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Woodvale Secondary College WA

Language Learning Fun

Woodvale Secondary College (WSC), a senior high school about 20 km north of Perth, is on a clear mission: it aims to become a beacon of best practice in Australia for bringing Asia into the curriculum.

A big part of that, says Associate Principal Veronika Sutton, is making language study "accessible to all students and good fun".

Woodvale is an independent public school under the West Australian Government’s autonomous schools’ program, offering Japanese and more recently, Mandarin, from Years 8 to 12. As one initiative to address the Asian Priority, the school requires all students in Years 8 and 9 to study at least one language. The language staff, newly formed as a result of the growth of languages in the school, consists of a great blend of experienced and young staff who work as a team to research, experiment and apply a range of strategies.

The Principal, Paul Leech and Veronika Sutton are enthusiastic school leaders and with their support and guidance, the language team has been using innovative teaching strategies, understanding that too heavy an emphasis on academic rigor tends to turn most students off language learning. To inspire and properly cater for the huge range of student interest and ability, means developing clever strategies and enlisting support from a number of sources.

“A crucial part of the answer is technology,” says Ms Sutton. “We have students who need to be engaged in a way that they are having so much fun that they fall in love with the subject.”

At WSC Languages is part of a greater whole school technology priority. Every student at the college has a laptop and all teachers are highly trained to use technology as a learning tool.

The language staff decided very quickly that as part of their strategy they needed to purchase a class set of iPads and a range of great ‘apps’ to supplement classes’ laptop use.

One of the incentives of running regular Japanese study tours, as a financial enterprise through Gold Intercultural Learning, was to help fund this purchase. Ms Carmel Agnello, Teacher in Charge of Languages and Asian Hub Coordinator, says, “Parents were pleased that they were able to support the school to fundraise in this way through offering homestay, which also provided opportunities for the whole family to learn more about Japanese Culture and Language.” She adds, “Other exciting spin-offs from the tours is Gold Intercultural Learning has organised camps and Japanese teachers to visit the school, and is now working on a scholarship program whereby a student from a WA school will be able to study in Japan.”

Technology enhances language learning

Since successfully setting up a class set of iPads at the start of this year, the Language team is finding innovative uses for technology to enhance language learning.

Ms Agnello says they could not have done it without school community support and the expertise of enthusiastic language teachers, both within and outside of the college.

A visit to Belmont City College on the other side of the city reinforced the language staff’s direction and gave them extra inspiration as well as some practical in-roads. Ms Sutton says, “Jaeik Jeong uses technology in an innovative and exciting way to engage all students and is a real guru.” One of the many things he demonstrated with his Japanese class was the use of the Puppet Pal app (see picture). With this app, students make plays by selecting characters and backgrounds, record their voices for the dialogue in Japanese or Mandarin and use the touch screens to move characters around. Since one of Woodvale’s Japanese teachers, Mr Matthew Shells, who is another technology expert, has set up a class set of iPads, Woodvale students have had a lot of fun with this and other apps, while gaining confidence in speaking in their target language.

Carmel Agnello says, “The language team has been heavily engaged in researching and applying new knowledge about the use of iPads, interactive software, the school’s Moodle pages and on-line learning sites and programs. Mr Shells and Ms Kinny Hsu are having a lot of success with their Year 11 and 12 Japanese and Chinese classes with Language Perfect, an on- line learning program which motivates students to extend their vocabulary and allows staff and students to closely monitor progress.” Ms Hsu and Ms Agnello were recipients of a Hanban Scholarship which involved a one week training program in Beijing to equip them with more ICT resources and strategies to teach Mandarin. 

Collaborative relationships

As well as employing technology and innovative teaching strategies, crucial to the college’s success has been the development of collaborative relationships. Woodvale is an Asian Hub School, and that means its feeder primary schools form a language cluster. The Woodvale Cluster benefits from close connections between the college and its local primary schools, Woodvale, North Woodvale, Creaney and Halidon, which is a vital element in their aim to improve Asian capability. All local primaries teach Japanese as a compulsory subject and for several years, Mrs Sutton has been running successful programs involving Grade 6 and 7 students visiting the school to taste a variety of subjects, including languages.

For the first time, last year their local primary schools were given a taste of Mandarin through a range of fun activities run by Mr Chris Doohan, one of the college's Chinese teachers.

