A student’s perspective on the Mandarin PGCE course at the IOE

Written by Rebecca Whitmore

The Mandarin PGCE course at the Institute of Education is a very intense yet rewarding year-long programme, combining school-based practice, lectures and tutor groups at the IOE and reflective assignments. While juggling the roles of teacher and student seemed a daunting prospect at the start of the year, and indeed was a huge challenge for all of us, it was nevertheless a fantastic year that I believe has set me in good stead for my first teaching post in September. It was a great opportunity to work with such a wide range of different people, from the students and staff in our two schools to our tutors and fellow PGCE students at the IOE.IOE

Here I will give an outline of the Mandarin PGCE at the IOE, as well as some of the highlights and unique features of the course at the IOE.

IOE-based input

  • Mandarin PGCE tutor group – tutor group sessions specifically for PGCE Mandarin students with Katharine Carruthers (IOE Confucius Institute Director), e.g. teaching Chinese characters, teaching tones, Chinese literature.
  • Modern foreign languages (MFL) lectures and workshops, e.g. the role of culture in languages learning, changing contexts in languages teaching and learning, use of the target language, etc.
  • Keynote lectures – non-subject-specific keynote lectures for the whole cohort of IOE PGCE students, e.g. teaching in London schools, classroom management, internationalising education, etc.
  • Readings and assignments – In addition to readings for our lectures and tutor groups, we wrote three assignments over the year. The first two assignments were on the prescribed topics of Assessment for Learning (AfL) and the role of grammar in languages teaching, requiring extensive reading, as well as our own observations in schools. The last assignment gave us greater scope to carry out our own small-scale investigations on an MFL-specific issue.

School-based work

  • Two school placements – We spent the majority of the year in our two placement schools, with each placement lasting between 11 and 14 weeks. After initial periods of observation, we taught 50% timetables of 9-11 hours per week.
  • Project work in schools, e.g. School-Based Study (an opportunity to work with PGCE students from different subjects in the first placement school to undertake a small-scale study in the school) and the film project (produce a short film with a class in the second placement school).

Highlights of the course

  • It was fantastic to have Mandarin-specific tutor group sessions, giving us the opportunity to discuss issues particular to Chinese teaching with a China specialist and others training to teach Chinese.
  • It was also extremely helpful to attend lectures and workshops with other languages PGCE students, as many of the issues related to Chinese teaching are common to the teaching of all MFL. For those of us that were teaching a European language in addition to Mandarin, it was very useful to have the opportunity for discussion with other PGCE languages students.
  • We were all placed in schools that already had Mandarin embedded in the curriculum, allowing us to fill our timetables predominately with Chinese teaching, yet have the option of teaching an additional subject. In my case, Mandarin classes made up the bulk of my teaching in both schools, but I also had the chance to teach German in both placements.
  • As the programme is coordinated by the IOE Confucius Institute, there is a wide network of schools involved in teacher training. Our placements were in a range of schools, both state (e.g. Dartford Grammar School for Boys, Kingsford Community School, St Mary Magdalene Academy, The Sweyne Park School) and independent schools (e.g. Wellington College, Whitgift School, Trinity School). Most of us had one placement in each sector, enabling us to make informed decisions about the kind of schools we would like to work in in our first teaching posts.
  • Another unique feature of the course was the chance to do a group short film project in the final weeks of the programme. In language-specific groups of three or four, we worked with other PGCE students to create a sequence of lessons based around a short film. We then shared the results with the rest of the groups, giving us the valuable opportunity to plan together and share resources.

Overall, the IOE Mandarin PGCE is a very intense and challenging course, but one that I would highly recommend to anyone that is interested in becoming a qualified secondary school Mandarin teacher in the UK.

Rebecca Whitmore completed the IOE Languages PGCE course in 2013-14, specialising in Mandarin Chinese with German.

Click here to read more about the IOE Mandarin PGCE course.