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Innovations of teaching chiNese composition in schools in mainland China  

2009-03-06 10:07:27|  分类: 论述 阿斯匹林 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Shanghai University, China

Abstract. The author advocated the use of two new writing teaching methods --- ‘Method of Teaching on Topics’ and ‘Method of Live Demonstration in Teaching’ --- and offered concrete examples of lesson plans with games that can relieve students’ anxiety on doing composition in class. These methods stress the incorporation of real-life scenarios as ‘topics’, which are to be distinguished from the conventional ‘titles’ used, and the effectiveness of learning through role-playing. Students would then be equipped to adapt to the changing society through practical writing tasks. The author also addressed to the problem of lack of stimuli in provoking the students to write, and sentimental thinking (attachment to the writing subjects) in writing as an often-neglected mechanism was introduced into the games. The author then concluded the essay by stating the ‘Standards of Chinese Teaching’ upheld by the PRC Ministry of Education.

 

Keywords: China, ‘Method of Teaching on Topics’, ‘Method of Live Demonstration in Teaching’ (Joyful Composition), games, writing scenarios

1. INTRODUCTION

Since China opened its door to the outside world in the 1980s, the teaching of composition writing in Chinese became formalized and focal point of many secondary-school teachers. From 1980s to early 1990s, although many new teaching methods and teaching streams were introduced, there was still no great progress in teaching writing because many teachers were still dominated by the same genre-centric belief that genre teaching is the most important thing (Ma 1995).

After the restoration of college entrance examination in 1977, writing teaching was added to the curriculum in most universities as a public course. In the post-1980 period, universities basically followed the stance of ‘intellectual static teaching doctrine’, which was mistakenly regarded by many teachers as merely teaching of writing theories. The concrete writing task is the process of writing teaching; teaching theory would be the structural theory of the composition. Therefore the 8 basic elements of writing such as theme, style, structure, expression, language, and modification would be the framework for teaching materials for theory.

In class, students were taught established theories and the basic elements of writing. Apart from the concrete lesson itself, students were required to write their compositions in 45 minutes on the topic given by teachers.

Concentration and sentimental thinking training before writing were not taught in class, nor did the teachers induce and instruct the students on how to prepare for writing. They only cared for the final result instead of the process. They did not need to pay any attention to the complex process of how students rounded off their work or expressed their feelings and thoughts, which led the students to mistakenly think that it is for none other than the teachers that they had to write.

Since 1980s, there had been no great efforts to improve composition-writing teaching at university level. It was until early 1990s that Shanghai University created a new teaching method called “The Method of Teaching Writing on Topics” after accepting more advanced theories of teaching writing both at home and abroad and undertaking a profound education reform. This had changed the traditional concepts and methods of writing teaching.

 ‘The Method of Teaching Writing on Topics’ was published in the Journal of Shanghai University (Li 1999). The method endeavours to develop students’ abilities, including those of observation, memory, imagination, deduction, operation, expression, and even more, creation, which shifts traditional method from the narrow goal of improving written ability in expression.

In addition, systemically designed games are introduced into classes, in replace of the boring, monotonous writing lessons to creative, cooperative ones. Shanghai University was awarded by the Ministry of Education the second-class prize for the publication of the book titled ‘The Method of Teaching Writing on Topics’ in 1994 and third-class prize in 2001 for its achievements.

To solve the problems of writing lessons in primary and secondary schools in Mainland China, the professors of Shanghai University revised the ‘Method of Teaching Writing on Topics’ and then created the ‘Method of Live Demonstration in Composition Teaching’, making it more adaptable to the primary and secondary school environments (Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1999). In the following years, they had several experimental lessons in both primary and secondary schools and made some achievements. Several books were published, including such books as ‘Transforming into Quality Education’, ‘Joyful Composition Writing’ for primary students, ‘Writing Compositions with Interest’ for junior students, ‘Writing Compositions Creatively’ for senior high school students and the ‘New Theories and Methods of Composition Writing Teaching’ for teachers’ use. The new teaching method also attracted the attention of the media when they had demonstrated talks in Beijing, Shanghai, Henan, Jiangsu, Fujian, Jiangxi, Guangdong, Hong Kong SAR and Singapore, winning approvals from both teachers and students.

