Wednesday, April 4, 2012

...Tomb Sweeping Festival...

This week's events included Qingming Festival, often known as Tomb Sweeping Day.  Several of my colleagues explained that during this time, people will travel to the graves of their ancestors and pay respects.  At Gaoxin No. 1 High School, the students had a break from school on Tuesday and Wednesday.  However, they had to make up the days this past weekend.  Teachers and students (and interns from Kentucky :) were all at school on Saturday and Sunday. 

Chinese communities mark tomb-sweeping festival
From: BBC Last Updated: April 4, 2012, 2:30 pm
Chinese communities around Asia are marking the annual Qingming Festival on 4 April - also known as Tomb-sweeping Day.

It is a day when people pay tribute to their ancestors by visiting their graves, and the ritual always begins with some proper cleaning.

China, Hong Kong and Taiwan all observe a public holiday for the traditional occasion. A three-day holiday began on 2 April in mainland China.

People offer food, incense sticks and paper replicas of various daily items for the deceased to use in their afterlife.

In recent years offerings to the dead have become more elaborate - the most talked-about offerings this year are replicas of Apple's iPad and iPhone.

Some environmentalists have appealed for people to offer flowers instead, as the burning of incense sticks and paper offerings creates pollution.

Cemeteries become very crowded during the festival. Reports from Beijing say the most famous Babaoshan Cemetery has offered to keep its doors open beyond midnight to relieve the pressure.

On our walk to Lotus this evening, Ben and I encountered these signs of tomb sweeping festival:

Other sources said that this week is significant for planting crops.  Many flower beds were installed this week.  These folks were definitely putting in overtime on Monday evening.  The specks you see reflected by the camera flash give you an idea of the dust in the air.  There are large displays of flowers all over the city now.  I can't imagine the amount of water it will take to keep them alive.

...World Autism Awareness Day, Xi'an...

On April 2nd, we were downtown and noticed a large gathering in the plaza.  Later we heard music, and when we were able to see the stage, we found students with autism and their teachers performing songs in Chinese Sign Language.  A variety of performances were interspersed with heartfelt statements and joyous recognition.  Our lack of understanding of Chinese was a barrier to our complete comprehension, but the very visible support for these students and their families was quite clear.  Ben uploaded a video to Youtube that he was able to capture.  Hopefully it can convey, in some way, the intensity of this event. 

...English in China...(revised)

The students and teaching staff at Gaoxin No. 2 Primary School have certainly made me feel welcome in their classrooms.  The English teaching department consists of 8 Chinese women and 2 foreign men (1 British, 1 American).  They share a common office which allows for collaboration and team building between their scheduled classes.  I have observed that these teachers, like their American counterparts, have several additional duties, such as monitoring students during the daily naptime, helping to serve lunch, and supervising Saturday sports activities. 

The school has graciously allowed me to spend time observing the teaching methods, reviewing the English text books, answering questions the teachers have relating to specific vocabulary, and, overall, researching the process of building partnerships between Chinese and foreign teachers/student teachers.  Additionally, several teachers have asked me to assist in their classrooms with games, storytelling and listening comprehension.

These students are doing their daily eye relaxation exercises.  Mood music and counting is broadcast over the school intercom.  I am told this practice was implemented many years ago due to the tendency toward nearsightedness that is found in this population.  Apparently, it has been found to be beneficial. 

These 1st graders are playing a game.  The teacher reads a new vocabulary word and the students in this team would race to the board to be the first to point to the correct word.  The students wear uniforms on certain days, and they wear their red scarves every day.

This student was happy to pose with her top ranking test.  The teacher in this class handed back the tests in order from highest grade to lowest grade.  This seems to be standard practice, even in higher grades.  Even college entrance exam scores are posted publicly. 

Miss Jane is the director of the English department.  In this classroom, she is teaching 5th graders the months of the year.  Their homework assignment is to make a birthday chart representing their family members' birthdays.  She has been very helpful in coordinating a schedule for me that allows me to work with various teachers and grade levels.
The director loaned me the textbooks that this school uses.  The texts include dialogues, rhymes, songs, pictures and lists of vocabulary.  Some teachers use supplemental cassette tapes and DVDs during the lessons.

Some of the students are a bit shy, but very willing to participate in new games.  The biggest challenge for me has been finding ways to include the less confident students.  With nearly 60 students in the classroom, and 35 minutes to teach an English lesson, finding ways to engage every student has been my biggest hurdle.  <revised: Grades 1 and 2 have 4 English classes/week with Chinese teachers and 1 class/week with a foreign teacher.  Grades 3-6 have 3 English classes/week with Chinese teachers and 1 class/week with a foreign teacher.  The older students have less time for English because they begin preparing for the extremely important examination that determines the quality of their middle school experience.>
Another challenge for me is to avoid falling off this little stage while teaching!  The platform seems needful given the quantity of students in the room.
This 1st grade boy writes the Chinese characters for the English phrase his teacher has written.  The grammar-translation method of teaching English is the primary model employed in these classrooms.
These 5th grade students practice phrases and dialogues from their text books during class.
This is the main courtyard at the Primary School.  There are several buildings connected by covered walkways.
These students are eager to answer the teacher's question.  I notice the teachers here all use some method of positive reinforcement.  Although several students will never volunteer to speak, many jump out of their seats in an effort to be recognized and it seems the one who calls out the loudest gets the teacher's attention.

Miss Ruby taught the students an acronym to help them remember the spelling for family: Father And Mother I Love You.

These students mop the teachers' office on Friday.

Stella and Pepe met some new friends at lunchtime.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

...for the Blue and White...

Half a planet away, we hear the University of Kentucky Wildcats are doing great in the Final Four!  Here, Kevin and Ben donned the UK hats while riding on the upper deck of the 608.  Kevin might have been smiling because he finally got a seat!  The bus ceilings are not friendly to people his height.

This poster in the hallway here at Gaoxin No. 1 High School attests to the fact that basketball is popular here as well.  Nearly every afternoon, the students here are out on the court.