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In Vietnam, creative teachers give students jolt to spark thinking, improve learning

Wednesday, December 02, 2020, 11:12 GMT+7
In Vietnam, creative teachers give students jolt to spark thinking, improve learning
Nguyen Hong Giang gives instructions to nine-graders from his homeroom class at Kien Thiet Middle School in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Quoc Linh / Tuoi Tre

Two young teachers in Ho Chi Minh City have reinvented themselves to teach in unorthodox ways, sparking their students’ creativity and passion for difficult subjects and scientific research.

These teachers, dubbed ‘masters of creativity,’ make continual changes instead of staying in their comfort zone to motivate their junior and senior high school students to innovate, come up with their own answers rather than waiting for correct ones from their teachers, and voice their own views.

Student-centered lessons

Among them is Nguyen Hong Giang, who has been known to his colleagues and students at Kien Thiet Middle School in District 3 for his creativity and initiative efforts to renovate techniques in teaching Vietnamese literature and improve the students’ experience and learning capability.

His literature lessons, which adopt a model of ‘corners and stops’ with his students placed at the very heart, never cease to amaze and motivate the children.

Improvised as they may appear, the lessons are actually fruits of diligent preparation by both Giang and the middle schoolers.

For a single lesson, which is limited to consolidation units due to the entailed large amount of work, the students are divided into small groups and put in hours preparing materials related to the focal point of the lesson.

Giang keeps close track of the students’ progress and steps in to help wherever they encounter difficulties.    

When the long-awaited class meetings finally come, the groups serve as ‘stops’ placed at different corners of the classroom.

The group members will visit each stop where they exchange what they have found out about their own part and piece together the ‘jigsaw’ of what the lessons are about by the end of the meetings.

“The students can acquire new skills through this approach instead of passively taking in knowledge. The time-consuming preparation is really worth it, in the central role students will be caught up in the tasks and remember what they have learned longer,” Giang explained.

The young teacher, who obtained a master’s degree a few years ago, puts his choice of workplace down to sheer destiny.

Giang finished high school in the northern province of Ha Nam and made university entrance attempts in Hanoi but ended up becoming a student at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Education.

Upon graduation, he planned to find a teaching job at a high school in the southern city but he has found a home at Kien Thiet Middle School for nearly eight years now. 

As a homeroom teacher, he always makes sure the 27 students in his class all receive individual attention.

He spends time tutoring at school those who fall behind in schoolwork or find it difficult to fit in on weekends. With the sessions ending at as late as 9:00 pm, the teacher and students also have a heart-to-heart over a simple meal bought from the class savings.

“He’s a fun guy to be with. He always tells funny stories and packs his classes with fun so we can learn more quickly,” remarked Anh Tho, a student from Giang’s homeroom class.

Despite his young age, he is trusted with training his school’s team of elite students for national- and city-level student contests in literature.

His team has pocketed several prizes over the past years, with the latest being three second prizes and one third prize at last year’s city-level contest.    

Giang’s efforts are highly appreciated.

“Giang is so responsible and enthusiastic, and he never gets daunted in the face of adversity. I have observed his lessons, which I find quite interesting,” commented Do Thi Kim Phuong, principal of Kien Thiet Middle School.

“The school management can rest assured with him in charge of coaching our elites."

A switch that can’t be turned off

Like Giang, Huynh Minh Hai, a physics teacher at Marie Curie High School in District 3, goes to great lengths to hold learning activities aimed at making classes more enjoyable while allowing students to put what they learn to real life.

Huynh Minh Hai (center) instructs his students how to assemble circuit boards during a practice session at Marie Curie High School, located in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Quoc Linh/ Tuoi Tre

Huynh Minh Hai instructs his students how to assemble circuit boards during a practice session at Marie Curie High School in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Quoc Linh / Tuoi Tre

During one typical practice session, Hai gave theoretical instructions before dividing the class into groups of four students and having the groups practice assembling circuits on their own.

“Such lessons allow students to take a more active, central role and discuss ways to finish the task together. They can only make it once they get to the root of the problem,” Hai explained.

His destiny with the school, where he has worked for nearly 10 years, is put down to his internship.

The undergraduate back then chose the school for his internship out of his admiration for world-acclaimed Polish-French physicist and chemist Marie Curie, whom the school was named for.

After the two-month internship, during which he performed outstandingly, his single choice of workplace came naturally: Marie Curie High School and of course he landed the job.

Apart from his classes, which allow students to think critically and grow without being told, there is another area that makes Hai popular around the school: coaching the school’s team of research students. 

He and his team work hard to develop brilliant ideas which receive high acclaim from annual school contests into projects that have successfully competed at scientific innovation contests organized by the city. 

He gives clear instructions and helps his students visualize expected findings and products of the projects while allowing them freedom to research what they are really hooked on.

“Of course, the projects originate from the students’ own ideas while I just give orientation and instructions. We aim at coming up with final research products that fit high schoolers’ levels,” Hai shared.

As the leader, Hai humbly said all the credit should go to other young teachers who help prepare the students, and they have much to show for their efforts, including three second prizes and two third prizes last academic year, together with three first prizes in 2018.      

Seven projects have also been selected for this year’s city-level scientific innovation contest.

Hai’s efforts have been well-received by the school management, who are highly appreciative of his challenging work as high schoolers typically cannot set aside time for research given their hectic academic schedule.

“What matters is that the teachers can pique interest in science amongst the students and get them on the right track. We really appreciate Hai’s and other teachers’ contributions to the success of the team,” noted Nguyen Tran Khanh Bao, the school’s vice-principal.

What Giang and Hai have in common is their eagerness to keep improving themselves. Giang obtained his master’s degree in 2016 while Hai earned his in 2018.

Both have been honored with the Ho Chi Minh City Exemplary Young Teachers Award, given away by the municipal chapter of the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union, for their third time in a row.

“I never cease to teach myself and exceed my limits to keep up with today’s educational trends. I even learn from senior colleagues. Though some of them have retired, I still can put their lessons into practice,” Giang shared.

161 exemplary young teachers honored

The Ho Chi Minh City chapter of the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union conferred the city-level title of '2020 Exemplary Young Teacher’ on 161 teachers working in all grades from preschool to university on November 18.

The title winners were picked from 1,548 candidates from 71 educational establishments.

The title was formerly conferred annually on teachers aged 35 and below with outstanding performance and contributions, particularly innovative teaching methods.

Starting 2020, the title is given to teachers on a biennial basis on Vietnamese Teachers’ Day -- November 20 -- along with some changes in the criteria.

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