Although being a mediocre school, Qing Yang Primary School in the City of Wu Xi, Jiangsu Province was nominated as the experimental base for composition- writing teaching because the principal of the school Zhang Saiqing tried hard to apply the new method --- ‘Method of Live Demonstration in Composition Teaching’ --- to all grades in less than two years and students had greatly improved their writing abilities.

This new method was also applied to other fields such as reading comprehension, mathematics and English teaching. Meanwhile, it also changed the traditional method of assessment on compositions, thus liberating the teachers from the complex and meaningless work. Now not only the students’ abilities to learn and create have been improved, the school was also nominated as an experimental base by the Education Department of Jiangsu Province as well and was under supervision for research by the country.

2. theories and Methods of Composition Writing Teaching

The new concepts and methods developed in the recent 10 years could be realized in theories and exercises as follows: one is ‘Method of Live Demonstration in Composition Teaching’ designed for the primary students and the other is the ‘Method of Teaching Writing on Topics’ for the secondary and university students.

2.1. The Method of Live Demonstration in Composition Teaching (Joyful Composition)

To have an insight of the specialty of writing teaching in primary schools since 1991, Professor Baijian Li of Shanghai University had been carrying out researches at the frontline, guided by the new teaching method called ‘Method of Live Demonstration in Composition Teaching’ in primary schools. It aimed at arousing the students’ enthusiasm to write and helping them to develop the ability to make observations by playing games in a relaxed atmosphere.

Writing teaching in primary schools is based on the same foundation as those of secondary schools and universities, but of a different approach. We must take into account the psychological and physical characteristics of the youths and design exercises systemically.

To arouse their interest in writing, we must encourage students to fully engage in this type of training with a light mood. Only when the students feel it no longer hard to write would they be eager to express themselves (Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, 2001).

2.1.1. The Theory of Live Demonstration in Composition Teaching

There are two prerequisites necessary for writing good compositions: first is the ability to observe and collect materials in real life and second is the passion to write. The former of which, unfortunately, is unavailable to those primary school students. Alongside, the composition topics cannot arouse children’s mood for writing, and that is the reason why traditional topic-naming compositions fail to work or even bring about sequels to primary students. Take Li Bai, a famous poet of the Tang Dynasty, as an example. He needed to drink alcohol when he was writing poems since alcohol to him was a source of inspiration for writing ideas. Lu Xun, the greatest writer of modern China, always depended on cigarettes as a stimulus to writing. Even those famous writers and poets had to depend on some stimulation to arouse their passion to write, it is thus quite unreasonable to ask those primary school students to sit straight and remain silent and finish their compositions upon the request of their teachers in class.

To overcome the above problem of students, we introduce games into writing teaching. After playing a series of interesting, scientific, operative and demonstrative games, the students will then meet the two prerequisites discussed above and therefore be eager to write something about the games.

Next, we will take the game of playing dumb show as an illustration of the mechanism of the ‘Method of Live Demonstration in Composition Teaching’.

1)       The teacher announced that neither he nor the students was allowed to speak in class and the students’ attention was caught, which would have them prepared to make observations.

2)       In counting down, the students felt quite uneasy with the silence.

3)       The teacher wrote ‘doing ____?’ on the blackboard and then asked someone to fill in the blank to offer an answer to the problem, that was, what they would do that day. If the blank was not filled in correctly, the students might feel even more puzzled.

4)       When the words ‘playing dumb show’ was written on the blackboard, the teacher would ask two students to come up to the blackboard, still in silence.

5)       One student would stand on the left and the other on the right. When the teacher walked towards the corner of the classroom, holding something around his arm, more questions would arise: ‘what is the teacher doing?’

6)       The teacher handed “a rope” to the two students and asked them to swing “the rope”, only then would the students come to know that they were required “to skip rope”.

7)       The students would feel overjoyed when “rope-skipping” became part of the writing teaching.

8)       In addition to “rope-skipping”, they also played the game of tug-of-war, either 5 to 5 or 10 to 10. It would become more interesting and dramatic if 10 tall, strong boys and 1 thin, small girl were placed at each end. And what was more, the teacher must write on the blackboard that ‘the girls must win’.

9)       Therefore contradiction might arise when the students were eager to express themselves, but the rules of the game did not allow them to do so. The only solution to the problem was to give them pieces of paper and ask them to express themselves by words on the topic of playing dumb show (Li 2001).

The game would offer various sensual stimuli to the students and would leave a deep impression on them, which meant they had something in hand to write about. Meanwhile, their eagerness to express themselves after the game would make it easier for them to write because they were keen to do so.

