Academic journal article Comparative and International Education

Reciprocal Learning in Mathematics Education: An Interactive Study between Two Canadian and Chinese Elementary Schools

Academic journal article Comparative and International Education

Reciprocal Learning in Mathematics Education: An Interactive Study between Two Canadian and Chinese Elementary Schools

Article excerpt

Introduction and Theoretical Background

In the past several decades, comparative studies in mathematics education have gained significant attention, giving rise to increasing interest in classroom interactions as they pertain to the teaching and learning of mathematics. Thus, general patterns that have developed in school teaching of mathematics across a variety of countries that differ geographically and culturally have been studied. Results from a number of these comparative studies in the East-West educational paradigms and arenas (Cheng, 2014; Ezeife, 2014; Moreno-Garcia, 2012; Peng & Song, 2014, amongst others) commonly draw attention to the distinctions between Eastern and Western cultures, namely, the Chinese Confucian Heritage Culture (CHC) tradition and the Greek/Latin/Christian tradition, or geographically, between East Asian countries with Confucian culture and European or Englishspeaking countries of European cultural backgrounds. These results further reveal that mathematics education in Eastern and Western cultures can be characterized by sharp distinctions, such as the focus on the acquisition of basic knowledge in the East as opposed to the emphasis on creativity in the West (Kaiser & Blömeke, 2013).

Along this line of research, Watkins and Biggs (2001) investigated the learning processes of Asian students brought up in the CHC tradition and the teaching processes of Asian teachers in CHC classrooms, and identified two apparent paradoxes (Siu, 2004, p.158), viz.,

(1) The CHC learner paradox: CHC students are perceived as using low-level, rote-based strategies in a classroom environment which should not be conducive to high achievement, yet CHC students report a preference for high-level, meaning-based learning strategies and they achieve significantly better in international assessments.

(2) The CHC teacher paradox: Teachers in CHC classrooms produce a positive learning outcome under substandard conditions that Western educators would regard as most unpromising.

In his article "In search of an East Asian identity in mathematics education," Leung (2001) described important differences between the East Asian and Western traditions in mathematics education using six dichotomies. The first dichotomy is the "product (content) versus process." According to Leung (2001), in East Asian mathematics classrooms, mathematics content and procedures or skills are emphasized, putting basic knowledge and basic skills in the forefront, whereas Western mathematics education in the last few decades tended to focus more on the process of doing mathematics. Second, the "rote learning versus meaningful learning" dichotomy-rote learning and memorization are seen as legitimate and necessary ways of learning, contributing to a better understanding in East Asian countries. In contrast, Western cultures emphasize the necessity of understanding the phenomenon before it can be memorized and internalized. Third, the "studying hard versus pleasurable learning" dichotomy, which refers to traditional views in East Asian countries in which studying is a serious endeavour relying on hard work and perseverance. This is in contrast to many Western views, which put the child in the centre of the learning process, such that the child enjoys a meaningful learning process. Fourth, the "extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation" dichotomy in which Leung (2001) points out that on the motivational level, Western educators value intrinsic motivation in learning mathematics more than extrinsic motivation. In contrast, their Eastern counterparts emphasize the necessity of extrinsic motivation as complementary to intrinsic motivation, reflecting the high relevance of high-stake tests. The fifth dichotomy corresponds to a different understanding of the nature and the role of the teacher, which is based on social orientations in East Asian countries. Whole-class teaching with the teacher as the role model is regarded as highly important in East Asian countries, in contrast to the stronger focus on individualized learning in Western countries that lay emphasis on the independence and individualism within learning. …

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