Lesson Plans

China, Gender, Identity, Population Policy, and Multicultural America

Developed by global educators, Touching Home in China aligns interdisciplinary and transmedia lessons with national standards and is approrpriate for middle school, high school and college level studies in World and American History, Asian Studies, Global Studies, Ethnic Studies, Women’s Studies, English/Language Arts, and more. Each of our six lesson plans is presented in tandem with one of the transmedia stories on this website. These stories emerge from the cross-cultural encounters of American teens wrestling with their dual identity as Chinese-born daughters adopted into Caucasian families and only-child daughters growing up in rural China today.

Using our lesson plans, teachers and students explore a wide range of topics – contemporary China, gender, identity, race, population policy and multicultural America, to name a few. Hyperlinks on the lesson plans lead to information aimed at a variety of reading levels. Our curated and annotated resource list of video, audio and print stories are catalogued by topic and recommended reading level. These resources expand and deepen learning by connecting students with current news stories and academic papers. Up-to-date news stories and resources are provided also on Touching Home in China’s social media platforms – Facebook and Twitter.

Dear Teacher

Age-level instructions are provided for students from middle school through the early years of college. Our goal is to inspire and deepen student engagement with societal issues in China and America at a time when the lives of citizens of these two nations often intersect. Our six core stories offer students a unique perspective on contemporary life in China since they are told through the cross-cultural experiences of eight girls, each of whom was born in rural towns in China’s Jiangsu province. The two adoptees came to America as nine-month old babies in June 1997; they are longtime friends. The six Chinese girls grew up in the same two rural towns where the American girls were abandoned as infants during the one-child policy era in China.

Touching Home in China: in search of missing girlhoods is published on two digital platforms. Its transmedia stories can be absorbed in a series of six iBooks created optimally for iPads, though these books work well on other MAC computers, too. The six stories are also available – with the same content – on this website. A few interactive elements work differently on this website than in the iBooks. Using the iBook, students interact more directly, for example, with our population policy timeline, “From Mao to Now,” which is a story element in “Abandoned Baby.” On the website, students don’t see China’s changing fertility rate due to the straight line in our timeline. In the iBook version, our up– and-down timeline clearly shows this changing rate; clickable red dots along the timeline invite students to discover key events.

Challenge-Based Learning

The girls’ cross-cultural stories and aligned lesson plans exemplify an interdisciplinary marriage of content with rigorous standards of inquiry. The combination provides an immersive exploration for students in middle school, high school and early years of higher education – differentiated by the resources offered in each lesson. Each lesson is organized using Challenge-Based Learning, which is akin to Project Based Learning; it is a collaborative learning approach in which probing questions guide student-led research and small group discussions. Students then use their acquired knowledge to address real world problems, and then share their findings – and perhaps solutions – with members of their community as a way to spur action.

This learning structure fulfills the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards as students use rigorous inquiry to explore pressing social issues in preparation for college, careers and participatory civic engagement. The lessons in Touching Home in China support interdisciplinary, evidence-based learning that emphasizes in-depth student research and critical thinking. Students are also prompted to think about current events in their lives, classrooms, schools and communities. Guided reflection directs students to pursue project in which they combine what they learned in this lesson with knowledge from their own lives and experiences. Various Reflection and Action Projects develop student mastery of contemporary communication tools and skills.

Critical for the success of Challenge-Based Learning are the following:

If the Challenge-Based Learning approach is new, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the general principles and helpful best practices to maximize success in the classroom.

Tools

Integral for the success of Challenge-Based Learning is access to technology commonly used in 21st century life and work. Ideally this includes computers, rich media design tools and the Internet for content, creation and communication.

Touching Home in China: in search of missing girlhoods is published as a series of iBooks and as multimedia stories on this website. The content of its stories is the same, though a few of our interactive elements in the iBook work differently on the website. One advantage of using the iBook is introducing students to its interactive population policy timeline, “From Mao to Now,” which appears in “Abandoned Baby.” The website’s timeline appears as a tab on our navigational bar.

In addition, since you and your students will work in teams – and not all of the work will take place during class – access to a collaborative digital workspace available to everyone is essential. At a minimum, the workspace will include a calendar, a place to store notes and documents, a questions and connections log, and other digital assets such as PDFs, video clips, and audio and video podcasts. Students should hold onto their questions and connections log – an informal journal to collect ongoing learning, research and thinking – for use in their Reflection and Action Project.

Student Skills

Lesson 1: Abandoned Baby

Our stories exist as iBooks, optimal for use on iPads.

Big Idea: When government intersects with families’ lives.

Guiding Question: What are the generational consequences of China’s one-child policy?

Our Challenge: To discover how a population policy affects families, society and a nation.

Guiding Activities: This lesson introduces students to the lives of Jennie Yuchang Lytel-Sternberg and Maya Xia Ludtke, Chinese girls abandoned as babies and adopted into Caucasian families in the United States. In meeting these two characters, students have the opportunity to explore the consequences of China’s population policy on individuals – in China and America – and on the lives of families, the broader society, and the nations.

Note to Teachers: If there are adopted children or children being raised by guardians or foster parents are in your class, then we recommend strongly that you talk with the adults who are raising those children about how to approach the use of the word “abandoned” as a key component of this lesson plan. As curriculum developers, we made the decision to use “abandon” as the best descriptor of China’s strictly enforced one-child birth-planning policy that forced families to leave “out-of-plan” or “over-quota” children in public places to be found by others and be placed in an orphanage.

1 – Setting the Scene

Read the opening section of Abandoned Baby. (Stop at the beginning of “Strong on Man, Light on Woman” section. For now, skip the embedded links if reading it on the Touching Home in China website.)

Ask students to react to what occurred in the opening of this story. Is this the first time they are hearing about this happening? If not, how else did they hear about it?

After sharing their initial learning, ask students to read the information at this link and this link about the one-child policy and China’s laws relating to the abandonment of children.[1] For upper-level middle school students, use this one-child policy link.

In small groups have students complete a 3-2-1 exercise: List 3 new details you learned, 2 surprising details, and 1 question that remains. Discuss your 3-2-1 responses in pairs or in small groups. Ask each pair/group to share questions that surfaced with the class.

Guiding Resources: Hyperlinks in the website version of Touching Home in China direct students towards source material that expands contextual knowledge, prompts new inquiry, and guides them in responding to research questions. Direct students to source material appropriate to their age, reading level, conceptual understanding, and learning objectives. Along with our lesson plans, we provide curated resources in which each story or video is cataloged by subject and reading level and the content is described.

1 – Setting the Foundation

The interactive timeline in the iBook and the web version timeline, "From Mao to Now," provide students with a self-directed approach for understanding how the one-child policy fits into the broader context of China's conception and implementation of various population policies.

Work through the timeline with the entire class, taking note of critical moments, key leaders and developments that explain turning points in the evolution of China’s population policies. Discuss with students what might be unfamiliar or confusing details, and then encourage them to engage in deeper level of self-directed investigation. For younger students, it will be helpful to direct them toward key dates/leaders/documents to facilitate deeper understanding of how and why the one-child policy came to be and to explore the societal changes it brought.

1 – Engaging Our Challenge

To begin the research stage of our lesson plans, divide the class into small groups. Each group will be assigned to explore one of four consequences related to China’s one-child policy. Each group’s task is described, below. Depending on class size, topics can be assigned to more than one group.

