Thursday, October 16, 2014

Japanese Math Lesson Study

"Lesson Study is by far the best form of professional development I have ever seen."Barton Dassinger, Principal, Chavez Elementary School, Chicago

2015 Chicago Lesson Study Conference

"Teaching through Problem Solving"
Thursday - Friday, May 7-8, 2015

"Japanese lessons are the Rolls Royce of lessons.". Kent Gardiner, demonstration teacher at The UCLA Lab School, UCLA. 


1.  Teachers are treated and paid well.  They are treated like professionals.
2.  They have extensive planning time daily in order to prepare excellent lessons.
3.  They teach for meaning and understanding.
4.  Japanese teachers use a national curriculum which is filled with interesting, thoughtful
      lessons that engage learners and teach meaning.

Columbia University - Teacher's College:

What is lesson study?
Lesson study* is a professional development process that Japanese teachers engage in to systematically examine their practice, with the goal of becoming more effective. This examination centers on teachers working collaboratively on a small number of "study lessons". Working on these study lessons involves planning, teaching, observing, and critiquing the lessons. To provide focus and direction to this work, the teachers select an overarching goal and related research question that they want to explore. This research question then serves to guide their work on all the study lessons. 

While working on a study lesson, teachers jointly draw up a detailed plan for the lesson, which one of the teachers uses to teach the lesson in a real classroom (as other group members observe the lesson). The group then comes together to discuss their observations of the lesson. Often, the group revises the lesson, and another teacher implements it in a second classroom, while group members again look on. The group will come together again to discuss the observed instruction. Finally, the teachers produce a report of what their study lessons have taught them, particularly with respect to their research question. 

*"Derived from the Japanese word jugyokenkyuu, the term 'lesson study' was coined by Makoto can also be translated in reverse as 'research lesson' [coined by Catherine Lewis], which indicates the level of scrutiny applied to individual lessons." --RBS Currents, Spring/ Summer 2002



Struggle For Smarts? How Eastern And Western Cultures Tackle Learning

November 12, 2012

In 1979, when Jim Stigler was still a graduate student at the University of Michigan, he went to Japan to research teaching methods and found himself sitting in the back row of a crowded fourth-grade math class.

Jim Stigler, UCLA

"The teacher was trying to teach the class how to draw three-dimensional cubes on paper," Stigler explains, "and one kid was just totally having trouble with it. His cube looked all cockeyed, so the teacher said to him, 'Why don't you go put yours on the board?' So right there I thought, 'That's interesting! He took the one who can't do it and told him to go and put it on the board.' "

Stigler knew that in American classrooms, it was usually the best kid in the class who was invited to the board. And so he watched with interest as the Japanese student dutifully came to the board and started drawing, but still couldn't complete the cube. Every few minutes, the teacher would ask the rest of the class whether the kid had gotten it right, and the class would look up from their work, and shake their heads no. And as the period progressed, Stigler noticed that he — Stigler — was getting more and more anxious.

"I realized that I was sitting there starting to perspire," he says, "because I was really empathizing with this kid. I thought, 'This kid is going to break into tears!' "

But the kid didn't break into tears. Stigler says the child continued to draw his cube with equanimity. "And at the end of the class, he did make his cube look right! And the teacher said to the class, 'How does that look, class?' And they all looked up and said, 'He did it!' And they broke into applause." The kid smiled a huge smile and sat down, clearly proud of himself.

Stigler is now a professor of psychology at UCLA who studies teaching and learning around the world, and he says it was this small experience that first got him thinking about how differently East and West approach the experience of intellectual struggle.

"I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you're just not very smart," Stigler says. "It's a sign of low ability — people who are smart don't struggle, they just naturally get it, that's our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity."

In Eastern cultures, Stigler says, it's just assumed that struggle is a predictable part of the learning process. Everyone is expected to struggle in the process of learning, and so struggling becomes a chance to show that you, the student, have what it takes emotionally to resolve the problem by persisting through that struggle.

"They've taught them that suffering can be a good thing," Stigler says. "I mean it sounds bad, but I think that's what they've taught them."

Granting that there is a lot of cultural diversity within East and West and it's possible to point to counterexamples in each, Stigler still sums up the difference this way: For the most part in American culture, intellectual struggle in schoolchildren is seen as an indicator of weakness, while in Eastern cultures it is not only tolerated but is often used to measure emotional strength.
It's a small difference in approach that Stigler believes has some very big implications.

