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Learning languages Studies

ALLiS Funding at Kapiti Coast

The Ministry of Education ALLiS (Asian Language Learning in Schools) initiative in 2016 has awarded funding to many schools across New Zealand to set up new or strengthen existing Asian language learning programmes. More information on the MoE website.

Funding has been allocated to schools or groups of schools, with particular emphasis on those that establish language learning pathways from primary through to secondary. The fund encourages greater collaboration amongst schools in partnership with external Asian language and cultural organisations. The aim is to create self-sustaining programmes through this investment.

Find out how the Kapiti Coast ALLiS cluster are using their funding by hearing from Elizabeth Couchman, ALLiS Coordinator, below:

Kapiti Coast moon cakes

Please introduce yourself and your involvement the ALLiS funding?

I am the ALLiS Coordinator for the Kapiti Coast cluster of schools.  My role entails liaising with the primary schools and colleges in our area as we introduce Mandarin Chinese in 2016 and Japanese in 2017.  I have a background in secondary school foreign language teaching and am currently based at Waikanae Primary School, where I combine my ALLiS work with the role of Special Needs Coordinator. Our cluster in Kapiti is one of the larger clusters in the country, with ten primary schools and three secondary schools.  Mandarin is being offered at the colleges for the first time this year.  In addition, we have 20 primary teachers with no previous experience in teaching Mandarin who have volunteered to participate in the programme.  One of my main jobs is to arrange a programme of professional development for them which addresses both language learning and language teaching pedagogy and equips them with practical ideas which can be transferred straight into their classrooms. 

What are your school's goals in their ALLiS project? What has already been achieved?

Broadly speaking, our aims are to increase the number of students learning Asian languages in the schools in our cluster and to raise the proficiency of those students in Asian languages.  To achieve these aims, we are focusing on building teacher expertise in delivering Asian language classes and on working collaboratively to provide seamless language learning pathways between primary schools and colleges.

Our first year has got off to a positive start, with over 800 students from Year 1 to Year 8 learning Mandarin across our primary schools and a further 45 enrolled in the new Year 9 classes at the colleges. The students are gaining a strong and confident foundation in basic Mandarin greetings, some day to day language and a personal experience of Chinese culture.  Their enthusiasm for their learning is evident in the way they are sharing their new language skills out in the playground, in the classroom next door at morning tea time and to siblings at home.  One class introduced themselves and their art work at a full school assembly in Mandarin Chinese.  I think their enthusiasm was summed up recently in the words of a Year 3 student, who said that she would “even rather learn Chinese than play a game”! In addition, there have been some exciting cross-curricular benefits from the programme, with students finding links between China and New Zealand and making comparisons between Mandarin and Te Reo and between Chinese New Year celebrations and Matariki. Some teachers have linked learning new vocabulary, for example animals, in with the NZ Sign Language sign for the animal. 

How is your cluster working together?

Most significantly, we have arranged four full professional development days this year for the teachers involved in the programme to come together from the cluster’s various schools These four days provide the majority of teacher resources in the form of ideas and language teaching techniques. An important part of the PD days is the opportunity for teachers to share their ideas, and we have established an online platform to enable them to do this on an ongoing basis. The teachers appreciate the opportunity for collaboration as well as the professional learning offered, particularly those who are working as the only Mandarin teacher in their school, and are clearly valuing the camaraderie of the cluster. We laid the groundwork for this right from the start by holding a Chinese dinner in February so that they could all get together and meet each other. In addition to the shared professional development days, our Mandarin Language Assistants have started offering after school Mandarin language lessons especially for the teachers. Named “Mandarin Corner” by the MLAs, this has quickly become an enjoyable way to practice our language and learn more about the Chinese culture in a relaxed, fun setting. As well as the opportunities for teachers from different schools to work together, it has been exciting to see students from different schools across our cluster coming together for our recent Discover China Days.

What impact will the funding have on teacher capability/student learning?

Chinese Calligraphy

Our ALLiS funding is vital to the running of the programme.  We use it for the coordinator’s salary and associated travel costs, and to cover part of the cost to schools of releasing their teachers to attend the cluster’s four professional development days. The focus of their professional development days is very strongly on building teacher capability so that the programme is sustainable in our cluster into the future. As coordinator, I have been able to work with the MLAs to arrange a number of extra cultural activities and experiences, such as tea ceremonies and dumpling making days. These activities have been tremendously popular with the students, raising the profile of the Mandarin programme and the enthusiasm of the students taking part.

What support are you seeking from external organisations/PD providers?

The majority of our professional development has been provided by International Languages Exchanges and Pathways (ILEP).  All our primary school teachers are signed up for ILEP’s “Introduction to Language Teaching Programme”, which offers teachers ongoing support in the form of workshops, classroom visits and resource and ideas sharing, as well as a guided inquiry project.  The ILEP workshops, which have taken a total of two of the four release days arranged for this year, encourage teachers to be able to really own the language themselves, creating opportunities for their students to use Mandarin in ways that are authentic and meaningful. We’re also really grateful to have the support of the Confucius Institute.  They have provided us with two wonderful Mandarin Language Assistants, who have made a huge contribution to the success of our programme, building the teachers’ capability to teach Mandarin by supporting them with the language and pronunciation, and arranging cultural activities and teaching the art of paper cutting. “I feel welcomed whenever [the MLAs] come in, because they say nĭ hăo and have smiley faces on.” (Year 3 student, Waikanae Primary School). 

Why do you think Asian language education is important?

International studies have shown that learning a second language in general can improve a student’s literacy skills, that bilingual students consistently outperform monolingual students in a range of cognitive tasks and that learning another language at school improves a student’s performance across the curriculum. In addition to these cognitive benefits, an understanding of another language is an increasingly important part of equipping our young people to participate effectively in today’s global community. Increasing the number of students learning Asian languages in particular will support New Zealand's international relationships and growing trade with Asian countries.

Do you have any advice for the schools who are just starting on their ALLiS journey?

My biggest piece of advice would be to keep really open communication channels between teachers and schools throughout the cluster. As we’ve gone along, we’ve built in routines to help us do this such as regular MLA visits to each teacher, an online platform for sharing resources and regular email contact between the teachers and me. In addition, the MLAs and I meet most weeks to de-brief and reflect on the week and to plan for the week ahead, and the team of lead principals and I meet once or twice a term or as we feel we need to.

We’ve also felt that it’s really important to keep the needs of the teachers and schools at the heart of our planning. For the teachers, we’ve put in place a comprehensive wrap around practical support in the form of the PD and the MLA visits. For the schools, we’ve catered for flexibility so that each has been able to run the programme in a way that fits in best with what else is happening in their school. This means that we have classes from Year 8 to Year 1, and that there is variety in the way schools arrange the Mandarin classes, as a home room class for some and an interchange option in others. Keeping teachers’ needs as the focus and building their capability as teachers of Mandarin will help the programme become sustainable into the future.

For advice and support on maximising the benefits of your ALLiS funding, contact the ALLiS team at ILEP (International Languages Exchanges and Pathways) at allis@ilep.ac.nz or on the ILEP website.

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