All local primary students in Grade 7 are now studying at the college for a full day every week, and Japanese is part of this program.

The connections within the cluster have been strengthened recently through the work of Asian Hub Coordinators, Ms Agnello and Mrs Karen Vardy (Primary Focus), whose appointments were enabled through NALSSP grants to the college and to the primaries. Mrs Vardy has been working closely with Primary school language teachers and administration to strengthen language pathways to the school in a variety of ways as well as to celebrate achievements at primary assemblies and newsletters. She meets regularly with primary school language teachers, improving consistency across the four schools and creating a seamless curriculum all the way through. With the expertise of Ms Hsu, who teaches both Japanese and Chinese, planning

is in place to start Panda as well as Anime Picnics, which will be fun days where primary school students will work alongside Woodvale Secondary College students to participate in fun Japanese or Chinese language and culture learning activities.

Parents from the college and all four primaries have also been on-board, particularly through the newly formed Parents Understanding Asian Literacy Project cluster which is planning a range of strategies to support the schools’ efforts.

Sister school partnerships

Other worthwhile relationships established include ones on an international scale. The college has a long-standing sister school relationship with Aboshi High School in Japan and, Since 2006, a strongly developed sister school relationship with Jinan No. 9 High School in China. Both programs have resulted in annual or biennial exchange visits, both in-bound and outbound.

The Jinan relationship has also involved WSC staff members on teaching exchange programs. In addition, part of their ongoing cultural exchange programs includes a program under way to host regular internet student interactions between partner schools, including through the Web 2.0 tool, Voki. WSC is also one of the 24 schools nationwide selected to be part of the Australia-China Bridge Project, another AEF initiative. This has enabled the college to establish a new partner school in Beijing, increased awareness of Chinese culture, enhanced the language team’s use of technology through training programs on Web 2.0 tools and has established a wiki page, which provides a place for partner schools to interact.

“Our Principal Paul Leech was part of the AEF’s first Leading 21st Century Schools’ Project,” says Mrs Sutton. “He is a visionary leader and committed to creating for our students the best opportunities for lifelong learning and career opportunity. It is vital for our student’s future that they engage with Asia.”

“We cater for a quite mono-cultural community but Woodvale has built an enormous amount of trust and the community is behind the program. Our alliance with the City of Joondalup has been a major part of the program’s success.”

Getting the pathways right has also been a critical factor. As well as refining pathways between our cluster schools, WSC has been working on differentiated curriculum within each year group. Ms Agnello says, “In language classes, we know there are different levels of background knowledge, interest and ability so we’ve ‘differentiated’ the curriculum. In Year 8 Japanese classes are streamed as a result of primary school teacher recommendations. With over 20 primary schools sending students to the college, there are schools who do not teach Japanese at all, yet some which teach it from Grade 1, so with support from school administration, WSC has been able to establish timetable innovations to enable different streams and, in turn, curriculum has been adapted to better cater for student needs.”

Mrs Sutton states, “Our aim is to retain students to Year 12, which is a significant challenge. We are also linking languages to vocational pathways from Year 10.”

Getting Asian content into the rest of the curriculum has not been as big a challenge as Mrs Sutton thought it might have been. “We’ve had commitment from across the learning areas. So, for example, the Maths teachers are making kites, the Art teachers are running calligraphy classes, in Society and Environment and Home Economics they are studying Asian Culture and Cuisine, in Drama they’re doing things like Kabuki and dance and in English they’ve incorporated Asian texts and have corresponded with sister schools through pen-pal letters and the internet."

Ms Agnello commented, “Our expectation is that every learning area includes Asian content, which will be further developed as the Australian Curriculum is introduced in all areas.”


Having an Access Asia or Asian Hub Coordinators for a number of years has helped with embedding Asia capability into the curriculum. Each year the college maps out Asia capability and shares information through displays in the Information Resource Centre. There are also popular cross-curricular Asian cultural performances and workshops organised which involve visiting troupes.

According to Mrs Sutton, the success of the college’s strategies is based on four things:

  1. Discussion at senior leader meetings – representing learning areas across the curriculum.
  2. Embedding technology and cooperative learning strategies in language classes - making it fun.
  3. Linking the study of languages with tours, exciting events and exchange programs.
  4. Developing a range of collaborative relationships.


Images: AEF

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