Education Insight| Strategies for In-depth Chinese Reading

“Reading is the mother of learning,” said Soviet educator Sukhomlynsky. At Huili School Hangzhou, we believe that extensive reading is one of the keys for cultivating literacy skills in our pupils.

However, when trying to develop reading skills some questions arise:

  • How can we encourage pupils to read and help them fall in love with reading?
  • How can teachers provide teach effective reading instruction?
  • How can we teach our pupils to read in-depth for academic purposes?

At Huili School Hangzhou, we have taken the following steps:

The First Step: Set goals and begin with an end in mind

There is a saying in China that success depends upon preparation, and without such preparation failure is certain. This highlights the importance of setting clear goals. In order to prepare, we must clearly know what our final objectives are. At Huili School Hangzhou, we carefully selected 15 books for 4th graders and 16 books for 5th graders. These selections were based on the recommendations of famous scholars, our own curriculum plans and an analysis of the reading levels of our pupils at the beginning of the semester. Pupils posted the reading lists around their classrooms in order to help them keep track of their own reading progress.

In this way, each pupil is able to maintain and track their reading plan based on their current progress. By having a clear objective and accountability for their own progress, pupils are encouraged to develop the mindset of independence.

The Second Step: Arouse interest and encourage in-depth reading

Confucius said, “Those who know the truth are not equal to those who love it, and those who love it are not equal to those who delight in it.” There is no doubt that interest is the best teacher, especially for learning activities like reading that require a high degree of autonomy.  So why do people fall in love with reading? Think about the reasons that have made you indulge in reading as you grew up. In general, we see three key reasons why children develop a passion for reading. Peer influence, personal connection with stories and teacher recommendation. For example, when hearing your classmates say that there are only two kinds of people in the world, those who have read Harry Potter and those who have not, you may be inclined to start reading the Harry Potter series in order to gain a sense of belonging and keep up with your friends. This may then result in you falling in love with the books of your own accord.  As the story unfolds, you may also experience a gamut of emotions – from tears to joy.  An emotional connection to a story is a powerful hook to keep a reader going. Finally, think back to your own childhood? Did you become a fan of the book ‘A Dream of Red Chamber’ because of the influence of your high school Chinese teacher? Many children are the same. Recommendations from those you respect can assist you in finding your initial path into reading.

We have found that the pupils of Class 4A are keen on discussing Harry Potter during the break, whereas the pupils of Class 5A found the two books ‘The Monitor out of Duty’ and ‘Lotus Town’s Morning Market’ highly attractive. Our Grade 4 and 5 pupils are also interested in two books that their teachers are reading with them, ‘The Kite Runner’ and ‘The Moon and Sixpence’. They regularly ask the teacher for more details about the storylines of these two novels.  Clearly the three factors of peer influence, resonance with a book’s characters, and teacher recommendations, form a golden triangle to develop a child’s interest in reading.

For different reading contents, it is of central importance to select appropriate reading methods from basic reading to analytical reading, promoting reading in-depth step by step. We hope that our 4th and 5th graders will be able to gain deeper meaning and comprehension of a reading, starting their in-depth reading journey in Chinese (Adler, 1940).

Taking all of the above into account, we have developed three corresponding reading strategies:

The first strategy is to regularly read independently. We encourage every pupil to develop a habit of reading half an hour before going to sleep every day. As they complete their independent reading tasks, pupils are required to fill in a reading logbook where they record the most exciting things they have read during the week and keep track of their reading progress.

The second strategy is to use the weekly reading class for peer reading and skimming. At Huili School Hangzhou, pupils enjoy reading quietly in the library during their reading class, thinking about what they are reading and sharing their thoughts and achievements with other group members.

The third strategy is to let teachers and pupils read together, helping pupils to develop analytical reading skills. The famous physicist Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” In the transition from basic reading to analytical reading, teachers are the “shoulders” for pupils.

In the Autumn of 2018, we selected one of the 5th grade book recommendations, ‘The Cat That Lived a Million Times’, to provide a joint reading experience between teachers and pupils. In this book, an arrogant cat is reincarnated many times to many loving owners, but he cannot find peace until he learns to love another more than himself. At first, pupils were amused by the cat who, by an interesting twist of fate, was reborn one million times. Then, they started to think more deeply by learning to evaluate the cat’s past owners as it came back to life. Finally, pupils tried to view the cat as an individual; critically evaluating his likes and dislikes and asking interesting questions such as “why did the cat live a million times?” “Why did it stop coming back to life?” “What is the real meaning of life?”

To take their skills a step further, we are also helping our pupils to understand the power of reading from the perspective of “output”, by encouraging them to write and share their reading achievement with others. Due to length limitations in this article it isn’t possible to share all of the fantastic writing done by Huili pupils, but I encourage anyone who is interested to get in touch with our academic team for a chance to read some.

I hope that our pupils will fall in love with reading, develop good reading habits from an early age, and receive a lifetime benefit from reading excellent literature.

By following the strategies above (as well as many more), Huili School Hangzhou fosters a true love of reading among our pupils. A lifelong love of reading is one of the best gifts we can give our budding young academics.

Reference

Adler, M. J. (1940). How to read a book: A guide to self-education (2nd ed.). London: Jarrolds.