Case Study: How The Chairman’s Bao Helps IB Mandarin Teachers with Effective Preparation and Curriculum
Having studied Mandarin at a US university, Kai acquired several years of experience working in China and Spain, before coming to the UK for a master’s degree. He now teaches Chinese to all year groups at a leading British independent school, where Mandarin is offered at various levels including complete beginners and a Mandarin IB(B) program.
Kai had been using The Chairman’s Bao with students for about a year when he met with us to share his experiences with the platform – in particular, how he uses it to cut down on preparation time, support the development of a rich and relevant curriculum, and meet the specific needs of his IB students.
What challenges have you faced as an IB Mandarin teacher that The Chairman’s Bao helps to solve?
Last year teaching IBB I really struggled, because we have textbooks to go through with the IB curriculum, but it doesn’t have a vocab list, it’s a very broad curriculum. So it was very difficult for me starting the year with these students and saying, “OK, this is what I think might be important,” looking at past papers and finding that.
It’s great that TCB sorts things by potential topics within the IB curriculum, so I can look there, I’ll look for keywords. If I was doing beliefs and values, there might be something about weddings that I could use, so I’ll do some spot-check searches and find some good stuff. I also really love that you have vocab lists and grammar for the different readings that you have. [The articles] are relevant, they’re recent, and I can go in and just copy and paste that vocab into an Excel sheet. Then I can make Quizlets really easily for my students – versus textbooks that I have here, I’m typing this up, I’m then getting the pinyin for it, it’s a really time-consuming process.
Also, the textbook doesn’t have as useful of a vocab list. [With TCB] I can find the keywords that I want, and then it also explains grammar if students need that, too. So it’s been a really great way of building all of it in together.
Have you had any difficulties finding suitable Chinese materials for your students? If so, is it difficult to find materials for particular levels, or is it across the board?
I think it is across the board. Last year I really struggled with my IB class. I was looking at news articles, trying to get authentic materials, things that weren’t just in the textbook, and I was like: “This would be difficult for me to read, and I have a university degree in this subject.” So really trying to find this balance – and I couldn’t find BBC Kids or Newsela, these things – I really struggled with that.
To have [TCB articles] graded at the different HSK levels is really fantastic, because our school only recently started offering Mandarin to Year 7, 8, and 9 students, and so we don’t have as much of a set curriculum yet. As we progress, we would like to integrate more paragraph reading into the curriculum, and TCB has that, it’s ready. I know that there is HSK1, HSK2, different things that I could start looking for and including.
What advantages does TCB have over other Chinese learning tools?
I really love that it’s authentic materials, that it is at an appropriate level, but then will push [students] and make them encounter words they haven’t seen. I like that, and I think that is important, because I think one of the things that students struggle with the most is when they encounter one or two words that they don’t know, and they go, “I don’t know that, there’s no way I can figure that out.”
Yes, I get that, Chinese is hard, but we really need to be working on inference skills as well, and what we do when we encounter things in an unfamiliar context. That’s what happens when you are abroad when you are actually using the language. People aren’t going to say, “Which textbook series have you learned and what chapter are you up to?” So I think for me, TCB fits that brief in challenging students in that way.
Can you share an example of how you use TCB in your teaching practice?
Usually we’ll do one text from TCB a week, and then all of those words that are in that topic will be the ones that I use for that week on a vocab quiz. I find that if you just highlight the whole keywords for a text, then you can copy it, and in Excel you can split text to columns and it splits them all already, and so I don’t have to go through and select which ones.
In your opinion, what would be the top benefits of using TCB in schools and universities?
The flexibility, the sheer number of texts that are available, I think has been really fantastic. Again, those authentic sources that are challenging students with some words that they do know, and then others that they don’t, I think it works really well.
Especially in my school, where we have so few students in our IB classes, it’s been really great because I can flexibly adapt the curriculum for a certain student. I had my first few weeks planned for the school based on the student that I thought I was getting, and the student arrived and I was like, “OK, that’s not the level that I thought we were working with.” So I was really quickly able to adapt, and I could go and find things that were really tailored to that student’s level without too much work on my end. I could even do that for different students. If I had more students, I could give them different things. The textbook that we use isn’t that flexible.
What results have you got from using TCB in terms of time saved, or other measurable benefits?
Last year I spent many hours trying to transcribe the vocabulary list from our IB textbook. In an effort to give my students some sort of resource, I was transcribing the entire glossary of the textbook that I felt wasn’t really well aligned to students. There were words [like] “sadness”, “subtlety”, “profundity”, and for me, that wasn’t what my students needed the most. They had core things that they were missing that weren’t covered by this vocab list. So I didn’t even finish transcribing that last year, and I spent probably 10 hours going through bits of it.
This year, I’ve compiled an ongoing vocab list for my student based on what’s going to best fit him, changing every two weeks, seeing how he’s adapting and what areas we need to move into. I’ve already transcribed 160 vocab words for him, which is similar to the amount that I got over the entirety of last year. I have a function in the Excel sheet, so when a word comes up that we’ve seen before, it’ll turn green so he knows that he should recognise that already. It saved me loads of time and allowed me to lesson plan not so much in advance, because I can be so flexible with it. So that’s been really fantastic, and for teacher planning it has saved me a ton of time.
Do you have any final thoughts or feedback on using TCB?
Seeing what I am now providing for students, I wish I had been able to provide my students last year with vocab lists so quickly, and be going through these words and then having reading assignments immediately on TCB, and as they approach exam time, to be able to test themselves. I think my students from last year would really see a difference.
Really, it has made a difference in what I do, and I think that there’s not as much out there for Chinese teachers and people learning Chinese, so I am really grateful to have found this platform.