We can learn about maths teaching from Shanghai

My interest in Shanghai maths teaching is an intellectual matter not a political one.

We should definitely be wanting to know more about their pedagogy given we are rarely in a position in our busy, chaotic, highly emotional school lives to engage with it. They’re the ones who have the chance to rigorously pull apart and reconstruct maths teaching.

The fact that they come out on top consistently is of interest to me. If I was a manager of a mid-tier football team, I’d be wanting to find out what the managers of the top teams were doing. If I was a trainee surgeon, I’d want to know what the best surgeons do. If I was a maths teacher, I’d want to know what the best maths teaching might look like (and PISA would give me an indication as to where to look).

Shanghai is humble enough to claim they don’t have the monopoly on good ideas and I’ve been more than happy to find out how they do what they do.

As 60 Shanghai teachers prepare to teach in our schools next month, I am excited about what we’ll see that’s transerable.

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9 Replies to “We can learn about maths teaching from Shanghai”

    1. Culture and respect go a very long way. Clearly across the world. However, there are methods in their daily lesson delivery (which I had the chance to observe in Shanghai) that seem very effective. I’ve already started adopting them in my lessons. Again, I’m talking about Shanghai specifically, not China as a whole.

  1. Hi Bruno, interesting post. You have given me some interesting info I didn’t know previously,  but I feel you have taken inference that was unintended.

    Your first grievance is against a view I don’t hold. I never said teachers coming here was a bad thing. Although having read your thoughts I can see my choice of language could lead to this inference and I apologise for that.

    I feel I should say, however, that it is current,  not historic, human rights abuses that worry me. And I wouldn’t support removal of Germany cars because of Hitler but I would definitely support stopping of imports if Germany policy were to return to that of his day.

    I will admit the next grievance is also my fault, although not my intention. Again I worded badly my sentiment that the massive cultural differences may in fact be more important to success than the pedagogical approach. That said, having read your post and spoken to friend who have taught there I’m now fairly sure we can learn from them.

    As far as the iraq/Grimsby China Shanghai comparison goes, I feel again I may have massive mislead my thoughts. I was watching a Chinese ambassador get a hard time about human rights and had just read a numerous of articles suggesting we shouldn’t engage with China on new energy generation and I wondered why this sentiment wasn’t held to education.

    The post was intended to explain the reasons I had come to ponder these questions and then ask the questions, (can and should we learn form China on education?).

    It has lead to many discussions which have me leaning firmly to the side of “yes” and “yes”.

    I was shocked by your reaction to be honest, and a little hurt by the accusation of bigotry and racism. I really didn’t understand what the issue was. I’m glad you wrote the post because I now understand your frustrations, although some of them were against things I really didn’t mean to infer.

  2. A Dutch study found out that the Chinese children perform better than Dutch children in The Netherlands. And another study shows that adopted (by Dutch parent) Chinese children perform better than Dutch children.
    Conclusion: it’s not their educational system…
    This conclusion is supported by the fact that many participants of Maths Olympiade from USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, … are from Chinese origin.

    1. Having been out to Shanghai and seen their lessons, I can see there are valuable differences that I’ve been trying to introduce to my classroom.
      Also the study you refer to looks at China as a whole. I’m specifically talking about Shanghai, which may or may not be representative of China as a whole. I guess they need to do a study comparing Dutch-Dutch children with Shanghai-Dutch children. 🙂

  3. Like others who have commented, I was also quick to jump on the bandwagon and argue that it’s cultural differences rather than pedagogical differences that see Shanghai outperforming the UK. I have now changed my opinion. I have been reading and experimenting with variation theory and intelligent practice and believe this holds the key to the high levels of success.

    I believe the way the children are taught in Shanghai is superior to the way we teach in the UK. It is easy to argue that they produce better results due to longer school days and pressurised school environments but in my opinion it is a result of the teaching methods. Teachers in Shanghai teach in a more systematic way with the emphasis on the process rather than the product and this is what puts them at the top of the league tables.

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