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Ariel Hsu-Chia Chen


Stereotypes about what children can and can’t learn if they have a learning difficulty or disability are being torn down by the winner of a state teaching award at an inner-Brisbane school.

Ariel Hsu-Chia Chen is also challenging how languages have sometimes been taught.

Students are achieving astonishing results in Ms Chen’s Chinese Language classes at St James College, where 62 per cent of the students, who come from over 50 different cultural backgrounds, speak English as an additional language. A significant number of students face learning challenges. Despite this, 40 per cent of Ms Chen’s Year 8 students regularly achieve As.

Her students who face learning challenges have no fear of taking on Chinese competitions. One student placed third in a statewide Chinese speaking competition this year.

“We don’t often see people with disabilities speak a foreign language, but we make it happen here,” Ms Chen said. “It doesn’t matter where you are from, what kind of challenge you have – you can succeed in my classroom. Education is the one thing that changes your life.”

Ms Chen’s dedication to her students and to providing equitable education, and her outstanding teaching strategies are just some of the reasons she has been announced as the winner of the Queensland College of Teachers TEACHX Excellence in Beginning to Teach Award.

Ms Chen uses the ‘TPRS’ – Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Story-telling – method. There are no language drills or memorization – instead, students take part in “fun class stories” and use visual aids on classroom walls. And almost the entire lesson is conducted in Chinese, even for beginner-level classes.

“Sometimes my students are so excited they forget they were actually speaking Chinese the whole time!” Ms Chen said. “In the 21st century, we have a world of research at our fingertips, so instead of memorizing, I teach them how to be resourceful and use the language around them…I take away the anxiety of ‘having to remember’ … so students can just focus on ‘using’ the language… and that’s how we engage a student – you need to make the language accessible for everyone – make it simple, make it easy … take the anxiety away.”

“I think memorization is an over-rated skill when learning a foreign language. I think people need to change their mindsets, especially when we are talking about 21st century skills.”

Ms Chen said it was also about connecting with her students.

“I help them to lift their expectation of themselves, and that raises their self-esteem with their special challenges, and they realise this is what they can achieve. Make them see and they will believe, and that is very crucial to changing their lives. It opens many other doors and more possibility of success in the future,” she said.

This term, her top two bookshelves are filled with Chinese language stories written by her “genius students”. Ms Chen has also sparked a love for Chinese culture at the College, bringing in traditional lion and dragon dancing, drumming, martial arts, costumes, and food for schoolwide cultural celebrations.

She said she particularly valued being able to teach at St James College, because students who had learning difficulties or English as a second language were not taken from her class to learn basic literacy or numeracy, and were instead able to excel. Her students also inspire her.

“I wanted to become a teacher because I wanted to provide equity and quality learning to all young people and there’s no better fit than being a teacher for me to pursue this mission. Education changes my life, and it changes their lives,” Ms Chen said.

Ms Chen has won $5000 for professional development.

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Great achievement for a language teacher, especially in teaching Chinese. I'd like to be in her class to learn more about the TPRS method. Good job, well done.

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