Wǒ jiào Sonya


What I know

As part of the TPDL course I have undertaken for the year, one criteria is reflecting on my journey of learning Mandarin.

I have been a student at Unitec learning Mandarin for one evening a week from Huang Wu who teaches Chinese (Mandarin) Level 1A at Unitec.

The lessons have been the incentive I needed to learn Mandarin, however the real motivation to learn the language has been from teaching the five and six year olds each week. That is a blog post in itself.

So far I can say my colours, how to count to 99, I have several basic greetings and am learning to ask questions.

What I am learning

Then this week I attended the pedagogy component at Auckland university. Two thirds of the session was immersion in Mandarin. That was an absolute challenge and I admired our tutor Janelle Wood immensely for modelling formulaic expressions.  Formulaic expressions accelerate language acquisition and students can gain 33% of  vocabulary using this strategy. Therefore we were exposed to 100% Mandarin and were expected to use the language. 

We covered several activities with varying levels of forced output, such as a dominoes activity, where we found  the answer to statements based on the ten Ellis principles.

When we split into our language focus groups we were introduced to further language learning strategies such as:

  1. Introducing ourselves,
  2. Reading a Chinese book silently and in pairs and discussed what we could using Mandarin.
  3. Trimono a puzzle activity (2:5.1)
  4. What is this?
  5. Songs like the transport one that reinforced colours by listening.
  6. Dot to dot focusing on Mandarin number characters.
  7. Matching activity where we matched a formulaic expression with the English.
  8. Race against the clock.

I was exhausted after the two days. I came home both days and had a nana nap. I thought about our children who go through this exercise day after day and really empathised with them.

The TPDL course puts us in the place of the learner. So we learn a language that we are unfamiliar with. We learn how to acquire a language. A lot of what I am learning is a revisit of what was covered in the Diploma of TESOL. However being a language learner has reminded me of the challenges our English Language Learners encounter every day.

I had forgotten about the exhaustion of language learning.

In my Mandarin focus group, I had 3 colleagues from the Mandarin course at Unitec. So it was great to make further connections with them.

My week’s highlights

  • Catching the train to and from Unitec allowed me the opportunity to download my thoughts.
  • Attending an ALLIS Lead Teacher Meeting hosted at Epsom Girls grammar where we shared our school’s journey.
  • Having a student help me with translation. She showed me how she used her chrome for Mandarin character writing and then used google translate to add the PinYin.
  • I memorised and use formulaic expressions in my teaching of Mandarin.
  • A child told his mother that I spoke Mandarin and I understood the statement.

What I still need to learn:

I need to:

  • Memorise the number characters and the colour characters;
  • Learn more formulaic expressions;
  • Learn to tell the time.

What I still need to do:

  • I still need to create formulaic expressions as learning mats for my learners.
  • I need to apply for my student Identity Card so I can get Wifi at Auckland university.

Overall I now believe I can learn Mandarin and I am glad I asked to teach the language because this has enabled me to memorise vocabulary. The spin off is the incredible connections I am making with my children who take great delight in helping me. The experience is also a reminder that learning a language is hard work and is exhausting for our learners. Teachers remember to provide heaps of visuals both in picture form and to provide a learning mat of formulaic expressions for your learners in class to help them survive the early days.



Term 1 Observation

Visit 1 focus: Baseline data of teacher and student use of target language.

My Reflection.


This week I had the pleasure of meeting Wendy Thomson Director of TPDL. Wendy has been Project director since its inception as a pilot programme in 2005. She is an experienced language teacher and speaks several languages herself. Currently like me she is also learning Mandarin. For this first observation, she was my ISSF, In-School Support Facilitator.

What is TPDL?

Teacher Professional Development Languages (TPDL) is a programme that provides professional development and accreditation for languages teachers throughout New Zealand in order to improve their pedagogy and language fluency in ways that impact positively on student achievement. I have written about TPDL before when I reflected on my first Mandarin lesson.

Reason for the visit.

