Confucius Classroom

Posted on: 06 Mar 2015

One of the first schools in Britain to teach Mandarin, Oundle School is one of just 37 schools to be appointed a ‘Confucius Classroom’.

Hua Yan, the school’s Head of Chinese, Oundle is keen to help pupils in other local independent and state schools learn Chinese.

There was a Chinese buffet lunch, a Chinese dragon and lion dancing. It can only have been Chinese New Year, a time of celebration at Oundle.

The school invited Headteachers and Heads of Modern Languages from sixteen local schools across the East Midlands to visit for Chinese taster lessons. There was also a Chinese short play performed by Oundle pupils.

The event was the perfect chance to explore the outreach opportunities between schools and to brain storm ideas for further activities in Chinese learning.

Oundle’s proposed outreach programme will include weekend classes, after-school clubs in local schools, taster lessons and themed events, skype links and lectures.

As the only secondary school in Northamptonshire currently teaching Mandarin, Oundle has recently been appointed as a Hanban ‘Confucius Classroom’. Hanban is the Office of Chinese Language Council International, a public institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry for Education. ‘Confucius Classroom’ status is awarded by Hanban to schools outside of China that are good enough and ambitious enough in Chinese teaching and learning. The teaching of Mandarin has flourished in Oundle, with the number of Chinese learners increasing steadily from 25 in 2010 to nearly 80 in 2014.

There are currently 37 IOE ‘Confucius Classrooms’ in a variety of different English schools (both state-maintained and independent) which teach pupils of all ages.

As a Confucius Classroom, Oundle will benefit from both the provision of experienced Chinese teachers from China and free teaching resources in exchange for the School promoting Chinese teaching in the region - giving advice, support and taster classes to other schools in the East Midlands that are looking to start offering Chinese.

Oundle has offered Mandarin teaching since 1995 and was one of the first of very few schools to do so in the UK. Chinese started as an extra-curricular option and has developed into a popular timetabled option to GCSE and Pre-U level.

Since starting as Head of Chinese in 2010, I have found that pupils will usually feel more interested and engaged if they know what they are learning is related to something that they are familiar with. A teacher’s role is to provide this link. When we start teaching characters which, in my experience, is the most challenging part of the subject, I remind pupils that they are already dealing with characters. When they see the symbol '8', they know it is pronounced [eɪt], and it means ‘eight’.

When I teach tones, I start with the highest pitch and the lowest pitch that they hear in their daily life, and tell pupils the flat highest pitch is the first tone, and the flat lowest pitch is the third tone. Once they have grasped these two tones, I introduce the other two tones, the second tone being the rising tone and the fourth tone being the falling tone within the two extremes.

Another strategy here at Oundle is to incorporate learning the language with cultural activities or trips. Some pupils enjoy singing Chinese pop songs, whilst others enjoy learning Chinese through sketches.

Trips to China have always been popular at Oundle. A pupil who recently went on a trip to Beijing over the Christmas break said: 'With a language as alien to the English as Chinese, the only way to really get experience on a day-to-day level is by going to the country.” Pupils always enjoy the opportunities to put their Mandarin to good use, and experience Chinese culture first-hand, and work closely with local students. Our recently refurbished Adamson Modern Languages department, with its state-of-the art language labs and pods, is another source of inspiration and dynamism for both the teaching staff and our pupils.

Last year, twenty pupils took GCSE Chinese in June 2014, with sixteen gaining an A* grade and four an A grade. Over the last few years a number of pupils from the department have gone on to university to read Chinese and one of our present Upper Sixth pupils, who started learning Mandarin in the Third Form with us, has recently been offered a place at Cambridge for October.

The popularity of Chinese as a subject will no doubt continue to increase, given China's importance in the global economic arena. As an Oundle parent commented in a recent email to the School: “The demand will continue to grow over the forthcoming years with more families having the opportunity of living and working in China and recognising the importance of learning the language.”

Internationalism is important to Oundle; today’s generation will be competing for jobs in a highly competitive and global world. Our aim is not only to be at the cutting edge of teaching and learning, but ultimately to enable everyone within our community to learn and appreciate any language of their choosing.

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