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Chinese math teachers in UK show respect for local teaching approach, adjusting lessons as needed

(Xinhua)    08:07, September 18, 2018

Shanghai math teacher Zhang Yuhong is busy preparing herself for her third journey to teach in Britain, next January.

The 35-year-old has been working as a math teacher at the Shanghai Tianshan No.1 Primary School for 10 years. She was one of the first Shanghai math teachers sent to Britain under an academic exchange program between China and Britain in 2014.

"Math teachers from Shanghai have been well-received in British schools. I am excited that I am able to use the English version of a popular set of Shanghai math textbooks during my third teaching trip to Britain," said Zhang, referring to the English version of the series Real Shanghai Mathematics.

In March 2017, Harper Collins signed an agreement with the Shanghai Century Publishing Group at the London Book Fair to publish the books. The series of 36 books was introduced to British students in September 2017.

Zhang said all math teachers sent to teach in Britain must attend training courses offered by Shanghai Normal University, in addition to taking English language courses, whether or not they have experience.

Since the exchange program started in 2014, about 200 math teachers in Shanghai have joined, bringing their valuable experience in math education to about 8,000 primary and middle schools in Britain, according to the Shanghai Normal University, which is responsible for carrying out the program in China.

According to Zhang Minxuan, the person in charge of the program, more than 80 Shanghai math teachers will visit British schools in 2019. By 2020, a total of 10,000 British schools will have been visited by Chinese math teachers. In the meantime, British math teachers get the chance to do job shadowing in Shanghai, sharing ideas on education with their Chinese peers, under an exchange program between China and Britain.

In 2016, the UK Department of Education announced that it would spend 41 million pounds ($53 million) on a four-year program to spread the Shanghai Teaching for Mastery Program in the country, because Chinese students perform significantly better than their British counterparts in math.

Chen Yilin, a math teacher from the Shanghai Luwan No. 1 Central Primary School, was one of the teachers who finished the exchange program in Britain in January.

During her two-week stay, she found that math programs from China and Britain had different teaching approaches.

"In a British classroom, teachers like to use various kinds of teaching tools, and tend to put more emphasis on stratified teaching, with students divided into groups according to their ability," Chen said. "The Shanghai mastery approach emphasizes a step-by-step approach," she said.

Adaptations were made

Though the deep-rooted differences between the two countries are considered a difficulty, Chinese teachers in the UK have shown respect for the British teaching approach and adjusted their own teaching plans when necessary.

"Before delivering courses to British students, we usually have a discussion with our British peers in local schools," said Zhang.

"We discussed which math concepts we should pick to teach during the two-week teaching practice in accordance with the level and the needs of the students."

Chen believes that both the British and Shanghai styles of teaching have pros and cons.

"Chinese students are good at solving problems with the specific knowledge they have gained, yet they sometimes are stuck in inertial thinking, but British students of the same age sometimes have more divergent ideas when facing intricate tasks," Chen said.

Overall, British schools have shown a great interest in the Chinese math teaching approach and hope to learn from it through introducing math teachers and math textbooks from Shanghai.

"I was frequently asked by British peers about how to teach students at different levels in the same class," Zhang said. She always explained that the Chinese math textbooks had helped a lot.

Chen took part in the English translation of the Real Shanghai Mathematicstextbooks. She said that the books will be used as a reference by some of the Shanghai math teachers teaching in Britain.

She said the books are basically translated into English word for word, with some adaptations. It was the first time that a whole series of Chinese textbooks have been transferred to the national education system of a developed economy.

She said she was very impressed by a British-themed math class, in which a teacher used different materials to help introduce the math concept of classification.

Unlike teachers from Shanghai, whose only focus is in mathematics, British math teachers with general education backgrounds are able to offer more interdisciplinary courses with math concepts, Zhang said.

Xinhua

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