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Each to Teach: Bringing Japanese Lesson Study to United States Educators

Module by: Jennifer Harris Edstrom. E-mail the author

Summary: This project examines how a distance education environment can benefit educators who wish to participate in Japanese Lesson Study. Through participation in a professional forum hosted on an informational website, teachers from around the globe can collaborate by sharing video clips and seeking feedback from their peers. By participating in the forum, teachers will have the opportunity to see exemplars of teaching methods, examine those methods with a critical eye and consider how they can use this experience to improve their own teaching craft. In addition, the anonymous forum provides an additional level of comfort for teachers to seek out and improve areas with which they have difficulties.

Note: You are viewing an old version of this document. The latest version is available here.

Context

This project is designed for any educator who is interested and a willing to participate in Japanese Lesson Study. While the focus is on K-12 educators, the forum could certainly adapt to accept educators in other areas and fields.

Objective

To provide educators with a safe and collaborative environment in which to hone and improve their teaching craft through constructive feedback from a network of peers.

Introduction

One of the greatest challenges faced in education in the United States is how to best ensure that teachers are effective in the classroom. Many districts, states, teacher interest groups such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and educational reformers have cited the need to “increase the professionalization of teaching” (Wilson & Berne 1999). This call to action requires an examination of what best practices in teacher education may entail. Traditionally schools and districts have provided instructional seminars designed to introduce new teaching methods. Some districts and states also require continuing education for both pay increase and recertification (Abdal-Haqq, 1996). Critics of this type of professional development model cite its piecemeal approach as simply providing “updates” to previous knowledge, but neglecting to create a “continuing enterprise” for teachers to develop their teaching craft (Ball & Cohen, 1999).

No discussion of professional development could be complete without examining the qualities of effective professional development. A gold standard for effective professional development was described by Abdal-Haqq (1995) including eleven critical components:

“Is ongoing.

Includes training, practice, and feedback; opportunities for individual reflection and group

inquiry practice; and coaching or other follow-up procedures.

Is school based and embedded in teacher work.

Is collaborative, providing opportunities for teachers to interact with peers.

Focuses on student learning, which should, in part, guide assessment of its effectiveness.

Encourages and supports school-based and teacher initiatives.

Is rooted in the knowledge base for teaching.

Incorporates constructivist approaches to teaching and learning.

Recognizes teachers as professionals and adult learners.

Provides adequate time and follow-up support.

Is accessible and inclusive.”

With these characteristics in mind, it is clear that educators would need to seek opportunities for professional development beyond mere in-service workshops.

With the United States performing low in comparative studies such as the TIMSS report (Gonzales et al., 2008), it is natural to turn eyes to the practices found in countries have high performance, such as Japan. Japanese Lesson Study is one professional development practice that may warrant a closer look for United States educators. The Japanese Lesson Study model process involves several steps including identifying a lesson study goal, working on study lessons and summarizing lesson study findings in a report (Fernandez, 2002). Specifically, groups of teachers come together to choose the learning goal. Identifying a need for learning can be rich professional development experience in itself. Once the goal has been identified, teachers work together to create a detailed lesson plan. One teacher will teach the lesson while others observe the teaching. The observers take copious notes about the successes and shortcomings of the lesson. There is a period of “reconvening” where all teachers will reflect and react to the lesson (Fernandez, 2002). Often at this point the lesson is reexamined by the group and revised according to the findings of the first lesson. Another teacher may then teach the lesson based on this revised plan and the process repeats. An important final step in the process is a debriefing and reporting experience where teachers are able to “compare and connect what is being learned from the various study lessons conducted by the group” (Fernandez, 2002). These findings are compiled in a written summary of the lesson study and can serve to educate others about pedagogy.

While the benefits for educators from this practice seem promising, there are some challenges to implementing this model of professional development in the United States both in the infrastructure of schools and in the culture of teacher evaluation. One of the biggest challenges is that of time, both in teachers having enough time to implement lesson study effectively and the scheduling logistics required to allow teachers to observe each other teaching (Chokshi & Fernandez, 2004). Culturally, teachers in the United States may be hesitant to willingly showcase their teaching for fear of negative repercussions in their evaluations by administrators. Unlike in Japan, where teacher observation is not designed to be evaluative but rather constructive, “observations in the U.S. classrooms have traditionally been conducted in the context of performance evaluation” (Chokshi & Fernandez, 2004) This project serves to address these logistical and cultural roadblocks to successful implementation of the Japanese Lesson Study model.

Project Description

This project focuses on a website developed to electronically model Japanese Lesson Study, called Each to Teach. The developed website provides informative resources about Japanese Lesson Study as well as a forum for educators to participate in lesson study experiences alongside colleagues from around the United States and throughout the globe. Before launching the project, I built the Each to Teach website using www.weebly.com (http://eachtoteach.weebly.com). The website is divided into four sections:

1. About - This page provides a quick introduction about the website’s purpose and showcases a short CBS news video about Japanese Lesson Study.

