Over the past several months, RCEF has been busy promoting service learning teaching methodology amongst teachers and NGOs that work with rural children. Service learning is an educational approach that cultivates civic responsibility by integrating academic learning and personal growth with meaningful service to the community. In a typical service-learning project, students identify problems that they are concerned about in their community, research the problems and potential solutions, create and implement a plan for addressing the problem, and reflect on their learning and action throughout the process.
A new RCEF handbook on service learning presents this teaching methodology in detail along with practical examples of how RCEF teachers have applied it in rural China. Over 200 copies were distributed to participants at a national conference on rural education in December 2011 in Guangzhou, China. A RCEF teacher with over 15 years experience teaching in village schools in northern China gave a well-received presentation about the service learning projects she and RCEF developed with classes of fourth- and fifth-grade children in rural Shanxi Province. Her story was so moving that a reporter from a national education magazine profiled her and these teaching methods for a cover feature story that will come out in their February 2012 edition!
Migration from rural to urban areas is a common phenomenon in China. However, when rural adults migrate to cities to work, they often leave behind young children and elderly parents. China Daily estimates there are 20 million “left-behind children” and 20 million “left-behind elderly” in China’s rural areas. Their lives and needs were the focus of a curriculum unit for third- and fourth-graders developed with support from the Rural China Education Foundation.
You can watch a video of the teaching here: http://www.youtube.com/ruralchina#p/u/2/58iTa7dZxZE.
First, teachers in two schools in Yongji, Shanxi Province selected age-appropriate books and a short film to get students thinking about this topic from various perspectives. Then the students interviewed left-behind children and elderly people in their communities about problems that they face. Around 40% of the students are left-behind children themselves. They discussed which problems they could personally work on alleviating, settling on these 3 issues: academic difficulties faced by left-behind children whose parents aren’t home to help with homework, poor personal hygiene, and the heavy workload of the elderly who must farm the land and do household chores.
Students thought about the reason for these problems and found that there is much they can do to help. They decided to form small groups in each village matching up older students with younger students to address the problems. Each group made plans, including when and where to meet, and elected a group leader to handle coordination. Based on home visits, program teachers found that students’ guardians strongly approve of this initiative. We will continue to provide updates on the innovative teaching that this program helps to develop!
This summer, RCEF supported summer camps for rural teachers and children in Shanxi Province. The participating teachers came from rural schools in Shanxi, Sichuan, Anhui, Yunnan, and Gansu Provinces. The goal was to expose them to RCEF's educational philosophy and teaching methods, which the teachers found fresh and thought-provoking.
Before the summer camps, staff and veteran teachers introduced the teaching framework and supporting theories. They then led the group in hands-on practice, facilitating local children from the surrounding villages to engage in a service learning project. One group of children investigated the prevalence of cigarette smoking in their communities and then put on a performance for their family members (some of whom are smokers) that included skits and art displays that incorporated what they had learned about the health effects of smoking. Another group of children investigated the reading habits and needs of their classmates and made suggestions about how to improve their school library.
In the evaluation, teachers said that this kind of hands-on training which combined theory with practice was extremely valuable. Ms. Ma Zhongyi from Sichuan Province remarked, "I've never been at a training like this before. Usually there's just some expert talking about their own experience. Sometimes the person doesn't even understand education and has never really put into practice their "expertise." This training allowed us to participate in every aspect. I moved from being confused and skeptical in the beginning to developing my own understanding of--and opinions about--service learning. I want to attend more trainings like this where I can meet people who have the same passion and exchange experiences." Teacher Bi Yunmei from Yunnan Province wrote, "We didn't just learn some teaching strategies or techniques, we learned a completely new teaching philosophy. We learned how to look at society--to explore and analyze it and then use our own actions to display our strength. I need this kind of education, which involves a whole new way of thinking and dialogue about values."
The spring semester is going smoothly at Xiaochao Primary School and Dong Wu Xing Primary School! Teachers have noticed that after one semester of our program’s reading classes, students have grown to love reading and reading class. Our program partner schools and parents have always supported children to read more books because they know that this helps to build reading comprehension abilities and broadens students' horizons.In the four months from March to June, the program teachers are guiding third and fourth grader children through twelve carefully selected books. The books were chosen around themes that are close to students' lives such as village history and family relationships. Students also have a chance to pick out books of interest from teacher recommendations and share their feedback about the books. Each unit of the curriculum includes previewing the books, reading and responding to the books, exploring related themes in real life, and applying what was learned.In each step, students learn different reading methods. For example, during the reading of a book about changes in a village over 20 years, students learned how to guess what will happen next in the story by looking at the illustrations. They also observed the different illustrations to identify how the linked together and how their changes express the author’s meaning.
We will continue to keep you updated on the program's work. Thank you so much for contributing to the development of quality education for rural Chinese children!
The new spring semester began on February 18 and with it a set of innovative lesson plans that combine reading and service to guide students in learning about issues in their own community. Lesson themes include “Changes in Our Village over the Past 30 Years,” “Conflict Resolution at School”, and “The Needs of Left-Behind Children.” The latter refers to children whose parents have migrated away to cities to work, leaving them in the countryside to board at school or live with relatives. Around 100 students in two primary schools will read stories and other material that help them to think about social issues in preparation for doing their own research and action project in the community.
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