Rural China Education Foundation, Rochester, United Stateshttp://www.ruralchina.org
Rural China Education Foundation, Rochester, United Stateshttp://www.ruralchina.org
Support schools and network rural teachers across China to develop new curriculum and teaching approaches that prepare students to make improvements in their own lives and communities.
80% of rural Chinese students drop out during or after middle school, often due to rigid teaching methods that fail to prepare them for life. Rural schools suffer from shortages of motivated, qualified teachers. We support schools with principals and teachers who are strongly motivated to reform. We give them year-round support and training to experiment with student-centered curriculum and teaching approaches that connect schooling to life and the real world needs of rural students.
Program staff work in rural primary schools in Shanxi Province by partnering with teachers to implement whole school reforms. We offer year-round professional development and disseminate publications that share best practices with others.
The fate of rural children is critical to China's future. Providing quality education could mean the difference between millions growing up in a cycle of poverty and exploitation and a new generation of capable citizens who help solve these problems.
The peach blossoms are out in Houjia Village, where RCEF Teacher Ms. Sun Huimiao works. Last week, she designed a special outing for children and parents to provide a chance for bonding and learning in nature. Ms. Sun's goal was to show rural parents in her community how to cultivate a sense of beauty, observation and creativity in their children from an early age.
The children excitedly danced and ran ahead as the group walked into the fields around the village "looking for signs of spring." Ms. Sun encouraged everyone to use their hands, their noses, their eyes to touch, observe and feel the wheat, peach blossoms, and meadows of vibrant yellow rapeseed flowers. Afterwards, they gathered natural materials -- twigs, petals, leaves -- and made mosaic art projects.
Ms. Sun held a discussion with the parents. "What use does this activity have for your child's development?" Through exercising their powers of observation, the children strengthened their connection with nature and sensitivity to beauty. The parents talked about how young children's learning begin with feeling, and how important it is to activate their all their senses and curiosity.
This kind of activity is all too rare in rural China, but also very suited to the natural environment surrounding rural families. However, it takes inspired and dedicated teachers like Ms. Sun to thoughtfully facilitate and lead. RCEF exists to find and support teachers like Ms. Sun and to share their meaningful work to inspire more teachers in China.
The vast majority of children in China grow up in the countryside. How this next generation of citizens in the largest country on earth are educated shapes the future of our world. Thank you for caring about them and supporting the development of rural teachers for them.
One of the RCEF rural teachers supported by our project is starting a new Community Education Center in her home village, Houjia Village, Shanxi Province. RCEF funds allow her to paint and fix up four classrooms in the village elementary school that are getting a new lease on life, and provides her with advice and volunteers. The first activity will be an extracurricular Winter Camp held in January for children and teenagers on break from school. Not a tutoring or test-prep camp, it will instead be aimed at engaging children's interest in new topics relevant to their lives through books and movies. There will also be a playroom for younger children and fun, organized activities that bring parents and children closer together. This kind of center and such activities are extremely rare in rural China and this pioneering project is only possible with your support. The lessons learned will be shared with other pioneers in rural China who may be able to start and run similar initiatives in their rural hometowns!
We are one month into the new school year in China. Four RCEF teachers are situated in Yongji County, Shanxi Province bringing a unique style of Reading Classes to rural children in second, third, and fourth grades. Reading Class is a new course in China that aims to increase children's interest in reading and breadth of reading material.
In rural China, most children do not have access to books beyond their few textbooks. RCEF has set up libraries in rural village schools and is supporting local teachers to develop curriculum to make use of a wide variety of books to guide and engage children. An example of this reading curriculum can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ME2zGvuXwk4&feature=relmfu. It describes how teachers helped students investigate the impact of the surroundings on their lives through books. They selected the topic “Exploring Village Changes in My Community” and found three related books: The Changing Countryside, The Bear Who Wanted to Be a Bear, and China in Liang Village. The reading process was divided into four steps.
The first step was pre-reading, which was based on students’ real life experience. Its purpose was to arouse students’ attention to the reading materials and the topic. First, teachers presented students with pictures of their own village from thirty years ago, asking them to compare and contrast them with the current situation, and encouraging them to express their own thoughts. Then, they guided students to think more specifically about the impact on the environment on people’s lives.
The reading process aims at strengthening students’ improved understanding about the text content. Students also learn some reading skills during this process. For example, when teaching The Changing Countryside, teachers invited students to start from the cover and make predictions about what would happen. Next, we led students to observe the first picture in the sequence showing how the countryside changed over time. In this way, students observed the first picture, wrote down what they saw, and checked their predictions against the next picture in the sequence. They did the same thing for the following pictures on their own.
