Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Voices of China, Series Finale: I Want To Know

4. Any questions about me, class, etc.?

I concluded all of the individual interviews with an open-ended question leaving time available for the students to ask anything, about anything. They believe I will listen. I believe they will be honest.

The students also know that "I love questions." Most replied calmly without any. No surprise. Those who did ask did so with purpose. No surprise.

How many sea otters are there in the world?
Where do you make the games we play in class?
What is your favorite sport to watch?
Will you teach us in 6th grade? (x3)
What will we learn after Chinese New Year? (x2)
How old are you? (x2)
How tall are you?
What is your baby's name?
Will the next semester be hard for us?
Do you like to teach 5th grade? Why? 
What is your hometown's name?
Can we read the space story in the English Zone (our curriculum)?
This winter holiday, are you going to go to America?
What's your favorite sport to play? What's your favorite color?
Were you [misbehaving] when you were little?
Did you misbehave?

I've reminded the 5th graders a couple times this year about their initiative (It's off the wall!) but not too much because I don't want them to learn because of my compliments in lieu of their natural curiosity. Last semester, a few students contacted me via WeChat and QQ to pass on what they continued to examine at home. Presently, several more have written through blogs each class has.

The point is this: 20 out of 67 students asked me a question. Some may think I'm reading too much into this, but...hey, almost a third of my students asked questions. In Chinese culture, that's saying something. And this number has been growing over the past years while opportunities have been on the rise. As I was explaining to a colleague today, students have changed from when I started teaching five years ago. "How?" he wondered. I informed him succinctly that society is rapidly changing, therefore our children are too. How I taught my 2nd graders five years ago needs to be different from the 2nd graders I'm teaching currently. Why? The students aren't the same. The culture isn't the same. The resources have shot up exponentially. Today's possibilities are more than they were in the past, and the students want to make more things possible.

So the same way 20 of my students wanted to know more, I want to know more of how I can guide these students in a better education. I want to know them as individuals and collectively. I want to know what they know about each other and the world. I want to know what they want to know about. Lastly, I want to know what they're going to do about it.
This ends the "The Voices of China" series. Hope you have enjoyed the blogs and grown in your desire to know your students.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Voices of China, E03: Why I'm a So-So Student

Part 3 of The Voices of China Series continues with question 3.

3) Did you do well in class? Why/why not?

So-so: While I'm not at all surprised by this answer, I wanted to know the deeper reasons with every student who said it because (and they know) I believe it's a cop-out. So though a majority of the fifth graders gave this answer, there are two categories to which they belong. Quite understandably so, I might add, but I will get to that later. Until then, hear ye...hear ye...the following are the top two reasons why students think they are just "so-so."

I didn't listen in class. 
Classic. From early on, students are instructed to sit up, not touch their pencils while teachers talk, not talk with others, and listen to the sage on the stage with ease. Because of this definition of "good" behavior being ingrained in their mind from such an early age, I wasn't at all surprised to hear many students reason this way. It pained me every time, but I knew a time to speak into their lives and guide them in new directions would come.
I'm not good at English. 
Being good at languages carries a higher than normal weight with it when attending an elementary school known, in a city of 8 million, for its English program. Because a lot of students possibly don't do well on their English homework, midterms, revisions, class activities, and tests, they aren't confident in their second (or third) language. Notice the previous assessments listed, read them through a few more times, and reconsider why a student would say this. It shouldn't be too hard.

These reasons are reinforced from kindergarten. That's more than five years, 900 school days of behavior- and test-focused performance being cemented in their minds. These reasons are traditional and will culturally be hard to change. But(!) they are on the brink of shifting. Why would I say such a thing?! Because my students agree with me on particular topics of education. They despise tests. They hate listening to somebody who teaches to a test. They want to learn how they learn best. Thus, I stated some comments at the end of last semester in our class meetings.

1) If you don't understand me, you're not a bad student. If you understand me, you're not a good student.
2) People are different. Some students can listen and do something else at the same time.

Any teacher can tell you to start with what the students know (schema) before approaching new knowledge. This past week then I touched on these two statements within the context of our class studying Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences. Believe it or not, it's in our curriculum! The students learned how everyone is made differently, particularly in the brain. Therefore they know and can apply the fact that we are all smart in various ways. It's not the test nor the score that tells you how smart you are. (I received more than one "yeah" from the students on that one.)
Now connect those thoughts with the basic standards I gave the students last week, and you have 60+ fifth graders looking at the content (what) they need to know and creating their own processes (how) in acquiring language and information. More details are being worked out while we have also started sites for each class on Kidblog. There are a lot of new things going on in my classes this semester, and at times, I don't know what to think or how to feel. What I do know is that 60+ students are seeing me take risks, fail, brainstorm, and move forward. All they while, they're doing it with me.

This is what makes all of them more than just "so-so."