After the success of the Year 7 and Year 8 Mandarin Excellence Programme (MEP) student projects, the IOE CI has teamed up with experienced Mandarin teacher Dr. Theresa Munford, formerly of St Gregroy’s School in Bath. Supported with tailor-made authentic materials created by the team at The Chairman’s Bao, Dr. Munford is authoring a bank of exciting new projects aimed at Year 9 MEP students. They cover a wide range of engaging topics and are designed to challenge their independent learning abilities and broaden their knowledge of Chinese language and culture. The Y9 student projects will be available on our MEP Edublogs site from mid-September 2019. We spoke to Dr. Munford about the projects and what teachers can expect from them.
Hello Dr. Munford. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your experiences of Mandarin Chinese?
I retired last year after a decade or so of teaching Mandarin in secondary schools and a total of about twenty years in teaching. I learnt Mandarin at Durham University in the 1970s, studied at Nanjing University, did a doctorate in Chinese history in Australia and worked as a journalist in Hong Kong. When I moved back to the UK, I trained as a teacher of Humanities initially. At that time very few schools offered Mandarin, but I was delighted to switch to teaching Mandarin when schools started to be interested in offering Asian languages. The school I retired from, St. Gregory’s Bath, is on the MEP programme and it was wonderful to see how the MEP facilitated serious and intensive Mandarin learning in the state sector — many schools I worked in before had only been able to offer Chinese on a small scale or in after-school clubs.
You have been creating student projects for the MEP – can you explain a bit more about these projects and the purpose of them?
The MEP projects are designed to give students extended and creative study opportunities that they can do independently. There are a total of twelve projects planned for Y9s.
By assigning these projects, MEP schools can deliver the required hours of learning and reduce the burden of homework setting and marking on teachers. Each project is estimated to take learners about 4 to 5 hours. Students can complete the projects using carefully chosen website links and self-contained exercises. To lighten teachers’ marking load, an answer sheet can be printed out for students to mark their own work after they have completed a project.
The grammar and scope of vocabulary is linked to GCSE syllabuses but the projects try to take the students’ language learning a little ‘off piste’ as well as giving them insights into Chinese culture and history and hopefully whet their appetite to find out more about topics that interest them. Some projects are about popular culture — for example Bubble tea and KTV; others are slightly more high brow about historical figures such as Qiu Jin 秋瑾 or places such as the Forbidden City. There are lots of different styles of questions and activities to boost language learning and ensure that all four skills are practised.
Key to the Year 9 projects is the exciting addition of articles from The Chairman’s Bao (TCB) platform. Each project has two related articles from TCB, and students will be able to access the excellent listening, reading and character writing support that is normally only available to TCB subscribers.
The choice of projects was based on feedback from students and teachers about the kind of topic students enjoy and the learning techniques that teachers find most effective and useful.
The projects can be printed out as booklets for the students and, if your school has a homework platform, they can be loaded directly onto that platform so the students can easily click on web links.
From my experience of using the Y7 and Y8 MEP projects with students, I would suggest to teachers the following:
-Don’t worry about the order you assign projects in, take a quick look at the content and see which might appeal or tie in with particular topic areas you are teaching at the time.
-Check the difficulty level (one dragon, two dragons or three) but don’t be too worried about this. They are only rough indicators and there are a variety of difficulty levels in tasks within each project.
-Take a quick read through before assigning a project in case there are areas of the curriculum you might want to revise with your students before they take the projects home or tasks that need a little more explaining.
-Help them get the most out of the TCB tasks by talking them through the step-by-step tick lists included with each of these. Once they’ve done one of two they’ll know what to do in future.
-Encourage your students to have fun with the creative tasks, for example designing bubble tea or making videos. Showcase these in class to inspire other students. Remember — students can learn huge amounts from each other.
-Encourage the students to peer mark their projects — keep your own workload down!
What has been your favourite project to work on and why?
I’ve enjoyed creating all the projects, so I can’t really pinpoint a favourite . I’ve learnt huge amounts in the process, as well as having hours of fun scouring the internet for interesting sources of learning. I confess I’ve wasted many a happy hour watching the current series of Sing! China in the name of research!! Qiu Jin was a particular hero of mine when I first went to China and I used to collect any comic books about her that I could find. It was wonderful to have an excuse to find out lots more about Qiu Jin and the final years of the Qing dynasty.
What is the best piece of advice that you could give to a teacher who wants to create a student project of their own?
If you enjoy planning projects and want to do your own, here are a few pieces of advice:
-Avoid the dry question-and-answer tasks that students can find dull and that are too like normal text-book homework.
-Make them think and be creative. Avoid tasks that can be done simply by copy/paste from websites.
-Everyone likes a good puzzle — matching exercises, word-searches, and such like. Learning to read Chinese means lots and lots of exposure to characters, so the more times learners see a Chinese character in different contexts, the sooner they will learn it.
-‘Strategic reading’ is a key skill, even for advanced language learners. Think up tasks that encourage learners to get the ‘gist’ of a text even where they don’t recognize every character.
-Find tasks that give learners an opportunity to listen to everyday Chinese spoken at normal conversational speed. Although it’s unlikely they’ll understand more than a small percentage of the meaning, it gets them used to the rhythms of the language and high frequency expressions. Familiar formats, like game shows or vlogs are really good for this.
-Encourage students to become proficient in producing high-frequency sentences, in speaking or writing, such as opinions (我觉得) or descriptions (照片上有。。。）
-Create tasks that get the learners to formulate questions — this is often an overlooked skill and yet one that becomes vital in any ‘real life’ encounters with native speakers.
-Choose topics that you think your students will find fascinating. With any luck they will follow up their own leads on the topic and explore it beyond the tasks you create.
-And most of all, have fun creating the project — the more fun you have, the more likely your learners are going to enjoy completing it!
Thank-you Dr. Munford.
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