Lesson Study: A Japanese Approach to Improving Mathematics Teaching and Learning

By Clea Fernandez; Makoto Yoshida | Go to book overview

Foreword
James W. Stigler

I will never forget the first time I bought a cookie in a Japanese department store. I looked through the glass bakery case and pointed to the cookie I wanted, much as I might have done in a bakery back home. But that's where similarity to home ended and Japanese culture started to take over. The clerk took my cookie and wrapped it carefully in tissue paper. She gently placed it in a gold paper box, sized perfectly to fit my single cookie. She then took a piece of ribbon and carefully tied it around the box. This elegant package was then placed in a beautiful bag with a handle on top. For Americans, the point is to eat the cookie, not convert it into an artistic masterpiece. We tend to think such details don't matter, but they do. As I later unwrapped my cookie, I enjoyed it in a way I had never enjoyed a cookie before.

It turns out “cookie wrapping” is not an isolated practice, but just another example of the way the Japanese approach many things, including teaching and learning. On that first trip to Japan in 1979, besides eating cookies and riding on trains that departed and arrived exactly on time, I visited an elementary school and observed a Japanese mathematics class for the first time. Impressed by the teaching method, and more so by the teacher, I wondered about the exquisite preparation it must take for someone to learn to teach with such precision and artistry. It was later, after many trips to Japan and many visits to Japanese schools, that I became aware of “lesson study” and the role it might play in the development of teaching in Japan. Just as Japanese cookies are converted into artistic masterpieces, so too are Japanese lessons meticulously planned and teaching improved.

The concept of lesson study seems simple and obvious: If you want to improve education, get teachers together to study the processes of teaching and learning in classrooms, and then devise ways to improve them. Re-

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