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Archive for the ‘Effective Teaching’ Category

Shawn Martin (’12 Fellow, University of California-San Diego) is currently a 1st year Fellow in Dali, Yunnan.  She reflects on what impact she hopes to have on her students outside of academics in this upcoming semester.

After traveling throughout Southeast Asia for 4.5 weeks and being away from my village and China for more than a few days span, I feel refreshed and somewhat ready to begin the next semester.

Prior to finals last semester I had a rather pessimistic view of my impact on my students’ lives and my role as a teacher in my village. My students actually ended up performing higher than I expected on their finals which gave me hope that I am actually being an effective English teacher. In addition, it renewed my faith in their abilities and dedication as students.

Thanks to some comments I received on my blog post about my impact, as well as some extended reflecting I have done while traveling, I had altered my perception. My success should not be measured just academically. Just having a presence at my school I am exposing my students to the outside world. I am probably the first person outside of their village or county they have ever met. They are the first village children I have met. This new relationship is mutually beneficial and exposing both parties to ideas, customs, habits, etc. that neither party has ever had close contact with. Looking back on my semester, I realize how I have peaked my students curiosity for learning about the outside world through stories about America and pictures of my time traveling in China. Indeed, my students have gasped in excitement when I show them pictures of the Great Wall and pandas. Conversely  my students have made me more curious about village life and their individual families and customs.

I have also realized that my goals should not be the same for every student. Not every student is destined to go to high school and college. That was the path that fit me, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily the best suited path for all of my students. Some will find success in their own ways whether it be in agriculture, continuing their parents’ business or opening up a successful restaurant in the village. The goal I should have for all students is the instill in them a sense of hard-work, responsibility and desire to set goals and achieve. No matter if this hard-work and responsibility applies more to their studies or taking care of their siblings, these are essential traits in life.

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Hua Sha (’11 Fellow, Fudan University) is currently a second year Fellow in Shantou, Guangdong.  She was invited to share her reflections about her work and students at Teach For China’s 2nd annual Gala in Hong Kong on Saturday November 3rd, 2012.  Her class tested above average for the first time in the school’s history.  Below is a portion of what she shared with the audience that evening.

My name is Hua Sha. I graduated from Fudan University, and I am a Teach For China Fellow at Dazhai School in Shantou, Guangdong. When I first arrived at Dazhai, I saw nearly 70 students squeezed into tiny desks and benches in every classroom. I saw students sweating through their clothes because of the humid weather, I saw students running barefoot in the playground.

Most of my students’ parents are laborers and work more than 10 hours every day. They expect their kids to drop out of school and earn extra income for the family as soon as possible. Even though there are laws against child labor, over 50 percent of the girls in my class leave school every day to work in factories with appalling conditions for 2-5 hours to make extra money. The girls had never been encouraged to dream anything bigger than factory workers. Dazhai School has had the lowest scores in the county for over 10 years. But I told my students that I was confident we would reach our goal as long as we worked incredibly hard and believed in our ability to achieve.

 

I realized that to get my students excited about their work, we had to set strong goals. We had posters and bar graphs in the classroom of our trip towards the big goal, and every one of my students drew their own progress charts after each test. Day after day, I saw the changes in my students: they would loudly and proudly call our class motto “Never give up.” They would share stories in front of the class how they achieved a goal by believing in themselves and making efforts. My student 李泽玲 was not sure if she could continue school because she had 9 brothers and sisters in the family to support, and her grades were below the average. After several individual talks, she set a goal of 15 points progress for herself, and in fact increased her score by 20 points. I will never forget that during my home visit, 李泽玲 told her mother with a smile that because of her hard work she would definitely get into high school in the future. I was proud of her academic achievement, but more importantly, I was proud that she believed in herself.

 

Simply discovering their dreams was an impressive step for my students. But it was their academic progress that proved to me and to themselves that those dreams were possible. On their final exam, my class scored first in the school, and tested above-average in our county. This was the first time in school history that had ever happened. I knew my students were getting into 8th grade with a belief that they could achieve, and continue achieving. One of my students, Zheng Xinxin, wrote to her pen pal saying that, her English teacher has completely changed her view of learning in school. She now believes that even a girl, who was once at the bottom of her class, can achieve great things.

I am one Fellow at one school. This year, we have nearly 220 Fellows across Yunnan and Guangdong, reaching nearly 33,000 students. We believe in our students, and tonight, we invite you to believe with us.

