LSIP Day 2: Orientation

This morning, we listened to presentations by Dr. Akihiko Takahashi from DePaul University in Chicago, and Dr. Tad Watanabe from Keenesaw State University in Georgia on the 47th floor of the Sumimoto building in Tokyo from which there is a beautiful view of the city. Dr. Takahashi discussed lesson study and Dr. Watanabe discussed the content of the lessons we will observe and how they are presented in Japanese textbooks. Since we will discuss the actual lessons in the coming days, I will only summarize Dr. Takahashi’s presentation in today’s blog.

Summary of Dr. Takahashi’s Presentation:

Both the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and the Japanese Course of Study (COS) emphasize teaching mathematics through problem solving. This means that important mathematical concepts and skills are presented and taught in a problem-solving context. This is very different than teaching about (or for) problem-solving, as is usually done in most U.S. curricula and textbooks which teach problem-solving as a separate skill. To develop and improve this type of mathematics teaching, Japanese teachers engage in lesson study.

In a lesson study cycle, teachers collaboratively plan, teach, and reflect on an actual classroom lesson. This should not be understood as just teaching one lesson, however. Teachers plan an entire unit and several lessons are taught prior to the research lesson. Also, they do not plan the lesson from scratch. Textbooks, teacher’s guides, previous lesson studies, and other materials are carefully consulted.

A lesson study group involves the planning team that plans and teaches the lesson as well as subgroup members who help observe and discuss the research lesson. There are also often participants from outside the school who also act as observers and discussants. While traditional professional development for teachers usually begins with an answer, lesson study begins with a question. Traditional professional development can be likened to a cooking show. Many people watch the show but few actually try the recipe. Even those who actually try it, often run into problems since they are working alone, may have to substitute hard-to-find ingredients, etc. Lesson study is more like a cooking group that tries the recipe and then collaboratively thinks about how to modify and improve upon it.

There are different types of lesson study. The most common type is school-based lesson study. In school-based lesson study, teachers from within one school work on an over-arching goal for 5 to 7 years. Its purpose is to achieve systematic improvement, consistent instruction, and common vision at the school. We will see this type of lesson study at Takehaya Elementary and Lower Secondary (middle) School in Tokyo, which is affiliated with Tokyo Gagukei University. This school provides professional development activities for teachers and student teachers, and often teachers from outside come to the school for several months to learn. Every month, the entire faculty participates in observing and discussing research lessons in different subject areas.

We will also see this type of lesson study at Narimasu Elementary School in Tokyo. This school is a designated research school. In Japan, each prefecture (and sometimes each city within the prefecture) has one of these schools, which receive government grants to investigate new directions in curriculum and instruction. This particular school is studying achievement level grouping. They give students a pre-test at the beginning of each unit and based on the results, divide them into 3 groups. This is different from ability level grouping which tracks students into ability level groups for the entire year.

Another type of lesson study is district-wide lesson study. In this type of lesson study, teachers from across schools plan research lessons in different subject area groups to achieve a district-wide goal. Its purpose is to develop communication and exchange ideas among schools, and improve teaching and learning in the district as a whole. University professors are usually invited to act as knowledgeable others for the research lessons they teach.
We will observe this type of lesson study at two different schools—Ishida Elementary School, in Yamanashi Prefecture (near Mt. Fuji), and Kyuden Elementary School in the Setagaya Ward of Tokyo. The latter school provides a half-day, district-wide professional development day every month where teachers from throughout the district come to the school to observe research lessons. Each month, a different subject area group teaches research lessons. Since there are so many observers (100 or more), the lesson are discussed by a selected panel of discussants while the others observe and learn from the discussion.
We had the afternoon free and many participants went shopping for souvenirs, electronics, and books, some went to the Kabuki theater, and some went exploring Tokyo. In the evening, we all shared a wonderful Kobe beef sukiaki dinner at a wonderful restaurant. The food is so good in Japan, I think the author of this blog may have to go on a diet after this trip!

Ja-ne (see you later),
Bill Jackson

Tokyo, June 24, 2007

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One Response to “LSIP Day 2: Orientation”

  1. Courtney Worthen Says:

    Hello Merilyn and Cathy from LR, AR! I’m doing some research for my grad class and I ran across your travels. Great work on the blog Mr. Jackson. I’m enjoying your information!

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