Mingyue Zhang loves to read.
RCEF is experimenting with different methods of promoting free reading at our main program site, Guan Ai Primary School. In December, students visited each other's classes to talk about what they'd been reading, adults and students read together at designated times every day, and the student librarians kept the school library open during recess hours. Below, RCEF Program Manager Sun Chuanmei shares some funny and interesting things that happened during all this reading frenzy.
The Incident with Mingyue
Mingyue Zhang is a pretty second grade student. When she picks up a book, she won't put it down. One day, she brought a book that she hadn't finished reading into the bathroom. As you probably know, bathrooms in rural China are pits in the ground. Since it's very cold, the children wear a lot of clothes. Squatting and then standing up again is a challenge, even when not holding a book. When Mingyue stood up, her book fell into the pit. She started crying but at first no one knew why. The other students only knew that there was a little girl crying in the bathroom who wouldn't come out. After asking her, and then looking into the pit, they understood. Word traveled fast. Several teachers went into the bathroom to persuade Mingyue to come out. When her homeroom teacher Ms. Wang finally led her out, Mingyue's face was covered in tears and she sat down, depressed, unwilling to go play. Only after RCEF staff member Zheng Kai went over and talked to her for a long time did her mood improve. The next night when the library opened, Mingyue immediately rushed in and borrowed a new book - this one of Chinese traditional stories.
Fifth Grader's Fury
In November, all of the fifth grade students read Dear Mr. Henshaw as part of our first attempt at holding book discussion meetings. The first meeting, facilitated by Ms. Li Xiaochun, was meant to get students interested in reading the book. The second meeting took place at another rural school in our county called Xiaochao Primary School. We brought the Guan Ai fifth graders there to discuss the book with their Xiaochao counterparts, who had also read the same book. Perhaps because they were in unfamiliar territory, it was hard for the Guan Ai students to open up at that meeting.
That evening, I went to their classroom to ask how they felt the activity meeting went. I suggested that they give themselves and their class a score for how well they behaved along with a few reasons for their scoring. Most of the students agreed and started standing up to explain their scores. They didn't give themselves high scores but gave their class as a whole pretty good scores. I listened and took notes. Was this turning into a self-congratulatory exercise? Why wasn't anyone mentioning the problems that had come up?
Just when I was about to guide them in that direction, a student named Zhang Rong banged her fist on her desk and stood up. She looked at everyone and said in a loud voice, "Why is everyone basing their scores on the faults of the other school's students? We didn't have any faults? Did we speak up actively?" She threw out a series of problems like missiles. Immediately, the class fell silent. I looked at everyone with a serious expression but inside, I couldn't help smiling. A challenge from within is better at producing the truth.
Zhang Fei's "Press Meeting"
Second grader Zhang Fei was a "guest speaker" in the first grade class. He went there to tell them a story he recently read and liked. However, when he told the story, his words weren't clear enough and a lot of children didn't understand. Thankfully, Zhang Fei saved the day. He said, "If you don't understand the story, please ask questions." The first graders started to speak actively, one question after another. Zhang Fei stood at the front of the classroom answering the questions without any hint of impatience.
From my perspective at the back of the classroom, it felt like a press meeting. After the class, I thought about why Zhang Fei had such ability. It must be that in his second grade class, it is popular for students to tell stories to each other during reading period. Now that they are used to it, they have naturally started to speak like a teacher, asking, "Can you guess why? Do you understand?" This is how little teachers are cultivated!
When doing reading activities with the students, I often run into unexpected scenes like these. When I look at the expressions on the children's faces as they read, I can't help but sigh and let these feelings sink deep into my heart.
Zhang Fei holds a "story meeting"
Fifth graders discussing a book in class.