Dean of Admission's Blog


Learning the Keystone way—the Transition from Local Schools

In each of our first 3 years as a school we have had about 300 new students join our school. Approximately half of these students come to Keystone from Chinese public schools and experience a big adjustment from their public school environments. One of most obvious changes students have to make is learning academic content in English, and I will write more on this topic in a future blog post, but here are some of the other big adjustments Chinese students may face.

Class size

Public school classes can be anywhere from 30-40 students at the Primary level, to 50-80 students in many secondary schools. In this kind of classroom, students have very few opportunities to participate, and they are not very well known by their teachers. This learning environment demands a great deal of discipline from students. They must have the ability to sit still, to remain focused for long periods of time, to be quiet, and to listen to what the teacher has to say for the duration of the class. Unless a student’s test scores puts them at the top, or perhaps at the bottom, of the class, they don’t often have much interaction with their teachers.

At Keystone, our primary classes average 18 students, and our secondary classes are only 14-16 students. These small classes have a much different set of expectations than a Chinese School environment. Our students are expected to engage and participate regularly during classes. Instead of repeating what teachers have told them, students take in information and are then encouraged to express their own ideas about what they have learned; or they apply their learning in new and different contexts. We inspire students to be creative, and to ask and find answers to their own questions. For many public school students who are accustomed to repeating what they have learned, developing and explaining their own opinions is a challenging process. With guidance from teachers, however, they become more and more capable.

Relationships with teachers

Another benefit of Keystone’s small classes is the possibility for teachers to give individualized attention. Teachers use a variety of large group, small group and individualized instruction to meet the needs of their students at Keystone. This allows us to get to know each student’s needs so that we can tailor our teaching appropriately to challenge each child. Our teachers also work with students both in and out of the classroom through the afterschool and residential programs.

Spending time with teachers in this way is another new experience for public school students whose teachers may know very little about them, their family environment, or their passions.

At Keystone, getting to know our students both academically and personally helps us to understand them, their motivations and their challenges. The better we know them, the better we can help them to be successful in school and in life.

A different kind of homework

In Chinese public schools, much of the students’ homework is focused on memorization and practice. Homework takes the skills they have learned in the classroom, and repeats them over and over again. This level of practice helps student to internalize the lessons their teachers have taught them. In many schools, homework has no value in and of itself and students are ultimately assessed based on their exam performance at the end of the term.

At Keystone, we also use homework to practice skills, but sometimes students are asked to apply those skills in different ways than they learned in class. Homework is not only about executing a skill, but also about employing those skills in unpredictable ways. This encourages independent and flexible thinking in students. We also encourage students to work collaboratively on projects. We want them to develop their ability to work with others and to understand that a group is capable of achieving more than individuals can accomplish on their own. Learning how to harness different talents from various group members gives everyone the chance to grow and achieve more.

Experiential Education

The structure of the national school system can make it difficult to create alternative learning experiences for students. Many students in the Chinese public schools are required to do additional study after the class day is over and they have no time to pursue other interests.Students who discover interests and talents when they are in primary school usually have to give them up for the sake of study time when the get to secondary school. Activities such as sports, music, and the arts are considered “extra“ rather than a part of school expectations.

At Keystone, however, we consider such activities part of our curriculum rather than outside of it. We create intentional opportunities for our students to learn outside of the classroom as well as inside. Sports can give students the chance to develop skills such as teamwork and resilience in addition to better physical fitness. Arts activities can help to develop students’ observational skills, and creativity. Music can enhance focus, listening and linguistic skills. And service learning can help to increase empathy and collaboration. Whether we are helping students understand and appreciate the environment through camping trips, or deepening their understanding of history and culture on an experiential learning trip, all of our after school and experiential learning experiences help to develop key life skills in our students.

Learning the Keystone way certainly feels very different at first to the students who come from the local school system. The students who are most open to this new approach are also the ones to adjust quickly and embrace the Keystone learning environment.

Posted by S. Liang on Sunday September, 11, 2016


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Dean of Admission

Rachael Beare

Rachael Beare comes to Keystone Academy from The Hotchkiss School, one of the top boarding schools in New England, where she was the Dean of Admission and Financial Aid from 2008-2012.

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Western Association Of Schools And Colleges Round Square
Beijing, China
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