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18/08/20212021/08/18

What is the best classroom teaching as the education sector in China facing 'double burden ease' guidelines?双减之际,什么才是最好的课堂教学——德威前校长谈中西教育流派之争

What is the best classroom teaching as the education sector in China facing double burden ease guidelines?

The debate between traditional and progressive education, originated from ideas of John Dewey, an American philosopher and educational reformer, has been going on for decades. In its simplest form, traditional teaching favours direct instruction with a specific end-goal (usually an assessment), whereas progressive teaching focuses more on what students are passionate about and what critical thinking skills they can develop. In his recent article published on TES, the weekly UK publication aimed at education professionals, David explained his answer to the trad vs prog debate and how the two teaching approaches can be combined successfully in China. We hope this article could bring new inspiration to Chinese educators as the government introduces guidelines to ease the burden of excessive homework and after school tutoring.

 

Teacher-led or Student-centered?

It was a familiar conversation.

I had just done a paired observation with an expat senior leader. We had watched an experienced Chinese maths teacher at my school in Shanghai. After eight years of observations as a head in China, what we had seen was typical, as was the Western response. The lesson was teacher-led, not much interaction, and though a lot of work was done, the students were not always fully engaged. The pace was quick, the explanations sometimes a bit cursory, but the content was rich and supported by a clearly written textbook. There was a short test at the beginning, and a good dose of homework set at the end.

My colleague was rueful. She wanted more student interaction and a clearer focus on problem-solving. Not unreasonable requests. Fairly basic for a UK classroom.

However, what the lesson needed was not a simple replacement of its Chinese foundations, but an integration of soft skills and application of knowledge that good Western pedagogy can offer.

This process of seeking to transition teaching from a traditional Chinese base to incorporating international pedagogy is endemic among the new bilinguals in China. More universally, it symbolises the philosophical clash that has set progressive, child-centred proponents against traditionalists for the past 100 years.

 

Pedagogy: The trad vs prog battle in education

But the fact is that the Chinese approach has an impact. The outcomes in the latest 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) global educational performance data are difficult to refute. In maths, the top seven performing countries are all in Asia, as are seven out of the top 10 in science, and the top four in reading. Top of the tree in all three categories is China.

Notwithstanding reservations about the methodology undergirding these outcomes, the trend is at least noteworthy. All the Asian jurisdictions promote pedagogies founded on Confucianism where direct Instruction, rote learning and regular testing are the order of the day.   

Even in the UK, Chinese achievement is evident. In December 2020, the government reported on GCSE English and maths that, "pupils from the Chinese ethnic group were most likely to get a strong pass (76.3 per cent)".

Why Chinese students perform better in UK schools than other ethnic groups is clearly in part because of cultural norms and family support. But be under no illusion, the support granted at home and through any tutors who may be employed is very much of the traditional method.

 

Knowledge-based or skill-focused?

The Chinese default pedagogy is ancient and avowedly knowledge-based. The GaoKao, the Chinese university entrance examination, is essentially a memory test based on the old civil service exam system that required rote learning and fast recall.  

Modern synoptic meta-studies and neuroscience consistently affirm that the pedagogy accompanying the Confucian tradition works. Its emphasis on spaced repetition and enhanced retrieval practice through regular testing embeds knowledge into long-term memory.

In the schools where I have worked, it was interesting to note the emphasis on foundational knowledge in the Chinese classroom. There was a ubiquitous platform of well-developed knowledge retention and manipulation, often inspired by good teacher-led delivery. 

By the end of primary school, a Chinese child will have mastered up to 3,000 characters and have learned multiplication rhymes that embed their times tables in-depth with razor-sharp recall. More progressive or more child-centred methods, often modelled by Western staff, were introduced but as an accompaniment, not as a replacement for Chinese methods.

 

Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater

However, at their most basic, these traditional methods, especially in Chinese public schools, are brutal. The emergence of the new international bilingual schools is in part inspired by demand from Chinese parents wishing to save their offspring from the Gaokao regime.

Many students lock themselves away for months for up to 18 hours a day of study. Some are even sent away to Gaokao preparatory schools, run on military academy-style principles. The sacrifices and mental health risks associated with gaining the necessary mark to achieve entry into a top Chinese university are not acceptable to a growing number of Chinese parents.         

Yet Chinese parents do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The most popular international schools will offer a holistic education that develops soft skills, but there is still an insistence on rigour. Woe betide any new school that verges too much on child-centredness and fails to push students’ learning. The demand is for the development of independent learners with a stony expectation of achieving high standards.

 

The best of both worlds: mix of Chinese and western models

The practice of offering a Western education in the Chinese market shows how traditional and progressive can mix. It is clear that Chinese students benefit hugely from skills devolved from methodologies that encourage collaboration and communication; for example, group work and project-based learning. They revel in Socratic questioning, and activities accessing the higher reaches of Bloom’s taxonomy advance their creativity and critical thinking.

The debate on what pedagogy works best will no doubt continue, but the abiding lesson for me is that more progressive approaches work because the Chinese students already have a firm grasp of foundational knowledge derived from well-planned, more traditional methods, especially the routinisation of number and language work.