The next step in the curriculum was to practice students’ ability to retell the whole story. Students try to retell a story by using the tool of “story structure” designed by the teacher. For example in the The Bear Who Wanted to Be a Bear, teachers helped students go over the basic elements in a story: time, place, figure, plot and the topic. Students tried to retell the changes of the village over the past twenty years. The teachers were surprised by students’ ability to include their own thoughts and expressions when retelling the story.
In the process of application, students applied the knowledge they learned in the class into their own lives. They also try to analyze the problems that they learn about. After reading the books, the students’ task was to investigate the changes in their own villages over the last 20 years by conducting interviews of school staff, family members and neighbors. Through this unit, students learned more about their community and its history and also cultivated their interests in reading, improved their reading skills, and enhanced the ability to analyze problems.
“Smoking is bad for you.” Children in China are taught this in school. But what if your local economy if based on tobacco? That’s the reality in Yuxi City, Yunnan Province where our program’s Rural Teaching Fellow, Ms. Huimiao Sun, is currently leading a summer camp for children to explore this very topic.
The children, in grades 3-5, are from poor families who migrated from rural areas to Yuxi City to work. They know that Yuxi manufactures a brand of cigarettes famous throughout China, but don’t know much about the tobacco industry or the health effects of smoking. Rather than preaching from a textbook, Ms. Sun set up an experiential learning process whereby the children can touch, observe, and think about the tobacco issue from many perspectives.
This week they walked through a tobacco field and interviewed farmers about how the crop is harvested and dried. They went on a greenhouse tour led by professors at the local agricultural college and observed biotechnology experiments on tobacco plants to control pests. Later, they visited the local Center for Disease Control to learn about the negative health effects of smoking and the government’s attempts to phase out economic reliance on tobacco. Tomorrow they will organize their notes and do further research to prepare for a debate on the role and impact of tobacco on local society. Ms. Sun will guide them to discuss what action they may take to inform the others about what they’ve learned.
This kind of place-based, interdisciplinary project is emblematic of the enriching, real-world relevant education that the Rural China Education promotes, with the help of donors like you. Thank you for your support of rural teachers and their innovative teaching experiments!
The Rural China Education Foundation is piloting a professional development fellowship for rural educators in China. Our first fellow is Sun Huimiao, former elementary school founder, principal and teacher. Ms. Sun is a 40-year-old native of Houjia Village, Shanxi Province. She only graduated from high school but with her keen sense of children's emotions and how to connect book learning with the real world, she is one of the most talented teachers RCEF has come across. Check out some of Ms. Sun's teaching in action below!
Here, Ms. Sun brings students on an investigation of water pollution and sources in their village.
When she noticed third-grade boys' fascination with snails, she helped them turn it into a research project!
RCEF is currently investing in her by sponsoring an 11-month fellowship for Ms. Sun to learn more about leadership, educational theories, and non-profit work. RCEF assigned her a coach to help her set and achieve her goals for personal and professional growth so that she can return to her hometown and become a more effective teacher and educational leader.
Over the past several months, RCEF has been busy promoting service learning teaching methodology amongst teachers and NGOs that work with rural children. Service learning is an educational approach that cultivates civic responsibility by integrating academic learning and personal growth with meaningful service to the community. In a typical service-learning project, students identify problems that they are concerned about in their community, research the problems and potential solutions, create and implement a plan for addressing the problem, and reflect on their learning and action throughout the process.
A new RCEF handbook on service learning presents this teaching methodology in detail along with practical examples of how RCEF teachers have applied it in rural China. Over 200 copies were distributed to participants at a national conference on rural education in December 2011 in Guangzhou, China. A RCEF teacher with over 15 years experience teaching in village schools in northern China gave a well-received presentation about the service learning projects she and RCEF developed with classes of fourth- and fifth-grade children in rural Shanxi Province. Her story was so moving that a reporter from a national education magazine profiled her and these teaching methods for a cover feature story that will come out in their February 2012 edition!
Migration from rural to urban areas is a common phenomenon in China. However, when rural adults migrate to cities to work, they often leave behind young children and elderly parents. China Daily estimates there are 20 million “left-behind children” and 20 million “left-behind elderly” in China’s rural areas. Their lives and needs were the focus of a curriculum unit for third- and fourth-graders developed with support from the Rural China Education Foundation.
You can watch a video of the teaching here: http://www.youtube.com/ruralchina#p/u/2/58iTa7dZxZE.
First, teachers in two schools in Yongji, Shanxi Province selected age-appropriate books and a short film to get students thinking about this topic from various perspectives. Then the students interviewed left-behind children and elderly people in their communities about problems that they face. Around 40% of the students are left-behind children themselves. They discussed which problems they could personally work on alleviating, settling on these 3 issues: academic difficulties faced by left-behind children whose parents aren’t home to help with homework, poor personal hygiene, and the heavy workload of the elderly who must farm the land and do household chores.
