A Meeting with Dr Timothy Gray
As all are now aware, from the beginning of the new school year Yew Chung International School of Beijing will be welcoming Dr Timothy Gray MBE as our new Co-Principal, taking over from Mr Noel Thomas who has served our school since 2014. Dr Gray will be joining us from the Seoul Foreign British School where he has been Principal since August 2006.
This week Dr Gray spent three days at YCIS Beijing, meeting staff, students and senior leaders, attending our school Open Day and getting a feel for school life. We speak to him about his career in teaching, his ambitions for the school – and being awarded his MBE by Queen Elizabeth II.
Please introduce yourself
I am Timothy Gray – or Tim. I’m from the UK but my wife Kate and I have been working overseas for 30 years. We started off in the Middle East where I became Assistant Principal of Al Ain English Speaking School in Abu Dhabi. From there I took a position as Principal of The British Embassy School in Ankara, Turkey and most recently, I have been Principal of the Seoul Foreign British School. I was also Principal of Great Budworth Primary School, Cheshire for six years. My sons, who were born abroad and at that time had never lived in the UK, considered our time in the UK to be “overseas”! They’ve had a very international upbringing.
How did you discover your interest in international education?
Kate and I started our teaching careers in the UK – but only for a short period of time. I was teaching at a school in Berkshire and it was the headmaster at the school who, in a way, inspired me to seek out something more adventurous. He had been a pupil at the school and then, aside from going to university and serving in the war, he spent his whole life teaching there. I remember very clearly that on the day he retired, he was presented with a cheque for £25, a fake gold clock and a Sinclair Calculator. I knew at that point that I wanted to do something different – Kate and I had just got engaged and we wanted to see the world and have some adventures. So here I am now, a life lived abroad!
What are your initial impressions of YCIS Beijing having spent the last three days here?
It’s been quite a whirlwind! Lots of new faces and things to remember but everyone has been most welcoming – including the students. I’m very glad to be here and I’m looking forward to being part of such a good school.
There are three things about YCIS Beijing that particularly stand out to me. These are the extremely strong IGCSE and IBDP results; the unique bilingual programme; and the forward-thinking and innovative Learning Communities. These are great strengths – and in a landscape where competition is fierce, we need to play to our strengths.
What is your vision for YCIS Beijing?
At the moment, I do not have a singular vision. I need to get my feet under the table, and then I need to listen. I need to listen to staff, students and parents and together, we will decide on our direction and forge an exciting future.
It’s worth mentioning that we already have a very established mission from the Yew Chung Foundation – my vision for the future of our school will take the Foundation’s mission as our basis, and draw on our school’s particular strengths.
Please talk about your approach to the school community
In any school, a sense of community and strong relations between staff and families is important. The arts are one great way to bring people together – through music and drama performances, art exhibitions and concerts. We will always continue to push our very strong arts programme, as well as events such as our Global Community Day.
In addition, enabling direct and frequent communication between parents and teachers is essential to the smooth running of a school and the learning of our children. This doesn’t just mean one-way communication from teachers, but opening a dialogue that can continue throughout the year. In my previous school, we established monthly parent meetings. These were an opportunity for all parents to talk to form tutors, subject staff and senior leadership. Generally we hosted the meetings on the school campus, but also at coffee shops for a more casual experience and at parents’ houses. I would like to set up something similar at YCIS Beijing as they’re a great way to enhance our sense of community and listen to our families.
Please tell us more about your MBE
An MBE is an honorary award presented by the Queen or a member of the British Royal Family in recognition of a special achievement or service to the community. You don’t apply – but are nominated by someone without your knowledge. My MBE was for Services to British Education Overseas – specifically to do with how I promoted the British education system in Korea at a time when international education was predominantly American.
Usually the presentation of the honour takes place in Buckingham Palace, but I was presented with mine in Korea in 1999 when the Queen and Prince Philip were visiting. This was particularly special, as there were only four others receiving honours so we had a very personal encounter with the Queen and Prince. My two sons were boys at the time, and the thing that most stood out for me about the day was how brilliantly entertaining Prince Philip was with them – playing and joking, and making us all feel so welcome.
My sons are now both grown-up. One, a lawyer, married just last year and lives in the UK. The other is the Head of Middle Science in an international school in Shanghai!