Prepare each student and each group to do the following:

Group A: China’s One-Child Policy and Gender Imbalance

Teacher Hu’s students read textbooks in their Xiaxi Town classroom.

One of the major identifiable shifts to result from China’s one-child policy is the rapid increase in this country’s gender imbalance. The long-standing cultural belief that daughters are not as valuable to families as sons combines with the government-enforced one-child policy to result in boys soon outnumbering girls starting at birth. Today, China leads the world with its highly distorted sex ratio at birth.

Students will examine China’s population policies as they prepare to address the following questions. To do this, they will use the lesson’s curated resources as well as the story’s hyperlinks. This additional content – along with other information they find via key word searches online – should prepare them to discuss these questions:

Click here to explore the curated resources for Group A.

Group B: Impact on Girls’ and Women’s Lives

As an only-child daughter, Jin Shan had no brothers to compete for her family’s attention and resources.

The one-child policy has disproportionately affected girls in China. For example, due to the decisions that this policy forced families to make, many girls are “missing” from the nation’s population. Students will explore China’s centuries-old cultural beliefs and the recent decades of its one-child policy to understand how girls’ lives have been affected by this policy. Information is found in the main story and curated resources earmarked for this section.

Students will focus on the impact of the one-child policy girls and women’s lives as they prepare to address the questions, below. To do this, they will use the lesson’s curated resources as well as the story’s hyperlinks. This additional content – along with other information they find via key word searches online – will enable them to discuss these questions:

Click here to explore the curated resources for Group B.

Group C: Care of the Elderly

An elderly woman enjoys spending time in People’s Park in Changzhou, China.

Consequences of the one-child policy are not limited to girls or young parents. This policy’s rippling effects are now reaching China’s elderly. Students will explore what is happening to traditional patterns of China’s elder care after nearly four decades of the one-child policy.

Students will focus on the care of the elderly to prepare to address the questions, below. To do this, they will use the lesson’s curated resources as well as the story’s hyperlinks. This additional content – along with other information they find via key word searches online – will enable them to discuss these questions:

Click here to explore the curated resources for Group C.

Group D: Coming to America

Chinese immigrants gather at a toy store in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the early 1900s. Arnold Genthe

Beginning in the 19th century, Chinese immigrants settled in the United States. Since then, distinct waves of immigrants have come from China, bracketed by the restrictive laws put in place by the American government from the late 19th century into the mid-20th century. As students learn about these various eras of Chinese migration to the United States, they will focus on the changing composition of the Chinese coming to America, up to and including the wave of recent adoptees.

Students will focus on immigration to America to prepare to address the questions, below. To do this, they will use the lesson’s curated resources as well as the story’s hyperlinks. This additional content – along with other information they find via key word searches online – will enable them to discuss these questions:

Click here to explore the curated resources for Group D.

All Groups: Wrap-Up

As a class, come together to discuss if other consequences of China’s one-child policy stood out to individual students or groups. If so, what are they? Ask students to reflect on how the one-child policy was responsible for these consequences.

1 – Reflection and Action Project

This critical element of Touching Home in China’s lesson plans asks students to complete a culminating project to assess and demonstrate their learning. In doing this, students have an opportunity to try out new approaches as they share with others a finished project that reflects on the knowledge gained in their Engaging the Challenge group explorations. Students should not expect to “solve” problems – in the sense of finding a definitive answer – though they are likely to draw broader public awareness to the situation and/or its consequences by the activities they pursue. It’s possible their project(s) will shift attitudes and inspire action. By reflecting and acting on what they have learned, we want students to gain deeper appreciation of the kind of challenges that individuals confront when they set out to “solve” a problem and/or inspire others to take action on an issue.

Ask students to explore the Abandoned Baby gallery “Lonely Childhoods and Missing Girls” that illustrates the different ways in which three artists use their creativity to present visual expressions of the consequences of China’s one-child policy. Then, watch two short videos: one is a Touching Home in China interview with Beijing painter Meng Site, and the other introduces French-born multi-disciplinary artist Prune Nourry and her China project Terracotta Daughters.

Share with the class some poster art the Chinese government used in its one-child policy campaign – and discover what those posters might look like in 2016, as China is trying to encourage couples to have a second child.

After viewing the gallery and poster art and watching the videos, discuss with the students how and why the artists’ work encourages different understanding about China’s one-child policy. This will encourage them to think about the role artists can play in getting people to see, feel or notice things in fresh ways – and by doing so inspire change. See if students can come up with examples of artists in their country or local community whose creative efforts help them or others think about policies, events or issues in new ways.

Students will be inspired by these examples:

Students will learn about art as activism from artists:

In their Reflection and Action Project, students will identify an issue that they’d like to inspire other people to know more about, and in doing so, move from knowledge to empathy and caring. The project will be a proposal of some form of creative expression – painting or drawing, poem or sculpture, cartoon or animated video – to design an art-based campaign that invites fresh reflection. Their plan should explain why they chose their artistic form to convey their message, how their project will draw people’s attention, the title of the project, where and how it will be displayed, and what change they’d like to see happen (and that change can be in people’s thinking alone).  It is not essential for them to produce a prototype of the art, though they can, if time permits, but they need to sketch and write about their idea to give a complete sense of how they arrived at their approach, what it will be like, and what response they expect their creative effort to receive.

Lesson 2: Touching Home

Our stories exist as iBooks, optimal for use on iPads.

Big Idea: How personal identity is shaped.

Guiding Questions: What parts of who I am are influenced by what I think of as “home?”
How does where my family or ancestors come from affect how I think about my own identity?

Our Challenge: To explore how individual identity is shaped by physical, societal and cultural environments and traditions.

Guiding Activities: This lesson invites students to immerse themselves in the many meanings associated with the idea of “home” and how it relates to one’s personal sense of identity. In Touching Home, Maya Xia Ludtke and Jennie Yuchang Lytel-Sternberg, who were born in China and adopted into Caucasian families in the United States, get to know Chinese girls who grew up in the rural towns where the Americans were abandoned as babies by their birth families in the time of China’s one-child policy. Through these girls’ cross-cultural encounters, students explore the central roles that place, language and culture hold in shaping a person’s evolving sense of identity.

2 – Setting the Scene

Read the opening section of Touching Home and watch this short video. Stop at the story’s “Home” subtitle.

Ask students to react to the ideas and interactions they find in the opening of this story. Encourage them to talk about relationships they see forming among the girls in the video and discuss the following questions:

Following this discussion have students use what they’ve read and seen in Touching Home so far – and any prior knowledge they bring to their reading – to respond to several writing prompts. At the end of this lesson, the students will return to their initial reflections to gauge how their perspectives might have shifted as a result of what they learned in moving through this Challenge-Based Learning lesson.

2 – Setting the Foundation

For adopted children, like some first-generation immigrants, feeling at “home” in their families, schools and communities can be challenging. It’s not easy to fit oneself into the American narrative of the “melting pot” when that requires assimilating into the dominant culture. Often there are feelings of being sandwiched between one’s family’s ancestral cultural roots and one’s own striving to plant “new” roots of identity in America. An exploration of such feelings is woven into the fabric of Maya and Jennie’s journey “home” to China as adoptees.

Each girl grew up as a daughter in a mixed-race family and now, as teenagers, she is constructing her own identity using the many pieces of her life as a baby born in China and a girl raised in America.