Students thought about the reason for these problems and found that there is much they can do to help. They decided to form small groups in each village matching up older students with younger students to address the problems. Each group made plans, including when and where to meet, and elected a group leader to handle coordination. Based on home visits, program teachers found that students’ guardians strongly approve of this initiative. We will continue to provide updates on the innovative teaching that this program helps to develop!
This summer, RCEF supported summer camps for rural teachers and children in Shanxi Province. The participating teachers came from rural schools in Shanxi, Sichuan, Anhui, Yunnan, and Gansu Provinces. The goal was to expose them to RCEF's educational philosophy and teaching methods, which the teachers found fresh and thought-provoking.
Before the summer camps, staff and veteran teachers introduced the teaching framework and supporting theories. They then led the group in hands-on practice, facilitating local children from the surrounding villages to engage in a service learning project. One group of children investigated the prevalence of cigarette smoking in their communities and then put on a performance for their family members (some of whom are smokers) that included skits and art displays that incorporated what they had learned about the health effects of smoking. Another group of children investigated the reading habits and needs of their classmates and made suggestions about how to improve their school library.
In the evaluation, teachers said that this kind of hands-on training which combined theory with practice was extremely valuable. Ms. Ma Zhongyi from Sichuan Province remarked, "I've never been at a training like this before. Usually there's just some expert talking about their own experience. Sometimes the person doesn't even understand education and has never really put into practice their "expertise." This training allowed us to participate in every aspect. I moved from being confused and skeptical in the beginning to developing my own understanding of--and opinions about--service learning. I want to attend more trainings like this where I can meet people who have the same passion and exchange experiences." Teacher Bi Yunmei from Yunnan Province wrote, "We didn't just learn some teaching strategies or techniques, we learned a completely new teaching philosophy. We learned how to look at society--to explore and analyze it and then use our own actions to display our strength. I need this kind of education, which involves a whole new way of thinking and dialogue about values."
The spring semester is going smoothly at Xiaochao Primary School and Dong Wu Xing Primary School! Teachers have noticed that after one semester of our program’s reading classes, students have grown to love reading and reading class. Our program partner schools and parents have always supported children to read more books because they know that this helps to build reading comprehension abilities and broadens students' horizons.
In the four months from March to June, the program teachers are guiding third and fourth grader children through twelve carefully selected books. The books were chosen around themes that are close to students' lives such as village history and family relationships. Students also have a chance to pick out books of interest from teacher recommendations and share their feedback about the books.
Each unit of the curriculum includes previewing the books, reading and responding to the books, exploring related themes in real life, and applying what was learned.In each step, students learn different reading methods. For example, during the reading of a book about changes in a village over 20 years, students learned how to guess what will happen next in the story by looking at the illustrations. They also observed the different illustrations to identify how the linked together and how their changes express the author’s meaning.
We will continue to keep you updated on the program's work. Thank you so much for contributing to the development of quality education for rural Chinese children!
The new spring semester began on February 18 and with it a set of innovative lesson plans that combine reading and service to guide students in learning about issues in their own community. Lesson themes include “Changes in Our Village over the Past 30 Years,” “Conflict Resolution at School”, and “The Needs of Left-Behind Children.” The latter refers to children whose parents have migrated away to cities to work, leaving them in the countryside to board at school or live with relatives. Around 100 students in two primary schools will read stories and other material that help them to think about social issues in preparation for doing their own research and action project in the community.
February 3 marks the beginning of the new Lunar New Year in China! We've prepared an Annual Report to share RCEF's accomplishments from last year. In it, you can read characteristic examples of our student-centered, community-based education. Thank you for your interest in our innovative curriculum and teacher training model. As always, we welcome your feedback and partnership in advancing quality education for rural Chinese children. Best wishes to you in the Year of the Rabbit!
You can download the English or Chinese RCEF Annual Report at: http://www.ruralchina.org/about-us/awards-and-press/annual-report-2009-2010.
Dong Wu Xing Primary School is one of our partner schools. Located in Shanxi Province about 10 kilometers from the nearest city, it has about 130 students who come from three surrounding villages. The school buildings are among the most dilapidated in the county. There is no playing field. Originally, this school was slated for closure. However, partly because it is located in a village that played a critical role in the anti-Japanese war in the 1940s, the efforts of its well-respected village head and principal were successful in keeping it open. We began to collaborate with this school in July and are currently developing curriculum there for our flagship subjects: Reading and Integrated Practice Class.
This semester the topic of our Integrated Practice Class is to study the history of this old revolutionary village and help the children to better understand the place where they live. We found that many children don't know about what happened in this area during the war and only have a few guesses or assumptions about this period that shaped their hometowns. Our hope is that through interviews, readings, a visit to a museum, and other activities, they will increase their understanding of this very important part of the history of their community.