We are most excited to welcome Dr Gray to YCIS Beijing in August and look forward to seeing how his broad experience and passion for international education shapes our school and community. We are also delighted to be welcoming his wife, Kate, on board as Senior Fellow at the Chor Hang Educational Research Institute, furthering educational innovation within the Foundation.
Global Graduates: The University Destinations of our Year 13s
The IBDP exams have come to a close and the Year 13s are off campus enjoying some hard-earned rest. In Summer Term, we prepare to say farewell to our final year group who are about to embark on an exciting new chapter at university.
This year, they have received a suite of outstanding offers from some of the world’s best ranked universities. This is in recognition of their academic strength, interests, character, and hard work, but it is also with thanks to the dedication of Dr Susan Wiltshire, our University Guidance Counsellor, and Ms Prachi Gupta, Y12-13 Learning Community Leader.
Finding the Best Fit
From the beginning of Year 12, Dr Wiltshire has a weekly class dedicated to exploring university options. Initially, students brainstorm where they would like to go, and are introduced to the principle of “Best Fit” Finding a Best Fit university is about identifying academic, social, and cultural fit. This involves such factors as researching the country and location, and considering culture and quality of life there. They also research universities in greater depth, exploring curriculums and student surveys. This results in a shortlist of applications for the beginning of Year 13.
Navigating the IBDP
Whilst Dr Wiltshire assists students’ decision-making, Ms Gupta ensures their IBDP subjects align with their intended university courses. “Sometimes our students need help navigating the options of IBDP and making changes to their Higher and Standard Levels during the two years” explains Ms Gupta. “I help them do this, always making sure that they are on the pathway to the right university.”
One of our students, Li Yong Wong, will be studying Graphic Design at The New School: Parsons School of Design in New York, which is ranked 2nd in the world by QS. Dr Wiltshire explains “Li Yong decided he wanted to apply for Graphic Design despite not having studied Visual Arts for IBDP. To improve his chances, Ms Gupta and I encouraged him to do his Extended Essay in Visual Arts and he independently put together an outstanding portfolio of artworks”. He was also successful in receiving a substantial merit scholarship.
Supporting Each Student
The students are offered practical guidance and support for their applications, applying all over the world with procedures varying by country and college. Dr Wiltshire detailed the complicated process for Japanese applications, highlighting the success of Nao Yoshinaga who received offers from Waseda and Sophia in Tokyo.
There are also times where other circumstances come into play. “One of our Year 13s is from Singapore and must do two years’ military service next year”, explains Dr Wiltshire. “We advised him to apply for university now and request a two year deferment. Deferments of this length are not easy to come by but likewise, applying for university two years after leaving school has its own disadvantages. We are very pleased that Theo Cui has received two university offers with a deferred start date in the US.”
Building Close Relationships
When helping students make their choices and when writing Letters of Recommendation, it’s important that Dr Wiltshire knows each student personally. This is made possible by the small year groups, but also the Year 12 Experiencing China trips. Last year they went to Yangshuo, and this year she joined them on their excursion to Yunnan.
A Class to Remember
As always, teachers and staff will be sad to say goodbye to our Year 13s. They’ve been a brilliant cohort brimming with diverse interests and talents that are reflected in the strength of their university offers. Among them is Vani Gupta, who has been offered an $80K scholarship to the University of British Columbia to read Behavioural Neuroscience. Vani has been at YCIS Beijing since Year 6 – heavily involved with the Student Council, with charities, as well as staying focused on her studies.
A brief glance over the list of destinations this year paints a global picture – with offers coming from China, Japan, Korea, UK, Germany, USA, Australia and Canada. With many students living in these countries for the first time, our Year 13s truly embody the mission of YCIS Beijing to raise Global Citizens. We wish them much success and happiness at university – and of course for their lives and careers and beyond.
YEAR 13 UNIVERSITY OFFERS, May 2018
- University of Manchester
- University of Exeter
- King’s College London
- University of Nottingham
- University of Bristol
- University of Sheffield
- Imperial College London
- University College London
- Columbia Chicago College
- Savannah College of Art & Design
- University of Evansville
- Maryland Institute College of Art
- Massachusetts College of Art & Design
- The New School: Parsons School of Design
- Art Center College of Design
- School of Art Institute of Chicago
- University of California Irvine
- University of California San Diego; Irvine; Davis; Berkeley
- Stony Brook
- University of Washington
- Otis College of Art & Design
- University of North Carolina
- Rhode Island School of Design
- Drexler University
- University of Toronto
- University of British Columbia
- Simon Fraser University
- University of Technology, Sydney
China and Hong Kong
- HKU Science & Technology
- Hong Kong University
- Hong Kong CityU
- Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University
- South China University of Technology
- International Christian University
- Sophia University
- Wasada University
- Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
• Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
A Team to Unite Cultures
This week we talk to Amy Zhang 张琛. Ms Zhang has been at Yew Chung International School of Beijing for almost two years, where she has been working as a Chinese integrator and language teacher in Year 6-8 Learning Community. From the beginning of the new school year, Ms Zhang will be focusing her attention on Year 6, where we are introducing a new Chinese team teaching model.
