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A Spirited Approach to Teaching Chinese

19 Jan 2010

Ms Jane Si, Dunman Secondary School

In a learning game styled after bingo, students have to provide the correct Chinese idiom or phrase in order to cross out a number.

Ask Chinese Language teacher Ms Jane Si Hsiao Wei what kind of homework she gives to her students, and sometimes the answer is: go watch a movie. "When I pioneered movie appreciation as a teaching method about two or three years ago, it was very well received by the students," says this Senior Teacher at Dunman Secondary School. Besides giving students exposure to how the Chinese language is used, the task also provides fodder for synopsis writing and reflection, dramatisation and debate.

"We want to change the perception among the students that the Chinese language is difficult or boring. So we engage them in the learning process and show them that the language is relevant to their lives," Ms Si explains. Her lessons are enlivened with activities like script writing, role playing, debates and presentations, accompanied by a spirited delivery - "students respond better to an animated teacher," she says simply.

Ms Si's hard work to encourage active student-centred learning has earned her various awards and commendations, the most recent being the Excellent Service Award (Star) 2009. The national award, which is managed by 10 industry associations and SPRING Singapore, recognises individuals who have delivered outstanding service. Ms Si has also garnered awards like Most Inspiring Chinese Teacher in 2007 and WITs Project (Bronze) in 2008.

But perhaps the most inspiring acknowledgement came from one of her former students.

Ms Jane Si, Dunman Secondary School

Actions "speak" louder than words as students act out a sentence in a game of charades.

Ms Si recalls how he "did not utter more than five sentences during Chinese Language lessons throughout his whole Sec 3 year". However, he was so motivated by the student-centred approach she adopted that one day, he took the initiative to memorise a script written by his classmates because he had enjoyed the lesson so much. In his reflections on the lesson, the student wrote that his newfound interest in the language was thanks to the fun and engaging approach. Although he graduated two years ago, his entry continues to serve as an encouragement and affirmation to Ms Si,.

Exchanging ideas, sharing experiences

Teaching is such a passion for this Senior Teacher that in 2009 she was part of two MOE curriculum pedagogy review teams to develop effective lesson plans. In the first collaboration, her Sec 3 Express class was the experimental group for a "PETALS™: The Teacher's Toolbox" framework to engage students in composition writing. Ms Si designed the lesson plans and reviewed them with MOE before carrying out the lessons with her class. The lesson was recorded on video and her students' feedback and post-test results were analysed. Since then, the lesson units have been compiled into a teachers' guide that is being used in various schools.

In the second collaboration - this time further involving Singapore Press Holdings and the newly-established Singapore Centre for Chinese Language - Ms Si was provided with lesson units that made use of Chinese newspapers. "Although I didn't develop the lessons, the rest of the tasks were similar to my project on composition writing," she notes. These interactive, student-centred lesson units have also been made available to other schools.

Ms Jane Si, Dunman Secondary School

Ms Si came up with "jigsaw tiles" of Chinese words to teach idioms and phrases in her Sec 1 class.

Ms Si also enjoys sharing good teaching practices at the cluster, zonal and national levels. In the last three years, she has acted as a cooperating teacher to two trainee teachers and a contract Chinese Language teacher from China, which was an opportunity for her to share her knowhow. As she has attended an advanced course on differentiated instruction, she mentored another Chinese Language teacher and served as the collaborating teacher for a trainee principal, both of whom were interested in introducing lessons based on this approach.

A little overseas exposure

In December 2008, Ms Si's language prowess was given a fresh challenge. The affable teacher is also a National Police Cadet Corps officer and she qualified for an incentive trip for teacher-officers in uniformed groups. "It was a one-week trip to Xi'an and Chengdu. As I was the only Chinese Language teacher among the 20 or so officers on the trip, the Assistant Commandant asked if I could be the translator," she says. "Of course I said yes!"

When the group visited various schools in China, Ms Si was right there to provide immediate translation. "They don't have CCAs in their schools, so they were very interested in what we had to say about our uniformed groups," she remembers.

Ms Jane Si, Dunman Secondary School

Miss Si favours group work as a strategy for student-centred learning.

When the school visits ended and the sightseeing began, she was able to take a break as the tour leader took over the presenter's role. Not that Ms Si minded her augmented role, of course. Whether in or out of the classroom, this teacher is always willing to go the extra mile to make teaching the Chinese language, or learning from other teachers, more meaningful and enjoyable.