The Whole Forest Symphony

Symphony, as defined in Webster dictionary, is the consonance or harmony of color.

Its synonyms are balance, symmetry, harmony, unity, which are the design elements that we learned about in the first few weeks of our class.

So as a world language teacher, what does the ‘symphony’ thinking skill means to me?

Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century (1999) identified “The Five Cs” as the pillars in the standards-based instruction in the world languages classroom. They are Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities.

National Standards of Foreign Language in 21st Century

National Standards for Foreign Language Learning in 21st Century

“…is the ability to put together the pieces…”     ~Daniel Pink

Communication emphasizes what the learners can do with the language so that they can communicate by listening, speaking, reading and writing; and share ideas with each other.

Cultures provide the opportunity for learners to develops a better understanding and appreciation of the relationship between a language and the culture of the given language.

It is not until we understand the culture of the native speaker’s language, do we understand some of the underlined significance of culturally appropriate expressions or behaviors. As the language teacher, my job is not only to teach them the pronunciation, the vocabulary and the grammar only, but to also share with them the rich culture of the people for them to develop the ability to connect the origin and the outcome.

One of the most discussed differences between the eastern and western family structures is how the society views the family dynamics between adult children and the parents.  In the westerners’ eye, it is considered ‘odd’ when an adult child, especially a son, still lives with the parents, let alone a married couple still live with the in-laws. While the western culture encourages independence and individualism, the Chinese culture holds a deep regard to the Confucian philosophy of filial piety which is a virtue of respecting one’s parents and ancestors. Living with the parents or in-laws is precisely one of the ways to show respect and to look after them on a daily basis.

“…to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields…”        ~Daniel Pink

Connections is about connecting the study of the world language with content of other subjects such as math, music, science, etc.  There is endless opportunities for world language teachers to collaborate and team up with teachers in other discipline on joint projects which allow learners from both disciplines cross-learn some aspects of the subjects and maximize their

appreciation of the enriched curriculum. I often team up with visual arts and dance teachers to integrate performing arts and visual arts elements in my curriculum. There are also units that integrate science and social studies with the target language.


Joined lesson with Dance class.


Joined lesson with Visual Arts class.

Comparisons is about encouraging learners to compare and contrast the languages, the practices and the products between the target language and the native language.

Many Chinese speakers have a hard time using ‘he/him/his’ and ‘she/her/her’ correctly when they speak English.  It is because in Chinese, while ‘he’ and ‘she’ are represented by two different characters, they share the same pronunciation. It becomes a challenging effort to differentiate them in speaking English.

Many non-Chinese speakers find it bothersome when encounter such error from a Chinese speaker, and misunderstanding occurs. Once we develop the understanding of the cause, we will be more empathetic about the grammatical error, and will be more receptive to the actual content of what the speaker tries to convey.

“…to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair..”        ~Daniel Pink

Communities, as the last pillar in the Standards, is about extending the learning experience from the classroom to the community, as well as being a life long learner who can continue the learning on their own after they leave the language learning program.  As a teacher, it is my job to sustain that curiosity and desire to learn, and to help the learner to acquire the skills to learn on their own.  It is different from the way I was taught where the teacher’s job is to ‘spoon feed’.


Field trip to local Chinese grocer,
learning outside of classroom.


Reading the label in target language.

A well-equipped language lab used to be the ‘technology’ for a world language program in most schools not too long ago.  In 21st Century classroom, the technology has evolved to interacting globally via the internet with web 2.0 tools over the cloud.

Education, particularly in Asia, is a competitive field where students constantly compete with each other for good grades and to get in top-ranked universities. The concept of collaborating was virtually unheard of. However, one of the 21st Century skills is collaboration – a very foreign concept for many native Chinese teachers, and definitely a challenge to be taken into account when creating lesson plans.

“…to produce a unified and pleasing sound.”               ~Daniel Pink

Symphony thinking is about establishing relationships. It enhances language and presentation skills. To be an effective world language teacher, it is imperative that we embrace Pinks’ symphony aptitude to achieve that whole new mind, and find a whole new approach in curriculum design. Just as it is not about the bassoon player or the first violinist but with the entire orchestra (Pink, A Whole New Mind), it is not about any particular tree, but about fostering the ability to see the forest when it comes to teaching a foreign language.

Must consider sound effects !!!


I felt pretty good after I completed the Shoe Story even though it seemed like it was a painful experience battling with one of  SoundCloud’s links to be embedded on the post.  I was pleased with the purity and cleanness of the audio which matches the student who was doing the storytelling.

But after the Studio session, I have learned to see the production from another angle. Going with the original idea of a sort-of-a radio show interviewing a budding media-artist, a jingle in the beginning annoSoundEffects5uncing the start of the program and a musical fade-out at the end for a closure would have been a nice finishing touch.

