Japanese Lesson Study, Staff Development, and Science Education Reform - the Neshaminy Story

Article excerpt

A school district's experiment with Japanese Lesson Study has provided the impetus for change in both curriculum and instructional strategies

As the Science Coordinator, K-12 for the Neshaminy School District, I am frequently reviewing educational literature for new approaches addressing the design and delivery of curriculum. The reality of high stakes testing, NCLB, the curricula that have been characterized as a mile wide and an inch deep, the need for quality professional development programs, and the standards movement have all educators searching for ways to improve teaching and increase achievement.

I became interested in Japanese Lesson Study after attending a conference in fall 2001. A workshop facilitator modeled a mathematics lesson that he has presented to secondary students. He explained the process of a lesson study cycle and the philosophy upon which lesson study is based. At the same conference, a mathematics teacher who is currently practicing lesson study with his colleagues, presented a research lesson to his students. I and twenty other educators observed. I was able to see, first hand, the power of lesson study and immediately recognized it as an exceptional professional development approach. Additionally, Catherine Lewis' book entitled "Lesson Study: A Handbook of Teacher-Led Instructional Change " and "The Teaching Gap" by James Stigler and James Hiebert provided a wealth of information concerning the process and implementation of lesson study.

In Neshaminy, we use the Wiggins and McTigue Understanding by Design (UbD) model for all curricular revision in science. This backwards design strategy begins with the identification of the enduring understandings, proceeds to the development of the assessment piece(s), and concludes with the design of cohesive and coherent learning activities and strategies which will then provide the pre-requisite knowledge and skills for students to successfully complete the performance assessment and demonstrate the depth of their understanding.

During the 2001-2002 school year, a core group of science staff received training regarding a program entitled Schools Around the World (SAW). SAW is one of the programs coordinated by The Council of Basic Education in Washington D.C. It provides a non-judgmental process to effectively examine student work to determine depth of understanding. While this is a worthwhile process in and of itself, SAW also provides a systematic approach that examines the actual teacher designed assignment that generated the work. As staff members review the assignment, they focus on the clarity of the language, its alignment to standards, the level of student engagement and, the degree to which higher order thinking skills are encouraged. Participants in SAW have seen the synergistic power of the group and believe that the process has improved their assignments.

Becoming familiar with lesson study via the aforementioned resources coupled with the staff involvement in SAW and UbD, I had an epiphany and envisioned a combinatorial approach using UbD and SAW as the supporting foundation of our lesson study efforts. Understanding by Design provides the framework to build robust units of study rich in essential content and replete with authentic assessment practices and well crafted learning activities that foster inquiry, constructivism, and student engagement. Research lessons could easily be designed from these units. Schools Around the World provides the strategy to determine if both the student work and teacher assignment meet the intended goals and standards and if the students are encouraged to demonstrate critical thinking and problem solving. Lesson study also seeks the same end. Thus I developed a plan to wed the three programs into a single amalgam and began its implementation in December 2003. The logistics of the plan included staff selection and staff training.

Staff Selection:

To insure success, select staff members in grades 2 through 11 inclusive were invited to participate. …