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"Make Students Like My Class"



It was late autumn. Inside the Wenyuan Building, Ma Lijuan of Shaanxi Normal University's School of Fine Arts was teaching An Introduction to Fine Arts to junior students. She projected a Chinese landscape painting on the screen, on which was an autumn scene of fitting shades of colors compensated by a few intentionally-left blanks, depicting a stream winding through rocks and vanishing into the distant blackish mountain. Ma Lijuan said softly, "In fine arts teaching, the teacher should develop students' aesthetic and appreciation abilities through arts, instead of only pursuing painting skills, which is only an imitation in forms, not an artistic conception ......." In her class, she always centers her teaching around aesthetics and combines teaching contents with aesthetic conceptions, filling the classroom with beautiful rhythms and bringing unique aesthetic enjoyment and experience to students.

Teaching: All for Students

Ma Lijuan used to be a teacher of Ankang Railway Middle School, and later she received her doctoral degree from Yamaguchi University of Japan. Her high school teaching experience and Japanese study and research experience became the foundation of her "Student-centered" teaching approach. She said, "When I was a student, some teachers preferred solo plays, so I found it difficult to keep up, even lost my interest in the subjects. For students, their interest in a subject is usually as much as they like the teacher. I have always been trying to make students like my class for all these years." From her high school teaching experience, Ma Lijuan gradually realized that teaching should be student-centered and cater to students' feelings. In Japan, she audited many classes in primary and middle schools, and this re-affirmed her student-centered teaching approach.

Now, Ma Lijuan's An Introduction to Fine Arts has become a stage for teacher education students to exhibit themselves. She required students to search reference materials before class, study junior and senior high school fine arts textbooks, design a ten-minute instruction based on China's national new curriculum standard, and pay attention to "Three-dimensional Target Design" in the four learning areas of fine arts. After students finished their presentations, she would comment on them and gave her suggestion for improvement, from the design of teaching contents, grasp of teaching speed, to the pose, gesture and set phrases on the podium, so as to improve their teaching abilities. Hu Jianglin, a class 2018 fine arts major undergrad, said, "Ms Ma is very strict and highly responsible. After each student's presentation, she would ask other students to give their comments on the presenter's performance. In teaching design, she required us to stick to teaching goals, make main points stand out, and try to be concise and not sluggish. When I finished my presentation, she reminded me to be careful of the speed and intonation of my speech."

Ma Lijuan would recommend fine arts works to students, share her reading reflections and discuss the opinions in the books with them, sometimes using modern terms popular among young people. Zhang Xin, a Class 2017 fine arts major undergrad, said, "Ms Ma is quite accomplished in fine arts teaching and she has a broad scope of knowledge. Once when we were discussing Chinese painting in class, she corrected me immediately when I got the dynasty of a painting wrong. She is warm and humorous, and always tells us to read more books and jokingly said: 'Important things are worth repeating three times.' We are all so active and enthusiastic in her class."

Aesthetics: "Extend classroom onto limitless art palaces"

Ma Lijuan believes fine arts teaching is not only for improving students' skills, but also about developing their aesthetic ability.

She purposefully introduced aesthetics into her teaching and artistic masterpieces into her classroom, and spoke about topics from wonders of Greek sculptures to the charms of Chinese landscape paintings, and the calligraphic works in Xi'an's Forest of Stone Steles, the art of seal-engraving, to stories from history of arts. "Ms Ma often tells us we should open our vision and extend our perspective from the classroom to the history of arts. As future teachers, we should have aesthetic ability to discern and appreciate fine art works." said Zhang Xin. Ma Lijuan intentionally guides students to establish aesthetic teaching approaches and students have been influenced by her to add aesthetic elements into their teaching designs."In preparation for our weekly presentation, we try to enliven the class by introducing contemporary art works and interpreting their meanings, in addition to curriculum requirements. We learned this from Ms Ma." said Bai Xinyu, a Class 2018 fine arts major undergrad.

Life: Her Classroom Also

In her classroom, Ma Lijuan treats her students as future teachers, always placing strict requirements on their study and personal cultivation. Beyond the classroom, she is a tender, compassionate mother, passing on principles of socializing and learning to them through her own example.

Ma Lijuan discusses frontier theories and new concepts from Chinese and overseas fine arts circles with her graduate students, helping them solve problems in thesis writing. Sometimes, she would ask them to come to her home and talk about their progress of thesis writing and any new ideas.

Graduate student Yang Wenzhe said, "She is strict yet tender. If she finds we are slacking with our work, she would warn us. But she is often tolerant of our ideas, helps us improve them in our thesis and gives us many useful suggestions.

She also cares about our life on campus and we all respect her a lot." Dan Xiaoxiao was a little timid when she first became one of Ma Lijuan's graduate students. Each time during discussion session, she was worried she might say something to let her mentor down. Gradually, she began to have the courage to speak her opinion in discussions, thanks to Ma's encouragement. "At first, I was afraid to speak out. She would chat about interesting things in life to make me relax. When I have enough courage to speak, I could see her encouraging eyes. Now I'm comfortable in participating in discussions. She would invite us to have meals at her home during festivals and holidays. She is like a mother to me." said Dan Xiaoxiao.

"The purpose of education is to 'Educate people with Beauty'. A teacher should bring positive and healthy fine arts concepts to students in class. Apart from techniques and skills, a teacher should take students on a journey to enjoy the charm of fine arts. Beyond class, we must also use aesthetic concepts to influence students and nurture their well-rounded personalities." Students listen intently to Ma Lijuan in a fine arts class in the Wenyuan Building.

In the not distant future, these students will bring beauty and knowledge to their own students.

Text by Sun Xiaodi, Chen Xiaodan

Photo by Zhang Xin

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