Wendy had come to Newmarket School to observe me teaching Mandarin and to gather baseline data about me and my student’s use use of Mandarin throughout my lesson. She used scaffolded observation criteria and structured observation and reflection tools that enabled me to see the extent to which my classroom practice supports effective language learning. Those of you who have been following this story will be nodding your heads about me as the learner. Gathering data and supporting me to identify my next steps. I have been teaching for over 30 years and am always excited at learning something new. My knowledge of Mandarin language is currently growing and in order to make the 2000 basic interpersonal skills in a year I need to be learning 25 new vocabulary a week. So far this week I have made that. I have learnt to count to ten and I know all the primary colours. I know that I would not have learnt these words if I had not been teaching them.  The experience is a reminder to us all about the power of teaching to clarify thinking when learning something new. How often do we give students the experience of teaching? I know I need to do much more think, pair, share activities in my practice.

Wendy shared with me the work of Rod Ellis and I am already familiar with Rod’s work because of my recent published book with Pam Hook, SOLO Taxonomy and English Language Learners. However what she did was to map my lesson against the Ten principles of Successful Language Instruction, Ellis 2005.

Wendy literally transcribed everything I said. I was interested in seeing those highlighters being used because I tested that out last year with my student’s writing and used highlighters as visible evidence of their writing. Always with my elearning lens on, I questioned her use of paper copies as I said I could have given her WiFi Access. When we looked over my transcript I could identify the number of times I used Mandarin, the number of times the children used Mandarin and more importantly the number of times I could have used Mandarin. With her support  I was able to identify my next steps based on evidence of me and my students’ use of the language. For me my next step was using Mandarin for classroom use.

She gave me hard copies of examples I can use in my lessons for classroom language and for social interactions. Again I would have loved the sheets in soft copy because now I need to spend time recreating them so I can have a set of small spiral cards with me during my lessons. I spent ages online with a translator but could not find the exact script, so I will have to remake them. Again how often do we give students worksheets rather than a soft copy that they can add to. That is the beauty of Hapara for sharing soft copies with our learners rather than giving them paper copies that they cannot edit.

She also gave me a paper folder and to be honest I asked her ‘Why.’ Again I am the student who would have preferred soft copies of everything. I know I can say this to her because if students keep accepting paper copies and ring bind folders and do not question the reason behind this, then our tertiary providers will keep thinking that this is OK. In my given kit was a memory stick of audio and again I thought, why are our tertiary providers not using online storage of sound for this purpose? Particularly in this current ease of WiFi. I believe access to the internet is like having access to roads. It just is. Do we really still have adult teacher learners who do not have WiFi access in this day and age? Have I been so spoilt with school access that I have forgotten reality? How many schools are still waiting to be snupped and are still waiting for N4L? My receiving a USB is like receiving a floppy disc. I am the student who will always ask for soft copies or who will turn up to an event with a mobile device and expect to be given the Wifi password.

Wendy informed me that I had covered 4 out of the 10 principles in my session. I have made them bold below and have given examples of how I did this.

  1. Instruction needs to ensure that learners develop both a rich repertoire of formulaic expressions and a rule-based competence.
  2. Instruction needs to ensure that learners focus predominantly on meaning.
  3. Instruction needs to ensure that learners also focus on form.

(I gave the children correct visual of the language in both PinYin and in Mandarin script.)

4. Instruction needs to be predominantly directed at developing implicit knowledge of the L2 while not neglecting explicit knowledge.

(Students were given the opportunity of making connections with what they were learning and with what they know. They showed me how they count to 10 in their own language or told me what the colours were in their home language.)

5.Instruction needs to take into account the learner’s ‘built-in syllabus’.

6. Successful instructed language learning requires extensive L2 input.

(I provided the children with good models of L2 using youtube video clips.)

   7.Successful instructed language learning also requires opportunities for output.

(I gave the students the opportunity of moving into smaller groups to practice what they learnt with me.)

8.The opportunity to interact in the L2 is central to developing L2 proficiency.

9.Instruction needs to take account of individual differences in learners.

(I had some first language speakers model for us therefore making use of their prior knowledge.)

10. In assessing learners’ L2 proficiency, it is important to examine free as well as controlled production.



Me teaching Yanse- Colours.

Teacher directed and from the front. I wonder who is the real learner here?

shareChildren practising in smaller groups how to introduce themselves.


Where to next

Wendy and I discussed my next observation. This will involve a different ISSF who will also carry out scaffolded observation criteria and structured observation and reflection tools. Again  I will see the extent to which my classroom practice supports effective language learning and this will continue to be mapped using evidence principles strategies against the Ten principles of Successful Instruction.


