What makes a place a good place to...?

A Project Prototype by Stephen Tschudi

published on Aug 8, 2017

Challenging Problem or Question: What makes a place a good place to...?

In different cultures, different public spaces are considered appropriate places to perform various activities. For example, in some cultures it is not appropriate to eat while walking down a public street, while in other cultures (or maybe even in certain situations within the same culture) it is perfectly OK to eat on the street. These differences in behavioral norms (practices) have their roots in different value systems (perspectives). Cultural knowledge regarding practices and perspectives is part of a language learner's set of developing competencies as they become more and more intercultural -- i.e., better able to inhabit cultures other than their own, and better able to see their own culture through the lens of other cultures. 

Learners  in an advanced-level language course might be able to explore the topic of "What makes a place a good place to...?" in great detail -- for example, they might be able to compare and contrast values in the countryside versus the city in the same country, and to explore the cultural values that underlie these behavioral norms. 

Typically, learners in beginning language courses are not asked to consider or explore cultural phenomena of this kind. This project is an attempt to incorporate interculturality as part of the learning construct from the first day of learning the target language. It was designed "in miniature" -- in other words, it is designed for a short timeframe with limited objectives -- and should be further expanded and elaborated if it is used in an academic curriculum. For example, in the design seen here, the learners perform one survey of native Chinese speakers and of American speakers of English to query them about whether they thought certain places (seen in pictures) were appropriate places for certain activities. When this project was tested with a group of learners, they discovered that the place/activity combinations they chose for their survey did not yield much in the way of contrasting results. At this point the learners realized that, given the opportunity, they could revise the place/activity combinations and get much more interesting results, but they did not have sufficient time. If the project were extended for another iteration -- in line with the essential project design element of "critique and revision" in the Buck Institute for Education's "Gold Standard" for Project-Based Learning -- then the project results would have yielded a greater sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, not to mention more interesting information with regard to cultural contrasts.

This mini-project is designed for absolute beginners learning Chinese. Any group participants who already know Chinese should be given a separate role -- for example, they could serve as project "reporters" who observe the progress of the project, or could serve as language informants at the appropriate stage.

This project proceeded as follows. The beginning learners first received input to learn how to express basic actions in Chinese such as 吃饭、休息、运动 etc. and also learned "...的好地方" so that they were able to create a phrase such as "休息的好地方" ("a good place to rest"). They learned that the purpose of this mini-project was to explore possible culturally-based differences in the ways people view public spaces. 

After the input phase, the learners explored the local environment and took pictures of places they found interesting or appealing -- places they wanted to explore in their cultural investigation. When they returned from taking pictures, they had the opportunity to interview a native speaker and get more language so that they could express what they wanted to express. Then, with appropriate support for the use of technology to create the slideshow and type in Chinese (or otherwise obtain the Chinese text they need) they made a slideshow consisting of photos they had taken and captions that designated each picture as "a good place to [do activity X]" ([做某种活动]的好地方) in both Chinese and English.

Given the short timeframe this project was designed to fit into, the instructor scaffolded the next step for the learners, viz., the creation and distribution of surveys to the target groups (Chinese speakers in China and English speakers in the USA) asking respondents to rate their agreement with the designation of each picture as "a good place to..." 

Results from the survey came in overnight, and the learners' first task on the following morning was to tabluate the survey results. After this, they received additional Chinese language input that enabled them to revise their dual-language slideshow to include the survey results using the formula "Is this a good place to [do activity X]? Out of [N] Americans surveyed, [N] said yes. Out of [N] Chinese surveyed, [N] said yes." (“这是吃饭的好地方吗?十个中国人之间,有三个同意。十个美国人之间,有九个同意。”)

Having created this more sophisticated version of the slideshow that now included information on the responses from members of the two cultures, the learners generated questions they wanted to ask a native speaker of Chinese via a group Skype call to that person in China. They were also offered the option to ask the question themselves orally during the Skype call. The instructor prepared custom cue-cards for these brave learners.

