I have been living in the U.S. for three years since August 12, 2010, and have witnessed huge differences among American and Chinese classroom culture. The examples I use in the article are my own classroom experiences from elementary school to high school, and I have no experience studying in a Chinese college or university.
1. Relationship between students and their instructors
The relationship between students and instructors determines the classroom environment. In China, teaching in the classroom is the most respected career. Students are trained to 100% obey their instructors.
Students can never object to the instructor’s opinion about the text book content, unless it was a slip of the tongue. If you have a different opinion about a specific topic, the instructor may give you a chance to share it once in the classroom, but after that, he or she will still require everyone to write the exact thing he or she taught on the exam.
The Chinesepropriety also requires students to nod or bow when saying hello to their teachers every time they meet on campus. This rule applies to meeting all the faculty on campus, students must obey this rule, even to a faculty member who has never taught them a class in the past.
In America your instructor may prefer you to call them by their first name, but in China you can only call faculty member by their last name with a title like Mr, Ms, and Dr. To call a teacher by his or her first name is considered rude and inappropriate.
2. Classroom participation
Students must raise hands to answer or ask a question, and they cannot speak unless picked by the instructor. When picked by the instructor to answer or ask a question, students must stand up to show their respect to the instructor.
Students do not always participate in the classroom. This is because the purpose of them is to sit in the classroom to copy and memorize all the stuff that the instructor teaches them, then to paste it on the exam paper and get a good grade.
You may see all the Chinese students in your classroom mute their voice through the whole semester, because they have been trained not to speak their minds and not to raise any conversation that has an opposite or different opinion to the instructor’s teaching.
3. The exams
Exams in China are equal to memory tests. They test how well you can memorize the textbook contents and key words. Even the essay part has an instruction to limit the way you can show your creativity: limits forms of literature, structure of the article, and sometimes give you a title of the article then ask you to fill out the body part.
In America’s exams, I saw a lot of exams with open answers. There is never an exact answer for the questions, not including the multiple choice or the true and false. Short answer questions and essays are set to check how much you understand the text and also your own meaningful thoughts about the things you have learned in this class.