Beijing in Spring

Springtime in Beijing

For the past three weeks I visited Beijing with a group of twelve New Zealand Chinese Language teachers. We applied for and won a place on the 2017 China Scholarship Programme to Beijing developed by ILEP, Confucius, Hanban and the New Zealand Ministry of Education. We were hosted by Beijing Language and Cultural University that is located nearly in the centre of Beijing and stayed in the conference centre.

BLCU

Personal Goals

I had three goals for this journey. My first goal was language. I wanted to further develop communication in simple and routine tasks and to exchange information on familiar topics by building on basic phrases because I recently passed the HSK (Level I) exam. My second goal was cultural and to learn more about Chinese history and visit historical sites. Because I am also a teacher of Chinese children I wanted to learn more about where my children came from. My third goal was about connections. Making connections with other educators on the group from New Zealand as well as educators I came into contact with. I also was keen to make connections with local people.

The journey developed more than my three goals.

Language

Daily I was immersed in the language from catching a train, shopping at the supermarket, daily routines such as passing pleasantries with staff at the front desk to asking for my clothes to be washed at the laundry. Daily I was surrounded by language from the fabulous forms of vehicle mashups and their advertising to the signs directing us to uniformed checkpoints and of course wherever we saw food. Daily connections were made with the teachers I travelled with from sharing our learning to being together in the various daily life. I spoke with local people at the historical sites we were taken to, on the trains, at the university canteen, with my home stay and with our tutors and support students. We visited a school and observed a lesson in action. I was delighted to see and hear the traditional student teacher greetings before the lesson that I had heard about. The language lesson was centred around whole group teaching with a focus on traditional poetry. As the teacher unpacked the poem she used videos to give the students imagery written about in the poem because she was aware that many of her students would not have had first hand experience with what the poet was trying to depict. After the lesson observation we had a round table discussion with some their teachers. This part of the session was particularly interesting as we had a compare and contrast discussion between our two systems. The common theme was what was best for our children.

As a group we attended a Kung Fu performance and a Beijing Opera performance so again we were exposed to language but in a different way. Both used a different type of language that I liken to when Samoan matai meet. The language used is similar but the vocabulary is quite different.

The language highlight for me was when we stumbled across the BLCU students’ end of semester talent performance. There we saw and heard language used in singing and when the master of ceremonies introduced each item.    

Culture

What I have learnt about Chinese culture is how old and steeped in history the culture is. I saw similarities with my Samoan culture such as some thatching of roofs, the openness of the buildings with the pillars, the use of patterns for effects. I also saw how the young people take care of the old people. I saw grandparents taking care of the grandchildren while parents worked. I also really liked the mishmash of old and new. There appeared to be a sense of evolving as can be seen in the scooters.

We were fortunate to research and prepare for visiting many historical places and were given the opportunity to take part in calligraphy, paper cutting and in Tai Chi Fan movement. During these sessions we were reminded of the ancient history and of how far back Chinese dynasties predates European history. This was particularly so during our time at the National library where we were able to visit the Oracle collection and view ancient writing on bones.

Food

When we talk about language and culture we must also mention food because together everything intertwines. Our daily routine involved food. Our opening and closing days involved food. Our daily excursions involved food. There was lots of it and the price was cheap. Several meals I ate at the BLCU Canteen and the range was massive. A few times we might have paid $20.00 for an evening meal but that was the exception rather than the norm. In Beijing we were exposed to several area cuisines such as Sichuan, Fujian and Jiangsu. We ate several types of street food such as jianbing and investigated nearby eateries such as a local Taiwanese restaurant or a Japanese restaurant. However one memorable and unscheduled meals would have to be from the Nanjing provence hosted by one of our member’s brother. There I tried lotus root stuffed with rice. Our final meal together involved rice flambeed in front of us, eating Peking Duck and an opportunity to sip local spirits. Some mornings I ate yoghurt and peeled fruit rather than go out for breakfast. Sometimes when I needed some quiet time I took a container with me to the canteen and brought back leftovers and had that for dinner. Generally food involved being with people, talking, reminiscing, planning next events and activities or celebrating.

The numbers game.

I am always interested in numbers and am always thinking about how we track what we do. I wore a FitBit and my daily step average was 16,384. By the end of the trip I had walked approximately 250 kilometers and I have walker’s blisters to show for this.

We visited historical sites to learn about history and places of interest where we could observe traditional arts and crafts happening.

  •  Water Cube & Birds Nest: 4.8km
  •  Tiananmen Square: 16 Km
  •  Mutianyu Great Wall: 67 KM
  •  Forbidden City: 14 KM
  •  Summer Palace: 9.6KM
  •  Nanluoguxiang/ South Luogu Alley: 12 Km
  •  Oriental Charm Market: 23km
  •  Sun Park: 16 Km
  •  Pearl Gardens: 36 KM
  •  Zhujiang Dijing (Host Family): 25 km
  •  National Library: 8.7 KM
  •  National Museum of China: 16 Km
  •  Hanban Confucius Headquarters:
  •  Tianjin City: 149km
  •  Liyuan Theatre: 15 KM (Beijing Opera)
  •  Red Theatre:  (Kung Fu Show) 21 Km

My highlight was visiting the Great Wall at Mutianyu. The journey there took us nearly two hours because we were caught in traffic. However once I stood on the wall I felt emotional and a part of something very big. I spent time on my own walking parts of the wall and reflected on my Chinese learning which like the Great wall has been massive. Parts of my learning is crumbling from lack of use and parts are stronger from teaching. Part of my learning is growing as I continue to focus on my goals.  I took the chairlift up and the luge back down because my feet were problematic with blisters. Some of the teachers walked up and down the wall and the feedback we gave was to provide more time at this amazing place.

mutianyu

Overall during the journey to Beijing I had travelled 1000 kilometres by bus, by taxi, by subway and by high speed train. In addition I took just over 1300 photos to help capture part of my learning.

