Be­ing thrown in at deep end pays ed­u­ca­tional div­i­dends

China Daily (Canada) - - ANALYSIS -

wang­mingjie@mail. chi­nadai­lyuk.com

Every­body was shout­ing out “yuan­chang ji­uqiu” (home run), as a year 9 stu­dent passed the fourth base line on the Bo­hunt school play­ground dur­ing a phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion les­son in­volv­ing a game of rounders, a ver­sion of base­ball played in Bri­tish schools.

This PE les­son was jointly run by a Bo­hunt school phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion in­struc­tor and a Chi­nese lan­guage teacher, al­low­ing stu­dents to play the sport and learn­ing Man­darin at the same time.

This in­no­va­tive ped­a­gogy, known as im­mer­sion lan­guage teach­ing, was in­tro­duced by Bo­hunt School in 2010. As the first sec­ondary school in Bri­tain to in­tro­duce this ap­proach, its stu­dents were in­vited to teach the Prime Min­is­ter, David Cameron, some Man­darin be­fore he vis­ited China a few years ago.

“The im­mer­sion pro­gram is con­tent-and-lan­guage in­te­grated learn­ing where stu­dents will learn other sub­jects in a dif­fer­ent lan­guage,” said Strowger, head teacher at Bo­hunt School.

Im­mer­sion teach­ing means a group of stu­dents in Key Stage 3, nor­mally known as Year 7, Year 8 and Year 9, are taught a third of their cur­ricu­lum in the tar­get lan­guage, which can be French, Span­ish or Man­darin.

As in each core sub­ject, there is a lot of con­tent to get through, so the im­mer­sion tech­nique lends it­self more to prac­ti­cal sub­jects with less heavy con­tent, such as art, phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion, per­sonal, so­cial and re­li­gious sub­jects, as well as in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy, said Philip Avery, di­rec­tor of learn­ing and strat­egy for Bo­hunt Trust, which runs the school.

Those in the im­mer­sion group have a more pos­i­tive at­ti­tude to learn­ing than those out­side it, Avery said.

“That gap opens up dur­ing their first year and it stays all the way through their time with us. There is some­thing about how they per­ceive them­selves as learn­ers, how they per­ceive learn­ing and how they per­ceive school that is more pos­i­tive be­cause they have been in an im­mer­sion group.”

Ta­nia Ho­rak, a lan­guage lec­turer at the Univer­sity of Cen­tral Lan­cashire, said im­mer­sion teach­ing is an in­ter­est­ing con­cept and she be­lieves it has many ad­van­tages, among them that “the main con­cept be­hind this ap­proach is that lan­guage is be­ing used for re­al­life goals of ac­tual com­mu­ni­ca­tion, which is of­ten miss­ing from other types of lan­guage class­rooms”.

Ho­rak’s viewpoint was vividly il­lus­trated when one of the Bo­hunt stu­dents re­al­ized half way through de­liv­er­ing a tech­nol­ogy work­shop that her au­di­ence was pri­mar­ily French-speak­ing and thus, be­cause of her in­creased con­fi­dence through Bo­hunt’s French im­mer­sion pro­gram, switched lan­guages and pre­sented the rest of the work­shop in French.

“She had never learnt the word for ‘test tube’, but she was so used to not know­ing the words and be­ing able to get round it in other ways, so in that way we are able to pre­pare our stu­dents far bet­ter for a life­time of learn­ing and for learn­ing a lan­guage,” Avery said.

Juan Cole, head of Chi­nese at Bo­hunt School, said the im­mer­sion pro­gram cre­ates an authentic en­vi­ron­ment for stu­dents to learn the lan­guage.

The pro­gram, es­pe­cially the in­clu­sion of Man­darin, has re­ceived wide­spread ac­claim through the Bri­tish Coun­cil and HSBC’s Na­tional Man­darin Chi­nese Speak­ing Com­pe­ti­tion, in which stu­dents from Bo­hunt reached the na­tional fi­nal three years in a row.

This year, Lila Marsh­man, 13, a Man­darin im­mer­sion pro­gram stu­dent at Bo­hunt, im­pressed the judges with her lan­guage skills and won the first prize of the begin­ner level sec­tion of the con­test.

The main con­cept be­hind this ap­proach is that lan­guage is be­ing used for real-life goals of ac­tual com­mu­ni­ca­tion.” lan­guage lec­turer at the Univer­sity of Cen­tral Lan­cashire

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