Listening to Stories from the Elders
After watching a movie about the Japanese invasion of China and the war that had such an impact on their own village, students engaged in vigorous discussion about the incidents and characters in the movie. They said they wanted to know more information. Some children said their grandpa or grandma had told them that Japanese soldiers used to occupy their village. Everyone was very curious about what life was like then. After a few classes of preparation, the students interviewed a 86-year-old man from the village where Dong Wu Xing School is located.
Only fifteen years old when the Japanese invaded their village, the elderly grandfather sat in our classroom and answered the children's questions with bits and pieces of his memory. He talked about how his family fled, about the destruction of the village, the pain, the suffering. After the interview was over, he spontaneously recited an old rhyme which encompassed wartime history from 1937-1945.
Putting it into their own words
After the interview, with the guidance of the teachers, the students organized and summarized their notes. They used their own words to tell their friends and family what they had heard and practiced writing an interview report.
Making a Personal Plan
The next step will be to discuss with students what they already know about their village's revolutionary history and what they still want to find out. How will they gather information? Where can they get help? We will help them to make their own plan for the next activity.
To read more examples of our curriculum, please visit our website at www.ruralchina.org.
During the summer vacation, three RCEF curriculum developers and I went to Shanxi Qikou to attend a conference on rural reading education put on by Beijing Brooks NGO and the organization “Awaiting Spring”. Beijing Brooks NGO had set up local libraries in Qikou for several rural primary schools. The purpose of the conference was to share experiences around the effective use of libraries for organizing reading activities and improving students’ interest and abilities in reading.
Prior to Peking University professor Wang Zidan’s speech on how to manage small-scale libraries, the conference attendees split into six small groups to share experiences in key factors of rural library management. These included the environment and appearance of the library, the role of the librarian, the influence of the library on family and community culture, and the ability of a rural library to advance education in the schools.
Ms. Li Lingtong of the Green Children Project demonstrated some reading methods with the cooperation of ten students. These included reading aloud and facilitating silent reading. For example, each child could only choose two books at a time. The teacher only suggested to the child what to read when s/he needed assistance. She demonstrated reading picture books like Stone Soup. These methods and the theory behind literacy circles are all relatively easy to grasp and practical for trying out in the classroom.
RCEF also shared our reading activities from last semester with the conference attendees. The RCEF curriculum developers each learned valuable things from the conference. Ms. Li Xiaochun felt the methods of library management introduced were helpful as they addressed some of the problems she had come across when managing the library at a RCEF partner school. Ms. Wang Yanzhen got new ideas for reading activities to try out in her class.
Throughout the two day, I saw how the RCEF curriculum developers participated actively and enthusiastically in small group discussions with other teachers. I saw how they thought about, and were attracted to, the advice given by the conference speakers. I was happy to see that they interpreted the different topics of the conference from their own perspectives and connected them to their work in the classroom. When we talked after a conference event, they would naturally bring up how they can use what they’ve learned in their own teaching. RCEF has continually given staff chances to go on study trips to supplement their own experience with that of others in new contexts. Through such interactions, they can be more confident about the unique aspects of their own teaching, and at the same time influence other teachers around them.
This summer, eight American teachers from Windrush School in El Cerrito, California traveled to RCEF's program site, Xiaochao Primary School. The summer vacation had just begun in China but around 30 local teachers returned to school to dialogue with the American educators about reading and service learning. In China, service learning is a method used in "Integrated Practice Class," a mandatory subject for grades 3-6. RCEF program teachers showed pictures and videos of the service learning projects they led this year. and the Windrush teachers shared their school's service learning philosophy and examples of projects that their students had completed.
Windrush School's educational philosophy and curriculum priorities share similarities with RCEF. We both promote student-centered education and facilitate children to participate in practical activities that develop a diverse range of values and abilities, including empathy, a sense of responsibility, and desire to serve others. Windrush School's goal in service learning is to help students gain knowledge and skills through public service activities that develop their hearts and minds. They foster a deeper understanding of society and the duties of acitizen. This is not only good for students' academics but it also helps to grow civil society.
After the presentations and exchange, the American teachers said they were impressed by RCEF teachers' methods. In particular, they said they wanted to learn from our collective lesson planning and teacher group reflection model. At the same time, we must learn from the sustainability and concrete results of the Windrush service learning approach and its integration with other curriculum subjects. In the future, I hope that we can build up a sister school relationship with Windrush through online learning, exchange, and sharing experiences. This will help us prepare our students for a lifetime of improving their communities.
This school year, RCEF began working with a second rural primary school in Yongji, Shanxi Province. Xiaochao Primary School is a public school that serves around 153 students in six grades. Many of them are "left behind children" whose parents have migrated to cities to work. Most of Xiaochao's teachers live in the surrounding villages and have taught at the school for a decade or more, earning many county and provincial level teaching awards.