Environment

I saw rejuvenation happening. I believe that language and the environment go together and have a belief that the current challenges that Beijing is having with natural resources will continue to improve. When I check new environment I look at the air quality, water quality and soil quality.

We were there in the spring but apart from the blossoms there was no other evidence. The air was as warm as summer because of the low ar quality. There was no spring rain for all the time we were there and I missed the rain. I saw patches with trees and escaped to these sections when I could. However the dust and thickness of the air could not be masked by the greenness of the trees. The sky was quite blue, often cloudless but was generally hazy in the distance. When it was warm and seemed clear I would check the readings and usually went out with my mask.

Water was a premium and I hesitated to eat fruit or vegetables with no skin. So I generally ate imported fruit and ensured that I only ate cooked vegetables. Toilets were interesting because paper was placed in a nearby basket and not flushed down. At the same time I could see that already water was given priority as we were encouraged to keep waste materials separate. For drinking water I initially tried boiling water until the metallic taste put me off. So I switched to bottled water and and churned through nearly four litres daily. It wasn’t enough though because my skin was dry as sandpaper and I found I needed full body moisturizing twice daily.

The soil looked parched and stripped of all goodness. I wondered about what I was eating so stuck to what local people ate. Generally vegetables are eaten cooked. Therefore I did the same and avoided uncooked vegetables.

The birds gave me hope and I would look out for them as I walked to class each day. When we visited sites I would also look out for them. They are indicators of how healthy the environment is. The main birds I saw were the indigenous magpies. They had magnificent colours of an azure green, kind of like our tuis. I also saw one woodpecker.

Transport

I am a travelwise lead teacher so am always interested in public transport and in how cities move people. I loved the Beijing subway system. I found it easy and user friendly. Beijing did not have a separate bus lane like we do in Auckland. However I loved how cycles and electric scooters had their own lanes and how pedestrians had their own lanes and these appeared just as important as cars and buses. I loved seeing the mashup of electric scooters. Some looked like mini trucks, some looked like mini cars and some looked like normal scooters. Everyone using them did not wear helmets and like the cycles seemed to have the same rights as pedestrians. One highlight was catching the high speed train, with a colleague, to Tianjin a nearby city of 19,000,000 people. A city I had never heard of until the week I visited it. Another highlight was activating an Ofo account using wechat. Ofo was one of the bicycle systems we saw. There are several but Ofo caught my eye first because of its bright yellow colour. I had 100 yen transferred to my wechat account from a local resident because I believe a Chinese bank account is  needed to activate wechat wallet. I then needed help to activate Ofo because all the instructions were in Mandarin. Once activated I could ride an Ofo bike for one yen (.20c NZ) for 30 minutes. When I reflected on how successful this would be in New Zealand I realised that it would not work as well because helmets are not compulsory in China.

The challenge that Beijing has is traffic. Like every large city cars are everywhere. Travelling on motorways takes a long time and if you plan to take the motorway then ensure extra time is always accounted for.

Internet access

Well where do I begin with this one. The internet is as important to me as natural resources. Coming from New Zealand into Beijing I had to make several adjustments. One was leaving Google behind. That was the most frustrating because I am used to the ease of google for searching, for collaborating and sharing, for site translating, for storage of photos and videos, maps with marker locations. Over the time in Beijing I learnt to adjust to other tools and just had to get on with it. I missed twitter the most because I could not keep up with general education news. I used viber to communicate with family but even that died in my final week. I was determined to cope as a local would without a VPN but maybe I should have ensured that it was working well before I left. I could still get school email on the phone but could not access it via online. I am sure that staff I work with were happy to have a little peace from me.

However the positive was WeChat. We used WeChat as a form of group communication and this worked really well. We could share photos, ask questions and confirm information. I learnt to push out information too using WeChat. For example creating PDFs from powerpoint and uploading them using my computer version of WeChat. I observed how WeChat was used to purchase grocery items, restaurant food, pay for petrol, movies etc. In fact in New Zealand I believe this is definitely an area that is still in early stages. We have to download a movie app to buy tickets, download a petrol app to pay for petrol and so on. But we have yet to develop a system that does all this within one app.

So in order for access, we purchased a local simm card as soon as we could. I could not get a data only plan so went with a month phone plan. Back on campus I also purchased a month’s internet access. Both were adequate for my requirements.

The phone plan gave me access to wechat and maps. Using maps I could navigate the bus and subway systems. I was also able to use the GPS systems to always identify where I was. On campus internet was slower than what I am used to.

Daily routine

Supermarket shopping was part of the regular routine because of the need to buy water. However it was also an excuse to stock up on snack food such as nuts and fruit. What I noticed was alcohol was very cheap. For example a local 1 litre bottle of beer was 90c NZ.  Wine however was not cheap. I often bought pistachio nuts, salted plums and dried mangoes. I usually did a daily load of hand washing and was grateful for the hindsight to bring a portable washing line. The bigger items were taken to the local laundry where they would be washed and dried within three hours. I had taken coffee sachets but had not quite taken enough. Coffee was a daily luxury and I limited myself to one sachet. When we were out and about we looked out for café’s that might sell coffee. We did find a starbucks but the coffee was still not that wonderful. Generally coffee came in long sachets with powdered milk and too much sugar. For the first few days I needed a daily nana nap because jetlag affected me but I soon was into the Beijing rhythm.

