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Learning maths in China – interview with Jingwen Wu – part 1

Learning maths in China - interview with Jingwen Wu
(Christian:) Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for this course about world-class maths in Asian teaching practice, and what we want to sketch is a picture of what it looks like in primary mathematics classrooms in China. So can you tell me who you are and what your experience is with primary mathematics classrooms? (Jingwen:) Okay, I’m Jingwen, a PhD student in Southampton Education School. I come from Chongqing, a city in Southwest China. I received my primary and secondary education there. Because my research area has nothing to do with mathematics, so I can only tell you about my own experience and the experience from my niece and nephew in primary education of mathematics.
(Christian:) Okay, so you’ve been a primary school student, and later on went to secondary school so what do you think, what was your experience like can you tell me some of the things that you still vividly remember? (Jingwen:) Okay, in our class we have about 50 students and students were sitting in rows and columns, and teachers will stand in front of the classroom. So basically they are giving lectures. There are some questions will be asked, and students were volunteered to answer the questions. If no one was going to answer the question, the teacher would be like, nominate someone to answer the questions. So I think the lecture took most of the time in the class.
And one class lasts about 45 minutes for one class, or about 40. (Christian:) Every day there was a 45-minute slot for maths, or a couple of slots? (Jingwen:) I think sometimes one slot and sometimes two lots. (Christian:) But every day there was (maths). (Jingwen:) Yeah, every day we have maths. (Christian:) And 50 students yes of course quite large, if you compare it perhaps to other countries. This classroom interaction that was really an important feature that there was interaction, not only instructing but also asking students for answers and that sort of thing? (Jingwen:) Yes, there will be questions and interactions, but that was not so main part of my experience. And I asked about my niece and nephew.
They are both in Grade 3 right now in primary school, and they said they will have interactions. I thought they’re more than mine. And there will be like sometimes in-class quizzes, and teachers will give in-time feedback about students’ answers to that. So I think that’s another kind of interaction as well. (Christian:) Absolutely. The knowledge as you go along teacher is probably looking if everything is understood, if everyone still understands what is being told.
So if we look at these 50 students, was it always the case that all 50 you really were eager to answer these questions and everyone was being involved or were there, because I remember my own school time as well, there were always of course students who were even more eager than other students to answer questions. So how what is your your experience or what was your idea of how a teacher managed that? (Jingwen:) I think that’s also the case in China. There are always some students are more eager to answer the question and some students never want to answer a question.
So the teachers I think they did very well in balancing the opportunities to get students to answer the question. So most of the times they will get the more eagerly students, but when they think some students should get more opportunity to answer the question and checking whether they are all understand, understanding the question, so they will get those who will not raise their hands. (Christian:) Also something that we often hear is did you have a textbook for example for mathematics in primary school? (Jingwen:) Yes, we did. And our teaching would basically based on the textbook, and the teachers would ask us to do some preview for the next day’s teaching the content.
But the textbook I think there are several versions and the local education authority can nominate one as which one should be used for this area. (Christian:) And that was the case so there was local authorities say you have this textbook. And that they would then also give it to the school, or the school had to buy it, or don’t you know perhaps? (Jingwen:) I’m not sure, but we are not paying for the textbooks I think for the first nine years of education. (Christian:) Okay, so the
students and parents don’t really have the issue (Jingwen: No.) but perhaps the schools. And what is your impression of those textbooks, were they useful or were they, well, how did you feel about them? (Jingwen:) I feel they are quite fit for the exams. So basically I don’t know which one follows the other, so they are quite match with each other. So if we have learnt what is told in the textbooks, we can do well in exams. (Christian:) Okay. Can you also, because exams of course are very important in the career of students I think in every country of course, would they also add a little bit more these textbooks or would the teacher do that, or what the focus really
be on the exam and content? (Jingwen:) I think the main focus was on the exam, but if we got some time and the teachers think the student have the capabilities to learn and they will give some more information or some advanced knowledge about mathematics, and tries to give us like more motivation or interest in this subject. (Christian:) Okay, so that was that happens as well around the textbooks. (Jingwen: Yes.)

To give some direct insight in the practicalities of Asian mathematics classrooms, we have interviewed two Chinese colleagues about being a learner of mathematics in a Chinese primary school.

These interviews are quite long so have been divided into shorter sections (rather than edited), so that you can hear authentic descriptions and experiences of learning maths in China.

After these two videos, we will we ask you to consider and share what you think are the key features of Chinese mathematics classrooms. Finally, we will summarise these key features.

In this first interview we talk with Jingwen Wu.

Jingwen is a Chinese PhD student studying in the Southampton Education School at University of Southampton. Grown up in Chongqing, the municipality in Southwest China, Jingwen received typical Chinese primary and secondary education in public schools. From the perspective of a student, she is going to share her own experiences of the primary mathematics classroom and stories from her niece and nephew, who are currently both in Grade 3 in China.

This is part 1 of the interview.

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World Class Maths: Asian Teaching Practice

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