 

The Skype interview marked the endpoint of this mini-project. As a "thought experiment" connected to a possible expanded version of the project, the instructor recorded the Skype interview so that the videorecording could potentially serve as raw material for more language learning. In retrospect, the learners said that the footage would probably not be good "next step" material, so this idea should probably be rejected.

One of the biggest challenges in using the ideas of Project-Based Learning for language instruction is that beginning learners have almost no functional communicative capacity, and yet PBL demands that they extend their learning beyond the walls of the classroom to create some kind of real-world impact. I believe this design suffices to show that even beginning learners can meet this challenge, and that significant intercultural content can be included from the very beginning of a language learner's journey. 

Overview files comments

Preparing for the Project

Understand project and agree to participate

Launching the Project

Entry event

Language input! "A Good Place to..."

Managing the Project

Exploring with your team, picture-taking

(Teacher task) Contact language consultants and outline interaction protocol

Interview Chinese-speaking language consultants

Work on first slideshow

(Teacher task) Administer bi-national poll to obtain ratings on "Good places to..."

Tabulate survey results and add to captions

Presentation of slide deck to native audience

Assessment

Ongoing self-assessment

Implementation Info

Implementation information not specified.

Preparing for the Project

Understand project and agree to participate

This "learning contract" gives an overview of the project and asks learner to commit to carrying it out. In its current format it is most appropriate for an audience of adult learners.

Technology Tips

N/A, use paper

Task Extension

This document could be revised into a much simpler and visual format, or could be ELIMINATED in favor of a storytelling approach that would help learners understand the project through indirect means.

Launching the Project

Entry event

Immediately following learners' completion of the Project Description & Agreement to Participate, the teacher sat down in front of the class with a Chinese speaker who had immigrated to Hawai‘i some years prior. The teacher interviewed the immigrant in English about what it was like as a newcomer in the US and whether she noticed any differences in people's perception of appropriate uses of public space. The interview successfully elicited some possible differences in appropriate public behaviors. While not essential, this Entry Event helped bring home to learners the significance of the Driving Question.

Language input! "A Good Place to..."

This deck of slides is used as the first input source in this project before participants head out to take pictures of public spaces. The deck introduces the idea of linking a picture of a place with a caption characterizing the place as a "good place" to do a certain action, plus the idea of assessing such designations (agree/disagree using thumbs-up or thumbs-down).

Technology Tips

If possible, teacher should accompany this slide set with live input in the form of a DIALOGUE with a native speaker in the form of "Say, do you know [place X that is visible in this picture]?" "Sure." "What can you do at [place X]?" "Well, you can eat there." "Eat?" "Yeah, eat." "Ohhh, so [place X is a good place to eat." "Yes, it's a good place to eat." etc.

Task Extension

The latter part of the slide deck introduces judgment tasks that query the viewer about the suitability of certain places for certain actions. The teacher should hang back and try to elicit agreement/disagreement.

Managing the Project

Exploring with your team, picture-taking

Part of the Public Product is photos of public spaces that are "good places to" do certain activities. With this idea in mind, plus the idea from the Entry Event that there might be culturally determined differences in the perceotion of "good places to" do certain things, the learners fan out in teams / pairs to explore an environment (in our case it was a university campus that was new to most of the learners) and take pictures that could be used in the Public Product. No worksheets were provided for this portion, which was scheduled as a continuation of the lunch hour; participants were assigned to return from their expedition with some pictures ready for captioning.

Technology Tips

Participants can use handheld devices for this portion with the proviso that the photos should be easily transferable from the device afterward via email or other messaging, or transfer via physical media such as a thumb drive. 

(Teacher task) Contact language consultants and outline interaction protocol

This letter to language consultants/informants would probably best be rendered in the target language. The idea is to orient the consultants to best practices for language teaching such as giving the learner a little time to struggle (not jumping in too fast), staying in the target language as much as possible, etc.

Technology Tips

Email may be the best medium for this messaging; alternatively, a phone conversation could serve the same function.

