2017 / 9月
文‧陳亮君 圖‧莊坤儒 翻譯‧Scott Williams
王政忠所主張的「同儕鷹架」（Scaffolding Instruction）與「提問策略」（Asking Questions），就是希望不同能力的學生能藉由事先預習、共同討論，以及在老師提問的引導下，逐漸形成自己心裡的閱讀圖像。這需要高度的教師專業與教學經驗，才能在適當的時機，引導學生作深度思考。
Ivan Chen /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Scott Williams
The car wends its way along a winding mountain road, flanked by verdant forests and bathed in warm sunlight. Our destination comes into view as we cross Longcao Bridge in Zhongliao Township, Nantou County. We are headed to Shuang Wen Junior High School, where grassroots “flipped education” is taking root in Taiwan.
Nantou County’s Shuang Wen Junior High School acquired lovely new facilities when it was rebuilt after 1999’s Jiji Earthquake, but the performance of its students since then has been even more impressive. Shuang Wen contends with the usual challenges of a rural Nantou school—the outbound migration of the area’s population, a relative paucity of teachers and an often disadvantaged student body—and yet in 2017 24% of the school’s students earned “A” or better on the Chinese-language portion of the Comprehensive Assessment Program for Junior High School Students, well above the national average of 17.9%.
On average, the school’s freshmen outperformed the national average for their grade by 2.6 points, and the Nantou County average by four points. This achievement is made all the more impressive by the fact that Shuang Wen’s freshmen begin junior high school below the national average. To learn how the school has managed this turnaround, we take a look into the classroom of Alex Wang, director of academic affairs at the school.
Tying education to experience
At the start of the summer session, Wang adjusts his new students’ seat assignments based on their interactions and level of participation. He also gives careful consideration to the seating layout, putting the students together into groups of four or five, and dividing the whole class into five of these groups. The groups on the left and right side of the room are each arranged in an “L” shape, while the group in the center forms a “U,” ensuring that all the students can see him. Today’s lesson is a modern poem entitled “Time Follows” (“Suiyue Genzhe), written by the poet Xiang Yang.
Wang begins class by giving the students a 40-question test to see which Chinese characters they recognize and know how to pronounce. Many of the students get only five or six answers wrong, and the homework he assigns the class is simply to write out the characters they got wrong. His approach is much more targeted than the traditional one, which would have had all the students learning the same things in class and doing the same homework, regardless of their individual needs. Wang then asks the kids “warmup” questions that assess how much they have learned at home, help them anticipate the content of the upcoming lesson, and encourage them to make connections between their own experience and the subject of the lesson.
Seeking to start an educational conversation, he asks them: “Does modern poetry require that verses have meter?” “What period in a person’s life does this poem depict?” “Which lines in the first stanza describe childhood?” The kids tell him: “It goes from childhood to maturity, old age, and death.” “It mentions horse’s hooves because children love to jump around.” “Because the second hand of a clock moves fast, which reflects the quickness and liveliness of children.” Wang then poses follow-up questions based on their answers. He guides the students as they respond, using the small whiteboards on the desks as mediums for interaction and to lead them to the underlying questions raised by the poem.
Wang’s method uses foundation questions to guide students through the reading of a written work. Their purpose is to help make students aware of the writer’s point of view and the evidence marshaled to support it. Foundation questions lead to challenge questions: “How would you describe children?” “If we were facing death, what might we do to keep our memory alive?” The resulting discussions help the students connect with the material, appreciate the joy of reading, and learn more about life.
Flipping motivation and learning
The transition from elementary school to junior high school focuses on changing external behaviors—using external incentives such as points, tokens and awards to guide learning—while also gradually introducing students to the joy of learning. In the second year of junior high, posing questions becomes more important. A teacher can ask about a poem’s sense of rhythm, its use of allusion and metaphor, and the author’s reasons for choosing particular words, because students have now progressed to the point of enjoying learning for its own sake, and enjoyment has become their biggest motivator.
One of the key ideas of “flipping” the classroom is that students first study by themselves using materials their teachers have uploaded or otherwise made available via a learning platform. In class, the teacher addresses any problems the students encountered during their self-study, and facilitates discussion. The process is almost the inverse of the traditional sequence of lecture-oriented class followed by homework.
Wang advocates “scaffolding instruction” and asking questions: guided by their lesson preparations, class discussion and their teacher’s questions, differently abled students form images in their minds of what they are reading. But identifying just the right moment to push students towards a deeper understanding of a topic requires a great deal of pedagogical skill and experience.
The foundation questions target aspects of a piece such as its topic, its structure, and the information it presents, whereas challenge questions, such as, “What do you want to be remembered for when you pass away?” “Why do you want to be remembered for that?” help students to develop their own perspectives as readers. They then use their responses to create “mind maps,” and share the results of their self-study and group-study through presentations.
Creating a good atmosphere
Wang runs his classes at a rapid clip and in an open manner. He sees a teacher’s job as creating a learning environment in which students feel safe and confident, and seeks to establish a conversational forum that is relaxed, comfortable, and educational. Within this setting, the teacher encourages students to think and express their thoughts with confidence, while providing them with guidance and reminders that help keep them on track.
Wang says that while he personally may come across as a little rough around the edges, he pays attention to everyone’s needs and thoughts, and is willing to go the extra mile to help out when things go wrong. “I do it because I feel like those external problems end up coming back to haunt me. Helping resolve them enables me to do my job better.”
Change through education
Although Wang likes to take it easy outside of his working hours, he is active in the classroom, learning and sharing along with his students. To him, “grassroots” means enabling students in areas that lack educational resources to recognize that the process of exploring questions and finding answers leads to knowledge, skills and personal cultivation.
Graduates of Shuang Wen Junior High School have formed a volunteer group numbering more than 100 young people who come back every winter and summer vacation to help students currently enrolled at the school. Someday, these returnees will be the nucleus of their community’s transformation. Their periodic returns have already led to the establishment of new local businesses, and greater numbers are coming back to stay. Still more exciting is that three of the 22 students in Wang’s Chinese class today commute from Taichung every day. Twenty years ago, who would have thought that students from Taichung would be willing to attend a rural school?
A winner of three national teaching awards, Wang has in recent years also organized a professional growth workshop for educators that has been attended by 20,000 teachers from around Taiwan. In addition, more than 1,000 teachers from abroad have observed his classes, and nearly 100,000 people participate in the online educational community he created. A self-study tidal wave of historic proportions is now sweeping through Taiwanese education, powered by Wang’s grassroots “flipping.”