As the story teller speaks of the crowd in the mall, I could add some hustle-sound-effects1bustle crowd sound in the background to set the atmosphere.


Even when the story gets to the point about tossing out the old shoes, I could think of a way to record and incorporate the sounds of a garbage truck engine approaching, braking, the movement of the mechanical ‘arm’ reaching out from the truck grabbing the trash can,  and finally leaving. That will certainly bring some life to part 1.  garbageTruck

Part 2 of the interview is more of the storyteller’s own reflection on his work.  Will sound or music be effective there?  I cannot think of any appropriate sound to be added to the background, but perhaps a couple measures of light music in between to allow some breathing or thinking space for the audience.

sound-effects2Jenn’s series of audio clips documenting her day with her daughter is very enlightening.  I have learned that it is a very organic style of telling a story, yet it conveys so much even though some tracks are just pure sound of what’s happening in the surrounding without anyone talking, such as the dishing washing, the baby crying ….

Sound – is a wonderful element! Must consider sounds in the next project.


(Darn it, I just thought about this…, should have presented this reflection in an audio clip and added some sound effects…. That would have been great lesson learned! )

Graphics borrowed from:







A shoe story …. not that shoe story….

Bring to you live from Chapel Hill, here is Wesley….. and the Shoe story

<enter commercial break>

not-so-happy shoe.. worn-out... to be replaced...

not-so-happy shoe.. worn-out… replaced…

<return from commercial break>

reflecting on the Shoe Story process...

reflecting on the Shoe Story process…

Interviewer: Vanessa (genuinely interested in the subject)

Interviewee: Wesley (a 3rd year Media Studies student)

Recording device: iphone5

Tech-tools used:

  • GarageBand – (my Audacity was not working at the time)
  1. I edited out some of the ‘like, like, like, …’ !
  2. I played with fade-in/fade-out, but did not like the result so I un-did the attempts,
  3. I broke the interview into Part 1 and Part 2. My original concern was that the audio clip might be too long. But after I separated the track, I was really pleased at the result. The most part of Part 1 is to tell the story, and an narration of how the artist went about arranging for the videography. Part 1 ends strategically  on a thought provoking reflective phrase how to personify things like put themselves into other people’s shoes!  It provides a great segue into Part 2 which is mainly a reflection and self-assessment on the artist’s part.
  4. During the interview, there are noticeable camera shutter sounds (those are my sound effects, no…, just kidding… :D). Those were the two photographs I took using the same recording device. I considered tweaking/minimizing the sounds but, at the end, decided to leave them there because they add a little curiosity and whimsicality there.
  • SoundCloud
  1. It was easy to drop a sound file into the Cloud. Cris did a great job scaffolding the skills that we need for this project by giving us an exit task on SoundCloud after the class meeting last Thursday.
  2. However, embedding the audio track in WordPress is a bit challenging. I did exactly the same thing for both tracks, but one showed up in WordPress, while the other consistently displayed the link only.
    same technique, two results !

    same technique, two results !

    All these links....!! Which one is for WordPress?

    All these links….!! Which one is for WordPress?

  3. When I ‘share’d the track from SoundCloud, it gave me a popup with three options: Link, Widget Code, WordPress Code. Guess which one I chose the first time? Of course, #3! Isn’t that obvious!? The one that is dedicated to WordPress! Well, surprisingly, that one did not work. I then went to #2, then #1, I even tried the ‘pencil’, and the ‘Short’ link…. The result? I either got the same URL when ‘preview’ed, or nothing at all… the code completely disappeared after I returned to the editor.
  4. I Googled for expert opinions, I visited discussion forums…, thank goodness, I wasn’t the only one that experienced this kind of problem. But at the end of two hours of exploration, I finally sent out an S.O.S. , and went to sleep.
  5. I came back to WordPress the next day, and suddenly…. both tracks were embedded nicely in my blog! (I did not change a thing!!) >.<, The SoundCloud Genie must have come out last night to the rescue!!!
  6. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will remain this way tomorrow!

Design elements attempted

  1. Trimming: the two ends, and some extended pauses were trimmed.
  2. Silence: Having silence in an interview does not work for me. I think it has its place definitely in a play or drama for building up the emotions, tension, etc. But this particular story is part-story-part-documentary.
  3. Fade in/ fade out, cross-fade: I attempted these, but decided that they were too distracting.
  4. Sound effects/music: I considered these briefly and forewent. Why? Here is my logic. Since this is a college student’s assignment, I intended to keep it at its purest form, most down-to-earth, honest, unscripted. I want the story to be told unedited. To match  his status as a student and to maintain a sense of academia, I consciously made an effect to have nothing fancy, nothing ‘dressed up’.  I was after the ‘transparent’ sound… of … sincerity and genuinity. The Art of Foley sound effects video is quite inspiring. It adds a very professional and sleek finish to the production. That will be for another time, another story.