This lesson plan directs students to delve more deeply into topics of personal identity and adoption by reading White Rice (with Soy Sauce) from Lily Rau’s blog “Little Lily, Big World” and "Meet Lilach" by Lilach Brownstein. Ask each student to choose one sentence from either piece that captures an aspect of the girl’s challenges in finding her own identity. In pairs, small groups, or before the entire class, students will explain why they chose this particular sentence by describing what it says to them and by connecting the girl’s insight to their own understanding of identity.

Transition from this discussion to asking students to read the entire story of Touching Home. This story offers glimpses (via words and videos) of the initial meetings of the American adoptees with Chinese girls who grew up in the rural towns where these Americans were abandoned as baby girls during China’s one-child policy. As students absorb this story, ask them to keep in mind how the American and Chinese girls think about identity.

Remind students that the hyperlinked words in the website version of Touching Home take them to material that expands their contextual knowledge about these topics and prompts new paths of inquiry. (Students should only be directed to read source material appropriate to their age, reading level, conceptual understanding, and learning objectives.)

Direct students to watch each video in this story. Doing this will help them get to know some of the eight girls, the two Americans and six Chinese teens who are the project’s main characters. Students should take notes on their new learning.

2 – Engaging Our Challenge

In Touching Home, Maya and Jennie confront this core question: “How does this place that I left as a baby contribute to my sense of who I am today?” Their search for identity is informed by their adoptive experience – by being uprooted from this place and their birth family and raised in as a member of a family of another race that lives in a wholly different culture. By having students engage with these girls’ search reminds them that as individuals we carve our own identity out of the varied elements that comprise the entirety of our lives.

This Challenge-Based Learning lesson has students using the experiences of Maya and Jennie as a springboard to considering people’s journeys of discovery about identity. In examining this theme, students will gain insight into ways that their life experiences inform their own sense of identity. To do this, divide the class into small working groups in which they explore in-depth one of the four themes about identity that emerges from Touching Home. In these small groups, they can discuss how their own journeys connect with or diverge from those of Maya, Jennie and the Chinese girls. To foster constructive discussion, encourage students to share new insights and questions from their readings. What the students learn in their small group interactions will resurface when they work on this lesson’s culminating Reflection and Action Project.

(1) Before dividing the class into groups, spend time as a class building students’ background knowledge on international adoption and Asians in America by reading and discussing the following source material.

(2) Divide the class into the four thematic discussion groups (or more groups, based on class size, with roughly five students to a group.) Assign each group one the following four topics that relate to what they’ve encountered in Touching Home: International Adoption; Identity, Race and Adoption; Living in a Transracial Family, and Being Asian in America.

Group A: International Adoption

In the Forbidden City, Maya rides on her mother's back soon after she was adopted.

Views vary widely about the opportunities and the challenges that international adoption presents to children and families. For each family and adoptee the experiences, struggles and celebrations will be different.

After reading a selection of sources about international adoption, students should be prepared to discuss the questions, below. To do this, they will use the lesson's curated resources as well as the story’s hyperlinks. This additional content – along with other information they find via key word searches online – should enable them to discuss these questions:

Click here to explore the curated resources for Group A.

Group B: Identity, Race and Adoption

Maya celebrates her birthday with friends, some of whom are adopted, and some of whom are of different races.

International adoption adds a layer of complexity to conversations we have about identity and race. Race is inalterable, so families and adoptees learn to navigate through the range of societal perceptions about racial difference. Individuals make personal choices about their lives as a result of the environments and attitudes they encounter; a person’s sense of self changes based on experiences she has.

After reading a selection of sources about identity, race and adoption, students should be prepared to discuss these questions. To do this, they will use the lesson's curated resources as well as the story’s hyperlinks. This additional content – along with other information they find via key word searches online – should enable them to discuss these questions:

Click here to explore the curated resources for Group B.

Group C: Living in a Transracial Family

Maya and Jennie's families were among eight American families. Maya and Jennie's moms were among eight families who traveled from America to adopt their children in China.

Most children adopted from China grow up in a family in which the parents (or a parent) do not share their racial or cultural heritage. Visible differences distinguish members of transracial families in ways that often make strangers question (and sometimes ask) if they are a family.

As students discover more about the lived experiences of transracial families, they should reflect on the following ideas and be prepared to discuss these questions. To do this, they will use the lesson's curated resources as well as the story’s hyperlinks. This additional content – along with other information they find via key word searches online – should enable them to discuss these questions:

Click here to explore the curated resources for Group C.

Group D: Being Asian in America

Jennie celebrates the Fourth of July with her cousins in Maine.

As children move through adolescence, they are very aware of how others perceive them. At the same time, they wonder how, as individuals, they fit into the larger society. Chinese adoptees growing up in Caucasian families bump up against societal perceptions based primarily on how they look – while at the same time they wrestling with visible differences within their own family. This second layer of complexity sets them apart from children born and raised in Chinese-American families.

As students read more about being Asian in America, they should keep in mind these questions as they read and discuss this topic. To do this, they will use the lesson's curated resources as well as the story’s hyperlinks. This additional content – along with other information they find via key word searches online – should enable them to discuss these questions:

Click here to explore the curated resources for Group D.

All Groups: Wrap-Up

Each group selects one question that deeply engaged them and chooses the resource that most significantly informed its discussion. If time permits, organize students into smaller jigsaw groups to allow for greater exchange of learning. When time is short, each group chooses a representative to present the question and a summary of the group’s selected resource to the class.

2 – Reflection and Action Project

This critical element of Touching Home in China’s lesson plans asks students to complete a culminating project to assess and demonstrate their learning. In doing this, students have an opportunity to try out new approaches as they share with others a finished project that reflects on the knowledge gained in their “Engaging the Challenge” group explorations. Students should not expect to “solve” problems – in the sense of finding a definitive answer – though they are likely to draw broader public awareness to the situation and/or its consequences by the activities they pursue. It’s possible their project(s) will shift attitudes and inspire action. By reflecting and acting on what they have learned, we want students to gain deeper appreciation of the kind of challenges that individuals confront when they set out to “solve” a problem and/or inspire others to take action on an issue.

This lesson’s Reflection and Action Project asks students to consider their own identity – and ponder their journey that led them here – as they respond to this series of related questions:

“When I think of my identity, what are the words I use to describe myself?”

“How do others, including friends and family, describe my identity?”

“What do I want others to know about who I am?”

Encourage students to use their “questions and connections” logs, compiled during small group learning, as a source of inspiration for their project.

In this Reflection and Action Project, the form students use to express their ideas is intentionally open-ended. Since this type of self-expression might already feel new in a classroom setting, teachers might consider encouraging each student to challenge herself by choosing a method of expression that is new and unfamiliar. For example, if a student is comfortable expressing herself in writing, she might use clay or paint for her project or expand her forms of writing by using digital media as a part of her storytelling. Another student who is more comfortable expressing himself through art might try writing and performing a spoken-word poem, and so on. Offering students the option to accept this challenge by choice can open up avenues for creativity that will deepen their experience with the content.

Working in teams (and not necessarily the same ones as formed for Engaging the Challenge), students support each other in this creative process. As each student begins to think through ideas, team members serve as sounding boards for one another. Once a student completes a draft, a team member reads and critiques this effort. As the student’s draft nears completion, the original reader continues, acting now as an editor and/or critic. With this start-to-finish collaborative process – along with the teacher’s oversight and guidance – each student’s final submission will be of publishable quality. The students decide how, when, and where to publish their work. Ideally, their projects will be shared among all members of the class, and then possibly with other students in the school, and potentially made public on a digital platform.

