In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell makes some unexpected assertions, as he usually does! One reason some Asian countries – S. Korea, China and Singapore – do so well in these tests is because firstly, they are used to persevering at a problem and secondly, they are used to hard work (effort). In other words culture and attitude are key factors in their high mathematical achievements.
Numbers are not logical for westerners: fifty is nothing like 5 lots of 10 and seventeen sounds and looks nothing like 10 plus 7. For Chinese, the numbering is logical which makes using numbers and division easier to understand. Also, the numbers are usually one syllable, not 2 or 3 syllables as in English, so in many Asian languages numbers are easier to remember – as well as work with. A big advantage.
Asian kids attempt more questions in the test papers, to the point that if ranked according to the number of questions answered, the tables would be pretty similar to tables based on results. That’s according to Erling Boe, an educational researcher at the University of Pennsylvania.
Gladwell also refers to an experiment by Alan Schoenfeld a maths professor at Berkeley which illustrates that success at maths is not about innate ability but persevering for 22 minutes on a maths problem rather than giving up after 30 seconds like most people.¹
Schoenfeld’s lecture What Makes for Powerful Classrooms, and How Can We Support Teachers in Creating Them?: A Story of Research and Practice, Productively Intertwined can be viewed here.
1. Gladwell: chapter 8 explains the experiment behind this conclusion.
Teaching Social skills to Improve Grades and Lives from NY Times blog click here
Race and the Standardized Testing Wars
By Kate Taylor