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Primary School Teachers’ Learning, Their Approaches to Teaching and the Relationships Between the Two: A Study in the Context of China



Change log


Xia, Maoxiao 


Faced with rapidly-changing economy and technology as well as education reform that promotes developing students in all aspects, Chinese teachers today experience a high level of pressure (Zhang & Yu, 2007). To better prepare and support teachers at such a time, it is essential to understand teachers’ learning and teaching, as well as how these are related. This study employed a mixed method approach to respond three research questions, regarding to Chinese teachers’ learning, their approaches to teaching, and the relationship between the two. The study first used a Narrative Frame to produce a comprehensive image of the teachers’ learning experiences, including the teachers’ overt (i.e., modes of learning) and covert (i.e., motivations for learning and learning beliefs) forms of learning. The findings indicated that Chinese teachers’ learning was impacted by traditional Confucian culture, in which self-perfection can be regarded as the highest purpose of life (Lee, 1996). Additionally, the result suggested that Chinese teachers’ modes of learning were seen as dichotomous, with teachers preferring either individual learning or collaborative learning. This study then uncovered Chinese teachers’ learning patterns, which represented their coherent whole learning activity and were rather stable over time (Vermunt et al., 2017). First of all, results of the phenomenographic study revealed two underlying dimensions: the teachers’ perceptions of learning about teaching (surviving, reflective partitioning, or expert-oriented learning) and their learning preferences (individual vs. collaborative learning preference). On a cross-combination of the two dimensions, five learning patterns were visible. Secondly, the survey, from a quantitative perspective, also unveiled five learning patterns: (i) Collaborative Achiever, (ii) Exhausted Introvert, (iii) Collaborative Practitioner, (iv) Pragmatic Practitioner, and (v) Stressed Planner. Overlaps were found between the two results. Specifically, a Collaborative Achiever pattern in the survey was equivalent to an expert-oriented learning perception with collaborative learning preference from the phenomenographic study. Meanwhile, an Exhausted Introvert pattern showed high similarities with a surviving-oriented learning perception with individual learning preference, while the Collaborative Practitioner pattern displayed commonalities with a reflective-practice-oriented learning perception with collaborative learning preference. Concerning the second research question about Chinese teachers’ approaches to teaching, three approaches to teaching were reported consistently.They were: a teacher-centered approach with the prime intention to deliver subject content to the students; an approach to teaching by building meaningful relationships with students for the purpose of fostering students’ subject-related abilities; and a student-centered approach for developing students’ wider abilities and holistically building students’ character. The findings suggest that Chinese teachers are facing a hybrid education environment, in which both traditional Confucian teaching and the Western ideology of constructivism are visible. Finally, the study ascertained the relationship between the teachers’ learning patterns and their approaches to teaching by using multiple statistical methods to analyze the survey data. First, a strong correlation between teachers’ learning patterns and approaches to teaching was evident. Specifically, teachers’ collaborative learning patterns were significantly and positively associated with approaches inclined to student-centered teaching. In contrast, the teachers with the Exhausted Introvert learning pattern had a stronger tendency towards teacher-centered teaching. Furthermore, regression analysis supported the hypothesis that the teachers’ learning patterns can be possible predictors to their teaching approaches. For instance, the more a teacher is aligned with the Collaborative Achiever learning pattern, the more likely that teacher is to establish meaningful relationships with students and support students’ holistic development. This study offers a rich image of Chinese teachers’ learning and teaching and presents fresh insights into the relationship between teachers’ learning and teaching.





Sabates, Ricardo
Dudley, Peter


teachers' professional learning


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
China Scholarship Council