Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


East-West — Result In Brief

Project ID: 658303
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.3.2.
Country: Germany
Domain: Society

Learning from Chinese teachers

It is widely believed that Chinese students perform better in mathematics. An EU team set out to discover whether this is true, and if Chinese teaching methods can be adapted to Europe.
Learning from Chinese teachers
Even the German school system, one of Europe’s best, is under strain. Meanwhile, Chinese students reportedly outperform their western counterparts in tests of mathematical ability. For European educational researchers, even the suggestion of such a difference warrants investigation.

The EU-funded East-West project examined the relationship between teacher competence and student progress in the two countries. Their study evaluated such differences according to cultural contexts, and examined the two systems’ potential for mutual benefit.

Watching teachers teach

“We don’t know whether a Chinese solution is appropriate for Germany,” says project leader, Professor Gabrielle Kaiser. “There are very large cultural differences. However, some Chinese strategies may suggest ways of improving mathematics education in Germany.”

The study involved adapting a previously developed test of teacher competence, called TED-M. The newer version, TED-FU, assesses 3- to 4-minute videos of teachers delivering classes in terms of a key classroom practice called ‘teacher noticing’. This is where teachers perceive important classroom incidents and respond accordingly. Study participants included 203 Chinese and 118 German teachers.

Owing to the difficulty of finding staff fluent in German, Chinese and mathematics, the team used students of mathematics to translate the German into English; East-West later translated the English into Chinese. “We were also initially rejected by many Chinese schools and districts, and it took a longer time than anticipated to get access,” Prof. Kaiser notes. “Sometimes these studies require more time than the usual funding programmes allow.”

The study found teacher competence to be multifaceted; the concept embraces teacher knowledge and skills, as well as cultural elements. Nevertheless, initial results validated the framework for assessing Chinese mathematics teacher competence. Using the framework, project researchers found some overlap between German and Chinese teachers, but substantial differences as well. Chinese teachers apparently have greater capacity to research and evaluate teaching, and to design new programmes. German teachers performed better on noticing tasks related to general teaching, whereas Chinese teachers were better in mathematics-specific contexts.

Evolving teacher training

“Our findings so far do not allow far-reaching recommendations regarding cultural change, since that’s difficult to change anyway,” says Prof. Kaiser. “However, we are suggesting a few changes to education policy and to the teacher education curriculum.”

Firstly, the team found that teacher knowledge of mathematics does not necessarily translate to effective classroom noticing. This suggests reforms to the German mathematics curriculum are needed to strengthen the relationship and improve teaching.

Other results suggest that in-service mathematics teaching training is important for the development of teacher noticing. German student teachers may thus benefit from the introduction of Chinese-style approaches, such as lesson study and/or strengthened mentoring programmes.

The East-West team continues to collect and analyse data. In future, the research may more specifically break down German and Chinese professional competencies, and identify the effect on student achievement.

Study of international differences in teaching methods is an important part of seeking improvements to education. Thanks to the East-West project, European researchers have a clearer understanding of whether Chinese approaches may work in Europe.


East-West, teachers, mathematics, Chinese teachers, mathematics teachers, teacher noticing, German teachers, TED-FU
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