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Profiles of Chinese Language
Programs in Victorian Schools
Chinese Teacher Training Centre
The University of Melbourne
Copyright © The University of Melbourne, 2012
Profiles of Chinese Language Programs
in Victorian Schools
Chinese Teacher Training Centre
The University of Melbourne
Copyright © The University of Melbourne, 2012 Contents page GLOSSARY OF ACRONYMS AND TERMS
THE PROGRAMS: A SUMMARY BY THEME
WHY TEACH CHINESE?
CAN IT BE DONE?
THE TEACHING PROGRAM
A CENTRAL ISSUE
CORREA PRIMARY SCHOOL
TI TREE PRIMARY SCHOOL
ACACIA PRIMARY SCHOOL
MELALEUCA SECONDARY COLLEGE
KUNZEA SECONDARY COLLEGE
APPENDIX : SURVEY AND INTERVIEW DOCUMENTS
Glossary of acronyms and terms ACARA Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. On it s website, MySchool, ACARA publishes data about each school in Australia including an index of the socioeconomic background of the school s parents.
APT Administration and planning time, time during the week when primary teachers are not engaged in face-to-face teaching.
Confucius Confucius classrooms are a product of collaboration between Australian education Classroom agencies and Hanban (see below) through which recognition and a number of teaching and learning resources for Chinese are provided to schools.
Hanban Hanban is a non-profit organization affiliated to the Ministry of Education of China committed to making the Chinese language and culture teaching resources and services available to the world. It has an office in Melbourne.
IB International Baccalaureate. Among other things an international curriculum, assessment and certification program. While covering a wide range of levels of schooling in the report it refers to arrangements at Years 11 and 12.
ICT Information and Communication Technologies: computers, but as well interactive whiteboards, flip videos (simple video cameras), iPods etc.
IWB Interactive Whiteboard, a whiteboard with a range of digital capacities including internet connectivity, increasingly widely used in Australian schools, especially primary schools.
KLA Key Learning Area, a subject or related collection of subjects (eg The Arts).
LOTE Language (or languages) other than English.
Pinyin A system of transcription of Chinese characters into words using the Latin alphabet.
Prep Preparatory year, prior to Year 1, called Kindergarten and Reception in other Australian states and territories.
SOSE Studies of Society and Environment.
VCAA Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, responsible among other things for conducting the VCE.
VCE Victorian Certificate of Education, the curriculum and assessment arrangements for Years 11 and 12 in Victoria. Students may also take VCE studies in Year 10.
VELS Victorian Essential Learning Standards, the official Victorian Government curriculum prescription for Years Prep-10.
VSL Victorian School of Languages, a government school which coordinates the offering of 50 different languages taught outside conventional schooling arrangements (at weekends, online or by other forms of correspondence for example).
In 2009, the Chinese Teacher Training Centre (CTTC) was established by the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development as part of their partnership with China s Hanban, with the brief to enhance the capacity of Chinese teachers so as to improve retention of learners in the post-compulsory years, and raise their level of proficiency in using the language. The means for doing this are professional development and research.
Low student achievement in Chinese as a Second Language (L2 Chinese), assessed in terms of continuation of study to the end of secondary schooling and level of proficiency achieved, was a major finding of the report The Current State of Chinese Language Education in Australian Schools (Orton, 2008/2010). Then and still, hard data by year level on details of second language student numbers and their proficiency achievement in Chinese are not in existence. However, nationally the retention rate beyond compulsory study remains at only around 5%. Among non-Chinese background students who persist, there are some who achieve quite admirable levels of oral and literacy skills, but they are a very small minority; and their success notwithstanding, by the time they leave secondary school, virtually none has reached the oral skills standard achieved by many of their peers who study a European language, and they have mastered only the same number of characters as a primary school Grade 1 student in China, Hong Kong or Taiwan. By contrast, their schoolmates taking European languages are reading authentic newspaper articles and short stories in their second language.
With the known additions since publications of recent survey reports (Lo Bianco, 2009; Orton 2008/2010), the number of students learning Chinese in Australian primary and secondary schools in 2012 is estimated to total approximately 90,000, the smallest cohort by far of the six most commonly taught languages (Japanese, Italian, French, Indonesian, German, Chinese), which together comprise 91% of all language teaching in schools. With 330,000 students, Japanese as a Second Language (L2 Japanese) is the most studied language, and this despite it being deemed by the Foreign Service Institute in Washington, DC to be as equally demanding as Chinese for an English speaker to learn, both estimated to require 3.5 times more time on task than a European language.
Furthermore, L2 Japanese not only has four times the number of students as L2 Chinese, in Victoria which leads the country in language learning to Year 12 by a margin of 50%, L2 Japanese presents eight times as many students at Year 12 as L2 Chinese, of which only a tiny number are of Japanese background.
Many students of Chinese start with interest and some excitement, but 95% drop it at the first opportunity, between one and three years after they start. Those who drop out are uniformly nonbackground learners. By the final years of school, there are only a handful of students who have learned Chinese in a classroom left, and a large body of home speakers and overseas educated first language speakers. These last have their own curriculum and assessment (L1 Chinese), but even in Victoria, where the remainder are further divided into Advanced L2 Chinese and L2 Chinese, in L2 Chinese, home speakers (who have most often also been educated for some years at weekend community schools and have a greatly superior proficiency level) outnumber non-Chinese background regular school learners by nearly 6 : 1 (820 : 150), and this leads to greatly depressed grades in Chinese for regular school learners, which impact on their university entrance examination score. This situation was and remains a great deterrent to these second language learners of Chinese to go on with it to the end of secondary school.
