Another school year is ending and I will be changing to a new school here in Shenzhen, China next September. I wanted to share my reflections from the past two years as I consider what I plan to take with me from my time at Nanshan.
One of the greatest experiences to come from my time at Nanshan Experimental School was the opportunity to teach the same group of students for two years in a row. I taught the International Class 4 from September 2011 to June 2013, which were their grade eight and grade nines years. I was supported throughout my time at Nanshan by my class’ wonderful head teacher Tom Yuan who was always willing to support me with projects and encouraged what I was doing. I have been fortunate to have an exceptional parents group whom I appreciate for taking the chance and enrolling their students in this program. As well, I built relationships with other English teachers from my grade including Carson, Sophie, Cathy, Karen, and was supported by other staff members at the school who embraced the Richmond Nanshan partnership; including, former principle Mr. Li, Mr. Su, Ms. Wang, Mr. Hu, Mr. Zhou and Ms. Hao.
A week ago I asked my students to think about the past two years of having me as a teacher and asked them to think about what they had enjoyed and/or learnt-even if at the time it was not their favorite assignment, they could now see the benefits. Many commented on the group work and projects we did, saying how much they enjoyed learning something new. Something I did throughout the two years was to bring in articles on a wide range of topics from environmental sustainability, social responsibility, different education systems, history, global issues, such as elephant poaching in Africa, and many more topics. My students said they enjoyed learning more about the world. With every article I asked questions, which challenged them to think about what they had read, not the memorize-able content, but critical thinking questions. They said, although the questions could be difficult they enjoyed them and it helped them to think differently.
At the end of my first year I introduced what became known as “The Friday Song.” Every week I brought in the lyrics to a song, which I chose based on its message and had students look at the lyrics and then after some discussion we watched the music video. This became a popular activity and many commented that they enjoyed the music and it was something I should keep doing with my next class. My students also enjoyed the games we did while learning or reviewing grammar, projects where they were asked to make posters or do a drama. As well, they greatly enjoyed baking projects where we made chocolate chip cookies and chocolate brownies. Food was always a very popular addition to any lesson.
When I think back on where we started at the beginning of grade eight and now see how far they have all come because of all those extra projects, articles, and opportunities to learn a different way I am so happy to be able to say I was their teacher. As an educator one very rewarding moment came after finishing one of the last articles I did with the class. The topic was on Blood Diamonds and their effect on conflicts within African countries. As part of the article I also did a presentation to give them a better understanding of what they were going to read. When they submitted their answers to the questions I asked I was so impressed with their depth of thought; I actually hand copied several of their responses because I didn’t want to forget what they had said. Below are a few of their answers to two of the questions:
Q. What are your feelings about what you have learned?
A. “I can’t understand why people love money so much, why they can kill people just for diamonds, it’s ridiculous.” Leo L.
A. “I feel very disappointed about this. The human’s communication (I asked him to clarify, and he said “human’s choices”) are very sad. The people are fighting about money.” Edric
A. “I feel sad about the blood diamonds. Many innocent Africans were killed by rebel groups for diamonds and I think it’s unfair and violent. Also, I’m glad to see that many international organizations take steps to help Africans get rid of the rebel groups. I think it’s difficult for many Africans to forget this kind of horrible experience.” Holly
Q. Do you believe it is important to understand what is happening in the world? Why or why not.
A. “Yes I do think it is important. Though sometimes I just want to know the things which are beautiful and good but in the real world it is also important to know the things that are bad. Only in this way can we help solve it and to make the world more wonderful.” Miranda
A. “Yes, it is important to understand what is happening in the world. If we are just satisfied by our lives but never try to know more about the world, we’ll loose our sympathy.” Dorathy
A. “I think it is important for us to understand what is happening in the world. Such as the blood diamonds, I think it is a disaster to Africa. Africans can’t change their situation to have a better life, so we need to understand what is happening in the world and we can help them.” Holly
After reading the class’ answers I was so pleased to see how thoughtful, compassionate, and grown up their responses were. As I said, one of the greatest experiences I have had here at Nanshan has been the opportunity to teach the same students two years in a row. I have watched them grow as I have challenged them to question, express their thoughts, feels, and opinions; and I am so pleased to see how far they have come. I know what they have learnt in my class is a foundation which will support them in the future as they grow, not only as citizens of China, but of the global community.
Over the past two years my students have put in hard work and effort to achieve the successes they have. As the International Class my students were watched as an example and I am pleased to say they always performed well. It was not by accident however. As a Canadian teacher I blended both the Chinese style, which is concentrated in large part on test taking and exam preparations, with the Canadian style of group based learning, projects, and critical thinking development. For example, in preparation for the Zhongkao I had my class complete a group project where I divided the exam into sections; such as grade seven grammar, grade eight grammar, grade nine grammar, correct form, composition writing and so on. In their groups students put together study information for their other classmates and found practice exercises, and created and led a game for the whole class to play, which would help them study the material they needed to know for the exam. The groups did a wonderful job and the games were excellent with large class wide participation and challenging questions, which made the games effective practice exercises.
Class 4 has put time and effort into completing projects, learning to think critically, practicing their English, studying for exams, and taking on the challenge of having a teacher who only speaks English to them. Class 4 did not have the easy path to follow and they continually stepped up to the challenge. Throughout grade eight my class was always multiple points above the other grade eight classes and in grade nine they generally scored 13 points higher than the other classes on midterms, finals, and simulated practice exams. The class percent average from the last simulated exam before the Zhongkao was 89%, with almost half the class scoring 94% or higher. Looking at the numbers, it is clear Class 4 has done well, and more importantly they have be able to learn more than how to write an exam. They have grown to care more about the world around them while still working hard to score well on exams. I believe through blending the Chinese and Canadian style of teaching my students have received the best of both systems, and I believe they will be able to take what they have learnt into their futures and be much stronger students, capable of scoring well of exams, and able to examine the world around them.
For myself these past two years have provided an opportunity for me to reach outside of the my country’s education system and my culture. It has given me a chance to question and grow as a teacher and as a person. The partnership I have been apart of between Richmond and Nanshan has been an experience beyond cultural borders and proved an international and intercultural exchange. I am grateful for the past two years and I look forward to taking my experiences into the future as I, like my students, will continue to learn and grow.
Ms. Kolshuk's Blog
Welcome to my blog where I post about my teaching practice, ideas, findings and discuss topics of an educational nature. Please feel free to comment and/or email with any topic suggestions.