• Podcast

Primary maths teaching in Shanghai: an exchange teacher’s view

A Mastery Specialist gives her impressions of maths teaching in a primary school in Shanghai

  • Published: 10/01/2019

How does maths teaching in a primary school in Shanghai look and feel to an experienced observing teacher from an English school? A Mastery Specialist from Leicestershire, who was among a group of teachers from Maths Hubs who visited Shanghai during school year 2018/19, gives her impressions.

Show notes

Taking part in the discussion are:

  • Afshah Deen, Primary Mastery Specialist and Year 2 teacher at Parkland Primary School, Wigston, Leicestershire
  • Chris Shore, Maths Hub Lead, East Midlands South Maths Hub
  • Steve McCormack, NCETM Communications Director

Episode chapters

  • 03:29 – Afshah’s overview of the experience
  • 06:36 – What impressed Afshah most
  • 07:17 – What surprised Afshah
  • 09:04 – A lesson on properties of 3-D shapes
  • 10:10 – Thoughts on small steps within lessons
  • 12:02 – Fluency of the Shanghai pupils
  • 13:16 – Shanghai teachers’ planning and discussions
  • 17:42 – How the experience has affected Afshah as a teacher
  • 18:58 – The wider context of teacher exchanges over the year
  • 24:19 – How ‘greater depth’ is viewed in Shanghai
  • 27:43 – Afshah’s role in her area as a Mastery Specialist 

When Afshah’s partner teachers taught at Parkland Primary School in January 2019, Afshah put together this summary of how both legs of the exchange affected her professionally:

‘Seeing maths teaching in Shanghai and observing how lessons are planned and then discussed and refined by teachers there has been the most interesting and rewarding professional experience of my career.

'I’ve literally questioned everything I’ve done for the last eight years of teaching. It’s really inspired me to be a better maths teacher. I love the subject even more and I’ve learnt a lot about how Shanghai teachers are very humble about how they know they haven’t completely ‘got’ the best way to teach maths, and how they want to constantly improve. I think that’s where we’re at here in England. We want to improve our maths teaching, and I think that, with the exchange and the other work we’re doing with the NCETM and Maths Hubs, we’re going in the right direction to become better teachers.

'Working with the Shanghai teachers, I’ve also found that my own subject knowledge wasn’t as good as I thought it was. There are still areas that I can work on. For example, always relating mathematics to real life contexts. They do that so well in China. And the teachers are never satisfied with just one or two methods of doing a calculation. They’re always looking for another method and then the best method for the context in question. That really help teachers challenge all pupils to continue striving for more efficient methods of using their maths.

'Seeing the teachers teach my class this week has highlighted more of the strengths of Shanghai teaching. They’re never afraid to stop, or slow down, a lesson to ensure that all children understand all the steps that are being taken. And they’re constantly asking for the children’s thoughts and getting them to question each other’s mathematical statements.

'The exchange will, indirectly, and over time, have benefits for the children in my school. For example, teachers, having observed the Shanghai teacher, will adjust their planning and their teaching to focus on depth of learning rather than just ‘covering the curriculum.’

'The more I see my Shanghai colleagues teach, the more I’m leaning towards focusing understanding the relationship between numbers and knowing number facts in the early primary years (Key Stage 1) and then building on this in the later primary years (Key Stage 2).‘

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