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Learning by Doing Guides Partnership between Kindergarten and Middle School Students
Rachel Freeman, Editorial Manager


When kindergarten teachers Paul Knight, Rashida Blade, and Shelly Whittet saw an opportunity to celebrate the Chinese language, culture, and identity, they reached out to Middle School Mandarin teacher Ting Zhang. 

“Our class has several students who speak Mandarin at home, and they have been eager to bring their heritage language into the classroom,” said Shelly.

After being approached, Ting jumped into action immediately and excitedly. She joined the Golden Butterflies class to lead a language lesson, helping students count and learn words through Mandarin-only instruction and lots of gestures. She also answered student questions and read a story.

During the lesson, one student wondered about the origins of languages. Another asked, “Why do you speak Chinese?” to which Ting replied, “Why do you speak English?” Shelly added, “You could see the wheels turning as the students’ eyes grew wide with wonder.”

The lesson was so well received by the kindergartners that students continued talking about it days later. “Students have brought up things she shared,” Shelly said. “We were discussing the meanings of the word inspire during our DaVinci study. One student noted that Ting taught us that the modern character for the word sun was inspired by a drawing of the sun.”

Just before Thanksgiving, the kindergartners made the trek up to the “big-kid classrooms” to hear a presentation from the Middle School Mandarin students. Middle schoolers creatively taught their younger peers how to say and write some Mandarin words. “Repetition and full-body movement were great for kinders!” Shelly said.

“This is such a valuable example of a learning-by-doing opportunity for my students,” Ting said. “As a teacher, it is so exciting to observe how students are able to apply what they have learned into a real-life situation.”

Teachers reported that kindergartners with Chinese heritage were thrilled to feel connected. Shelly reflected, “I so appreciate being part of a school and a teaching team consciously working to make each student seen and valued, both as a unique individual and as an integral part of the community.”

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