Oct 12, 2018

Oct workshop to train 45 educators

During October 12-14, we plan to hold a workshop on the theme "Understanding-centered Curriculum Design of Local Culture Oral History" at one Project School in Guilin, Guangxi Province. About 45 teachers and 4 students from around 20 secondary school oral history teams, including the Footprint project, will discuss, together with tutors/facilitators and TAs, how to iterate the school-based curriculum and improve practice on the basis of the teaching practice of local culture oral history.

The existing curriculum of oral history adopted backward design——outcome-based planning and evaluation (OBPE) design. The expected outcomes are the growth of students in multiple aspects, including knowledge, understanding, skills, feelings and attitudes. By collecting the achievements and difficulties encountered by teachers and students, we found that understanding, as a high-level cognitive ability, is the key for students to integrate the knowledge and skills they have acquired, and the basis for students to establish emotional connection. But teachers are still in the rudimentary stage of backward design, are inclined to pushing students mechanically through the oral history process, ignoring the ongoing assessment of whether or not students are getting the expected understanding. As such, meaningful teaching interaction, scaffolding, and the realization of teachable moments tend to be neglected. Some projects are better than others because the teachers paid attention to the students’ understanding and optimizes the teaching practice accordingly and timely.

So the purpose of this workshop is to improve the teachers’ understanding of backward design and understanding-centered design, and to be able to deduce and adjust the design of teaching activities and evaluation activities based on understanding objectives. It also provides teachers with assistance in the design of oral history teaching activities and evaluation activities, such as oral history interview attitude and skills, background research and interview analysis, product and display, etc. So that teachers can improve the local culture oral history curriculum, customize it to improve its feasibility, as well as design derivative courses (nonfiction writing), to construct the school-based curricular system of oral history.

The backward design training will be based on the book “Understanding by Design (2nd version)” by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Teaching researcher Huihui Xia of Guangxi Institute of Education will guide workshop attendees to conduct design exercises. The training of the local culture oral history will be carried out by Dr. Wailing Wong, Project Director, Academy of Social Science, Hong Kong University. We’ve invited Yuanjiang Li, Executive Secretary General of Beijing Yongyuan Foundation, who was also the founder of National Youth History Writing Competition, to help improve students’ ability of non-fiction writing to help them produce quality derivative products of oral history.

Note: The Footsteps program was renamed to Footprint program starting from September, 2018 which more appropriately conveys the meaning of our forefathers’ memory.

Jul 18, 2018

Learning and Preserving Local Culture

Zhenming Interviewing Grandma
Zhenming Interviewing Grandma

Zhenming, an 8th grader from a Gansu Middle School, interviewed his grandma regarding her traditional steamed bun hand-making techniques and related life experiences. In first phase interview which contains two half-hour interviews, Granma shared her experiences including a childhood game of mimicking steamed bun making, collecting firewood in the mountains with buddies, memories of what she ate at home, the process of learning to make steamed buns when she was teenager, her marriage, family and children, labor and food distribution, the shortage of rations, and improved situation since the 1980s. Zhenming also asked Grandma about her innovation in steamed bun making techniques and the differences between handmade and machine-made steamed buns.

Looking back on the first interview, Zhenming was pleased to learn about this oral history project and to participate in it. Regarding knowledge and understanding, he summarized the following learnings: [1] Through an interview with my grandmother, I learned about a hand craft that is about to be lost: hand making steamed buns; [2] In the interview, gradually, I began to wonder: What caused the hand making techniques to be in danger, is it that the machine-made bun is more delicious than hand-made, or that people are not doing anything about preserving traditional crafts, or is it an inevitable destiny? [3] Via the Internet, I learned the cultural origins, different types of steamed buns in China, and realized that Chinese traditional culture has a long history, and its essence is worth inheriting and carrying forward.

In terms of skills, he noted: [1] Through editing the text, I had a big leap in learning to use MS Word, and I am now able to type at a much higher speed; [2] In dealing with older generations, I learned how to avoid things that make them sad and unwilling to talk about; [3] Through the interviews, my interpersonal skills improved and I learned how to gain trust and support from others. I also learned to leverage middlemen (my parents) in the initial interviews to build trust relationship.