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“Through ordinary hard work, day in and day out, we produced extraordinary results.”

Zhang Qiang (Fellow ’10, Tsinghua University) recently completed his two-year term as a Fellow. As a math teacher at Dazhai Middle School in Yunnan, he led his class to improve from the bottom ranking at his school to the second-best in their grade. This fall, he will join Teach For China’s Chinese Recruiting team to work as full-time staff. Read his story to find out more about what he learned from his time as a Fellow and how he decided to stay involved with Teach For China. 

I remember the first day I walked into my classroom at Dazhai. The

Zhang Qiang (Fellow 10, Tsinghua University) with some of his students

desks and tables were falling apart, and my 53 students were crammed into too few seats. Dahzai is a poor community in a mountain valley, over 160 kilometers away from the prefectural capital.  My students rarely met anyone from outside the small town, and I remember their expressions as they stared up at me with meek curiosity.

We faced a lot of obstacles, which became only more apparent with each day. I struggled to understand the local dialect, and half of my students could barely speak Mandarin. I walked into class preparing to teach a standard math curriculum, while many of my students struggled with basic concepts they should have learned years before. A girl named Susan, who was very nice but always silent, did not even know what a triangle was in our first class.  I was naïve enough to think that these students would understand the role that hard work plays in learning, as I had at their age. My students were naïve enough to think that I, as a teacher from a big city, could magically make their grades improve without assigning any homework.

We all had a lot to learn. Most importantly, though, I believed from the

Zhang Qiang and his American teammate Gareth Collins (Fellow ’10, University of Michigan) with some of their students at Dazhai Middle School

beginning that my students could overcome the challenges they faced; and my students believed in me and my vision for our class. We trusted one another, and we worked hard, every day. I painstakingly planned out each lesson, and they tried their hardest on each homework assignment. I told them about my life and about how I got into Tsinghua University, and they told me about their lives and their aspirations. I spent hours outside of class tutoring the struggling students, and they gathered outside my dorm during their free time to raise questions and ask for extra help. Through ordinary hard work, day in and day out, we produced extraordinary results. Having started as the sixth-ranked math class in our grade, we rose one ranking in each successive semester. Two years later, as we approach the end of the semester, my class is now the second-highest ranked in our grade.

Susan , the silent girl, is now in the top 10 in our class. More importantly, in the letter she wrote to me when I left, she said she is now very convinced and confident of going to high school and college. She wrote that this change all came from our sincere conversations about growing up and from our relentless efforts in the past two years. When I read many letters like this from my students on my last trip out of Dazhai , I just could not help crying, for my kids, myself, and all we had accomplished together in two years.

I am so proud of my students’ hard work and of all they have accomplished. Nevertheless, there are so many reminders of how far we have left to go. Today, my classroom is slightly less crowded with only 45 students. Over the course of two years, eight students dropped out, closing the door on a whole range of opportunities. Many of my students like to joke with me, “Teacher, when I’m a student at Tsinghua, I bet I’ll be more handsome than you!” They like to joke about the future, but I can tell from their expressions that they want the joke to come true. They truly want to go to Tsinghua someday, or at least to attend university and to have the choices that a college degree would afford them. However, with so much uncertainty and so many obstacles still in front of them, they only dare to voice this dream as a joke. All I could do was take every opportunity to remind them of how much we had accomplished, and of how much more they can accomplish in the next two years, and the two years after that, as long as they remain brave and don’t lose sight of their goals.

I also know that my work is far from finished, and that there is so much more that I can do to close the gap for my students and for thousands like them in other schools. Now that my two years as a teacher are over, I will join Teach For China’s staff working to recruit new Chinese college graduates to join in our efforts. With each new Fellow, we come one step closer to realizing our common vision and helping every child in China enjoy the education they deserve.

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Zhang Yibin was a shy student at Helong Middle School in Shantou, Guangdong who rarely participated in class. Read how Jennifer Tan (Fellow ’11, Brown University) was able to change his beliefs about himself and his education.  

