Luyi Zhang, Breakthrough New Haven

Luyi Zhang, Breakthrough New Haven

Luyi Zhang
Breakthrough New Haven
Teaching Chinese! (Mandarin dialect)
Attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology

On our first day of orientation, the entire Breakthrough New Haven teacher and teaching-assistant team went out onto a ropes course and spent a full day doing team-building activities, surmounting tall wooden walls, and traversing across planks and wires strung higher than 30 feet above ground. We started from the simplest verbal get-to-know you games, then slowly progressed to supporting each other as we trembled across the high wires. The process of trusting each other occurred so seemingly naturally, almost without thinking, but at the end, the ropes course leaders explained to us the importance of actively building a safe -- supportive and trustworthy -- community within each of our classrooms. This made so much sense - we learn most optimally when we don't have to worry about being wrong or being judged or misinterpreted. When I am teaching this summer, I will take special care to cultivate a safe and supportive environment inside my classroom, at lunch with my advisees, and in all the interactions I have with my students.

Earlier this week, my department had the pleasure of learning from Helene Rassias for two days! Helene is the daughter of John Rassias, the founder of the interactive and enthusiastic Rassias Method of language instruction, and she is absolutely phenomenal. She led us through many workshops that were engaging, high-energy, yet highly instructional. All the Rassias methods are done completely in the language being taught, using no English but ample colorful pictures, energetic acting, and a high level of student involvement. In one exercise, the teacher acts out a sentence slowly, then starts from the end of the sentence and says it twice to the students, who repeat it back twice, and then the teacher randomly gestures (using the voice-snap-point sequence) to students to repeat the phrase back to them individually. Then, the teacher says it twice to the students again and the students repeat it back twice as a group. After a few repetitions, the students will not only know the entire sentence with accuracy; they will have a strong, confident understanding of what it means. This is what is most valuable about the Rassias methods.