West Yorkshire Maths Hub visit
Post by WYMathsHub
Date January 21, 2019

What We Learned from Shanghai: Small Steps

Teaching for Mastery Specialists, Sam Shutkever and Ester Mor Gomez report back from their recent visit to Shanghai, we’re sharing their experience and what they learned in a series of four daily blogs starting today!

A Postcard from Shanghai
It would be easy to reel off endless times during our trip to Shanghai of times we were delighted, amazed and enthralled. We have been greeted with such incredible hospitality and warmth. We expected to be challenged, but what we have seen has opened our eyes to how effective mastery can be.

We could write thousands of words about what we have seen, but we have boiled down our experiences into key areas, which we feel would benefit every school in the UK. We have included examples from lessons we have seen, which hopefully will add clarity. The first area we are looking at is small steps.

Small Steps
Small steps are already a key feature of a mastery lesson, however, we have observed lessons which have broken down mathematics into easy to understand segments of learning. We have heard the phrase ‘laser-guided’ to describe the focus of each lesson. Often in the UK, we can let misconceptions or trying to force cross-curricular links distract the flow of the lesson. In Shanghai, the mathematics lessons are only 35 minutes in length; they simply have no time to lose. Each lesson is a bite-sized amount, with the students’ thinking first and foremost.

At the outset, we found ourselves thinking, ‘How can this be a whole lesson?’, but when we saw the depth of understanding it was all clear how they carefully plan each sequence and know exactly how to build knowledge sequentially.

Lesson Example: Cubes and Cuboids – Grade 2 / Year 3 (UK)
Here is a flowchart for one lesson in grade 2. It is worth bearing in mind that the lesson was only taught in a space of 35 minutes. The steps were so interconnected, with the children’s learning progressing gradually, that by the end of the lesson they were reasoning about complex visualisations. As the learning was kept so focussed, the teacher could deepen the learning of the children. In the UK, we frequently only give the properties of cubes and cuboids, without allowing the children to discover the ‘why’ – i.e. a vertex is formed from where (at least) 3 faces meet.

 maths lesson example from Shanghai - Small Steps
Shanghai Lesson Example – Small Steps

When supporting colleagues, we were given a piece of advice from a mastery specialist. When planning a lesson, ask yourself, ‘Is the step small enough?’. This may not be immediately apparent, but during the lesson, you may find moments when the children are confused – this may be due to a jump in thinking which needed one or two smaller steps beforehand.

Check back for the next in the series, Real Life Contexts.