Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Shanghai Method of Teaching Mathematics.

Mathematics, Formula, Physics, SchoolApparently, there is a sincere interest in the Shanghai method of teaching mathematics for both elementary and secondary school in Britain.  Since students from Shanghai score at the top of the PISA tests, the method used to teach the topic must be wonderful and if applied in the United Kingdom, should help those students improve their scores.

Before exploring the method, it should be noted that only the students in Shanghai and Hong Kong took the test so I don't know how this method compares to the rest of the country.

It appears that the premise of the Shanghai method is that the lesson is composed of a teacher led whole group instruction for about three-quarters of the time.  The book used is created and annually updated by the Shanghai Commission of Education so everyone is using the same textbook in class and using it regularly.

An integral part of the class is for teachers to continually ask and answer questions, have students work their solutions on the board and query students about their thinking.  An ongoing assessment to monitor student understanding.

There are four basic principals associated with this method of teaching math.  The first is that the teachers repeat mathematical vocabulary throughout the lesson and require that students use complete sentences to respond.  In addition, teachers have students repeat certain sentences in unison and often selected the more advanced students to model answering questions using complete sentences.

Second is that teachers focus on conceptual understanding and learning.  There is a heavy emphasis on pictorial or other manipulative so students gain understanding that allows them to transfer to the more abstract material.

Third is they have a clear goal they do not deviate from even when students ask questions about other aspects of the topic.  If the teacher is trying to teach one topic and a students gets a related topic, the teacher will not move on because the related topic is usually covered in another lesson.  The lesson is to only be on the planned material with no deviation.

Finally, the teacher has a good knowledge of the material and is aware of potential misunderstandings of the topic so they are prepared.  They know their topic but these teachers general teach only two classes a day at most not the usually 5 to 6 a day most of us handle.

According to a question and answer section of the Daily Mail newspaper in the United Kingdom, primary teachers are trained in math and only teach maths, not a variety of subjects.  In addition, the students are all on the same page in the textbook at the same time but the students who are quicker do not move ahead, instead they help demonstrate the materials.

Apparently one student answers the questions and the others repeat the answer.  It is a highly regimented and repetitive teaching method with the idea that all students will learn the material and none will be left behind.  The arrangement of the classroom is one where students are in rows so students can focus fully on the teacher and the material being presented.

There are indications that these students are tested on a frequent basis so they are monitored  more than our students.  I'm going to guess that by taking the actual program and moving it to the United Kingdom, their students may not do as well as they hope because the program was developed for a specific cultural group.  The mindsets of the Chinese tend to be quite different to those in Britain and this math program is geared for that mindset.

I think the program has some excellent elements but I'm not sure it is wise to simply apply the whole program as written without taking into account British society.  Will it work?  I don't know but what I do know is that I've seen districts develop programs that worked well for their students but the same program did not work for other districts because it the student population was not taken into account.

Honestly, this sounds more of the chasing the rainbow looking for the one program that will elevate scores and get the students where they are "supposed" to be.  Unfortunately, people will be disappointed if results are not astounding within the first year or two.  The reality is that any new program can take 5 to 7 years before favorable results are actually being seen.  Only time will tell how well this works.