Ross (Zhang Yi Bin 张奕槟) is one of the 78 students in my class. On the first day of

Students from Jennifer Tan’s class at Helong Middle School

class, I noticed him right away–he was the smallest student, sitting by himself with his notebook open. I crouched down next to his desk and asked him for his name. He just looked away and pointed at his notebook with three Chinese characters written on top. I asked again and he whispered in my ear without looking at me, “Yi Bin.” I smiled and walked away. After a few days of class, I realized that Ross had a very poor foundation in the English language, but he concentrated hard in my class, copying everything down as quickly as he could. After a week, I announced that I had chosen Ross to serve as the class’s subject representative. This was abnormal, as class representatives are typically chosen based solely on grades, and Ross’s grades were far from the best in the class. I hoped that giving Ross the responsibilities of serving as class representative, which include helping me to collect homework, would help him open up. I had no idea how much my decision would affect him.

By the beginning of October, I began buke 补课( supplementary study sessions) every day after school. Almost every day, Ross and his good friend, Marshall, would come into my office with their notebooks, English workbooks, and English textbooks in hand, asking me to review the day’s materials or to learn more vocabulary. I was energized and inspired by their eagerness to learn. They spent more than an hour with me every after school session working on grammar problems and writing creative sentences with the words we just learned. In September, Ross averaged just 71 out of 150 in my class. In his last exam, he scored 102 out of 150. In class, he constantly raises his hand to answer questions, and even frequently volunteers to perform dialogues in front of the entire class! Ross inspires me to work harder for all 77 of my other students.

Recently, his Chinese Literature teacher (another Teach For China Fellow) showed

A banner hanging in Jennifer’s class

me an entry in his diary. The prompt was: “Your teacher calls you into his/her office. What happens next?” Ross wrote a creative piece about how nervous he had been to be called into the office by his English teacher, and how sweat had trickled down his forehead as he walked to the office. The story continued: “I didn’t know what to do so I just addressed her and stayed silent. She told me that she wanted me to be her class representative! I couldn’t believe it! I was scared at first! But after a few days, it didn’t seem so hard to help her! When I was younger, I did not work very hard in school, but my teacher told me that she believes I could succeed if I work hard, so this year, I am going to work very very hard! She makes us read the giant banner in our classroom every day: I will work hard, I will succeed! I think this is true!”

I was touched by what Ross wrote. I didn’t know that I could have such a big impact on another human being in such a short amount of time. Ross isn’t a high-achieving student; not yet, at least. I know that if he were in a different class, he might not have been encouraged as much. In another class, he certainly wouldn’t have received after-school sessions to reinforce difficult material. Most of all, the teacher might not have told each and every single student that he/she believes in them. I Teach For China because I truly believe in all my students, and if I could help Ross believe in himself, I only have 77 more to go.

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In this post, Caitlin Moss (Fellow ’10, Georgetown University) describes some of the invaluable lessons that she has learned from local teachers at her school and from her Teach For China teammates. This process of ongoing feedback and improvement is crucial to Fellows’ efforts to become even more effective teachers.

Here at Manghuai Middle School, we have an open door policy about observing classes. Pretty much any teacher can go observe any other teacher’s class at any time. At first, I was somewhat intimidated by this policy. As a first time teacher, it seemed pretty scary that I would have other, more experienced teachers scrutinizing my every move. Never mind that I had been formally observed by my (American) Program Manager during Summer Institute–I was pretty freaked out by the idea of local teachers watching me. “What if my Chinese doesn’t make sense? What if they hate my teaching style? What if they wonder why the heck I’m here and would rather that I just go back to America?” These doubts all ran through my head like a broken record. And thankfully, none of them turned out to be true.

Caitlin Moss ("Fellow '11, Georgetown University)

When Lu Laoshi 老师, my mentor teacher, started observing me during the first week of school, I got earfuls and earfuls of advice. A lot of it was actually really helpful, but sometimes the packaging it came in was not always my favorite. I didn’t particularly enjoy being told what I could be doing differently immediately after class, in front of all of my students. Thankfully, things have changed for the better. When Lu Laoshi  comes to observe my classes now, we usually have a quick debrief afterwards in the teacher’s lounge, which is a much better way of interacting (at least in my opinion!). She is still extremely direct with her advice, but most days, I’m glad that she is giving me her honest opinion.

