Final days and thoughts…

It may be a week after my landing at Toronto Pearson, but some finals thoughts on the experience are in order.

Our last week, in Kunshan, was great. I joined another teacher, Megan, in her classroom of 6-8 year-olds and boy did she have some characters. I learned their names on the first day and helped Megan do some activities such as Simon Says (“Jenny says…”), which they absolutely loved. These kids were very competitive, and unfortunately, there was some pouting going on if they didn’t make it to the end. I could really see the difference in SES background between the kids at this camp and those at the summer camps in Weifang. Apparently, Kunshan is one of the wealthiest cities in China (that nobody knows about).

Throughout the week Megan and I took turns teaching lessons, doing a morning review, and leading games and activities. We made 3D animal masks and paper airplanes (they had to write the places they’ve been and the places they want to go on their plane), had them draw themselves as whatever they wanted to be when they grew up, and had them use foam letters and shapes to create a picture of their favourite memory from summer camp.

On the Wednesday night of that week, a group of us traveled by high-speed train to Shanghai because many of us were interested in checking out the “black market” that is located in the subway station. All of us ended up in the pearl market having jewellery made and bargaining for multiple items. We then walked through the rest of the market, which was like a maze because there were so many stores selling similar/the same items. I was able to get some Chinese characters written in the traditional calligraphy for my brothers (I had her write “brother”), while others were getting their friends’/partners’ names written as gifts. This evening outing was the last highlight of the trip.

Unfortunately, there was a group of probably 6 of us who ended up with a cold in the last couple days. This didn’t make for an enjoyable plane ride, but it doubled the joy I felt when we landed (I don’t know how explorers spent months at sea— they must have kissed the sand when they finally found land).

Overall, I had a wonderful three weeks in China. I’ve been asked by many whether I would return, and I’ve been replying that it would be circumstantial. The cities we traveled to in China resembled Toronto in my eyes, and I prefer a small town to the big city. For this reason, it was very nice to come home where the pace is slower, the streets are emptier, and the birds can be heard over the car horns. My biggest smiles on the trip were a result of the kids I taught, and that is something I will take away with me from this experience. The students were just so happy to learn English and be one of my students. I will never forget walking through the halls and hearing “Hello teacher!” from all the smiling children. While I was never with one group of kids long enough to formally assess them and see any true progress, I could see that they were absorbing some of what I taught, and at least having a lot of fun doing it. If anything, there are about 50 students who I had the pleasure of naming— maybe in 10 or 20 years they will come to Canada and, when asked what their English name is, provide the name they chose in my class. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will always cherish.

Thank-you to everyone who followed my blog and left me comments. I looked forward to reading your responses and appreciated the love and support!

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Another last day…

Answers came our way earlier this week and we found out that we would be teaching in Kunshan for our third week. Kunshan is the city we were supposed to teach in originally and is approximately 20 minutes on the high-speed train from Shanghai. There are currently around 13 other teachers from Brock teaching there, so the five of us will be helping them in their classrooms. Considering these teachers’ classes are a maximum of 15 students, this will be a nice change from what we have currently been doing and it will be nice to spend 4 full days with the same 15 students. We will be flying to Shanghai on Monday and travelling by train to Kunshan when we arrive.

On Monday night, four of us decided to head to the local amusement park. We had checked it out when we went to the Kite Museum last weekend (right across the street from each other) and found out that after 5:30 pm, admission is free. This, in combination with the fact that it was only a five minute taxi ride from our hotel, AND the fact that the weather forecast was calling for 30-50mm of rain for the following 4 days led to this Monday adventure. The park was dead when we arrived and for a while we had “private” rides. I only went on two– the large rollercoaster in the park and the pirate ship– because apparently my body can’t handle rides anymore. But it was nice to walk around the park. Here are a couple photos!

Fuhua Amusement Park

Ferris Wheel at Fuhua


Wednesday night was pamper night for the ladies. Heather, Anne and I went to the hotel’s spa and got massages. We were all in the same room in matching outfits that were provided for us. It was about $20.00 Canadian for an hour and a half. And these were trained professionals. Not only did it include a full back massage, but also a foot soak, foot scrub, lower leg/foot massage, and a 20-minute scalp massage. Twenty minutes in I decided another one of these was in order before flying out and going to our final school.