Lesson 3: Daughter. Wife. Mother.

Our stories exist as iBooks, optimal for use on iPads.

Big Idea: How societal expectations and norms for girls and boys influence their lives.

Guiding Question: How have more than three decades of China’s one-child policy transformed the lives of girls, women and families?

Our Challenge: To reveal and examine ways in which people’s cultural beliefs, social climate and government policies shape gender expectations and, in turn, how those lead to generational family patterns.

Guiding Activities: This lesson guides students in learning about current gender roles in China through exploring the changes set in motion after three decades of its one-child policy. In the story, Daughter. Wife. Mother., teen girls who were abandoned as infants in China and adopted by American families return to their “hometowns” to discover what it’s like to be a daughter in rural China. Girls their age who grew up in these two towns are their guides. The girls’ cross-cultural encounters offer students contemporary glimpses of what it’s like to be a daughter, a wife and a mother in rural China today, and this lesson plan provides probing questions and supplemental sources to stimulate their learning.

3 – Setting the Scene

Read the opening section of Daughter. Wife. Mother., including the resources found at the various hyperlinks. Stop at “My Name” subtitle.

Discuss with students new information they learn from the opening section with these prompts in mind.

Following this discussion, ask students to continue reading Daughter. Wife. Mother., stopping at the subtitle “Left Behind Child.” Remind them to watch the video in which Maya’s Chinese friends in Xiaxi Town – Yuan Mengping, Chen Chen and Yujiao Yan – explain the meaning of their names and those of their male family members.

Have students talk about their reactions to what they learned in these videos and any new information they learned.

Transition by explaining to students that among parents’ first responsibilities is choosing a name for a child they give birth to or adopt. This name might be the same as another family member or be selected because of the family’s religious or cultural traditions.

The name we are given creates an enduring connection to our family, and it becomes part of our identity. With this in mind, ask students to write what they know about why they were given their name along with its meaning, if they know. Ask them to share this in class.. When students do not know this history, suggest that they talk with family members and record the story in writing and share with their class the next day.

3 – Setting the Foundation

Students will use the story, Daughter. Wife. Mother and curated resources to explore ways that different societal expectations for girls and boys shape an individual’s sense of identity and the potential structure of his or her life’s possibilities. By sharing stories about their experiences with gender, Maya and Jennie, the six Chinese girls, their mothers and grandmothers help us to understand better how cultural traditions shape their lives in America and China.

The students’ opening exercise engages them in thinking about how societal expectations of girls and boys affect their lives. Begin by asking them to draw their responses to the prompts, below, given to the the girls in the video. (The boys respond to the prompts as boys.)

Students can share their drawing in pairs or small groups after finishing their pieces. After sharing, ask students to write reflectively for a few minutes on how they learned what it means to be a boy or a girl, and how stereotypes impact their own view of themselves, as well as their actions, decisions and dreams for the future.

Transition by asking students to finish reading the story Daughter. Wife. Mother. As they read the story, remind them to take note of gender expectations in China, including how these expectations are learned, how they are changing over time, and the influence they have on individual lives.

3 – Engaging Our Challenge

In Daughter. Wife. Mother, Maya and Jennie learn how their lives might have unfolded as girls growing up in China. Each was adopted as a baby into an American family. Like other Americans growing up in well-off, highly educated families, Maya and Jennie will encounter few constraints in choosing their life path. For the six Chinese girls, all of whom are only-child rural daughters, their life choices are likely to be more constrained by societal and family expectations of the roles they are expected to assume as a wife, mother and elder caregiver. Even among the girls whose higher educational attainment opens up new career pathways, the pressures placed on them to conform to conventional gender roles intensify as they reach their late 20s.

This Challenge-Based Learning lesson builds on the experiences of three generations of Chinese women – the daughters, who are peers of Maya and Jennie, and these rural daughters’ mothers and grandmothers – to reveal how girls’, women’s and families’ lives are being transformed in contemporary China. By observing the generational shifts in women’s lives, students reflect on the lesson’s Guiding Question: “How have more than three decades of China’s one-child policy transformed the lives of girls, women and families?”

Divide the class into four discussion groups – or more groups, based on class size – with roughly five students to a group. Assign each student to one of the four groups aligned with sections of this story – “Daughter,” “Wife,” “Mother,” and “Voicing Discontent.” Direct each group to the curated resources to explore ways that different societal expectations for girls and boys shape an individual’s sense of identity and sketch possibilities. To foster discussion, encourage students to share insights and ask each other questions based on their reading, viewing and listening. Remind students that what they discover in their small group interactions will be used in the work they do on their culminating Reflection and Action Project.

Each group will explore its topic using the general principles of Challenge-Based Learning with the following directions in mind:

Group A: Daughter

Yuan Mengping with her parents and grandmother in Xiaxi Town.

For centuries in rural China families raised daughters with the expectation that once she becomes a wife she belongs to her husband’s family. A daughter upheld the honor of her own family by fulfilling the obligations of her husband’s filial piety for his parents. China’s one-child policy, which began in 1980, combined with the country’s fast-paced economic growth during the 1990s, brought about changes in how rural Chinese daughters are raised and how they think about marriage and motherhood. For many only-child daughters, the generational changes have been dramatic, mostly due to the family’s investment in their education.

As students revisit the story’s sections “Left Behind Child” and “Only Child Daughter,” they will do additional reading and research about being a daughter in contemporary China using the curated resources, the story's hyperlinks, and keyword searches online, to prepare to discuss these questions:

Click here to explore the curated resources for Group A.

Group B: Wife

Jin Shan’s mother, Chen Liuhong, poses for her wedding photo in Xiaxiashu in 1993.

China’s one-child policy led to higher educational attainment by many only-child daughters. But societal and family pressures combine to push these same daughters to become wives by their mid-to late-20s, and then mothers soon after. Well-educated women who chose to remain single are stigmatized and labeled “leftover women.”

In this group, students will re-read the section “Becoming a Wife” and research the topic using these curated resources the story's hyperlinks, and keyword searches online to prepare to discuss these questions:

Click here to explore the curated resources for Group B.

Group C: Mother

Jin Shan on a visit with her mother, Chen Liuhong, in Jinan, Shandong province, 2001.

Becoming a mother during China’s one-child policy era could mean having to relinquish a child born outside of the locally enforced regulations governing family size and composition. At times, this wrenching decision was not the mother’s to make; often the husband’s family members made this decision. Sometimes families in rural China left a child with relatives to raise as mothers and fathers went away as migrant workers. Today, the pressures on younger women are different as the Chinese government is encouraging them to have and raise two children.

In this group, students will reread the section “To Be a Mother” and research the experiences of mothers in contemporary China using the curated resources, the story's hyperlinks, and keyword searches online to prepare to discuss these questions:

Click here to explore the curated resources for Group C.

Group D: Voicing Discontent

On Valentine’s Day 2012, college students wearing bloodstained wedding dresses that represented battered wives chanted slogans in Beijing’s first public performance art depicting violence against women. Their signs (left to right) say: “Violence is the sign of love. No violence!” (This is a twist on an old Chinese saying, “To beat is dear, to scold is love,” which refers to relationships between parents and children as well as spouses and lovers.) “Violence is around us. Can you remain silent?” And, “Love is not an excuse for violence.”

