Lesson Study: A Professional Development Model for Mathematics Reform

Article excerpt

In this action research report 4 teachers and I teacher educator use the Japanese lesson study model of professional development for 15 months in rural Carlinville, Illinois. In March 2001, 4 teachers identified a goal to improve their students' understanding of two step word problems in 2nd grade elementary mathematics. Teachers completed three cycles of researching, planning, teaching, evaluating and reflecting. They were motivated, empowered, and found lesson study effective professional development in their rural setting. It focused on the classroom lesson; provided an effective lesson plan and hours of focused professional development; supported attempts to put into practice best professional knowledge of reform mathematics; and developed a professional community among them.

Recent mathematics reform efforts attempt to unite mathematicians, math educators, administrators, and teachers to focus on two clear goals: (a) to increase mathematical knowledge of teachers, and (b) to improve methods of teaching mathematics. In 2001, the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences published their report, The Mathematical Education of Teachers (2001), emphasizing the significance of high quality mathematical preparation by teachers in all levels of school mathematics. A year earlier, Before It's Too Late: A Report to the Nation from the Glenn Commission (also known as the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century), identified the solution to the problem of students' low achievement in mathematics as "better mathematics and science teaching" (National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, 2000, p.7). To achieve this goal they advocated stronger initial teacher preparation and "sustained, high quality professional development" (p.5), which they believe can be facilitated by, among other strategies, "building- and district-level Inquiry Groups ...for teachers to engage in common study to enrich their subject knowledge and teaching skills"(p. 8).

How can those responsible for professional development in rural areas follow through on such recommendations while facing additional challenges like geographic isolation from large numbers of colleagues and remoteness from specialist professional development opportunities? In this paper, we, four rural elementary teachers and one teacher educator, will first introduce ourselves and our methods and then describe one model for "inquiry groups" -the Japanese "lesson study" model. We then share our 15 month long experience conducting lesson study in rural Carlinville, Illinois, before concluding with some discussion of the strengths of the lesson study model for rural education. We believe lesson study offers a way to systematically address many of our professional development needs.

Introductions and Methodology

In January 2001, a teacher education faculty member at the nearest state university, taught a graduate math education class on-site at a public elementary school in Carlinville, Illinois, 50 miles from the university. Carlinville, with a population of 7000, is the seat of Macoupin County in west central Illinois. As such, it is the prosperous center of a largely poor agricultural region. Lesson study was introduced as a small part of that class, and that is how these authors came together to work on this project.

As classroom teachers we represent a profile characteristic of one part of the rural teaching force - stable, hard working, experienced professionals thoroughly embedded in the lives of our communities. We have lived and taught in Carlinville for between 10 and 25 years. Our own mathematical education, mostly in rural schools, was dominated by traditional memory and drill work. One of us particularly enjoyed this approach and was successful through high school, whereas the other three reached a point in junior high or high school where mathematics lessons left us confused, anxious, or bored. …