Hao CailingsÕs Class Thursday, October 13th 2005

I like the way you start, Hao Cailing. Your repeated instruction NOT to open their books is, as the article in China Development Brief says, an unusual beginning. You use the introductions to help the students get used to the beginning, and itÕs very friendly. Well done! The New Curriculum says that we should find common ground and use it for the development of learning. I love the way you integrate the ideas from the New Curriculum to help your students. If you werenÕt aware of this, it doesnÕt matter, because your teaching is naturally in line with the New Curriculum. Congratulations. LetÕs talk about this, because itÕs a great strength in your work.

 

You ask the students to recite from the blackboard. IÕd be interested to know why you use this method. ItÕs a very traditional Chinese method (and I am not being critical), but I am a little puzzled. IsnÕt there possibly a more educational way of getting the students to focus? For example, reading it together in groups and getting students to remark on each othersÕ pronunciation.

 

I like the fact you then get students to give feedback to show what they have learnt. Good. This makes them active. You also ask others to correct each other. Well done. You exhort the students to shout. This is an effective method, but they also have to learn how to pronounce well in normal tones. (N.B. bare should be spelt ÔbearÕ, because bare means without clothes!)

 

Then class report. The first girl talks about harvest. She is moving in the language she uses. She is nervous, but has clearly worked hard. This shows that you have done a good job with the students to get them to work hard. Then another student tells us what sheÕs heard. She tells it simply. Then another tells us something in real detail and I think you should have praised her more. She did an excellent job, re-telling it in her own words, and in the New Curriculum, this is seen as a central value. (NB It should be no pain, no gain. ItÕs not plural.) Please praise the speaker more before she goes back to her seat. Tell her something about how brave she was. She was nervous and she really tried her best. Of course some other students could have done a better job, but for her, I believe it was a good job. Praise is one of the most effective ways of encouraging students to improve their courage, their participation and their general English level.

 

Then you ask them to choose two leaders. ItÕs great that you want to play a game. You then ask a man to come too, which is a good idea. ÔLady first!Õ Is that the right way? Again, this is something worth talking about together sometime. ItÕs not a big issue, but itÕs perhaps important in some ways. LetÕs discuss it.

 

Then you get the two students to choose English or American. Then give out slips of paper to each group. ItÕs intriguing. Another point that the NC stresses: if you can introduce some mystery into the lesson, the students will then be more interested in the activities. You then give instructions about the game and ask if they understand. They are intrigued, and quite frankly, so am I. I love the way youÕre handling this in terms of motivation. ItÕs quite amazing to see these young students being so active and interested and motivated. I like the way as well you know the studentsÕ names. I must admit, IÕm a little baffled myself. I think you need to spell out the instructions a little more fully. Even Bob doesnÕt understand, and that means you are not making your instructions clear enough. Before attempting a task like this, you need to check before you start, that everyone understands the instructions. You can do that by asking directly or asking for volunteers to explain it all again. Either way, you need to make sure before anyone starts, that they fully understand the rules, otherwise your task will fall flat and they will be demotivated.

 

The idea that they need to discuss with the groups and then present the information to the whole class, is a revolutionary idea. It really is student-centred learning at its best. I just hope they understand your instructions this time. This will make the students think for themselves, which is a key-feature of the requirements of the New Curriculum. I havenÕt seen this done before. I am most impressed with this idea, Hao Cailing. I congratulate you.

 

You suggest five minutes to prepare. I am not sure itÕs long enough. And can everyone be involved when the target groups are half of the class? I wonder if you needed to structure more tasks so that all the students can be actively involved. I think the groups are too big to be manageable. A few more tasks would have solved this problem. What do you think? Anyway, the idea is fantastic anyway, and you should be proud of the way in which you are getting your students to think for themselves, 1) to negotiate their own learning (develop individual learning strategies); 2) to become autonomous learners; 3) to use common ground from which to build personal development; 4) to pay attention to the students affective domain (emotions and feelings) and promote humanistic perspectives; 5) you are also getting the students to present their own material in their own way which can then lead to formative forms of evaluation. This is superb. The aforementioned 1) -5) are taken from the five basic concepts of the New Curriculum, and underlie all of its thinking. Did you realize that? I havenÕt seen this done like this before and I think we need to get to the bottom of this so that others can learn from your ideas. This is the kind of teaching that Wang Qiang (professor) and Zhang Lianzhong had in mind when they, with the rest of the New Curriculum Working Party, devised the New Curriculum. I think a copy of these lesson-notes and your lesson-plan should be sent to Professor Wang Qiang and Zhang Lianzhong to let them know whatÕs happening here.

 

You interrupt some students at the front who arenÕt engaging with the leader, but you have to realize itÕs difficult for them because there are too many students. However, after youÕve reminded them, they scuttle back to the leader and become more actively involved. I am really impressed with this (if you havenÕt already got that impression).