In terms of feelings and attitudes, he concluded, "Through interviewing Grandma, I learned the hardships of life a few decades ago, understood why my grandparents kept saving money and food, and why we should cherish today‘s hard-won life." “In the process of talking with Grandma, my understanding of Grandma is richer, and the gap between us gradually cleared up.” He also had a deep feeling about his grandma’s narration, "In today’s seemingly glorious society, are there elders like Grandma who have been suffering in silence?" He had a better idea of the steamed bun hand-making craftsmanship, which he previously viewed as were not worth mentioning, "Those are the traditional intangible cultural heritage of China. Their value cannot be neglected." He started to develop an urgency in preserving these folk crafts: "Does preserving folk crafts around us suffice? There are so many still unattended. If those successors die, the crafts will be gone forever. "The discussion of the traditional hand-craft and the modern machine making in the interview triggered his thinking on the contradiction between inheritance and innovation. "“In ancient times, transportation and cultural exchanges were still underdeveloped, and a child of a craftsman could only inherit his family business. Although it caused lack of innovation, it ensured that the tradition was passed on. However, blindly inheriting without innovating will also lead to the "death" of traditional culture. Today, people want to innovate, without inheriting the original culture. Hence I think, perhaps we should not go for mere inheritance or mere innovation, but two combined——inheriting while gradually innovating."

Zhenming also did a detailed reflection on the interview techniques used in the first interview, and listed the contents that need to be further digged out in the second interview, as well as the aspects that can be improved in terms of interview techniques and setting. We look forward to his second interview for more discoveries and deeper connection.

If this is not kids preserving their local culture, what will be?

Steam buns hand-made by Grandma
Steam buns hand-made by Grandma
Apr 24, 2018

The First Interview

Xianyi Interviewing Grandpa
Xianyi Interviewing Grandpa

During the winter break of 2018, after learning what oral history is and completing interview training, each student found an interviewee who is experienced with a local culture theme (a folk skill, a folk custom, or livelihood), and began a real oral history interview. The students either determined the topic through an initial interview, or conducted the first formal interview when the topic was obvious and pre-determined.

The children interviewed cultural heritage artists from counties or villages, such as stone carving artists, shadow play artists, Tangka artists, “flower” (Northwestern folk song) artists, and local opera artists, and representatives of unusual livelihood/professions, such as a grandfather who had been in engineering corps for the Qinghai-Tibet Highway, an aunt who had been planting and selling trees for a living, also representatives of ordinary rural livelihoods with local characteristics, such as a relative who is a mason, a grandpa who was a carpenter, an aunt who is a tailor, a father who was a village teacher, a grandma who is good at making steamed buns, and a grandpa who is a skilled kang[1] builder, a relative couple who make paper fires[2] for a living, etc.

Student Xianyi from Li Jiashan High School in Qinghai, inquired about his grandpa's lengendary career. After graduating from primary school, he became a farmer in cooperative at the age of 13. Then he was enlisted at the age of 17, and worked as a messenger for the company commander, a member of the fishing team, an accountant for the logistics department successively. After leaving the army, he worked as a primary school principal, a hydropower station master, a hospital director successively. During the first several years in the army, though Grandpa only finished elementary school, he worked hard and conscientiously. Owing to an incidental opportunity, he carried out a questionnaire and data reporting much better than his high school graduate peers and impressed his superior, he was promoted dramatically to accountant, also was given the precious opportunity to study in a technical secondary school. This reminded Xianyi of the old Chinese saying "Gold will shine sooner or later", "Opportunities always favor those who are prepared." Moreover, after hearing the story of one-night "unforgettable", "heart-stirring" experience of the hydropower dam emergency (See Attachment 1 for an excerpt of the interview minutes), Xianyi now sees his grandpa as a man of strong sense of responsibility and grit.

