Reflections on Shanghai teaching CPD
After reading some of the material published on the PISA website, I was really looking forward to attending this seminar and, I can definitely say that, it was a positive experience.
Children in Shanghai have the best results in the world in mathematics, so it is not surprising if their teachers are receiving a lot of attention by those countries that want to raise their educational standards.
The two teachers we observed must have been students in Shanghai, too. I was struck by their mathematical fluency. Especially the younger teacher was particularly quick to move over different concepts, but I do not know whether this is a common feature of all the teachers in China or in Shanghai.
One of the things that I particularly liked is the use of appropriate mathematical language when explaining a concept, as for instance when they referred to the distributive and the commutative law during the lesson. I think that by using this terminology, from the start of their academic career, children will be able to recall those concepts much more quickly. The use of the concept non-concept probing question is also very simple and very effective. Furthermore, it was interesting to know that these teachers from Shanghai think they can learn and bring back some ideas from the UK, too. In fact, I asked one of them and he told me that the use of MWB is really worth bringing back.
However, I think that in order to fully appreciate their method, I would need to attend a longer seminar. Also, as a trainee, I lack stable terms of comparison between different teaching methods. Maybe, a more experienced teacher would be able to draw some deeper comparisons including the drawbacks of their method. For this reason, I would prefer to refer to what I have seen as a teaching style, and I do not feel I can make any generalization.
During the lunch break, I had the opportunity to ask another trainee teacher what he thought about this teaching method. We both agreed to refer to what we saw as pure mathematics, by which I mean that there was not much context around the concepts that were being explained. This might work in Shanghai, but might confuse children in this country.
In Shanghai, teachers specialize per year group with the twofold advantage of deepening subject knowledge for teaching and child development. They also teach classes of, sometimes, 45 children or more and have on average two 35-mins lessons per day. I do not think this is going to happen in UK. On one hand, teaching in Shanghai might be very effective, but on the other hand there is the big role played by culture. Some other countries in a European context are also doing particularly well at maths. Instances are Finland, Switzerland and the Czech Republic that might have a narrower cultural gap with the UK.