Yet it seems this constraint cannot entirely explain the low retention rate or the generally low proficiency achieved. Most students who quit Chinese study do so early: many not continuing in secondary after learning in primary school, and the bulk opting out well before Year 11. As well, there are regular classroom learners who love Chinese and go on to Year 12, regardless of the skewed assessment outcome, and some of those have impressive language proficiency.
Chinese study as presented above is framed in terms of the end result. Based on these results, the CTTC has worked persistently to have the Year 12 assessment regulations separate school classroom learners from the far more proficient educated home speakers. At the same time, the CTTC has equally persistently sought to understand better what goes on in the conduct of Chinese programs in schools and classrooms across all year levels in order to identify early action that might lead to better outcomes later. The Program Profiles project was designed to contribute to this goal.
2 Program Profiles Project In the course of data gathering for the 2008 report on Chinese in Australian schools, the term program was used constantly by education providers, Principals and teachers as if it were clear what this constituted. Yet on investigation, what it did mean in substance was such varied provision of Chinese language study as to make comparison across schools and sectors quite difficult.
The primary objective of the Program Profiles project was to provide some new, basic information about what constitutes having a Chinese as a Second Language program ; what those involved believe about their program and the practice of Chinese teaching and learning; and what they draw on to inform their practice.
Informed by greater knowledge of actual programs, teaching practices and aspirations, those involved in other school programs at all levels, and those making decisions about the expanding provision of Chinese, should be able to undertake wiser and more effective action in their tasks, and will have some shared referents to use in their discussions. The information gathered was also intended to enable the CTTC to develop better targetted consultation and professional development work. As well, it was hoped that the contact made at all levels in Victorian schools across the spectrum would allow the CTTC s services to be better known and employed. Both these latter goals have already been achieved.
Procedure The project comprised the documenting of eleven Chinese programs in a purposive sample of Chinese programs in a representative spread of school types in Victoria, undertaken to establish a set of initial data on Chinese teacher practice within the contextual parameters set by their school leaders: their Head of Languages or Curriculum Coordinator, and the Principal or Vice Principal.
People at all three levels within a school were interviewed and the teacher was observed teaching two classes. Interviewees also filled in a short personal profile of educational studies, teaching experience, second language learning experience and China contact. Researchers were in their participating schools on at least two different days, often three. The semi-structured interviews were audio recorded and fully transcribed before being subjected to graded levels of coding. The questions were composed from research and knowledge of Chinese language programs in Australian schools (e.g. Orton, 2008/2010)1 and from studies of schools and curriculum change (e.g.
Griffin, Murray, Care, Thomas and Perri, 2010)2.
Schools approached were those where the Chinese program appeared stable and generally valued, as evidenced by a small but successful initiative towards its improvement having already been taken with the support of school leaders. In all, 19 schools were approached and 12 (5 government, 4 independent and 2 catholic) agreed to take part by making senior and middle level staff available for interview, and at least one of the teachers of Chinese at upper primary or middle years secondary available for interview and teaching observations. In the end, full data could only be gathered at 11 schools, due to the constant unavailability of leaders in the twelfth, despite their averrals of interest in participating.
Schools with a Chinese program are not evenly representative of the range of schools across the State, but among those profiled in this project there is at least one example of all the significant variables of school type: primary, secondary and P-12; government, independent and catholic; inner urban, outer urban and rural; single sex and co-educational; recently established, medium standing and long-standing Chinese programs; single and multiple teachers of Chinese on staff.
The study confirms the impression made in the 2008 research that a Chinese as a Second Language program is not a single notion, but a term that covers quite widely varied forms of provision in time allocation, type of instruction and teaching practices, all set within very different environments. However, the data also show that there are common aspects to the term Chinese program , among which the following are the most evident.
1. The programs are all strongly valued by the Principal and Vice Principal and, indeed, are often carrying their highest aspirations for the school and the children. Many school leaders are determined to showcase the program in public, and are personally prepared to sustain it through privileging funds, choosing and mentoring Chinese teachers, and advocating and protecting them against criticism from within the school or from parents. A more varied support is evident at the middle level of school authority the Curriculum Coordinators and Heads of Languages. While not opposing Chinese, the views of the former often suggest little knowledge of language learning or appreciation of its educational value, and little connection to the actual teacher and the relationships inside the Chinese classroom. Heads of Languages who do not teach Chinese are often sympathetic towards the problems they perceive their colleagues to encounter in handling students and keeping numbers viable, but only the two who themselves are teachers of Chinese show deep appreciation of the challenges.
2. The teachers of Chinese are dedicated and keen to see their students progress, but in many instances they are very isolated and several experience considerable tension in their work, feeling frustrated at not being able to implement teaching in accordance with their beliefs due to pressure to prepare students for final year exams, busyness, lack of stable accommodation for their program and negative student attitude and behaviour.