18th Annual Chinese Teaching Conference – Kay McLeod and Xiaoming Zhu in conversation

Xiaoming Zhu (XZ) and Kay McLeod (KM) sat down to chat about the upcoming Annual Chinese Teaching Conference on Saturday, September 11th. Below is an edited version of their conversation.

Xiaoming Zhu (Left) and Kay McLeod (Right)

Xiaoming Zhu is the National Network Coordinator at UCL IOE CI. Kay McLeod is the MEP Coordinator.

KM: Hi Xiaoming! We’ve been talking about resilience, the theme of this year’s Annual Chinese Teaching Conference – teaching resilience and resilient teachers!

XZ: Hi Kay. That’s right. I’ve been impressed with how resilient Mandarin teachers and students have been during this pandemic – have you?

KM: Constantly impressed. Teachers have been resourceful and adaptable throughout 2020 and 2021, and students have stayed motivated as a result. Do you think our Annual Conference can help teachers to consolidate that ability to keep motivating students so well?

XZ: I do think so. I think of motivating students in three different “directions.” First, I think we can motivate students “horizontally,” situating Mandarin beyond the classroom. Given what has happened in the last couple of years, with school closures followed by a return to school, I feel it’s important for Mandarin learning to continue not just in the classroom, but outside it, too. So, I think Kim Wang’s workshop “Mandarin through Project-Based Learning to connect to the real world” and Li Yuemei’s workshop “To Create Well-Rounded Citizens, What Can Chinese Offer?” both sound very relevant and timely.

KM: Horizontal motivation? I like that image. I think it’s so important to connect language learning to the real world and students’ futures wherever possible. I see that Pei-shu Lin is giving a workshop on incorporating pop culture and current affairs into Mandarin teaching – that’s another example of “horizontal,” outward-facing motivation for students, isn’t it? Bringing their awareness beyond the classroom.

XZ: Yes. Although the current situation means that students can’t experience China in real life, that doesn’t mean that Mandarin can’t be learned through different activities related to the world outside school. Next I think of “vertical” motivation – promoting good progress upwards through the curriculum.

KM: I see what you mean. Students tend to show more perseverance if they know exactly what they are aiming for.

XZ: That’s right, and now more and more schools are introducing Mandarin to a higher level, but they do face some issues. For example, the popular Pre-U is about to cease, and the current A-Level is thought by some teachers to be too challenging, not to mention there is a shortage of teachers with experience in teaching A-Level Mandarin. But this year, as always, we have experienced teachers presenting helpful workshops on this, for example Hannah Galbraith is going to share her thoughts and techniques for teaching the A-Level. I think it’s going to be a really valuable session for the teachers who are currently teaching A-Level or who are thinking of offering the course. I also think there will be valuable insights for them to take back to their senior leadership teams at school.

KM: Yes, that will help SLT a lot with those planning discussions, plus as a teacher it’s important to feel able to build confidence in a new subject offering at school. And of course it’s not just the A-level – as the subject grows, many schools are offering GCSE Mandarin for the first time this year too. I think Rose Ren’s “Motivating students to study Mandarin GCSE” workshop will be a real help for those teachers planning ahead for a solid, committed GCSE cohort year-on-year.

XZ: Yes, GCSE is always a big topic.

KM: You mentioned three ways of motivating students. We’ve had “horizontal” and “vertical.” What was the third way?

XZ: The third is motivating students by example. I always say one of the highlights of the conference is the students’ performances. Well, this year all of them are winners of this year’s British Council Mandarin Speaking Competition. We have a couple of individual students speaking. Alex (Year 10) from Anglo European School is going to reminisce about his trip to China in a speech called “我的北京之旅” (My Trip to Beijing). Matas (Year 9) from Kingsford Community School will talk about himself – “关于我” (About Me). Then we have a rather interesting group performance from Brune Park students, called “让我们一起保护地球” (Let’s protect the planet Earth together) – a subject that’s topical and also relevant to their GCSE studies! It’s a great piece.

KM: That all sounds brilliant. The teachers from those three schools should be very proud.

XZ: Yes, I hope they and the students are proud! What about you, which workshops do you think are helpful with post-pandemic resilience?

KM: Oh goodness – there are too many to name! Well, from the experience of MEP schools, I know that some skills need more work than others as we recover from the disruption of lockdowns. In particular, colleagues have told me their students’ Mandarin speaking level has suffered, while in some schools their character knowledge has taken a hit. Fu Xiong, Helen Lewis and Zhang Yi are all presenting different approaches to that balance of skills in your planning and teaching.

XZ: So there was an uneven coverage of skills during the pandemic months.

KM: Yes – and retention was also affected. Several teachers told us how they thought they had covered certain units well during school closures, only to find that students had not retained the new vocabulary later. So I think Lucy Wicks’s workshop about creating long-lasting learning will be just what some colleagues need to help bridge that gap. Then of course there is your own health as a teacher! We’ve seen how effective planning can improve your wellbeing and therefore resilience, and it also (of course) helps improve the quality of students’ learning. So I think Josh Ma’s workshop on “Achieving better work life balance through optimal lesson planning” looks very interesting.

XZ: It’s true, it’s important to look after your own wellbeing as a teacher. After all, you are never “just” a teacher…

KM: Never! Teachers are multi-functional, in fact that’s what our own final plenary is about – we’ll be talking about the leadership roles available to all teachers through engaging with research in the field of pedagogy and sharing knowledge in the community.

XZ: I hope we can inspire more and more teachers to develop their careers in that way.

KM: Me too.

XZ: There’s certainly a great choice of sessions at this year’s conference and I’m looking forward to it.

KM: Definitely. Always great to talk to you, Xiaoming! See you at the conference!

XZ: See you there!

Please click here to see the 2021 Conference Programme

To book a place at the conference click here