Teaching & Learning


Creating an inclusive and supportive atmosphere

Katharine Curruthers talks about creating "an atmosphere where people are mutually supportive and people stop worrying about being wrong" at the IOE's Confucius Institute.

Two female students sitting in a classroom listening

13 August 2015

The Confucius Institute for Schools plays a leading role in promoting and developing the study of Chinese language and China across the curriculum in schools in England.

The Institute also contributes to the IOE's PGCE Mandarin Chinese pathway for home and international students who wish to become Chinese language teachers in British schools.

Students take generic lectures on language teaching with other PGCE Languages students and Mandarin Chinese tutor group sessions to explore the specific pedagogy of Chinese.

They spent two third of the course on teaching practice in school placements.

Creating an atmosphere where it's ok to be wrong

Students in the course come from various cultural backgrounds – four international students from China and Taiwan and six home students including British and Chinese in this academic year.

Its tutor group sessions have a very rich discussion as everybody comes to the table with different views reflecting their own contexts concerning such as pedagogies, teacher identities, student behaviours, and parental expectations.

We create an atmosphere where people are mutually supportive and people stop worrying about being wrong.

The course tutor tries to be aware of different student needs and makes sure all students are encouraged to speak and feed back to each other. In fact, a student from China who was quite shy and defensive to start with has changed to be more participative through the course, learning to enjoy being part of the group.

Mediating cross-cultural misunderstandings

Cross-cultural misunderstandings can arise during the school placements.

International students can be confused by the different school cultures and misinterpret what happens at their placement school or what their subject mentors say to them.

The course tutor works to mediate between students and schools, explaining differences in education systems and outlook to both the student teachers and placement schools. 

Students are encouraged to interact with their mentors and other school teachers and take part in wider school activities.

Developing international links through establishing teachers’ e-forum

The Confucius Institute has an established Chinese teachers’ e-forum that currently links around 600 Chinese language teachers in the UK, China and other countries such as Italy, Russia and the USA.

This allows those teachers to discuss teaching materials and methods and help each other for further improvement in their teaching.

Moreover, the Institute is planning to offer online CPD (Continuing Professional Development) programmes to Chinese language teachers across countries.

Challenges related to a European focus

The generic lectures of the PGCE languages are European-language focused.

The course readings are written predominantly by European teachers and their perspectives are quite different from those previously encountered by some of the students.

Although various students’ views are valued, they are required to use teaching materials and methods that aim to prepare pupils for GCSE examinations and follow the European language focused assessment process, which may not be wholly appropriate for the examining of Chinese.

Furthermore, Students from China can find it difficult to develop their essays beyond descriptive pieces of work.

The course tutor is making a close link to the Academic Writing Centre to help those students to improve their academic writing skills at an early stage.

This case study originally featured on the 'Internationalisation of the Curriculum at the Institute of Education' website.