I have spent 5 incredible days in Singapore, immersing myself in classroom practice, observing lessons and learning from educational researchers at the National Institute of Education. I am enormously grateful to have had this fascinating and informative opportunity. This is my third trip in two years which has enabled me to gain a comprehensive insight into the Singapore approach to the teaching and learning of mathematics.
I have been very warmly welcomed by the schools who have extended very generous hospitality and readily given up time to discuss their approach, their research and to share their vision. I visited a range of state schools including a typical neighbourhood school where the majority of the 1000 children walked to school and a future school with technology status benefitting from several grants consisting of almost 2000 children. Watching the dismissal of hundreds of very happy children at the end of the school day in the latter school, onto waiting coaches, was quite incredible. The teaching and learning in both were exemplary.
Educators in Singapore are humble and do not believe that they have everything right. They are eager to hear about our classroom practice in the UK and believe that there is a very real opportunity to work collaboratively and welcome this.
Textbook use in Singapore forms the foundations of the teaching and learning, offering a structure and a valuable resource bank, helping the teachers understand the content they are covering and giving them a platform from which they can extend their teaching. The textbooks support subject knowledge, aid lesson design and offer the children plenty of opportunities for practice and consolidation, either in the classroom or at home.
Whilst in classrooms I experienced a strong focus on
- student-centered learning
- a caring and nurturing environment where children take responsibility for their actions and their learning
- use of mathematical language in a meaningful way so that students not only learn to use correct vocabulary and engage in mathematical conversations, but can enter the world of mathematics
- whole class direct teaching when deep conceptual understanding is emphasised in an engaging way with students visibly enjoying their lessons
- enquiry based learning where units are introduced using strong links to real life experiences
- core teaching and learning experiences based on the content of the textbooks which provide a scaffold structure for the teachers
- the use of the textbook as a pedagogical resource which optimizes teacher effect
- high expectations of the students from all teaching staff and indeed students’ expectations of themselves
I observed a clear use of Polya’s problem solving model focussing on the four stages of problem solving. Teachers taught these stages explicitly referring to them as UPDC (Understand, plan, do and check) or UPSC (Understand, plan, solve and check).
Whilst working with an educational researcher at the National Institute of Education, I was introduced to a powerful acronym REM (Readiness, Engage, Mastery) or REMEM (Readiness, Engage, Readiness, Engage and Mastery). In all classrooms there was a focus on direct teaching first, scaffolded and guided practice, and finally, mastery alongside a fantastic level of mathematical conversation. Teachers create space for the students to make strong links between their learning and between the content and the context. They speak the language of maths and talk aloud the processes of the maths that they are doing.
The emphasis in schools is to move to enquiry based learning whilst maintaining high performance.
Every school engages in developing an effective community of professional learners where the professional community come together to learn. This is fully supported through the use of structured models of PLC over a period of a term to a year where the teachers come together to achieve a common goal focused on pedagogy and practice leading to improved student outcomes. The shared and collaborative learning experiences enhancing the effectiveness of the professional learning community
Finally, I have learnt that children are children, no matter where we are in the world. For all of us, our mission is to nurture our children, give them roots and encourage them to fly.
Sue Lowndes is a professional development leader for Inspire Maths School Improvement, based on the Singapore approach to mastering maths.