Sunday, 29 November 2015

Shanghai Teaching Method 'Could Improve UK Results Within Four Years' By Sally Weale

Lianjie Lu, a maths teacher from Shanghai, delivers a maths lesson to students at Fox primary school in Notting Hill, London.
The government’s controversial experiment with Shanghai mathematics teaching in English schools could pay dividends with improved test results within four years, according to one leading expert.
David Reynolds, professor of education at Southampton University, said it was “not beyond the realms of possibility” that UK pupils could post better scores in the next round of Pisa international tests in 2018 (and published the following year) thanks to the Shanghai-style teaching.
The Department for Education (DfE) is in the second year of a Shanghai-England teacher exchange which aims to raise English pupils’ maths skills. Shanghai currently tops the international maths league table published by the OECD, while UK pupils lag behind in 26th position .
The Shanghai approach is to shape each maths lesson so it concentrates on a single mathematical concept, which is covered methodically and in great depth. The class does not move on until every child has mastered the lesson.
This month nearly 70 Shanghai maths teachers are working in English secondary schools, demonstrating their teacher-led “mastery method” to English counterparts. It involves whole-class, interactive teaching to an all-ability group.
“I’m an enthusiast,” said Reynolds, who is a member of the Sheffield Hallam university committee set up to evaluate the UK-Shanghai experiment. “Everything one hears about it is impressive and suggests it’s useful.”
Fifteen-year-olds in OECD countries have just sat this year’s Pisa test, the results of which will be published next year, which will be too soon to show any impact, the professor said. “But the Pisa after [in 2018 - the tests are triennial], we might be talking about making a substantial improvement.” Others believe it will take longer.
At St Mark’s Catholic school in Hounslow, west London, directly beneath the thunder of the Heathrow flight path, Miss Li Chen from Shanghai is trying to impart the commutative law of multiplication to a class of year 7 pupils.
English pupils would not ordinarily be aware they are learning the law of commutativity. They would learn the maths, without being taught the law behind it - a sort of “dumbing down” we favour here, one teacher observing the lesson commented.
Miss Chen is bright and energetic; she addresses the whole class in a teacher-led approach, which is less popular in the UK, regularly engaging with pupils, asking them to supply the answers and explain their work to the class.
“I think they are smart,” said Miss Chen, after class. A key difference is that her students in Shanghai get homework every day, with a test every week. (In England pupils can expect maths homework once or twice a week.) “We push them to learn more and try more. In England that’s not the way.”
Miss Yingzhen Guo, who is also working at St Mark’s, added: “They understand and answer the questions quickly. Next day I ask them and maybe they forget. In China they do a lot of work at home.” As well as homework, many children in Shanghai will have private tutoring and weekend school.
The St Mark’s pupils seem to have enjoyed their Shanghai lessons and have found them relatively easy. “First I thought it might be confusing, but then I realised it’s a bit easy,” said Jairus Gonsalves, aged 11. “I’ve been learning some of this before. I love maths.”
“It’s really interesting to have a teacher from another country,” said Antonia Woznica, 11, “but it’s not that different. This lesson was pretty simple. I didn’t have to work particularly fast.”
“I feel they are just the same as the ordinary lessons,” said 12-year-old Henry Beesley. “I assume it’s to boost our learning in maths but I see no difference. I would rather be in an English lesson.”
Schools minister Nick Gibb, who is leading the Shanghai project, writing in the Guardian, described it as “one of the most valuable education initiatives undertaken by our government over the past few years.
“Shanghai mathematics teaching works because it is meticulous. Every step of a lesson is deliberate, purposeful and precise. If the Shanghai teacher exchange can show enough English teachers the merits of such practice, it will have been a resounding success.”
Not everyone is quite so enthusiastic.John Jerrim, of the UCL Institute of Education, who has carried outresearch into the effectiveness of the east Asian maths mastery approach, welcomed the project, but urged caution.
“To their credit, the DfE are going about this in a reasonable way. They are doing a proper evaluation through an independent group.” He added, however: “The minister may want to wait for the results of that evaluation to see what they say before jumping to any strong conclusions.
“Teaching methods may differ but there’s a whole lot of other explanations [for Shanghai’s success], ranging from culture, to private tutoring and parental investment. To tease out the role of those different factors is incredibly difficult.”
Jerrim’s research focussed on the Singaporean mastery method - similar to that of Shanghai - which has been adopted in a number of primary and secondary schools in the Ark academy chain.
“What we know from that is that it leads to a small positive gain in maths test scores, but the emphasis should be on small. It’s not a silver bullet. It’s not game changing.
“Other countries could possibly learn from what the DfE here is doing but I would be more cautious about second guessing conclusions. We should wait for the evaluation results to see what it’s showing.”

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