 

 

2.1.2. The Use of the ‘Method of Live Demonstration in Composition Writing’ to help students gain insight through games

The ‘Method of Live Demonstration in Composition Writing’ aims to provide the students with a real life scenario in which they are encouraged to observe and then vent their passion by writing.

Games offer boys and girls an opportunity to grasp a look of their future and the platform of which they will be eager to demonstrate themselves and become brighter and stronger.

Once games were introduced into the class, the tense atmosphere was relieved and the students would relax themselves and become less cautious about the concept of composition. They must fully engage in the games so that they could observe what was happening around them carefully, experience role-playing, and have their retrospective mode of thinking strengthened. Competition was necessary in games because children would tap their potentials incredibly. With the real  scenario provided by the games, the teacher could help children to develop their abilities to observe and note down what they experienced in games. Thus, revitalizing a lighter mood in composition lessons.

We would give an example of a game called “Tapping Codes” so as to demonstrate how to encourage the children to write.

1)       A teacher announced: ‘We will play a game about taping codes and the rules of the games are: (a) If I tap the table with my palm and then with my finger, it means No.1 (symbolized by *-), if I tap with my palm and then my fingers twice, it means No.2 (symbolized by *--) and so does No.3, No.4, No.5 etc.; (b) If I tap with the joint of my finger and then with my palm, it means No.6 and if I tap the table twice with the joint of my finger and ten with my palm, it means No.7, an so does No.8, No.9 etc.; (c) as for zero, I only need to tap the table with my palm.’

2)       Then the students are required to guess after the teacher taps the table.

3)       Everyone, including the teacher, is coded and then the game begins.

4)       First the teacher taps a code, and the student represented by the code must stand up and tap another code. Those who fail to answer correctly will have to stand at the corner of the classroom as punishment and be interviewed by the teacher.

5)       The teacher must tell the students that the emotions of the ones being punished are important and must be paid attention to.

6)       If the teacher does not answer correctly, he will bear the same punishment and this will attract students’ interest and they will write about it in their compositions (Li 2001).

After the game, the idea of writing composition will vanish gradually in their minds and the fun of the games overwhelms other concerns. That is the goal of the ‘Method of Live Demonstration in Composition Writing’ which aims to encourage the students to express their feelings and enthusiasm through playing games.

For many years, we always write something with purposes, such as for sake of examinations or contests, while the idea that writing as a form of expression is always neglected, so it is necessary for the students to first relieve their emotional burden and to develop some interest in games. Only then can they be able to write down what they think and be eager to express themselves.

2.2. The ‘Method of Teaching Writing on Topics’

The ‘Method of Teaching Writing on Topics’ is a method of teaching by means of prepared and systematic ‘processes of training’. It helps the students who have grasped the basic writing techniques to some extent to discover their lives, arouse their own emotions, engender their own interest and enrich their own imagination by the methods of induction, communication and stimulation. It therefore develops their creative thinking and polishes their skill of changing thoughts into words.

The concept of ‘topic’ in the ‘Method of Teaching Writing on Topics’ differs much from that of the ‘title’ of ordinary composition teaching, which gives rise to differences between ideas of writing and teaching methods. The following is the illustration of the method by comparing between the ‘title’ and the ‘topic’.

2.2.1. ‘Title’ is simple, but ‘Topic’ is complex

The ‘title’ of the ordinary composition classes is basically in a simple form. Students merely think and write within a stipulated scope in accordance with the ‘title’ assigned by the teacher. ‘Topic’ is different in the sense that it is usually related to the entire event, which is multidimensional and the themes to be selected are multi-faceted.

Take the topic ‘Launch a Post Office’ as an example: when we give ‘title’ alongside with the exercises of writing ‘letters’, generally speaking, we set an objective and teach the students the form and requirements of writing letters first and then ask them to write.

However, the topic ‘Launch a Post Office’ is different. First of all, it is an exciting and interesting activity in class. Secondly, it is a natural writing action. The procedures of teaching are as follow:

1)       Ask all students to write down their names, addresses and postcodes on pieces of paper. Having collected them, the teacher then distributes them to the students again so that everybody has another student’s piece of paper.

2)       In the meantime, the role of every student has changed. Some may imagine themselves as students just arrived at American (so they may imagine themselves as those staying in other countries or regions), and then they should write letters from America to friends of their country of origin.

