Thoughts from the Maths Hub Shanghai Teacher Exchange

Natasha Corrigan is currently in Shanghai taking part in the NCETM Teacher Exchange. She has travelled along with a group of other primary and secondary maths teachers to observe teaching in a range of Shanghai schools. Here are her thoughts after her first week away.

In week one I have spent 3 days in a middle school and 1 day in a primary school. I have seen 8 maths lessons ranging from year 4 to year 8, I have taken part in lesson feedback teacher research groups, had a Q and A with some year 9 students (in fluent English), I have taught an English lesson, and have been spoiled with food and presents.

The first main shock was just how proud the schools are to have us, and how welcoming they are. We have had our names displayed on the front of the school, present bags from both schools, a huge goodbye ceremony, but mainly just being looked after so well and supported in everything that we have wanted to do throughout the week. They have wanted to learn from us as well as us learning from them. 50 years of work has gone into designing and refining the maths curriculum and they are still pushing to make it better.

School takeaways

Lesson length and 10 minute break between
Every lesson is 35 min in primary school and 40 min in secondary. This is in EVERY school. The music plays and the students are focused, silent, ready to learn on their lovely individual desks that can be moved around easily to make any formation of groups. When the music plays again, the lesson is over. For 10 minutes students are children. They slide around the corridors, jump down flights of stairs, play with each other. It was great to see and reminded me of students in my own school however I would be telling them to be sensible and quieter at break time. Maybe we don’t give them enough time to just be themselves? Every moment of the lesson is focused so the time can be short and pacey. The break is key in making sure they can stay focused in lessons. I think I am going to trial this within my double lessons to see if the focus in the second half improves by giving them a 10 minute break.

The curriculum has been designed over years by experts for every school. All schools have the same textbooks. The examples used in lessons are there for the teachers so when they are planning they are looking at how they will introduce the concept and reach the examples. The one key concept in each lesson is also identified so no one tries to teach too much or extra content. Every teacher knows what students have done before and where they are going next, something we find difficult and end up spending so much time re- teaching. Do something at the right time in the right way, seems simple enough if we had textbooks. They would also support anyone who needs help with subject knowledge.

I was interested when talking to teachers about how they plan lessons. They do not all collaboratively plan as I had thought they might. They say they use the textbook and then plan for their own classes. They use real life examples in every lesson when they are appropriate. If not necessary, they do not. They spend a lot longer with the introduction of the concept. For example in a lesson on the meaning of percentage, 20 minutes was on what percentage is. They read out percentage sentences, they wrote percentages down, they saw percentages shown on different real life graphs. They did all of this before comparing some percentages. Also in a circumference of a circle lesson, 30 minutes was spent showing real life examples of circles, students measuring diameter and circumference of coins (discovering pi), watching a history of pi video. Everything is done in depth and not rushed over before fully understood. The teacher is still free to be completely creative with their own lesson design. They also often create their own extra questions to push and challenge students (we saw some incredible algebraic fractions questions being used with year 8, students in A level would struggle with these) but the textbook gives consistency, continuity and the minimum every child must study.

Variation of questions has been something I was really interested in seeing as we have talked lots about this over the last few years within my mastery training as well as in school with colleagues and it is increasingly featured online in many resources. The intelligent practice and variation between questions here has been far greater than I expected. It is very well crafted though and the jump is big enough for students to have to think more but not too big that they get lost. I feel perhaps I have had too small jumps between questions that students are not having to think hard enough and this is something I am going to try to be better at when I return to my own teaching.

Students do Maths, English and Chinese homework everyday for the following day. This is then marked and teachers will intervene by finding students at lunch time or after school and they will reteach the lesson to them. When we taught an English lesson, one of the questions a student asked us was how can students be good at maths if they only do 10 minutes of homework a day. This was after we shared how much maths homework on average year 7s do in England. Now I know we do not have the means to intervene daily, or to set homework everyday with our greater workload than the teachers in Shanghai have (10 lessons a week). I do however want to trial setting a few questions at the end of every lesson for the following lesson. I will then at the beginning of the next lesson get students to mark them quickly. Whilst the students who got them correct can continue with the reconnect (starter), I will intervene with those who have struggled. This is not a perfect solution but is something I would like to try that may help our students get the amount of practice they need.

Natasha Corrigan is an Assistant Head at Sir Robert Woodard Academy, Lancing and a Maths Secondary Mastery Specialist. She is @tashawidmer on Twitter.

The teachers from Shanghai that Natasha visited will be returning to teach at Sir Robert Woodard Academy in March 2020 – look out for Sussex Maths Hub Open Classroom events at and @SEMathsHub

Deb Friis

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