Connections

For our final session we were instructed to present a reflection about our time in Beijing. I waited to go last because I had created mine a little differently focusing on some funny moments. However as I sat listening to my new friends share their highlights I felt the connections as I nodded and laughed recapping on an incredible three weeks learning. For one of my slides I have put all the highlights together to emphasise what a cram packed cultural and language experience we had. Together we collaborated to create a preparation lesson for each of the sites we visited. We created a variety of debriefs to show our learning and as a resource to use back back in our programmes. We reflected on what we learnt through our highlights presentations and we have returned to New Zealand tired but at the same time rejuvenated in our efforts to teach and share about Chinese language and culture with our students and our peers. However for me the greatest taonga I bring back are the memories of my time with my colleagues as together we navigated our way around Beijing and learnt more about a different culture and language. We have come home with a greater appreciation of our own country and the importance we must give to its environment, culture and language. Highlighted for us is the importance of people whether we are learning in a city of twenty two million people or teaching in a country with four million people.

My daily journal

Throughout my 21 days in Beijing I kept a daily journal that had similar focus areas each day. I kept a record of the air quality, daily temperature and short snippets of activities and places we might have visited. Each day I looked for a cultural element and each day I tried to identify new phrases I had learnt.

Probably my greatest learning was from the other Chinese Language teachers in the group. As part of our brief we needed to create a preparation lesson for upcoming places we would visit. Through them I learnt more about vocabulary and phrases I would need, I learnt about some cultural aspects such as an explanation about the appropriateness of using chopsticks. I also  learnt that no matter where we are on our language learning journey we still have some things to learn and with a little research we can still teach in unfamiliar areas.    

scholarship

Overall Statement

Overall the purpose of the scholarship was to grow our understanding of Chinese Language and Culture and also to rediscover interesting aspects of our own cultural identity. I believe that together with my goals I have certainly looked at who I am. One beautiful highlight was when I wechatted my Chinese ‘daughter’ living in Shanghai and her young daughter was learning to say Ni hao nǎi nai. (general term for grandmother). My heart is already made up of many bloods and this moment confirmed that there is also a bit of Chinese there. This journey was unbelievable. I have grown as an intercultural educator and return to my school rejuvenated with my work. I am excited to return to my weekly language classes to continue growing my Chinese and look forward to sharing this once in a lifetime experience with the children that I teach and with the teachers that I work with. There are many people and organisations to thank for this opportunity. First and foremost thanks to Fu Jiwei the Chinese National Language Advisor who first alerted me to the programme. He also came with us in a supporting role.  Also to ILEP for coordinating the programme.To Liu Hongyuan and Beijing Language and Cultural University for hosting us, providing us with two exceptional guide students Hu an and Siqi and for organising the sites we visited and the cultural activities we took part in. Thanks to our Ministry of Education, Confucius Institute and Hanban for approving the programme. Finally special thanks to Dr Wendy Kofoed and Newmarket School Board of Trustees for giving encouragement and approval for me to go.

I give a shoutout to these amazing Chinese language teachers who helped create fabulous Beijing memories:

Jenny, Elly, Nickie, Jordy, Lizanne, Olivia, Juliet, Karen, Lynn, Ann and Natalie

BLCU2

Chinese Scholarship Programme -Beijing

china

Thanks to Huang Wu who helped stage this awesome photo.

This year I took an extra plunge at being the learner to walk in my learner’s shoes. I placed an application for the Chinese Scholarship Programme to Beijing. This week  I received news that I have been selected as one of twelve New Zealand educators to go. I am super excited. I have been to China twice before.

The first time to Shanghai to visit my homestay. The second time to Winan about three hours north of Xian, famous for terracotta warriors. The focus of my second trip was to attend my homestay wedding. This time I will be visiting Beijing home to our current Mandarin Language Assistant.

Last year I was in a massive learning curve as I opted to learn and teach Chinese as part of my role as an ALLiS Lead teacher for Newmarket School. I always say I would never ask teachers to do anything I was not prepared to do myself. Pushing my comfort zone and with encouragement from our TPDL tutors, I sat and passed HSK Level 1.

I pulled together all my learning for 2016 and included this in my application.

When I reflected on the past year for learning, it was massive. My biggest reminder is how hard it is to learn a language. Especially one with a different script and with tone nuances. It took me ages to memorise characters for numbers and even some basic characters. I still rely on Pinyin which is our script and know that I have to work really hard to leave that behind as a learning crutch.

One of the focus of the scholarship is developing intercultural communicative competence. An area that I am passionate about. There will be some extra-curricular activities such as visiting historical sites, experiencing life on a Chinese university campus, a homestay, a visit to Hanban and school visits. I really hope to climb the great wall of China and take the tourist selfie. I am especially keen on participating in immersion tasks designed to encourage interaction in everyday situations. I felt a little discouraged during the summer vacation when I met a new Chinese family and I could not pull my formulaic phrases out fast enough. I hope I can put to use my Thursday lessons with my student tutors who worked with me for most of last year.

Our trip host will be Jiwei Fu, National Adviser for Chinese, ILEP and programme host. We will be based at the Beijing Language and Culture University and if that is no more than a coincident but that is the university of our current Mandarin Language Assistant Xuan.