 

I just went round to chat with them and they were so busy, so that impressed me too. You then tell the students they can say no to you. ThatÕs the way to do it. You remind them that they need to be able to tell you what can happen in their classroom. I wonder whether a better way is to say that itÕs ÔourÕ classroom, because then you are not separating yourself from them, and perhaps itÕs friendlier for them. You didnÕt give them enough time for this task, in my opinion. I think you need to help them think of methods before going into the tasks. For example, tell them more than just Ôdo a dramaÕ or Ôsing a songÕ. Put it in context for them. For example, tell them that they could sing a song relating to the information with simple language, or have a song with actions to illustrate the meanings in the song.

 

The (male) leader stands up and tries to explain what his group has done, but itÕs not easy for them and he tries his best but they canÕt catch his meaning. You also ask the question a lot: ÔCan you understand?Õ but you donÕt know whether they do or not when they say ÔyesÕ. You need to check. In other words, you need to find more information about formative evaluation: how to do it, how to use it. LetÕs talk about formative evaluation some more. There are many methods. For example, feedback is one way. Asking questions directly of students is another way. Getting students to ask for information they need is another way of finding out what they donÕt know. Another way is to watch their facial expressions. As experienced teachers we can usually see what they are thinking about something, or what they are feeling. We can tell from their eyes, particularly if they donÕt make eye-contact. If they donÕt make eye-contact it usually means they donÕt understand and they donÕt want to let you know, so they donÕt look at you.

 

The feedback from students is good at this stage. I really like the way you are getting students to practise a lot of the time. Students tend to be passive unless speaking is the norm for them. I am impressed that you have clearly enabled an environment in which students expect to have to speak, and donÕt keep silent. You then sum up for one student, and name her, which is impressive. This is quite a large group and I think itÕs important, as you know, for teachers to know names as quickly as possible. ItÕs a problem I havenÕt solved in my own teaching of Grade Three, because I have so many students (over a hundred in each class), so IÕm still working on ways to improve my practice in that area. If you have any advice for me, IÕd be grateful.

 

I like the way the students are providing the information about what they have read. ItÕs an unusual method, and I think this is an excellent example of task-based learning.

 

You then let the students in group B (American group) to go next. The leader starts with an impressive introduction, and says itÕs going to be a kind of conversation between members of her group. It then develops, as she says, into a question and answer session. You remind the students that they will judge each other. This is also a very NC kind of idea. The conversation is fairly fluent (although the girl talking about senior citizens is 非常紧张and needs a lot of encouragement). I keep finding new delights in this lesson, Hao Cailing. This lesson could be called a Box of Delights. You introduce some humour in the class as well in terms of whether they should deem someone right because they the learning partners.

 

你很勤劳。If I were to come into this classroom as a new colleague, I would not be able to guess you are a fairly new teacher, with only one yearÕs experience. Every time I come into the class I see a remarkable development in your methodology, your confidence, your expertise, your professionality.

 

Break: I talked to Yang Fang. Very impressive. In Chinese and English she told me about your teaching style. She understands why you are teaching the way you are and this is great, because it means that you make your methodology visible to your students, and as we have discussed before, such visibility of process is crucial in the development of studentsÕ awareness of methodology. If you explain what you are doing and why your students are liable to become good teachers themselves. Clarity, logic, reason and fluency of process are vital tools for would-be (future) teachers. Well done again, Hao Cailing. I am constantly amazed at what you accomplish with your students. And here again, here you are, chatting with them and making them feel comfortable. I noticed something earlier in the lesson when you noticed that the leader (male) of the group hadnÕt got a chair and you went to get him one. The students sitting in front of me laughed at this action, because clearly they are not used to teachers doing this kind of service for a student. In fact, however, they are wrong to laugh and I told them so. ItÕs important for students to see a willingness on the part of students to work together. As Dean Tian said in the meeting yesterday afternoon, collaboration is one of the most fundamental processes of learning that distinguishes this department and the AR Centre. I just spoke to the girl who gave the class-report and encouraged her. I felt she needed such encouragement from you, so perhaps next time, try to make more fuss of such a student. All students respond well to encouragement.

 

Then you start to talk to them in Chinese, and they all listen politely to you. You have created a wonderful atmosphere in this class. I didnÕt realize, by the way, that this was a grade one class. I thought the level of their English was more advanced. It is clear ot me that when student-centred methods are used, students learn more rapidly and gain confidence in their own abilities. When you compound this with good task-based activities, the students are even more likely to succeed.

 

I am so impressed that the student asked us to sing songs. That suggests they are really confident. Only confident students would ask such a question. I am glad they enjoyed it. Well done to you for making such an atmosphere, in order to make such task possible for visitors too.

