Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Lesson Study: Teachers Learning Together

Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Lesson Study: Teachers Learning Together

Article excerpt

What do the words 'skittish,' 'aghast,' 'pulverize,' 'cower,' 'grapple,' and 'vie' have in common? Well, to a group of thirteen and fourteen year-old students, the answer was obvious - bull riding! These eighth grade language arts students saw a rider cowering in fear as he was about to grapple with the bull wondering if he would be pulverized by his opponent. Interestingly, these words had a completely different meaning to a group at the next table; they conjured up images of a Halloween night as skittish teens vied with each other to take a midnight stroll through a cemetery, aghast at what they might see. When the teacher interrupted the lively discussions to call the class back together, a collective groan arose from the engaged students. Countering the students' dismay at being stopped mid-stream were the smiles on the faces of the seven teachers scattered around the classroom. The students' talk of bull riding, Halloween nights, PlayStation 2 games, soldiers, and guitar playing was evidence that the collaboratively planned Lesson Study research lesson was having its intended effect - students were deeply engaged in making meaning of challenging words.

Lesson Study, a form of teacher-driven professional development gaining momentum in the United States, had brought together these twenty-two students, seven teachers, sixty challenging vocabulary words, and a carefully crafted word development lesson. What was the goal of this experience? Four members of a middle school language arts Lesson Study group developed and tested a research lesson that used the strategy of word categorization to build and support student understanding and ownership of challenging vocabulary words. Importantly, the idea for the research lesson emerged from the group members' recognition that word development was hard to teach, that current efforts were having limited success, and that together the Lesson Study group could find a better way.

Lesson Study- from Japan to the United States

Lesson Study has arrived in the United States. Recent issues of Education Week, Educational Leadership, Teaching Children Mathematics, and Phi Delta Kappan have all devoted coverage to this innovative form of professional learning. A consistent message in each is that "Good teaching is critical; ... To develop good teachers, we must challenge the old way of doing things; ... and that learning is an ongoing and continuous process for teachers and students alike" (Choskhi and Fernandez, p. 531). National and regional Lesson Study networks and conferences, 'Lesson Study Open Houses,' and computer listserves further spread the message and continue the momentum. Current estimates identify more than two hundred and sixty school districts in twenty-nine states participating in Lesson Study. This growth is particularly remarkable considering the brief history of Lesson Study in the United States.

Lesson Study has long played a critical role in the learning and practice of Japanese teachers. Indeed, many who have studied Japan's teaching identify this process as a determinative factor in the success of Japanese teachers and their students (Lewis and Tsuchida, 1998; Stigler and Hiebert, 1999; Lewis 2002). Japanese teachers enter the profession as recognized novices and are expected to continuously develop their practice and expertise. Rather than advanced coursework or post-baccalaureate degrees, the main vehicle for professional learning is Lesson Study. The underlying theme of this collaborative and continuous learning is contained in the Japanese proverb: "When you gather three people, you have a genius."

Lesson study 'crossed the ocean' primarily as a result of the 1995 Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the subsequent publication of The Teaching Gap in 1999. TIMSS results showed a significant gap between the performance levels of United States' students and those of the highest performing countries. A parallel video study that compared eighth-grade mathematics classrooms from Japan, Germany, and the United States further publicized differences not only in student performance, but also in instructional strategies and methodologies. …

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