18th Annual Chinese Teaching Conference – Q&A with Sylvania Choy

In the run up to the Annual Conference, we took the opportunity to interview Sylvania Choy, who will be presenting the workshop “If students can lead in the classroom, why not?”.

Sylvania Choy introduced Mandarin into the curriculum at The Woodroffe School, Dorset, in 2018. Since then, she is dedicated to sharing her passion for Chinese culture and promoting the language within the school. Sylvania completed her PGCE at UCL IOE and is keen on inspiring and equipping her students to become autonomous learners – not only in Mandarin, but in building and achieving their dreams.   

Hello Sylvania, can you tell us a little bit about your workshop?

I will share with participants, a variety of student-led activities in all 4 skills that can challenge and stretch students at their own levels. From individual to paired/group student-led activities; from simple recalling exercises to preparing materials to quizzing each other. Participants will be invited to reflect and share with others how often and what student-led activities they have used that has brought good vibes in their Mandarin classrooms.

Why do you think it is important for students to be able to lead activities in the classroom? And what are the pros and cons, if any?

Students are strongly motivated to work if they are given the choices to manage their own learning process, especially when the tasks are what they want to learn or do. They will also feel more satisfied if they can adjust the pace of the learning process, such as taking up more challenges or using the support resources to complete the tasks without feeling defeated.

Student-led activities have many advantages. Students are more engaged and less off-task. In a successfully executed student-led activity, I would feel that there was a flow of learning among participants. These activities also free the teachers, allowing them to observe, spot common issues and assess students while students work.

I do not see any major disadvantages as I am a strong believer of having student-led activities in the classroom. However, if one is looking for a quiet and orderly classroom, (s)he might be disappointed here. In addition, the teachers have to be more determined as they call for more thoughts in planning (but not necessarily more preparation work), especially in providing the optimum levels of differentiation and support.

How much of class-based learning do you think can be student-led?

There is no definite answer to that question. No two classes are the same. I am in a constant process of working on the right proportion of student-led activities for each group of students. It varies from class to class and increases with time. Students need to be taught how to learn effectively from taking the ownership of their learning. As a result, they start with fewer student-led activities and progress towards taking the lead more and more.

Can you give us examples of some student-led activities? Which do you and your students enjoy the most?

There are so many of them and I am going to share some ideas and principles in my workshop. If I must pick one of my students’ favourite, it would probably be ‘Build the Great Wall’. In this activity, every student or group adds one or more words to a sentence, with the aim to make the longest meaningful one with correct grammar. During the process, students are not only making a long sentence, which a lot of them said is very satisfying, they will also self-correct among themselves. Even better, sometimes they will make suggestions or challenge the opposing teams. For instance, ‘If we put this, it would mean…. But if we put this, it would become….., thus demonstrating that they have fully understood the grammar points.

With the blended learning approach we have all had to adopt since March 2020, has this influenced your thoughts and approach to student-led learning?

The remote teaching and learning experience we have had during lockdown has reinforced my believe in student-led learning. My Year 7 students, who are not too used to taking the lead in their own learning yet, seemed to progress not as much as I wished. On the other hand, I have given my Year 9 students more autonomy in doing their tasks, and their engagement and continuity in learning was a lot more satisfactory.

Thank you Sylvania!

We look forward to welcoming ticket-holders to Sylvania’s workshop on Saturday 11th September. To see the full programme for this year’s Annual Conference, click here

To book a place for our conference click here