China / Education

Art practice goes from drudgery to delight

By Zhao Xinying (China Daily) Updated: 2016-08-29 07:34

Being an education reporter has enabled me to attend and observe classes on many different subjects. One that impressed me deeply is a class I visited recently where children were taught calligraphy. It was far more interesting and attractive than what I had as a child.

The class, comprising one teacher and three students, kicked off with drawing practice: three types of lines - horizontal, vertical and wave - 10 times each to help students warm up and get familiar with the writing brush in their hand.

Then came the formal part of the class. The teacher wrote down a sentence from The Analects of Confucius on a white board and discussed the meaning of the sentence with the students before finally beginning the lecture on writing techniques - how to write each character in an artistic way.

During the process, the teacher paused at every character to enable the students to practice for a while. In the meantime, he gave prompt feedback on the work of each student: "Great! This stroke is almost perfect! You've already done very well." His words were encouraging. Magically, I saw the kids writing better and better.

I was totally absorbed in the class and forgot about the time until the teacher called it a day. Surprisingly, an hour and a half had passed since the class began, but I hadn't noticed.

After the class, I asked the kids: "Do you like the class? Is calligraphy interesting?" The three little ones answered without any hesitation: "Yes, we do!" and "It's super interesting!"

It was a wonderful experience for me because back in the 1990s, when I was their age, calligraphy was one of the classes I hated the most.

At the time, a calligraphy class was packed with dozens of students.

It was all about the teacher standing at the front of the classroom and lecturing about how to make each stroke of a character. And then we practiced a hundred times.

There was no warming-up, no discussion and very little interaction with the teacher. Practice time always seemed to start before I knew how to read the character. And very few of us ever got any praise from the strait-laced instructor.

Classes taught this way were like a tedious, endless long march, and I decided to put an end to it after only one semester. Because I gave up too easily, calligraphy has never been one of my strengths.

Children of today are more fortunate than my generation, I think, despite the fact that their tuition is much more expensive. They receive more attention and guidance from the teacher, which helps them progress. They find it easier to fall in love with this traditional Chinese art form thanks to increasingly scientific teaching methods the instructors adopt to attract interest and ensure learning.

I've also heard that advanced science and technologies nowadays are introduced through the teaching of calligraphy. In some cases, classes are given on live-streaming platforms; in others, students can take photos of their works and upload them onto a mobile app accessible by teachers, who then make comments and suggestions on the same platform.

All these things have combined to make the learning of Chinese calligraphy more convenient and more effective, which, in turn, makes it more attractive. That more people wanting to participate is a measure of its success.

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