The highlight of the trip so far, for me, happened on Thursday night. Heather and I had mentioned to each other that we wanted to visit a teahouse or at least buy some good quality tea from China to bring home. Thursday at school, Heather asked her homeroom teachers for some tea suggestions so that we could buy some of the local favourites. Not only did she get three recommendations, she was also given the directions (for a taxi) to a tea market that was not far from our hotel. That night, Anne and Heather and I ventured to the market in the rain. We went into the first little shop closest to the road and asked if they had the three teas written on a piece of paper from the teachers. They opened boxes of tea and let us smell those that were recommended. Because we wanted to shop around, we got the prices and said thank you. Little did we know that we would spend 2 hours in the shop next door.

Two ladies (mother and daughter) greeted us with smiles and nodded their heads eagerly when we showed them the piece of paper. The store was only big enough for maybe 6 people at a time. Boxes of tea, packaging, and tea ware lined the walls from front to back. They then motioned for us to sit on three short wooden stools made from tree stumps. In front of the stools was a long wooden table with many clay tea pots, tiny tea cups, and a small steel kettle on a burner. We realized they were going to let us try the teas! What unfolded in front of us next was incredible. The woman gracefully proceeded to sterilize tiny glass cups with boiling water, scoop tea into cylinders, steep the tea, warm the tea cups for us, and serve us samples of the varieties. I couldn’t help but stare and admire her every move– serving tea is such an art and involves a very particular series of steps. Shortly after, the woman’s son appeared and helped his mother as well. All the while, the daughter had her iPhone out and was using the translator to help us communicate what we wanted to taste, how much the tea cost, and how much we wanted to purchase. Two hours later, we all had numerous bags of tea and were happy to have met such a lovely family. Here are some photos of the set-up.

Dragonhead handle kettle

Warming the glasses with hot water

Our last day at our second school was, again, bittersweet. You get to know your students and then you have to leave. But I explained to them that it was very nice to meet them, that they were all my friends, and that I will miss them. Many of them shouted back that they would miss me too. I was able to get photos with each class again and received a few little gifts from the students as well as their homeroom teachers. The rainy second half of the week took some of the humidity out of the classrooms, but it was still very hot when teaching. I don’t know how they do it without air conditioning, I was drenched by the end of each day!

This weekend was quite the adventure. The group headed out to Tai’ an, a two-hour high-speed train ride away. Here, we visited Tai Shan, a famous mountain that is part of the 5 sacred mountains in China. This mountain has a long cultural history and we were told by a tour guide that many emperors had climbed the mountain in their time. As a group we decided we wanted to climb in the early hours of the morning (when it is cooler) and watch the sun rise at the top of the mountain. We were told this is a popular time to go.

MAN what a climb! Anne and Heather and I decided to take a bus halfway up the mountain and climb the rest. Even having skipped the first part, I couldn’t believe the number of steps we had to climb. You know the saying “Don’t look down” when you are scared of heights? All I kept thinking was “Don’t look up” because it was so discouraging to see how many steps you still had to go; although, not being able to see too far ahead was one of the beautiful things about climbing at night. Somehow, we all lost each other along the way and I ended up climbing the last hour by myself. I almost didn’t believe it when I reached the top. There were THOUSANDS of people who had climbed the mountain (from young children to 80-year-old men and women— they were my motivation) and many had already chosen their spot for the sunrise. I found my own and waited for the sun to peek over the clouds. The mist that had hid the mountains began to clear and the view was breathtaking. I could see a temple in the distance that the mist was hiding shortly before, and I could see all the mountain peaks around me. I spent some time up there, then headed back down the mountain, where I found Matt from our group. We walked the entire way down to the bottom of the mountain together, which is, of course, why I just got back from massage #2. It was an incredible experience and I am proud of myself for reaching the top of a mountain (despite having cheated half the way). I’m sure I’ll be recuperating for a few days but it was worth it, check it out!