教育传统派和革新派之间的争论,源于美国哲学家和教育改革家约翰·杜威的思想,已经持续了几十年。简而言之,传统教学强调明确指令和具体目标结果(通常是评估成绩),而革新式教学则更注重学生对什么有热情,以及他们能发展什么批判性思维能力。在最近发表在《泰晤士报教育副刊》的文章中,戴维·曼斯菲尔德分享了他对教育传统派与革新派之间辩论的回答,以及两种教学方法如何在中国成功结合。我们在此分享这一文章,希望能给面对“双减”新政的中国教育者们带来启迪。

 

由教师来主导Vs以学生为中心?

这是一次我们倍感熟悉的对话。

我刚刚和一位外籍校领导在上海的学校进行了一次配对巡课,对象是一位经验丰富的中国数学老师。在中国当了八年的校长后,这是我们观察到的非常典型的中国课堂,也收到了非常典型的西方反馈——这堂课是由教师主导的,学生互动性并不强。虽然教师做了很多工作,但学生并不总是完全参与。教师讲课速度很快,并且在讲解题目过程中有时比较粗略。但好在课程内容很丰富,并且有内容清晰的课本做补充。课堂开始时教师进行了一个小测试,结束时教师布置了充分的家庭作业。

我的同事很失望——因为她希望课堂能有更多的学生互动,教师能更明确关注于解题。这些要求不无道理,因为对于英国的课堂来说,这些是基本要求。

然而,这堂课需要的不是将中式教学的基础进行简单替换,而是融入软技能和知识的应用,而这些正是良好的西方教学法所能提供的。

这种寻求从传统的中式教学基础过渡到国际教学法的过程,在中国新兴的双语学校中很普遍。在更宏观的层面,这标志着支持以学生为中心的革新派与过去百年的传统派在教育理念上的冲突。

 

教学法:教育中的传统与革新之争

但事实是,中国教学法独具影响力。从最新的2018年国际学生评估计划(Pisa)全球教育绩效数据结果来看,这一事实难以被反驳。在数学这一学科,表现最好的七个国家都在亚洲,科学学科前十名中的七个国家也在亚洲,阅读学科前四名也在亚洲。而中国学生的成绩在以上三个领域中都名列前茅。

尽管对支撑这些成绩的教学方法有所保留,但至少这一趋势值得注意。所有亚洲国家都提倡以儒家思想为基础的教学法,包括直接教学、死记硬背和定期测试都大行其道。

即使在英国,中国学生的成绩也是显著的。2020年12月,英国政府在GCSE英语和数学考试中的报告称,“来自华裔群体的学生最有可能获得的优异成绩(76.3%)”。

中国学生在英国学校的表现优于其他族裔的原因,显然部分是因为文化的规范以及家庭的支持。但不要心存幻想,在家庭中和通过雇佣导师得到的支持依然是传统派的教育方法。

 

记忆知识Vs培养技能?

中国默认的教学法是古老的,明确以知识为基础的。高考作为中国大学的入学考试,本质上是一种基于传统官员考试系统的记忆测试,需要死记硬背和快速记忆。 

现代综观教育学和神经科学一致确认,伴随着儒家传统的教学法是有效的。它强调间隔重复,并通过定期测试加强检索练习,将知识嵌入长期记忆中。

我注意到在我工作过的学校里,中式课堂上对基础知识的强调非常有趣——通过无处不在、精心设计的平台来掌握巩固知识,并往往通过教师主导的授课来激发实现。

到小学毕业时,中国孩子已经可以掌握多达3000个汉字,并学会了乘法儿歌。儿歌将乘法表深刻地印入脑海,形成敏锐的记忆。以学生为中心的革新教学方法,往往是由西方教师引入和示范,但更多只是作为一种补充,而不是替代中国的教学法。

 

取其精华  去其糟粕

然而在其最核心本质,这些传统方法,尤其表现在中国的公立学校中,是残酷的。新兴国际双语学校的出现,其部分原因是中国家长的需求,希望将他们的孩子从高考制度中解救出来。

许多学生把自己关在家里几个月,每天学习长达18小时。有些学生甚至被送到军事化原则运作的高考预备学校。越来越多的中国家长难以接受,为获得进入中国顶尖大学的必要分数,而带来的牺牲和心理健康风险。        

然而,中国家长不会将精华连同糟粕一起丢弃。最受欢迎的国际学校将提供全面的教育,既培养学生软性技能,同时保持学业的严格要求。如果新学校过于以学生为中心而不能提高学生的学习成绩,那就糟糕了。市场的要求是培养独立的学习者,并坚定不移地期望达到很高的学业标准。

 

两全其美:中西方模式的融合

在中国市场上提供西方教育的实践表明,传统和革新是可以相结合的。很明显,中国学生从西方鼓励合作和交流的教学方法中受益匪浅:例如小组作业与通过项目学习。他们沉醉于苏格拉底式提问;而那些涉及布鲁姆分类学习法中高阶应用的活动,则能帮助提高他们的创造力和批判性思维。

关于何种教学法最有效的争论无疑将继续下去。但对我来说长期的经验是,西方革新的教学方法在中国行之有效,因为中国学生已经从中国精心设计、更传统的方法中牢固地掌握了基础知识,尤其是在数字和语言的常规教学上。

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