Next week we will all meet together and begin the induction programme. I hope everyone is on WeChat the Chinese Social Media Communication space.

While I am away my usual social media tools will be blocked by the great firewall of China but that is not a problem because this year at my school most of the teachers have been using WeChat with our community so I will be able to keep in contact with school. I will also be able to communicate with my host daughter in Shanghai who has had a baby. I would have loved the opportunity to pop over there to hold her but that will have to wait for another visit.

I often just do things because I believe I have nothing to lose but in order for this trip to go ahead I needed my principal’s and board’s approval and my sisters support because they will be looking after my aging parents while I am gone.

Why am I going? Well for me the greatest reason is to learn more about the children that I teach. I want to make stronger connections. A key towards empathy is learning some of their language and learning about where they come from. I am an ACCoS Across School Leader and in our Community of Learners we have identified that our Chinese learners are growing in greater numbers.

Where to next

When I return from my journey I am expected to share and implement what I learnt with our students. In addition I am expected to share at clusters, networks, language associations, conferences and various other professional development sessions including my work colleagues. I am also expected to continue teaching Mandarin which I will do. Part of that includes continuing with my night classes at Unitec with Huang and learning Mandarin alongside other amazing people. This year I set a personal goal of achieving HSK Level 2. If you want to know more about WeChat download the phone app and then look for me. My id is: Ulimasao. I love WeChat for the ease I have with translating from the language being used for communication and back into my own language. What an absolute gem for our migrant families.

Teacher Professional Development Languages (TPDL)

‘Another language opens up a whole new window on the world. It might be small and difficult to see through at first, but it gives you a different perspective, and it might make you realise that your first window could do with a bit of polishing and even enlarging.’ 

(Hone Tuwhare, Die Deutsche Sprache und Ich, NZCTE, Goethe Institut, circa 1997)

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Newmarket School is committed to their Chinese students retaining their Chinese language skills and (as for all students) developing literacy skills in both Chinese and English, while also valuing the learning of Te Reo Maori.

Wendy Kofoed (Principal) and Virginia Kung (Deputy Principal) have attended Principals Delegations to China with the Confucius Institute previously, and this helped them to understand the contexts that new students from China are coming from. (Virginia herself is a heritage speaker of Cantonese and grew up in New Zealand.) The school has had school delegations from Singapore and is developing a sister-school relationship in Ningbo.

I  am a bi-lingual Samoan and English speaker and have early stage proficiency in Dutch, French, Maori and Japanese. I am a TESOL trained teacher and have led a Samoan Bilingual Team and taught Samoan. I have traveled to China twice in the past three years and this year I took up the challenge to learn Chinese and lead the teaching of Chinese at Newmarket School. Currently I am the ALLiS (Asian Language Learning in Schools programme) Lead Teacher. I am also a learning concierge for the Flat Connections Project, observing how students and teachers between Australia, China and New Zealand are communicating using Wechat, a mobile text and voice messaging communication service, as well as other online forms of communication.

Newmarket School has had Mandarin Language Assistants from the Confucius Institute for five years, and are aiming for continued sustainability with me having a lead role and giving support to the junior classroom teachers as they increasingly take over more of the teaching of Chinese. This year I not only had support from Parent Language Assistants but also community members who taught Mandarin in the middle and senior school. Chinese lessons are run after school and are coordinated by the parent community.

Recently I completed TPDL (Teacher Professional Development Languages), a Ministry-funded one year programme. The programme supports teachers by providing them with Language Study. When I stood up to receive my graduation certificate my principal and deputy principal rushed up with an ‘ula lole’ as an acknowledgment of their support. Now those of you in school know how important it is to have support in the work you do and I have certainly had that this year from Wendy and Virginia. 

support

As part of the TPDL programme I have been taking a weekly Mandarin class at Unitec Institute of Technology and passed HSK Level 1. I must mention here two amazing year 5 students who gave me 30 minutes of Mandarin practice each week. I listen to my colleagues in my Mandarin class speaking about how challenging it is to find people to practice with and I have had this extra luxury.screen-shot-2016-11-26-at-6-37-32-am

All students and teachers at our school have had  Chinese lessons this year. I teach in the Junior School and during my In-School Support Visits I was observed teaching a New Entrant class and working with their teacher and also teaching a combined large group with a total of 55 junior school students and three teachers. These students were be grouped to learn with me or with the other two teachers with whom we work cooperatively. Within the large group students were grouped into advanced/heritage speakers, a middle group and an emergent group. However with TPDL training this learning has shifted to more across grouping so that students can  also learn with and from each other. Students chant and sing together at the beginning and end of lessons and also break up to work in their groups. After each observation an In-School Support Facilitator discussed my lesson in order to support me in my language teaching. These In-School Support Visits took place each term and I found them valuable for reflection and identifying my next steps. Thank you to Andrea, Sarah, Reubina and the children of Te Ako Kowhai for allowing me to come into your class each week and work with your children. 

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I frequently teach through songs and chants.  I have aimed for the students to replace words in songs to change the meaning of the sentence. This year I presented several times in order to share my learning and to help with reflection.

First of all I presented at the NZALT (New Zealand Association of Language Teachers) conference in Nelson in July. Here is a link to my presentation. Then I presented at  the Chinese Language Teacher’s Conference. Next I presented to the Auckland Ningbo sister school principals conference. After that I was invited by Julie Lindsay to share on a Global Education Panel Discussion during the 12online conference.  Finally I shared my inquiry in front of my colleagues as part of the TPDL assignments inquiry to the TPDL.

