Newsletter Summer 2020
We are excited to announce that we are restarting our Newsletter, which we will publish twice a year. This first newsletter covers the 2019-2020 academic year. We always welcome your thoughts at .
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 or REIs. Here, we present some illustrative examples of their work.
The teachers design reading classes to help rural students to cultivate reading habits, improve communication skills, and in the long run, to develop their confidence, imagination and empathy. These learning goals are especially important for students in the rural areas because, compared to their peers in the city, they get less exposure to classes that stress soft skills rather than examination techniques. In order to close this gap, Teacher Wang, Teacher Yao, and Teacher Geng teach reading classes regularly in some of the primary schools in Yongji county.
During the Fall 2019 semester, the Reading Class served about 360 students from Grades 1 to 3. The class was taught twice a week for 90 minutes. The teachers set up different learning goals for students from different grades. For Grade 1 students who just started their primary school, the teachers thought it was important to train them to develop good reading habits and an interest in reading. For Grade 2 students, the teachers took this a step further: in addition to story book reading, they sometimes also brought the students closer to nature, to discover things that the students had learned from the story books. For Grade 3 students, the teachers increased the students’ reading load and introduced them to strategies that could help them share their thoughts effectively with their peers.
Cooperative group work in the Reading Class.
In one experimental project last semester, the teachers tried project-based learning, which stresses students’ problem-solving ability during the learning process. The teachers used the book Journey to the West and led the students to delve into the question “During which period do you think Sun Wukong (the Monkey King) was the most powerful?” Through individual reading and group sharing, students got to learn about the experiences and personalities of Sun Wukong during his different life stages. In the end, each group of students addressed the question by making a poster and presenting it.
Sample student work about Sun Wukong
The teachers think helping students achieve the goals that they set for this class is a step-by-step process, and it is crucial for students at each grade to be trained with the skills that fit into their age group. “In many of the other classes, these students just sit quietly and listen to what teachers say, but we encourage them to speak up, to share, and be critical in our reading class. It has been very challenging to them at the beginning but we are glad to see how they have started to change,” said Teacher Geng.
Students presenting their group work to their peers (Reading Class)
Comprehensive Practice Class (综合实践课）
The teachers’ comprehensive practice class aims to promote student inquiry, interdisciplinary learning and problem solving. Teacher Sun Humiao and Teacher Sun Huiguo have been delivering Comprehensive Practice classes twice a week in selected primary schools. Each semester, they teach about 160 Grade 4 and 5 students.
Student-teacher interaction in a Comprehensive Practice Class
The theme of the 2019 comprehensive practice classes was “Noodles in Shanxi.” These classes aimed to engage students in exploring different historical-cultural factors that had given rise to Shanxi people’s passion for noodles. They gave students an opportunity to connect with different kinds of noodles produced and consumed in Shanxi while learning about their contribution to the local economy. The goal was to instill in students a love for local noodle cultures and a sense of responsibility to become stewards of these cultures and heritage. Prior to teaching students about noodles in Shaanxi, Teacher Sun Humiao and Teacher Sun Huiguo had carried out other comprehensive practice classes focusing on the themes of “Pocket Money,” “Classroom Improvement,” and “Anti-Smoking.”
An elder from the local community was invited to share his knowledge with students.
A survey conducted with forty Grade 5 students showed that students, in general, found their Comprehensive Practice classes relevant, engaging, meaningful, and interesting. Said one of the students, “I treasure the weekly comprehensive practice classes because I find what I am learning very meaningful.” Another student commented, “Through comprehensive practice classes, I have learned to connect learning to my life and solve real-life problems whereas other classes in the school give me a lot of knowledge and are less hands-on.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting school closures, the Yongji team was not able to teach Reading Class and Comprehensive Practice Class during the Spring 2020 semester. Instead, to strengthen their own professional knowledge, the teachers decided to start a book club around the book Understanding by Design by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins. They also took the chance to write up case studies of their classes.
The teachers' summer book club.
In March, the teachers received a request from a father asking if they could tutor his 12-year old daughter who had learning difficulties. The Yongji team accepted the request and started their journey of helping Yuyu (pseudonym), who was going through a lot of stress in her life, including the divorce of her parents and struggles to make friends. In addition to assisting Yuyu with school assignments, the Yongji teachers also taught Yuyu life skills, such as how to cook and how to care for animals. Yuyu’s father noticed a change in her daughter after two months, saying “Yuyu is much more cheerful now and is willing to interact more openly with adults and children in the neighbourhood.” The schools are currently expected to restart as normal in September.
The 5 Yongji Team teachers, together with 2 collaborating teachers, held a one-month summer camp in July 2020. The camp served about 42 students, from pre-K to the end of the primary school.Over the past several years, the Yongji Team had been working with university volunteers to organize summer camps for local students, and each party was responsible for a half-day schedule, but this year, they got to take full control of the agenda as the university volunteers were not able to come due to the pandemic situation. The students would get some guidance on their summer homework and their upcoming fall classes in the morning, and individualized tutoring, and guidance on reading and writing during the afternoon.
Story time during summer camp