At a time when many families in China are raising only-child daughters due to the country’s longtime one-child policy, many more girls are becoming highly educated than in prior generations. Higher education offers the young women wider exposure to on-going gender inequities – from their experience with university admission quotas favoring boys to the exclusion they confront in enrolling in certain academic disciplines, from the discrimination they encounter as women entering a competitive job market to the harassment some endure at work and on public transportation. As a result, a women’s rights movement has emerged among younger Chinese. The government’s arrest and jailing of five prominent women activists in the spring of 2015 now means that public protest about such discrimination needs to be less publicly displayed. Instead, women turn to the courts to redress discrimination in the workplace and work out of public view to advocate for strengthening laws such as those regulating domestic violence.

In this group, students will reread the section “Voicing Discontent” and research the ways in which women are pushing back against gender discrimination by using the curated resources, the story's hyperlinks, and keyword searches online to prepare to discuss these questions:

Click here to explore the curated resources for Group D.

3 – Reflection and Action Project

This critical element of Touching Home in China’s lesson plans asks students to complete a culminating project to assess and demonstrate their learning. In doing this, students have an opportunity to try out new approaches as they share with others a finished project that reflects on the knowledge gained in their “Engaging the Challenge” group explorations. Students should not expect to “solve” problems – in the sense of finding a definitive answer – though they are likely to draw broader public awareness to the situation and/or its consequences by the activities they pursue. It’s possible their project(s) will shift attitudes and inspire action. By reflecting and acting on what they have learned, we want students to gain deeper appreciation of the kind of challenges that individuals confront when they set out to “solve” a problem and/or inspire others to take action on an issue.

Assign students to new groups; each group will have in it at least one representative from each of the four Engaging Our Challenge topic groups – “Daughter,” “Wife,” “Mother” and “Voicing Discontent.” Have each group pick a card with one of the following descriptions on it:

Relying on what the students learned in the various topic groups, they will work together to describe the most likely pathway this girl will take in her life. This will require that students share information they learned in their earlier group discussions with each other so they can make informed decisions at each juncture of her life. This pathway exploration should include her experiences of being a junior high school student, a senior high school or vocational student, and a college or vocational student. Then, the girl’s likely occupation should be determined, followed by what is likely to happen to her as she approaches the age of marriage, along with what motherhood and caregiving are likely to be for her. At each step, the group will be asked to provide a brief explanation of why it made the choices it did for this girl.

To chart this girl’s life course, each group will create a pathway map – a roadmap of this girl’s life – in which they visually represent and mark the girl’s significant junctures with images or symbols and words. If time permits, each group will present its pathway map to the rest of the class. A visual gallery of these maps, showing life courses for girls in China as they assume the roles ascribed to women, can be displayed on classroom walls. Or, if the class is technically savvy, ask students to recreate their maps digitally and develop a presentation on a class website.

Lesson 4: Learning About Learning

Our stories exist as iBooks, optimal for use on iPads.

Big Idea: How learning reflects a nation’s cultural values.

Guiding Questions: How does the way we learn when we are young influence our lives as adults? How would you describe the differences and similarities in your classrooms with those in China?

Our Challenge: To immerse ourselves in students’ experiences in China as we explore the exams they take that determine their paths for higher education and job opportunities.

Guiding Activities: In this lesson students discover how China’s cultural values and its history influence classroom learning and the two exams that dictate students’ educational futures. We meet middle-school English teacher Hu Xingmei who describes how school has changed since her youth; we hear Jin Shan express the shame she feels about not living up to her family’s expectations with her disappointing gaokao score, and we follow Xue Piao (a.k.a. Tiara) as she sidesteps the intense pressure of preparing for the gaokao and attends Syracuse University. Through these girls’ experiences, and with the help of additional resources, students explore the relationship between people’s cultural values and the way the young in their society are taught and learn.

4 – Setting the Scene

Read the opening of Learning About Learning, stopping at the section, gaokao. Watch the short video of teacher Hu Xingmei reflecting on her own school days in the same rural town where she now teaches and direct students to closely read the article on Confucian values included in this section.

Ask students to share their impressions of the opening classroom scene and what was new information about China’s schools. Explore with students how this rural Chinese classroom experience compares to theirs.

After that discussion, split the class into two groups – one will focus on cultural values that influence learning in China (“virtue-oriented”), the other will explore Western values (“mind-oriented”). At the university level, students will delve into these differences by reading Professor Jin Li’s article, “Inexhaustible Source of Water: The Enduring Confucian Learning Model.” Middle and high school students will dig deeply into these differences by reading two articles: the first, “Differences Between East and West Discovered in People’s Brain Activity,” and the second, “Tiger moms' vs. Western-style mothers? Stanford researchers find different but equally effective styles.” Encourage groups to write down the cultural values that these articles spotlight.

Organize students into groups of no more than four. Make certain that an equal number from each of the earlier two groups are members of each smaller discussion group. Ask students to share and discuss what they found surprising about how cultural differences influence learning.

Following this discussion, have each group select the values it believes are most representative of its assigned culture. Once chosen, have each group write a short scene with dialogue that illustrates these values in a classroom setting. The scene can range from depicting how the school day, illuminating interactions that happen between teacher and students during a lesson or showing how a teacher presents a lesson to the class. Remind students to be thoughtful in avoiding caricatures. Invite groups to act out their scenes for the class.

4 – Setting the Foundation

The preparation to take a life-changing examination is deeply rooted in China’s history. Starting in the mid-7th century and moving through its imperial dynasties, China administered a civil service exam to assign to the most highly educated the tasks that the emperor deemed critical to governing the country. Exams tested young men’s ability to write and their knowledge of Confucian classics and the “Five Studies” – military strategy, civil law, revenue and taxation, agriculture and geography, and Chinese literature and philosophy. Only men took this exam. Since women weren’t allowed to take the exam, few of them received a scholarly education.

The score on this rigorous exam mattered more than a man’s family’s status or political connections in being chosen to serve as a member of the imperial court. For Chinese men seeking social mobility, passing the exam was the path to high status; for a small number of test-takers a high score meant the chance to escape poverty. For the emperor, this examination effectively guaranteed a steady stream of scholars to meet his bureaucratic needs. Even the extremely literate men who failed this exam filled a wide range of vital professional roles in Chinese society.

China’s cultural emphasis on rigorous exams as path-setting measures and dedicated preparation with a scholarly underpinning still guides testing of its young people today. In 1905, the civil service exam ended, but much about contemporary testing in China is rooted in its tradition. Today, China’s test-takers are not limited to a slim slice of scholarly elite. Since nine years of education are mandatory for every child in China, all 9th graders will have prepared for years in school to take the rigorous zhongkao exam to determine if they will attend an academic high school (in China, it’s called a senior middle school) or be enrolled in a vocational program; those with high scores go to high school and then take the gaokao exam as 12th graders. Their gaokao score decides the quality of university they will attend. A low score on the gaokao sends students on to a vocational college program or to work.

The gaokao was introduced in 1952, three years after the founding of the People’s Republic of China for the purpose of determining where students who were qualified would be admitted to universities; those who scored low are able to add vocational programs or be sent to test-preparation schools to study again to take the gaokao. During China’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) the gaokao was suspended, but resumed in 1977. Since then, the exam has evolved in its content. In recent years education officials have been piloting reform-minded changes in the gaokao as a lever to bring about changes in classroom teaching in China.

