Shanghai learning: The opinion of one trainee teacher

Posted by Glen on Jan 4, 2016

Firstly let’s be honest, the way we teach mathematics in the United Kingdom is not as effective as we want it to be. With reports indicating that not only are Britain the “20th” best mathematical providing country in the world, but also that Asia on a whole, is number 1, with countries like Singapore, and Hong Kong heading the table. Not only does this damning statistic indicate our failings to provide world class teaching to students, but also suggests that as a country we are limiting potential economic development, with the OECD reporting the better education a country has, the better economic growth. So what can we learn from our counterparts on the other side of the world?

Well according the government, quite a lot apparently, they believe that teachers in the UK could learn a lot from their Asian counterparts, and have created a whole host of different activities and schemes designed to integrate the two organsiations, allowing UK teachers to shadow Chinese teachers and report back to the UK, allowing teachers to come over here and teach, etc etc. This in my opinion is a little rude, I wholeheartedly believe that teachers should be flexible, and adaptive and continue to grow as a teacher, changing their styles to reflect the zeitgeist, but i also believe that as a teacher, one has a particular attitude towards teaching that stems from not only ones personal beliefs but also ones environmental predisposition. To integrate teachers of different countries is fine, if both are learning from the other being there, but i feel the UK’s government has developed a more, “copy what you can” attitude stemming not from their desire to promote education and understanding in our classrooms, but rather to mimic a country whose economy has risen nearly every year without fail.

However political cynicism aside what have we learnt?

Well rather than moving every lesson/week from one topic to a new topic that the latter may or may not rely upon, in Shanghai, teaching is focused around a single mathematical concept at a much greater level of depth, and will not be progressed upon, until every student has mastered it. comparatively in the UK with tests dictating our every academic plan, we as teachers have to maintain a pace that some students struggle with, allowing gaps in knowledge to appear.

Perhaps the biggest and most shocking difference between the two different teaching styles, was the use of whole class learning, here in the UK on average 24% of classroom time is designated to whole class involvement, where students are engaged with the teacher standing at the front, and the remaining time left for group work, independent study and the opportunity to ask any questions, one might not have felt comfortable asking in front of the rest of the class. Compared to Shanghai, where they allow fro 72% classroom engagement, indicates that the need for classroom engagement is far greater than we previously assumed.

In conclusion, while there may be political motives to why we adopt Shanghai learning in the UK, to rule out the practices would be abhorrent, and more importantly a failing to our students, by changing the way we teach lessons even slightly could potentially yield significantly better test results, but more importantly allowing students to develop a greater understanding of mathematical laws and concepts we like to ignore, and as such to me, that means it’s worth a shot at least.



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