While its test scores consistently rank at the top of the township, Xiaochao wants to add more enriching activities to its curriculum and bolster students' well-rounded development. This semester, RCEF helped Xiaochao to set up a school library and to design Reading and Integrated Practice classes. RCEF also organized conferences and trainings for teachers from Xiaochao and our other program sites to learn new teaching methods and share their own experiences.
The school yard of Guan Ai Primary School, RCEF’s main program site, is lined with tall Chinese parasol trees. Shortly after the Chinese New Year, rural teachers from six schools in three provinces gathered at wooden picnic tables underneath their branches for a three-day conference. Though the focus was on RCEF’s student-centered teaching methods and curriculum, all of the teachers were encouraged to contribute their unique viewpoints, questions, and examples from diverse personal experience. As birds chattered above their heads on the first morning of the meeting, the 40 participants discussed rules and expectations for the event that would foster an open, safe atmosphere for sharing and learning. They voted on a “class name” for the group—“Beneath the Parasol Trees”—and got acquainted with each other’s backgrounds and personalities through games and small group discussions. Teachers from one private and one public rural school in Yongji attended as well as from rural schools in Gansu and Guizhou that are supported by the NGOs Western Sunshine Action and Xiaoping Foundation respectively. For most of the three days, participants split up into two groups to learn about RCEF’s experiences in developing teaching methods for two curriculum subjects: Integrated Practice Class and Reading. In Integrated Practice Class, participants learned about RCEF’s method of facilitating students to do community investigations by actually carrying out the steps of an sample project, ranging from walking around the village to collect possible investigation topics, to narrowing down the choices to one topic, to designing and executing a plan for interviewing and investigation. Through a facilitated process modeling how RCEF teaches students, the participants eventually narrowed down their topics to investigating how villagers of three different generations celebrated the Chinese New Year holiday. After designing an interview plan, just as the students do, the teachers went out to interview older villagers, an experience that many found eye-opening and enjoyable. Even those local teachers who had grown up in nearby villages learned new things! At each step in the process, Guan Ai teachers or RCEF staff shared in detail how they taught the step, what difficulties they faced with students, and how they dealt with these practical challenges. Participants brought up concerns and challenges they would face in their own classrooms implementing such a class and the whole group offered ideas and advice. In the evaluation form, one public school teacher wrote, “This is truly a meaningful activity for students. It’s not just for appearances.” Another teacher from Gansu remarked, “Before this meeting, I had only theory about this class in my head. Now I have a better idea of actual teaching methods.” The other half of the group focused on how to promote extracurricular reading in primary school. They gathered in the colorful RCEF library at Guan Ai School to hear how students were trained to manage the library. Many teachers were struck to see the free, open way that Guan Ai students act in the library—sitting on the floor, leaning against the bookcases, even lying on the floor, immersed in books! Guan Ai teachers who facilitate silent sustained reading as well as storytelling and book discussion activities in their classes shared the process they went through from having almost no concept of non-textbook reading to now utilizing extracurricular books on a daily basis, and seeing marked improvements in their students’ creativity, oral language and independent thinking skills. This approach to reading was new to many participants. One teacher wrote, “Before I came to this meeting, I would simply give students some content to read. They didn’t have any initiative and finished the task mechanically. However, now I want to let them choose books that they like and slowly build up their habit of reading.” On the last day, the two groups came together for a seminar on cooperative, small group learning. Though many teachers were already familiar with the benefits of the concept and had been using small groups in their classrooms to different degrees, this was an opportunity for them to discuss the practical challenges that came up and share effective strategies. Guan Ai teachers shared how they organized this kind of learning, ranging from ways of forming groups to fostering group leaders, to what kind of problems to watch out for if using a points system to incentivize groups. Overall, the participants enjoyed the open sharing available in this conference, saying it was quite “down-to-earth” and that they “could really learn things here.” In the evaluation form, one public school teacher wrote, “I’ve been to a lot of teacher exchange meetings in the past but mostly just listened to some reports or read some materials or observed a model class. The difference here was that at every stage, we talked about our own experiences with other teachers. This is really meaningful to me and I liked it very much.” Another wrote, “I like this kind of meeting more than other ones I’ve been to because the teachers have a lot of time to interact and participate.” However, the short duration of the meeting (three days) left some teachers unsatisfied and several said they hoped to see live classes with students in action. Another suggestion was to raise the efficiency of the discussions and facilitation. This teacher’s sentiment echoed many of her peers: “I want to learn even more methods I can try out myself so I’m looking forward to the next meeting.”
