Tuesday April 19
I was able to sit in on three different English classes. The teachers were given no prior warning; I felt badly that I was interrupting their schedule, since I think they have to stay on task. But I really wanted to have an opportunity to speak with the students and to give them an opportunity to practice speaking. The first class was a grade 11 class; it was very regimented. The teacher wore a wireless headset (in fact they all do since the classes are so large), and it was mainly teacher question, teacher answer. For most of the class, the students only answered chorally, and none asked questions, unless the teacher said, "This answer is open for discussion." The majority of this lesson focused on grammar and dictation.
The second class was grade 10 English with Ms. Chen. I found her style to be delightful, she introduced me as a special guest, and told the class that she would be changing her plans to accommodate my visit. She used this time to review geography, especially of Canada, and she randomly called on students to give responses that not only demonstrated their understanding of the question, but also freely expressed their ideas. She also used a turn and talk method with the students, and although it was a bit noisy (picture 65 or 70 students all talking at once) it was very effective. She then asked me to come upfront, and I welcomed the opportunity to have the students ask me any type of questions they liked. It was so fun! They all wanted to get their picture taken with me, and several of them wanted a hug at the end of class. One boy asked me for my email, another asked me if I brought him a present.
I also visited another grade 11 class, and this teacher was using the topic of California to discuss what things you would want to know about a country or place. The class then began paragraph reading first silently then aloud (all at once), and they were asked to find the main topic, etc. This class used a textbook that emphasized cultural knowledge, yet Ms. Chen and I discussed that there is a disconnect between the text and the examination the students must pass.
After yet another long lunch break with Mr. Lu and some of his friends, we picked up Mr. Li and drove 1 1/2 hours to a mountain village west of Xingtai City. What a drive! The mountains are so high, and the 400 people who live here in Yin Tan are so poor. They make their living on farming the mountainside, growing potatoes, raising chickens and goats, and making anything and everything they can. This village has a very old history. It was built around 400 years ago, and in the 1940's when the Japanese invaded China it became a place where the Chinese hid. There are 2 schools in the village; we visited the primary one. It reminded me of the schoolhouse in the movie "Not One Less." Unbelievable poverty. After meeting with several of the villagers (Mr.Lu called them peasants), we set off on a treacherous road to another village site - the home where Mr. Lu was raised. His mother now lives in the city with his brother (he is one of 6 children), and occasionally he comes back on the weekends to stay in the countryside. We drove through a small town to see the junior middle school where students from both villages attended school (about 10 km away).