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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
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Cracking the code: online learning resources for Chinese and Japanese

Olivia Clarke

The Le@rning Federation (TLF) makes available to all schools in Australia and New Zealand high-quality, interactive, digital learning resources to support teachers and help students learn another language. The Cracking the code set of learning objects helps students to learn and use the Chinese and Japanese character-based writing systems through analysis and interaction rather than simply through memorisation. The article describes the use of these resources for teaching Chinese at one South Australian secondary school.

Currently TLF has released multimedia, interactive learning objects for seven languages: Chinese, French, German, Greek, Indonesian, Italian and Japanese. The digital content, in the form of learning objects, for each language has either been produced by TLF or licensed from other sources and made available by TLF.

TLF content for Chinese and Japanese

TLF produces two types of digital content for Chinese and Japanese. Based on separate principles of language learning, they are grouped in sets titled 'Cracking the code' and 'Close encounters'. The Close encounters learning objects, available for all seven languages, are based on the principles of Intercultural Language Learning (ILL). The ILL objects offer students a way to use the target language to communicate and interact in authentic activities that portray the socio-cultural characteristics of the target country.

The current article describes the other set of resources, Cracking the code, and shows how they have been used for teaching and learning Chinese at one secondary school. 

Cracking the code

The Cracking the code project was designed to support students to learn and use the Chinese and Japanese character-based writing systems.

Character-based systems are often hard to learn for students used to alphabet-based systems like English. Based on recent National Asian Languages and Studies for Australian Schools (NALSAS) research led by Dr Andrew Scrimgeour of the University of South Australia, the TLF online curriculum resources aim to enhance students' understanding of the Chinese and Japanese writing systems through analysis, interaction and consideration of the component parts, rather than simply memorisation.

The Cracking the code project has two components: the Character Catalogue and its associated learning objects.

The Character Catalogue is a comprehensive, interactive Chinese and Japanese character library that enables users to understand the relationships between characters and their component parts. It encourages users to recognise the relationships between form and meaning in a basic character component and to identify the relationships between form, sound and meaning within a compound character. It is a major learning resource designed to be available online accompanied by extensive teacher support materials.

Complementary Chinese and Japanese learning objects support the Character catalogue. These learning objects help develop pre-literacy and early reading skills for Chinese and Japanese in game-play formats. The focus is on active learning through analysis and interaction, rather than simply memorisation.

All TLF digital content for Chinese and Japanese are described in their respective catalogues at http://www.tlf.edu.au/languages.

Integrating digital content into the Chinese curriculum at Marryatville High School, South Australia

Philip Wilson has been a highly experienced teacher of Chinese language since 1982 and has been teaching Chinese for the past four years at Marryatville High School in South Australia. Philip enthusiastically supports the notion that introducing students to the principles which underpin the construction of Chinese characters leads to improved sensitivity to and understanding of the language. He believes that introducing these principles is fundamental to engaging learners in the concept of a non-alphabetic script, and that good learning arises from challenges to their thinking. He is determined that his students understand that Chinese is a logical writing system, not just writing with pictures; and that rote practice of stroke order and form are not enough to engender an understanding that characters are a valid writing system. For him, the functions embedded in the interactive Character catalogue and the related TLF learning objects, which put these principles into game-like interactive learning tasks, are a real asset in supporting his pedagogical practice and student learning. Each learning object stimulates the students to think about form, function and internal structure and they are excellent sources for further teaching and learning.

Philip does not leave recognition and practice of the ideographic features of Chinese writing solely to the new digital activities, however. He actively teaches and constantly asks his students to reflect on the form, shape, structure, stroke order, sound and meaning of the characters they see – both online and off line. The use of Chinese print dictionaries where students explore and practice these principles are also a regular part of Philip’s classroom pedagogical practice.

The walls of Philip’s classroom hold pictures, language charts and other cultural artefacts from China. Class sets of dictionaries and other texts are available for students and Philip uses a standard whiteboard and pen for writing directions, explanations, examples, etc. He also uses the whiteboard as a screen when he hooks up his laptop to the digital projector safely mounted on the ceiling. From his laptop, he can access and screen relevant Chinese websites on the Internet, and, as of this year, the Character catalogue and the TLF Chinese learning objects stored on the school Intranet. He uses the classroom projection facilities for whole-class demonstration of and discussion about online content, switching seamlessly to the whiteboard for further illustration in writing if necessary.

Philip also books one of the school computer labs with 1:1 computer access when needed. In the lab environment, students either work individually or in pairs on a range of learning tasks – both using well chosen Internet sites for learning Chinese, and doing the learning tasks embedded in the TLF digital content. In 2007 students will also be able to access the digital content from their wireless-connected laptops in the classroom.
All of the TLF Chinese ‘Cracking the code’ series of learning objects have been loaded onto the school Intranet and Philip has asked his Year 8 students to work through them all at their own pace.

The new material has given a soundly structured context within which students can develop as independent learners. Students can access the resources for their own purposes in accomplishing the aims of a range of tasks. The students recognise the complementarity of the content of the learning objects to the teacher-directed instruction in class. They enjoy doing the tasks, but as Philip warns, although the activities are relevant and fun, fun should not be the end game. The acquisition of new knowledge and understanding must remain fundamental when ICTs are used for teaching and learning. In this sense, the use of ICTs must be integrated into a planned sequence of learning and teaching.

Schools can gain access to TLF's online content through their Australian State or Territory or New Zealand education authority. For more information, contact your Contact Liaison Officer (CLO). Tertiary institutions and professional associations may also license content. 

Key Learning Areas


Subject Headings

Computer-based training
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Electronic publishing
Languages other than English (LOTE)