Report from the Field – Diane Neubauer

Diane has been with us here in the PLC for many years. She started out in Chicago, moved to Denver I think around four years ago, taught at Valor Christian High School and now has a big announcement for us, so thank you for this report Diane:

This is my 10th year teaching Mandarin. I still love that, but over the past 2 years started seriously thinking about what I might do in CI-based language instruction if I had another degree. Ex: the relatively few language teacher education programs that thoroughly address CI work in the classroom; the general lack of knowledge of CI work by university language profs and by language research (they are their own world and often don’t even think K-12 is relevant to them); and the lack of voice for effective, joyful K-12 world language at universities. Added to that, there are significant issues in Chinese language teaching in particular. I hope to be of influence especially there, the Chinese-speaking and specifically Chinese language teaching worlds. I think I might become a kind of a bridge between K-12, CI, and universities.

It took a while to figure out how to go about this, especially since I thought it was pretty crazy at first — my husband first encouraged me. It took months before I really began to take it seriously. I talked with a number of people about what a PhD program is like, what schools to consider, what programs & degree, and what career outcomes were possible. Lots of help from many people. It took a while to figure out what to do, but it’s come together this spring.

So, this August, I’ll begin full-time doctoral studies at the University of Iowa in Foreign Language and ESL (English as a Second Language) Education. I’ll also be a research assistant which means I have funding, a huge part of making this possible. My advisor is a lovely person & very supportive of CI language instruction. 

My goal long-term is to work at the university level in world language teacher education, research in effective world language and ESL classrooms and making those better known in research and at the university level, and with an eye on Mandarin Chinese in particular. I want to stay connected to the language teaching community I know & love, and make what we do that brings about joyful language acquisition better known and better supported. (If I can’t stand being away from teaching Mandarin, I’ll probably make videos and tutor by Skype, write stories, something like that. Right now, though, being a student again sounds like a big, long sabbatical, and I’m excited about that.)

I think that other teachers might be thinking of PhD study, too, and if that’s you, please feel free to ask me anything about the early stages of that process. (questyn@hotmail.com) I’ve learned about the GRE, what kinds of programs to consider, the application process, funding, visiting schools, and some US universities which have faculty who share an interest in comprehension-based language instruction. Yes, there is more than one. Finding a school with at least one prof who cares about CI is important if this is something you want to do; I learned that through this process.

We are looking forward to being back in the Midwest & have begun the housing search. We’re aiming for rural & chicken-friendly, and hoping to have a garden again. I’ll start in mid-August 2017.

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12 thoughts on “Report from the Field – Diane Neubauer”

  1. …finding a school with at least one prof who cares about CI is important ….

    I just find it hard to believe that entire departments at the university level shun Krashen in this way. I know it’s true, but I still find it hard to believe. All the more reason for Diane to go in there to the den of THINKERS! I am certain that this move is going to lead to some very good outcomes!

    1. Thank you very much, Ben. Truly, it was discussions in this PLC that planted some of this idea years ago. Reading about people’s experience in college (both in language classes and teacher ed), etc. Seeing the state

      Another little piece from years ago in the PLC that was part of being led to this point: anyone else remember when I posted about training by Helena Curtain that I attended like 6 or so years ago when I taught in Chicagoland? She said then that she had finished her PhD at age 50. It was a little seed. (“Well if she did it, it’s not impossible for me in my 40’s…”) A fun thing to bring that full circle happened at ACTFL last fall. I had started applications to schools and had no idea if I’d get in. I saw her in the hallway, walking alone, and I walked up and told her about how her little comment about her PhD planted a little seed in me years ago, and how it was an encouragement when I started thinking about this. She was very happy, said she tells people about that for that reason, and said, “Of course you’ll get in!” She doesn’t know who I am at all, but I received that blessing.