We are pleased to present RCEF's Annual Report 2008-2009. RCEF's program in grassroots "bottom up" education reform has been - and still is - a continuous learning experience for all of us. This is a report about the teaching reforms we've made through intensive collaboration with rural teachers and students in a typical rural Chinese primary school. It is our hope that you will find it a useful window into RCEF's journey and where our learning is leading us. You can download it from our website at: www.ruralchina.org.
RCEF is experimenting with different methods of promoting free reading at our main program site, Guan Ai Primary School. In December, students visited each other's classes to talk about what they'd been reading, adults and students read together at designated times every day, and the student librarians kept the school library open during recess hours. Below, RCEF Program Manager Sun Chuanmei shares some funny and interesting things that happened during all this reading frenzy.
The Incident with Mingyue
Mingyue Zhang is a pretty second grade student. When she picks up a book, she won't put it down. One day, she brought a book that she hadn't finished reading into the bathroom. As you probably know, bathrooms in rural China are pits in the ground. Since it's very cold, the children wear a lot of clothes. Squatting and then standing up again is a challenge, even when not holding a book. When Mingyue stood up, her book fell into the pit. She started crying but at first no one knew why. The other students only knew that there was a little girl crying in the bathroom who wouldn't come out. After asking her, and then looking into the pit, they understood. Word traveled fast. Several teachers went into the bathroom to persuade Mingyue to come out. When her homeroom teacher Ms. Wang finally led her out, Mingyue's face was covered in tears and she sat down, depressed, unwilling to go play. Only after RCEF staff member Zheng Kai went over and talked to her for a long time did her mood improve. The next night when the library opened, Mingyue immediately rushed in and borrowed a new book - this one of Chinese traditional stories.
Fifth Grader's Fury
In November, all of the fifth grade students read Dear Mr. Henshaw as part of our first attempt at holding book discussion meetings. The first meeting, facilitated by Ms. Li Xiaochun, was meant to get students interested in reading the book. The second meeting took place at another rural school in our county called Xiaochao Primary School. We brought the Guan Ai fifth graders there to discuss the book with their Xiaochao counterparts, who had also read the same book. Perhaps because they were in unfamiliar territory, it was hard for the Guan Ai students to open up at that meeting.
That evening, I went to their classroom to ask how they felt the activity meeting went. I suggested that they give themselves and their class a score for how well they behaved along with a few reasons for their scoring. Most of the students agreed and started standing up to explain their scores. They didn't give themselves high scores but gave their class as a whole pretty good scores. I listened and took notes. Was this turning into a self-congratulatory exercise? Why wasn't anyone mentioning the problems that had come up?
Just when I was about to guide them in that direction, a student named Zhang Rong banged her fist on her desk and stood up. She looked at everyone and said in a loud voice, "Why is everyone basing their scores on the faults of the other school's students? We didn't have any faults? Did we speak up actively?" She threw out a series of problems like missiles. Immediately, the class fell silent. I looked at everyone with a serious expression but inside, I couldn't help smiling. A challenge from within is better at producing the truth.
Zhang Fei's "Press Meeting"
Second grader Zhang Fei was a "guest speaker" in the first grade class. He went there to tell them a story he recently read and liked. However, when he told the story, his words weren't clear enough and a lot of children didn't understand. Thankfully, Zhang Fei saved the day. He said, "If you don't understand the story, please ask questions." The first graders started to speak actively, one question after another. Zhang Fei stood at the front of the classroom answering the questions without any hint of impatience.
From my perspective at the back of the classroom, it felt like a press meeting. After the class, I thought about why Zhang Fei had such ability. It must be that in his second grade class, it is popular for students to tell stories to each other during reading period. Now that they are used to it, they have naturally started to speak like a teacher, asking, "Can you guess why? Do you understand?" This is how little teachers are cultivated!
When doing reading activities with the students, I often run into unexpected scenes like these. When I look at the expressions on the children's faces as they read, I can't help but sigh and let these feelings sink deep into my heart.
Thank you for your support of the Rural China Education Foundation (RCEF). We greatly appreciate your interest in helping to promote quality education in rural China! The new school year began at our program site, Guan Ai Primary School, on August 20. You can read on our blog about how RCEF Teaching Coaches helped Guan Ai teachers analyze textbooks and create lesson plans for the semester. Teachers also decorated their classrooms to make them more warm and inviting--something that is very rare in rural Chinese schools.
This school year RCEF staff and Teaching Coaches will build on the foundation from last year to take our innovative curriculum design to the next level. We spent last school year helping Guan Ai teachers become more proficient at teaching and coaching each other. We also helped the Guan Ai principal set up an in-school professional development system.
This year, RCEF staff will focus on the areas of greatest strength and value added. Given our track record from last year, we feel that RCEF's strongest suit is in creating lesson plans that help students experience and learn about issues in their environment. This includes teaching textbook concepts in ways that make use of rural cultural and natural resources to help students learn more effectively. It also includes extracurricular activities like service-learning projects.