Interview Chinese-speaking language consultants

Learners arrive at this stage having returned from their picture-taking expedition and at least one idea for captioning an image they have collected. The objective in this stage is for the learners to obtain the language they need to caption their picture as "A good place to..." First, the teacher goes over the scaffolding sheet and reiterates the limited objective of this stage, stressing the importance of coming away from the interview with BOTH Chinese characters and Pinyin for their desired caption. The teacher, having pre-arranged the availability of the native speaking informant(s) -- naturally, the teacher can also serve as an informant -- turns the teams loose to conduct the interviews.

Technology Tips

It might be possible to arrange for the interviews to take place via web conferencing technology such as appear.in or Google Hangouts; however, an alternative delivery method for the product (the Chinese characters and Pinyin) would have to be thought through.

Work on first slideshow

Working in a computer lab (or on laptops), participants access a common document -- in our case, a Google Slides deck -- that has been prepared as a "container" for the Public Product. Their task consists in (1) locating the slide designated for their team; (2) each team member placing an image on the slide and typing a caption for the image, relying on the written language artifact they obtained through their interview in the previous step; (3) team members supporting one another's work in real time. A technical guide is provided as support.

(Teacher task) Administer bi-national poll to obtain ratings on "Good places to..."

In this very short (2-day) version of this project design, this step was completed by the teacher in between Day 1 and Day 2 so that learners could move quickly to the following step of "deeper inquiry," i.e., uncovering cultural differences. In an alternative version of this project, the building and administering of the survey could be made part of the student task set. The idea is that each of the paired images+captions in the student-created slideshow is ported to TWO versions of a survey -- one version in the target language for completion by respondents recruited in the target-language country, and the other version in the language of the learners' home country for completion by "locals." Each image+caption pair is presented with the prompt, "Rate your agreement." Respondents use a Likert scale or other rating device to rate their agreement that the place shown in the picture is "A good place to" do whatever activity the learner has labeled the picture with. In this version of the project, the survey respondents were recruited in advance and requested to complete the survey in a specified time window between Day 1 and Day 2 of the project. Results from each set of respondents (in this case, USA results and China results) were ported to documents for review by the learners in the next step.

Technology Tips

For surveys to be conducted in China, a Chinese survey tool is the best choice. Google services are not available in China.

Tabulate survey results and add to captions

In this stage, learners work with the teacher to view and tabulate survey results that have come in overnight (see previous step). Then, working with a slide deck that provided technical guidance as well as a "Deeper Inquiry" language scaffolding sheet, teams collaborate to add the survey results for each image+caption to their slide deck, so that each caption now reads "Is this a good place to [do activity X]? Out of [number of] Chinese respondents, [number] agreed. Out of [number of] American respondents, [number] agreed." This step helps fulfill the potential of the Public Product to inspire reflection in the readership on differing cultural values.

Technology Tips

Paperless distribution of the survey results is an option; on the other hand, having a paper copy may facilitate viewing of the survey results and the Public Product slide deck simultaneously.

Presentation of slide deck to native audience

Having created this more sophisticated version of the slide deck that now includes information on the responses from members of the two cultures, the learners generate questions they want to ask a native speaker of Chinese via a group Skype call to that person in China. They are also offered the option to ask the question themselves orally during the Skype call. The instructor prepares custom cue-cards for these brave learners.

The Skype interview marks the endpoint of this mini-project. When this project was implemented, as a "thought experiment" connected to a possible expanded version of the project, the instructor recorded the Skype interview so that the videorecording could potentially serve as raw material for more language learning. In retrospect, the learners said that the footage would probably not be good "next step" material, so this idea should probably be rejected.

Technology Tips

A web conferencing system or Skype makes a suitable platform for a "call" from the entire class to a native-speaking informant. Consider the time difference when making your appointment!

Assessment

Ongoing self-assessment

"Worksheet: Evaluation and Assessment Day 1" and "Worksheet: Evaluation and Assessment Day 2" are designed to be completed in sections, block by block, as the learners move through the stages of their project work. The rubrics and other prompts for self-assessment are designed to assess

  • the learner's perception of value (=their evaluation of the project design)
  • their knowledge and skills as they gain language (proficiency and/or declarative knowledge about language)
  • their procedural work on the project, such as how well team members worked together (=21st Century Skills)
  • their reflection on their own progress.

Technology Tips

N/A (use paper)

Implementation Info

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