The mist clearing

Sunrise on Tai'Shan

Stairs, stairs, and more stairs

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Some updates

The weekend is almost over and though there were moments of relaxation, there were also moments of aggravation.

We finished our first week of teaching at Weifang Foreign Language School and the kids were sad to see us go. We each received little trinkets/tokens of appreciation from some of our students as a thanks. In my last class, I showed them some photos of my life back in Canada (scenery, a family photo, some pet photos, etc.) and they were mesmerized. They thought Canada looked SO beautiful, and I couldn’t argue that! I gave my assistant, Loulou, a small bottle of maple syrup I brought over and she was so appreciative. The end of the day was where things started to change. We were asked to do “photos”, and this apparently is normal according to Anne, who has been a leader many times. We were happy to take photos with our assistants, who had helped us so much, but a group of kids were then escorted into the room (kids whom none of us had taught) and we were asked to stand behind them for a picture. It was then we realized we were being used as “propaganda” to attract students to their school (a school with White teachers is worth sending my kids to). We were also told at this point that at our next school, we would each be teaching 4 classes with a minimum of 30 students. When we asked a coordinator why we couldn’t each have one class, they told us they wanted to expose the kids to as many foreign teachers as possible. To us, we were thinking that this is NOT quality education and there is no way we as individuals could get to know our students and apply the kind of assessment and teaching strategies we learned in our previous year of teachers college. How could we learn the names, strengths, weaknesses, and habits of all these students in one week? Not only this, but I definitely did not bring enough resources (i.e. prizes, purchased activities) to use with that many students. At this point, we were just ready to leave the school and hoped we would have assistants in the classroom again (which we later found out we would, so that was good news!)

As a group we decided we wanted to treat our assistants to dinner for all the help they provided us. Not only did they help in the classroom, but they were helping us navigate the city and choose the sights we should see while we are here. They chose a restaurant close to our hotel and it was wonderful. The meal was delicious and we got to try some traditional Weifang dishes.

Unfortunately, we were told on Friday that we would have to switch hotels on Saturday morning. We were very happy at our hotel, but we were told that our next hotel would be just as nice. We had planned on visiting Mount Tai Saturday, a large mountain that has steps you can climb with ancient writings to see along the way. Instead, Saturday we spent 8 am-11:30 moving all our luggage to the new hotel. Upon arriving, our rooms had not yet been cleaned and some smelled strongly of smoke. On the plus, the rooms are nicely decorated and there is an air conditioner (woohoo!) The hotel is a huge downgrade from our previous one, but we are managing. That afternoon we found an amusement park a 5-minute drive away (too hot to be there during the day, so we will go one evening this week), and went to the Weifang cultural and science museum, which were both interesting!

Today (Sunday) we were able to see a few beautiful sights in the city. We traveled to the Weifang Kite Museum, which was pretty interesting. There were kites of all sizes, shapes, and colours along with some descriptions (in poorly translated English– this is common in Weifang) to help us understand the ancient tradition of kite-flying. After this tour, the coordinator from the school who was taking us around the city told us we were going to a Park/Garden similar to a popular tourist area called The Water City. Fifteen minutes later we arrived at the Weifang Foreign Language Kindergarten School that was recently built. Parents were there with their children and all the teachers seemed to be expecting us, having cameras in hand. There was even a man with a high-tech video camera taping us as we came through the classrooms. In one classroom we were asked to take a picture with a group of kindergarten kids. This, again, made us feel like pawns or puppets being used to attract more children to the school, considering these photos and videos of us would obviously be uploaded onto a website or printed in a pamphlet of some sort. We were all pretty upset for a number of reasons 1) The coordinator did not tell us we were going there 2) This was supposed to be our organized tour day and 3) Our photos and videos of us were being taken left and right without our knowledge. Really, it made me feel sad for the children because whatever would be said of the school and foreign teachers would not be an accurate representation of the kind of education kids would receive.

Once they’d had their pictures and video footage of us, we went to a BEAUTIFUL area in the city that is entirely ancient housing. The architecture, greenery, water, pathways, and roofs were gorgeous and made me think “Why did they ever modernize their buildings? This is beautiful!” Here is a photo for an idea of what we saw.