Stigler is not the first psychologist to notice the difference in how East and West approach the experience of intellectual struggle.

Jin Li is a professor at Brown University who, like Stigler, compares the learning beliefs of Asian and U.S. children. She says that to understand why these two cultures view struggle so differently, it's good to step back and examine how they think about where academic excellence comes from.
For the past decade or so, Li has been recording conversations between American mothers and their children, and Taiwanese mothers and their children. Li then analyzes those conversations to see how the mothers talk to the children about school.

She shared with me one conversation that she had recorded between an American mother and her 8-year-old son.

The mother and the son are discussing books. The son, though young, is a great student who loves to learn. He tells his mother that he and his friends talk about books even during recess, and she responds with this:
Mother: Do you know that's what smart people do, smart grown-ups?
Child: I know ... talk about books.
Mother: Yeah. So that's a pretty smart thing to do to talk about a book.
Child: Hmmm mmmm.
It's a small exchange — a moment. But Li says, this drop of conversation contains a world of cultural assumptions and beliefs.

Essentially, the American mother is communicating to her son that the cause of his success in school is his intelligence. He's smart — which, Li says, is a common American view.
"The idea of intelligence is believed in the West as a cause," Li explains. "She is telling him that there is something in him, in his mind, that enables him to do what he does."

But in many Asian cultures, Li says, academic excellence isn't linked with intelligence in the same way. "It resides in what they do, but not who they are, what they're born with," she says.
She shares another conversation, this time between a Taiwanese mother and her 9-year-old son. They are talking about the piano — the boy won first place in a competition, and the mother is explaining to him why.

"You practiced and practiced with lots of energy," she tells him. "It got really hard, but you made a great effort. You insisted on practicing yourself."
"So the focus is on the process of persisting through it despite the challenges, not giving up, and that's what leads to success," Li says.

All of this matters because the way you conceptualize the act of struggling with something profoundly affects your actual behavior.
Obviously if struggle indicates weakness — a lack of intelligence — it makes you feel bad, and so you're less likely to put up with it. But if struggle indicates strength — an ability to face down the challenges that inevitably occur when you are trying to learn something — you're more willing to accept it.

And Stigler feels in the real world it is easy to see the consequences of these different interpretations of struggle.

"We did a study many years ago with first-grade students," he tells me. "We decided to go out and give the students an impossible math problem to work on, and then we would measure how long they worked on it before they gave up."

The American students "worked on it less than 30 seconds on average and then they basically looked at us and said, 'We haven't had this,' " he says.

But the Japanese students worked for the entire hour on the impossible problem. "And finally we had to stop the session because the hour was up. And then we had to debrief them and say, 'Oh, that was not a possible problem; that was an impossible problem!' and they looked at us like, 'What kind of animals are we?' " Stigler recalls.

"Think about that [kind of behavior] spread over a lifetime," he says. "That's a big difference."

Not East Versus West
This is not to imply that the Eastern way of interpreting struggle — or anything else — is better than the Western way, or vice versa. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, which both sides know. Westerns tend to worry that their kids won't be able to compete against Asian kids who excel in many areas but especially in math and science. Li says that educators from Asian countries have their own set of worries.

" 'Our children are not creative. Our children do not have individuality. They're just robots.' You hear the educators from Asian countries express that concern, a lot," she notes.
So, is it possible for one culture to adopt the beliefs of another culture if they see that culture producing better results?

Both Stigler and Li think that changing culture is hard, but that it's possible to think differently in ways that can help. "Could we change our views of learning and place more emphasis on struggle?" Stigler asks. "Yeah."

For example, Stigler says, in the Japanese classrooms that he's studied, teachers consciously design tasks that are slightly beyond the capabilities of the students they teach, so the students can actually experience struggling with something just outside their reach. Then, once the task is mastered, the teachers actively point out that the student was able to accomplish it through hard work and struggle.

"And I just think that especially in schools, we don't create enough of those experiences, and then we don't point them out clearly enough."

But we can, Stigler says.
In the meantime, he and the other psychologists doing this work say there are more differences to map — differences that allow both cultures to more clearly see who they are.