The whole school has Chinese lessons and recently more and more responsibility now rests with class teachers as they take over teaching Mandarin in class. I have created a chinese blog and use it to highlight my lessons. While our teachers have great heart in teaching languages they have had some anxieties about teaching Mandarin as non-native speakers, they feel that this is specialist work. They are more competent and capable of ensuring students have cultural competencies in Mandarin. Myself? I can totally empathise with this and for this year have the TPDL team to thank for supporting me in my journey of knowing first hand what it is like to walk in my learners shoes by learning and teaching a new language.

I am beginning to utilise across school connections from lead teacher observations. For example I learnt a lot from Cornwall Park School and Meadowbank School by observing how their teachers teach Mandarin. 

Some of the highlights for me this year have been

Chinese Language Week link to photos and videos.

  • Confucius – sent in artists
  • Asia New Zealand (applied for and won funding)
  • Having Lily Lee share with us.

Hosting our sister school and when the Children returned to China we continued communication via wechat. Then I was asked to present at theNingbo-Auckland Education Association (NAEA) conference. This years conference theme was“Connecting Learners” and the aim was to further strengthen existing ties between sister schools in Ningbo, China and Auckland, New Zealand.

naea

Passing HSK level1.

hsk-results

Learning to use WeChat for making connections with external agencies and some of our parents.

Some of the unexpected spinoffs have been forming closer relationships with parents and children. 

Overall taking part in the TPDL programme has allowed me to reflect on myself as a learner and as a teacher. The year is nearly over and I am so looking forward to some quiet time. I have learnt a lot about myself and I have learnt a lot about the children and their families that I work with. Learning other languages enables our children to practice the key competencies of “relating to others” and “managing self” while developing a strong sense of their cultural identity.

Finally I must mention here our own Ministry of Education who fund this  in-service year-long professional development programme. The programme combines language study, second language acquisition pedagogy, and in-school support to enable effective language teaching. I believe that all teachers who teach children learning English should apply for TPDL. The papers can count towards the Graduate Diploma of TESSOL.  I really liked the course because it reminded me how hard the journey is for our learners and reminded me that language learning is all about Whanaungatanga. 

New Zealand Chinese Language Week

clcw

Newmarket School recently celebrated its first Chinese Language Week. In New Zealand Chinese is the fourth-largest ethnic speaking group. However at Newmarket School it is our largest group. Our school is nearly one third Chinese and we wanted to celebrate who we are.

As a school we promoted Chinese language and culture through a range of activities. Students were involved in several events such as calligraphy, traditional Chinese games, making and cooking dumplings, investigating and creating Chinese art, eating Mooncakes, and a celebration assembly. Our children also used WeChat to talk to a kindergarten and then our sister school in China.

We had a special day on Wednesday when children were invited to celebrate their own culture by wearing traditional dress. We asked for a gold coin donation to help with the publication of a student created book telling the story of Chang E. I am still working on this with our children.

Friday was a special day for us because the youngest members of our school led our assembly. The whole school had been learning songs and a dance that we incorporated into our assembly. Mandarin has been identified by our school community as being important. So much so that we offer after school classes in addition to the language being taught in all our classes.

We have undertaken this journey because our Ministry of Education research shows that Mandarin is an upcoming global language. I also know from experience that learning a second language contributes to literacy skills in our children’s first language. As a school we are part of the Asian Language Learning in Schools (ALLiS). Therefore I am a student of Mandarin and am teaching the language to our five and six year olds.

The week long events highlighted our Chinese students and chance for them to step up and be leaders. At the same time many of our senior school students stepped up too and led morning tea game activities and supported many of the in class art activities.

We were one of the lucky schools to receive funding from the Asia New Zealand Foundation to hold events. This funding was used to purchase art equipment and Chinese food ingredients for our children.

We also had Lily Lee as a guest speaker who shared her book Sons of the Soil and told us stories of her time at Newmarket School.  Confucius Institute Auckland supported us with a guest calligrapher and support team who shared his skills with us. In addition we were most fortunate to have parents who gave time to share their skills too.

For clearer photos, do visit our school’s facebook page.

Where to next?

This coming weekend I have been invited to share our story at the Oceania Chinese Language Conference. Here is a link to my slides.

Our junior classes will continue to flatten their walls of learning as we take part in the Flat Connections Project beginning in term 4. The project is called K-2 Building Bridges to Tomorrow. We will be working with schools from around the world as we connect, collaborate and share our learning together. One way of doing this is using WeChat and all our junior school teachers are signed up and on board.

Failure is not falling down but refusing to get up

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Introduction

Yesterday I took a bit of a risk. Yesterday was the day to share my inquiry around Chinese language learning with my year 0 and 1 children and teachers at Newmarket School. We were asked to create a Task Based Language Activity, teach it, evaluate its effectiveness and present our learning to our colleagues in the EDProfst360 TPDL Course. I had extra pressure of having my principal invited to come and hear my learning and of course she accepted and was there. My learning about the task I created was how I failed and the learning I took away from this. So here is my presentation and story.

  • wǒ xìng Van Schaijik
  • wǒ jiào Sonya
  • wǒ shì xiǎo xué  lǎoshī
  • wǒ zài Newmarket xuéxiào jiào shū

Background

My class is made up of forty four year 0 & 1 students. I take them for thirty minutes once each week. The class is made up of 22 year 0 students and 22 year 1. Of these ⅓ are Chinese speakers of varying proficiency from new learners of English to having some words. There are two teachers who work in class with me and we are all learning together. However because I am in the TPDL programme I am the teacher preparing and leading the lessons. My own language of Mandarin is minimal and I am in my second semester of learning Mandarin. I am also teaching the language therefore my proficiency is developing.