3)       Having finished the letters, they should fold the pieces of paper and put them into envelopes with the names, addresses and postcodes on them and make up addresses in American where they are supposed to live in.

4)       After the letters are written within a set time limit, pick out 3 to 5 students as ‘head’ of the post office and the ‘postmen’ to collect and deliver all the letters to the students.

5)       Those who receive the letters should reply to them and ask for ‘delivery’ by the ‘postmen’ again (Li 2001).

It is not difficult to observe from the example above that this kind of exercises of writing letters is very different from composition writing under a given single title. The students have to play different roles due to the ‘letters from America’. Besides, they have to make up addresses in America, which can enhance their imaginative ability. To set up a ‘post office’ in the classroom and deliver letters to students can improve their oral skills as well as practical skills. Delivery of letters is easier to be said than done, especially when they encounter a letter without a definite address. The ‘head of the post office’ has to pay some attention before sending it to the receiver.

Usually, the process of writing a letter is conducted quietly and inactively. Yet when this method is used, the classroom is full of happiness and laughter. The students usually perform the same kind of exercise twice as they write two letters at the same time (a letter and a reply). After the students finish writing the letters, the teacher can make some comments and present some theories of writing which will be very helpful for the students to understand how to write effectively.

Nearly all ‘topics’ bear the characteristics mentioned above. Therefore the training by writing on topics is much more complicated and interesting than that of ‘writing’ on a particular title, and contains much more information.

2.2.2. Emphasizing Creative Potentials

Prime Goal of Writing on a ‘Title’ is writing itself, but ‘Writing on Topics’ involves other knowledge and taps the students’ creative potentials in writing.

Many ‘procedures of training’ in the ‘Method of Teaching Writing on Topics’ are based upon the theory that contemporary students have a great deal of potentials and the ability of transferring knowledge. The ‘procedures of training’ are not only based on the belief in the students’ creativity and the ability of exploring new knowledge but also on the respect and persistence of the spirit of originality.

Another ‘topic’ showing these characteristics to a great extent is called ‘2 triangles, a line and a circle’.

1)       The teacher explains what a ‘design’ is by examples.

2)       Ask the students to make new designs with 2 triangles (no matter they are big or small, with sharp, obtuse angles or isosceles triangles), a line (no matter it is short or long) and a circle (no matter it is big or small).

3)       Ask the students to draw designs on the blackboard and name them, just like all other artworks with their own names. Each name should not be shorter than eight characters.

4)       If each student is required to write a narration, recalling the whole process of creating the designs, then ask the students to create a title for each article.

5)       All the students begin to write (Li 2001).

It is apparent that the fore-mentioned ‘topic’ needs geometric knowledge and requires the students to be imaginative.

 

2.2.3. Particular element of Writing

A ‘Title’ requires the students to write an entire article, but a ‘Topic’ sometimes may only require completion of a particular element of writing.

The ‘title’ of a composition requires students to write a complete article. However, ‘topic’ is different, because it is essentially a ‘way of training’, which often requires the students to focus on some ‘elements’ of writing.

There is a ‘topic’ which is designed for ‘intentional description’, an element aiming at improving the trainees’ ability to observe and describe. This sort of description is similar to the narration of a gambler’s hand in the Austria author’s Zewig’s story ‘A Woman’s 24 hours in her life”.

Description seems to be a writing technique, but it has indeed great correlation with the writer’s ability of observation. When we begin with a ‘topic’, we learn to describe by observing and vice versa, because observation and description are just two sides of the same coin.

There are a lot of topics deserving intentional descriptions: a grain of rice, a pair of shoes, a hand, a finger, a watch, a picture, a leaf, a walking stick or a pair of glasses. Moreover, the time and the length of the article should be prescribed.

2.2.4. Encouraging Cooperation

A ‘Title’ treats a single student as an object, but a ‘Topic’ requires cooperation between students throughout the writing process.

In general, a composition with ‘title’ assigned by the teacher should be completed by individual students, while a ‘topic’ is different, for it has more dimensions, complicated digressions and goals. Sometimes compositions based on a certain ‘topic’ have to be completed by the joint efforts of several students, which in turn trains their ability of coordination.

Take the ‘topic’ of designing a logo for the school as an example. It requires the teacher to take the following steps in class:

1)       Ask every two students to form a group.

2)       Every group should provide a ‘notice’ eliciting for school logos. The teacher then delivers all the collected ‘notices’ to the students, so every group receives a ‘notice’ with various requirements.

