Wednesday, March 20, 2013

More on Freshman Chinese at Tunghai

About six and a half years ago, when this blog had another name, I posted a response to Kerim Friedman's comments about "Freshman Chinese"in which I described a project carried out by the Chinese Department at Tunghai designed to turn the first-year required Chinese course into more of a balanced reading and writing course. (Their official title is 中文, which simply translates to "Chinese.") Some of the goals of the course, as I noted then, were mentioned in the English abstract for the project proposal. They included the following:
The goal of Freshman Chinese is aimed at improving student’s language skills. However, the average size of 60 students per class makes it impossible for any teacher to help the students efficiently. Therefore, we decided to reduce the class size down to 30 students in the reading & writing class. For the first two years, we plan to offer 12 classes for the incoming students in the six different colleges, namely, the Colleges of Arts, Management, Social Science, Engineering, Science, and Agriculture. These classes focus on writing, but the theme and reading materials for each class is designed by individual instructor based on his or her specialty. We feel that this arrangement would allow individual instructor to demonstrate his or her teaching skills in a more effective way. Student writing could be creative or expository depending on the nature of the assigned topics. Each student is required to hand in at least 4 short papers and one research paper with substantial length each semester.
Six years later, it looks like the program is still going, according to this webpage (Chinese). During the spring 2013 semester, there are 66 sections of first-year Chinese, of which 23 are classified as sections meant to reinforce or strengthen students' writing (加強寫作班). These sections are limited to 30 students (other sections can have up to 60 or more students).

There's a page linking to student writing, as well. I haven't gone through all of this writing (though it looks like it would be an interesting project), but I did glance at some of the essay titles from some of the colleges (the students are divided into courses by college, such as the College of Business, the College of Agriculture, etc.). In particular, I was trying to get a quick idea of the kinds of essays students were being asked to write. My interest came out of a recent article in College Composition and Communication in which the authors--Patrick Sullivan, Yufeng Zhang, and Fenglan Zheng--compare and contrast the teaching of college writing in the US and China. Zheng suggests that Chinese writing instruction stresses the aesthetic and stylistic qualities of writing--student writers should "observe and reflect consciously, describe scenes vividly, articulate thoughts and emotions accurately, and organize an essay strategically" (323--interesting parallel structure in that quote).

I was curious to see if the Chinese writing instruction at Tunghai had a similar focus, or if something else was going on. I was particularly curious to see if there was any kind of Writing in the Disciplines (WID) writing instruction in which students in, for instance, the College of Engineering might learn how to write like engineers. Judging from the quick look I took at the titles of some of the sample student writing, though, it appears that there isn't a lot of that going on, though there appears to be a variety of essay types being written. While there appears to be a lot of the more aesthetic sanwen (散文) being written, there are also some more persuasive texts, like some essays I found arguing about whether the death penalty should be abolished in Taiwan. (One that I looked at was written by a math major, another by a life sciences major, and the third by a chemical biology major.)

I also found the program-wide goals, or "Core Competencies," for these Freshman Chinese classes. They are the following:

1 分析問題與欣賞文藝,提升個人對文學藝術的知性和感性能力
2 掌握語文表達能力
3 具備思辨的內涵和能力
4 對應各學院特色的語文應用能力

This basically roughly translates as follows (corrections appreciated):
1) Analyze problems and appreciate literature, raise personal intellectual ability and sensitivity toward literary art
2) Master linguistic communicative abilities
3) Become equipped with critical thinking skills
4) Language proficiencies that correspond to the characteristics of each college

I was particularly curious about that last core competency, so I looked at the course descriptions for the 23 spring 2013 courses described as "加強寫作班" (courses focused on strengthening writing). Of the 23 course descriptions, 13 were described as helping students become linguistically proficient in ways that would correspond to their college's needs or characteristics. Of course, it's hard to tell what individual teachers mean by this--how they see their courses corresponding to those goals. Some courses seemed to be working with literary texts, even though the students were all from the College of Engineering. Not that engineers shouldn't read and write about literary texts--but I didn't see anything in that particular syllabus that seemed to correspond to the writing needs of engineers.

The course materials and sample student essays look interesting, though, and I'll have to take a closer look at them when I get a chance. It would also be interesting to see how this kind of writing instruction compares with Chinese writing instruction in other schools in Taiwan, and with writing instruction in Chinese universities.

Update, 4/5/13: I found a student essay entitled "巨大能量伴隨著巨大災害-核能運用的反思" ("Enormous Energy Accompanied by Enormous Disaster: A Reflection on the Use of Nuclear Energy") that cites a quote by Einstein. (This essay was written by a philosophy major.)

I also found an essay entitled "從<嘉平公子>看蒲松齡的社會背景與愛情觀" ("Seeing Pu Songling's Social Background and Views on Love from 'The Young Gentleman from Jiaping'") that has a 9 endnotes and an extensive bibliography of works cited and consulted. Another essay "探討<霍小玉>中所映照的唐代社會" (An Exploration of Tang Dynasty Society as Reflected in Huo Xiaoyu"), written for the same professor, also looks like a research paper. These are both analyzing literary works in relation to their social contexts (and they were both written by students in the Chinese Department).

So there are at least three essays that look like academic essays in which outside sources are footnoted and listed in bibliographies. There might be more, but I haven't had time to go through all of the essays. (Note that I'm not being critical of the other types of writings in this collection--the sanwen and poetry, for example--I'm just trying to get a sense of the range of genres in these "加強寫作班.")

No comments: