HKBU Enews Eyes on HKBU
Dec 2011 | Issue 15

Ms. Wu Yin-ching: Lighting a fire through education

Recipient of the President’s Award for Outstanding Performance in Teaching 2001 and 2009

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Among all the quotations on education she has come across, this one impresses Ms. Wu Yin-ching the most. Ms. Wu, Associate Professor of the Language Centre, HKBU, is a well-known Chinese creative writer. While the tenderness of her poems, prose and novels has won her renown in the literary arena, her students at HKBU are inspired and enlightened by her dedicated and enthusiastic teaching.

A good teacher
"In the beginning, I didn’t know how to teach,” shares Ms. Wu, who teaches courses on Chinese Creative Writing. “My problem was thinking that every student was like me. But I gradually came to understand that they were not only different from me, they weren’t even like each other.” She began to learn to put herself in other people’s shoes and get into the minds of her students.

Ms. Wu continues to explore new ways to nurture her students. “I try my best to fully utilise the semester, which is a short time indeed, to teach them well. I also hope every student gets something out of my course when they complete it.” She believes a good teacher is interested in both knowledge and people. “Teachers must be knowledgeable about their subject and also passionate about students’ growth and development.”

Ms. Wu encourages her students to “discover”, "own” and “grow”, absorbing new things, like a sponge, every single day. She was thrilled to receive a letter from a student telling her he had finally realised that he was a university student after all the new things he learnt in her class.

The P.I.E. pedagogy
She calls her pedagogical model “P.I.E.” – practice, interaction and exposure. “I encourage my students to practice repeatedly during and after class. For interaction, students form small groups and meet me after handing in the first draft of their assignments. I comment on their work and then they revise it. This speeds up the learning process because when listening to my comments to one team member, they usually learn to write better by avoiding the same mistakes.”

Ms. Wu exposes her students to the masterpieces of Western and Chinese literature from ancient times to the present. "For example, the classical poems of Wang Wei and Li He, works by Nobel Laureates Seamus Heaney and Tomas Tranströmer etc. I want to broaden their horizons while showing them that poetry is far from breaking prose into different lines as some laymen think.”

She also encourages them to use different stylistic devices such as rhetoric and metaphor in writing. Her students are also encouraged to interview different poets. “I don’t even mind if they want to go to Taiwan for the interview. The process of identifying and contacting the poet for an interview and then accomplishing the task can be extremely inspirational.”

All-round guidance
Ms. Wu owes her popularity as a teacher to not only paying attention to students’ academic development but also to their personal growth. “Nowadays students are not very disciplined,” she observes. “For example, some of them are often late for class; they think being 15 minutes late is fine.”

She never tries to correct their bad habits by punishing them. “If I do, they would be punctual to my class but late for other lessons.” Instead, she patiently explains how being habitually tardy will negatively impact their lives. “Gradually, these students start to come to class on time. When they are punctual, I ask the whole class to applaud them.” She also makes it a point to spend half an hour teaching every new class the basics of time management.

Lifetime friends
Ms. Wu is not finished with her students once they complete her course. “I hope they continue to write after my class,” she says. “I invite the most devoted students home for advanced writing classes.” She also tries to help young writers to get their work published.

Her greatest satisfaction comes from the close friendships that have developed among students and between herself and her students. “I hope my students can be friends for life,” Ms. Wu says. “My students regard me as a good friend as well and often treat me to a meal when they graduate and get a job. See, that’s where my body shape comes from!” she laughs.