Please explain your role in the Chinese team teaching that is being introduced for Year 6
From the start of the new school year, I will be working closely with the Year 6 teachers to implement a new model of team teaching. From ECE to Year 5, our students benefit from a fully bilingual co-teaching model that not only integrates Chinese and Western culture but provides a balance of English and Chinese language instruction. As our students move into senior school, we phase out co-teaching in order to advance our students’ English language skill (in preparation for English language exams) and place emphasis on subject learning.
In Year 6, however, we have formulated a new transitionary phase that lies between the co-teaching of Primary school and the team teaching of Secondary. From the beginning of next year, it will be my role to implement this new style of team teaching. Firstly, I will provide language support to students who have previously been reliant on the Chinese language teaching. Secondly, it will be my role to communicate with Chinese background families, supporting their understanding in the transition to Y6-8 Learning Community. Finally, I will work with teachers to integrate Chinese culture and references into the curriculum - bringing added relevance and a more global perspective to an otherwise English curriculum.
Do the Year 6s still have language lessons?
Yes, Chinese as an Additional Language (CAL) lessons are still included in the curriculum. For students whose first language is Chinese, we also continue with Chinese Language and Literature lessons (CLL). Both these classes happen every day.
As with our other subjects, CAL and CLL are taught according to our concepts. This means that new vocabulary learned in language lessons can readily be applied to what is being learned in class.
What are the benefits of this type of team teaching?
Aside from language support, continuing with a curriculum that integrates Western and Chinese history and culture is an important part of our global education model. At YCIS Beijing, we aim to prepare students for linguistic and cultural proficiency in both English and Chinese – and increasing exposure to Chinese culture, history and ideas is an important part of this.
In addition, students take more readily to subjects when they include points of reference that they know and understand. In incorporating Chinese concepts into the curriculum, we hope to increase the relevance of our subjects for our Year 6s who know China well and come from Asian families.
What makes our curriculum at YCIS Beijing unique?
The most unique aspect of our curriculum here is the concept-based approach. We teach all of our subjects according to the same concepts throughout the year. These concepts include Identity and Perspectives, Power and Conflict, Tradition and Culture, Sustainability and the Environment, and Change and the Future. It’s a really interesting way to approach teaching, because it provides our students with a very full and in-depth understanding of these culturally and globally significant topics.
In Science, for example, students study the implications of topics through a scientific lens, and in Humanities there is an emphasis on history and literature. As a team teacher, I will ensure that China is represented throughout each of these concepts.
Examining concepts through these different lenses and across different cultures, allows our students to understand the multi-faceted nature of these ideas in our globalised world.
What do you most enjoy about teaching here?
Our students here are very keen to learn. In particular, they all share a real interest in Chinese language and culture because we are based in Beijing. It makes teaching particularly enjoyable when you have an enthusiastic and ambitious class.
I also find the teaching staff here very supportive. Partly thanks to the open plan Collaboration Room that our teachers all use, there’s a great amount of discussion, team work and support.
Ms Zhang started her teaching career at a local school in Hong Kong and, before that, studied an MA in Chinese as an International Language, and a BA in English Language Education. We are looking forward to welcoming her as the Year 6 team teacher from August!
Zero Waste Month: Upcoming Events
Hot on the tails of Earth Day, our participation in the Tianjin Recycling Challenge and the Sustainability and the Environment concept, during May and June Yew Chung International School of Beijing is hosting a variety of events, guest speakers and workshops in promotion of our Zero Waste Month. Organised with the help of the Parent Organisation, so far this week Years 1-2, 3-5 and 6-8 have all enjoyed informative assemblies on sustainability hosted by external experts.