Service-learning is a concept that is very new to China and RCEF has already piloted some service learning projects at Guan Ai which we want to deepen and broaden this year. An example, the Anti-smoking Project, is described below. We will collect baseline data for evaluation, along with basic quantitative evaluation data and anecdotal qualitative evaluation data to track our progress.
We would love to hear your feedback and pass it along to our hardworking teachers and staff in the field!
Thank you for your support of quality education for rural children in China! As the school year comes to an end here at our headquarters school in rural China, we are busy preparing for final exams. Below is an update on how we're trying to test children's skills beyond the textbook. We would love to hear your feedback and pass it along to our hardworking teachers and staff in the field!
Evaluating and tracking student progress is very important to our program. However, for most subjects, county-wide exams only reflect students’ most basic ability to recall facts, but not their understanding. For example, a lot of the questions on the Science test are fill-in-the-blank questions taken straight from the textbook. Students can remember lines from the textbook without having any idea what they mean. In English, a paper-and-pencil test can show students’ reading and writing capabilities, but not their listening and speaking skills which are actually the emphasis of the curriculum at the primary level.
To fill this gap, RCEF Teaching Coaches designed internal tests for each subject area at Guan Ai School. In science and math, the tests asked students to apply their knowledge to solve real life problems. For English, every student had a one-on-one speaking and listening assessment. In language arts, we focused on evaluating spoken communication and essay writing. To test students’ spoken communication, we asked students to tell us what they would do if they were the principal of the school, and graded them based on aspects such as clear expression, giving reasons for their ideas, logical organization of thoughts and confidence. In social studies, we tested students on their ability to make judgments about social issues based on available information and their ability to support their arguments.
This is the first time RCEF has done our own comprehensive testing of students. The results will serve as a benchmark to measure students’ improvement over time. The next Guan Ai tests will take place right before the final exams. This time, we will also include assessment of skills in communication, collaboration and problem solving in addition to academic knowledge. To read some examples of test questions, visit the RCEF Blog at: http://blog.ruralchina.org.
Guan Ai Primary School is the headquarters for our program and acts as a laboratory for high quality rural education. The program is run by program staff called "Teaching Coaches" who have professional experience in teaching. They are based full-time, year-round at the school working to support the local teachers.
At Guan Ai School, we are accumulating expertise and developing practical methods that can be shared with other rural schools. After cultivating a team of excellent local teachers at Guan Ai, they will train and network more educators across rural China to share strategies and lessons learned. Here is a glimpse of progress made in the 2008-2009 school year so far. For monthly updates, subscribe to our newsletter and visit our blog!
Curriculum Innovations Every afternoon, the teachers and program staff run extracurricular activities that students voluntarily sign up for. On any given day, one can walk around the campus and observe students involved in arts and crafts, preparing a school newspaper, learning Chinese yo-yo tricks, practicing trumpets, singing English songs, and many other activities. These activities are almost unheard of in rural Chinese schools and are a testimony to the initiative and commitment of the teachers.
Several teachers have also been boldly experimenting with creative lessons within the regular curriculum. They include story-telling and poetry recitation contests to cultivate students’ speaking skills and love of reading in language class, taking students into the village to learn about the community in Social Studies, conducting experiments in Science and letting students manage their own small businesses in Math. School Management & Outreach
We have improved the teacher evaluation system so that it better their teaching performance and innovation. We have also helped the principals to articulate their educational philosophy for the school and present it to the teachers. Last semester, we began a Parent Training Program. Around thirty of the parents who have demonstrated the most active involvement in their children’s education were nominated to be the first participants. We invited them to the school and the teachers shared with them about what was going on at the school and in their teaching. They then engaged the parents in discussion of practical parenting topics that were of great concern to the parents. The first meeting focused on parent-child communication and the second on effective ways to help children with TV addiction. According to feedback from the parents afterward, these meetings were found to be useful and fill a need for parents to talk to each other and to their children’s teachers about common problems they face. We will continue this Parent Training Program this semester. Eventually, we hope that these parents who benefit from and regularly attend the trainings will form the nucleus of a new Parent’s Association that can be involved in strategy and development of the school.
Teaching and Professional Development
The RCEF Teaching Coaches made strong progress helping local teachers to gain confidence in using new student-centered teaching methods. In addition to a regular schedule of listening to and assisting with classes, the Teaching Coaches participated in lesson planning, post-lesson feedback sessions, and facilitating subject- and grade-level meetings. Systems were also set up for the teachers to learn from each other. Every month, teachers have to observe six other classes in their grade level or subject and be observed six times. They take notes and fill out a feedback form afterwards that is posted on the wall of the teachers’ office. In addition, every week, the teachers write a reflection about problems they are encountering and lessons they’ve learned. These all serve as a way for teachers to be accountable to each other in an open, honest, and supportive atmosphere.
