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How Chinese Learn Mathematics: Perspectives from Insiders

Fan Lianghuo, Wong Ngai-Ying , Cai Jinfa, and Li Shiqi, editors
World Scientific
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
Series on Mathematics Education 1
[Reviewed by
Stephen Lancaster
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How Chinese Learn Mathematics is a comprehensive look at nearly all aspects of mathematical development in grades K-12 in Chinese educational systems.

The volume addresses all countries in which a significant amount of the population is Chinese. Issues discussed include, among others, comparisons between western and Chinese results in international tests, classroom techniques in the Chinese school system, comparisons between Chinese and western home environments for mathematical learning, and the historic connection to modern mathematics beliefs in Chinese educational systems. In depth perspectives regarding the use of textbooks, the recent movement to reform Chinese mathematics learning, and the preparation/beliefs of K-12 mathematics instructors in Chinese educational systems is presented.

This volume does a great deal to enlighten novices with regard to myths about mathematics learning in the Chinese system. For example, the myth that rote learning is the primary style used by Chinese students is addressed. The text does not deny that this is the type of learning most emphasized in the classroom. Instead, it elaborates on the specific details of the Chinese learning experience to show that "rote learning" is a loosely defined concept and that when scrutinized, much more than simple memorization and repetition exists in the Chinese mathematics learning structure.

The volume is well researched and referenced and the authors are generous in their criticism of what they believe to be weaknesses in Chinese mathematics learning systems.

This book has excited my interest in this topic. I strongly recommend it to anyone who is thinking of a career teaching K-12 mathematics, anyone who plans to prepare future teachers in mathematics, and anyone interested in mathematics curriculum development. I would, however, like to see more careful copyediting for English syntax in a few of the chapters. 

Stephen Lancaster is a graduate student in Mathematics Education at the University of Oklahoma.

  • Overview and International Perspectives:
  • How Have Chinese Students Performed in Mathematics? A Perspective from Large-Scale International Comparisons (L-H Fan & Y Zhu)
  • The Mathematics Curriculum: Toward Globalization or Westernization? (N-Y Wong et al.)
  • Thinking Mathematically by Chinese Learners: A Cross-National Comparative Perspective (J-F Cai & V Cifarelli)
  • An Examination of Coherence in a Chinese Mathematics Classroom (T Wang & J Murphy)
  • A Chinese Cultural Model of Learning (J Li)
  • Official Curriculum in Mathematics in Ancient China: How Did Candidates Study for the Examination? (M K Siu)
  • Context and Teaching Materials:
  • The “Two Basics”: Mathematics Teaching and Learning in Mainland China (D-Z Zhang et al.)
  • A Comparative Study on Composite Difficulty between New and Old Chinese Mathematics Textbooks (J-S Bao)
  • Textbook Use Within and Beyond Chinese Mathematics Classrooms: A Study of 12 Secondary Schools in Kunming and Fuzhou of China (L-H Fan et al.)
  • Thorough Understanding of the Textbook: A Significant Feature of Chinese Teacher Manuals (J-H Li)
  • Effects of Cram Schools on Children’s Mathematics Learning (H M Huang)
  • Pedagogy and Learning Processes:
  • Teaching with Variation: A Chinese Way of Promoting Effective Mathematics Learning (L-Y Gu et al.)
  • Cracking the Paradox of Chinese Learners: Looking into the Mathematics Classrooms in Hong Kong and Shanghai (R-J Huang & K S Leung)
  • Identifying a Pattern of Teaching: An Analysis of a Shanghai Teacher’s Lessons (F Lopez-Real et al.)
  • Differences Within Communalities: How Is Mathematics Taught in Rural and Urban Regions in Mainland China? (Y-P Ma et al.)
  • Teaching Approach: Theoretical or Experimental? (J Li)
  • Capturing the Chinese Way of Teaching: The Learning-Questioning and Learning-Reviewing Instructional Model (S-H An)
  • The Effects of Different Representations on Mathematics Learning of Chinese Children (B-Y Xu)
  • Inspiration and Future Directions:
  • The CHC Learner’s Phenomenon: Its Implications on Mathematics Education (N-Y Wong)
  • How Do Chinese Learn Mathematics? Some Evidence-Based Insights and Needed Directions (J-F Cai et al.)