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Summer Peer-to-Peer English Tutoring Program 2006 - Essays

All our tutors at the Fukien Middle School (North Point) program have written essays sharing their experiences in the Chinglin Tutoring Program 2006.

We have essays by Rose, Calista. Francis, Byron, Jordan, and John.

Students from Fukien Middle School (North Point) in the program have also written their reflections to share with us all.

I had always thought that “peer tutoring” was no different from normal teaching until I joined in the Chinglin Peer Tutoring Programme (July- August 2006). The past three weeks I spent with students at Fukien Middle School was a brand new experience to me. Not only could I feel my students improving every day, I myself was also getting more and more mature with every lesson.

When I first stepped into the classroom of Fukien Middle School, I was a bundle of nerves. I had been taught by others my whole life, but this was the very first time I ever formally taught anyone. The first lesson didn’t go as smoothly as I had expected and a small incident occurred when the other tutors and I were trying to play “Simon Says” with the class. Apparently we hadn’t explained the regulations to the students clear enough, for most of them were “out” after the first round of the game. Then something totally out of my expectations happened---the students who were still “in” stood up and joined those who were “out” in a corner of the classroom and wouldn’t go back to play the game. It had been quite an embarrassing moment for us. Finally, after a lot of persuasion and re-explaining of the regulations, the students gradually filed back into their seats. They became brilliant at the game once they understood how to play it and the rest of the lesson was filled with laughter and happiness. It was then I learnt that one of the most important conditions to become a good teacher is to understand the students’ needs and think from their perspectives.

I soon discovered that endless lecturing was not the most efficient way for the students to learn English. Concentrating three hours a day on lectures only made them feel sleepy. Therefore, I and my two partners, Jordan and Jennifer, only devoted half our time to lecturing. For the other half of each lesson, we helped the students to revise what they had learnt in the form of various games. This policy proved to be a real success. Slowly, I felt some subtle changes taking place among the students. At the beginning of this programme, they would just stand there saying nothing when I invited them to speak. With every passing day, however, I noticed that they became more and more talkative and willing to express themselves or ask questions in English. They would even volunteer to answer my questions. The atmosphere in the classroom was no longer tense, but light and relaxing.

However, strange enough, I discovered that the best way to help the students improve was not by making them do exercises or playing games with them, but by simply trusting them. If you yourself truly believe that your students have the ability to do something, they will be able to accomplish it, difficult though the task might seem. I still remembered once asking them to write an essay on “My Favourite Season”, which apparently was something they rarely did. When I told the class they had to write at least 100 words in an hour, I was met by exclamations of surprise. All of them seemed to think it was an impossible task. However, after being encouraged to try, all of them were able to write more than 100 words. One particular student even managed to write more than 200 words! His happy face after realizing what he had accomplished was the best reward for me that day.

These three weeks of tutoring at Fukien Middle School is undoubtedly the most meaningful activity I have taken part in this summer. It made me rethink about and redefine “peer tutoring”. “Peer tutoring” is not a simple one-way teaching. It is beneficial to both the students and the tutors, who learn a lot from each other. To me, not only have I learnt how to become a good teacher, I have also learnt how to communicate with peers coming from backgrounds different to mine and establish friendship with them. I would like to say a big thank you to all my students---Michael, Leslie, Willy, Annie, Michelle and Sara, whose enthusiasm and willingness to learn had made teaching enjoyable to me. And of course, I would also like to sincerely thank my fellow tutors---Byron, Calista, Francis, Jennifer, John and Jordan , with whom I have become close friends in these three weeks, for their hard work and brilliant ideas.

Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Maplewood Education Services and Fukien Middle School for organizing this meaningful programme for us all. I sincerely look forward to joining in similar programmmes in the coming year!

Rose

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A 3-week-program might be too short for achieving great improvements, but it is more than enough to enrich and brighten a normal summer vacation. Laughter made by students during games, moans because they hated homework, wishes on the last day of the program – All these are unforgettable moments and experiences I gained in Chinglin Program 2006.