After lunch, we went to an outdoor village/museum where paper carving was highlighted as a Weifang tradition. We climbed a giant pagoda and got a great view from the top (as well as enjoying a nice breeze on an especially humid day— 39 feels like 48 according to the weather network). It was no wonder that 45 minutes into our exploration we began to hear thunder in the distance and saw some grey clouds coming our way. This cut our tour short and didn’t permit us to attend the other two tours we had planned in the afternoon (a botanical garden and wetland park). The rain and winds were torrential for about half an hour and as we drove back, we saw many people struggling to drive their bikes and scooters on the flooded roads.

The pagoda we climbed

The view from the top

We are curious about our next school that we start at tomorrow, and how it will compare to last week. But what we are even more worried about is where our third week will be considering this school’s summer camp only runs until the end of this coming week (July 25). We were told we would be flying back to Shanghai after the summer camp is over, but Anne says there is no way they will pay for our accommodations for the third week without us teaching, so where will we end up? Still looking for some answers…

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Days two and three

I have fallen a day behind in my blogging and unfortunately my attention to detail will suffer as a result. But I wanted to share a few exciting things that have happened over the last couple days (we are over hump day, woohoo!).

The opening ceremony was no longer than 20 minutes. The kids sang a couple of songs, Anne introduced all of us and thanked them for having us at their school, and a new member was added to our teaching group. Jason, born in Nepal and completing med school in Weifang, was introduced to us and the kids. He is very nice and is excited to have some fellow English speakers at the school (though he speaks an incredible 7 languages, including Mandarin). He has been in Weifang for 4 years, and volunteered to show us around the city.

My first class has proven to be rambunctious— they take some time to catch on to tasks, cannot seem to keep their hands off one another, talk too much, and there are 28 of them. Thank goodness for my assistant, because the traditional Chinese teaching style (yelling) seems to be the only way to quiet them down.

I was able to get some pictures of my second class, who has proven to be my after-lunch delight— they are quick to pick up on my instructions and what I am teaching, they are cooperative, they do not feel the need to constantly touch each other, and there are only 21 of them. Yesterday I taught them some different occupations (doctor, nurse, teacher, scientist, miner, etc.) and had them tell me, in a picture, what they wanted to be when they were older. They are amazing artists for grade one students, and they have great penmanship as well (I asked them to write their name and the name of the job as well). Below are a couple of my favourite smiles.

The food has been incredible so far. The school has gone to great lengths to accommodate my vegetarianism (they ensure half the dishes are meat-free) and the choices are all fantastic, not to mention extra-large portions. Even the food we have eaten outside of the school has proven delicious. Monday night we went to a restaurant and had our first “hot-pot” experience. We were brought our huge pots of steaming soup broth (mine was tomato-based) as well as a tray with little items to add to the bowl, such as rice noodles, corn, cabbage, spices, meats, and a raw egg. You dump whatever you want into the big bowl and it sizzles and cooks for a couple minutes before you can eat it. Delish!!!

Last night Jason showed us around the city a little bit. There is an underground mall about a ten-minute walk away, an “Eaton Centre-ish” mall right outside our hotel (similar prices, too), and a nightly market within a 5-minute walk. The market was great. There are endless vendors, sometimes selling the same things, but it is the place to go if you want to try your hand at some serious bartering— it is expected here, and it is almost an appreciated art. There were also food vendors, a couple carnival-style games, some puppies, kittens, and rabbits for sale, and an area where you can pick out a porcelain item and hand-paint it at a table. The neon lights in the city are mesmerizing, and without the Chinese characters, I could mistake the city for a cross between Toronto and Las Vegas. Here are a couple photos:

We have certainly become accustomed to the stares as we are, from what I have seen, the only white people in our immediate area. Some people have even taken pictures of us when out walking. Kids have run up to us to say hello, giggle, and run back to their parents. We feel like celebrities!!