3)       Each group should design a logo for the school according to the requirements set forth in the ‘notice’ and write an article entitled ‘how I design the logo’.

4)       Return the ‘notices’ and the completed logos to the original groups just like being in a real client-designer relation on product retrieval (Li 2001).

We can observe from the above that two interchanges of roles take place during the entire writing process. At first, the writer plays the role of the ‘school’ or the ‘client’, who needs to write a ‘notice’ soliciting for logos; then he shifts to play the role of a ‘designer’, who has to design a logo together with an account for his design. Eventually the writer becomes the ‘school’ or ‘client’ again, who should write the commentary accordingly.

The conversion of roles and the style of writing serve as a tough test of the students’ ability to respond but the pressure is reduced when the process takes place under such vivid and interesting circumstances.

2.2.5. Learning to Explore Life

The contents for certain ‘titles’ require accumulation of knowledge in daily life, but ‘topics’ help students to learn how to explore their lives.

A ‘topic’ usually involves vivid and interesting activities for all the students whereas the procedure of teaching would proceed with the activities at the first place and composition at the second. Thus the writing class is no longer a pure practice of writing; rather, it is a big and multidimensional activity which can improve the students’ abilities of planning, organization and coordination.

Take the topic ‘everybody is a book’ as an example. It is a ‘topic’ for the students to learn how to write biography, which requires mutual aid and coordination among students.

The procedures of the class are as follow:

1)       Divide the whole class into two halves, each with the identical number of students. Then the teacher briefly explains the method of writing a biography.

2)       Ask all students to describe their faces on a piece of paper. The description should focus on the facial characteristics with around 300 characters. Neither name nor sex is allowed to appear on paper and hairstyle and clothing are excluded from the list of description.

3)       When anyone finishes his/her writing, they fold up their pieces of paper, and exchange theirs with another from the other half of the class so that every student can have one passage of facial description.

4)       While the students of the first half remain seated, those of the second half are asked to leave their seats and pick out the ones being described according to the facial descriptions on the paper.

5)       The students of the second half should become ‘journalists’ and try to interview those who were spotted out according to the description.

6)       While the students of the second half remain seated, those of the first half are asked to leave their seats and pick out the ones being described according to the facial descriptions on the paper.

7)       The students of the first half should become ‘journalists’ and try to interview those who were spotted out with accordance to the description.

8)       Every student should write a mini-text of a ‘special report of a person’ according to the collected materials (Li 2001).

 

 

 

2.2.6. Fostering Comprehensive Quality

The ‘title’ of an argumentative writing provides nothing but the arguments in question, but the ‘topic’ of an argumentative writing fosters the comprehensive quality of students’ participations in developing arguments.

The key to teach argumentative writing is to produce ‘verifiable’ subjects and trigger off the students’ desire to argue. Therefore it is critical to create an environment of debate as well as to stimulate the enthusiasm of the students. No idea is better than holding a moot for this purpose.

The following are the scenario for the topic ‘three-staged moot’ and the procedures:

1)       Stage 1: The students in the class are divided into two groups. After the teacher having declared the topic for debate, the pros and cons sides should be decided by the representatives after tossing the coin. Then the two groups state freely their viewpoints in turn. If one of the parties has nothing to say reciprocally, it should be deemed as being failed in the argument when the teacher counts to ten.

2)       Stage 2: The class elects two groups of representatives, each side with ten people. Each group occupies one side of the platform. The representatives will come up to the platform to argue for their stance on the topic of debate. Everybody has only one chance to argue and should go back to his seat immediately after he rounds up his speech.

3)       Stage 3: Delegations are selected just like the setting of the TV public debate. There are umpire and the first to the fourth debaters. In addition, they have to write briefs for references.

4)       When the debate is over, the teacher divides the class into two groups again. The students of one group would write down their opinions for the topic while those of the other side would write down theirs against the topic (Li 2001).

Students, who have already pondered over the topic of debate before, have to think, listen, speak, write and act in the process of the debate. As a result, their understanding of the topic, their control of the ground and their familiarity with the evidence can flourish. Hence there will hardly be a problem for them to write a good argument.

2.2.7. Systematic Training

The ‘Method of Teaching Writing on Topics’ includes many systematic and comprehensive training procedures.

