20th Annual Chinese Teaching Conference Q&A with Katharine Carruthers and Zhu Xiaoming

Ahead of this year’s 20th Annual Chinese Teaching Conference taking place on Saturday October 14th, 2023 we are sitting down with Katharine Carruthers, the IOE Confucius Institute Director & Global Strategic Academic Advisor (China) and Zhu Xiaoming the National Network Coordinator at the UCL IOE Confucius Institute. This year’s Annual Chinese Teaching Conference is rather special, as it marks 20 years of this memorable event. The theme of this year’s conference is “Developing Through Sharing”, which is an ethos that has been reinforced throughout these past 20 years. This interview and the upcoming conference will be a chance for reflection on the highs, lessons and achievements that have spanned the past 20 years. For more information and to book a place please visit the following link (2023 Book Your Place | IOE Confucius Institute)

This year’s theme is developing through sharing, why do you think it is so important?

Katharine: It’s important because all of us benefit from sharing. I’ve always found that sharing ideas, lesson plans and resources gives me more headspace to develop my own lesson for the students. Perhaps, other people’s resources won’t fit our needs perfectly. But the basis is there and I’m keen for teachers to share more. Also, teachers spend a huge portion of time preparing for lessons, but I think what’s needed is more headspace for lesson delivery and thinking about how we’re going to achieve goals.

 What is the biggest change ITE has seen over the past 20 years?

Katharine: I guess the biggest change that ITE has seen over the last 20 years was for Mandarin to become part of the languages offer in 2011. Being able to achieve that through IOE, a very big ITE provider, made a significant difference to the teacher supply. Without the teaching supply we wouldn’t be able to deliver the Chinese programmes that we have been able to, nor would we be able to mainstream Chinese alongside other languages. Ultimately this has given PGCE students in the mandarin stream the opportunity to train alongside teachers of other MFLs, while allowing us to provide Mandarin specific input.

How can teachers share best practice effectively?

Katharine: We have an online platform with a vast number of mandarin resources called MARS (Mandarin Resources for School) (https://ci.ioe.ac.uk/mars-homepage/). Teachers can use this platform to aid their language teaching and they can also submit useful materials to the platform to share with other teachers. We also encourage schools on the MEP program and Confucius Classroom schools to have hub or cluster meetings (for multiple schools) in person or online. In addition, there are often speakers at our CPD events who share good practice. Moreover, there’s more that can be done within our schools. For example, we could take part in and encourage dialogue with teachers across all languages teams. As sharing of practice between all teachers of all MFL’s would prove useful.

 What is a memory that has stuck with you over the past 20 years?

Katharine: It was a memory of working on our very first GCSE textbook for Chinese. Of course, we needed the right teachers, teaching materials and exams to develop Chinese. I was the series editor and was also tasked with all the grammar sections. There were five authors of which four were native speakers from different regions of China. Having five different authors meant that everyone’s writing style was different, though all fantastic. It fell to me as the editor to approach this from the standpoint of a beginner learner of Chinese. There were several different scripts coming at different intervals, and it was challenging. But it produced an outcome that has been used by numerous teachers in schools and has become the bedrock of teaching mandarin in schools since. It wasn’t a very straightforward path, but it was a major achievement.

What are your hopes for Mandarin development in the future?

Katharine: One of my hopes for the future is to have an A-level course that is accessible for non-native speakers, as this is a major problem that we are now facing. Thus, being able to have a proper pipeline through for those who want to study Chinese from year 7 all the way through until A-level and to university.

Why is this year’s theme “Developing Through Sharing” so important to you?

Xiaoming: When I first started out in my career as a teacher of Mandarin in the UK, I was pretty much alone, and it was very isolating. I had no one to share ideas or resources with or direct my questions to. No teacher would want to find themselves in such a position. However, over the last two decades, the teaching and learning of Mandarin has developed well. The Mandarin teaching community has also been firmly established to allow the teachers to share their experiences. There are many different facets to sharing in order to improve the classroom practice. By sharing, you have access to more ideas and resources to support your lesson planning and delivery.  Teachers in different stages of their careers run into problems and through sharing you can discuss these concerns with the wider community that has been established, and work together towards finding a resolution.

Apart from the conference, how can teachers share their craft effectively?

Xiaoming: Apart from the conference, we have a very active E forum (https://ci.ioe.ac.uk/e-forum/), which has over 1000 teachers and colleagues registered to it. On this forum you often see robust discussions on a certain topic, often posted by a teacher seeking help or advice such as A-level teaching, exam support, and so on. It also serves as a community in which you can share resources and information including job adverts. The platform is very much led by teachers and for teachers.

CPD is another way in which teachers can discuss and have shared their understanding of best practice. IOE CI has an array of teacher training events (https://ci.ioe.ac.uk/teacher-training/) with different focuses: skill-based teaching, exam-specific support as well as resources development, to name a few.

What is a memory that has stuck with you over the past twenty years?

Xiaoming: Each year, we welcome a group of teachers from China who relocate to live and work in the UK for 1-2 years. They are based in one of our Confucius Classroom or MEP schools supporting the teaching and learning of Mandarin. We provide training before they travel to the UK to set the expectations, to build the team morale, and to help familiarise them with a very different living and working environment. During their time in the UK, we provide face to face training for the teachers and work closely with their host schools. Their valuable contribution is well recognised, and recently one of the schools said: We are so grateful for our CLEC teacher. The impact they have on our delivery of the MEP is immeasurable. It allows our delivery to become more robust and enables us to fulfil aspects of the curriculum delivery which would be a challenge to achieve without additional support.”

It is always encouraging to see how the teachers quickly adapt to their new school and immerse themselves in school life. I am often in awe of the resilience and enthusiasm they demonstrate despite the challenges they have faced in an unfamiliar environment. I have led the programme for the lasts two decades and have always found the experience of working with these teachers rewarding and inspiring.

What is one of your hopes for Mandarin development in the future?

Xiaoming: Initial teacher training is something that will always be very close to my heart. Having the support of the schools is crucial, as the school experience is an integral part of the trainee teachers’ journey towards gaining their QTS. Thus, we very much value our partnerships with the schools that are already taking our trainee teachers and offering guidance and help, much needed for their growth. My hope is that they will continue to do so and that those who have yet to partner with us, would consider doing so. I believe it is a mutually beneficial experience for both the subject mentors (who are usually the teacher or head of Mandarin at the school) and the PGCE students. I would encourage the teachers to take up the role of a mentor as I think they will find it a very rewarding experience.


Thank Katharine and Xiaoming!

We look forward to welcoming you all to the Annual Chinese Teaching Conference on Saturday 14th October 2023. Don’t forget to book your place on the following link (2023 Book Your Place | IOE Confucius Institute)