In the run up to the IOE Confucius Institute Annual Chinese Teaching Conference we interviewed Thomas Godber, Chinese Teacher at Brighton College, about his workshop for this year’s conference. Thomas will be presenting his workshop “Creating enthusiasm through independent learning: Using the UCL IOE Student Projects” on Friday 23rd June.
1. Hi Thomas! You’ve been working with the IOE Confucius Institute team to create some student projects for the Mandarin Excellence Programme. Can you tell us more about these projects?
Of course. They are an array of separate projects that cover such topics as the geography, history and poetry of China, to Chinese-language TV, music and how to use IT to help with studying Mandarin. Teachers can employ them (or parts of them) with their Years 7, 8, 9 and maybe even 10 but it will depend on the length of time students have been learning Chinese.
Throughout the projects, the focus is on getting students to do the work.
2. How do these projects tie in with your workshop at this year’s Conference?
I will be introducing the projects and discussing how they can be used both in the classroom and as homework. Having recently had the opportunity to test some of the projects with my own classes, I feel really proud of the worthwhile work I have been doing with the CI team at IOE, and I am looking forward to seeing other teachers benefit from these varied, ready-made resources that come free of charge for everyone
3. The projects cover a wide variety of topics, such as history, music and geography, do you think this is an important part of language study?
I think it is essential. And it is vital that, as Chinese teachers, we look beyond relying on Chinese New Year celebrations, martial arts and pandas (although these can be great too) when talking about Chinese culture. China today is such a rich tapestry of both the ancient and the cutting-edge contemporary, that I think it is a shame if students miss out on opportunities to broaden their awareness of the culture simply because we feel the need to focus on making sure they have mastered all the vocab they are going to need in an exam.
If we can get students interested in some of these topics, they are far more likely to want to continue studying Mandarin, and on an intellectual level they will also feel more stimulated.
We have worked hard in these projects to ensure that language is never far away from the culture being discussed. We have strived to make the projects as effective as possible in the way they combine Mandarin learning with the acquisition of non-linguistic knowledge
4. Why do you think it’s important to foster self-study skills in students?
Students are more motivated when they feel challenged (within reason!), and it is my belief that they learn more when they are the ones that have to do the work. Developing self-study skills will also improve students’ confidence, their ability to learn more effectively and, ultimately, equip them with skills they will one day need to thrive in the world. I know how tempting it can be to always want to explain things to students, but if we let them discuss or research it, they are more likely to remember what they learn than if they are just staring at their teacher’s moving mouth, however beautiful it may be.
5. What methods do you use to try and spark a student’s imagination and interest in learning Chinese?
Music is a big one for me: getting students singing and expressing their emotions. I also like to share real-life stories of my experiences and travels as it brings the Chinese-speaking world to life for students, many of whom have never visited China. I try to tell the stories in a humorous and lively way. Of course, native-speaking Chinese teachers have a far greater variety of stories and experiences they can draw upon, and they should not be shy about doing so.
Using authentic materials wherever possible is also a great way to engage pupils meaningfully. If you are teaching the word for ‘doctor’, why show a picture of a doctor in Europe or the US when you could be showing them a picture of a Chinese doctor and using that as an opportunity to discuss Chinese medicine and the fact that this ancient tradition still plays a significant role in modern-day China?
I also try to have high expectations of students but praise them wherever possible. I think all the teacher qualities required in any subject are also vital; the most important thing of all is developing good relationships with one’s students. Everything else in teaching is secondary to good relationships.
6. To new Chinese teachers coming into the profession, what advice would you give?
Don’t give up the joy of the subject (both for yourself and your pupils!) by just giving in to the pressure of exams and a need to prove to schools or parents that students are progressing. There is always time to revise for exams later. Sure, we all need to teach and consolidate slightly boring things at times, but the bottom line for me is, if students and teachers aren’t having fun, what’s the point of doing anything at all?