During the first few weeks of school, I was still trying to get used to my class, and wasn’t able to make the time to observe other teachers’ classes. But I soon realized that it is a two-way street with Lu laoshi, and that observation should be a priority of mine. Given that during our school’s opening ceremony, she was one of a handful of teachers to receive a hongbao 红包, or a bonus, for getting some of the highest test scores in the school, it was very obvious that she could be a great resource for me. So, I have started popping in to the back of Lu laoshi’s classes whenever I can find time. By watching Lu Laoshi, I have learned her methods for giving her students quality opportunities to practice new material and then to demonstrate mastery to her. She has a great way of having students practice writing new vocabulary individually, and then assigning a word to each student to write on the blackboard.  Occasionally, I’ve also picked up good explanations of some really tough grammar points from her class. After class, she always asks me if I have any advice for her, and sometimes I help her with the pronunciation of tricky words like “dictionary.” As far as collaboration goes, I think we’re on the right track now.

Caitlin Moss in her classroom

I have also listened to a number of my co-fellow Karman’s classes. From Karman, I have learned so much about how to take a lot of the tools given to us during training and modify them to better suit the rural Chinese context. For example, we have a 5 – step lesson plan framework that is designed to fit within a 45-minute class. It goes something like this:

1. Opening

2. Introduction to New Material

3. Guided Practice

4. Independent Practice

5. Closing

At first, I was sticking rather closely to this structure and tried to use it in almost every lesson. However, 45 minutes is often not enough time for students to master a tough grammar concept or completely memorize 15 new vocabulary words. Karman’s method of stretching out the 5 – step lesson plan over the course of a day (over two or three class periods) has worked much better in my classroom. If students have more chances to practice new content, they do MUCH better on their dictations, exit tickets, and other mini-assessments. Now, I grade fewer, but usually better quality assessments that inform me about students’ level of mastery for our material each day.

Observing both Karman and Lu laoshi has been immensely helpful to me. One of the most difficult things about being a brand new teacher is that the learning cycle keeps going and going and going. It’s a LOT of hard work.  I plan classes, execute them, and in doing so, experiment with new ideas, ALL the time. I get feedback on all of this on a class-by-class basis. Even if no one observes my class, I can tell, based on how my students are doing, what worked and what didn’t. Observation definitely helps to speed up that learning process. Sometimes it can be hard to watch yourself fail. But the thing is, I know that I fail in at least one minor way (and often a more major one…) every single day. Since I already have that awareness, having someone else point out my weaknesses to me is that much less painful. And sometimes it helps me focus my energy on the more pressing problems that I must resolve sooner rather than later. It gives me priorities and a direction for my growth as a teacher.

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Many rural school systems don’t offer English education until middle school, leaving their students at a huge disadvantage to those students who start learning the language earlier. Last year, former Fellow and Program Manager Ken Saathoff oversaw an exciting new pilot program that brought English education into rural elementary schools, with extraordinary results: read his story below. 

My name is Ken Saathoff. I’m a graduate of Harvard University, where I studied English literature. After graduating, I came to China as a member of the initial cohort of Teach For China Fellows, teaching in Liuhe middle school in northwestern Yunnan. After completing my Fellowship, I came on staff, working to train and support new Fellows.

One of the most challenging things about teaching English in rural Yunnan is how, from the first day of the first year of English, your students are already so far behind. Seventh grade students at my school, for instance, were taking their first year of English. And yet, the final exam that assessed their performance at the end of the year was the exact same test as the one administered to their peers in Dali and Kunming, who had been studying English since first grade and, often, spent years doing private tutoring in English after school. The playing field is anything but level.

Ken Saathoff (Fellow '09, Harvard University)

Looking at how far behind our students were, it struck me: it didn’t have to be this way. Our Fellows were already providing a quality education to these students in middle school; what if they could start working with these same students at a much younger age, building solid foundations and preventing students from falling behind in the first place. The impact our Fellows could make in elementary schools would be tremendous.

However, across the board, schools prioritize middle school English, and think of elementary school English as a placeholder at best, or completely unnecessary at worst. It was difficult to draw the correlation for them between students’ experience with English in elementary school and their performance on middle school exams. It would take too long to measure. It was a waste of time and resources.

It took extensive planning, much collaboration with local partners and the enthusiasm of Teach For China staff and Fellows alike, but we finally found a partner in Xingfu elementary school. In fact, Xingfu’s principal was so eager to pilot the program that he dramatically increased English hours for all students and brought in three Teach For China Fellows to co-teach all third and fourth graders in the school. At Teach For China’s recommendation, that also adopted an international standard curriculum that has proven results with young learners of English. The pieces were in place, and it was time to see what would result.

