Lesson observation– but not as we know it!

One of the remarkable sights created by the England – China teacher exchange programme, now an established part of the work of every Maths Hub, is that of a teacher from Shanghai standing in front of a class of English primary school children and leading them through mathematical concepts and using the English language! What’s more, these impressive and often young (many are in their 20s) Chinese teachers don’t seem terribly fazed by having to abandon their mother tongue. More important to them is the language of maths they impart so enthusiastically in English classrooms, from Cumbria to Cornwall via Leeds and London.

And everywhere the children treat their visitor with a mixture of affection and respect, and engage in the lessons with gusto. This is most obvious when, as is common practice in Shanghai (but by no means wholly novel here) the teachers invites pupils to the front to explain their methods of doing a calculation or solving a problem. But arguably more remarkable than the Shanghai teacher’s presence in English classrooms has been the numbers of teachers coming from far and wide to watch them, and then engage in vibrant discussions, with the Chinese teachers and among themselves, about the fine detail of pedagogy they’ve witnessed. In each Maths Hub, at least two of the recent Shanghai lessons were set up in a school hall, allowing space for 50 to 100 teachers at the back to observe. And even in normal classrooms, it’s been commonplace to see twenty teachers in chairs on three sides of a classroom. This is how the professional learning experience is really spreading around significant numbers of teachers – already amounting to several thousand across the country.

And we’ve been struck by the consistency of what the English teachers have identified as strengths of the Shanghai approach. These include:

  • Breaking learning down into small steps and then drawing together in the form of conclusions and mathematical generalities
  • Slowing the pace down, but going more deeply into each concept
  • Focusing on how answers to questions are arrived at more than what the answers are
  • Teacher’s precise use of mathematical language, and expecting children to do likewise
  • Exploring different methods of tackling calculations and questions
  • Getting children to explain and discuss their methods and the identification of the most efficient strategies
  • The importance of times tables and number fluency

One such discussion among teachers after seeing a Shanghai lesson can be seen in a short video on the exchange page of the Maths Hubs programme website.