Education Faculty Professional Development for Mandarin Language Assistants

On Saturday 22nd September, the VUW Education Faculty delivered the successful pilot of a new professional development programme for the Confucius Institute Mandarin Language Assistants (MLAs), in the new VUW science building Te Toki a Rata.

On Saturday 22nd September, the VUW Education Faculty delivered the successful pilot of a new professional development programme for the Confucius Institute Mandarin Language Assistants (MLAs), in the new VUW science building Te Toki a Rata.

Professor Stephen Dobson, Dean of Education delivered the first session titled “What makes a good teacher?”, which explored the connection between teaching, curriculum and assessment. Drawing on material ranging from BBC Master Chef to Norwegian proverbs, Professor Dobson covered: the purposes of assessment; assessment principles; some assessment strategies (assessment for, as, of learning); and talked about feedback in the short, medium and long time frames. In a thought-provoking session, the MLAs were asked to reflect on and discuss a number of underlying assumptions about assessments such as: are we measuring what we value, or valuing only what we can measure?;  and “Weighing the pig more often doesn’t make it any fatter”…as well as some seemingly more straightforward questions such as “What makes good feedback?” (see picture).

Dr Jenny Horsley, Senior Lecturer at the School of Education talked to the MLAs about “Differentiated learning environments”, in which she spoke about the diverse range of learners in the New Zealand classroom in terms of learning abilities as well as cultural and other differences.  This was a super engaging session with the MLAs offering their own views and insights about their experience of diversity in New Zealand classrooms, citing multiculturalism and individualism as two of the major differences compared to classrooms in China.  In addition to exploring themes of differentiation in learning, Dr Horsley provided some practical tools for the MLAs to prepare teaching plans catering to different learning groups.

Dr Carolyn Tait, Head of School, concluded the series of three lectures with a highly stimulating session on “Motivation and language learning”. In this session, Dr Tait asked the MLAs to consider why some students find it difficult to be motivated to learn Chinese while others are much more motivated.  The first half of the session involved the MLAs reflecting on their own experiences, leading into a class exercise in creating an environment that fosters motivation in learners.  The second part of the session outlined the findings of a recent study by VUW’s Carolyn Tait, Jonathan Newton, Stephen Epstein and Diego Navarro, on What are the motivations and disincentives to learning languages for students at school and university in New Zealand? Based on this, Dr Tait led an active discussion about reasons as to why New Zealand high school and university students were motivated to study Chinese language and why some were giving it up.  In discussing the results of the study, Dr Tait talked about the importance and significance of the MLAs’ work in keeping alive an interest in both Chinese language and culture in young New Zealanders.

This pilot professional development programme exceeded expectations not only in terms of the quality of the lectures (which was in fact expected!) but also the excellent levels of participation and input of the 27 MLAs from the greater Wellington region who attended.  Having now spent at least seven months in New Zealand schools (some are into their second year), the MLAs not only had the experience and language familiarity to understand the concepts outlined in the lectures, but had also developed the mindset to actively engage in the classes.

The Confucius Institute places great emphasis on professional development for the CI VUW MLAs, and we are delighted to be introducing these new “teacher training” sessions delivered by the VUW Education Faculty, which are not only high value, but also highly validating to the MLAs as part of their experience as teaching assistants in New Zealand classrooms.  While it was only possible to extend the pilot to the Wellington region MLAs (who make up less than half of the CI VUW total), we will be taking the programme to the regions next year, to ensure that our MLAs in and around Rotorua, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, Manawatu and Taranaki are also able to benefit from this teacher training.

Our intention is that the Education Faculty professional development will serve three-way benefits, by: improving the MLAs’ performance in the classroom; enhancing the MLAs’ professional capabilities (in teaching and more broadly); and in promoting the Faculty of Education to the MLAs as a possible future provider of qualifications such as the Post-graduate Diploma in Teaching.  In this way, the professional development will serve on several levels to improve the current quality of Chinese language teaching as well as contribute to the future sustainability of locally qualified Chinese language teachers in New Zealand.