For Years 1-5, Jessie Zhao and Mikel L’Italien from Pursuit Education hosted a brilliant assembly on plastic waste. Students learned where plastic comes from, where it goes when we’re finished with it, and that the weight of 30 million elephants in plastic is produced each year – that’s enough for the elephants to line up round the earth five times!
Natalie Bennett, environmental educator and initiator of the “Live Well with Less” movement, came in to lead an assembly with Years 6-8. She introduced our students to the idea of a circular economy – where, instead of going into landfill, waste can be used to produce new items. She also encouraged our students to pledge one small change to reduce their wastefulness. One thought-provoking example was to use only bar soap not shower gel. Bar soap is wrapped in less packaging (often only paper), and does not use a throwaway plastic container.
But Zero Waste Month is not just for students. Parents are warmly invited to attend one of two parent seminars next week hosted by Carrie Yu and Joe Harvey, environmental educators and founders of China’s first zero waste community and store THE BULK HOUSE.
The seminars – one in English and one in Chinese – will cover Carrie and Joe’s journey to becoming zero waste practitioners, the reasoning behind the zero waste concept, and guidance for moving towards a zero waste way of life.
The seminar will be hosted in English on 29th May, 08:30-10:00 and in Chinese on 30th May, 13:30-15:00. We look forward to welcoming you to the event.
On Saturday 9th June, Zero Waste Month will be culminating the Recycle, Reuse and Reduce ‘Re-Market’ – a community-wide, family-friendly event open to all. Please join us on campus to buy and exchange books, clothes, toys and furniture and partake in workshops and activities including a special composting workshop – all in promotion of waste reduction.
Annique Claussen, an active member of the YCIS PO and organiser of the Zero Waste Month commented:
“I previously thought that there was little difference between throwing organic waste into landfill versus compost, but I have recently learned that in fact there really is. In landfill, organic waste doesn’t rot but instead releases methane gas – the impact of methane on global warming is 60 times greater than that of CO2. The composting workshop at our Re-Market will be a great opportunity for all to learn more about this rewarding and environmentally friendly practise.”
A special thanks to the YCIS Beijing Parent Organisation for organising this brilliant month intended to raise awareness and improve our own sustainability. In introducing our students to these important principals and practises, we hope to support our ongoing endeavour to raise socially responsible Global Citizens.
Bulk House Parent Seminar: Open to YCIS Beijing Parents
- [English] Tuesday 29th May, 08:30-10:00
- [Chinese] Wednesday 30th May, 13:30-15:00
Re-Market: Open to all
Saturday 9th June, 13:00-17:00
There will be two workshops taking place during the Re-Market:
- 13:30 Composting Workshop
- 15:00 Uniform Recycling and Fashion Show
To sign up for these workshops, and to hire a stand for the day, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are not an existing YCIS Beijing parent, please register for this event on our Yoopay page
Ten out of Ten for our 10th Annual Global Community Day!
Last weekend our wider community of families, friends, staff and friends of the school came together at the Yew Chung International School of Beijing to celebrate our 10th annual Global Community Day. Our largest annual event, the GCD is an open-air celebration of the talent of our students, the diversity of our families, our community-wide relations and, this year, the landmark 85th anniversary of the Yew Chung Education Foundation. All in the name of a great cause, this year we raised nearly ¥100,000 for our charitable organisation Seeds of Hope.
As usual, our families and vendors contributed a fantastic spread of global cuisines, including Russian, Indian, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Japanese. There was no shortage of activities too – crazy science, clay modelling, body painting, tombola, horse riding and, of course, the ever-popular sponge throwing. A special mention goes to the teachers who volunteered to take part in the sponge-throwing, leaving them rather soggy for the rest of the day!
Throughout the day, guests were treated to an outstanding programme of performances from our students. Hosted by Mr Pearton, Head of the Arts, the Auditorium was a hub of musical talent covering piano, guitar, violin, drums, singing, dancing and more in a great variety of genres. Congratulations to all our performers who kept the music going from start to finish.
GCD is a highlight of the school calendar for families and staff. It is a great pleasure every year to bring together the YCIS Beijing network, welcome in old and new faces, and be reminded of the cross-cultural sense of belonging that is our Global Community.
A huge thank you to Phoebe Yu, our Community Relations Officer, and all the administrative departments, teachers, staff, parents and vendors who made the event possible. Thank you also to our generous sponsors and everyone who contributed money towards our important cause.
Photo credit: Little Star Magazine
To see the full photo album from the day, click here.