2. Code of Conduct - This page provides the visitor with information about the rules for participation in the online forum (see APPENDIX A).

3. The Forum - This page is where the Each to Teach forum can be found. There are two forums available to visitors. The public forum is available to all and provides additional information about the Code of Conduct and the logistics of using the forum. There is also a private, members-only forum where teaches can plan their lesson study and post videos of their teaching.

4. More Resources - This page allows visitors to learn more about Japanese Lesson Study in the form of websites and additional videos.

In order to participate in the forum, interested educators are invited to:

1. Begin by reading the pages at the website (http://eachtoteach.weebly.com)

2. Read the Code of Conduct (http://eachtoteach.weebly.com/code-of-conduct.html)

3. Read the public forum instructions for participating (see APPENDIX B)

4. Join using either a weebly.com login or another common login such as Facebook, Blogger, Yahoo, etc.

5. Post a video of a lesson they have taught based on a particular learning goal they have in mind. In the post, they are asked reflect upon both the positive and negative aspects of the lesson and note what they learned about the designated learning goals.

6. Comment on the video lesson studies belonging to other members of the forum.

A critical component of this forum is that all members demonstrate a commitment to the project by posting a video. Outside of the website administrator, all participants who comment on others must be willing to receive feedback. This provides a system of checks and balance to ensure that members of the forum are actually educators who wish to foster a collaborative environment.

Evidence Supporting the Project

How does learning occur?

This project creates a safe and collaborative forum for teachers that facilitates discourse about curriculum, subject matter and methodology. In their meta-analysis of research on professional development, Wilson & Berne (1999) found that meaningful professional development occurred when educators had “the opportunity to discuss subject matter, opportunity to discuss students and learning and the opportunity to discuss teaching.” Japanese Lesson Study in general and this forum in particular provide educators with the opportunity to participate in all three types of experiences.

Less common in the United States is the opportunity for teachers to conduct research. Educators wishing to benefit from Japanese Lesson Study must be given the opportunity to develop a “meaningful and researchable hypothesis”, therefore adopting a “researcher lens” (Fernandez, Cannon & Chokshi, 2003). However, if inexperienced at creating researchable questions, a teacher may feel at a loss to do so. A commonplace practice in the Japanese Lesson Study model is to use mentoring from an “outside advisor” (Fernandez, 2002). For the Each to Teach project, all forum participants act as outside advisors, assisting one another through the planning phases of the Japanese Lesson Study. Also within the Each to Teach project, teachers are mentored through the research process by other educators and are encouraged to adopt a researcher’s mentality when examining their own teaching.

Wilson and Berne (1999) identified that a common theme in effective professional development was creation of “communities of learners.” Teachers who participated in networked experience found themselves integrating their professional development learning more regularly into their teaching because they had been “activated” rather than “delivered” information (Wilson & Berne 1999). The Each to Teach forum if implemented and managed successfully has the opportunity to spark that type of professionalism and commitment to improved pedagogy.

In what environment can technology promote learning?

Any educator in the world who has access to digital recording tools and the capacity upload digital files to the internet may participate  in Each to Teach.  As a website, teachers may access it from any internet hotspot with any digital device that allows for internet access.  In an increasingly broad digital landscape, teachers may find themselves participating in this type of website from smartphones and tablets as much as computers themselves.  The Each to Teach website is free to any and all educators to participate. In the essence, Each to Teach is both opensource and collaborative, qualities that Bonk (2009) highlights as essential for educational technology in the Web 2.0 world.

What is the process by which technology enhances learning?

When broached with the possibility of participating in Japanese Lesson Study, teachers in the United States have expressed grave concerns about sharing their teaching publicly (Fernandez, 2002). As was discussed earlier educators may have valid concerns about the evaluative nature of most observations in the United States educational system. This forum while very public, is also able to provide some anonymity to the participant. Depending on the method of login and video clip provided, participants may choose to use anonymous names and avoid distinguishing characteristics that identify where they are teachers. As a result, participants may feel less hindered by the fear of receiving critique from others.

Like all website forums and blogs, the Each to Teach forum is time and place independent. This is an important advantage for a professional development website. Harasim (2000) and Bonk (2009) call attention to these two qualities as those that contribute to the richness of online learning environments. For educators, time and place independence are especially important. Schools in the United States have limited collaborative planning times and teachers are often not given opportunities to observe other teachers’ lessons easily, a necessary aspect of the Japanese Lesson Study model. The time independence offered by the Each to Teach forum, teachers have the opportunity to watch a lesson study video within their own time constraints, for example during school planning periods or at home in the evenings. Place independence provides the aforementioned degree of anonymity, but also allows teachers to benefit from expertise that might not be available at their school. A teacher from a school unfamiliar with or disinterested in lesson study is not hampered, but can find a group of collaborative peers at Each to Teach.

