2019 Conference: Looking Back, Thinking Forwards

Our 16th Annual Chinese Teaching Conference, ‘Looking Back, Thinking Forwards,’ will take place on Friday 14th and Saturday 15th June. The opening Conference plenary will introduce the theme of the Conference, which is ‘Looking Back, Thinking Forwards’. We are very excited to announce that The Rt. Hon. Nick Gibb MP, Minister of State for School Standards from the Department for Education will be speaking at the opening plenary alongside Katharine Carruthers, Education Section of the Chinese Embassy’s Minister Counsellor Wang Yongli and IOE Director Prof. Becky Francis. I caught up with Katharine to discuss the opening plenary, the Conference overall and the significance of attendance of the Minister of State for School Standards.

Hello Katharine. The Conference theme this year is ‘Looking back, thinking forwards’. Why do you think the idea of past and future are important in regards to the teaching of Chinese? 

The Conference theme this year addresses the importance of looking back in order to assess where we currently are. It’s almost like a new teacher reflecting on where they’ve got to, before they can then move forward with confidence. I think it’s important as you’re thinking forwards, to look back, so that you’re not in danger of getting rid of some of the good things and therefore not making full use of them. On the Friday afternoon of the Conference, there will be a plenary about MFL pedagogy where we’re going to talk about the position of Chinese within MFL. Some of the MFL pedagogy review is cognizant of things we’ve done in the past, as well as how we want to develop in the future, and for Chinese we need to think about how people used to learn characters. People like myself learnt characters off by heart and by getting them into the muscle memory of our hands. But now we’re thinking forward, we can look to digital tools, different techniques, what different things we can do to support the learning of Chinese characters. We have to be constantly assessing the past, assessing what we’ve done and then trying to build on the past as we look for innovation. That is what we’re doing at this year’s Conference and what better time to do that, than towards the end of the academic year!

The opening plenary of the Conference is always an inspirational start to the Conference. Can you tell us about this year’s opening plenary?  

We are delighted to have opening this year’s Conference The Rt. Hon. Nick Gibb MP, Minister of State for School Standards at the Department for Education (DfE), talking alongside the Education Section of the Chinese Embassy’s Minister Counsellor Wang Yongli and IOE Director Prof. Becky Francis. The exciting thing is that the Minister has consistently supported the development of Mandarin Chinese; the Minister is a great advocate for Chinese in general and in particular the Mandarin Excellence Programme (MEP), so it seems very appropriate that he is able to come and talk to us at our Conference. This is also true in view of the fact that another DfE initiative – the National Centre for Excellence for Language Pedagogy (NCELP) – will be featured in the Friday afternoon plenary. The work of the IOE Confucius Institute is about making Chinese sustainable, having it alongside French, German, Spanish and other languages as a curriculum option. The idea of the new NCELP is to have nine language hubs, of which Dartford Grammar School is one, and this links Chinese in with the mainstream European languages. As I have said many times before, we want Chinese not to be in a parallel universe to the other MFLs, but to sit alongside them. I’m very much looking forward to working with the NCELP to do that. I am pleased that the Minister is coming to our Conference to meet the performers and their teachers, who are involved in delivering the MEP, but also to see for himself the very significant community of practice that there is around the teaching and learning of Chinese across England, and further afield too. We have had fantastic support from China for Chinese in schools and the MEP, and it is very encouraging indeed to have the Minister-Counsellor joining us as a speaker. Prof. Becky Francis is always a huge advocate of ours and she will be a most welcome speaker at our opening plenary too.

Looking at the Conference programme this year, what do you think are the main lessons/ideas that delegates will take away from the Conference this year?

What we are really hoping is that delegates take a wide range of lessons and ideas from this year’s Conference. Firstly, there is an international perspective, which you will have read about in previous blogs, in the person of Dr Jane Orton from the University of Melbourne, who will be talking on Friday about the experience of introducing Mandarin Chinese in Australian schools. On Friday afternoon, we have Prof. Emma Marsden NCELP talking alongside Ian Bauckman and Prof. Li Wei about MFL and China’s place within this, as well as the cognitive benefits of language learning.

At the IOE Confucius Institute, we will be looking in the coming months at the teaching and learning of Chinese characters and this will feature in the Saturday morning plenary. There will be a further blogpost about this plenary, but it’s something that we hope you take ideas away from about the learning of characters and have the opportunity to be involved in developing research around characters. On Saturday, the ‘Expanding Knowledge’ plenary and the ‘Learning Languages Builds Character’ plenary contain key messages to think about.

As always there is a massive variety of workshops to choose from, including ‘Behaviour management in your classrooms’, ‘Embedding Chinese in your primary school’ and ‘Task-based learning for GCSE speaking and writing’. If there is a workshop you can’t get to, there will be presentations of all the Conference workshops on our website following the Conference. I would advise delegates to really use this time at the Conference; enjoy it, discuss the workshops and think about how the ideas grab you. Following the Conference, there are still a few weeks left of the summer term, to think about what you can do to put these ideas into your schemes of work. The reason why we have the Conference during the summer term, and I think it’s important, is that it gives teachers time to reflect on their practices of the previous year and to look at how they can develop for the next year.

The content of the workshops gets better and better each year. We have some great proposals put forward and Philippa Vallely, in the IOE Confucius Institute team, works with the speakers to make sure their workshops are both informative and useful. So please do take some notes and don’t forget the ideas over the weekend following the Conference. Instead think about what you’ve learnt and how you can use these ideas in your future teaching.

The Conference is in its 16th year. Looking forward, can you envisage what the Conference may look like in 10 years?

I think there is, quite interestingly, in some spheres talk of conferences becoming more virtual, with people talking from their desks at home and not using so many air miles to get to international academic conferences. Our Conference is a bit different, as it’s predominantly UK teachers and I think teachers need to interact with each other, to talk about ideas and discuss practice. As a result, I think with our Conference in ten years, it would still have to be a forum for people to talk to each other. So who knows, with the advances of technology, how it will develop? I can still see the fact that people need that time once a year to come together and I can see that over the next 10 years, we will certainly be looking to keep up with the digital age. While we have lots of bespoke CPD courses here at the IOE Confucius Institute, we also will be looking, where possible, to offer our courses to a wider number of teachers by enabling them to attend workshops virtually, rather than taking trains to London.

Thank-you Katharine!

To find out more about the 2019 Annual Chinese Teaching Conference, please visit our Conference webpage.