Sunday, October 25, 2009

A View from Outside

I have a graduate student who has arrived from China this Fall. I decided to bring her to our Fall professional development meeting as an observer. I was really interested in her view of the process and focus of the group. I of course think we're doing some very interesting and important things and that our group of teachers is outstanding- but does it come across?
Here is what she wrote in response:

It is a precious experience to attend such an eye-opening meeting. When I entered into the meeting room, what caught my eyes were teachers’ engaging in communicating and learning from each other, so earnestly and openly. It is the curriculum for the following several months. Music and arts teachers from two schools came here, worked together, and absorbed new ideas to improve the instructional efficiency. There are two amazing samples showing how to teach music and arts. For music, there are seven hollow beams which were equal to the seven music scales. Then seven kids each holds one beam standing for one music scale. To make music these kids should concentrate on his or her own role as well as working together with other kids harmoniously. It conveys the sense of cooperation, practice and deep impression of music. Brilliant! For the arts, two diverse oil paintings are presented. Kids are given these questions from simple to complex step by step, “what do you see?”, “where are they?”, “what are they doing?”, “why do you think so?” . These kids learn to read arts, from the paintings’ appearance to their essence, from outside to inside, from the gradual developing process. Since they’ve just gained the knowledge about the community, of course, their explanation and imagination about the two paintings has lots to do with community, which is accordance with the theory of schema. One of the kids was such a genius in answering these questions that it raised my concern about what family background he is from, and what he has learned. Would this ground be a backup reason for his outstanding performance? In all, these two examples are really vivid and explicit ways of instruction. Apart from the two examples, teacher Pat has presented us the previous achievement by giving an example about how a cute and smart boy understands the community. By putting kids directly into the real world is such a good idea. They can see and touch the statue of George Washington by themselves when hearing the legendary stories; they can feel the hot whether by standing in the sunshine during the hot summer day. Lost in the thought that kids in my country could also have such an experience, I wonder what would it be like? I am still curious about other kids’ situation and comprehension, which may be unnecessary or futile. The main topic for the next few months is life cycle-- to inform children the basic knowledge about animals, environment, cooperation and skills for how to survive in the wild nature. What I can see is an integration composed by arts and reading, intertwined into each other. Almost everything is perfect and indeed it helps to promote students’ motivation in study and easy students’ development in literacy. I had tried to find the difference between this and my country’s education, which emphasize more on science. Eighteen out of twenty classes were science classes in my high school, and those two arts classes were for those students who cannot go though science class. People had slightly prejudice over arts, considering it of a little practical use and low payback investment. The phenomenon also exist my friend’s country, Chad, Russia, developing countries. Developing country needs to consider the economic factors more for advancing. Still, there is a long way to go before educational systems learn from each other. And yet, what I see is a whole world of arts and reading, almost no science (I even ask Jean why, which is kind of silly of me). Is that because this is the meeting about arts and literacy? I think kids here begin their study about science a little late. Arts and literacy should be considered to be an integral body, and if science is in parallel with arts and literacy’s tempo, then arts, literacy and science would be a better integration too, or interdisciplinary integration. I believe the two hemispheres of the brain need balanced development for uncovering potentials of kids. The end of education here comes out to be the best around the world now, but that does not mean that it has no space to improve. I remember that my high school teacher has said that once a kid is very good at English and math, he probably will be qualified for university. This has been a belief of mine during these years, and I would tell every parent the “truth”. English and math is really opposite and hard discipline in my country. Math classes involve a lot basic knowledge such as probability, geometry, functions, and calculus. And English is a totally different language system. If we believe that “it is too early” or expect children to learn “when they need to”, we may miss the optimal period. Of course, we should not push them and we do not want to. Maybe we just need to think about it, and that is all. Well, in short, it is such a meaningful experience for me. It is like I incidentally fall into a circle full of great ideas.
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