Wendy’s visit provided me with a lot to think about. The discussion was well structured and I felt like I was learning.  I am already a language teacher but being a language learner opens my eyes to how effective I am being as a language teacher. I am already trained in TESOL and have taught in a Bilingual Immersion class. But I think I would have benefitted from someone like Wendy observing me and giving me feedback on how much I was using the target language when I was teaching in Samoan. The experience was interesting for me and allowed me to reflect on where I am as a learner. So to finish with I will summarise my learning using SOLO Taxonomy.

What am I learning.

I am learning Mandarin and I am using the 10 principles of successful instruction to frame how I teach Mandarin to 5 year olds.

How is it going?

I believe it is going really well in this early stage. The part that I am enjoying the most is making connections with the children that I teach. My vocabulary is slowly building with using youtube and a Mandarin language learning app as I await my night course to begin. I have also been making connections with teachers in China using WeChat who are part of the Flat Connections  Connect with China Collaborative that I am involved in. I have had some positive comments from teachers after my lessons. I remind them about being actively involved when I come in to teach.

What do I need to do next?

My next step identified with Wendy is to learn Mandarin language for the classroom. I am determined to learn chunks of language and to put my vocabulary building into action. I want to praise the children in Mandarin and I want to begin giving instructions in Mandarin.


Here are PDF’s of some of what I was given in my ring binder.

Ellis, R. (last updated 15 July 2005). Instructed Second Language Acquisition. Section – Small Groupwork, p. 22: www.educationcounts.govt.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/6983/instructed-second-language.pdf

Ministry of Education [2006], Instructed Second Language Acquisition: Case Studies



Know thy Impact.

I often hear this phrase espoused by John Hattie and I thought about it after this week’s personal experience. I had a hilarious experience this week with the 5 years olds which I must share.



I am lead teacher for the ALLiS project at Newmarket School. As a school Newmarket has joined the ALLiS Cluster (Asian Language Learning in Schools). According to the MOE, the ALLiS Contract is funding available for schools or groups of schools, with particular emphasis on those that establish language learning pathways from primary through to secondary. The fund will encourage greater collaboration amongst schools in partnership with external Asian language and cultural organisations. Programmes must be self-sustaining once funding ends. The aim of the funding is to increase the number of students learning Asian languages to support our growing trade and international relationships. There are also bilingual benefits of learning a second language.


Our ALLiS Group of Schools.

Our group is the Epsom/Remuera group with Meadowbank School as our lead school. We are fortunate to have Deb Ward as our ALLiS Lead Teacher and she is based at Epsom Girls’ Grammar School. I have included a list of the school lead teachers in our group and we will be working together to increase the number of students learning Asian languages in our schools.


Deborah Ward ALLiS Lead Teacher
Stephanie Lin Parnell School
Maria Blanco Blanco Epsom Girls Grammar
Lisa Rolle Cornwall Park School
Joanne McNeil Remuera Intermediate
Jane Cameron Victoria Ave
Amy Ko Meadowbank
Sonya Van Schaijik Newmarket
Mary Fallwell Remuera Primary


This week at Newmarket School we began our Mandarin language and cultural programme for our school. We are fortunate to have access to our parent community who are Mandarin speakers and we were extra fortunate to have two parents agreed to teach Mandarin language and Culture further up in our school.IMG_2639

I have agreed to teach Mandarin and have been accepted into the Teacher Professional Development Languages Programme. (TPDL). The programme equips teachers to teach language effectively. Part of that is learning and teaching Mandarin for a whole year. I have registered and have paid for Chinese (Mandarin) Level 1A to begin soon at Unitec.



Those of you who know me know I am already quite a polyglot.

My first language is Samoan and I learnt English academically when we shifted here to New Zealand. I led a Samoan bilingual unit for two years and this strengthened my Samoan literacy. I learnt high school French and used this learning when I visited France. I also hosted a Tahitian student for a short period of time and this reactivated my schoolgirl French.

I learnt Maori at teacher’s college for three years and regularly led the Kapa Haka group. Now I can kind of get by with support. In my married life I learnt Dutch and when I visited Holland with my children’s father I was able to converse in Dutch with very little support.


