Are you about to embark on your first year teaching AP Chinese?
Or perhaps you’ve taught Chinese before, but the AP Chinese waters may yet be totally uncharted for you or your school.
You know what you need? A really good map.
The AP Chinese syllabus you design will be the map guiding you and your students to success.
AP courses are fast-paced and intensive. An abundance of information and language skills must be learned and honed over the period of only a few months.
All of this learning must be targeted at preparing students to meet the specific requirements of the AP exam. The slightest hesitation or the narrowest misstep will leave your students that much less prepared.
Creating specific objectives and stating how they will be accomplished is the most crucial component of a successful AP Chinese course, and it happens before the school year even starts.
Adding to the urgency of creating a sound AP Chinese syllabus is the fact that your syllabus must pass the AP Chinese Course Audit in order to even be recognized by the College Board as a college-level course.
As an added bonus, your AP Chinese syllabus will serve as a charter that both legitimizes your course in the eyes of administrators and parents, and can be referred to in instances of dispute or confusion. Handy indeed.
Just what should this magical document entail? A complete and useful AP Chinese syllabus has to cover some specific ground. Make sure you’re prepared for the school year by reading on.
The Ultimate Guide to Creating an AP Chinese Syllabus
Principles of a Powerful AP Chinese Syllabus
An effective AP Chinese syllabus will need to satisfy the following conditions:
- Speak to a diverse readership.
- Pass the AP Chinese Course Audit.
- State concrete objectives, as well as the plans for achieving those objectives.
- Be simple and executable.
- Can be referred to by all parties for clarity and resolution of issues.
A clear and targeted syllabus should address four different audiences.
- Students: Students need to be aware, in brief, of the overarching goals and objectives of the course. More importantly, they need simple instructions concerning the day-to-day operations of the class and guidance on how to be successful.
- The Teacher: Instructors need milestones, a schedule and a plan of action to achieve deadlines and stay on course.
- Administrators and Parents: Administrators and parents enjoy seeing a comprehensive document that includes background information, teaching philosophy, school profile and other exhaustive information about the course.
- The AP Chinese Course Audit: The AP Chinese Course Audit reviews your syllabus to ensure that you have a thorough plan and a sufficiently rigorous course to prepare your students for the AP exam and to be considered a college-level course.
In the sections below, we will address how to satisfy the needs of all these different audiences in one document.
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Passing the AP Chinese Course Audit
The AP Chinese Course Audit can induce anxiety for one major reason alone: There is no way to guarantee that your syllabus will pass the audit.
The College Board offers no specific template for the AP Chinese syllabus. Moreover, if you chat with fellow AP course instructors, you may discover that the AP Course Audit has seemingly arbitrarily turned down excellent syllabi.
The best way to face this uncertainty is to be armed with the specific criteria and sample syllabi that the College Board has provided, starting on page 27 of the AP Chinese Language and Cultures Teacher’s Guide.
Also, be sure to base your objectives upon materials found in the AP Chinese Language and Cultures Course Description.
In addition to including the above criteria, you would be wise to model your syllabus after one of the sample syllabi found in chapter 3 the AP Chinese Language and Cultures Teacher’s Guide.
Those sample syllabi include what you may consider to be unnecessary fluff that has little value in terms of day-to-day classroom operations, but that’s beside the point.
The bottom line is that no one will be happy if your college level course is not recognized by the College Board as such.
Sections to Include in Your AP Chinese Syllabus
As stated above, it would be wise to model your syllabus on the samples provided by the AP Chinese Language and Cultures Teachers Guide. Beyond that, it doesn’t necessarily matter what order the sections below are in, but most should be present.
If your sections are highly detailed, make sure the most important principles are highlighted. Detailed information is only for reference in the case of disputes or confusion.
AP Chinese Syllabus Sections to Guide Your Students
Students have very short attention spans and need to be able to refresh themselves on these sections for guidance on basic classroom operations at a glance.
These sections should either be kept very simple and highly visible, or they should be made into a separate handout in addition to being found in various places in the syllabus.
- Overview: This section should give an overall description of the course including objectives, payoffs, the general structure of class time and the nature of assignments and assessments.