Where did the idea for my Task Based Language Activity  come from?  

Earlier this year for my first assignment, I researched Rod Ellis. I  developed the learning task using a PM reader. I was really clear in my approach and rationale behind the lesson. I spent ages on the artefact so that it all worked well. I called in a proficient L1 speaker to help with the resource. My understanding was the task should have worked.

Information gap.

So I carried out the lesson with the whole class. The task was mostly receptive and did not require much language demand because the children were already familiar with colours and where is (zài nǎ lǐ)

 叶 子 在 哪 里
hóng zi zài nǎ lǐ

They just needed the new word zi meaning leaf.

I deliberately chose a PM reader that most would have already read in English so there was little language demand.

I wanted the children to fill in the missing colours by looking at the picture of the leaf. I believed that they would easily accomplish this simple task and the lesson would be a great success. 

However I experienced a disastrous outcome. I felt that nothing was right.

Justification on my disaster

So I reflected on the outcome.

  • Why was the task all wrong?
  • Maybe the timing was wrong.
  • My expectations were too high.
  • I did not have enough language knowledge to carry out the teaching of the task.
  • Maybe the children were just playing up for me this particular day.

#Smallvoice

Then a niggling doubt surfaced. Maybe my designed task did not not fit a task based language activity.

According to Rod Ellis, a task has four main characteristics:

  1. A task involves a primary focus on (pragmatic) meaning.
  2. A task has some kind of ‘gap’.
  3. The participants choose the linguistic resources needed to complete the task.
  4. A task has a clearly defined, non-linguistic outcome.

Yes there was meaning because the children could see the colours and hear the language.

But there was no gap because I was teaching whole class, all children could see the task. I misinterpreted Gap as a Gap in knowledge, rather than a gap in communication. 

I did not give the participants an opportunity to choose the linguistic resources in order to complete the task because I had colour coded the vocabulary I expected them to use.

The task did not have a clearly defined, non-linguistic outcome. Instead I expected a focus on form.

Evaluating the task

I could not evaluate the task because I did not have enough evidence. I did not allow the students to use all the language they knew and or are learning. Instead I expected them to use just the ‘target language’ of the lesson. Therefore I had little evidence of output.

Time was against me as the term’s end was approaching fast. So instead I gave up on this activity and left the idea of task based language teaching for a few weeks. 

Instead I concentrated on more focussed input such as building vocabulary and building simple sentences by having the children continue to learn formulaic sentences.

I used more songs to give sentence frames and structure for language. I read more around the criteria of a task.

The impact of designing this task on my teaching

With failing comes reflection:

  • Reflecting on practice and where to next;
  • Discussion with colleagues how to improve the task and using my colleagues and their teaching skills; 
  • Refocus Task Based Language Teaching and ensuring that pretask, task and review are ongoing;
  • Refocus on learning formulaic expressions;
  • Refocus on my own language learning and registering for semester two of learning Chinese;
  • Focus on allowing the children to use all the language they knew and or are learning and opportunities to develop greater complexities of the target language such as using connectives or time order words.

Try again but adapting the task

  • Will the activity engage learners’ interest?
  • Is there a primary focus on meaning?
  • Is there a goal or an outcome?
  • Is success judged in terms of outcome?
  • Is completion a priority?
  • Does the activity relate to real world activities?

Focus on Input

So I spent most of term three focussing on input because the children still required plenty of exposure to LI through input before I can expect output. Therefore I focussed on smaller group teaching with the teachers focussing on language input. I was lucky enough to have an L1 parent join us as support and she was a fabulous L1 model and help. We also had a teacher in her final year of training who had the mindset and was willing to have a go. So with our forty four students we had 5 adults. I continued to use youtube videos as a model for L1 and created several visuals with images that would help with receptive input because most of our children are still developing basic reading skills. I focussed too on less whole class teaching except for the pre task stage.

The impact that ‘failure’ had on my students

Initially I was gutted and felt like giving up. I was tired and disheartened and I know that by my third TPDL observation I had more than had enough of my own learning.

But as the Chinese saying is

失败不是倒下,但拒绝起床。
shībài bùshì dǎoxià dàn jùjué qǐchuáng
Failure is not falling down but refusing to get up

So as a thinking teacher who is always reflecting I looked for opportunities to bring in the expertise of the teachers I work with. I completed another assignment around the key concepts relevant to intercultural communicative language learning. This gave me another pathway to think outside the square and try something even more amazing.