When I first moved to Auckland I was thrown in at the deep end into a predominantly Tongan speaking class and learnt to survive on basic Tongan. I had a grandmother who often would teach me phrases which I used as part of classroom control.


I hosted Japanese teachers for three years and during that time I learnt Japanese at night school. I was able to use this learning when I visited Japan or when we have new English learners from Japan.

I also can say hello in all the languages of our children at Newmarket School.



So why am I now learning Mandarin, you may ask?


Well I have always maintained that I would never ask staff to do something that I was not prepared to do myself. So part of the ALLiS goal is learning an Asian language. It is about school sustainability with the Mandarin language. Our teachers have had access to a Mandarin Language Assistant who came to us as part of Confucius  and taught whole class Mandarin.


I chose Mandarin because I have hosted a Chinese student and absolutely adore her. In addition a large percentage of our school population are Chinese speakers. I live in Newmarket and know that out of all the local languages, Mandarin is the one I am most likely to have others to communicate with. This is because historically Newmarket has large numbers of Chinese migrants living here. I have visited China twice to visit my host daughter and I know I will return. I attend the Chinese lantern festival hosted each year in Auckland as part of making connections with the children I teach. I am also involved with the Flat Connections China Project as a teacher observer. I am fascinated with the way teachers are making connection across the locked down ‘Great Fire Wall of China’.


My level of Mandarin

If I use SOLO Taxonomy I know I am unistructural with Mandarin language.

I can count to 5, with support. My support are the children because they have been teaching me forever during my lunchtime duty. However I still need them to start me off. I can say hello, my name is Sonya and Goodbye. That is basically the sum of all I know in Mandarin. This week I have been practicing like mad to say Happy New Year, but still have to consult my card.

I also consciously learnt a new work. My new word was monkey. I thought about this and tried hard to remember the single sound of ‘hou’. This is because 2016 is the year of the Monkey and I wanted to share a little bit about the year of the monkey.


My first Lesson

I have agreed to teach the 5 year olds because I know from personal experience that if I am not prepared they will eat me alive. So I went into my lesson reasonably clear about the sequence of the lesson and my learning intention.


Everything was going really well. My first group were fabulous and I had support in the students with my pronunciation. They all made their monkeys and they all learnt basic sentences and could say this with support.


My next group involved two classes together and their two teachers. The lesson was a little more challenging because of the larger number. But that is OK because I know I will adjust from my peers feedback. I also know that the teachers are further along in Mandarin than me because they have had access to weekly lesson with the Mandarin Language Assistant so I am relying on them to support the lessons.


In the second class I have identified 7 fluent speakers who need much more than what I can deliver but that is OK too because I will use this piece of information to challenge my pedagogy. I do not want to teach whole class but want to structure the learning so my lessons caters for all levels of the language. Being a linguist I really want the children to be speaking in phrases rather than in single words as has been the previous few years learning.


I kept my eye on the short time and packed the children up. As they were leaving one little poppet, who was not a mandarin speaker called back to me,

再见猴子 Zàijiàn hóuzi. I responded with Zàijiàn. When he started giggling I realised what he had said and my first thought was, ‘just you wait until tomorrow.’


But then I thought about the linguistic implications. He had made a connection with two words, and he had made a joke. I know that to crack a joke in your second language takes quite a bit of thinking.


So do I feel pride or should I feel indignation? I will catch up with him about respect but will do so in a positive way. Unfortunately with 5 year olds, yesterday was a lifetime ago.


Personally, the parting comment made my afternoon and I was going around the staff telling anyone who would listen. However in this post I won’t respond what one staff member said. But it was really funny and you can probably make a smart guess.


My next steps

When I use SOLO to map my learning, extended abstract seems a lifetime away. But that is OK too. I have identified my starting level and I know what my next steps are.

My next steps will be carried out with Unitec with learning Mandarin and in the university paper on second language acquisition. I am looking forward to stretching my thinking by doing something new totally outside my comfort zone. I am really interested to learn about acquisition from a personal perspective and to apply it to a different way of learning.


Next week our group of schools will begin the ALLiS contract officially with an inauguration ceremony held at Epsom Girls Grammar. All of our staff will be present as we are committed to making this contract work.


For those of you wanting to know more about ALLiS you can join the online ALLiS Google+ community discussion group that has been set up.

But for now