On Friday 23rd November, my adventure began. I was one of 16 secondary school teachers across the UK chosen to visit Shanghai to observe the teaching in their schools. Shanghai’s maths results are outstanding and both the UK government and the Chinese government are keen to work together to share best practice to raise standards for all students. I was eager to see how teaching practice differed from our country. In particular, I wanted to find out what I could learn to share with my colleagues so we could get even better results from our students.
From the moment I touched down, my breath was taken away. The sheer size of the city was awe inspiring. My partner teacher, Becky and I had travelled for 20 hours without sleep but the first thing we did was dump our cases and get out to explore.
Wow! From speeding mopeds on pedestrian streets to 88 floor buildings, it seemed like another world. We sampled our first Chinese meal, making sure we used chopsticks! The hot bean milk was a step too far although the rest was delicious. This was one of the few opportunities we had to explore and we were determined to make the most of it.
By 6pm, we were back in the hotel to attend an introductory lecture to the structure of the rest of our stay. Paul Kett, Director-General for the DFE was there to represent Nick Gibb, Secretary of State for Education who was disappointed to not be able to attend due to pressing engagements at home!
Our programme was outlined which included 2 primary school visits, 2 secondary school visits, a welcome ceremony at Shanghai Normal University (which included a lecture by Professor Gu- a world renowned researcher in teaching for mastery), as well as a seminar on Sunday morning with high profile key speakers on variation theory.
An early night was in order as the jet lag was kicking in! Only then did I realise what a spectacular view of Shanghai my hotel room afforded me. I was on the 34th floor and the sun had set. At night, Shanghai lights up. All the buildings and roads are illuminated and change colour. It was the most amazing light show I had ever seen.
And so our first week began……
Attending the welcome ceremony made me aware of the importance of this cultural exchange. The Director-General for the Chinese Government and Mr Kett were there to sign a memorandum of understanding between the 2 governments. As a result, the Chinese press were there in their droves and we were photographed constantly during the speeches. This was something I had to get used to as we were photographed throughout, even making the biggest national newspaper on several occasions.
It was a busy day! After the ceremony, we had two lectures. One from Professor Zhang, Director of Shanghai Normal University and a lead influencer in Chinese Education theory and practice and the other from Professor Gu. After lunch, which involved drinking yoghurt through a straw, we got to meet our Chinese partner teachers. They were so helpful and eager to make our visit a success. I knew this visit was going to have a profound effect on me.
The next day, our focus for being in Shanghai began. It was a flurry of lesson observations and TRG meetings (teacher research group meetings). The aspect that struck me most was the pace, challenge and total focus on teaching maths, ensuring all lessons delivered were the best they could possibly be. Planning was done in teams, lessons delivered and then evaluated. The lessons were then tweaked to ensure maximum impact. Every school has a recording studio where up to 20 teachers will observe a co-planned lesson so they can contribute to its improvement or learn from a model of excellence. This did result in a lot of talk but resulted in lessons that accelerated learning because the key points had been identified and superfluous information discarded.
Shanghai teachers teach eleven 40-minute lessons a week. The remainder of the time is spent reviewing lessons, marking homework, designing lessons and talking about delivery. Each teacher teaches 2 classes from the same year group so they become experts in that year group. They then move on with them to ensure a full breadth of curriculum knowledge.
It was evident that student respected and admired their teachers. We were applauded on entering and leaving every class. Students stood and bowed to their teacher at the start and end of every lesson. In one lesson, the students finished the lesson by saying “Teacher, you are tired, go and rest” to which the teacher replied “You too.”
Mathematics as a subject was also high profile. Student often spontaneously applauded elegant solutions. Chinese, English and Maths lessons are core lesson and students have a 40 minute lesson every day, along with homework which is due in the next day. The teacher will then mark it and see the students during their breaks that they take in their rooms to address any mistakes that they are making.
In both schools we were asked to teach a lesson to grade 6(year 7) students. This was a great experience as we had the opportunity to plan in depth with another maths teacher. We spent hours discussing the design and content of the lesson. We were pleased with the outcome and were complemented on our design. However, the shock of 10 teachers joining our class of 43 students was a little unsettling. The lesson went well, considering the boundary between our languages but a surprising bonus was that the lesson was recorded so that we were able to view the lesson the next day and make even more improvements to our design.
Each week we accompanied primary teachers from the south west to visit primary schools. This was a great experience and another chance to talk to colleagues about their experiences and what we can change when we get home.
Every evening, we met with our other secondary colleagues to discuss what we had experienced that day. We were all agreed. It was an amazing experience that will impact on our lessons and one that we will want to share with colleagues. Sharing practice across nations to pick out the best aspects will benefit all students.