We have designed a new program at Aihua, with which we hope to overcome some of the limitations of our current teaching system, and which we hope will provide a fuller and richer educational experience for our students. This program adjusts the concepts of our current teaching system to accommodate new developments in our teaching theory. With this program, we hope to set as a goal the achievement of a reasonable level of native speaking fluency in our students.
Half of our program is focussed on our present ESL curriculum, and half of on our new, student centred methods. In addition to following our core curriculum, we will provide the following.
We will include selected movies in our 144 period teaching program. We do this because watching and discussing movies will enable our students to discuss social and moral concepts, such as friendship, cooperation, altruism, and honesty, among many other abstract concepts. Our current teaching program does not allow us to examine these concepts with our students, because the course material is focussed simply on developing their functional language skills. Our books have pages full of fruit, vegetables, animals, professions, school programs, etc, but they contain neither narrative nor characterisation. They never deal with people facing complex human interactions, and the choices that they must make, and values they must bring to bear, in interpersonal relations.
We understand, however, that there are serious disadvantages in having students watch movies in class. The first of these disadvantages is that students can watch movies at home, and if teachers spend time allowing students watch movies in class, it is a waste of valuable teacher time, which should be spent allowing the students to interact with the teacher.
The second disadvantage of watching movies in class is a bigger problem. One of the central goals of a teacher is to teach students how to concentrate, and to focus their attention. All students can learn, but for students who have problems learning, the source of this problem tends to be a difficulty in concentrating, or focussing attention.
The younger a student is, the shorter that student’s attention span will be. We see young students staring out of windows, or playing with their pencils and erasers, during class. I remember once asking a little girl what colour her sweater was. Her sweater was yellow, but as she looked down to confirm this, she was attracted by a little brown her on her sweater, and the answer she gave me was “brown.” She knew that the sweater was yellow, but her attention had been pulled toward the little brown bear.
Teachers can address the problem of students’ limited attention spans in two ways. The first, and most direct way, is for teachers to make their classes more stimulating and interesting. Equally important, however, and more difficult and complex, is to help students to develop their attention spans, and their ability to focus: to help them to grow up.
Students do indeed pay attention to movies in class. They can focus on these because of the intense stimulation of the bright colours, the loud sounds and the flying elephants. A problem, however, with watching movies in class, is that while it helps them to focus their attention, it does nothing to help them independently develop their attention spans or their ability to focus their minds. The bigger problem, however, is that it raises their expectations of the extent to which they should be stimulated and entertained in class.
If a student becomes accustomed to learning by watching movies in his class, when he goes into a math class, where there simply a teacher and a blackboard, the student expects to be entertained, and it is very difficult for them to focus, and for the teacher to get their attention. I have taught a number of students who studied at English schools which spend a lot of time watching movies in class, and I always found these students to be quite naughty in class, because they had such high expectations of how much they should be entertained in class.
In Aihua’s 144 period program, we will use carefully selected movies as an educational tool, but we will be very careful to maximise the advantages of movies, and minimise the disadvantages.
At the beginning of the program, we will give the movies we will study to the parents, and encourage the parents to watch these movies at home with their children. (Watching 10 or 20 minutes of the movie at a time is enough.) For students who don’t have the opportunity to watch the movies at home with their parents, we will make sure that they have an opportunity to watch these movies at our school, outside of class time.
In class, we will select key scenes from these movies, and watch them together with the students. For example, perhaps the first twenty minutes of the movie introduces the characters, and in the following ten minutes the characters meet up. We will only choose to watch the scene where the characters meet up. We will not watch the entire movies with the students, so it is important that they watch these movies outside of class. After watching key scenes from these movies in class, we will encourage students to discuss the motivation of the characters, the social concepts which they embody, and the values they express in their interaction. We will then ask the students to act out the scenes which we have watched. We will provide hard copy transcripts of the dialogues between the characters.
We will teach storybooks for the same reasons that we will teach movies. Stories have narrative and characterisation, which our course material does not have, and our students can learn about social concepts, values and motivations from studying these.
