World / Europe

Being thrown in at the deep end works

By Wang Mingjie and Liu Jing (China Daily) Updated: 2016-05-20 15:06


Everybody was shouting out "yuanchang jinqiu" (home run), as a year 9 student passed the fourth base line on the Bohunt school playground during a physical education lesson involving a game of rounders, a softer version of baseball played in British schools.

This PE lesson was jointly run by a Bohunt school physical education instructor and a Chinese language teacher, allowing students to play the sport and learn Mandarin at the same time.

This innovative pedagogy, known as immersion language teaching, was introduced by Bohunt School in 2010. As the first secondary school in Britain to introduce this approach, its students were invited to teach Prime Minister David Cameron some Mandarin before he visited China a few years ago.

Bohunt featured in last year's BBC television documentary Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School, which sought to compare British and Chinese teaching techniques.

"The immersion program is content-and-language integrated learning where students will learn other subjects in a different language," says Neil Strowger, head teacher at Bohunt School.

Immersion teaching means a group of students in Key Stage 3, normally known as Year 7, Year 8 and Year 9, are taught a third of their curriculum in the target language, which can be French, Spanish or Mandarin.

As in each core subject, there is a lot of content to get through, so the immersion technique lends itself more to practical subjects with less heavy content, such as art, physical education, and personal, social and religious subjects, as well as information and communications technology, says Philip Avery, director of learning and strategy for Bohunt Trust, which runs the school.

Those in the immersion group have a more positive attitude toward learning than those outside it, Avery says.

"That gap opens up during their first year and it stays all the way through their time with us. There is something about how they perceive themselves as learners, how they perceive learning and how they perceive school that is more positive because they've been in an immersion group."

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