Among the ‘training procedures’ of the ‘Method of Teaching Writing on Topics’, there are many large activities which require the students’ participation, organization and planning. Such activities integrate various styles of writing and bear many traits of games. In a stipulated time, not only do the students have to use their pens and mouths, but they also have to organize and cooperate. Besides, they should act, debate, report, direct and imagine. These sorts of training take advantages from other ‘topics’ too and have them integrated and refined, so they are called the ‘kits’ of ‘topics’.

The multidimensional, diverse and synthetic ‘training procedures’ give rise to enormous changes in the writing classes and so are hailed by university students.

The following is a ‘kit’ called ‘setting up a publishing house’. It is an integrated, creative and logical ‘topic’ which belongs to the realms of both extremely abstract thinking and quite concrete visual imagination. In the class, the students’ chains of thoughts have to pass through two obstacles so that they can infer and comment on the imagined ‘books’.

The procedures are as follow:

1)       Every student in the class should provide a title for a ‘book’. However, there is no detailed requirement with regard to the genre of the book.

2)       Everybody should write an ‘abstract’ in about 250 characters for the imagined ‘book’ according to his/her inference or imagination.

3)       Having completed the ‘abstract’, everybody should write the ‘chapters’ and ‘sections’ in the ‘table of contents’ of the imagined book. Every book should contain at least five chapters and each chapter should contain at least five sections. Students should sign on their books.

4)       The students would then exchange their ‘drafts’ of the ‘books’ with one another so that everybody will receive a ‘draft’ of a ‘book’, actually a sheet of paper. However, the students should imagine that theses as very thick ‘books’.

5)       Meanwhile, every student should change his/her role to an ‘editor’ of a ‘publishing house’. The ‘editors’ each should write a letter of revision, providing detailed advice on how to revise the book. The letter means that the publishing house agrees to publish the book, but gives suggestions for further revision. The letter is sent back to the author, who should post his book to the publishing house after the revision is made. Such letters should contain a lot of comments (Li 2001).

Everybody can write texts of three genres with regard to the ‘kit’: abstract, table of contents and letter of revision. Students should therefore change their roles when their thinking is wandering around different subjects. In addition, they have to name their books and design the plots and contents. The difficulty of the assignment is understandable. But all the students are absorbed in their work in the environment of a game and the result is satisfactory.

2.2.8. Activating Students to Write

A ‘Title’ clams down the students, but a ‘topic’ activates them.

If the only goal of asking the students to write on a title is to examine, test or inspect the students, then a topic expects that the students, through the comprehensive training in writing knowledge and the practice of the writing process, to make full use of their potentials, display their abilities, realize the key to writing and appreciate the charm of writing. Compared with a ‘title’, a ‘topic’ is more humane, moderate, friendly and affectionate.

If all the students calm down and begin to meditate when the ‘title’ is declared, then they should predict the final score of this term using the ‘law of moving average’. For almost the whole process adopts self-learning guided by teachers; therefore the students will not feel nervous and frightened but excited, happy, and full of challenges.

See the following procedures of the class:

1)       Briefly introduce the way to design a ‘questionnaire’.

2)       Briefly introduce the way to write a ‘report of prediction’.

3)       The two students sitting at the same desk should design a questionnaire.

4)       Begin the investigation with the questionnaires among the classmates (meanwhile the class is somewhat in a mess but order still remains).

5)       The two students sitting at the same desk begin to write the ‘report of prediction’.

6)       The teacher makes a summary at the end of the class (Li 2001).

In short, students learn to design ‘questionnaires’, investigate among classmates, summarize the results of the questionnaires, make diagrams of results, predict the scores and write a report of prediction, etc., all of which demand the students’ actions. The ‘Method of Teaching Writing on Topics’ contains a lot of ‘kits’ for training concerned with various fields in daily life.

Generally speaking, we can find that ‘topic’ is a brand new concept to teachers. It will thoroughly activate the solutions to the shortcomings of the ordinary methods of teaching composition and bring about a revolution in teaching compositions. The ‘Method of Teaching Writing on Topics’ is a set of systematic procedures of training and is supported by an entire set of theories, which will be put into the book entitled ‘Topics --- Comparison: The Training Procedures’ to be published by Shanghai University Press.

3. Evaluation of the theories and methods

Professor Pan Xinhe of Fujian Normal University has made a precise evaluation of the reform in teaching method since the 1990s.

