The programme, now in its second year, is bringing big benefits not only to the teachers in China but also to the 20 HKU students, all of whom are studying for their Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education in Language Education (English Language), who have taken part.
Mr Benjamin Moorhouse, Lecturer in the Education Faculty’s Division of English Language Education, set up the programme and has accompanied the groups on both of the two-week trips, the first in 2017 and the second in January, 2018: “The students found the experience empowering,” he said. “It gave them the chance to take a few risks, try new things and engage with others in the same profession as they have chosen but working in an unfamiliar environment.”
The project came about after the Fan Family Charitable Trust approached the Education Faculty for help. “The charity’s founders had taken over the Huizhen Academy, a school in the city of Ningbo in Zhejiang province, rebuilt it and resourced it well, but they wanted our cooperation in supporting the professional development of the English language teachers there,” he said. “We felt we could work with them to support the school and at the same time provide opportunities for our student-teachers to develop their pedagogical skills and expose them to different educational contexts.”
Mr Moorhouse and Dr Gary Harfitt, Associate Dean (Learning and Teaching) of the Education Faculty, made an initial visit to the school in October, 2016, and then provided the HKU student-teachers with information about the context and teaching approaches used there. This helped them plan their English lessons and the extra-curricular activities (ECAs) they would be teaching in Ningbo.
Huizhen Academy is a through-train establishment, meaning it has primary and secondary school students, which is unusual in Mainland China. It is a government school not a private one, so it serves the community and must accept any students it is given and work to Education Ministry guidelines. Mr Moorhouse discovered that one of the problems of this was that teachers there had to use textbooks that he considers to be pedagogically unsound.
“These books are government-approved, and so must be used, but they are not effective teaching tools,” said Mr Moorhouse. “As a result of that, plus the fact that most of the students receive private tutoring on top of their school education, the curriculum was too easy for the students there. Their English levels are better than these books, so teachers struggle to find ways to cater to their more advanced needs. We helped them enhance the tools they have so they are more effective.”
In Ningbo, each of the HKU team was paired up with one of the Huizhen Academy teachers to conduct co-teaching lessons. “The HKU student-teachers took the lead in designing the lessons, then taught them alongside their Huizhen Academy partners,” said Mr Moorhouse. “Afterwards, they reflected on the lesson, improved it and taught it to another class.”
Lessons included getting the children to create their own story books, analysing texts then writing their own, and using stories to teach the children vocabulary. In addition to the classroom teaching, they held storytelling sessions before school started, as well as lunchtime speaking activities and ECAs such as drama, craft-making and even creating slime. This all helped enrich the English language learning environment of the school.
Mutual learning experience
Mr Moorhouse feels that the visit this January was even more successful than the first one. “We now have a better handle on what is there and what is needed. The first time there were lots of unknowns on both sides,” he said. “This time we were able to plan better, we knew what their materials would be and could work from that. Also, it is unusual in Mainland China even to have student-teachers helping teachers so the teachers there were unsure of their role the first time round. It was different for our students too: whereas usually in Teaching Practice they learn from the teacher, in Ningbo it was very collaborative, a far more mutual learning experience.”
Asked what he found most revelatory about the project, Mr Moorhouse said: “The readiness of the Huizhen Academy teachers for change. In Hong Kong there is a reluctance, and a lot of contextual factors preventing change, but these teachers were happy we could give them ideas, happy to try new things and they were open to being observed.
“In fact, the observation aspect was good for my students too, as usually when you are being observed you are being assessed, so this was observation without pressure. The fact they were teaching same lesson to two different classes also offered a valuable opportunity to put feedback to work immediately. They could see the progress they were making and it was highly valuable to me to see how quickly they could make the changes. It made me rethink the value and need for effective feedback – both from a teacher such as me and from their colleagues and peers.”
Overall, Mr Moorhouse views the programme as a success and feels it has taken the first steps to achieving its objectives. “Through the close collaboration and use of a lesson study approach, both parties were able to develop professionally. Huizhen Academy teachers were exposed to more student-centred activities and ways to use authentic texts in the classroom. They raised their expectations of their learners and saw how lessons could be used to scaffold learners towards the completion of a product.
“At the same time, our students learned how to collaborate with teachers in different contexts and hone their teaching skills through the constant, planning, delivery and reflection on their lessons. Hopefully too, they gained confidence that their teaching approaches had a positive impact on the students and teachers in the school and saw that we instigated real change. In fact, one of the students who went this January, now plans to return and teach in the school for a year.
“We still have a long way to go to show them that teaching can be different and still be effective,” he concluded. “We need to find more ways to help them in the key areas of curriculum and assessment, but this is an ongoing process – a proposal has been made for a third visit in January, and both sides are keen to go ahead.”
Sharing Teaching Skills in Provincial China
An innovative experiential learning programme has senior students in the Education Faculty helping English language teachers in a provincial city in northeastern China enhance their professional development and hone their curriculum design to meet the needs of their pupils.
Our students learned how to collaborate
with teachers in different contexts and hone
their teaching skills through the constant, planning, delivery and reflection on their lessons.
Mr Benjamin Moorhouse
Each student-teacher in the HKU team was paired up with one of the Huizhen Academy teachers to conduct
(Courtesy of Cedia Wong)
Mr Benjamin Moorhouse (third from left in the back row) has accompanied students in the Faculty of Education on both of the two-week trips to a provincial city in northeastern China.
(Courtesy of Cedia Wong)