As I was still in New York when the organization meeting was held, I missed the chance of meeting other tutors and joining the discussion about the teaching plan. I would like to take this chance to give a big thank you to all tutors, for briefing me on what happened during the meeting. Furthermore, I would also like to express my gratitude to the coordinators of Maplewood and teachers of Fukien Middle School, for giving different types of advice and information, which helps to run the program smoothly.

The night before program kick-off was arduous for me. Due to my absence of the meeting and limited information I had in my hand, I had a busy time preparing teaching materials for my students. I was rather nervous on the first day, worrying there would be dead air and tedious moments in class, but later on found out my fears were redundant. We merged all students together and start off our very first class with self-introductions and ice-breaking games; the afternoon was eventually filled with a joyful and pleasant atmosphere.

Challenges approached us after the first few days of class; Ideas were running out – me and my partner John, were trying to make lessons more interesting but useful to students. Diverse levels among students – this was one of the most difficult problems to deal with. We tried to separate them into even smaller groups for teaching, hope to see a better effect in teaching. However such action didn’t really help much. Time was running out too– to be frank it is nearly impossible to teach them everything in English (even the basics of English) within 3 weeks. All these problems combined together and turned into a big obstacle for us. Besides, students started to have a concentration problem during class. They complained about the tedious exercises we gave them for both class work and homework, which were relatively useful in our point of views. Honestly, we were a little frustrated by the end of the first week. We didn’t give up, keep on trying various methods to get to know more about them. Finally we managed to take in some skills of communicating with the students and knowing their needs. I wouldn’t say we did the job successfully, but the satisfaction earned was inexpressible.

Throughout the conversations, I have a deeper understanding of students’ backgrounds. It is such a huge comparison with the life of local Hong Kong youngsters are having. Some of them have to work during holidays, unlike students in Hong Kong, who may enjoy their holidays by hanging out with friends.

They may not have their own personal electronic products such as ipod or laptop; they may not have their own room due to shortage of space in their flats; however, they face their life with courage. They are the brave fighters who have the courage to fight for their future. We, the tutors witnessed the hard work they had done and effort they had paid in it. We are sure that one day the students will get back what they deserve since they did pay off.

In conclusion, this is still a precious experience that would benefit the rest of my life. As I teach, I recall and rejuvenate the knowledge and thus enhancing myself as well. I made this summer a meaningful one, hopefully everybody else who joined the program do feel the same. Good luck my peers!

Calista

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This was my first time teaching. It was a brand new experience for me. Before this, I had never even dreamed of teaching at all, or in other words, I never wanted to. I always knew that being a teacher is not at all an easy job, if the students were good ones, brilliant; if not, hell. I am a student myself and I know how I treat and think about the teachers, I also know that teachers do not really enjoy teaching. So there is no doubt that being a teacher is absolutely boring and breathtaking, literally.

When I first knew about this program, I was uninterested, very uninterested. Partly because of the reasons listed above, partly because deep in my heart I knew I am not and will not be a good teacher. But after the first lesson, it came to me that teaching was not really as boring and “breathtaking” as I thought, I guess it was because I had a really good partner.

The students were not bad ones, but not good ones either. They were a bit slow, and it seemed to me that they did not know anything about English, every single word that I think is extremely easy turned out to be some unknown. After a few days I found out that they were not as slow as I thought, they were just not used to listening to English. That was why they did not say a thing in the first lesson. So I decided to speak in a slower pace and use Chinese to help them understand more about what we were teaching.

After three weeks of teaching, the students have made tremendous improvements (at least that was what I thought) and they became more eager to speak in English. Yet if there were more time I would teach them on how to write and more about word forms. Unfortunately, time is limited and all I could teach was pronunciation and give them a myriad of passages to read and due to the lack of topics some students tend to be half awake throughout the lessons. I appreciate their effort in trying to keep themselves awake. If I were the student, I would be sound asleep if I had to work on such boring things.

These three weeks were successful yet unsuccessful.

I feel that I am successful because I taught the students a lot of things and they have made obvious progress. The once reluctant and shy students of mine have morphed into fun and lively companions, there was never a shortage of laughter.