A few months after the program was implemented, I got a chance to visit Xingfu. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I told myself to reserve judgment – after only a few months, particularly with new teachers who had not been trained to deal with young children, it would be an accomplishment if these students were well-behaved and making real progress on the alphabet and phonics.

What I saw in Xingfu shocked me. Walking down the street in the village, young children would approach me and speak to me, not in Chinese, but in standard, unaccented American English. They would engage me in the types of conversations that eluded most of their high school-age peers. English was clearly alive for them, something they felt comfortable communicating with on basic topics, rather than a series of memorized phrases and grammar rules. By the end of the year, the local teachers and administration at Xingfu were so impressed with our students’ English level that they served as willing ambassadors for our elementary school program, advocating with other local partners for the benefits of prioritizing early education. Today, we have over forty Fellows placed in elementary schools in Yunnan and Guangdong, a number we expect to see continue to grow over the next several years.

These types of experiments, this type of partnership building – it’s utterly crucial to our work. Seeing the impressive results at Xingfu fills me with hope that this system can undergo the change it so desperately needs. It’s the kind of work that’s happening in Xingfu that will dramatically change the face of rural education in China.

I teach for the children of Xingfu. I teach for China.

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“I know that if the student at the bottom of the class can succeed, then they ALL can.” 

Chen Yanmei 陈燕梅 (Fellow ’10, Shantou University), told this story to the guests at last week’s Teach For China benefit dinner in Hong Kong, about the student at the bottom of her class, and how she pushed him to achieve.

My name is 陈燕梅. I graduated from Shantou University. I majored in Journalism. Now, I am a 2010-2012 Teach For China Fellow. I currently teach 7thgrade Chinese–last year I taught in Yunnan, and this year I am teaching in Shantou, Guangdong.

Chen Yanmei (Fellow '10, Shantou University)

When I first arrived in my classroom in Yunnan last year, I was completely overwhelmed by the challenge before me. I had 44 students on the first day of school and after only half a semester, 9 boys had dropped out. They were all significantly behind in their school work and felt that their efforts in the classroom were pointless.  After a few weeks, it became clear to me, that my students had it in them to succeed, they were simply not motivated. I set forth a goal for my class: 98% of them would improve their test scores.

One of my students, Li Ronghua, who comes from a Dai minority village, presented a unique challenge. He had scored a 2 out of 120.  He could barely read or write Chinese. In class, he looked down and did not dare to speak.

I became determined to help Li Ronghua succeed. One day, I decided to visit his family. His parents informed me that he is very shy and can only speak a little Mandarin. But, they told me about his passion for driving cars. He learned how to ride a motorbike on his own when he was 9. I saw a glimmer of pride in his parents’ eyes when they spoke about Li Ronghua’s driving. I told both him and his parents, if he graduates middle school, he can find a technical school and he can prepare for a career as a professional driver. But, in order to do this, he needs to gain a basic education.

I made a plan to focus on Li’s writing and speaking.  In order to get him to speak, I encouraged him to speak with me in both mandarin and Dai dialect. I don’t understand Dai, so his best friend would translate for me. I asked him to write 5 sentences, twice a week, in Mandarin Chinese. He could write about anything he wanted—even motorbikes!

Li Ronghua had the lowest test scores in Chen Yanmei's class

But the process wasn’t easy. He would often forget to turn in his writing homework despite my reminders. At times, I doubted if it was worth spending so much time on him. But I knew we were on the right track when I read what he wrote on his midterm exam: “Chen Laoshi, I do so poorly but you never give up on me. This semester is the happiest I’ve ever been in school.” Much of the words he wrote were incorrect but I was so moved when I read it. I promised myself to be more patient with him and to celebrate every small achievement.

Once day he tried to speak in class, I asked his classmates to applaud and support him. He was so surprised and inspired by this and he began to feel more and more confident speaking Mandarin and he began to hand in his homework. I’d call his parents regularly to praise his improvement in school.

He still has difficulties speaking and writing, but he is not afraid of them anymore. On the last test, he scored a 38. He is still the lowest score in the class, but he no longer fears the hard work that he KNOWS will lead to his success.

Li Ronghua is just one of the many students in my class. But I know that if the student at the bottom of the class can succeed, then they ALL can.

At TFC, We set big goals for our students because we know they can achieve them. We challenge our students and ourselves because we see great potential. We work hard because we believe that we should be the change we want to see in the world.

I teach for Li Ronghua. I teach for China.

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