ECNU Teacher Candidates travel to UBC Vancouver

ECNU Teacher Candidates travel to UBC Vancouver for a 3-Week Intensive Study Abroad Program (ISAP)

March 19, 2017

Each year thirty-two students from East China Normal University (ECNU) arrive at UBC Point Grey campus for a three-week Excellent Teacher Training program at the Faculty of Education. Located in Shanghai, ECNU is one of the most prestigious universities in China and is the first normal university founded in the country after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Standing by the motto “Seek truth, foster originality and live up to the name of a teacher” ECNU has kept teacher training as one of its main features since its establishment.

After a long and meticulous application process, students from many different majors (from Education to Science, to Literature, History and Fine Arts) were selected to participate in the Excellent Teacher Training Program. Under the leadership of Dr. Anthony Clarke, a team of UBC instructors designed this non-credit program which features a combination of course and classroom teaching experience, visits to schools in and around Vancouver for classroom observation and interaction, and special guest speakers to enrich the program offering. The objective was to understand western education in order to foster students’ teaching skills and broaden their international perspectives.

Two 3rd year ECNU students attending the program agreed to be interviewed to share their learning experience while here at UBC Vancouver.

Valentina Zhang is an English Major who plans to focus on Secondary Education and to teach English in her hometown, Inner Mongolia. Valentina exudes enthusiasm as she shares her experience.

Q: Tell us about your academic experience and the quality of the program.

This program is excellent! I benefited a lot from the teachers and guest instructors. The discovery learning, problem-based learning, and the experiential teaching inspired me to design different classroom activities to help the students gain knowledge as well as new skills.

In China we learned the theory, while here we applied what we learn through a variety of activities and exercises. I particularly enjoyed the school visits, where we could observe the teaching model, the class arrangements, and see everything in practice.

I want to summarize my learning experience as follows: skills are more important than knowledge; questions are more important than answers; trust is more important than help. This program enabled me to have broader horizons about education and helped me to develop teaching and learning skills as a teacher. Canada inspired a lot of sense of community, helped me to think from a different perspective. Community is vital in the process of learning”.

Q: How does your experience of teaching and learning in Canada build upon yet differ from your education in China?

Teaching in Canada involves many great activities to engage the students. I call this “learning through practice”. In China, there are fewer activities and the lesson focuses more on delivering knowledge. As there are many examinations, the teachers have to cover a lot of material before the examinations. Here the classes are free and open. When I observed the elementary and secondary schools, I found that students can move around freely. In China, there are rules to limit the students’ movement so that they can focus on the lesson.

Also, the classroom displays students’ artwork or valuable resources to help the students learn. In most schools in China, the teachers are the authority in the classroom. There is more teacher-talking time and less student-talking time. There is no colorful artwork on the walls.

What impressed me the most is that in Canada the students are taught to use critical thinking. They learn to communicate and collaborate with others, take social responsibilities and apply what they learn in class into the real world. In China, the teachers care more about delivering knowledge, but the students’ ability to apply knowledge is limited. Many of them cannot handle the problems of the real world.

Q. How will you use your new perspective, training, and experience in this program when you return home?

As the teaching contexts are different, I cannot completely use what I learn here. I must make a compromise between our teaching pedagogy and the teaching pedagogy I learned here, which means I cannot abandon our teaching methods. As for my future teaching, I will apply what I learn here in the following ways:

I would like my class to be a student-centered class. I will organize activities to involve the students in the process of gaining knowledge and learning skills. Partner work and group discussion will have an important role in my class. I will pay more attention to developing students’ ability of applying what they learn into the real world. “Learning through practice” will be the major form of learning in my classroom. And I will offer students more opportunities to go into society and solve practical problems. Also, I will care more about my students’ social development, which means that I will give students plenty of opportunities to cooperate and communicate with others. The aim of my class will be, not only high marks in the examinations (which is difficult to change in China at present), but the student’s responsibility in society.

Finally, I will design the lesson and the class activities based on the students’ background and their interests and I will cultivate students’ abilities of self-study.

Bowen Wang is a Physics major. While a little more reserved, Bowen’s smile is warm and genuine; he projects a strong passion for education.

Q: Tell us about your academic experience and the quality of the program

The most important thing about this program is that it gave me the opportunity to observe and learn educational methodology and to practice what I have learned. The program inspired me and gave an idea on how to design a class, and how to talk to students and their parents. I believe talking to parents is very important, as it gives us a sense of community. What I learned is not a manual on how to be a teacher, but it gave me an idea on how to give the students the opportunity to discover themselves. I learned new teaching skills, but I also had the chance to test my own teaching experience. It was an opportunity to gain feedback and guidance from teachers and fellow classmates. This is a platform to make dreams and theoretical knowledge become a real teaching process. If you want to spend a hard winter, but also to gain a new spark every day, you are welcome to join us at ECNU; it will let you love yourself more because you are a teacher!

Q: Why is it important to get feedback when you practice teaching?

Because feedback can let me know if the students feel confused or uncomfortable during my lessons. It enables me to receive people’s thoughts and ideas that I can then use to continue improving my teaching methods and course content.

For example: when I explained a concept, the students gave me feedback, so I'll know next time whether I should explain a similar concept at a higher or slower pace, or if more stories or pictures should be used. Understanding where the students struggle and what their needs are, I can make adjustments for the next lesson in order to better meet the requirements of the standard curriculum and the students' cognitive level. Feedback allows me to better understand the logic in the students’ minds; it helps me to learn from the student's standpoint, and to find more suitable teaching methods and course content to help each student in their development.

Q: How will your observations about educational methodology in Canada help you become a better educator in China or elsewhere?

Different countries have different teaching environments. Learning and observing teaching methods in Canada has given me inspiration and ideas. It is not limited to how to design study cases or how to organize collective activities. Observing different educational systems will help me build a more comprehensive and dialectical concept of education and teaching, and to enrich my teaching perspective. Therefore, when I design niche-targeted course content and teaching process, based on our own education environment, I can then be more at ease.

At the end of the three-week program, there was a graduation ceremony where the students said goodbye to their teachers with clumsy – yet warm and sincere – hugs; all laughs and smiles as they received their certificates and posed for photographs. Andrea Webb, the program’s principal instructor, encouraged the students to pursue their dreams, and with the poignant words of Mark Twain she sent them off to their future careers as educators:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bow lines. Sail away from safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

- Mark Twain

Story by Andrea Marvan. Photos by Alpha Lam