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       I believe language is not only a learning subject, but also a way to express, communicate, receive, and contribute. Therefore, I strive to build a safe learning community where students’ voices are heard and collaboration is fostered.

        The building blocks of a language learning community are individual learners with distinct learning paces, learning styles, and a range of interests and ambitions. Therefore, I advocate student-centered teaching and consider it essential to balance between the teacher-built classroom syllabus and students’ internal built-in syllabi, so that I may teach to my students’ needs. To fulfill this goal, I conduct needs assessments at the beginning of semesters to learn about students’ backgrounds, goals, and expectations.

While teaching, I grasp what students are confident about and what they want to shy away from, so that I may figure out when to push who a little and when to sit back and give them time to grow. I thus feel the sheer joy in celebrating with my students when they master a challenging linguistic concept. I also feel a sense of trust when students find it difficult to make a breakthrough, knowing that their abilities and potentials are not confined by the moment.

        Periodically, I administer learning questionnaires, which ask students what areas of learning (for example, grammar points, language skills, and pronunciation rules) they want to review and explore further. I would then integrate students’ responses with the results of informal classroom assessments and formal tests to adjust my teaching. Responding to students’ diverse learning styles and interests, I introduce language in a variety of forms, such as songs, movies, storytelling, drama, tables and diagrams. For example, when I taught music undergraduate students English in China, I played excerpts from musicals and jazz songs, as well as contemporary songs for them to listen to and search for the target musical terms and expressions, and then invited students to sing, engage in role play, and retell what they had heard and their reflections of the music to one another.

        To meet students where they are, I also incorporate differentiated instruction in my classroom. Students who finish a certain task early will be assigned with either more problems to solve, or a different yet related task to accomplish. Meanwhile, I assist students who need more time on the task. Sometimes, students are paired in a way that the early finishers could help their classmates while consolidating their own understanding, so that students not only have access to teacher support, but also peer support in fulfilling their learning goals. The idea of peer support bridges into the second principle of my teaching philosophy – collaboration in community building.

        Having individuals collaborate with one another is as crucial as addressing each individual’s needs in community building. Therefore, I start classes with a 3-minute coffee time, during which students greet one another and discuss any topics of interest. In this way, students know each other not only as classmates with whom they study English together, but also friends who have lives to share. The language classroom could thus transform into a friendly and safe community where people belong and connect. Linguistically speaking, coffee time helps students improve their English fluency in a meaningful and personal way.

        In addition to the casual coffee time, I design communicative small group activities with information gap tasks, story co-writing sessions, and

Image by Providence Doucet
Praying Together

pronunciation peer reviews that encourage students to interact with one another while learning the class content. When I taught adult learners in the Community Language Program at Columbia University Teachers College, I also incorporated sharing activities by tapping into students’ professional expertise. For instance, we had a professional sharing episode when students were studying movies. There was one seasoned cinematographer in our class, and I invited him to deliver a short presentation about cinematography. Other students wrote down their questions and asked the cinematographer those questions during the post-presentation Q&A section. In this way, the sharer brought his expertise into language learning by connecting what he had already known with what he was learning. The listeners also had an opportunity to peek into the movie industry with the sharer’s original and authentic insights through language learning.


        We also had a skilled doctor in our class and she shared her professional advice about COVID-19 vaccines during class speaking sessions and answered follow-up questions. Later on, she took the initiative to email the class news and resources about vaccines. A community was built through contributions, sincere questions, further sharing and genuine care, creating a virtuous circle.

         In a nutshell, I believe language is not only a learning subject, but also a way for us to interpret the world around us in accordance with our own characters, and at the same time, join together to build a vibrant community that cultivates growth linguistically and beyond.

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