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.