My favorite time of year is the three weeks in July when I travel to China to teach American educational strategies to middle school Chinese teachers of English in Fuzhou. Even though I’m a veteran teacher, I find the experience continues to invigorate my classroom teaching. Within the preparation, I reflect on and identify what really works for me in my own teaching, and then in the training, I bridge the cultural gap with professional dialogue regarding which of these strategies might best enhance the Chinese English classroom - a setting far different from my own.
In previous years, I have taught these interactive, engaging strategies within the context of American literature. Understanding that China’s English Language curriculum is based primarily on expository text, I wanted the Chinese teachers to learn teaching strategies that they could use within their prescribed curriculum and, in addition, learn some American poetry and stories that they might share with their students.
This year I decided to emphasize the pairing of non-fiction with fiction, a concept known as twin texts. I wanted the Chinese learner teachers to experience the contrasting levels of engagement a reader has with fiction versus non-fiction and to understand how one kind of text enhances the understanding of the other. So, as an example, I paired an informational handout on the American bison with two buffalo poems (one by Carl Sandberg, the other by Vachel Lindsay).
In retrospect, as we head into week two of the training, I believe the pairing of non-fiction with fiction is strengthening my teaching. After experiencing this educational strategy multiple times, the Chinese teachers already more fully understand that the the combined use of twin texts and interactive teaching strategies is a proven way to engage their students and increase their comprehension and thinking skills. I am hopeful that when they return to school in the fall, the Chinese teachers will not only begin to use more interactive teaching strategies, but they will also seek out poetry and stories that pair with their informational texts.
In the attached photo the learner teachers are playing Mix and Match with vocabulary words they’ll encounter in the buffalo fact sheet and poetry.