Ideas for Establishing Lesson-Study Communities

By Takahashi, Akihiko; Yoshida, Makoto | Teaching Children Mathematics, May 2004 | Go to article overview

Ideas for Establishing Lesson-Study Communities

Takahashi, Akihiko, Yoshida, Makoto, Teaching Children Mathematics

Many educators in the United States have recently become interested in lesson study, a professional development approach popular in Japan, as a promising source of ideas for improving education (Stigler and Hiebert 1999). Numerous schools and school districts have attempted to use lesson study to improve their teaching practice and student learning (Council for Basic Education 2000; Germain-McCarthy 2001; Lewis 2002; Research for Better Schools 2002; Stepanek 2001; Weeks 2001).

Teachers at one such school, Paterson Public School in Paterson, New Jersey, have been conducting lesson study since 1999. Cynthia Sanchez, a sixth-grade teacher, shared some of her experiences in Currents (2002), the Research for Better Schools newsletter:

  While preparing the lessons, the group and I were very thoughtful. We
  looked at everything from how to introduce a new lesson to anticipated
  student responses, the use of the blackboard, manipulatives, and
  student engagement. This made me realize that there is more to
  teaching math than just opening a textbook and working on problems, or
  "spoon feeding" formulas just to get quick answers. (p. 5)

The concept of lesson study originated in Japan, where it is widely viewed as the foremost method of professional development for teachers (Fernandez et al. 2001; Lewis 2000; Lewis and Tsuchida 1998; Shimahara 1999; Stigler and Hiebert 1999; Yoshida 1999). Lesson study is an important feature of the Japanese educational system and has enabled Japanese elementary school teachers to improve their classroom instruction (Lewis and Tsuchida 1998; Stigler and Hiebert 1999; Takahashi 2000; Yoshida 1999). In fact, Japanese mathematics instruction has transformed from teacher-directed instruction to child-centered instruction during the past fifteen years (Lewis and Tsuchida 1998; Yoshida 1999). The ability to make this change has widely been attributed to the efforts of lesson study.

What Is Lesson Study?

During lesson study, teachers work collaboratively to--

* formulate long-term goals for student learning and development;

* plan, conduct, and observe a "research lesson" designed to bring these long-term goals to life, as well as to teach particular academic content;

* carefully observe student learning, engagement, and behavior during the lesson; and

* discuss and revise the lesson and the approach to instruction based on these observations (Lewis 2002).

The research lesson is taught in a regular classroom, and participants observe as the lesson unfolds in the actual teaching-learning context. Debriefing following the lesson develops around the student-learning data collected during the observation. Through the lesson-study process, participants are given opportunities to reflect on the teaching process as well as on student learning (Murata and Takahashi 2002; Yoshida 1999). Figure 1 shows a typical model of school-based lesson study. A lesson-planning group develops a research lesson and implements it in a classroom. All the members of the lesson-study group observe the lesson and collect data, then engage in debriefing the lesson. As a result, the lesson is sometimes revised and implemented again in other classrooms. This is called a lesson-study cycle. Other teachers at the school often observe these lessons. When the school decides to open its research lesson to the public, groups from outside the school such as teachers, educators, and university professors have an opportunity to attend this "lesson-study open house." At this event, all the participants can observe the research lessons and engage in discussions of those lessons in order to think about improving teaching and learning. This system contributes to the development of new ideas for teaching and learning as well as images of good teaching practices in the classroom.


This article draws on our experiences as practitioners, educators, and researchers of lesson study in the United States and Japan. …

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