Participants in Japanese Lesson Study must “rely on concrete evidence” to support the research they are conducting within the lesson study (Fernandez et al., 2003). In face-to-face lesson study experiences, observing teachers are required to take copious notes about what they view. This data collection has been noted to be difficult for American teachers (Fernandez et al., 2003). In Each to Teach, the data collection is posted within the forum discussion threads and permanently recorded. When teachers gather to create necessary final Lesson Study survey, the information they need will be at their fingertips.

Japanese Lesson Study is an intriguing possibility for professional development of United States teachers, but requires a shift in the professional development paradigm. Such a shift has challenges, some of which have been discussed here. Using technology, like the Each to Teach forum, may be one efficient method to overcome some of the initial stumbling blocks. Forums like Each to Teach provide an opportunity for collective work without borders or time constraints, allowing more educators to experience the rich, research-based Japanese Lesson Study model that can both improve the quality of teaching and the professionalism of teachers.

References

Abdal-Haqq, I. (1995). Making Time for Teacher Professional Development. ERIC Digest. 95(4). Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education.

Ball, D. L. & Cohen, D. K. (1999). Developing practice, developing practitioners: Toward a practice-based theory of professional education. In G. Sykes and L. Darling-Hammond (Eds.), Teaching as the learning profession: Handbook of policy and practice (pp. 3-32). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bonk, C. J. (2009). The world is open: How web technology is revolutionizing education. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.

Chokshi, S., & Fernandez, C. (2004). Challenges to Importing Japanese Lesson Study: Concerns, Misconceptions, and Nuances. Phi Delta Kappan, 85(7), 520. Retrieved April 27, 2011, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5002090874

Fernandez, C. (2002). Learning from Japanese Approaches to Professional Development: The Case of Lesson Study. Journal of Teacher Education, 53(5), 393-405. doi: 10.1177/002248702237394.

Fernandez, C., Cannon, J., & Chokshi, S. (2003). A US–Japan lesson study collaboration reveals critical lenses for examining practice. Teaching and Teacher Education, 19(2), 171-185. doi: 10.1016/S0742-051X(02)00102-6.

Gonzales, P., Williams, T., Jocelyn, L., Roey, S., Kastberg, D., and Brenwald, S. (2008). Highlights From TIMSS 2007: Mathematics and Science Achievement of U.S. Fourth- and Eighth-Grade Students in an International Context (NCES 2009–001 Revised). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

Harasim, L. (2000). Shift happens: online education as a new paradigm in learning. The Internet and Higher Education, 3(1-2), 41-61.

Wilson, S.M. & Berne, J. (1999). Teacher Learning and the Acquisition of Professional Knowledge: An Examination of Research on Contemporary Professional Development. Review of Research in Education, 24. 173-209 Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1167270

APPENDIX A

The Each to Teach Forum Code of Conduct

Welcome to the Each to Teach forum for all educators that also view themselves as learners. We are devoted to creating a supportive, professional environment where we can learn from each other. We want you to feel comfortable putting your teaching "out there" for others to view and critique. To that end, we have created a Code of Conduct that we ask all members to abide by when commenting on this post. Please make sure that you have read the code of conduct below prior to posting your video or commenting upon it.

Video Participation

1. In order to evaluate others, you must be willing to be evaluated. In order to be a commenting member, you must post a video of yourself teaching. Comments from non-contributing members will be removed by the Forum Admin.

2. You, not the Each to Teach forum, are responsible for providing videos that protect the anonymity of your students.

3. You, not the Each to Teach forum, are responsible for seeking out the required video release forms from parents/guardians of students in your class according to your school’s policies.

4. You should reflect upon the video of your teaching highlighting what you view as your strengths and areas for improvement. This will help guide the discussion. If there are particular areas for which you want advice or mentoring, please note this.

Evaluating Others

1. Comments are to be made in a professional and constructive spirit. Comments that are deemed inflammatory, aggressive, in poor taste, or that use expletives or profane language are subject to deletion.

2. Please refrain from the simple "Good Job!" or "Nicely done!" type of comments. This forum is meant for people who want to help others develop their teaching craft. The best way to do this is to provide comments that cite examples from the video. For example, "You were very effective at creating a work environment that facilitated project-based learning." is more helpful than a simple, "Great!"

3. Please feel free to explore areas of strength and areas of weakness. When focusing on areas of weakness, please provide examples of areas for improvement and ways to improve.

APPENDIX B

Forum Logistics Thread

1. To begin video critique thread, please use the "start a topic" button.

2. Please put the subject area, grade and topic in the title (for example Social Studies, grade 5, Civil War).

3. Please provide the link to your video tape lesson (you can host videos via TeacherTube or YouTube) in your post. The Forum does not allow you to upload videos directly.

4. Please provide your self-critique in your post. If there are particular areas for which you would like to seek out the advice of others, please note this.

5. Check back often for comments. You can subscribe to the post if you want to be notified via email about new replies.

Congratulations! You have demonstrated that you are a professional and life-long learner in the true sense of the words. We are pleased to have you join this forum.

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