Ask students to return to the story, Learning About Learning, and read the boxed text, “Reforming the Gaokao.” This should help them better understand the current changes to this national exam and how reformers are hoping they will affect what happens in China’s classrooms.

For many parents in China, their child’s score on the gaokao can be a family’s defining moment. It shapes the future lives of young people like no other process, except the hukuo, which designates at birth whether a child belongs to a rural or urban household. When students with a rural hukuo score high enough on the gaokao to be admitted to a university in a first-tier city such as Beijing or Shanghai, their family’s fortunes can change. However, in recent years as China’s economy has slowed during times of transition, even graduation from a highly ranked university no longer guarantees a top-level job.

Ask students to click through the captioned gallery, “From Imperial Exam to Gaokao.

Have students take notes about discoveries they make in moving through this timeline. Using the prompts below, and in small groups, have them reflect on the cultural threads they find shared by the imperial and gaokao exams. If students would like to also explore a visual gaokao timeline (1977-present) with captions, click here.

4 – Engaging Our Challenge

In Learning About Learning, Maya and Jennie absorb information about what their educational paths might have been if they had not been adopted and educated in America. The girls’ experiences draw students into the life of being a student in a rural town in China and invite them to explore this lesson’s two Guiding Questions: How does the way we learn when we are young influence our lives as adults? How would you describe the differences and similarities in your classrooms with those in China?

Divide the class into four thematic discussion groups of roughly five students apiece. Assign a facilitator and a recorder (note taker) for each group; these roles can rotate among students. The four topics – “School Pressures,” “Equity in Education,” “Family Expectations,” and “Heading to America” – relate to themes the students encounter in the stories. The curated resources used to amplify each group’s in-depth exploration are found on the Lesson Four tab. To foster discussion, encourage students to share insights and ask each other questions based on their reading, viewing and listening. Remind students that what they discover in their small group interactions will be revisited in their culminating Reflection and Action Project.

Group A: School Pressures

A teacher falls into the waiting arms of students to help them relieve gaokao pressure. Reuters / Stringer

Students in China have little time for activities unrelated to the achievement of academic excellence. Keeping up with assignments that prepare them for life-determining exams consumes their waking hours. As the time to take these major exams approaches, students skip meals and come up with ways to keep themselves alert long into the evening so they can study; every year stories surface of students taking their own lives as a response to the pressures that family and teachers put on them to score high on the gaokao. The rigid intensity of the gaokao preparation and exam is one reason that students in China decide to study abroad. The increasing exodus of top students is motivating China’s education officials to reform the gaokao, which in turn will change how and what teachers teach.

Ask students to read the story’s “gaokao” section, revisit the “Reforming the Gaokao” box, dig into the curated resources and the story's hyperlinks, and do keyword searches online, to prepare to discuss these questions:

Click here to explore the curated resources for Group A.

Group B: Equity in Education

A rural primary school classroom in Henan province

Through nearly all of China’s history, only men from elite families were educated in scholarly ways. During the past century, this exclusive privilege changed as political upheaval in China led to dramatic changes, especially in broadening access. As a result, China's literacy rate increased from 66 percent to 96 percent in the last half century as the number of high school and college graduates skyrocketed due to a national policy entitling every girl and boy to nine years of schooling. Once girls were in school, China’s gender gap in the rate of adult literacy began to vanish. As recently as 1990, only 68 percent of women in China were literate compared with 87 percent of men; among China’s youth today, the literacy gender gap is almost nonexistent as the rate for each gender is almost at 100 percent. Still, the majority of Chinese people attain only an elementary or middle school level of education; the majority live in rural regions. Significant questions of equity exist between the schooling experiences of rural and urban students.

Ask students to return to the story, Learning About Learning, and pay special attention to information found in the text’s hyperlinks in the paragraphs just below the “Reforming the Gaokao” box. These stories, along with those catalogued in the curated resources section, highlight differences between urban and rural students’ learning opportunities and their achievement levels; they also address gender issues revolving around admission into universities. Being familiar with these topics by using the story's hyperlinks and doing keywork searches online will help students to discuss the following:

Click here to explore the curated resources for Group B.

Group C: Family Expectations

Entire families travel with their son or daughter to the site of the gaokao, then wait expectantly for their child to emerge from the exam.

Families in China expect their sons and daughters to succeed in school, which means scoring high on major exams. When a child does not succeed on the exam it is said to bring shame to her family. Confucian values lead families to believe that if their children work hard, persevere, and constantly push themselves to improve, then they will attain good results and, in turn, bring about a better life for themselves and their family. Social psychologist Hazel Markus identifies this relationship within Eastern families as one based upon interdependence rather than independence as in Western cultures such as Europe or the United States. A child’s interdependent relationship with their parents coupled with family expectations and values directly translate to the culture of learning in China’s schools as was explored in more depth in the Setting the Scene section of this lesson. This interdependence and intense pressure to succeed within the family may also shift as ongoing educational reforms in China surrounding the gaokao continue to gain momentum.

Ask students to review the “Shaming my Family” section and watch the two videos – “Pressures and Dreams” and “Three Generations of Schooling” – in which Jin Shan’s mother and grandmother talk about their schooling and Shan describes her experience taking the gaokao and then to hearing about her low score: This viewing and reading of the story, "Learning About Learning," along with exploring the story's hyperlinks and the curated resources selected for this group’s learning, should prepare students to discuss the following questions:

Click here to explore the curated resources for Group C.

Group D: Heading to America

In the fall of her junior year at Syracuse University, Tiara started going to the university gym.

In Learning About Learning we meet Tiara who was born in a rural town in China and is now a student at Syracuse University. We discover that in 2015 she was “among 304,040 Chinese students enrolled in U.S. universities, more than from any other country.” In each of the past eight years, there’s been a double-digit increase in the number of students from China studying at American universities and colleges. In 2015 there were almost twice as many Chinese students in the United States as five years earlier – many of whom are young women like Tiara whose schooling has been advantaged by China’s one-child policy and her circumstance of being an only child. In contrast, only 13,763 Americans studied at a Chinese university the year that Tiara came to the United States, a 4.5 percent decrease from the previous year. Learning about Tiara’s reasons for wanting to attend a university outside of China – and finding out about her preparation to do so – will provide students with a good start in exploring the exodus of students from China, which is happening at progressively younger ages. Between 2010 and 2015, enrollment of Chinese students in U.S. primary and secondary schools nearly quadrupled.

Ask students to review the story Learning About Learning with a focus on getting to know more about Tiara’s story in China and as a university student in America. Then read “The Long March From China to the Ivies” that describes in great detail what one young woman in China did to achieve her goal of attending an Ivy League college in America. When this material is absorbed, along with the story's hyperlinks and the curated resources selected for this group, students should be well prepared to discuss the following questions:

Click here to explore the curated resources for Group D.

4 – Reflection and Action Project

This critical element of Touching Home in China’s lesson plans asks students to complete a culminating project to assess and demonstrate their learning. In doing this, students have an opportunity to try out new approaches as they share with others a finished project that reflects on the knowledge gained in their Engaging the Challenge group explorations. Students should not expect to “solve” problems – in the sense of finding a definitive answer – though they are likely to draw broader public awareness to the situation and/or its consequences by the activities they pursue. It’s possible their project(s) will shift attitudes and inspire action. By reflecting and acting on what they have learned, we want students to gain deeper appreciation of the kind of challenges that individuals confront when they set out to “solve” a problem and/or inspire others to take action on an issue.