Yet I feel unsuccessful because I did not quite reach the “peer” stage. They were friendly, yes, very friendly. Still they treated me as a teacher, instead of a friend and I can feel that they have an invisible wall in between. If I had more time, I would reach them as a friend, not as a teacher. If I had more time, I would try to know them more and let them know more about me.

Despite the fact that I was more of a teacher than a friend, I have learned a lot from this program. I learned how it was to be a teacher and how to be a good one; I learned that no matter how small you think you are, you can still help someone in one way or another. This is an extremely memorable and enjoyable experience.

Francis

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This Summer I worked in the Fukien School, enlightening students being assimilated from China to mainstream Hong Kong bilingual society. I would like to thank the people who made this opportunity for me possible. I felt that the two weeks I matured and it gave me the chance to give back to the community.

Although I was not present for the entire term. I am hopeful that my methods of teaching could be adopted by my colleagues/friends Jon, Calista, Rosy and Francis. My methods included the systematic repeating of every syllable in every word, as to improve the students\rquote pronunciation. In addition I used the plan of displaying maneuvers so that students could pronounce difficult sounds such as "th" or "z". This tactic has been used for at least a century since Alexander Bell used it to teach deaf people to speak. Finally I also set up quizzes in the format of well-known knowledge based game shows in America. This was conducted in order to make students improve listening, thinking and speaking skills. Furthermore this was hoped to make students more confident in their ability to speak English. I myself have seen students like Leo or Alex (So-So) who were originally not confident in speaking English could now out-perform the most out-spoken student Ben. However these game shows were certainly not a way to produce entertainment. In each lesson I would teach a specific topic. For example: geography, weather, food, family, festivals, animals and school were some of the topics taught. They were chosen to give students the ability to speak about simple topics to a native English speaker more comfortably. The students would also have to remember materials taught to utilize during the game show. As a result their vocabulary improved dramatically because they had to memorize words in order to win prizes.

Even though I was only present during 65% of the entire program I can be sure that my teaching partner Francis did a fantastic job for the remaining week. This is because he tenaciously found and used a newspaper directed at teaching students translations. In class this was read out by students who could soon pick up words readily.

I believe that Chinglin Program is a major success. However I reckon some improvements can be made in the structure of the program. Firstly, it is necessary to add guaranteed and set break times, so that students can have a maximum amount of time in which to learn. Moreover this would prevent students from some classes in disturbing students in other classes. Secondly I believe that the whole program should have an academic activity that involves everyone, to test how much improvement in English the students has really been made.

Finally it is unfair to say that only the students learnt from this experience. The students allowed me to communicate in Cantonese more freely, without being afraid to make mistakes thus helping me speak it more comfortably. As a result the programme was a win-win situation for everyone. I would like to once again thank Perry, David, Nancy and anyone else who was involved. I hope the students learnt a lot from me. I know I did!

Byron

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My experience at Fukein Middle school was only 2 weeks long, but I still believe I taught the kids a great deal. From the very first day my goal was to put something back into the community, and so, I and my colleagues set off to teach the rather important language of English.

On the first day I was quite overwhelmed by the many new faces in the classroom, and I struggled to make myself heard to the pairs of 21 eyes as John and Rosy stole the limelight. However, the mass of students were later split into 3 groups, with me and Rosy taking charge of a relatively balanced group of boys, girls, shy and “outgoing” pupils. In the first lesson we managed to squeeze in some class discussions, as well as reading some of Harry Potter (although we didn’t get past Chapter 1: Privet Drive).

As I am usually the first person to enter my classroom (301), I wiped the board out. The board which was used by the previous teacher had explanations of “past participle, unreal past, passive and active voice……”. I’m no expert in these terms, and my own School (island) has never taught it. The meanings of these words are hard to understand, so I decided to each more speaking and reading rather that writing.

From the 2nd day to the 4th I had to teach alone. This gave me my first real chance to test my teaching ability. I knew the kids had some reading problems, so I played a game where they needed to circle words on the black board that I spoke out. To my delight they managed to circle most words correctly, only on the occasion where two words sound identical did they trip up (i.e. Sheep, Ship). This game also allowed me to introduce new words into the lesson, and to introduce a speaking element as well (I made the kids say the words on the board).

