As autumn descends on rural Yunnan, Kristen Faiferlick (Fellow ’10), reflects on her progress with her new class thus far. Among the highlights from the first semester: using music to motivate students to learn, and and getting to know her students’ dreams and aspirations:
With October already halfway over, winter is on its way. We feel it occasionally, like when we step out of the bright sunshine into a shadow, or at night when the sun sinks and the air suddenly feels unseasonably chilly. But for now, we’re enjoying the last weeks of a sun-drenched autumn and hoping we can cling onto it for just a little bit longer.
A lot has been happening this fall. Laura and I have been working on our unit-
planning skills, which means that our English lessons are better than they’ve ever been. Aside from teaching test content, we’ve been working hard on investing our students in their studies and getting them excited about English. Since China doesn’t hold students back if they fail a grade, we’ve got a wide range of levels in our class. While many of our students show a real aptitude for English, others are still struggling with the basics. For some of the latter students, we find time in the afternoons to hold 2-on-1 classes with them to solidify the basics. Laura discovered that even the most unmotivated students can find a reason to study English… especially if it involves a guitar! Below are three of our students who were less-than-excited about learning the words on their flashcards. That is, until Laura told them they could learn a chord on the guitar if they learned every word on the cards! Apparently, our student Art shows some real musical potential!
In addition, we’ve put into action our “Student of the Week” plan. Every week, we choose a student who has been highly motivated to learn, and demonstrates that through asking questions, attending extra classes, helping others, completing all of their work on time, writing neatly, and being a model for others. This week, we announced our first Student of the Week, a quiet but bright and motivated girl named Lola. We told our students that the Student of the Week would get their picture on the wall for a week, but when we asked Lola where she wanted her picture taken, she replied, “With the whole class.” So, after the students finished their quiz, they ran to the back of the room for their first whole-class picture of the year. Here they are… Class 92! (Check out Lola in the front with her certificate!)
Although it’s still early in the year, we’re trying really hard to get to know each of our students on an individual basis. As it turns out, goal setting was a great way to do this. This week, we spent a class period working with students on why and how to set goals. We discussed the importance of goals in school and in life, and how we could use them in English class. Then, we set goals for the next monthly test. Finally, we discussed the importance of making an action plan and outlining the steps students would use to reach their goal.
That night, we read every student’s goals and strategies to reach their goals. Some of the students still wrote vague, run-of-the-mill statements like, “I want to be able to write a beautiful essay,” or “I want to score better on the listening section of the test.” Others blew us away with the goals they had outlined for themselves. Take a look at Emily and Hamlet’s goals (I’ve done a rough translation below):
My goals are: 1) To write English beautifully, in order to well prepare myself for high school and college. 2) Learn English as if it were my own native tongue, and be able to speak whatever I want whenever I want without hesitation.
My goal is to gain a strong understanding of English and be able to have conversations with English teachers in English. I want to test well, and be able to study abroad and learn other languages.
After reading these, consider that only around 30% of Luodang Middle School students from each class will move onto high school. Only a fraction of them will attend college. The fact that Emily is thinking about high school and college shows that she’s committed to her education, only one summer after graduating from elementary school. Hamlet takes it one step further, saying he wants to study abroad and learn even more languages.
Reading their goals reminds me of how much potential our students have, and how much is at stake. I want SO badly to help each of them achieve their goals… I barely know them and I’m already dying to send them all to high school and beyond! I can already tell it’s going to be an intense year, but Laura and I are up for the challenge!