In this Reflection and Action Project, students will explore the values and assumptions they find shaping their own schooling – focusing on how and what they learn. Have students take 15 minutes to read the following questions, and then write their responses to one or two of the questions that stand out most to them:

Then, combine students into groups of two or three. The goal is to produce a podcast with the intended audience of Chinese students who are considering coming to the United States to study. As they prepare to do this, encourage your students to think about what they’ve learned about Chinese culture, as it pertains to learning and classroom experiences in China. They should also think hard about what aspects of their own learning experiences might be helpful for Chinese students to know about. They can refer to their questions and connections log compiled during small group learning; notes they took then could prove helpful now. In deciding how to write and deliver their key messages in a podcast, they will want to keep foremost in mind the cultural mindset of their audience – the students in China listening to their words.

In their message to the Chinese students, they should include thoughts about what these foreign students are likely to find surprising about the classroom – from the expectations that professors will have of them to ways that students and teachers interact. They should also speak about what happens outside of the classroom, preparing the students from China for campus experiences that will likely differ from their relationships and activities with friends in China.

Strongly encourage the students to spend time listening to this 13-minute podcast – Episode #1 “Made in China Robot Turned Creative Human” – from the podcast series, “One in a Billion.” Not only will they hear from a Chinese student now studying at Wellesley College, but also they will understand more about how a successful podcast is conceived and executed. This listening experience might result in them deciding to work with another student; one might decide to act as questioner/moderator as the other fills in the podcast’s story and message.

Students will share their podcasts with others in their group. Then, their podcasts can be made available to others in the class to hear. They can be published online for others to listen to, if the class decides to do so.

For practical assistance in making podcasts: Voices.com published this article about planning podcast content, and it can be a useful tool for students to refer to as they create their own podcast. Many apps and websites offer free services for recording and publishing podcasts; this EdTechTeacher blogpost offers recommendations for equipment and networking.

Lesson 5: Women's Work

Our stories exist as iBooks, optimal for use on iPads.

Big Idea: Why women do the work they do.

Guiding Question: How do cultural, political and family views about women affect the jobs they do and the wages they earn?

Our Challenge: To improve our understanding of the ways that gender intersects with government policies, court decisions, and business practices in China, and to explore how such policies and practices can – and are being – changed.

Guiding Activities: In this lesson, students explore the jobs that women of different ages, locations and educational backgrounds typically perform in China. In Women’s Work, Chinese girls and women share their personal experiences with work in talking about their job preparation, how gender affects their employment prospects, and what their daily lives are like as they do these jobs. Through learning about their experiences, and with the help of additional resources, students engage in in-depth exploration of a range of work-related topics in class and small group discussions and through reflection-oriented activities.

5 – Setting the Scene

Read the opening scene of Women’s Work, stopping at Day Dawns. Watch the short video of one of the Chinese girls, Jin Shan, as she takes her new American friend Jennie to meet her grandmother. Look at the photo gallery showing Shan during her vocational construction internship. Suggest that the students write down questions this material raises for them in a questions and connections log, an informal journal to record ongoing learning, research notes, and their thoughts as the lesson progresses.

Have students read, “100 Women: The jobs Chinese girls just can't do,” and watch the video toward the bottom of that story. In the video, students in Jiangsu province offer opinions about whether female students should be able to enroll in all university courses. (Note that the girls in Touching Home in China are from Jiangsu province.) High school and college students should read the article, “Being a Woman in China Today: A Demography of Gender,” paying particular attention to its final section about the employment and education of women.

Ask students to share impressions of the opening section of Women’s Work, describing what they learned from the text and videos. Explore with them generational shifts in work in rural China – the grandmother as a farmer, her adult child as a migrant worker, and her granddaughter as a construction intern. Compare this to what they know about American generational shifts in the jobs done by their grandparents and their parents, and ask them to look ahead to the kinds of jobs they think they might do. Talk with them about why so many young people decide to leave rural China to go to the cities to work.

After this discussion, split the class into pairs. Each pair will research two topics – the hukuo, China’s household registration system, as a way to better understand what happens to migrant workers when they live in the city, and the role of gender in the types of jobs available to women in China. As they research, each student should write questions that surface and be prepared to share them with their partner and the class.

After each pair completes their research and discusses their findings, lead the class in a discussion of how these two factors – China’s hukuo system and gender – intersect to influence the employment prospects of rural women. Chart as a class their collective findings and questions.

5 – Setting the Foundation

To prepare students for Engaging the Challenge, have them read the entire story, Women’s Work. They should watch all of the video content, interact with the Gender Employment Ads graphic, and move through the captioned photo galleries.

As they read, ask students to focus on the two topics they’ve just examined: how a rural hukuo can affect the kind of work that people do and how gender can shape employment choices. When they complete their reading, have students record in their questions and connections log on the factors that make women’s work lives different than men’s.

As a class, show three videos and discuss the questions, posed below, with all students.

Questions:

5 – Engaging Our Challenge

As students engage in this lesson’s challenge, remind them of the lesson’s Guiding Question: How do cultural, political and family views about women affect the jobs they do and the wages they earn?

To delve more deeply into topics raised in Women’s Work, we’ve created four thematic discussion groups. Each of the groups, with roughly five students to a group, will choose a facilitator to moderate the group discussion and a recorder to take notes. (Or the teacher can assign these roles and rotate then among the students.) The four topics in this lesson are “Migrant Work,” “Family and Work,” “City Dreams,” and “Work and Gender.” Each group’s in-depth exploration of its assigned topic is enhanced through students’ use of our curated resources on the Lesson Five tab, the hyperlinks in the story, and the online searches that the students undertake.

Encourage students to share insights and pose questions to their small group members based on what each one is reading, viewing and listening to. Remind students that they’ll use what they discover in their research and small group interactions in their culminating Reflection and Action Project. Here are a few steps to share with students about this activity:

Group A: Migrant Work

Jin Shan’s paternal grandparents (pictured here) raised her from infancy to middle school. Her mother and father left Xixiashu Town to work as migrant tailors.

The major reason that China’s economy grew so rapidly during the past three decades is that millions upon millions of rural men and women left farming towns to work on factory assembly lines in faraway industrialized cities. China’s rural to urban movement of people is the largest internal migration in human history, measuring three times the number of people who emigrated to America from Europe in a century. While migrant salary is still a major source of income for many rural families, the Chinese girls who guided Maya and Jennie on their journey of discovery are not following this farm-to-factory trajectory in their work lives.

Revisit two sections of Women’s Work – its opening section (up to “Day Dawns”) and then “Farm to Factory.” Begin their research by looking at the captioned photos about the daily lives of migrant women construction workers in this Washington Post story. Students will then use this lesson’s curated resources (Lesson Five tab) and the hyperlinks in Women’s Work. This additional content, along with information they find via keyword searches online, will prepare them to discuss these questions:

Click here to explore the curated resources for Group A.

Group B: Family and Work

Younger married women in rural towns find work in local factories.