Six tips for keeping up with language during the holidays
The blossom is fading away, the parks are thick with greenery and the heat of the summer is in the air. There is an end of term atmosphere at Yew Chung International School of Beijing – as our ECE children make weekly excursions to Honglingjin Park, invitations go out for the end of term Primary Concerts and preparations are made for our IBDP Graduation Ceremony.
At the end of this term lies the long Summer Holidays. Summer Holidays are a time for rest, family, friends and travelling. We encourage our students to enjoy the time off, but when it comes to keeping up with an additional language, incorporating a little practise into the day can get students off to a flying start at the beginning of next year.
We speak to two of our YCIS Beijing language specialists at about ways students can keep up with, and even improve, their language skills during the Summer Holidays.
Rebecca Flavin, Secondary EAL Teacher (English as an Additional Language)
- Practise everyday
The most important thing for improving language skills is practice. Practice must be frequent – ideally daily – but it doesn’t have to be too time-consuming. I recommend setting aside 20 minutes a day rather than, for example, two hours once a week. Regular study keeps vocabulary ticking over and helps new words and phrases sink in.
It can be helpful for parents and children if language practice is built into the daily routine – just before dinner, or after breakfast – otherwise it tends to slow down and be forgotten!
- Choose a book
Reading is a really important aspect of language-learning but children can be put off if they aren’t enjoying what they’ve been asked to read. At the beginning of the holidays, get your child to feel excited about reading in their additional language by taking them to a bookshop and asking them to choose the book. This is a good opportunity for parents to choose a book too so it feels like a family activity rather than homework. You may enjoy discussing your book with your child and encouraging them to do the same.
- Note down vocab
This is good practice for life, really. Make sure your child has a vocab note book – or can make notes on their phone – and encourage them to note down new words and phrases that they come across in their reading. They should check over this note book every day and, where possible, try to make use of new vocab in dialogue.
Quizlet.com is a useful site for making vocab lists. It allows you to find translations, add pictures to words and generate flashcards.
Nikki Liu, Year 6-8 Learning Community Chinese Team Leader
For children learning Chinese, a summer in China can be a fantastic opportunity for them to improve their language ability. Encourage them to get maximum exposure to the language that surrounds them by watching Chinese films and television programmes, listening to the radio, reading newspapers and magazines, reading signs and notices when they’re out and about. It will feel less like homework if this is naturally incorporated into daily activities.
- Keep writing
It’s not always easy to keep up writing outside of school. I recommend Strokeorder.info to help children make sure that their stroke order is correct. Being disciplined with stroke order will pay off – it not only helps you memorise meaning, but means that whenever you come across a new character you will know how to write it.
- Speak to people
The classroom can feel like a safe environment but children must find their confidence in real conversation and not be afraid to make mistakes when talking to new people. Encourage your child to order in restaurants or strike up conversation with Chinese people in shops, public places, at events etc. Putting language to use in real life situations is very important.
Having a long summer ahead may feel daunting, but keeping-up with language can be fun and incorporated naturally into the day. We like to encourage parents to take up language lessons too – it really helps if you and your child are learning a new language together and it certainly won’t go to waste!
New School Buses for YCIS Beijing!
We are excited to announce that a fleet of brand new school buses will very soon be in operation at Yew Chung International School of Beijing!
The small, medium and large school buses, branded in brilliant YCIS Beijing red, visited our school campus last Friday. Parents and staff had the opportunity to view the buses – and all provided very positive feedback.
While our present buses have served students well for several years, there were certain changes that we wanted to bring about before the start of the new school year. The replacement buses are brand new, fitted with the latest health and safety features, and will provide an improved service to our students – as well as a shiny new look for our school!
When will the new buses be introduced?
The new buses will be introduced from Monday 4th June 2018, and will then continue operation in the new school year in August.
Why did we choose this new company?
We invited six renowned bus service providers to apply for the contract, and after a period of careful research and discussion we settled on Tian Ma Tong Chi 天马通驰. Established in 2006, Tian Ma Tong Chi provides bus services to many of the leading international schools around Beijing and top-tier companies including Baidu, Alibaba and Mercedes-Benz. We are confident they will be able to provide an excellent service for our families.
What are some of the key features these buses have?
Health and safety improvements were our primary focus when selecting the new buses. We hope that parents and children will find the new buses to be of a very high standard.
