Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What can the west learn from the success of Chinese schools?

Seventy teachers from the UK were sent to Shanghai to study classroom methods to investigate why Chinese students perform so well. Upon their return, the teachers reported that much of China’s success came from teaching methods the UK has been moving away from for the past 40 years.

The Chinese favour a “chalk and talk” approach, whereas countries such as the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand have been moving away from this direct form of teaching to a more collaborative form of learning where students take greater control.

Given China’s success in international tests such as PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS, it seems we have been misguided in abandoning the traditional, teacher-directed method of learning where the teacher spends more time standing at the front of the class, directing learning and controlling classroom activities.

Read it and weep. . .

As schools across America let out for the summer, it is a good time to re-think what we are doing wrong in the American educational enterprise. The lies we have told ourselves and the tragedy we have heaped upon our children who bear the cost of our foolishness. . .

  1. The ways of the past have not served us well.  Enthusiasm for discovery learning is not supported by research evidence, which broadly favors direct instruction.  In other words, our experimentation with more innovative and experimental styles of teaching, including basing learning on children’s interests, giving them more control over what happened in the classroom and getting rid of memorizing times tables and doing mental arithmetic, has not helped our children learn but only wasted their time and ours on the foolish distractions of modernity.
  2. Instruction dealing with new information should not be explicit and direct.  In other words, children sitting in rows of desks, listening to teachers, has been false derided as passive learning which should be replaced by active methods of instruction which involve the children and our aversion to memorization of facts actually hinders our children from recalling basic content and allowing them to integrate this into other areas of instruction and learning.
  3. Lavish praise is the key to effective learning.  The psychological evidence is clear that there are no benefits for learning from trying to present information to learners in their preferred learning style.  More than this, too much praise actually hinders their capacity to learn and even to think critically.
  4. Every child learns in his or her own way and at his or her own speed.  Instead of consuming the precious time, energy and resources to individualize instruction to meet the supposed individual learning styles of every child in the classroom, it is more effective to employ more explicit teaching strategies and to spend additional time monitoring and intervening where necessary.
  5. More money will solve the problem.  Unlike our American classrooms replete with the latest technology in new and fresh facilities, the Chinese classrooms use antiquated methods like chalk boards in cramped quarters and still their children outpace ours in the basic educational skills.  Money is not the problem; wasted money is the problem.
  6. There is no room for failure in the classroom.  Inflated grade systems and the press to pass children who have not mastered the basic skills of their grade have not helped anyone but have created a morass in which mediocrity rules and the whole educational endeavor seems to encourage telling our failing children that they are doing just fine.
I am certainly not intent upon duplicating the Chinese but in abandoning our ever present desire to reinvent education and to rediscover our own educational history and success -- when the children in American schools were at the top of the world class and our schools the envy of the world.  Discipline, memorization, attention to basic skills and the mastery of basic facts seem old-fashioned in our world of individualized learning where no child is allowed to fail but they may be the only means by which we can rescue our educational institutions from those who throw dollar after dollar at new, untried, and failed ideas.  We certainly cannot do much worse!

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

Moderns (& post-moderns) pooh-pooh memorization. Yet we constantly memorize the things important to us. We know which order of tasks will start our cars, which button is next to make our phones and computers do what we want. Have you seen how fast kids can text? Of course, they may be abbreviating words, or spelling them poorly, but they well know how many times to strike or where a particular letter is to be found. We memorize routes to our favorite places. Children know the words to favorite songs. All can tell you every detail about their favorite sports team or figure. It's the things we don't favor that must be taught in school. Math, who is the Secretary of State, geography (don't get me started on GPS), what is a participle, and on and on. We are not stupid, but evidently sin reaches even into our desires of what to learn. We learn what is expedient, and what is important (to us) or fun. We must be brought to learn that which is above expediency, and that which is important in and of itself. Learning is sometimes fun, but not always. Neil Postman's book Amusing Ourselves to Death had it exactly right. The rampant Biblical illiteracy in America is in part due to teaching/learning practices.