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.
“…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.
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’.
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.