Background and purpose of this lesson study open house

About a year-and-a-half year ago, Dr. Clea Fernandez at Teachers College, Columbia University came to the Greenwich Japanese School and asked us to participate in her research project, in order to “introduce the strength of “jugyokenkyu” (lesson study) in the U.S.”  This request was really surprising to us, since we had always wanted to learn more about the strengths of American education.  Both within Japan and outside of Japan, people often say that “Japanese people are always learning ideas from the U.S., but they are not sending their ideas out.”  This sentiment applies not only to the education field, but to other fields as well.  Therefore, we never thought that we could be the ones sending ideas to someone else, until we heard Dr. Fernandez’ request. Although we were a little hesitant about it, we had great expectations for the opportunity to be involved because we thought that this might lead us to a true exchange between two countries.  As the project progressed, our expectations were met.  We would not have otherwise realized the similarity of concerns and dreams that educators share in the U.S. and Japan.
Since our participation in the project required us to explain the Japanese education system to teachers at an American school, it also gave us an opportunity to carefully look at our own education system.  At the same time, we learned many interesting ideas from the American teachers who were carrying out their educational activities in American culture.  This experience helped us discover many viewpoints that we did not have before, and that we could apply to our own educational activities.
We think the experience that we gained from helping conduct lesson study at Paterson Public School #2 was very fruitful.  We have not summarized the results of our exchange yet, but we are sure that the reports from this collaboration will be very meaningful, and will help us learn about the strengths of each other’s educational system.  We are hoping that the participants in today’s lesson study open house will understand that this event is part of a journey towards understanding each other’s educational system.

Thoughts we would like to share with American educators

About the Japanese curriculum

What do we see as one of the most striking differences between elementary- and middle-school education in the U.S. and Japan?  We believe the most striking difference is the fact that we have national “Course of Study” guidelines (Gakushu-shido-yoryo) in Japan.  This government-regulated Course of Study explains the basic learning and achievement goals for students at each grade level.  The Course of Study has a binding force behind it, since all Japanese schools are required to follow these guidelines. 
The Japanese education system is based on the belief of providing students with equal basic academic abilities; many believe that this core belief is the most important force behind Japanese education.  Therefore, many people in Japan are invested in the process of revising the Course of Study.  As part of this process, decisions to change anything in the Course of Study are carefully discussed and debated among the educators, researchers, and representatives of the nation.
Schools in Japan usually develop their own curricular approaches (kyoiku-katei) at the end of the school year in order to achieve the learning goals that are specified in the Course of Study.  These curricular approaches become the basis of a one-year learning plan, and will also provide a foundation for school planning.
Hearing the American teachers’ concerns at Paterson School #2 made us appreciate the usefulness (from our point of view) of a strong national curriculum, such as the one we have in Japan.  Our role in this project was to help the American teachers learn the basics of lesson study, such as how to conduct study lessons (kenkyujugyo), lesson study meetings, and open houses, and also how to develop lesson plans  (gakushu-shidoan) for lesson study. However, we feel that curriculum is central to the process of developing lessons, and that teachers who do lesson study need to understand this and think about it during their lesson study process.
These lesson-study exercises were eye opening for us in many ways.  Most of all, the cross-cultural exchange made us revisit what we thought we knew well, which was the purpose behind all the professional-development training (kenshu) we had been conducting to improve ourselves.  It reinforced for us the fact that all of our professional development activities were geared towards achieving the goals written in the Course of Study, and towards understanding them at a deeper level.
Since we are dispatched by Monbusho (the Japanese Ministry of Education) to provide an equal education to the children of Japanese professionals residing in the U.S, we still have a duty to carry out kenshu.  Part of our kenshu in the U.S. is to learn about the American education system, and to always keep in mind how we can incorporate the ideas we learn into our Course of Study curriculum; therefore, we have been conducting kenshu at our school with our eyes always focused on the trends of Japanese education.  Our approach may be different from how U.S. teachers think about their professional development, because there is more freedom to create one’s own goals in the American curriculum.                
Since we have focused so much on the Course of Study, we would like to describe what we think are the strengths of a curriculum based on the Course of Study.  First, the Course of Study provides student learning goals, such as what content to teach and what level of learning to expect among students, so what to teach becomes clear to teachers. This aspect of the Course of Study helps us teach basic knowledge and skills to our students more effectively.
Second, because all teachers clearly understand the same goals outlined by the Course of Study, teachers can complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses by working together at the school.  In this way, teachers’ skills for teaching can also be improved.

