They Can Do the Math
Now a study published in Contemporary Educational Psychology by Teachers College’s Stephen Peverly, Associate Professor of Psychology and Education, and former TC students Zheng Zhou of
The difference was partly attributed to the fact that most
The study focused on teachers’ level of knowledge about concepts, computations and word problems involving fractions; their skills in teaching fractions in a way that ensures student comprehension; and their knowledge of more general issues such as child development, learning theories and classroom management.
Researchers looked at both the content teachers said they would assign to their students and the way they presented the concepts. While both Chinese and American teachers used similar methods to teach fractions—“using hands-on learning tools, folding pieces of paper, coloring in geometric shapes”—there was a big difference in the information each group presented. Most of the American teachers in the study, when asked to about their teaching methods, rarely mentioned content. Chinese teachers, on the other hand, spoke in great detail about the content they present to students and that content demonstrated a deep understanding of the subject matter as well as knowledge of the entire elementary mathematics curriculum.
Overall, Chinese teachers had a better understanding of the mathematical concepts they were teaching than did their
American teachers also had taken more courses on teaching methods and general educational and psychological principles related to teaching than did Chinese teachers.
The researchers found that more experienced American teachers were better able to identify important points for teaching fraction concepts. For Chinese teachers, however, mastery of this skill did not depend on experience, as less experienced Chinese teachers demonstrated the same proficiency as their more experienced counterparts.
Chinese teachers also showed a better understanding than American teachers of their students’ prior mathematics knowledge relating to fractions. The Chinese teachers reviewed concepts students had studied previously and found opportunities to lay the groundwork for what students would be learning later. American teachers rarely displayed the same understanding.
American teachers, on the other hand, were more knowledgeable than Chinese teachers about concepts covered in educational psychology texts.
Researchers summarized that while Chinese teachers were effective in providing instruction based on how well they knew the subject matter, their limited understanding of underlying psychological aspects of learning could be problematic. This limitation could possibly lead to problems related to student motivation, spontaneity and creativity among other things. American teachers’ comparative lack of understanding of the subject matter revealed that teacher preparation programs in the