For centuries, Chinese women’s lives were defined by their traditional roles in family life. As a daughter, she’d assist with household tasks while her brothers attended more years of school than she did. As a wife, she’d join her husband’s family, raise children, and assume responsibility for her husband’s parents. Work outside the home usually meant unpaid farming chores. Among elite women, some had their feet bound, which made physical labor impossible. By the mid-20th century, Mao Zedong’s agricultural labor force was men and women working side-by-side. In subsequent decades, with the one-child policy and the external forces of a globalization, women had fewer children. They often followed men to work in the city. Meanwhile, their daughters became better educated than girls in previous generations; many go on to higher education, which enables them to pursue workplace opportunities previously out of reach for women. Still, China’s patriarchal culture instills stubborn attitudes about women’s capabilities and their roles as wives and mothers. At the intersection of gendered work and family expectations, China’s women confront their most difficult challenges. Today’s only-child daughters are expected also to assume obligations within their families that until recently were considered to belong to the sons.

Revisit “Day Dawns” and “Farm to Factory” in Women’s Work and “Becoming a Wife” in Daughter. Wife. Mother. There, they will also learn about China’s changing family structure in the “4-2-1: China’s New Family Form” box. Begin their research by using this lesson’s curated resources (Lesson Five tab) and the hyperlinks in Women’s Work. This additional content, along with information they find via keyword searches online, will prepare them to discuss these questions:

Click here to explore the curated resources for Group B.

Group C: City Dreams

After college, Mengping moved from rural Xiaxi Town to Shanghai where she commutes to work by city bus.

More girls are more highly educated now than they’ve been at any time in China’s centuries long history. For women who attain a college degree, the predictable hardscrabble life of a wife, mother and grandmother in rural China holds little appeal. Nor do the assembly-line jobs and cramped bedrooms that typified the grueling routine of migrant workers’ lives in their parents’ generation. For today’s college graduate, her destiny is likely to be different. Yet, as Mengping Yuan’s story illuminates in Women’s Work, college-educated women from rural towns confront numerous challenges as they try to fulfill their city dreams.

Review “City Dreams” in Women’s Work, watching its video, “Hard Landing.” Document why Mengping, a college graduate, set out to work in Shanghai and what it’s like doing the job she does. Read the first two paragraphs of the next section “Work and Gender.” To more fully appreciate Mengping’s life as a girl growing up in rural China in the 1990s, go to Abandoned Baby and read the box “She Can’t Be Our Baby.”

Begin their research by using this lesson’s curated resources (Lesson Five tab) as well as the hyperlinks in the story Women’s Work. This additional content, along with information they find via keyword searches online, will prepare them to discuss these questions:

Click here to explore the curated resources for Group C.

Group D: Work And Gender

In Beijing, women dressed up as pregnant nurses and doctors to protest the firing of pregnant employees. The sign in the middle says, “You cannot fire pregnant women as you want.”

Article 48 of China’s Constitution reads, “Equal rights for women.” China’s Employment Promotion Law (2007) states: “No employment unit, when recruiting a female employee, shall include a clause in the employment contract imposing marriage or childbirth restrictions on the employee.” In surveys, however, vast majorities of women in China say that they experience discriminatory treatment by employers. Such practices begin with gender-specific job ads. If a woman hasn’t completed childbearing, some ads tell her not to apply. Such messages are not legal, but the law is seldom tested. In the past two decades, according to a 2013 Save the Children study, the gender wage gap has been widening, too; the ratio of female-to-male earnings in urban areas has fallen from 77.5 percent (1990) to 70.1 percent (1999) to 67.3 percent (2010). Similarly, in rural areas the ratio of female-to-male earnings has fallen from 78.9 percent (1990) to 59.6 percent (1999) to 56 (2010).

Recently, a few pioneering young women have gone to court to fight for their employment rights. Until recently, women activists publicly protested against gender inequality, but such demonstrations ended in March 2015. To learn about these protests, scroll to the end of Daughter. Wife. Mother, view the captioned gallery “Taking to the Streets” and read “Voicing Discontent.”

Revisit the final two sections of Women’s Work – “City Dreams” and “Work and Gender” – and look at the captioned display of “Gender Employment Ads.” Begin their research by using this lesson’s curated resources (Lesson Five tab) and the hyperlinks in the story. Refer to the National Women’s History Project timeline for a legal history of American women’s rights and read this essay for a comparative exploration of the progress of women’s rights issues in America and China. This added content, along with information they find via keyword searches online, prepares them to discuss these questions:

Click here to explore the curated resources for Group D.

5 – Reflection and Action Project

This critical element of Touching Home in China’s lesson plans asks students to complete a culminating project to assess and demonstrate their learning. In doing this, students have an opportunity to try out new approaches as they share with others a finished project that reflects on knowledge gained in their Engaging the Challenge group explorations. Students should not expect to “solve” problems – in the sense of finding a definitive answer – though they are likely to draw broader public awareness to the situation and/or its consequences by the activities they pursue. It’s possible their project(s) will shift attitudes and inspire action. By reflecting and acting on what they have learned, we want students to gain deeper appreciation of the kind of challenges that individuals confront when they set out to solve a problem and/or inspire others to take action on an issue.

In this Reflection and Action Project, students learn about the playwriting techniques of Anna Deavere Smith. Her work is described as “a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism, and intimate reverie.” In a radio interview she described how she goes about writing a play: "I interview people, and then I make these one-person shows where I perform all the parts of the people I interviewed. When I was a girl growing up in Baltimore, my grandfather – who had an 8th-grade education – said that if you say a word often enough, it becomes you. ... I think, in a way, trying to heal the crisis of having to grow up in a de facto segregated city, I decided to try to become America, word for word. I’ve been going around for a long time now, since the late '70s, working on an oeuvre called "On the Road: A Search for American Character," where I’ve just interviewed lots and lots of people usually about subjects where there’s more than one point of view."

She has also talked about the space for community dialogue she created as part of her 2016 play, “Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education,” in which audience members come together (with a facilitator) to talk about the issues dealt with in the plan and explore how they can act to make a difference: “In the [play’s] second act, theatergoers are divided into groups that are led by a facilitator in the lobby and courtyard areas. Questions are raised to get the audience to link the material to their own lives. Pads and pens are distributed, along with snacks, and audience members are invited (though not compelled) to share their thoughts on what change might look like.”

Students use a collaborative approach that is similar to Smith’s to examine from various perspectives the work that women do, challenges they confront, and the kinds of gender discrimination they experience and how they cope with it. This project has two acts; the first act is the play they write and perform together; the second act is discussion about the play as performers and audience members come together to talk about what they heard, saw and learned. Students will facilitate these discussions. Students collaborate on all aspects of this effort.

The words in the play come out of interviews that middle-school students do with family members and high school and college students do with community members. It might be a good idea to have the students practice interviewing each other in the classroom before they try doing this with family and community members.

A few guidelines:

As a concluding exercise, ask students to write a brief essay (250 words) to describe their experiences in producing this play. Bring the students’ essays together online, perhaps in a Google folder.

Downloads (PDFs)

Lesson 1 – Abandoned Baby (pdf)

Lesson 2 – Touching Home (pdf)

Lesson 3 – Daughter Wife Mother (pdf)

Lesson 4 – Learning About Learning (pdf)

Lesson 5 – Womens Work (pdf)

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1 Transmedia is a technique of telling a story, or a series of stories, across multiple media platforms and using unique and different formats to deepen a learner’s experience with the content. For further reading on transmedia see Robert Pratten, Getting Started in Transmedia Storytelling: A Practical Guide for Beginners (London: CreateSpace, 2015).