      1. WOW! I’m so excited for you Diane. I love the whole story and evolution of this and know you will make a big impact because of your passion and commitment. Your work will always be rooted in the reality of teaching! And you’ll have chickens and a garden, so this will nourish you for the long haul. For real, this is definitely related! Yippee!!!! 😀

  2. I’m so glad to you have leading our way, Diane! I’m reminded of when I chaperoned a field trip for my Chinese teaching colleague on the South Side of Chicago some 4-5 years ago to a high school Chinese competition at Valparaiso University. It was all memorizing dialogue. So boring and draining. I was just starting TPRS/CI that year. The disconnect was slapping me in the face.

    I bet your work, Diane, will help change the dynamic of such competitions!

    1. That kind of competition is (ironically) probably considered communicative by those who participate, too. I think my head might explode if I think too much about the status quo of Chinese teaching. I just typed a rant of a paragraph about it & then deleted it 🙂 The rant was b/c I had recently met 2 students who each had 2 years of middle school Chinese, and they have so little ability to understand what they hear or read, it really was disturbing to me. (One of those teachers rejected my attempts to reach out to her, too, to involve her in the local association for Chinese teachers, or to come see my classes, or please please do ANYTHING to see beyond the memorization of nouns and “dialogues” that she does.)

      Ok, that was half the rant right there.

    1. I’ll have to re-watch the video and see if I agree with myself in the way I spoke about it then! Circling with Names is something I still usually do on the first day of class with total beginners. I still like that it gives them a sense of success, gets me to know their names right away (I think that tells them they each matter to me), and lets us play in the language (by pretending to be other people) even though they pretty much only can understand 5-6 words at that time.

      This approach to the first day of class was recently given public attention in a blog post, with a list of reasons what I suggest doing would be bad practice, and a variety of factors analyzed about it. The author’s main concern, I was told when I responded in part to the criticism, is that it decays to drills too easily. I was told I wouldn’t end up doing that as drills, b/c I’m an experienced TPRS teacher, but beginning teachers attempting it would be likely to make it meaningless drills of kids’ names, without a need to understand anything else. However, that’s one reason bringing in silly ideas (or masks like I did with 4th graders) is useful — nobody knows what to expect. You have to listen & understand. Getting scared 4th graders over the hurdle of Chinese on day 1 is a big deal. Getting them to laugh about it is huge.

      Was there a particular thing you were looking for me to consider, Ben?

      1. No Diane my interest was in your use of very human, heart opening contact with the kids on the first day. The split between the Mandarin community as lead by Terry and Pamela is based, perhaps – just something I am thinking here and I could be very wrong – on their not wanting to explore heart centered Mandarin teaching.

        I can understand why that is true when you have brand new young natives of China coming over here in droves who have never experienced that kind of “getting to know” their students and “play” in the first weeks of the year. But the development and onward growth of our profession in favor of a less mental, more heart and body centered approach, which I see in the NT piece, is not going to stop just because Terry Waltz says it should.

        I am familiar with the email you are describing. I think it is, at its base, steeped in fear and a desire to keep everything in the mind. I have a very real question for Terry and Pam: how do mom’s in China speak to their own children? The way Terry says? Or just like mom’s all over the world do?

        Pamela writes:

        …Non-targeted Input is also something I can’t advocate because of the burden due to lack of cognates. This is why Storylistening is not suggested for Mandarin teachers who are starting to implement CI-based methods….too many new words that sound so unfamiliar and can’t be introduced using CCR….

        I am sure that I could come up with a better response to that statement than I am going to say here, but I don’t care. I just think that that paragraph above is bullshit.

        Here is another part of Pam’s text:

        …I give an enormous amount of credit to Terry Waltz for developing the ‘Cold Character Reading’ (CCR) method. It has really allowed TPRS Mandarin teachers to ‘jumpstart’ the literacy in their classrooms…

        My comment is that if reading is such a problem in Chinese, why read? Since as Linda Li told me in India last year it takes twice as long to learn Chinese, then why not drop the reading piece and do all aural input? What is the goal for the Mandarin community? To get stuck between deciding on which haystack to go to or pick one and teach it?

        It can be done. Terry and Pamela may not be the ones to do it but I know that any Chinese teachers in Cascade next month will definitely be given large spoonfuls of how it can be done and they will probably smile more often than they may want to. I remember Tina was training a Portland Chinese teacher with our NT ideas and it really worked. NT works if you want to and are willing to make the necessary changes. And they don’t need permission from bullies to do it.

