20th Annual Chinese Teaching Conference – Q&A with Lydia Hargreaves-March

Our 20th Annual Chinese Teaching Conference “Developing Through Sharing” is coming up on Saturday 14th October 2023.

In this year’s programme you’ll find plenaries, speeches, performances as well as 15 workshops covering a wide range of topics. In the run up to the conference, we are interviewing some of the workshop presenters to get a better idea of what can be expected at the conference. Lydia Hargreaves-March, Head of Mandarin at Pinner High School will be delivering the workshop “Developing Students’ Conceptual Understanding of Mandarin”. Lydia has kindly answered some questions about her workshop below.

Hi Lydia, can you tell us a bit about your workshop?

Students’ conceptual understanding of Mandarin is often hidden from view in the hustle and bustle of everyday teaching, but is vital to longer term progression and retention. Why do some students of Mandarin seem to “get it”, while others do not? What exactly is “it” that successful students seem to grasp?

In this workshop, I will share some findings from my doctoral research into students’ conceptual understanding of Mandarin as a foreign language. I’ll be drawing from interviews with secondary school students, my own experience as a learner of Mandarin and as Head of Mandarin at Pinner High School, and from the theory of threshold concepts. The threshold concepts framework actually originated in university level economics, but has now been applied to many different fields of learning. There are some really interesting ideas for teachers of Mandarin, which can help us to notice and address students’ misconceptions, while making the most of limited classroom time.

What made you choose this subject for this year’s conference?

A few years ago, Orton and Scrimgeour’s excellent book Teaching Chinese as a Second Language: The Way of the Learner really struck a chord in its exploration of the challenges learners face in their study of Mandarin. As a teacher, I have sometimes had a niggling feeling that I have put the cart before the horse – for example, by feeling frustrated when students struggle to reproduce characters accurately, but perhaps not really having much insight into why exactly students from an English language background might find Chinese characters conceptually troublesome.  Interviews with secondary school students as part of my doctoral research at UCL IOE, as well as ideas from the threshold concept framework, have helped me to gain more insight into the importance of developing students’ conceptual understanding of Mandarin, which I’m excited to share.

What should participants expect to gain from the workshop?

Participants can expect to hear some thought-provoking extracts and analysis of interviews conducted across two academic years with students learning Mandarin at a London secondary school. I will briefly introduce the educational theory of threshold concepts, and why it can provide a useful way to reflect on how we meet students’ needs in the Mandarin classroom. There will also be plenty of time for discussion with colleagues!

Many thanks Lydia! 

We look forward to welcoming ticketholders to Lydia’s workshop on Saturday 14th October 2023 at the IOE. Book your conference tickets here.