I was told from the beginning that the kids would have an accent, but I still tried my best to neutralize it. One pupil that I renamed Willy, from Wai, had a difficult time saying “Excuse me”, and continuously said “accuse me”. By the end of the 2nd week I think the speaking ability among the class improved as I used a teaching technique where I made the pupils speak fragments of a word. This technique was also heavily used by Byron.

In the second half of most of my lessons I introduced games like: Jeopardy, Hollywood squares, and “The Weakest Link” It was in these parts of the lessons where I tested the students in 9 main categories, obviously the emphasis on English was higher. The categories were History, Sport, Geography, Science, Speaking, Listening, Reading, Writing and grammar. The games were rather fun, and hopefully the kids managed to learn more about the outside world as well.

In the 2 weeks of teaching I have grown to become a better speaker( if not better at least louder), become a more creative individual as I had to constantly think up new bullet proof lesson plans.

This program gave me a unique opportunity to teach 6 pupils that have never left the mainland before, English. The experience had its highs and lows, no where else have I yelled to be overheard, have I been so happy to hear a correct response, have I had to had to through chalk to wake someone up and where I have met such an industrialist bunch of kids. This is the real Fukein experience, no salt and pepper added.

Jordan

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When skiers are about to tackle difficult terrain, they often scan the terrain, observe the various areas that could cause trouble and make a mental sketch of the best possible route that they would follow. When they do decide to ski the terrain, they concentrate on the little details that matter, such as the steepness of the moguls and whether there is any incoming traffic. When they eventually finish skiing the terrain, they make little mental remainders of what went right, what went wrong and what could have done been better. During the course of the Chinglin Program 2006, I tackled the challenge of teaching English with the mindset of a skier. I must say that it was a hard and worthy challenge- it was as mind-boggling and unsettling as skiing down a tree-studded terrain. In other words, at times it seemed hopeless, and other times achievable.

During my first day at Chinglin, the conditions on the slopes were uncertain, to say the least. I did not know the levels of my students and I got the impression that they joined the program because they saw it as an ample opportunity to fool around. They were ridiculously unresponsive and I thought that I was going to ski off a cliff. In other words, I felt like I hit a dead end. And over the course of the first week, the terrain felt mostly the same- icy. It was as if I was trying to teach them too much and they were trying too hard to avoid learning. I did what all sane skiers would do when they encounter such terrain: take a deep breath and reexamine the mental route they were following. I still remember Callista telling me one night on the phone that I seemed too condescending, too frustrated and most of all, too unapproachable. It was that sound observation that kick-started the engine of progress and the very next day, I opened up, revealing little bits and pieces of my character. Immediately, the atmosphere lightened up, and it was a nice way to start anew.

Despite the refreshing atmosphere, there laid many moguls and tree wells ahead. For one, despite teaching my students on a one-on-one basis on important components of English such as reading comprehension and grammar, the improvement they had shown were not consistent. Too often, I’ve discovered, my students either feign their understanding of their material or needed extra time to digest the material, but were reluctant to tell either Calista or me. Calista and I once handed over the reins of teaching a section of grammar to our students in the hopes that they understood the material well enough to explain to their peers. We were disappointed, to say the least. In other words, I felt unbalanced when I skied that route, always just missing the tree wells.

Shortcomings aside, there were many positive things worthy of mention. For example, my class was respectful towards Callista and me most of the time. They asked a lot of questions despite their aforementioned tendencies. Callista, as well as the other team members, were instrumental in contributing to the fun I had participating in this program. Bryan and Jordan were always cracking jokes and Rosy was always showcasing her intelligence. Francis and Callista helped me to overcome my fears of roller coasters and the pirate ship pendulum during the trip to Ocean Park. In particular, Callista acted as my pair of ski poles, helping me to navigate through rough terrain and detecting problems. I must also say that everyone at Fukien Middle School and Maplewood were helpful in this endeavor, with honorable mentions going to Miss Nancy Chan, Mr. Perry Yu, and the people at front desk who always helped me to photocopy material.

The Chinglin program was a great experience for me. I felt that I’ve made a small contribution to the education of the few not as fortunate as I am. The experience not only made me a better person, it also made me a better skier.

John

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