We are one month into the new school year in China. Four RCEF teachers are situated in Yongji County, Shanxi Province bringing a unique style of Reading Classes to rural children in second, third, and fourth grades. Reading Class is a new course in China that aims to increase children's interest in reading and breadth of reading material.
In rural China, most children do not have access to books beyond their few textbooks. RCEF has set up libraries in rural village schools and is supporting local teachers to develop curriculum to make use of a wide variety of books to guide and engage children. An example of this reading curriculum can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ME2zGvuXwk4&feature=relmfu. It describes how teachers helped students investigate the impact of the surroundings on their lives through books. They selected the topic “Exploring Village Changes in My Community” and found three related books: The Changing Countryside, The Bear Who Wanted to Be a Bear, and China in Liang Village. The reading process was divided into four steps.
The first step was pre-reading, which was based on students’ real life experience. Its purpose was to arouse students’ attention to the reading materials and the topic. First, teachers presented students with pictures of their own village from thirty years ago, asking them to compare and contrast them with the current situation, and encouraging them to express their own thoughts. Then, they guided students to think more specifically about the impact on the environment on people’s lives.
The reading process aims at strengthening students’ improved understanding about the text content. Students also learn some reading skills during this process. For example, when teaching The Changing Countryside, teachers invited students to start from the cover and make predictions about what would happen. Next, we led students to observe the first picture in the sequence showing how the countryside changed over time. In this way, students observed the first picture, wrote down what they saw, and checked their predictions against the next picture in the sequence. They did the same thing for the following pictures on their own.
The next step in the curriculum was to practice students’ ability to retell the whole story. Students try to retell a story by using the tool of “story structure” designed by the teacher. For example in the The Bear Who Wanted to Be a Bear, teachers helped students go over the basic elements in a story: time, place, figure, plot and the topic. Students tried to retell the changes of the village over the past twenty years. The teachers were surprised by students’ ability to include their own thoughts and expressions when retelling the story.
In the process of application, students applied the knowledge they learned in the class into their own lives. They also try to analyze the problems that they learn about. After reading the books, the students’ task was to investigate the changes in their own villages over the last 20 years by conducting interviews of school staff, family members and neighbors. Through this unit, students learned more about their community and its history and also cultivated their interests in reading, improved their reading skills, and enhanced the ability to analyze problems.