Our children live in a time when the world’s economies and cultures are becoming increasingly interconnected and interdependent. The ability to communicate across cultural and linguistic boundaries is more essential than ever. Presently, China is an influential player on the global stage; thus, individuals with Mandarin language skills and abilities are now a highly valuable resource in many professional areas. A Shu Ren graduate will be fluent in Mandarin and English, two of the three most spoken languages in the world, and therefore well-positioned to thrive in the global community of the 21st century. Additionally, studies show that bilingualism strengthens a child’s cognitive development, makes them more flexible thinkers, and benefits their long-term academic achievement. Bilingualism also strengthens children's social, emotional, and interpersonal development. Furthermore, Mandarin Chinese is a deeply complex and rich language that allows speakers to understand an entirely new world of cultures, traditions, and communication that greatly differ from western romance languages. In addition to bilingual communication, students at Shu Ren International School receive the gift of greater access to the global community.
The decision to start learning written Mandarin via simplified or traditional characters, can be somewhat difficult considering the history and development of the Chinese language. At Shu Ren International School, we have chosen to utilize simplified characters for a number of reasons. Of the approximately 6500 commonly used Chinese characters, only about 2200 are different in terms of simplified or traditional forms. Moreover, the current versions of simplified characters are often adaptations of ancient characters that have been used throughout Chinese history. Simplified characters are much more prevalent throughout the Mandarin speaking world, as they are used by the population of mainland China and an increasing number of people in other global Chinese communities in print, on the Internet, and within the professional world. Thus, learning and mastering simplified characters enables our students to effectively communicate with more individuals and groups, successfully navigate increasingly complex cultural environments, and improve their overall Mandarin language literacy.
Studies have shown that smaller class sizes (especially those with fewer than 20 students) benefit students’ long-term academic achievement, while reducing discipline issues in the classrooms. Small class sizes prohibit any one student from falling behind in their studies, being pushed beyond their ability level, or not being challenged enough. Shu Ren’s small class size allows for differentiated learning, where students can work and progress at their own pace and work more effectively as individuals, pairs, or within groups. Shu Ren students receive a great deal of individualized attention from teachers, which also contributes to more meaningful and positive social interaction with their peers and teachers.
An inquiry-based curriculum differs from traditional learning methods by focusing on asking questions, exploring complex topics, and independently arriving at answers and solutions. Inquiry-based learning is student-centered, encourages in-depth exploration of critical topics, and provides the tools and environment to fulfill a child’s individual potential. Shu Ren’s inquiry-based curriculum builds students’ problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, fosters a love of learning, and creates enthusiastic lifelong learners.
Dr. Moore was first attracted to the IB as a curriculum model due to the system offering programs for students aged 3-19, the established history of the program, and the overall comprehensive philosophy of the program which includes educating the whole child, inquiry based learning, and creating an environment of international mindedness. The IB curriculum is the premiere choice of over 3,000 schools in almost 150 countries due to the curriculum’s focus on students’ individual achievement and global contribution. The International Baccalaureate Organization aims “... to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect...Our programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.” In terms of language learning, the IB mandates that all teachers are language teachers, requiring that schools, “... make provisions for students to learn a language, in addition to the language of instruction…” At Shu Ren, we provide a Mandarin immersion environment, as well as introductory Spanish starting in grade 3. The IB goes beyond teaching self management, academic, and social skills; it creates students who thrive and continuously enjoy learning in a complex modern environment that consists of differing perspectives, traditions, values, beliefs, and practices. The IB is a wonderful program not just for families who enjoy an international background or lifestyle, but also for those families who value perspectives and experiences that differ from their own. Through a combination of structured inquiry, experiential learning, and provisions made by the IB for enforcing language learning at all levels, Shu Ren International School is equipped to provide your child with the best education for a modern world.
All of the above stated curriculums share the same goal in preparing children to be successful modern global citizens and lifelong learners. Due to the prevalence of Montessori Schools in the Bay Area, the Montessori curriculum is frequently compared to the IB curriculum; thus, we have provided this info-graphic courtesy of the Seneca Academy to provide a visual representation of the main differences between the two curriculums. The IB curriculum has teachers act as facilitators that focus on measurable knowledge and outcomes as opposed to solely focusing on individual student motivation. Furthermore, the IB curriculum is a globally focused program that can and does go hand in hand with our school’s organizational philosophy or mission, while other curriculum types have more focused program related practices regardless of the degree of international culture and global awareness embodied in the organization. The IB classroom usually includes students of one age group while other curriculum types, such as Montessori, may have two or more age groups within one classroom setting. Another defining attribute of the IB is that programs are available for students from the ages of 3 through 19; while other programs may not encompass as many age groups.
All school programs, regardless of academic curriculum or philosophy, tend to see variability in student achievement in any given subject. At Shu Ren, our students consistently match or outperform their counterparts in monolingual educational environments. Factors such as familial environment, time invested, and outside exposure all play a part. We see students that consistently outperform their counterparts in general education, as well as students needing a period of adjustment. Research shows that a language immersion environment actually reinforces long term cognitive development. After three to four years of consistent participation in a language immersion program, students typically do as well as or better in English than their peers in monolingual programs.
Even if a language is spoken at home, most children regress or even stop speaking that language as they develop socially and academically in a monolingual English language environment. Maintaining an immersion environment consistently is important in language retention as the child does not only learn within the home environment, but also by interacting with their peers, teachers, and community members in the target language. Furthermore, fluency in reading and writing Chinese characters is extremely difficult to accomplish without intensive academic training.
At Shu Ren, we value parents’ interest and desire to be a part of their children’s learning. We also find it to be one of the most important determining factors regarding individual student success. We anticipate that most families will not speak Mandarin Chinese regularly or at all within the home environment. With this in mind, the school provides ample opportunity for parents to learn about school curriculum expectations and opportunities to support individual learning outside of the classroom. We have a daily after-school homework club where students can gain extra help from teachers regarding their Mandarin language homework. Furthermore, parents are always welcome to discuss their child’s learning with teachers. A few specific ways for parents to support their child’s Mandarin-learning outside of school are: (1) Always be there to support your child even when they run into difficulties and challenges. Make sure that they understand that learning a new language is not always easy. But with hard work, they can be successful. (2) Work with the school to ensure that they finish their work on time in school and at home. If they don’t know how to complete a Mandarin language homework assignment, please make sure that they get help from the school by attending the after-school homework club or from their teachers. (3) Try to provide as many opportunities as possible for your child to be exposed to Chinese language and culture. The bay area has a wealth of local organizations, events, communities, and programs that can foster Mandarin language development outside of the classroom, please don’t hesitate to ask us for suggestions!
At Shu Ren International School we have adopted the Montreal Model of Language Immersion. Below are the language percentages through the grades.
Preschool: approximately 100% Mandarin
Grades K-1: approximately 20% English – 80% Mandarin
Grade 2: approximately 40% English – 60% Mandarin
Grades 3-5: approximately 50% English – 50% Mandarin