Over the winter holiday, an intensive training was held for all of the teachers in the program. Three teachers from Dulangkou Middle School in Shandong Province were hired as trainers. They brought deep expertise in participatory teaching methods. The format of the training was designed to give our teachers as much hands-on practice as possible. Teachers discussed theory and practice as they planned lessons together and then delivered them in front of regular students later in the day. The trainers planned some of the lessons as demonstrations, explaining their values, logic, and methods clearly. After each lesson, there was a thorough discussion about what happened in the class, what could be done better, and what questions the teachers had. The feedback from the teachers was very positive and we have already seen them put into practice many of the methods they learned during the training.
Just a few days ago, RCEF concluded our fourth Summer Volunteer Program. Every July since 2005, volunteers from China and abroad have come to rural villages to put on enriching camps for local children. This year, three camps took place in Yongji, Shanxi Province, RCEF’s main site in rural China. Volunteers from 5 countries worked with 30 rural teachers to put on the two-week camps. Classes were designed to supplement the regular education that children get in school by offering subjects not normally taught, such as Theater Games, Arts & Crafts, and Community Research. The classes are focused on increasing students’ self esteem, creativity, and interest in learning. RCEF also facilitates students to learn more about their rural hometowns, in an attempt to build community awareness and pride. For example, students at Nanzheng Primary School spent two class periods in a row every day doing research projects. The four groups researched (1) the history of the village wall (2) the stream in the village (3) general history of the village (4) education in the old days. Here are some excerpts from their reports on “education in the old days”: “By surveying several elderly people we were able to learn that at that time, even though tuition was only 2 yuan, which these days is only enough to buy a meal, then it was very hard to come by. It is said this money was subsidized by the country. They had to pay for cafeteria meals which altogether came to 10 yuan. How much hard work around the clock would this require! Normally at first light they would get out of bed and go to school on foot. As soon as they got to school they would grab a book and start to read. At nine they would eat breakfast and normally would study math in the morning.” Next, the older students researched the natural environment of the village. Annie, the volunteer who taught the science class, led them on a field trip into the nearby hills to collect plant specimens and Karen, who taught art, showed them how to draw plants and other elements of nature they observed. All in all, about 250 children benefited from the free summer camps. Next, we are preparing for a rural teachers retreat. This will bring together rural elementary school teachers from three schools to share experiences and make action plans for the next semester. All 17 teachers from Guan Ai Elementary School, RCEF’s main program partner, are coming. For many, it’s the first time they will have left their region and we have planned trips to museums and historical sites along the way. This retreat will be a chance for the teachers to build team spirit, reflect on our common educational values, and set concrete goals for improving their teaching. We are excited about the 2008-2009 school year. We will keep you posted on all fronts! Please continue to visit the RCEF website and blog for frequent updates! (www.ruralchina.org)
I am pleased to announce that RCEF was one of the two winners of the 2008 GES-GlobalGiving competition! We raised US$8,275 from 116 donors. Additionally, as one of the two winners, we will also receive US$3,500 of prize money.
Our original goal was to raise US$4,000 through 100 donors. After we achieved that target, we continued to set a higher goal for ourselves, eventually finishing the campaign at more than double our original fundraising goal. This would not have been possible without your efforts and support! Thank you!
An update from the field...
RCEF's Co-Executive Director Sara Lam and Professional Development Specialist Li Guangdui are in Guizhou now starting three new RCEF sites.
Dadong Primary School: This school runs classes from first to sixth grade and serves students from three villages. Li Guangdui taught there for one year and the principle is very eager to collaborate with him again. The principle hopes that we can support him in implementing Tao Xingzhi’s educational approach in his school. This is an approach that combines teaching, learning and doing, and connect school with society.
Longtu Primary School: Liang Weian, A local Dong ethnic artist would like to start up a primary school in his village. Since the old school was shut down, small children have had to walk a long distance to get the school. He wants to run the school as a Dong cultural school by integrating aspects of ethnic culture into the curriculum as well as having Dong music and dance lessons each day.
Laohuo Primary School: This school is a single-teacher school run by Shi Chunmei, a “daike” teacher who has been teaching for eight years. When Chunmei came, she started the school in an abandoned building, which villagers had already taken over to use as a pigsty in the lower level. Over 70 students came the first year. Probably more than half of them were overaged.Many parents, including the village head and party secretary, kept their daughters at home to work and wouldn’t send them to school. So she went and did their farm work for them in exchange for their daughters’ enrollment. Chunmei is also a very effective teacher. She puts a lot of thought into methods for teaching ethnic minority children and her students have entered the central school with a very solid foundation.