A Comparative Study of the Beliefs about and Practices of Secondary School Mathematics in England and China concerning Teacher Questioning

Dr Wenping Zhang
University of Warwick

This thesis sets to explore a group of lower secondary mathematics teachers’ beliefs about and practices in questioning in the context of England and China. Teacher questioning as a frequent component of classroom talk has been long recognised, but has not been researched extensively from an inter-cultural level, especially in England and China. By making a comparison between two countries, this exploratory study aims to examine the cultural differences and similarities underpinning the use of questioning pedagogy. The study is small scale, with 11 mathematics teachers in two lower secondary schools in England and 12 mathematics teachers in two lower secondary schools in China.

A qualitative research approach consisting of both classroom observations of teaching and follow-up semi-structured interviews with the teachers was employed in order to provide rich descriptions of teachers’ questioning beliefs and practices in England and China, and also to cross examine the relationship between the two at an intra-country level. The follow-up interviews with the teachers not only sought to get teachers’ beliefs about questioning but also sought to get some justifications for the teacher questioning behaviours observed in order to verify possible interpretations of classroom practices with regard to the teachers’ perspectives. All observations and interviews were audiotaped, transcribed verbatim and analysed using discourse and thematic analysis.

The findings suggest significant differences and similarities between the English and Chinese mathematics teachers’ questioning use. In practice, teacher questioning was pervasive in both classrooms, with predominantly managerial and ‘information-seeking’ questions. English mathematics teachers valued questioning highly, were also more reflective about their questioning behaviours, and seemed to possess more profound pedagogical competence than their Chinese counterparts. Overall, they adopted an inquiry-based questioning that modified questions to accommodate students with diversity of learning abilities. Whereas, the Chinese teachers were less positive about questioning, emphasizing over the importance of having profound mathematical content knowledge, and displayed a relatively content-based approach to questioning. The findings bring some insights into the nature of questioning from social and cultural perspectives. The investigation of the relationship between teacher beliefs and practices could potentially provide some suggestions for policy makers and educators for future teacher training.