In an interview with retired teacher and embroidered ball maker Granny Qi, student Xinwen was most impressed by the scene that while watching TV in the evening, Granny Qi always did needlework at hand. Tassels of the embroidered balls are hard for her customers —— women near and far to make. So Granny Qi tried her best to make enough tassels for sale, so that her customers would be happy. Whenever tassels of a certain color is sold out, she will make more at night, in case folks far away come to buy. For example, there was an old granny from Anyuan, who came to the shop by coach, also brought Granny Qi a bag of black flour. Granny Qi wanted to give her some money but she refused no matter what. So Granny Qi gave her more tassels. The simple kindness between people touched Xinwen. When she asked Granny Qi if this local craft will be lost in the next generation, because children born after 2000 do not seem to like it, Qi said, "Eventually they will like it. When they become mothers, they will have their hearts for it. Forebears plant trees, and later generations enjoy the shade. I am sure people will come, to carry forward and innovate this craft based on what we’ve done. It won’t be lost." Xinwen blurted out, "That’s a good point!" Although this young girl may truly grasp what Granny Qi meant only after she becomes a wife and a mother, Granny's remarks planted a seed of thinking in her mind. (See Attachment 2 for the interview summary form.)

The interview reflections of these teams arrived at the following common understandings:
1. Initial communication to establish the relationship and the trust is crucial to help open up the interviewees. For this, students often need teachers’ help. For interviewees, communication with the teacher who is the organizer and the leading adult of the team is a must.
2. The first interview is very important to establish a rapport with the interviewee. So the teacher needs to focus on the status of both interviewer and interviewee in the interview –Is the atmosphere natural? Are both parties relaxed and connected? Only in such atmosphere, the interviewee can possibly immerse oneself in rememberance, and the interviewer can be guided by internalized interview outline, together with his/her own curiosity, to make detailed inquiries.

3. The quality of the interview has much to do with the choice of the interviewee. Some interviewees are good talkers, have a highly logical narration, provide extensive accounts and good details, share their feelings and thoughts, and hardly need questions to drive. Two hours for their interviews seem not enough. But there are also interviewees at the other extreme. The student tried various questions to probe, but didn’t get any story after the 1 hour+ interview, with a feeling that the interviewee didn’t open up. We will continue to pay attention to whether the interviewees at this extreme can be opened up by interviewer’s attitude and skills. The results of this will help us guide our students in how to choose the interviewees in the future.

4. Background research was not done enough, especially for the unfamiliar, profound art with a self-contained system, such as Thangka. It then became obvious during the interview that the student had problem managing and driving the interview.

4. Teachers mentioned students’ interviews were not deep enough. This is related both to lack of interview skills and background research, and is common for first-time interviewers. If the students sort out and analyze the interview data carefully, they will improve in the second interview. So the interview analysis is vital.

The next steps are data processing, background research, interview analysis, and interview outline preparation for the 2nd interview. These are key steps in the process of research-based learning, but are also time-consuming tasks. School teams felt pressure due to reduced meeting time subject to exams and other school activities. Tongwei No. 1 High School team with a big portion of Grade 12 students has requested to postpone their work until 6/10, after the college entrance examination. These steps are so important that we are willing to give students more time if they lag behind pressed by external conditions. So we change the subsequent plan as below:

Original plan:

March: Analysis of the first formal interview

April: The second formal interview and analysis

May: Writing historical narrative and historical thinking journal

June: Show and tell

New plan:

March-April: Analysis of the first formal interview

May-June: The second formal interview and analysis

July-August: Writing historical narrative and historical thinking journal

September: Show and tell

Grade 12 students will condense all steps into June and July

At this critical moment, teachers also provide closer support and guidance to students, including sharing and critique among students.


[1] The kang bed-stove is a traditional long (2 metres or more) platform for general living, working, entertaining and sleeping used in northern part of China, where there is cold climate in winter. It is made of bricks or other forms of fired clay and more recently of concrete in some locations.

[2] Paper fires are various objects, including livestock, houses, etc. made of paper used to burn during a memorial ceremony to send to the other world for the dead.

Xinwen, Granny Qi and her teacher from R to L
Xinwen, Granny Qi and her teacher from R to L

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