Our Chinese Language and Culture Week at Newmarket School

So I approached our management team and asked for the opportunity to develop a week long series of events that focussed on culture. I applied to the Asia New Zealand Foundation and won a grant to help with the weeks event. I planned for several cultural events such as the kinds of games that children played, a calligrapher who shared his skills and who I was able to get through the support of our deputy principal and her connections with Confucius, a guest speaker who wrote a book about the history of Chinese Market gardeners to New Zealand.  I thought seriously about opportunities for language output and was especially excited because my focus classes of year zero and one would be hosts for the upcoming school assembly. I ran a small speech competition with a focus on students who could use connectives and I also looked for students who could recite a poem because I knew that they would have to carry out research to do this. Classes were invited to compete a Chinese art artefact and in order to do this I knew that the teachers would have had to research into some Chinese history and to find out about the art before they would do this. I asked all classes in the school to learn a dance and to learn three songs in preparation for the assembly and they did. My own Chinese dance group were given another opportunity to present and this time I ensured that they had dance costumes so they looked stunning.
The highlights are published on our Newmarket School’s Facebook page. The highlights for me were:

  • Seeing the little children talk to a kindergarten in China via WeChat and singing Twinkle Twinkle little stars together;
  • Seeing the parents come in to help with in class activities;
  • Seeing the delight at the whole school partaking in mooncakes during Mooncake day;
  • All classes learning a little bit of culture and language;
  • Our fabulous guests;
  • Our senior students leading the games events each morning tea;
  • Of course my absolute pride at the fabulous team lead assembly from the 5 and 6 year olds.

Balance

You might fall down seven times and maybe on the eighth time you might have your balance. As I reflect on my language programme I must balance meaning focussed input with meaning focussed output. I must balance  Language Focussed Learning with Fluency Development. This delicate balance enables more student centred, meaningful communication, and provides extra-linguistic skill building. I must continue to provide real world activities and tasks that are familiar to the students such as our WeChat session and our fabulous week long celebration. Our recent week highlighted that our students and staff were engaged which may further motivate them in their ongoing language learning of our target language as part of the ALLiS project.

Celebrate the learning

Finally look for opportunities to celebrate the language learning. Use the tools to capture the output such as video or iRecord. I have a big week ahead of me as I publish our celebration for our school website. I have a group of students who I will record their poems and introductions for our learning resources. I have a book that needs publishing in both English and Mandarin. I have heaps of people to send thank you letters to that helped make our week amazing.

So my failure ended up being hugely successful for my children and my school. I am always looking for new ways of forced output for our children. I have managed to convince our junior school team to take big steps in term four. They have all signed up for WeChat as we explore new ways for making connections with our families. As a team we have signed up for K-2 Flat Connections project where they will work with schools around the world and look at new ways of learning for our children. The project is called ‘Building Bridges for Tomorrow‘.   Our teachers will be exposed to new tools and the chance to think in new ways because technology has a way of forging past the traditional junior school teacher modelling books and the traditional walls of sharing student learning.

Sharing is caring — learning is giving back to the community

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Image from Darren Kuropatwa

Ewan once wrote that ‘Sharing, and sharing online specifically, is not in addition to the work of being an educator. It is the work.

Recently I was interviewed as part of a research in the use of digital tools in appraisal practices in primary schools. I was asked some interesting questions that I found myself thinking about the interview long after it was over. 

I was drawn back to a series of presentations I shared at Eduignite. My second in a series of three was Digital Tattoos. At Eduignite, I shared about the importance of leaving evidence of what we do as educators and to be cautious of having folders on desks. Personally I have never understood the point of having an appraisal paper folder. I struggle even more with the notion of creating PDFs of what I do. I chuckle at the PDF notion just like I chuckle at stories of educators being asked to print off digital planning. I am aware of needing evidence for compliance, but believe like Ewan, that online sharing is much more powerful. You can check out my slides from that Eduignite session below. Even then I scoffed at the paper folders.

I have writing several times about the importance of transparent sharing.

When I reread my 2015 goal of having all teachers at Newmarket School with an online reflective blog, I am excited to say that I have achieved that goal. Currently most blogs look like the early push onto twitter. Sporadic writing like the earlier sporadic tweeting. Two have set theirs up but have not yet taken that first step. But hey after curating #EdBlogNZ  with two online colleagues, I know, as a school we are in a good space.

I am always thinking about the importance of our teachers sharing. I do remind them about using twitter like online note taking so that they can get into the habit of microblogging and our teachers have supported the use of our school hashtag .

This year I have been particularly excited to see our teachers examples of sharing. These include

  • Running Staff Meetings
  • Running school wide events
  • Presenting outside of school at education events
  • Sharing at Educamp
  • Sharing at an online course and at face2face courses
  • Sharing on twitter chats

However the most powerful of these are when I can see a follow up reflection on their blogs because again it is the sharing online that creates an artefact for the education community.

I am really excited at across school sharing. We have the ACCoS initiative, the ALLiS and the Mutukaroa projects. In addition I co ordinate our Eastern Area ESOL cluster group.

Community of Learners

Soon I will be sharing our school’s journey at Ulearn. I will be sharing about how Newmarket School contributes to many networks such as:

I will be sharing how changes and structures in the school day have evolved from being teacher driven to being student driven and enable innovative approaches to teaching and learning. Also how task-based learning activities are curated for students and how communication evolves as both teachers and students learn to give and receive feedback. I will also share how informal and formal learning creates opportunities for sharing knowledge and skills among the learning community. The above spaces will be used as examples as well as what we are doing in Newmarket School with our children and teachers.

Where to next?

Reminding teachers about keeping content current is an important part of online sharing. I have a project that has developed into something quite close to my heart and that is the #EdBookNZ project. This is where I have identified current education jargons and invited educators to contribute a piece of writing. I take all the writing and publish a digital book for the education community. The #TeachMeetNZ google hangouts that I have run quarterly have been shelved because I have taken on two other roles this year and that has been about building communities of learners.

Finally, I am particularly excited that our principal joining the next cohort of Flat Connection Leadership for Global Education. A criteria of the course is regular blogging so I look forward to her ongoing online sharing.