Finally, the curricular approaches that we develop under the Course of Study guidelines can be related to a particular school’s goal, which is established by each school to help improve the quality of its students and schooling (as based on that school’s situation and student needs).  By relating nationally-prescribed Course of Study guidelines to our school goals, we can support student growth consistently and coherently, by the all teachers at the school, and throughout all grade levels.

How lessons fit into the curriculum

Obviously, we are not able to demonstrate the strengths that we describe above through today’s lesson study open house.  What you will see today is the teaching content that is nested within a lesson; however, we hope that you will also appreciate that these lessons are reinforcing the Course of Study curriculum that we described above.
The content that we are working with and teaching during a lesson have to provide the students with a feeling of satisfaction for learning, within the time provided in the lesson.  Furthermore, the contents and goals that we are trying to achieve during a single lesson are only a smaller part of the larger goals of the unit.  Since the goals of a unit are achieved by a series of smaller goals that are coherently accumulated, the curriculum of the unit is also carefully planned.* In addition, these units are themselves a smaller part of the subject-area curriculum that is organized under the grade-level goals.
The curriculum is therefore organized very carefully, and is based on the following assumption: if students can achieve the goals of each unit one by one, they can achieve the goals of the subject, which is guided by the Course of Study.  The goals of each grade level are connected to the next grade level’s goals, and this connection of goals has become the basis for thinking about the goals of our school.  These goals carefully consider what kind of skills and knowledge the students hope to acquire by the time they graduate from our school, and what kind of growth patterns they exhibit during their school years.  At the end of the school year, we usually discuss our curriculum, which is closely tied up with our school goals, with all the teachers at our school.  We then incorporate improvements to the curriculum for the following year.  The principal of the school is responsible for approving the final curriculum.

How does lesson study fit into this?

As we have explained, schooling is carefully developed under the Course of Study guidelines.  We believe that konaikenshu (teacher training based on whole-school lesson study) plays a very significant role for investigating how our curriculum can follow the Course of Study guidelines from many angles.  Through konaikenshu, we believe that we can identify
our problems, attempt to resolve the problems, and develop a better curriculum for the students.  In addition, we believe that conducting konaikenshu is very effective for improving the quality of teachers (including teaching skills), because all the teachers at a school are looking at their schooling, lessons, and students under the same themes and goals, by showing each other’s lessons. 

Finally, the new Course of Study in Japan will be enforced in the year 2002.  At our school, we have already begun to reorganize our curriculum to adapt to this new Course of Study.  We have also begun to investigate the changes in it, through the process of lesson study (or konaikenshu).  This particular focus of konaikenshu is different from what we are presenting today. Finally, if you examine the trend of changes in the Course of Study, which are made every 10 years, you may observe that they are all centered around asking schools to improve students’ many different qualities; these qualities cannot be achieved by just developing students’ basic knowledge/ skills.  Furthermore, these changes need to correspond to specific changes of the time, such as the new 2002 requirement for establishing a time for integrated study (sogoteki na gakushu). 
Interestingly enough, we believe that the idea for an integrated curriculum originated in the U.S.  We believe that one of the major strengths of American education is it emphasis on fostering students who display originality and expressive abilities.  Ideas such as integrating curriculum, having students set up their own study themes, finding ways to investigate student interests, and presenting their findings to others, are all strengths we have learned from American education (during our visits to several U.S. schools).  If we reflect on our experiences, and try to think about the strengths of both countries’ education systems, and then try to practice these ideas at schools, we believe that all of us could potentially develop wonderful schools.  This last sentiment is the main point we would like to highlight through today’s lesson study open house.
We are hoping that you will get the opportunity to better understand our method of teaching, which is based on our everyday practices in classrooms, and which in turn are guided by the Course of Study. We also hope that you will appreciate the importance of lesson study in the context of konaikenshu, which promotes collaboration among teacher learning.  We are hoping that you may adapt something you see or learn today in U.S. schools, just as we have implemented ideas from your schools. Finally, we believe that the common mission among Japanese and American educators is fostering students who have problem-solving skills, expressive abilities, and a strong basic knowledge foundation.  Many schools in Japan incorporate these qualities into their school goals—in Japanese, we call these qualities ikiru chikara, or skills for living.

Thank you. 

The Greenwich Japanese School Lesson Study Research Group

*A CD-ROM that illustrates this unit-planning process will be made available shortly.