 

Second Part:

I like the way you get them to distinguish between horse and house. ItÕs a difficult pronunciation for them. You get them to practise a lot. ItÕs good because it makes them act again as a unit (establishing common ground and using it as a basis for development – NC concept no. 1). Oh yes, I meant to mention before, I like the way you get the students to sit down when they answer questions. Again this is against the traditional method in China, but in my experience, allowing the students to remain in their seats is an excellent way to get them to feel comfortable, but itÕs more about power. In the traditional classroom, the teacher holds all the power. Under the NC teacher and students negotiate and share power. The NC is democratic in its underlying values. StudentsÕsitting to reply to questions is also democratic, so you are in actual fact in line with the NC on this as well. You seem to know the NC very well indeed, and even if you donÕt know it technically and theoretically (which might be a good idea) you know it excellently as a practical medium in which you are working. I believe that you have come to embody some deep, underlying educational values in which enquiry learning, critical thinking, creativity, imagination and so on, can take place and influence learning. This is fantastic stuff, Hao Cailing.

 

I look around the class as the young lad reads aloud from the text. Everyone is listening intently. Where is my evidence? Well, I can see from their faces, from their smiles, from their occasional looks at you to check they are doing the right thing. Then you praise the reader and ask for volunteers. Quite a few students volunteer, which again suggests that you have creative an environment conducive for learning.

 

You then ask the students to refer to the second readerÕs reading and ask if they can find any mistakes. They are not very forthcoming, but I suspect this is because you donÕt always give them enough time to think. Time to think is crucial for learning. Students are used, in traditional classrooms, to have the thinking done for them. You are expecting more from them. So give them the time to do it in.

 

I am impressed as well by the fact that you never give in to speaking Chinese during the class, as you have clearly judged them competent to do it in English. You allowed a student to sing in Chinese (which was a charming episode in your lesson, by the way), but you stress the importance to them of listening to, and speaking and reading English all the time. With this class it works. In some classes, for example with your PE major students, you needed to speak some Chinese in order to make them understand the basics of the task. Clearly this class is more able, and you have (rightly in my opinion) decided not to allow them to slack (be lazy). Good for you. Another educational choice well-made.

 

You then explain ÔblockÕ in some detail and again, you use English. I was surprised, because I thought you would need to explain it in Chinese. You use the blackboard to help you. A diagram can often help when words fail. Good use of the blackboard here. You then ask them to split into groups of four. Why is it Chinese students find this kind of instruction so difficult to handle? I think perhaps they are not used to working in groups, and this suggests to me they may need some guidelines for group-work. Please refer to Handbook One on this issue. There is a whole section on managing group-work with students. It could be helpful for you.

 

And now theyÕre working assiduously in groups, talking in English and really making good use of their time. You set them a time-limit, which will ensure that they know what is expected of them. Setting time-limits is a helpful way for the teacher to help studentsÕ learning, as they need structure. You clearly understand that although this is a student-centred classroom, it is still under your watchful eye, and you have the last say in what is going to happen. This is a difficult balance for some new teachers, who worry that student-centred means that the students have control. It doesnÕt mean that. It means that the teacher creates an environment in which the best potential of learning is fulfilled.

 

You go round to help students, and when a couple of them at the front donÕt understand something, you donÕt instantly give them answers, you simply tell them that as major English students, they need to find out the answers for themselves. Again, this is entirely in line with the New Curriculum. I am deeply impressed. Students do need to be more pro-active on their own behalf. They need to feel the responsibility of their own learning and not expect the teacher to do it for them. You are embodying highly democratic, communicative and empowering principles in your teaching.

 

O.K., letÕs draw all these comments together in a conclusion:

 

Excellent points:

l         Relationships with students;

l         Clear aims for the class;

l         Embodying principles in line with the New Curriculum: enquiry-learning, critical thinking, autonomy in learning, humanistic perspectives, paying attention to the studentsÕ emotions and feelings, encouraging different kinds of evaluation, variety of tasks and methods to achieve tasks, building resource-strategies, finding common ground in order to build individual growth.

l         A lot of chances for students to practise and consolidate their learning.

 

Points to improve:

l         Description of a task beforehand. Students sometimes seemed unable to understand. You need to check their understanding in a variety of ways to ensure understanding.

l         Some minor mistakes in your English.

 

This class is a tour-de-force (a great achievement). It is one of the most advanced lessons for the New Curriculum I have seen so far in China. I am quite sure that when the people who devised the New Curriculum first thought of it, they had teachers like you in mind. I am proud to be your colleague. I hope that we can have some time to discuss the ideas in this review. Actually, I think most of the ideas here are positive, and if you can clear up the whole thing about giving instructions, you might improve the efficiency of your class a lot. I think you should read Handbook One, the section on Giving Instructions.

 

Best wishes to you, dear Hao Cailing,

 

From Moira