October 2009 No. 29
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Profile from the Field
The Little Librarians of Guan Ai School
Teaching English in Rural China
Curriculum and Teaching
RCEF's "Community Research" curriculum leads students to investigate issues in their communities. Below are two examples of "Community Research" projects going on now at RCEF's site, Guan Ai School.
Raising Chickens: Part Two
Transition to Middle School
Recognition of Recent Donors
Introducing the 2010 RCEF Calendar
The 2010 RCEF Calendar brings you into the learning world of Guan Ai Primary School, RCEF’s experimental program site in a village in Shanxi, China.
As the year goes by, this unique calendar will take you through the students’ enriching school year. You will also enjoy beautiful examples of paper-cutting, a local folk art that often decorates the windows and doors in the village. The bright colors and lively photos will surely provide inspiration for you and your loved ones throughout the new year.
Your purchase of a calendar will not only fund RCEF's important work but will also help to spread RCEF’s mission and message to those around you.
The Little Librarians of Guan Ai School
By Chuanmei Sun, RCEF Program Manager
Above: Students in the Guan Ai library are being trained as "little librarians".
Cultivating students as little librarians was a new idea this semester at Guan Ai School. To get students more involved in managing the school library, we began a new extracurricular elective class called “Library Management.” Held every Tuesday and Saturday for an hour, students gather in the library to learn how to become good librarians.
In the beginning, I observed that most of the students who signed up just came to play. I felt that this was not the right attitude and thought about how to change it. I decided that letting them experience the actual tasks of management was very important. Thus, we spend most of the time in class practicing hands-on tasks like checking out and checking in books from beginning to end. We let the students split into groups and practice being temporary librarians. At first, many didn’t take their work seriously. They had sloppy handwriting. They didn’t have a concept of how to organize books. They believed that registering books was all there is to being a librarian. Over the course of our class though, they began to see that registering books is the easiest part. Capable and qualified librarians have to pay attention to cleanliness, order and discipline. They must have a good attitude towards patrons as shown through facial expressions and language. They must manage classmates who misbehave in the library or don’t know how to check out books.
After a month of training, we evaluated our little librarians. The two Guan Ai teachers and I who are in charge of the class designed it very carefully. The evaluation consisted of three parts:
From this, we selected a number of “Excellent Librarians” who now get to wear a special badge when they are working.
We pay a lot of attention to the students’ own ideas. For example, the students got to pick names for their groups and discuss which days they wanted to be in charge of the library. Every day during recess, there is a time that the library is open and managed by these little librarians.
At lunchtime, I often eat with a lively group of students who like to sing and dance. One day I mentioned how nice it would be if our class of little librarians had a class song. Immediately, volunteers took on this challenge. After they wrote their song, I suggested they choreograph a dance to go with it. You can see the results below. I must be very clear: they created the song and dance entirely on their own. Led by fifth grader Yani Xie, they practiced and practiced and wouldn’t let me see it until they were satisfied. I was truly amazed.
VIDEO: The little librarians created their own dance and song about the joys of reading.
Some students have written that their greatest hope is to become a librarian someday. To see that our class has helped spark some young dreams makes me very happy. Whenever I see the smiling faces of my students, I feel hopeful and fortunate. Here is one of the essays by fourth grader Chenru Ren:
Journal Entry October 27, 2009
I’m so happy today because I’ve become a librarian! At first I thought that becoming a librarian was just for fun. Actually, as a librarian you need to fill out forms. When you help people pick books, you have to have a smile on your face. It’s easy to say but hard to do! It was very hard for me in the beginning. After awhile, with the help of the teacher, I’ve slowly improved. I definitely want to become a real librarian to protect my country and be useful to society.
New Yorker Susanna Eng taught English in a RCEF partner school for five weeks. From becoming a “celebrity” to over a hundred primary school students, learning to ride a bike, and practicing Mandarin in a total immersion environment, Susanna’s first time in rural China was unique and memorable. She shares her experiences in the interview below.
How does volunteer teaching English at Xiaochao Primary School compare to your expectations?
Becoming a small celebrity of sorts among the students was and still is unexpected and amusing. Walking around the school, I am incessantly greeted with choruses of 'Hello's' and 'Hi's' from giggly students. I often hear announcements of my arrival whether I am going to a classroom or the toilet. Before a class, I am often welcomed with cheers and hugs of my legs when I enter a classroom. I have also caught numerous curious George's poking their head into my bedroom when they thought I was not there or looking.
How do you teach English?
I was a bit surprised when Principal Liu and several of the other teachers told me that I do not have to teach from the lesson books and encouraged me to focus on teaching the students English that can be used in everyday situations. Not teaching from the textbook in China? How taboo! But I respect their way of thinking very much and take it as a sign of progressiveness. For each class, I have been making customized English lessons by modifying the materials in the lesson book and incorporating the teaching methods that were taught to me at RCEF headquarters (Guan Ai Primary School) by RCEF English Teaching Coach Kiel Harell. When I am not teaching classes, I sometimes help out in the cafeteria with meal preparation or do extracurricular activities with the students who reside at the school.
What has been your best moment so far?
The best moment happened only a few days ago. I heard a 2nd grade student singing a few lines (more or less correctly) from "Mary Had a Little Lamb," which I had taught them, as she was being picked up by her mother after school.
Who is the Xiaochao teacher and/or student who has left the deepest impression on you and why?
While all the teachers at Xiaochao have been wonderful to me, Principal Liu has left the deepest impression on me. He is one of the most caring and compassionate individuals I have ever met and he places the well-being of the students and teachers above anything else. Every day he sets an example for the rest of us, whether by making sure a student has had enough to eat at lunch or checking that a teacher made it home safely in the dark.
What do you think that people who have never been to a rural primary school in Yongji should know about the realities on the ground?
One of the things that I am really impressed by is how far they are able to stretch the little resources that they have. Back at home, even the lowest-funded academic institutions may have better resources and materials than these schools. Here, expect to see broken desks and chairs in use, very old and weathered learning materials, and facilities that would have been renovated years ago back at home. Learning resources that we think are basic and essential may be very scarce or outdated. I asked for a teacher for a ruler once and only after searching for a good 15-20 minutes did she find one that was broken. Many students up to the 6th grade probably have never used a computer before. Printouts and handouts are pretty much nonexistent. In spite of this, it's amazing how the students are still able to learn and accomplish. I have never seen more students more disciplined and eager to learn.
Is there any advice you would give to other people who are considering volunteering to teach English in rural China?
For those who have never been to rural areas before, it may be a shock at first. One needs to be accepting of the rural lifestyle and all the challenges and lack of modern conveniences that comes with it. Learning to adapt quickly is key! But those giving teaching in rural China even the slightest thought, they should cast all doubts aside and just sign up. They will see things and meet people they would otherwise never see or meet. The experience will be amazing and incomparable, guaranteed!
If you are interested in volunteering as an English teacher with RCEF for periods of at least 2 months, please send a resume and cover letter to email@example.com.
Raising Chickens: Part Two
The RCEF Newsletter is a monthly publication about the educational initiatives being carried out by RCEF in rural Shanxi Province, China.
(C) Rural China Education Foundation 2009