Thoughts From Home & Abroad

After years here, many teachers may forget the variations in the classroom between here and there. Nothing’s better or worse, perhaps. Just different.

Kindergarten teacher and children looking at bird's nest in libr

Watching and learning. That’s what I am doing at the moment, as I undertake my final professional experience practical in Australia. There are some stark differences to how a classroom is conducted in what I have seen in Sydney, Australia compared to what I have seen in China. Some of these are:

The teacher I am observing is trying out “flexible seating.” Her interpretation of this involves the students gaining a “freedom license,” which will allow them to sit wherever they wanted. Some of these licenses were earned through good behavior, or academic achievement; some licenses were not really earned at all.

I have seen children lying on the floor as the teacher conducted a class, some children hiding behind shelves outside of the teacher’s eyesight, whispering among themselves, ignoring her. Needless to say, I am not a big fan of it.

Related to flexible seating is cooperative learning. This is something I like. I have previously written on the merits of Co-op learning, but for those who did not read the article, cooperative learning is an organized and structured way to use small groups to enhance student learning and interdependence. Students are given a task and they work together to accomplish this task. Students learn to work and interact with others, sometimes with those they do not particularly like, which is an important lesson to learn in life.

I have seen children lying on the floor as the teacher conducted a class, some children hiding behind shelves outside of the teacher’s eyesight, whispering among themselves, ignoring her. Needless to say, I am not a big fan of it.

Unlike individual learning, which can be competitive in nature, students learning cooperatively can capitalize on one another’s resources and skills (asking one another for information, evaluating one another’s ideas, monitoring one another’s work, etc.). Furthermore, the teacher’s role changes from giving information to facilitating students’ learning. Everyone succeeds when the group succeeds. Successful cooperative learning tasks are intellectually demanding, creative, open-ended, and involve higher order thinking tasks. Cooperative learning has also been linked to increased levels of student satisfaction. Cooperative learning is something I do see a fair bit of in Australia, but not in China. I have also seen foreign ESL teachers not really believing in the concept and doing whatever they wanted to do in the class, rather than instill co-op learning. To me, it feels like a lot of Chinese schools only pay lip service to the concept, but I do also accept that co-op learning is in its infancy in China, so misunderstandings and skepticism is just a part of that.

This is the ability to sustain hand-writing text for a period of time. I have to admit, that I do not hand-write too often nowadays. Most, if not all of my writing, consists of typing on a computer or phone. The only time it looks like I need to hand-write anything is when I need to sign something. I also do not enjoy the rare moments that I do need to hand-write something. This is in stark contrast to when I was in upper primary school classes and we had to write page after page of text.

I also remember having written exams for university, where twice in a day, I had to sit for three hours at each time and write essay after essay. What I have noticed in my observations of primary school students in Australia is that their writing stamina is atrocious, often only able to write a paragraph or two before losing focus or “getting tired.” There is a lot more hand-writing in Chinese schools (partly due to the need of Chinese children needing to learn Chinese characters) and so their writing stamina seems a lot higher than Australian students.

In the primary schools, I have observed a set of iPad and notebooks were shared between two classes. In China, in schools I have experienced, there may be one set of iPad and notebooks to be shared among the whole school. Apart from the playing of videos or music videos I have not seen too much digital technology used in a Chinese classroom. During the times that they are used, they are not really hands-on, interactive activities that challenge students to expand students’ minds beyond lower order thinking. I have noticed that Australian teachers are very conscious of challenging students’ creativity and thinking. “Extension” activities are expected of all teachers for all lessons to push students. I have seen nothing of the sort in Chinese schools.

To conclude, the four points above are the four things that have really stood out for me when I observe and compare two different education cultures. It has been really interesting and eye-opening.