- Classroom Policies: This section should let the students know, in broad terms, the behavior expected of them. Don’t get too carried away with details. Any questions they have about specific behaviors should be answerable by bringing them back to the key policies you laid down. A key part of the classroom policies is letting students know what to bring to class. Make sure they come prepared with homework assignments, presentation materials and textbooks if necessary.
- Grading Policies: Grading policies are vital because they are what allow you and the students to assess their progress and preparedness for the AP Chinese exam. Your assignments and tests should reflect the material and format of the AP exam as much as possible, and your grading scales and rubrics should reflect the scoring of the AP exam. Sample AP Chinese exams and grading rubrics can be found on the College Board homepage, and this AP Chinese syllabus also has a solid rubric.
- Tips for Success: One often-missing section of the AP Chinese syllabus that students and parents greatly appreciate is one that describes the practices, in and out of class, that will lead students to success in the course. Think of how you mastered Chinese—or if you’re a native Chinese speaker, think of how you mastered English or another language. What were the practices that made you successful? How did you study? Part of learning language is learning good study habits. Don’t just teach your students Chinese; teach them how to study Chinese.
AP Chinese Syllabus Sections to Guide Teachers
With so many topics that need to be covered for the AP Chinese exam, it’s easy to get lost in the forest of details or get off course on a tangent. These sections will help guide you, the instructor, through the course.
- Course Schedule: A course schedule is what will keep you on track. It’s essential that teachers create milestones to help keep themselves on course and hold themselves accountable. These milestones should be determined by the demands of the AP exam, which are in turn informed by the American Council on Teaching Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and their proficiency guidelines for Chinese language. Your milestones should fall into a schedule of the topics and materials that will be covered. An example of an actual school syllabus with well-planned milestones can be found here.
- Primary Course Materials: A section listing primary course materials will remind both you and the students which materials they need to focus on and bring to class. These will likely at least include a textbook or workbook, though bear in mind that the College Board frowns upon courses that look like they just follow textbooks.
- Supplementary Resources: A supplementary resources section will provide you with a ready list of resources that you can draw from when creating assignments. This section can also provide resources for students to draw from for preparing reports, presentations and other assignments. Self-directed and driven students can find additional sources for self-study here.
These supplementary materials could include books, apps and even libraries of authentic Chinese videos such as those found on FluentU.
Other Important AP Chinese Syllabus Sections
The sections below have little practical value except to impress people. However, impressing people is an important goal of any syllabus that’s going to be read by anyone besides you and your students. This includes parents, administrators and the AP Chinese course audit.
These sections are also found on the sample syllabi provided by the College Board. This means you may want to fit these sections into your AP Chinese syllabus even if you think you will never look at them again yourself!
- School, Department and Class Profiles: These give background on your teaching situation. They will address the demographics that you’re teaching to, the specific strengths and challenges those demographics represent, the school’s resources and any other information specific to your class’s situation.
- AP Policy: This section may cover course enrollment requirements, requirements for staying in good standing in the course and the outcomes of the course—such as the number of credits students may be eligible to earn at the university level for their efforts.
- Teaching Philosophy: A personal philosophy or teaching philosophy section describes your own individual theory, purpose and method of teaching, and how this applies specifically to your AP Chinese course.
- Teaching Strategies: Also sometimes called Assignments and Methods, this section explains how you interact with students and how you have students interact with each other and other target language speakers. It can also incorporate sample classroom activities, assignments and assessments. Going into detail about this on the syllabus isn’t necessary in any practical sense, as you can simply explain the assignments as they are introduced to students. Keep in mind, though, that there are sample assignments on the sample syllabi provided by the College Board, and you may want to emulate those syllabi as much as possible.
Additional Resources to Strengthen Your AP Syllabus
You should peruse as many syllabi as possible to find strong models that will work for you. Take a look at these two, or do a web search to turn up more.
Also, be sure to connect with other teachers in the AP Chinese community to discuss your AP Chinese syllabus!
If you follow the principles and hit all the keys sections and information listed above, your syllabus should be a winner with everyone who reads it.
Just as importantly, if you follow the plan that you created using these guidelines, your students will be well on their way to getting a 5 on the AP Chinese exam!
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