By Ms. Yu Pui Kam Lourdes and Mr Fung Long Daniel ,
Sham Tseng Catholic Primary School
Since the school is in Musselburgh, it takes half an hour to drive from our hotel to the school. Thank Simon MaCaulay for driving us there. And special thanks to Archie as he got to the school with us the whole morning.
At around 10:15, we arrived at Loretto RC Primary School. Ms McBean, the principal and her lovely students gave us a warm welcome. Some P5 students could not wait to give us a presentation about their school.
At 10:30, we met most of the teachers in the common room. As one of their teachers is a good cook, we were very lucky to be served with different kinds of pies, cakes and desserts, also with tea or coffee. Archie played his normal role to lead the causal discussion with the teachers. We had a nice chat in a leisure atmosphere.
Then, Ms McBean led us to go around the school. We had visited the nursery too. We were amazed they let the very young kids to explore the world a lot, even for the things we HK teachers and parents think are dangerous, such as hammering nails.
At 11:00, we observed a math lesson. The teacher showed how to cater for students’ diversities. Some students were playing with computer games related to Maths while some were having lesson with the teacher. Some bright students helped to explain how to solve the formula. When the main class started doing assignment, the teachers helped the slower progress students while the brighter ones were assigned to make teaching materials. The lesson was very inspiring. After the lesson, we presented our souvenirs to the school.
Compared with HK classrooms, this teacher is more like a facilitator. She uses questions and issues to stimulate her pupils and allowed them to try to solve them by their ways. Guidance was given when necessary. It seemed that the lesson was more flexible compared with Hong Kong approach.
After the lesson, we had lunch with the teachers.
In the afternoon, we observed 2 mandarin lessons. One was in P4 and the other in a mixed class of P1 and P2.
The one in P4 was about some Chinese culture. The teacher is a language assistant from British Council. She taught some simple dialogues and numbers. Then she also showed some Chinese calligraphy and taught the students to use the brush to write the numbers in Chinese character. Students were interested.
For the P1 and 2 mixed class, the language assistant asked some simple Yes / No questions. The language assistant let students practice the language through games.
Although the language assistant was not a professional mandarin teacher, she had used different strategies to arouse students’ interest. With the help of the class teacher, the class worked very well.
After school, we were invited to join the cluster meeting of the mandarin teaching programme. The teacher in-charge of the programme and the language assistants from different schools in that district gathered together in Loretto School. They shared their successful projects and also the difficulties as well. Judith McKerrecher, the officer of Scotland’s National Centre for Languages, was there to listen to their needs and tried to tailor a better program next year.
In the meeting, the language assistant shared lots of their good work in schools, such as the Chinese New Year Project. The teacher in-charge of the schools appreciated the language assistants’ efforts. However, they really faced a lot of challenges, such as knowledge management, lack of resources and professional development. Actually, the programme needs more qualified professional mandarin teachers but because of the lack of teacher training, not many qualified teachers are available in Scotland at the moment.
The meeting was practical and we were inspired by their enthusiasm of promoting mandarin in Scotland.
Although it was a long day, it was fruitful and pragmatic. We reflected that we are lucky to have lots of resources and a favourable environment for learning English in Hong Kong. Compared with Scotland, the exposure to mandarin outside school is rare and Chinese has to compete with other long-established foreign languages. In that challenging situation, we can still see a group of committed teachers making an impact on learning Chinese language.