February 3 marks the beginning of the new Lunar New Year in China! We've prepared an Annual Report to share RCEF's accomplishments from last year. In it, you can read characteristic examples of our student-centered, community-based education. Thank you for your interest in our innovative curriculum and teacher training model. As always, we welcome your feedback and partnership in advancing quality education for rural Chinese children. Best wishes to you in the Year of the Rabbit! You can download the English or Chinese RCEF Annual Report at: http://www.ruralchina.org/about-us/awards-and-press/annual-report-2009-2010.
Dong Wu Xing Primary School is one of our partner schools. Located in Shanxi Province about 10 kilometers from the nearest city, it has about 130 students who come from three surrounding villages. The school buildings are among the most dilapidated in the county. There is no playing field. Originally, this school was slated for closure. However, partly because it is located in a village that played a critical role in the anti-Japanese war in the 1940s, the efforts of its well-respected village head and principal were successful in keeping it open. We began to collaborate with this school in July and are currently developing curriculum there for our flagship subjects: Reading and Integrated Practice Class.This semester the topic of our Integrated Practice Class is to study the history of this old revolutionary village and help the children to better understand the place where they live. We found that many children don't know about what happened in this area during the war and only have a few guesses or assumptions about this period that shaped their hometowns. Our hope is that through interviews, readings, a visit to a museum, and other activities, they will increase their understanding of this very important part of the history of their community.Listening to Stories from the EldersAfter watching a movie about the Japanese invasion of China and the war that had such an impact on their own village, students engaged in vigorous discussion about the incidents and characters in the movie. They said they wanted to know more information. Some children said their grandpa or grandma had told them that Japanese soldiers used to occupy their village. Everyone was very curious about what life was like then. After a few classes of preparation, the students interviewed a 86-year-old man from the village where Dong Wu Xing School is located.Only fifteen years old when the Japanese invaded their village, the elderly grandfather sat in our classroom and answered the children's questions with bits and pieces of his memory. He talked about how his family fled, about the destruction of the village, the pain, the suffering. After the interview was over, he spontaneously recited an old rhyme which encompassed wartime history from 1937-1945.Putting it into their own wordsAfter the interview, with the guidance of the teachers, the students organized and summarized their notes. They used their own words to tell their friends and family what they had heard and practiced writing an interview report.Making a Personal PlanThe next step will be to discuss with students what they already know about their village's revolutionary history and what they still want to find out. How will they gather information? Where can they get help? We will help them to make their own plan for the next activity.To read more examples of our curriculum, please visit our website at www.ruralchina.org.
During the summer vacation, three RCEF curriculum developers and I went to Shanxi Qikou to attend a conference on rural reading education put on by Beijing Brooks NGO and the organization “Awaiting Spring”. Beijing Brooks NGO had set up local libraries in Qikou for several rural primary schools. The purpose of the conference was to share experiences around the effective use of libraries for organizing reading activities and improving students’ interest and abilities in reading.
Prior to Peking University professor Wang Zidan’s speech on how to manage small-scale libraries, the conference attendees split into six small groups to share experiences in key factors of rural library management. These included the environment and appearance of the library, the role of the librarian, the influence of the library on family and community culture, and the ability of a rural library to advance education in the schools.
Ms. Li Lingtong of the Green Children Project demonstrated some reading methods with the cooperation of ten students. These included reading aloud and facilitating silent reading. For example, each child could only choose two books at a time. The teacher only suggested to the child what to read when s/he needed assistance. She demonstrated reading picture books like Stone Soup. These methods and the theory behind literacy circles are all relatively easy to grasp and practical for trying out in the classroom. RCEF also shared our reading activities from last semester with the conference attendees. The RCEF curriculum developers each learned valuable things from the conference. Ms. Li Xiaochun felt the methods of library management introduced were helpful as they addressed some of the problems she had come across when managing the library at a RCEF partner school. Ms. Wang Yanzhen got new ideas for reading activities to try out in her class.
Throughout the two day, I saw how the RCEF curriculum developers participated actively and enthusiastically in small group discussions with other teachers. I saw how they thought about, and were attracted to, the advice given by the conference speakers. I was happy to see that they interpreted the different topics of the conference from their own perspectives and connected them to their work in the classroom. When we talked after a conference event, they would naturally bring up how they can use what they’ve learned in their own teaching. RCEF has continually given staff chances to go on study trips to supplement their own experience with that of others in new contexts. Through such interactions, they can be more confident about the unique aspects of their own teaching, and at the same time influence other teachers around them.
This summer, eight American teachers from Windrush School in El Cerrito, California traveled to RCEF's program site, Xiaochao Primary School. The summer vacation had just begun in China but around 30 local teachers returned to school to dialogue with the American educators about reading and service learning. In China, service learning is a method used in "Integrated Practice Class," a mandatory subject for grades 3-6. RCEF program teachers showed pictures and videos of the service learning projects they led this year. and the Windrush teachers shared their school's service learning philosophy and examples of projects that their students had completed.
Windrush School's educational philosophy and curriculum priorities share similarities with RCEF. We both promote student-centered education and facilitate children to participate in practical activities that develop a diverse range of values and abilities, including empathy, a sense of responsibility, and desire to serve others. Windrush School's goal in service learning is to help students gain knowledge and skills through public service activities that develop their hearts and minds. They foster a deeper understanding of society and the duties of acitizen. This is not only good for students' academics but it also helps to grow civil society.
After the presentations and exchange, the American teachers said they were impressed by RCEF teachers' methods. In particular, they said they wanted to learn from our collective lesson planning and teacher group reflection model. At the same time, we must learn from the sustainability and concrete results of the Windrush service learning approach and its integration with other curriculum subjects. In the future, I hope that we can build up a sister school relationship with Windrush through online learning, exchange, and sharing experiences. This will help us prepare our students for a lifetime of improving their communities.
This school year, RCEF began working with a second rural primary school in Yongji, Shanxi Province. Xiaochao Primary School is a public school that serves around 153 students in six grades. Many of them are "left behind children" whose parents have migrated to cities to work. Most of Xiaochao's teachers live in the surrounding villages and have taught at the school for a decade or more, earning many county and provincial level teaching awards.
While its test scores consistently rank at the top of the township, Xiaochao wants to add more enriching activities to its curriculum and bolster students' well-rounded development. This semester, RCEF helped Xiaochao to set up a school library and to design Reading and Integrated Practice classes. RCEF also organized conferences and trainings for teachers from Xiaochao and our other program sites to learn new teaching methods and share their own experiences.
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Co-Founder, Co-Executive Director