Below: -Ness or -Ess? and News from English Plus

English Plus+ News, July 2000

A Month in a Chinese High School

What Americans Can Learn from Asian Schools

Well, those of you who have been readers of our newsletter for any time know that our newsletter comes out monthly "more or less." Last year we had eight issues. This year we missed the months of April, May, and June. There was a very good reason for this.

The English Plus manager and author of the English Plus programs and web sites spent most of the month of May in China. He went there on a teacher/student exchange program. He is a full time English teacher and went there as an English teacher in a Chinese Middle School. (Middle School in China is the same as High School in the USA.) He spent most of the month teaching tenth and eleventh grade English classes and working with English teachers there. He will be sharing a few things he observed while there. This month he shares one things that was different in the Chinese school and which American schools can learn from.

Chinese Schools Not that Different
First what impressed the most about the Chinese middle school where I worked was that it was a lot more like American high schools than different. My school has eight forty minute classes per day. The Chinese school has seven forty minute class periods per day. The classes were pretty similar--history, science, Chinese in China and English in the US, foreign language, math. The US schools generally have more electives like art and music. The Chinese schools often have two or more sciences. There were no varsity sports at the school in China. Over all, though, there were more similarities than differences.

In the USA, we often hear about how students from Asian countries work harder. Yes, I noticed a lot of Chinese students working hard. I also noticed kids sitting in the back of the classroom reading comics and fooling around. Again, I see the same contrast in the school where I teach. Some work hard, some do not.

Longer School Days - Why?
However, there was one difference which I believe American schools can learn from. My school begins classes at 7:55 a.m. and ends at 2:20 p.m. Many of the students do stay later for various activities and extra help, but those things are voluntary (except for detention).

At the Chinese Middle School where I taught the day was much longer. Classes began at 8:00 a.m., though students had to be present at 7:30 for morning cleanup. There were two hours for lunch since most students went home for lunch. Students were back at 2 p.m. for afternoon classes until 5 p.m. There were two hours for dinner and then students had to return to school at 7 p.m. Students stayed until about 8:30 p.m., twelfth graders until 9 or 9:30. This was a competitive Middle School. Some Middle Schools only have evening sessions once or twice a week. Students often went to school Saturday, even though there were not too many classes that day.

Why the Longer Day if the Schools are So Similar?
Now if there is actually one less period per day in China and the periods are the same length, why are they spending so much more time at school? They are studying. Yes, I admit they are also socializing and using the athletic facilities, but mostly they are studying. (I should also note that Chinese law prohibits people from regular employment until age 18. In the United States this age is 16.)

In a typical American school, students may leave in the middle of the afternoon. Some stay after for various activities and study help, but most will go home. What are they doing at home? It depends. Some are watching TV or playing games, some are working, but most of the serious students by the time they are in high school spend a lot of time at home doing school work. The difference from the Chinese school is simply that the Chinese students do the homework at school.

Why do they do it this way? This school was in a densely- populated city. Many of the students lived in small homes or apartments and had little privacy or work space. Staying at school gives them a chance to do their work. Their desk and books are present.

Why is the American Model Different?
The American system really developed from a more rural and small town model where students could go home and find some space and quiet time to do homework, even if it were reading by the fire like Abraham Lincoln. This is not always possible in an urban setting.

Thinking Out Loud...
Now I am thinking out loud. Would it not be possible for American schools, especially in more densely-populated areas where students may not have a study time or study space outside of school, to have more study time incorporated into the school day?

Unfortunately, in many areas the solution is to assign no homework. All this means is that the students fall behind their peers who have to complete more work. Perhaps Americans can learn something from the way it is done in China.

In many urban settings in the USA, churches and clubs provide places where students can come after school to work quietly. Perhaps it can be done in the schools.

I know that this is done in many schools already. Sometimes it is informal, just a few students who go to a certain teacher's room after school. Sometimes a study room or study block is part of the after school program. However these are the often the exceptions.

A Teacher Morale Problem?
This is hardest on the teachers. In the town where I teach, quitting time is part of the teachers' contract. Teachers can sometimes be constrained to go home earlier than they want to. In the school where I taught in China, the teachers were not happy about having to go back to school after supper and being there on some weekends. This potential morale problem was balanced by the knowledge that they were teachers at one of the best schools in the county and that if they wanted to see their students succeed, they would have to put in more hours than at other schools.

Americans have read over the years that the school day in many Asian countries is longer than in the US. I observed that the actual instruction time per week was about the same. The difference was the way the school accommodated students to help them study and do homework. In many suburban and rural areas in the US where each student can have some quiet space to work at home, the difference between the systems is not significant. But in systems where students either cannot or do not have quiet time and space to work at home, perhaps schools can do more in providing time and place to study.

Next issue, look for something I learned about teaching English while I was in China.

Think Before You Add -Ess

Many English nouns end in -ess. Most often such words have had a suffix added to them. The two suffixes most commonly added are either -ness or -ess. The two suffixes have two completely different meanings, but we often end up misspelling such words if we forget what the suffixes mean.

Let's review. -Ness means "state or condition of." It is most often added to adjectives. Actually modern English is such that we can add -ness to just about any adjective to express a thought. It may not always be standard English, but the meaning is understood.

For example, American Comedian Bill Cosby a number of years ago had a comedy album entitled Wonderfulness. He titled it that way to be funny. After all, the adjective wonderful is formed from the noun wonder. Still, English speakers understand intuitively that wonderfulness is the state or condition of being wonderful. It makes sense even if it is not great English.

As a teacher I sometimes get students who write "proudness" instead of pride or "angriness" instead of anger. And in some cases the -ness suffix can add a subtle difference. Faith and faithfulness are both good English words, but they have a different meaning today. Faith is trust, while faithfulness is the ability or quality of maintaining or keeping trust. There are many other words which the -ness suffix had in fact made a new word with a slightly different meaning.

Yes, -Ess
-Ess, on the other hand, is a suffix used to make a word feminine: waiter/waitress, prince/princess, and so on.

This is not usually a problem for English writers except when the root ends with the letter n. We must remember to add -ness when we mean "state or condition" but just -ess when we mean "female."

For example, the words brokenness, barrenness, or drunkenness all need to have the double n because the root ends with an n and the suffix begins with another n. If we wanted to be funny, English speakers would understand that "brokeness" (the state of being broke, that is, having no money) is different than brokenness (the state of being broken, having some kind of fracture or injury).

A Source of Confusion
Similarly, there are a few words whose roots end in n and we do not double the n when we mean the feminine form. So the word baroness has only one n. It means the wife of or female heir to a baron. Again, if we wanted to be funny, perhaps we could say "baronness" to mean the state of being a baron, but that would be confusing--besides, there is another word for that: barony. Such is the case with lioness and other words whose roots end in n.

News from English Plus

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