The ‘Method of Teaching Writing on Topics’ established by Shanghai University brought a new life to writing teaching. There is no obvious definition of what The Method of Teaching Writing on Topics is, but it can demonstrate their pursuit for vivid and creative atmosphere. Every experimental attempt will lead the students to a new area in which they can have a deeper understanding of how to change their thoughts into words. They add discussions, games and life scenarios to writing teaching, encouraging the students to fully engage in the games. It arouses the students’ enthusiasm to write in a light and harmonious atmosphere. Nearly all modern ideas and advanced experiences can be demonstrated in the ‘Method of Teaching Writing on Topics’ (Pan, 1997).

In the early 1990s, in the preface to the book ‘The Tutorial of Method of Teaching Writing on Topics’ published by the Chinese Language Press, the Chairman of Writing Committee and President of Shanghai Theatre College, famous prose writer Yu Qiuyu wrote:

A capable teacher is a person who can realize what in his mind in a series of operative exercises. The unique advantage of the book is that it requires all the students to fully engage in writing with a series of systematically designed exercises. And therefore they can have a more profound understanding of those succinct writing theories. I think these exercises may be the most valuable part of this book.

He also wrote:

These exercises not only pursue for a light atmosphere and for stimulating the students’ interest, but also for a simulated situation in which they have to write according to the need of the society. In other words, in order to keep up with the changing society, the teaching methods have to be improved (Yu & Li, preface of ‘The Tutorial of Method of Teaching Writing on Topics The Chinese Language Press, 1994:2).

Since the ‘Method of Teaching Writing on Topics’ was published in the Journal of Chinese Teaching in Secondary Schools of Capital Normal College, we have received letters from many teachers all over the country, giving their approvals to the new teaching method. For example, Mr. Li Peiyi, a teacher from Hua Mao Experimental School in Bao An District, Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, wrote that he tried hard to apply the new method in his school as the head of the teaching and researching group. In less than one semester, they had made a great progress. Both the enthusiasm of the teachers and that of the students were aroused and most of their compositions were published.

4. Summary and Prospects of further research

For many years, writing teaching in universities in Mainland China is disconnected with that in secondary and primary schools. The same situation persists in between secondary and primary schools, which wastes a lot of resources.

The gap could be bridged when the more advanced teaching concept in universities is introduced to secondary and primary schools, which enhances the effect of writing teaching.

According to ‘The Standards of Chinese Teaching’ published by the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China (2001), teachers have the obligation to consider students’ conditions first and then provide topics that are not too difficult for them. Under this kind of regulations, teachers should also encourage the students to make up topics by themselves and what is more, they must give comments on students’ compositions in oral form, written form or grading. Following these principles, there is no doubt that the new method will lead us to a new era in which we will take a revolutionary step to improve the current situation.

Appendix I

Table 1. The ‘Method of Live Demonstration in Composition Teaching’ Applied in Qing Yang Primary School, Wu Xi, Jiangsu Province (Class One, the First Grade).

 

Purpose

 

Genre

 

Game

 

Number

of

Students

 

Time

(Mins)

 

Number

of words

 

Number of

sections

 

Number

of topics

provided

by

students

 

 

To learn how to observe

 

Narrative

 

Playing with water

 

32

 

30

 

114

 

1

 

5

To learn how to observe

Narrative

Eating something in class

32

35

102

1

8

To learn how to imagine

Narrative

Idiom Imagination

32

30

121

2

14

To learn how to examine pictures carefully

 

Narrative

Changing texts into plays

32

45

198

4

10

Notes: After the game, all the topics are provided by the students. The more the better. Teacher: Zhuang Xiaodan, Sep – Dec 2002.

 

Table 2. The ‘Method of Live Demonstration in Composition Teaching’ Applied in Qing Yang Primary School, Wu Xi, Jiangsu Province (Class Two, the Second Grade).

 

Purpose

 

Genre

 

Game

 

Number

of

Students

 

Time

(Mins)

 

Number

of words

 

Number of

sections

 

Number

of topics

provided

by

students

 

 

To observe others’ actions

 

Narrative

 

Making face

 

32

 

40

 

128

 

1

 

6

To write down one’s feelings

Narrative

Blowing chicken feathers

43

40

159

1

9

To listen to music

Narrative

Going to concert

32

45

164

2

14

To listen to others

Narrative

Delivering words

 

43

35

239

4

15

Notes: Teacher: Heng Lijia, Sep – Dec 2002.

