dance experience, teaching Beijing Opera to the campers was initially a challenge, she said.
“It was a little hard at the beginning because this is a different culture,” she said. “There are a lot of body movements and professional terms for Beijing Opera.”
The schoolchildren eventually learned two songs, including the Chinese lyrics.
“They learned really fast,” Luo said. “The melodies of the songs and the movements helped them learn.”
The culmination of the campers’ instruction was a Beijing Opera performance of “The Tale of the White Snake” at the Anderson Center’s Chamber Hall. All of the campers appeared on stage, while Song and the other instructors kept the show moving backstage according to script. Students in the camp served as narrators (in English and Chinese), sang two songs, danced in water sleeves and displayed group-combat skills. The show even featured two professional Beijing Opera performers (Liu Chunnuan and Liu Yuxia) who traveled from New York City to play lead roles in the third act’s main scene.
“Regardless of whether you are a new student or returning student, you can do something to be part of the show,” Song said. “Everything the (campers) learned was seen onstage.”
Both Song and Chen said the Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera at Binghamton University plans to apply again next year to bring the camp back to campus.
Song added that it is important for Binghamton University students to continue to take part in the camp.
“This gives our students the opportunity to use their language skills, their knowledge, their passion and contribute to this camp,” she said.
The camp also highlights Binghamton University as an influential center for cultural studies in the area, Song said.
“We want to help kids who may not have the chance to know the world,” she said. “Some children don’t have the opportunity to get so close to a foreign culture that is so different from their own lives.”
Song and the Binghamton University students all said that they are optimistic that the camp participants will continue to learn more about China and share that knowledge with family, friends and others.
“I hope this camp is a starting point for their lifelong experience with Chinese culture and language,” Song said.
“One of my students told me: ‘This is the most fun class I’ve ever had,’” Mao said. “That made my day. I hope all of the students have had a wonderful experience learning Chinese and will also help promote this program – and Chinese language and culture.”