Shanghai and the UK participate in math teacher exchange

Source:Global Times Published: 2018/12/11 17:58:40

Inclusive teaching

Photo: VCG

"Students, what's wrong with the two questions I've just asked?" Chen Liang, a math teacher at Fudan Experimental High School, recently asked at the beginning of an algebra class. The students were asked to diagnose mistakes in math questions listed on the screen, according to a recent report by Shanghai Observer.

At the back of the classroom, Simon Jack, a math teacher from the UK, copied down the two questions. He seemed to have found a new way of teaching: beginning the class by correcting errors from previous assignments.

Over the past two weeks, Jack and 85 other British math teachers joined up with 60 primary and secondary schools in Shanghai, beginning the fifth round and the largest exchange of math teachers between China and the UK.

The same number of math teachers from Shanghai will visit the UK in January 2019 as scheduled. Over 500 exchange trips have been arranged between Chinese and British education institutions to absorb the teaching styles of Eastern and Western education.

Back in the classroom, Chen then told the students to come up to the front to correct the mistakes he had made, which originally came from the students' own homework.

Chen usually starts his day at 7 am to review homework. He will compile common mistakes and discuss them with his students in class later. Jack approved of Chen's method. "Learning from mistakes is part of math," Jack said.

No sense of superiority

According to Zhang Minxuan, dean at the Research Institute for International and Comparative Education, Shanghai Normal University, what Chen did in class is a practice called "inclusive teaching," which helps students progress as a whole by letting the class correct the mistakes of individual students.

Inclusive teaching is common in China, where teachers apply the same standards on the whole class, whereas in the UK it is more common to divide the class into different abilities.

Jack's co-worker, Becky Murphy, said that in the UK they never discuss homework in front of the whole class because the progress and academic levels of each student is different. But she also said that the concept of inclusive teaching is now being explored and implemented the UK.

Lin Jing, a math teacher at Shanghai Daning International Elementary School, was once engaged in an exchange to teach in a British school for one month. The students there were divided into two classes: "advanced" and "ordinary," according to their academic abilities.

There was no anxiety on their faces even if some students were assigned to the "ordinary" class. "British children learn very happily," Lin said, explaining that students in the "advanced" class have no sense of superiority while students in the "ordinary" class have no sense of inferiority. "It's not always about advancement but more about being happy," she said.

In addition, the method of teaching can also differ from person to person. Lin admitted that Chinese math teachers often provide students with a standard solution to the problem, emphasizing the "fastest" and the "best" way, while British teachers are not limited to one mathematical method.

Photo: VCG

Brits have it harder

During these academic exchanges, Chinese and British teachers debate "who is busier?" The consensus is that being a teacher in the UK just might be harder than being a teacher in China, which makes both sides a little surprised.

In Fudan Experimental High School, young teachers like Chen usually have an average of 18 class hours a week, each of which is about 40 minutes. However, in British secondary schools, teachers usually have an average of 22 classes per week, each of which is about 60 minutes. Chinese teach about 720 minutes per week, while English teach about 1,320 minutes - 80 percent more than Chinese teachers.

What is more concerning is that British teachers teach cross-grade classes while Chinese teachers need only to teach parallel classes in the same grade during one semester. This means that British teachers must face students of different ages and abilities and subject matter all in one day, which leaves them little time to prepare their lessons, review homework and participate in research activities.

In the eyes of some British teachers, their Chinese counterparts are busy, especially after class. Take Chen for example, who must attend math faculty meetings every Wednesday afternoon, which give tutorials to all teachers to improve their methods.

At the beginning of this exchange, British teachers tended to "resent" Shanghai's more-organized way of teaching, such as stepping into the class of another teacher and giving evaluations on each other's methods. However, after opening their classrooms and listening to Chinese suggestions, some British teachers started to feel that "this is not impossible."

Teaching tools

When comparing British and Chinese math education, the teachers found out that teaching tools are usually overlooked in the Chinese teaching system. From previous exchange trips to the UK, many Chinese teachers brought home supporting tools from the UK, which are rich in design and color, allowing students a more vivid access to math.

Chen thinks that Chinese students may be good at calculating pure math problems, but they are afraid of application problems. British students, on the other hand, tend to start with concrete problems, from concrete to abstract.

With the latest round of cooperation between Shanghai and British education departments, the number of British primary and secondary school teachers coming to Shanghai in 2019 will reach 100, a record high. Perhaps the best teaching style in the world is the most integrated one.

This story was translated by Qi Xijia based on a report by Shanghai Observer.


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