The goal of the Rural China Education Foundation is to promote innovative, community-based curriculum taught through student-centered methods for rural Chinese children. 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. The teachers currently teach in 2 different primary schools in Shanxi Province, reaching children in all grades. In these schools, they teach three types of classes: Reading Class (绘本阅读课), Mental Health Class (心理健康课）and “Life-Themed” Class (生命主题课). After school hours, the teachers run storytelling lessons, comprehensive practice activities (综合实践活动), and individual tutoring sessions for special needs children in the community, in addition to conducting parent workshops and professional development sessions for local kindergarten teachers. For all their classes, the teachers develop their own curriculum, which is meant to not only confer basic skills, but also let children connect with their inner world and express their personal thoughts in relation to their real world experiences. To reflect the innovative role of the teachers, we refer to them as Rural Education Innovators (REIs). Here, we present some updates of the REIs' work during the fall 2021 semester.
Newsletter Winter 2021
School-based Classes in Reading and Life Skills
In the fall semester, the REIs developed their own curriculum to promote reflection on emotions and life skills. Teacher Ping and Teacher Caimei taught reading classes to Grade 1 and 2 students with a focus on helping them be in touch with nature as well as their inner qualities, strengths and emotions.
Teacher Huimiao and Teacher Lina designed a series of mental health lessons for Grade 3 students aimed at improving their social-emotional skills.
Teacher Huiguo and Teacher Yanzhen co-designed and delivered a life skills curriculum to 188 Grade 4 students. Teacher Huiguo explained "In the past two years, the COVID 19 pandemic has affected the health and safety of all peoples around the world. Severe flooding over summer 2021 in Shanxi and Henan, China, also led to many life-threatening situations. Locally in Yongji, six teenage lives were lost to drowning this past summer. All these events motivated us to work on raising students' awareness of the preciousness of life by delivering life education to our students."
Street Food Class in Yongji
Every Saturday, the REIs lead placed-based education programs for village children. They developed a community-based course around the topic of local street food to promote students’ understanding of the local culture and heritage. Students had opportunities to visit local eateries, try out different kinds of street foods, take pictures of the street foods, and learn how to make local street food from elders and street vendors.
Students interviewed community members of different age groups to figure out what street foods they consumed during their childhood. Based on their interviews, students found that older people (aged 70 and above) consumed a smaller variety of street food as compared to younger people (aged 50 and below) when they were young. Students concluded that there is a greater variety of street food for people to choose from today compared to the past.
Students on their way to visit a local tofu maker to learn about traditional ways of making “doufu nao” (豆腐脑), savory tofu pudding.
Through participating in different hands-on, inquiry-based activities, students gained a deeper understanding of their local community, food and culture. They showed high interest in the topics and activities.
The REIs have continued to conduct individualized tutoring for rural children with special needs during the fall semester. They provided emotional and general academic support as well as writing-related tutoring. They were happy to see that their most challenging student Yuyu not only showed improvements in her academic studies, but also became more courageous in talking to people. This semester, Yuyu joined the community-based comprehensive practice course on street food. She was able to come up with meaningful questions and interview people that she did not know. In addition to that, she also encouraged other students in the group to speak up and talk to people.
From teaching to training – transforming the teachers’ roles at the village kindergarten
The REIs taught story classes in the kindergarten in Wang Village for the past 2 semesters but this semester their role has changed from teaching to providing professional development training for the teachers in the kindergarten. REI Teacher Yanzhen led training sessions every other week, and she also came to observe her trainee teachers’ classes. After seven training sessions, the kindergarten teachers made improvements in stimulating the kids to examine story books carefully, to notice details, and to express their own opinions about the plot and themes.
Training teachers from the Wang Village kindergarten to analyze story books in preparation for teaching reading class to the children.
Other team updates
The REIs organized parent workshops for parents who sent their kids to their weekend’s storytelling classes. They provided detailed guidance to these parents to help them understand how they could better guide their children at home.
Teacher Huimiao started a series on personal growth for adults centered on the concepts of family therapist Virginia Satir. She herself had improved her relationships with her family and her colleagues through learning and practicing these concepts, and she hopes to inspire others and stimulate discussions with people who have the same needs.