Learning storybooks has none of the disadvantages of watching movies in class, apart from the fact that it is a waste of teacher interaction time to do too much reading in class. Learning storybooks, however, has the added advantage of helping students to develop their reading and writing skills.
At the beginning of a program, we will ask each parent to purchase the carefully selected class storybook. We will also provide an audio file of our foreign teachers reading this storybook. We encourage the parents to have the students read these books at home.
In the class, we will select key scenes from these books, and read them together. We will then discuss these passages in terms of the values and the social and motivational concepts depicted, and then ask the students to act out these key scenes.
An important reason for us asking students to act out the key scenes of the storybooks and the movies is that acting has been proven to help children develop self-regulation. Self regulation is the ability to control initial impulses and behave according to social expectations. It allows children to develop the ability to see themselves as members of a society, and understand their place in society, as well their ability to consider and take into account other people’s reactions to, and impressions of their actions and behaviour.
Key elements in international early childhood education practice are student led classes and project learning. At the beginning of the term, we will find out what each student is interested in, and we will help the student to develop this interest into an ongoing project.
In education, it is important to not only provide students with information, but also to help them to develop their own interests, and so to develop a passion for learning. An important new principle at Aihua, is that it is more important for us to teach the students how to learn, than it is to simply provide them with information.
One of Aihua’s slogans is: “Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.” At Aihua, we believe that education should not simply consist of lining students up and filling their heads with facts. Instead, we should help our students to develop a passion and a love for learning, by encouraging them to conduct inquiries into the things that they love. When we say that “education is the lighting of a fire,” what we mean is that students will learn more enthusiastically if what they are learning is based upon their interests. The “fire” here is passion, and enthusiasm for learning.
Our project program will run alongside our regular program. At the beginning of the term, we will lead a discussion with the students about what things interest them, and assign the student project topics based upon their interests. We will then provide each student with a folder in which they may accumulate information about their projects. The foreign teacher will provide a concept web in the project folder, in order to give the student ideas about how to develop their projects. The foreign teacher will also be available at regularly scheduled times to discuss the students’ projects on wechat, and give them directions for developing their projects.
We will occasionally, throughout the term, dedicate class time to allowing the students to present developments that they have made in their project. Toward the end of the term, we will have a class in which the students present their projects to the class, and answers questions about their project from the other students and the teachers.
One of the biggest challenges in teaching English to children in China is the limited time that children spend learning English. Children tend to visit their English training centers once or twice a week. Chinese students are also very busy with other things, so it is difficult for them to do daily English homework. Even if they do homework, however, it is not that good for helping them to develop fluency (or shuang yu), as fluency needs to be based on communicative learning.
In order to develop fluency and naturalness (shuang yu), our students need daily exposure to English, in order that it becomes habitual to them, in order that it becomes something that they feels comes from within them, rather than something that comes to them from the outside.
Ten minutes, seven days a week, is more helpful for making the language become habitual, and intrinsic to the student, than 70 minutes once a week. To deal with this problem of timetabling, many schools provide their students with automated online learning systems, to encourage them to do daily homework. The problem with this though is that spending time alone with computers is unhealthy for children, and more importantly, this style of learning does not address the essential social element of language learning. To learn English as a habit, as a second mother tongue, and not as simply exam preparation study, the students must learn through social interaction, through communicating with real people.
Aihua will solve the timetabling problem, the problem of children not having daily communication with a native speaker, through the use of Wechat. We have developed a club based system for our 144 period program, in which students can join Aihua Wechat groups that appeal to their interests, and with this we hope to ensure that each student can spend at least 10 minutes a day speaking with a foreign teacher. More importantly, perhaps, we hope that this will encourage family based learning and interaction. We hope that after dinner, for example, mother, father and child can sit together and communicate with a foreign teacher on Wechat, and perhaps continue the conversation after the teacher is gone.
Setting English as a mother tongue as a goal for our students is possible through this method.
Every student at Aihua is a VIP. Every student at Aihua is a genius with untapped potential. We will find the spark in every child, and blow that spark into a flame.
Education is the lighting of a fire.