Tonight we finally decided to take it easy and relax after our nightly “meeting” where we discuss how are lessons went. Of course, by “relax” I mean play a number of card games that kept us entertained for a couple hours (Dutch Blitz, Anomia, and President). It was nice to stay off our feet for the night, and will be nice to get into bed before 11:00, which leaves this post finished until next time!

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First Day

My first day of teaching is over and while it was tiring, it was exciting!

We arrived at the school for breakfast and were pleased to find fried eggs, loaf bread and a bread similar to naan. There were also packets of warmed soy milk, and a large (very large) bowl of water with some sort of grain— reminded me of barley or oats. After eating, we went to the staff room and met the Chinese/English assistants that would be helping us in the classroom. I was paired with a young woman just out of teacher’s college whose English name is Lolo.

I was nervous for my first class but as soon as I walked in and saw their cute faces, I relaxed. Their homeroom teacher, Katherine, introduced me to the class as well as Lolo. They were all able to repeat my name with no troubles (I think Jenny is a common English name for them to take). My plan for the day was to teach them how to say “My name is ____” but things quickly changed when I learned that only 2 out of 28 of my kids had English names. I considered just going with their Chinese names, but after hearing two of them, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it. So instead, I put a list of English “boy names” and “girl names” on the board. Anne had given each of us a Canada sponge football the day before, so I pulled it out of my bag and told the students that when I threw the ball to them, they could choose their English name. They really enjoyed this!

After they had their English names, I wanted to learn something about them, so I asked them what they like. “My name is Jenny. I like pineapple. What do YOU like?” I was appreciative for my assistant Lolo, because she could help translate for some students who didn’t understand. It’s also hard to get used to how different the teaching methods are here— one of the biggest differences is the volume of your voice. Being a calm person, I am not one to yell when I get upset or need students’ attention. I’m the silent type. Here, teachers will yell, but it’s not just this that is surprising. Whenever they ask their students to repeat after them, they want their kids to SCREAM the words/phrases back at them. As you can imagine, this makes for a loud school!

After all the kids had finished their pictures, I took a picture of them showing off their artwork. Below is a picture of my first class. Lolo is on the left in the white.

And of course Lolo wanted to get a picture of me in there…

A school worker brought us back to the hotel after lunch at the school and we had a nice long break before heading back for our second class. My second class is smaller (21) and the kids seemed to be more advanced with their English. They are also much more enamoured with me than the first group, and called me Miss Jenny all the time. When I left for their 15 minute break (like a recess), they all said “Bye Jenny, see you!” (I’ve heard “see you” a lot, as well as “let’s go”). I didn’t get a chance to get a picture of this group, but I will tomorrow for sure. They are my little gems.

Looking forward to day two. I’ve been told there will be an “opening ceremony” for the camp in the morning. We were asked to do a “performance—- a song or dance” but Anne stepped up for us and said we would just be doing a short introduction. Hopefully this is the case, I didn’t particularly prepare a performance in all my planning for the teaching experience!

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The flight to Weifang was short and sweet (compared to Thursday’s, of course). It was under two hours and despite being on a smaller plane, the ride was probably smoother than Thursday’s. We had to take a bus shuttle out to the plane and climb the stairs (I’ll admit, I felt a little like a celebrity, or a member of the Royal family). The drive to the city was a nice change from the Shanghai sights. On both sides were rows and rows of trees, fields, farms, and water. It kind of felt like home!

Before getting to our hotel, we stopped at a different hotel to eat lunch. Our hosts, Miss Kerri and Miss Liu, had pre-ordered a slew of dishes that were brought to the rotating table once we arrived. Of these dishes, one was particularly interesting— cooked cicadas. MMmm! Only one member of our group tried it and he said it wasn’t too bad, meanwhile, our Chinese hosts were popping them in their mouths whenever they would spin by them. You’ll see them in the front right in the picture below:

Our hotel certainly isn’t as luxurious as the airport hotel we stayed at in Shanghai, but it is more than I expected (Brock prepared us for the worst possible scenarios, a good strategy I think). There is a spa, gym, art gallery, tea house (not cheap to have tea here!), and games floor where you can “rent out” a room for free with a small group of people– there is a Mah-jong table with all the little pieces for you to set up. After exploring we were able to unpack before our dinner with the principal of the school we would be at for the 5 day summer camp this week. Yes, we will be teaching at two different schools while we are here. This came as quite the surprise to us and was a bit of a disappointment as we would only have 5 days to get to know our students, and then we would be leaving and teaching at another school. But, at this point, we were still trying to remain positive about the situation and we were excited to teach.