If you are interest …… here is Wesley’s finished video production. Oh, the requirement for the assignment: Sounds Not Allowed!! 



Ooops! I did it again…..  (・_・;)

I wandered into the kitchen to get a snack, and was completely distracted by the surrounding dots, lines, planes, shapes, and textures….  Not a moment wasted, I started snapping with my iPhone. What just happened here? The kitchen did not change. In fact, I haven’t cleaned it up for several days now…  But suddenly, my visual sensory is super sensitive now…. I am NOTICing things… these things… called design elements!!

I imported the pictures to my Mac, and started identifying … this is pattern, this is texture, no…, wait, that is variety, and this is pattern…. hmmm, can this be both pattern and movement?  Hey, did I just kill two birds with 1 stone?!!

A quick chat with Cris the next day brought clarity. You see, I was supposed to have a clear target first before I hunt for the object, hence, the ‘safari’!! e.g. I should put a target on my radar, say, pattern, and then put on my night-vision to find an object that represents pattern.  No problem, here we go…..

Let’s see…. refrigerator, what’s in there….?

voilà, a dozen eggs…! alRIGHT!!!

Pattern !!

Pattern !!

Now, I’m on my way…. to design…!

wordleElements2This assignment turned out to be a lot of fun paying attention to the surrounding objects, taking pictures, trying out the lighting, flash-on, flash-off, zoom…?

Ah… don’t forget the Rule of Thirds, the Rule of Perspective,….

The Oatmeal for YinYang Balance is a play of positioning myself and the angle of iphone in my hand. Wallwisher does not seem to accommodate vertical image, and it rotates my original to a horizontal image yielding a sunrise effect. Here is the original.

Play with positioning myself and my iPhone.

Play with positioning myself and my iPhone.

Emphasis: Vaseline effect to bring out the center.

Emphasis: Vaseline effect to bring out the center.

I was very pleased to acquire the Vaseline effect on the circumference of the Barley. Can you guess how I accomplished that?

effect from shift the angle again

effect from shifting the angle again … slowly

Another interesting kaleidoscope effect on the Barley.

a creamy texture!

a creamy, yet chunky texture!


Pattern ?

I really like the creamy, yet chunky texture on the guacamole, although it didn’t make it to my wall – because texture is not one of the 10 elements! So I am sharing it here.

A sprig of cilantro would have been a nice garnish to add some lively green to it.

Another vertical image that Wallwisher decides to rotate to horizontal.  So  it is left off the wall.

I am displaying it here for reference.

Is it still a pattern that the holders are not all occupied with bottles?

I must have taken 50 shots trying to capture the split nanosecond of water drops leaving the faucet on its way to the white bowl. Can you hear the rhythm too? It was surreal-ly zen-like!

The white bowl does not do any justice to the actual splatter caused by the force of the tiny water drops. Perhaps a blue glass bowl next time…. If you look (/listen) very closely, you can see (/hear) the tiny ripples it creates.

I got rhythm, I got music, who can ask for anything more…?

I am almost done… two more to go…

Movement… movement… what’s moving in my kitchen…

Aha! Got it!! Flame!! Of course !!!

The most primitive energy…fire!! I need it to cook! The flame heads upwards, always! To capture it, I tried a few shots during the day, and again later at night.

natural light from window

Daytime, natural light from window.

Rule of Thirds!!!

I got it!!

At Night, with peripheral light from the far left.

At Night, with peripheral light from the far left.

Up, up, and away… !!!

You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life… dig in the Dancing Flame

I must say that I like the effect at night, with a soft peripheral light from far left behind me. I also decided that the flash light must be turned off, otherwise, it white-washes the beautiful purple center… and yields a pale sheen on the grill. (Ugh.. who needs THAT!)

in darkness

In darkness.

With all the lights gone, in complete darkness. The flame looks a little eerie to me. The surrounding lacks definition.

Proportion is the last one I worked on…

I was planning to stop by the local market and rearrange some of the fruits in the produce section for the effect … but … suddenly (literally … as I am typing this….), here is the result! (I don’t use these measuring cups often, almost forgot that I have them.)



