Participation-based pedagogy: How congruent is it with Chinese cultures of learning?

William Thomas LITTLEWOOD

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


A common stereotype of Chinese learners is that they are reluctant to participate actively in classroom learning and prefer to learn in passive ways. However a strong body of experience and research is now accumulating that questions this stereotype and highlights the role of the specific learning context in either discouraging or encouraging students’ readiness to participate. In a survey of tertiary students learning English in eight Asian countries (including Hong Kong and Mainland China), most students in all countries expressed a wish to participate actively in exploring knowledge and held positive attitudes towards working purposefully, in groups, towards common goals. A later survey indicated that students in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Singapore preferred an interaction-oriented to a transmission-oriented classroom. What then leads to the stereotype mentioned above, which could hardly have survived so long of it were not grounded in real perceptions of teachers and learners? In a third survey, students of a range of subjects were asked what factors they believed to facilitate or hinder their own readiness to participate in interactive learning. They believed that the main obstacles are (in this order) tiredness, shyness, fear of being wrong, insufficient interest or knowledge in the subject, and insufficient time to formulate what they want to say. When asked what teaching strategies help to avoid such obstacles, they believed that teachers should give priority to creating an informal atmosphere, giving encouraging responses and ensuring that topics engage students’ knowledge and interest. These studies indicate that most Chinese students welcome participation-based classroom learning if it is implemented in supportive ways. The paper concludes by mentioning some collaborative learning techniques which, in the presenter’s experience, have provided suitable contexts for stimulating participation.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2007


Littlewood, W. (2007, June). Participation-based pedagogy: How congruent is it with Chinese cultures of learning? Paper presented at the International Conference on Chinese Culture, Identity and Language Anxiety, The City University of Hong Kong, China.


  • Teacher Education
  • Theory and Practice of Teaching and Learning


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