The principal of the school did not speak English (strange for an International Foreign Language School) but brought along a woman from the school who did. During our dinner, another family-style meal, we received a few more surprises. Each of us would have 2 classes (teaching one group of kids in the morning, and the other in the afternoon), with up to 32 students per class (poor Heather!). Our group leader Anne expressed her concern about the situation as Brock had informed us we would have one class of no more than 20 students for a whole day. Again, we tried to put that aside and remember how much they were paying to have us at their school. They had already paid for all our meals in Shanghai, as well as subway passes and tours.

Upon returning from dinner, we had a group meeting in Anne’s room and determined (by pulling from a hat) who would be teaching which age group. I ended up with two grade 1 classes with 28 and 21 students. We sorted out what we would try to accomplish for our first day and called it a night. We were being picked up at 7:20 to be taken to the school for breakfast in the morning, and we needed a good night’s sleep before our first day!

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Arrival in Shanghai and Day of Touring

We arrived at Pudong International Airport on time and were exhausted. We were greeted by the two teachers from Weifang, Miss Liu and Miss Kerri, who guided us to our pick-up van. The ride to our hotel was about an hour (we hit some traffic) and a little unnerving. The lines on the road seem pointless as drivers are constantly crossing and re-crossing, cutting each other off, and they do not use their signals. So, you can imagine the number of honking horns on the road!

Below are some photos of the hotel, the Shanghai Hongqiao Airport Hotel. We’ve been told by our course leader Anne that we should not expect this kind of luxury at the hotel in Weifang, so we are certainly enjoying it while it lasts!

We had dinner at a restaurant in the airport since we were tired of travelling. I was nervous about finding foods without meat, as almost every picture I had seen of food while we were searching had meat in it. But our hosts Miss Liu and Miss Kerri spoke with the waitress and found me vegetarian things– fried rice without meat and tomato soup with veggies. There’s a picture below!

Today my roomie Heather and I naturally woke up at 4:30. Still trying to get used to the time change. We were to meet Miss Liu and Miss Kerri in the hotel lobby to go for breakfast before exploring the city. We ate at a small breakfast spot in the airport. I really enjoyed my meal, a green onion omelette wrapped around two light, fried sticks (almost like long skinny doughnuts), with a thick soy sauce inside. Every meal came with hot or cold soy milk, but I couldn’t stomach it!

We headed to the subway after breakfast and went to Yuan Garden, a beautiful garden with old architecture. The garden is surrounded by street vendors with extremely cheap merchandise. The owners have calculators and they use them to negotiate prices with you (bargaining is an appreciated art here).

We then went to a reputable shopping district where there are high end designers. Lunch followed, family style (equipped with the rotating table). The day was incredible hot, so I enjoyed a smooth coke with lemon. Our final stop was the Jingan Temple, an ancient Buddhist temple that was turned into a plastic factory during the Industrial Revolution. It is located directly in the centre of the Bund, in the city, and it was strange seeing such a beautiful, historic place in the middle of tall buildings. The temple had incredible large statues, and locals were paying respects, bowing and kneeling in front of these marble structures.

It was back to the hotel after this tour considering how hot we were. And here I am, reporting back! These first two days have been incredible. Our hosts have been so accommodating and have made sure we are fed and comfortable with what they have planned. We fly out tomorrow at 9:30 to Weifang, so our bags need to be packed for 7:30. Not looking forward to another flight, but excited that the teaching experience is getting closer!

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With two hours to kill in the airport, now would be a good time to blog! The time has finally come! Actually, it really creeped up on me, considering I didn’t start a countdown until the course was done (last day of June).