Last but not least, please indulge me a little for explaining the 8 Treasures Soup.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine principles, food makes natural tonics to good health when you prepare it right. The “Eight Treasures Soup”  is a dessert or snack which is consumed like winter tonic food on wintry days such as Winter Solstice and Chinese New Year.  The original recipe calls for eight ingredients.  The number eight is a lucky number in the Chinese culture.    Different versions of the eight treasures yield different properties for healing.  But essentially, it is all about balancing the energy (i.e. qi or chi, as we know it in U.S. ) and boost immune power. Key ingredients include red bean, red dates, lotus seeds, longan, sweet rice, millet (I used Brown Rice), Orange Peel, and brown rock sugar.  Some call it “Eight Treasures Congee” because of the inclusion of sweet rice and millet or brown rice.

The journey from ingredients to center piece.

The journey from ingredients to center piece.

I first arranged the 8 treasures in small cups for the pattern elements. Then added them to the boiling water which calmed the water down. Brought it to a boil again – this was captured with a series of boils that were intensified progressively – yielding the graduation effect. To achieve the visual effect of graduation, the photos were carefully re-sized, and the spaces between the photos also grow with the size of each photo.  Two Wallwisher posts were used to extend the length, i.e. denoting the ‘journey‘. The final outcome was placed in the center of the happy circle along with the 7 accompanying ingredients (one of ingredients was depleted in the journey //_o\). On hind sight, I should probably have taken a close up on the soup alone as the grand finale.  Nonetheless, Bon Appetit!

Enjoy my wall, iDesign . . .

what about design?

I first saw the poster in the local Apple store, and I fell in love with it instantly!

It reminds me of Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell.

Despite of being called genius, crazy ones, outliers…, these are individuals who are committed, engaged, and possess a great amount of perseverance! They don’t follow the status quo, they don’t follow the norm. But, they make a difference!

How would I make a difference…? By communicating effectively… via visual communication!

Design, to me, used to be an intuition,… at a moment,…. spontaneous.  I knew I was missing something, but what?

St. Clair’s explanation of Visual Grammar and Visual Principles showed me a new perspective in understanding design. The Visual Space actually has its organization!

The discussion on the left and right hemispheres (note 2) helped me understand why left-brain dominant people sometimes have such difficulties understand the right-brain counterparts.

Gestalt claimed that human beings have the natural ability to organize images based on similarity, proximity and others. And mostly the interpretation can be drawn from personal experience and familiarity.

With these in mind, I am starting to see my surroundings differently now. To start off, my two favorite artists immediately came into focus, Kandinsky (1866-1944) and Mondrian (1872-1944). Their compositions portray a series of emphasis on colors, patterns, repetition, balance, …..

Kandinsky Pattern, Variety

Kandinsky Pattern, Variety


Kandinsky was also an accomplished musician, he used color in a highly theoretical way associating hue with pitch, and saturation with the volume of sound. He even claimed that when he saw color he heard music.

Kandinsky - variety, unity

Kandinsky – Variety, Unity

Mondrian Proportion, Rhythm

Mondrian Proportion, Rhythm


Mondrian believed it is possible that, through horizontal and vertical lines constructed with awareness, but not with calculation, led by high intuition, and brought to harmony and rhythm, these basic forms of beauty, supplemented if necessary by other direct lines or curves, can become a work of art.]

Mondrian Rhythm, irregular,proximity,

Mondrian – Rhythm, Irregular, Proximity,

Wright lines,pattern,harmony

Wright – Lines, Pattern, Harmony


In the same timeframe, Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) also playfully employed straight lines and colors into his works.

Wright variety,emphasis

Wright – Variety, Emphasis

As a teacher of the Chinese Language, I am more reminded of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences which suggested the natural intelligence of each individual determines how one best learns. It is critically important that my instructional design includes the variety of visual principles to aid my visual communication with the students. Particularly when it comes to explaining the etymology of the characters, I must draw their attention to the visual elements of each characters. Design, as Daniel Pink puts it, is utility enhanced by significance! … and I’ll be on my way to change the world!

The following two video clips explain the significance of understanding the etymology of characters for anyone who may be interested to know a little about Chinese characters.


Note 1: St. Clair explained that Visual Grammar distinguishes dot, line, shape, space, color, texture, value and form, and these elements are further arranged into Visual Principles of Unity/Harmony, Variety, Balance, Emphasis, Rhythm, Movement, Pattern, Graduaion and Proportion. Visual thinking is spatial thinking. Bicognitive refers to the ability in visual thinking as well as linear thinking. Arnheim noted that artistic expression is a form of reasoning.

Note 2: The left hemisphere is specialized for linear thinking, logic and analytical abilities. The right hemisphere is involved with  concrete thinking, processing of spatial patterns relations and transformations. It appreciate the complexity in complex sounds, music, voices and tones, and face recognition.  The right hemisphere is the imaginative and creative part of the brain.