- All buses are fitted with a PM 2.5 air purification system. Now our students will breathe clean filtered air all day at school, and when they travel to and from school as well
- Three-point seatbelts for additional safety
- Security cameras throughout the vehicles
- Emergency exit and emergency access points
- Fire extinguishers on board
- Fully air conditioned and heated
- All drivers are fully trained and will provide a professional service in uniform
- The buses are a bright YCIS Beijing red, with school logo and branding
Are there going to be any changes to bus stops and timetables?
We will start to use the buses at the beginning of June. There will be no changes to bus stops and timetables before the end of the school year. From the beginning of next term, August 20th, we will make some minor adjustments to timetabling and stops. All parents will be informed of these changes.
Who will supervise the journeys? Are the bus Ayis the same?
Our intention is to keep most of our existing Ayis and drivers – we have a lot of trust in them and they have provided us with excellent service to date. New drivers and Ayis will be trained to meet our high standards of safety and ensure that the children – especially our youngest – feel comfortable and happy travelling to and from school.
If you have any questions about the new buses, please feel free to contact Eva Chen 陈曦, Head of Supporting & Property Division at YCIS Beijing, who will be glad to help: email@example.com
We look forward to welcoming the new fleet in June!
Actor Roxanne Browne Brings Physical Theatre to YCIS Beijing
As part of our ongoing Expert in Residence programme, this month we welcome Roxanne Browne, a British actor specialising in physical theatre, to Yew Chung International School of Beijing. In our interview with Roxanne, she discusses the benefits of teaching drama in schools – in particular with our very youngest ECE children.
Please introduce yourself, your love of drama, and what brings you to China.
I’m Roxanne Browne. I’m an actor from the UK specialising in physical theatre. I discovered my love for drama at school, around Years 10-11, and decided that I wanted to take it on to University level.
First, I did my BA in Drama at Manchester University. Then I went on to do a two-year drama course in Paris, at L’École Jacques Lecoq. The school is famous for its physical theatre – specifically the French arts of clowning and mime. There I developed a profound interest in physical theatre that I have carried with me ever since.
I graduated three years ago and established a theatre company with a group of classmates from Lecoq. We devise our own pieces, based on stories and causes close to our hearts, communicated through physical theatre.
I first came to China two years ago when I was asked to clown at an arts festival for an international school in Shanghai. The same year, I was cast in a show in Nanjing that used physical theatre to convey a love story to a bilingual audience. While I was in China, I gained some experience teaching drama in schools, and started to develop an interest in how drama could reinforce language skills in children. I’ve had several rewarding experiences teaching in China since, and often return to China to work with school children.
What have you been doing with our students at YCIS Beijing? In particular, please talk about your classes with the ECE.
I’ve been working with all year groups teaching a range of drama techniques. For example, with Years 4-5 I have been teaching clowning – encouraging the children to embrace embarrassment onstage, allow themselves to become vulnerable for comic effect and explore the subtleties of humour. With the older years we have been working on a devised drama piece on the theme of “Change in the Future”. As part of this, we’ve been exploring dramatic devices such as how music can alter a mood and aid story-telling.
Working with the very young children in ECE has been really exciting. Of course, you have to adapt the ways in which you teach drama for little children – but there are a range of dramatic exercises that are age-appropriate and introduce important skills.
In my first class with ECE, I asked each of the children to introduce themselves by saying their name loudly and clearly. I would then take a child’s name and speak it in a range of ways that the class copied – for example veeeeerrrry sloooowwly, or very quietly. This is about teaching annunciation and an awareness of voice.
A lot of drama in ECE is based around games – the children get very invested when there is an element of competition! One of their favourite ones is called “Zookeeper”. There is a winner but the game is really about embodying animals – the way they move, the noises they make, the ways they behave and interact. We’ve also done other games where they fly around the room in planes or in cars, and when I shout “freeze!” they have to stand extremely still and hold their poses. These are forms of simple physical theatre.
What do you enjoy most about working with the ECE children?
I most enjoy their innate playfulness. They are brimming with a sense of fun, excitement and silliness – which is really at the heart of clowning. They are less inhibited than older children and aren’t afraid to try new things out.
I am also struck by the power of their imaginations. When they play, when they listen to stories, and in our classes too, they have a vivid, uninhibited sense of imagination. They delight in being asked to close their eyes and imagine the sights, sounds and smells of a jungle or a beach. You can take the whole class on a journey and explore exotic worlds together using the power of their imagination alone.
What are the benefits of studying drama from such a young age?