The plane leaves at 2 (just found out there is a delay due to air traffic in Shanghai) and there are a whirlwind of emotions at the table of teachers. Feelings of being unprepared in terms of travel items (did I forget something? Why didn’t I bring that, the kids would have loved it?!), and the stress of going into the unknown (what age group am I teaching? Where are we staying in Weifang?) has been replaced by anxieties of being on a plane for 14 hours. Contemplating the Gravol…

Unfortunately, my mindlessness led to a security official searching through my carry-on for the “over 100mL” liquids I had packed the night before— Minute Maid orange juice boxes for the plane and unopened bottles of water. Guess I’ll have to drink on the flight attendants’ schedules. Why does your heart race when going through security, even when you know there’s nothing illegal in your bags? (Or is it just me?)

A week and a half ago, the small group of teachers that I was part of (7) was informed that the school we were supposed to be attending was no longer going to host teachers. This threw everyone for a loop as 5 of us would now have to attend another school in another city called Weifang (2 hour flight North of Shanghai). This also meant we would be required to get on another plane upon arrival. The good news came just yesterday when we were told we would be able to spend 2 nights in Shanghai before flying to Weifang. We will therefore get a whole day to explore Shanghai, hopefully getting to do a couple tours in the city.

Here is a link that describes the school we will be at. There aren’t any photos of the school, but there are lots under “Custom and Culture” > “Scenic Spots”. The “Delicacies” section is also interesting… note the scorpions and their health benefits…

And a short video on Weifang…

All other emotions aside, I am so excited to start this adventure with some great people. It will definitely be something I will always remember and I’m sure it will improve my teaching practice beyond what I can imagine! Stay tuned for further updates!

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Module 2

Module two had a heavy focus on strategies we can use to accommodate ELLs, planning and instruction, and how we can make vocabulary an intentional focus in our classroom. The activities in this module were very practical in nature. Along with completing a close examination of some documents from the Ministry of Education regarding ELLs, we were asked to conduct our own research. We were to find one activity that we could provide to the group, a resource they could use in their classroom in China. The resource could be a game, a way of reviewing, an activity, a song, etc. Not only did this task allow us to put some of our learning from Module 1 into practice, but it also built up a tool kit of some great resources that we can bring with us and use with our students in China, and with our future students. I’ve included the final activity in the module, my reflection, below.

“Whether you are teaching an ESL class or a mainstream class that includes English language learners, it is important to establish a learning environment that supports second language acquisition. Comprehensible input is fundamental to second language acquisition.” (Coelho, 2004, p. 183)
How can we make vocabulary an intentional focus during our planning and teaching? What, specifically, will you try to incorporate into your own teaching practice this summer in China, given that students are likely to be relative beginners in English (e.g. they will be familiar with the alphabet, have a good sense of phonemic awareness, but lack vocabulary)?

In terms of planning, I have learned that vocabulary is an important foundation in language learning. Vocabulary can help students understand concepts and ideas and develops their ability to use academic language, which differs from everyday language. While both are important, they serve different purposes. Everyday language will help them adjust to their new surroundings and navigate new environments while helping them communicate with teachers and peers. Academic language will help them express and communicate their understanding of course content. Vocabulary should therefore be an intentional focus while planning.
Considering my students in China will lack vocabulary, I will try to make it a focus each day. When planning, I will first determine how I want students to be able to use the vocabulary. Is my aim to get them to correctly identify words? Is it to be able to use the correct term in a sentence? Or is it for them to be able to use the words in a song? These aims will likely grow increasingly more complex into the second and third weeks. I will then need to consider the best way to initially introduce the new lexicon to my students—would they learn this vocabulary best through a slideshow of the terms with a visual underneath? Or would a word wall work better with the images drawn/taped underneath? Or would they benefit most from completing their own drawings underneath the new words in a handout?

I will then need to consider how students can practice the new vocabulary; would a game be the best way? Or would a worksheet be best? How can I get students to talk to each other using the new vocabulary? Are two activities enough or do I think my students will need a third activity to reinforce the new vocabulary they have learned (this I would try to determine based on their existing knowledge). Finally, I will need to think about the best way to assess my students. How will I know they have learned the new vocabulary and what would be the best way to demonstrate this (this will be based on my first step in planning, which was determining how I wanted students to be able to use the new vocabulary; i.e. if my goal was for them to be able to speak the new words in a sentence, I would want the assessment to involve an oral task).

