Lesson study

At a Paterson, New Jersey school, teachers gather to develop, discuss and refine lessons, borrowing from a Japanese practice called “lesson study.” Education Week reports:

School 2’s lesson-study groups meet once a week during the school day for cycles of 12 weeks. Ms. Liptak schedules the classes of participating teachers so that students are taking physical education, art, music, or other special classes while their teachers meet.

Each cycle begins with a look at an entire instructional unit. Teachers study how the textbooks approach the concepts they are aiming at and how the topic is taught in surrounding grades. The individual lessons that teachers develop are tested once, refined, and then tested again with different students.

“This way, you learn to anticipate the shortcomings and the children who may not catch what you’re doing,” said Jill K. Precel, one of the teachers in the lesson-study group on fractions. “You teach to all the possibilities, where you might not have before.”

Afterward, the groups each prepare a report that chronicles their thinking processes and what they learned from their trial-and-error experiences. Mr. Jackson keeps those reports, as well as videotapes from the resulting lessons, in the school library for others to view.

The school also hosts open houses, much as schools in Japan do, where visitors can come to observe and critique the finished lessons being taught.

. . . Researchers studying the evolution of lesson study at Paterson School 2 say the school has come a long way in fostering an open-door culture. The process has also inspired the school to adopt math textbooks from Singapore in an effort to find a curriculum that teaches fewer topics, but in greater depth. Teachers also streamlined their use of “manipulatives” after some lesson-study sessions revealed that too many math toys distracted students.

If you can’t access Ed Week, try this article on the Paterson experiment or check out the Lesson Study Research Group at Columbia’s Teachers College.

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  1. Steve LaBonne says:

    Three cheers, and it’s especially encouraging to see that a professor at Teachers College is behind this outbreak of common sense. Let’s hope this experiment takes firm hold and begins to inspire others.

  2. The institutional hurdles which must be jumped over to implement such a program are huge. Most years, a teacher is told, “Here’s the textbook,” and then goes off to teach it. This is because the districts order the books well before the school year begins (to avoid “School opens without texts for students” headdlines). And of course everyone must have the same book since everyone must have the same opportunity and must thusly suffer equally. Experimentation? Too expensive under the current set up.

    My mother teaches at a school which expects her to make individual lesson plans for her students before she even meets them. And then she has to grade herself based on those plans. What’s wrong here? Can’t there be any thinking and reevaluating during the school year, or is that too likely to confuse the students? Policy and reality are often created in different departments.

  3. I love this idea. I hope it spreads.

  4. Wacky Hermit says:

    Gotta love that Singapore Math! I sure do, but a lot of teachers don’t, because it doesn’t come with pre-made worksheets, fancy lesson plans, and a flashy CD-ROM. It sure is nice to have those support materials– especially for teachers who are so overworked that they barely have time to grade– but it really takes the challenge out of education.