So as schools how open are your examples of teachers creating and sharing? Do your teachers see online sharing as on top of what they do or is online sharing part of their practice? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Mid Autumn Festival

Background

This year I have been learning Chinese as part of my Teacher Professional Development Languages (TPDL) learning. TPDL is an in-service year-long professional development programme for teachers at all New Zealand schools.

I chose to take on the challenge of learning Mandarin as part of being the ALLiS teacher for Newmarket School. I also took on the challenge as I wanted to foster closer relationships with the children that I work with at Newmarket School. Nearly one third of our school is made up of children who speak Chinese. I have visited China twice already but with limited vocabulary and my second visit happened during their Chinese New Year.

chang e Chang e -drawn by Seroung

Mid Autumn Festival 中秋節

Soon in China it is the Mid Autumn Festival 中秋節, also known as the Moon Festival. One key idea I have learnt is the importance of festivals and celebrations to bring families back together. My first visit to Chine was just before the time of the Mid Autumn festival. During this visit I was introduced to moon cakes. Again I had very little knowledge of the importance of sharing moon cakes.

The Mid Autumn Festival  falls on the 15th day of the 8th month in the Chinese lunar year. Myself I naively thought this meant the 15th of August. However had omitted the phrase Chinese lunar year in my first round of information. I know now that Mid Autumn Festival takes place in September because Chinese New Year happens in February when we compare the dates to the Gregorian calendar or the calendar which the western countries use. This year the date for celebration is the 15th of September.

The Mid-Autumn Festival has its own special food. People eat moon cakes for celebration. The moon cake is a kind of pastry with various fillings and the surface is printed with different artistic patterns.  Mid-Autumn Festival is also a time for family reunions. As the moon cake is round in shape, it symbolises the reunion of a family.
So for this Mid-Autumn Festival our children at Newmarket School will enjoy a delicious moon cake at school and at home they will probably also enjoy a Moon Cake shared with family.

nzclw

New Zealand Chinese Language and Culture Week

Last year New Zealand celebrated Chinese Language week around this period. The first I heard about it was after the event. I have been watching for this years dates and checking the internet for the confirmed week. This year there is now a site for this event.

This year I was determined that at Newmarket School we would celebrate this new national event. So at Newmarket School I am working with a group of senior students to coordinate a week long list of activities. I have just finished a paper on Intercultural Language Teaching which clarified the need to communicate in the first place and seek to teach culture in a way which develops intercultural communicative skills at the same time as developing language skills. Intwined with cultural activities is the opportunity to develop language. As a Mandarin teacher I have been focussed predominantly on language. Partly because of my own focus of learning Mandarin. 

NZCLW at Newmarket School

With my senior students we have developed a list of activities that they have chosen to lead over this week. The activities planned include:

  • Elastics
  • Long skipping rope activities
  • Pong pong
  • Chopsticks activities
  • Diabolo spinning
  • Jianzi- hacky sack-  Shuttle Cock kicking

One key activity is a language activity as I really want our children who learn Mandarin to have the opportunity to celebrate their learning. I will also give the children the chance to practice a formulaic speech and for this activity I will use our fluent speakers as judges to help me judge this. The second part is to identify our fluent speakers because next year I will prepare them for the oral Mandarin speeches.

In addition I am keen to develop literacy skills for our Mandarin speaking children. So I have set the challenge of writing a book in English to retell the story of Chang-e. The lady in the moon. Our children who are literate in Mandarin will help me with translating. Also we have our parent community who will help me with the final draft. I have a group of artists who have chosen to develop the images that will be used.

In class activities that teachers and classes can choose to include in their programme are:

  • Dumpling making
  • Calligraphy
  • Painting cherry blossoms
  • Painting Panda
  • Decorate a tea tin
  • Make and fly fish shaped kites
  • Mask painting
  • Paper cutting
  • Making lanterns from recycled materials

Health and Well Being

One of our school wide goals for 2016 is ‘Heath and Well Being’. So by incorporating mindfulness into the weeks programme through exercise, physical activities and meditation I am proactive in developing a positive health awareness culture in our workplace. I am conscious too that by sharing moon cakes during this week I must take into account the children in our school who have allergies to egg and nuts. Again it is about being prepared and identifying those children for their safety and well being. My next step is to work with my student organising committee and identify any hazards in their physical activities so that injuries for participating children will be minimised. I also need to reconnect with our National Chinese advisor as I wish to strengthen our working relationship. I also still need to reestablish connections with a past pupil of our school by inviting her to our events.During my research for the types of activities to run I have made connections with Confucius, Asia New Zealand, our local secondary school, several parents in our school community, our after school Chinese teachers and of course our children who are running several morning tea activities.

WeChat

Those of you who work with Chinese children and are not yet aware of Wechat, then use your phone and locate the app. Wechat is an amazing social media tool to use to create connections with our Asian neighbours. I use Wechat for communication in the Connect with China Flat Connections initiative. I use Wechat to build communications with some of our parents. I use Wechat to maintain connections with our previous Mandarin Language Assistants and to communicate with New Zealand teachers who have shifted to China. I use Wechat to develop closer relationships with our sister school in Ningbo. I have used Wechat to make connections with a kindergarten who will communicate with our junior school during the upcoming week of celebration. 

The week long celebration is now just two weeks away. I have let our parent community know that it is happening via our newsletter. I have alerted teachers to the dates and to be aware of their contribution in class. I have met with the student leadership team to design the activities that will be run. So now it is down to the finer details.

Those of you who are in an ALLiS cluster, what kinds of events have you hosted to raise awareness and to celebrate our children?