Based on readings throughout this module, I have realized the importance of including a variety of opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning, and will therefore take this into consideration when planning. By diversifying my strategies, not only will I be engaging students, but I will also be catering to the different learning needs of the students in my class.

In terms of teaching, there are a number of ways that I can make vocabulary a focus in the classroom. Visual aids such as word walls, chart paper, and anchor charts can give students something to refer to during class and physically displays the importance of vocabulary. Considering students will constantly be learning new lexicon, its importance will also be stressed through morning reviews. By reviewing the words every day, I will also get a good sense of how well students are picking up on the vocabulary and who might need extra help. I can also make vocabulary a focus by encouraging my students to use it in their everyday conversations with their peers at school (opportunity for me to observe their knowledge and skills) and with their parents at home. In a similar manner, it will be essential that I try to use these words as much as possible while teaching so that students can hear them repeatedly and recall what they mean (whether that be by looking at the word wall, imagining the picture they drew to represent that word, or remembering the game they played using these words). As we saw in the video on Edugains, saying words with students, reading aloud with them, or singing with them is another strategy to minimalize the anxiety that they may feel when repeating new information. I will therefore try to participate in this way whenever I can. Finally, games can be fun and engaging while also incorporating the vocabulary that has been introduced throughout the days/weeks. In doing so, students can see that learning English can be fun and that practicing vocabulary through games is something they can do outside of class to help them remember new words.

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Some more notes on the course…

After completing two modules I thought I would drop in and share some more thoughts on the course.

One thing I have been enjoying the most so far is reading the posts from other course members. The activities/tasks set out in this course are brilliant because they lend themselves to very diverse responses. For example, one of the activities asked that we choose a grade level and a passage from a story/novel and explain the pre-reading and during-reading strategies that we would use to help ELLs (English Language Learners) understand our chosen passage. Not only was there diversity in the grade levels that everyone chose, but there was also a great deal of diversity in the reading materials we chose. Some recognizable authors represented in this activity included: Robert Munsch, Jon Scieszka (The True Story of the Three Little Pigs), Alice Sebold (The Lovely Bones), Dr. Seuss, Eric Carle, and Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia). These activities give us the freedom to explore different grade levels and subject areas while considering the best way to provide accommodations to our ELLs.

Course instructors continue to post information about the trip and what can be expected. The leader for my group has posted travel advice (tips for being comfortable on the long flight), specifics about dress code for teachers at the school where we will be teaching, and some resources for us to use that he has found successful in the past.

I should also speak about the trip meeting that occurred at the Brock Hamilton Campus a couple weeks back. All those enrolled in the course attended a 9:30-2:00 meeting where we were provided with some more information about the trip, including but not limited to: flight information, cultural differences to anticipate, preparing for the heat, what to wear when we teach, how to incorporate songs into lessons, and information about money (Visa and debit cards, ATMs, and RMB). It was also at this time that we were given back our passports, all equipped with our Chinese VISAS. This was definitely an exciting moment (especially for someone who has not traveled outside of the States and Caribbean).

We also had the opportunity to gather in our teaching groups and meet with our group leaders (some of us will be in Shanghai while others, including myself, will be a 20-minute high-speed train ride outside of Shanghai). While in our groups, we divided all the themes we will be teaching to our students (i.e. sports, travel, occupations, seasons, weather, etc.) amongst ourselves so that we each had one or two days to plan. When we arrive, we will share all of our resources (to ensure consistency amongst the teachers in the school and to cut down on our own planning).

Overall it was an informative meeting. One of the most important pieces of advice I took away from this meeting was that we need to be flexible. We may not know the age group of our students until a day before we begin teaching (this is the definition of being flexible in the teaching world!). The meeting definitely renewed my excitement for the trip and got my wheels turning in terms of how I can prepare for this incredible adventure!

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