There are many benefits to studying drama throughout school, and those benefits can be enjoyed from a very young age. Firstly, drama lessons are a great way to encourage students to contribute ideas in an environment where nothing is “wrong”. In drama, there is no such thing as a bad idea. We try out everyone’s suggestions and some work better than others. Finding confidence to voice ideas can then be transferred into other lessons.
We do lots of practical exercises in projecting our voices and speaking clearly. Of course, the ability to speak clearly and confidently is a skill that can be carried throughout life.
In the ECE classes, children are able to explore movement in their bodies which is great for motor skill development.
It’s a fantastic lesson in inclusivity. Children of mixed English language ability take part in the ECE drama classes together and find a new form of communication through movement and play that unites the whole class.
There are also real benefits to language acquisition for little children. Bringing words to life through movement and sound is a great way to memorise new vocabulary.
Have there been any particularly memorable moments from your time here?
When I was with the ECE, we sat in a circle and I conjured up an imaginary kitten in my hands. I told them all that I was holding a very tiny soft kitten and that I would pass it around the circle – but they had to be very gentle. At first, lots of the children seemed confused (perhaps even disappointed!) that there wasn’t really a kitten in my hands. But soon they were all caught up in the imagination – and passed the kitten around with incredible care, stroking it, talking in hushed voices and visualising its little movements. It was a very special moment.
Roxanne returns to the UK this weekend where she will be continuing her work with her theatre company Bric à Brac. We have been delighted to have her at YCIS Beijing since April and wish her every success for her upcoming projects!
Spectacular Strings! YCIS Beijing’s Primary Violin Programme
This term, Years 1-3 put on a fantastic show for families and staff at the Yew Chung International School of Beijing’s Primary Violin Concert. As always, the standard was very high owing to our unique violin programme. We speak to our violin teachers Aili Ai 艾丽 and Cindy Guo 郭晓霞 about the programme and the benefits of learning violin from a young age.
Please introduce the YCIS Beijing violin programme
All students at YCIS Beijing start learning the violin from Year 1. In fact, we introduce violin a little earlier for our eldest ECE children who receive their first lessons in the final term of kindergarten. Our students have at least two violin classes a week – with the option of additional classes before school if they wish. The violin programme remains a core part of the curriculum throughout Primary, with students then having the option to continue into Secondary school.
Our programme is based on the Suzuki method, developed by Dr Shinichi Suzuki, and now practised worldwide. We also supplement the programme with other pedagogies, terminologies and learning methods from a range of sources that we find to be effective.
The programme has all sorts of purposes which contribute towards the musical, academic, physical and social development of our students. But first and foremost, the purpose of teaching violin is to introduce children to the delight and satisfaction of making music. Our hope is always that we draw out a passion for music that will motivate our students to continue playing their whole lives, and to cultivate a sense of aesthetic appreciation that will enrich their world.
Why do we start teaching our children at such an early age?
Learning the violin is like learning a foreign language – the earlier you start a child, the greater their advantage. They will have more time to perfect technique, and will be more finely tuned to pitch, phrasing, rhythm etc.
There is also a range of positive effects that children can benefit from when they are still young. For example, learning an instrument develops memory skills, creativity, patience and concentration, and co-ordination and motor skills. Being able to play and hear music also helps children express themselves and their emotions.
What do you find particularly rewarding about teaching violin at YCIS Beijing?
Firstly, it is a great pleasure to be able to ignite a spark in our students – to give the gift of music-making and draw out a love for the subject.
Sometimes students find violin very hard and feel discouraged, but we always support them and push them to keep trying. It is priceless when our students turn their feelings of doubt and frustration into satisfaction and pride. We really live for those moments.
Why is the concert an important part of the programme?
The concert is a very important part of our violin programme. It is the highlight of the year for students who love the excitement of performing. It’s also essential to give purpose to all the hard work and hours that students put in to their instrument and for sharing this fantastic achievement with parents and families. There’s always a great atmosphere at the concert, and it’s great for families and staff to see the very high standard of our young musicians.
What advice would you offer to students learning the violin?
Firstly, never give up! Learning an instrument is hard, it requires a lot of patience and concentration – but if you put the time and effort in, the reward is great.
Secondly, practice slowly! Take time to get things right and be thorough.
Finally, parents – do whatever you can to motivate your child. Celebrate their achievements, praise them for practicing and take an interest in their instrument.