Newsletter Winter 2020
The goal of the Rural China Education Foundation is to promote innovative, community-based curriculum taught through student-centered methods in rural Chinese classrooms. To achieve this goal, RCEF has supported for many years a group of dedicated rural teachers who grew up in the rural areas themselves and are intimately familiar with the unique challenges of rural students. They teach in 4 different primary schools in Shanxi Province, reaching children in all grades. In these schools, they teach two classes: Reading Class (绘本阅读课) and Comprehensive Practice Class (综合实践课). For these classes, the teachers develop their own curriculum, which is meant to not only confer basic skills, but also let children reflect on and share their personal experiences in relation to their local communities. To reflect the innovative role of the teachers, we also refer to them as Rural Education Innovators (REIs).
“Shanxi Noodles” Project-Based Class
Teachers Sun Huimiao and Sun Huiguo designed a new project-based learning unit on Shanxi noodles for 43 students in grades 3-5 at Nanzheng Elementary School. Nanzheng is a village school with small class sizes that give teachers a lot of flexibility to employ student-centered pedagogies.
The two teachers began the unit by inviting students to observe different noodle dishes served in their family. To help students connect further with the local noodle culture, they integrated local history and geography into their lessons. The goals of the class were to guide students to a deeper understanding of the food cultures of their hometown and the connection of traditional foods to the warmth and love of their family. Students demonstrated their understanding of what they had learned by self-directing a drama about local noodle culture for students from other grade levels at the end of the semester.
Above: Teacher Sun encourages students to share their thinking with the class.
“Learning About the Virus” Project-Based Class
When in-person teaching re-started after the COVID-19 outbreak in China, Teachers Sun Huiguo and Wang Yanzhen decided to design a project-based learning unit on the coronavirus for 120 Grade 3 students in Yucai Elementary School. Utilizing the “Understanding by Design” planning technique, Teachers Sun and Wang set deeper learning goals for their students. The project-based learning unit wrapped up with students making brochures to raise peer awareness on preventative measures against the COVID-19. Closely reading the Chinese translation of the book Understanding by Design by Wiggins and McTighe (2005) has inspired the teachers to re-think course design and helped them to develop lessons with clear learning objectives.
Above: Students working in groups to understand how the coronavirus affects the human body.
Above: Students visualized their understanding through drawings and short sentences.
Preventing the Virus: A Reading Class Campaign
The goal of raising rural children’s awareness of anti-virus protection was also pursued in the Reading Classes of Teachers Geng Ping and Yao Caimei. Reaching 125 children in Grades 1 and 2 of Shuang Yu Elementary School, the teachers and children learned about the characteristics of COVID-19 and the preventions that we can take to protect ourselves, as well as our individual responsibilities during this anti-virus battle.
Above: Students’ poster presentations, demonstrating their understanding of COVID-19.
New Storytime at Wang Village Kindergarten
Teachers Yao Caimei, Geng Ping, and Wang Yanzhen started a new collaboration with Wang village kindergarten this semester. They taught reading classes to the children there every Tuesday. The children at the kindergarten are different from the elementary school students they usually teach so the three teachers had to adjust their teaching strategy based on the developmental levels of the children.
In a delightful twist, since Teacher Yao’s first name, Caimei, sounds very much like the word for “strawberry” in Chinese, the children have given her the nickname “Strawberry teacher”. Every time they see Teacher Yao they call her “Strawberry teacher” very excitedly.
Above: Wang Laoshi Reading a storybook to the kindergarten children.
New Partnership with Rural Development Cooperative
The teachers met the leaders of a Rural Development Cooperative operating in the same county. They share common values around rural cultural appreciation and rural leadership development. Both parties are interested in collaborating on common projects. This semester, the first collaboration resulted in an intern from the Rural Development Cooperative being placed to work with the teachers, learning about rural education and helping out with community education activities.
Above: Members of the Rural Development Cooperative and the Teachers getting to know each other.
Weekend Community Education and Professional Development Activities
The teachers continue to organize weekend community education and storytelling activities in Houjia Village. In addition, they are providing individualized tutoring for students who are struggling in school and lack individualized support and attention.
In their professional development activities, the teachers are wrapping up a six-month study of children’s literature and literacy as part of the “Embrace the Mother Tongue” (Qin Jin Mu Yu) certificate program. This is one of the premier organizations in China training teachers in progressive forms of teaching Chinese language arts.