Opportunity, Collaboration & Discovery

Teaching For Students. Sounds Obvious. Not.

CJ Westerberg, August 17, 2011 9:04 AM


"It is important that student teachers learn to go
beyond the way they were taught
in order to provide quality learning experiences for children."
"The most important quality a teacher needs is
the ability to understand how students think . . ."

A Math Teacher's Travel Journal To Japan
Day 6 & 7

By Bill Jackson

In the mornings, we visited Yamanashi University in Kofu City to learn about how student teachers are trained and what role lesson study plays in their training. Also, three university students shared their student teaching experience (all were very compelling but I will share only one).

The Role Of The Mathematics Educator (Prof. Yukio Yoshikawa)
It is not enough for student teachers to simply learn about "instructional materials."  They must experience them to be able to "see them from the students' perspective."  Professor Yoshikawa demonstrated this through an example of a very rich 8th grade math problem involving finding a missing angle between parallel lines. He explained about 10 different methods students often use to solve the problem, in order from very simple to quite complex.

Teachers must be prepared for the many different ideas that students come up with. By examining these different methods, students to begin to see patterns and relationships, look for "harmony in ideas," and appreciate mathematical reasoning. All students will not become mathematicians, but by recognizing mathematical relationships, they can discover that mathematics is enjoyable and something that enriches their lives.

It is important that student teachers learn to go beyond the way they were taught in order to provide quality learning experiences for children. The most important quality a teacher needs is the ability to understand how students think and having a passion not only for teaching, but also for learning.

Student Teaching And Research Lessons (Prof. Takashi Nakamura)
Lesson study has three main purposes:
1.  to solve educational problems by developing new curriculum and instructional approaches, 2.  enable practitioners to examine and improve their own practice, and
3.  stimulate a shared community of practice among teachers within a setting.

In addition, for mathematics teaching, it is important for student teachers to learn how to teach a problem-solving based lesson. These lessons, typically involve four steps: 
  1. understanding the problem and the task,
  2. attempting to solve the problem on their own,
  3. class discussion about the solutions, and
  4. reflection on individual solutions

The best way to do this is through lesson study.

Education majors at Yamanashi University spend six weeks in student teaching of their junior year. For both elementary (grades 1-6) and lower secondary (grades 7-9) school teachers, one of these experiences must take place in an elementary school and one in a lower secondary school. This is because teachers can be asked to teach or transferred to any of those grades during their career. In the final week of their student teaching experience, student teachers must conduct lesson study and teach a public research lesson.

One of the most important aspects of these research lessons is the post-lesson discussion. During this discussion, the teacher who taught the lesson reflects first. Next, there is a question and answer period followed by discussion and comments by the observers. The discussion is concluded by comments and suggestions by a university professor.

There are three focuses for the post lesson discussion. The first focus is on materials. This includes the choice of numbers for the problem, the variety of students' solutions, and the mathematical activity students were asked to engage in. The second focus is on points of instruction. This includes the clarity of the question, allocation of time, the choice of student presenters, and the use of journal writing. The third focus is on student understanding. This includes the how the students reacted to the activity, student thinking, interest, and satisfaction, and the knowledge and skills that they learned.

There are three results that the university hopes to accomplish by requiring lesson study for student teachers:
1.  internalization of the teaching profession,
2.  self-reflection and "understanding the characteristics of self," and
3.  the realization of the need to continuously study and improve.
In addition, professors at Yamanashi University want to develop a "joy for teaching" in the student teachers.

In the course of writing this section, she found herself writing more about some students than others. This made her realize that there were some students "she was not connected with."

Testimonial By A Student Teacher On Her Student Teaching Experience (Masami Kawakubo)
Miss Kawakubo was assigned to work with a 4th grade class for her three-week student teaching experience. Each day she arrived at school before 8:00 a.m. to prepare. She had to observe lessons in classrooms, teach lessons, and interact with students throughout the day. After school, she would meet with a teacher assigned as her instructional advisor to reflect on the day and engage in discussions about how to improve her teaching. She would go home at around 6:00 p.m., but even her evenings were occupied by writing in a "student teaching journal," conducting kyozaikenkyu (materials and curriculum study), writing lesson plans, and preparing for next day's lessons.

The first week of her student teaching was devoted to observing different lessons in many classrooms. On her 2nd week, she began to teach lessons. This required preparing a detailed lesson plan for every lesson which was later discussed, often several times, with her instructional advisor. (Student teachers typically teach about 20 lessons during the their student teaching.) In the 3rd week of her student teaching experience, she had to teach a research lesson.

Understanding Students

The most difficult part of her student teaching was writing the student teaching journal. There are three main sections in the journal. In the first section, "understanding students," she had to record the kinds of learning activities the students were engaged in, their states of learning, and their actions over the course of a three-week period. Since this had to be done for every one of the 40 students in the class, she had to conscientiously interact with each student on a daily basis. In the course of writing this section, she found herself writing more about some students than others. This made her realize that there were some students "she was not connected with." In the second section, "reflections on instruction," she had to write about the lessons she taught, reflections from the post-lesson discussions, and her thoughts about her teaching. This experience helped her to reflect on her lessons "carefully and deeply." In the final the section, ├Čreflections on classroom management,├« she had to record and reflect on the kinds of activities the students were engaged in during the day and what kinds of interactions occurred among the students. These reflections were then discussed with her instructional advisor in order to improve her classroom instruction each day.

In the final week of her student teaching, Miss Kawakubo engaged in lesson study in mathematics. The most difficult part of this was conducting "kyozaikenkyu" (instructional material investigation). First, she planned a five-lesson unit on isosceles and equilateral triangles (all the lessons were taught and three were observed by other teachers and student teachers). To prepare the lessons, she investigated documents such as the Elementary School Mathematics Teaching Guide for the Course of Study (available in English at, the teachers' manuals for the textbook, and current research papers. Then, she wrote a research lesson plan for the final lesson in which she asked students to make isosceles triangles using geoboards. For this lesson, she consulted with instructional advisors, university professors, senior teachers, and other colleagues to get their suggestions and opinions. In the post-lesson discussion, she received many helpful suggestions and learned a lot, especially about the importance and difficulty of conducting kyozaikenkyu. She also realized that it is important to have colleagues she can talk to, get encouragement from and for herself to encourage and "engage in heated discussions with."

The three weeks that Miss Kawakubo spent student teaching were not easy and they took a toll on her both mentally and physically. On weekdays during her student teaching, she only slept about 2 to 4 hours per day. It was very beneficial, however, because it made her think about many things, try and make mistakes, and reflect on herself and her teaching. Even now, she still thinks about many things that she could have done better.

I would like to end this part of the blog by quoting what Miss Kawakubo wrote in her reflections about the experience. "Even though I felt so tired every day, when I saw the students' faces every morning, I felt marvelous. The more seriously I took my responsibility with the students, the better they reacted to me. Through this experience, I realized that teaching is a worthwhile profession."


Bill Jackson

Orig. Published The Daily riff July 2010

Day 1 & 2: Link Here - "What American Teachers Can Learn From Japan"
Day 3 & 4: Link Here - "A More Global Perspective On Teacher Assessment and Development"
Day 5: Link Here

Editor's Note:    Bill Jackson is Math Helping Teacher, Scarsdale NY Public Schools, one of the highest performing school districts in the country. 

If you missed his series on "Singapore Math Demystified!" published by The Daily Riff , we highly recommend you to check it out HERE.  We are delighted that Bill is sharing his wealth of knowledge through this series of journals from his 2007 trip to Japan.

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