 

Table 3. The ‘Method of Live Demonstration in Composition Teaching’ Applied in Qing Yang Primary School, Wu Xi, Jiangsu Province (Class one, the Third Grade).

 

Purpose

 

Genre

 

Game

 

Number

of

Students

 

Time

(Mins)

 

Number

of words

 

Number

of

sections

 

Number

of topics

provided

by

students

 

 

The ability to observe

 

Narrative

 

Colleting and observing leaves

 

38

 

40

 

128

 

4

 

7

The ability to describe others’ actions and gestures

Narrative

Keeping silent

38

4

246

4

8

The ability to describe others’ actions and gestures

Narrative

Opuscule playing

34

40

187

2

3

The ability to observe

Narrative

Orange

37

40

153

2

3

The ability to describe others’ actions precisely

Narrative

Restoring actions

38

40

306

3

13

Describe feelings, actions and scenery

Narrative

A number-

trap

33

40

514

4

7

The ability to observe and imagine

 

Narrative

Observe how to harness dolls

 

37

40

280

3

8

Notes: Teacher: Lu Yunlin, Sep – Dec 2002.

Table 4. The ‘Method of Live Demonstration in Composition Teaching’ Applied in Qing Yang Primary School, Wu Xi, Jiangsu Province (Class one, the Fourth Grade).

 

Purpose

 

Genre

 

Game

 

Number

of

Students

 

Time

(Mins)

 

Number

Of words

 

Number

of

sections

 

Number

of topics

provided

by

students

 

The ability to observe and operate

 

Narrative

 

Making framework

 

29

 

40

 

428

 

4

 

9

The ability to imagine

Narrative

Going shopping in Carrifoure

24

45

853

5

10

The ability to observe

Narrative

Guessing riddles

32

50

610

7

15

The ability to observe and cooperate with others

Narrative

Dribble with a spoon

30

40

489

5

9

Notes: Teacher: Lu Yunlin, Sep – Dec 2002.

 

Table 5. The ‘Method of Live Demonstration in Composition Teaching’ Applied in Qing Yang Primary School, Wu Xi, Jiangsu Province (Class one, the Fifth Grade).

 

Purpose

 

Genre

 

Game

 

Number

of

Students

 

Time

(Mins)

 

Number

of words

 

Number

of

sections

 

Number

of topics

provided

by

students

 

 

Make observations

 

Narrative

 

Playing dumb show

 

38

 

40

 

542

 

8

 

12

Change words into scenery

Narrative

Idiom films

38

40

538

9

23

Make imagination and describe somebody

Narrative

Who is he

38

45

589

10

15

Making imagination and describe somebody

Narrative

Describing on his nicknames

 

38

35

521

8

12

Notes: Teacher: Wei Yan, Sep – Dec 2002.

 

Table 6. The ‘Method of Live Demonstration in Composition Teaching’ Applied in Qing Yang Primary School, Wu Xi, Jiangsu Province (Class one, the Sixth Grade).

 

Purpose

 

Genre

 

Game

 

Number

of

Students

 

Time

(Mins)

 

Number

of words

 

Number

of

sections

 

Number

of topics

provided

by

students

 

 

Make observations as long as possible

 

Narrative

 

10 minutes teacher enters

 

45

 

35

 

614

 

8

 

1

Learn to describe  something

Narrative

Rubber

45

35

640

9

2

Learn to describe something

Narrative

thumb

45

35

632

12

5

Learn to imagine and describe somebody

 

Narrative

Who is he

45

35

732

12

8

Notes: Teacher: Hu Aiqi, Sep – Dec 2002.

Table 7. The statistics of change in writing speed in 13 weeks after the ‘Method of Teaching Writing on Topics’ is applied to junior students in the second grade of Shi Jia School in Shanghai.

 

Week

 

Average Number

of words per article

 

Average time taken

 

Average number of words per minute

 

 

1

 

585

 

45

 

13

2

834

41

20

3

1038

53

19

4

731

36

23

5

1132

46

25

6

920

42

21

7

749

31

24

8

828

35

24

9

756

29

26

10

1015

43

23

11

638

23

27

12

890

34

26

13

1082

43

25

 

Notes: Teacher: Hu Aiqi, Sep – Dec 2002.

 

Figure 8. The Visualized Version of Table 7.

30

 

23

 

 

20

       

            

15

 

 

10

 

 

5

 

 

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

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