        1. I don’t know that I can reply satisfactorily to everything here, Ben, and there’s a lot. Some thoughts:

          Oh yay, yes, love doing something centered on the kids on day 1. Glad it still looks like that to you.

          Mandarin CI is small, like a few hundred right now & growing, and we mostly know each other. Not all close friends, not agreeing on everything, but a mutual respect overall. I’m not sure why the desire to argue against NT has been such a thing, but there’s a gatekeeper mentality. I read the moreTPRS list but don’t comment there, though I’m willing to talk elsewhere. I think of a continuum and not black & white or “sides”. In fact, the discussions about targeting or non-targeted input made me understand more about what was really happening in my classes. There’s a mix. Each teacher needs to know their own students & adjust to their comprehension & interest; that’s the big idea.

          I find it interesting that Terry advocates some NT-like aspects even in beginning Chinese instruction. Ex: some kinds of words she won’t target, such as “because,” “also” and connector words like that — just use in context, make sure they understand as they arise, and over months or so, students get them. My experience is the same. I used to try targeting those, which does. not. work. even when I was still so affected by textbook thinking my first year of CI. It just clogs instruction & the students still don’t get it until far later anyway. Terry also does “reports” at the beginning of class to catch those words like colors, clothing, weather, time & date. Those are dispersed across months of class, too, not really targeted. (I do this too some, based on her idea.) So I see a lot more in common than not.

          On not reading: being illiterate in Chinese to me would be like living in a black and white world instead of color — when that world of color is available. There is so much depth and richness in the characters that absolutely doesn’t exist in the phonetics. It may be hard to sense if one can’t read a character script. I feel that it would impoverish my students not to allow them the opportunity to enjoy characters. (And I mean that, enjoy.) That said, my students definitely are stronger in listening (and in many cases, speaking) than reading, and that is fine. They can hear & understand maybe 10% or 20% more than they read yet. But they can read, even very happily and comfortably (though there’s variation as with all aspects of language). This happens from a basis of acquired language, and not based on memorization or analysis of character forms — those being excellent ways to make Chinese frustrating for many if they’re the basis of literacy. Cold Character Reading provides at least one way to read based on acquired language instead of memorizing & analysis. Really the essence is: (esp. with beginning 2-3 years), read only words & phrases that the students have “acquired,” and really shelter language at first, and use those words & phrases plenty of times because it’s not phonetic. They really do pick it up, and it’s a big charge when it happens. So — I think it’s possible in our limited time.

          I think SL is brilliant and just requires a more careful touch for it to work with Chinese. I think other strategies are easier to accomplish with complete beginners (ex, sem. 1 of high school, first year or more with younger kiddos) but it is not so hard to do SL in sem. 2 high school in my experience. I just touched on it a few times, but the opportunity to introduce culture in a compelling way was something I’ve sought for years, and that has been SL’s big draw for me. To accommodate reading needs in follow-up, I just delayed putting words into reading until I can see that students are really pretty comfortable with those words (easy recognition of the sound and meaning). In SL, that means I only put some of the words that came up more often into reading afterwards. It was fine. Some day I will have a blog post about all that, including video taken in those classes. It’s on the list as a summer project if I can manage it.

          Another example for reading: they hear a bunch of things in TPR for a semester or so before any of those words get added in reading. So I’m not seeing a need strictly to target in the short-term for literacy to happen in Chinese, though I do find that whatever gets into reading, at least 98% of the time or something like that, is much better when already really strong in the minds of the students. In my experience, those words & phrases could be short-term introduction like T2 (most of what I aim for) or longer-term, delayed introduction in reading like NT. I would also be careful not to overwhelm anyone with too many new characters at once.

          One of the things I want to play with in my PhD is Chinese literacy, so I’m probably not the right person to tell just don’t have them read at all. 😉 Pinyin reading isn’t really reading, just sounding out words, and after a while, it gets confusing in reading — so many homophones.

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