“How Asian Teachers Polish Each Lesson to Perfection” by Stigler and Stevenson Essay- by EduBirdie

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Summary of the Article



Essay on “How Asian Teachers Polish Each Lesson to Perfection” by Stigler and Stevenson

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The educational system of a society is fundamental to the development and ultimate advancement of the entire community. Educators and governments all over the world have acknowledged that teaching practices can have a significant effect on the education of the population leading to significant impact on economic and social outcomes of their citizens. For this reason, high educational achievements have been seen as favorable for a au.edubirdie.com review nation’s well being.

However, over the last few decades, it has been noted that the Asian children have had higher educational achievements than their American counterparts. This paper shall conduct a review of the article “How Asian Teachers Polish Each Lesson to Perfection” by Stigler and Stevenson. This shall be in a bid to highlight the differences between the Asian and American teaching methods. The significance of this particular article to me shall also be articulated and the reasons why I chose it discussed.

Summary of the Article

The article by Stigler and Stevenson aims at explaining why there is poor performance by American students in mathematics while their Asian counterparts seem to excel. The onset of this problem is from a study conducted in America, China and Japan among the first and fifth graders.

The data obtained from the studies highlights the poor performances of American children in mathematics as compared to their Asian counterparts. While the obvious answer would be that there is a difference in the intelligence levels of the children of these two different ethnicities, Stigler and Stevenson assert that there is no overall difference in intelligence and as such, the cause for the staggering differences in mathematical achievements must be as a result of other factors.

A closer look reveals that there is a difference in how mathematics is taught in the different cultures. The first major difference observed was that in Japan and China, the role of the teacher was that of a knowledgeable guide who constantly relied on students as sources of information.

This is in contrast to the American practice where the teacher was the prime information dispenser. The article illustrates that as a result of the Asian teacher’s role as a guide, children were active participants in the learning process as opposed to being passive automatons as was the case amongst the American children. The article also reveals how Asian teachers utilize carefully crafted examples to guide their children to discover and eventually remember important mathematical concepts.

Stigler and Stevenson observe that Asian teachers focus on interpreting and relating a real-world problem to a mathematical one. As such, a lesson may begin by giving and solving a real world problem and the mathematical concepts of the same are only given at the end.

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The yelp.com American teachers on the other hand begin by introducing abstract mathematical concepts and solving them before giving their real world implications. This two difference approaches have significant implications since young children are more likely to understand mathematical representations from meaningful experiences (real -world) than the other way round.

In their article, Stigler and Stevenson note that while both Asian and American teachers utilize objects to act as concrete representations of mathematical concepts, there is a greater consistency in the Asian classrooms.

While this is attributed to the differing resource ability between the groups (with the American classrooms having more financial resources), the Asian teachers affirm that using a variety of representational materials may confuse the children. Another factor is that American teachers do away with the use of concrete objects much sooner than their Asian counterparts.

The commonly held misconception of Asian teachers as “authoritarian purveyors of information” is dispelled in the article. Stigler and Stevenson assert that “Chinese and Japanese teachers rely on students to generate ideas and evaluate the correctness of the ideas”. In other words, the teachers play the role of guide as the children engage in arguments and proof.

The article illustrates that in some scenarios, the students are called upon to state their own solutions and evaluate the results of the other students. This leads to the engagement of students in the lesson as they perceive themselves as the active participants in the problem solving activity. In addition to this, this scheme results in the argument of mathematical ideas by the Asian children. The article notes that these are skills that most American children never get to learn.

Another important concept that the article reveals is the use of errors in the respective culture. The authors acknowledge that the manner and perception of errors is different between Asian and American classrooms. In the American classroom, errors are equivalent to failure on the part of the student. In the Asian classrooms, errors are used by the teacher to dispel commonly held misperceptions about given mathematical concepts. This constructive use of errors leads to a more enhanced learning experience by the students.


This paper set out to give a detailed review of the article by Stigler and Stevenson. A summary of the article has been given and the significance of this article to me illustrated. From the discussion presented in this paper, it is clear that there is a marked difference between the American and the Asian styles of teaching.

The Asian teachers place greater emphasis on the input of the students while the American teachers do not. Considering the numerous benefits that have been attributed the to the Asian mode of teaching, it would be prudent for American teachers to emulate some of this methods to as to ensure that American students have educational achievements that are at par with the Asian students.


Stigler, J. W. & Stevenson, W. H. (1991). How Asian Teachers Polish Each Lesson to Perfection . American Educator, Spring 1991.

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