Opportunity, Collaboration & Discovery

A More Global Perspective On Teacher Development

CJ Westerberg, March 1, 2011 8:48 AM


 High Stakes Standardized Tests As Measurement? 
Teacher Development & "What Works" With Students

"Mr. Yamada stood up and told everyone not to feel sorry for him
because of the grilling he received at the post-lesson discussion.
He said that this was not for him but for his students
and that he appreciated his colleagues' frankness
because their intent was to help him
to become a better teacher."
- Bill Jackson


Travel Journal To Japan:
Lesson Study
Day 3 & 4 from A Singapore Math Helping Teacher

By Bill Jackson

On Monday and Tuesday, we visited Takehaya Elementary and Lower Secondary School in the Bunkyo Ward of Tokyo where we observed classes, observed research lessons, and played with the children. As stated previously, this school is affiliated with Tokyo Gagukei University and many teachers and student teachers come to the school to learn.

We were all very impressed by both the freedom and the responsibility of the students. Children play (and even learn at times) unsupervised, they serve lunch to themselves, and they clean the school. The overwhelming feeling that you get is that children are truly happy and enjoying their elementary and middle school experience. In many ways, it was heartbreaking to reflect on what, in comparison, is the oppressive nature of the typical U.S. school. At this school, kids play freely and enjoy themselves, classes are engaging and fun, and no one has to scream at them or say "shhhh."

" . . .it was heartbreaking to reflect on what,
in comparison,
is the oppressive nature of the typical U.S. school."

This is not because the students are better behaved than our students, however. We noticed that oftentimes, negative behaviors were simply ignored. Teachers generally do not stop the flow of a lesson because one or few students are misbehaving or not paying attention. We asked Dr. Takahashi about this and he told us that teachers make a conscious effort to do this.  Whereas in the U.S., student behavior is often seen apart from academics, Japanese teachers see it as part of academics and through their many lesson study experiences, teachers often discuss student behaviors and how to best deal with them, especially at this particular school. The result is that there is a very light feeling to the school and even teachers seem to be genuinely happy in their interactions with students, each other, and administrators. The principal of the school, Dr. Fujii, does not have a top down management style but very much sees teacher professional development as a long-term process in which he is intimately involved.

This leads me to think about one research lesson in particular that was taught to 6th grade students by Mr. Yamada on division of fractions. In Japan, division of fractions is often taught in the context of word problems such as, "With 3/4 dl of paint you can paint 2/5 square meters of boards, how much board can you paint with 1 dl of paint?" (See Tokyo Shoseki Mathematics for Elementary School 6A p. 17, available at Global Resources).  Mr. Yamada, however, gave students the problem 9/20 divided by 3/5 as well as the answer, 3/4 based on what students had learned previously by changing the fractions to decimals and dividing to get 0.45/0.6=0.75=3/4. Then students thought about how to get this answer, 3/4, directly by calculation of fractions.

"If we don't open ourselves to such critique,
how can we ever improve what we are doing?"
-Bill Jackson

Students quickly noticed that you can just divide the numerators and denominators to get the answer but were not sure if this worked in every case. One student suggested the problem 9/30 divided by 3/5 as one case. Although the teacher had planned on using 3/4 divided by 2/5, he made the decision to go with this problem the student suggested and students tried to solve it to see if there was another way. Many students noticed that you could invert the dividend and multiply but they were unable to explain why you can do this very well. To make a long story short, this took the lesson in a very different direction and the teacher was unable to achieve the main goal of the lesson.

Afterwards, the teacher sat down to discuss the lesson with a panel of observers. (There were about 60 observers in all, including much of the school faculty and invited knowledgeable others).  What really shocked us was the candor of the discussion.

Many teachers on the panel openly questioned the teacher's decisions to not use a word problem, to accept the problem suggested by the student, and to not use either diagrams or manipulatives. The comments were very direct and it amounted to a severe two-hour grilling for this particular teacher where he was forced to question almost everything he did in the course of the lesson -- very different from the general niceness we have witnessed in much U.S. lesson study discussions.

At the end, comments were made by the invited knowledgeable other -- Dr. Nakamura of Tokyo Gagukei University. He said that often word problems are not necessary because in this case, painting boards is not really something kids can relate to. He said that these problems were used, however, so students could think about the proportional relationship, which is essential to understanding why we invert and multiply.

After the discussion, we all went out for an "enkai" (big party) with almost the entire school staff. We really learned the importance of these large parties because as everyone ate and drank together, we witnessed much caring, sharing and affirmation, especially for Mr. Yamada (who, by the way, as the teacher who taught the lesson did not have to pay). At one point, Mr. Yamada stood up and told everyone not to feel sorry for him because of the grilling he received at the post-lesson discussion. He said that this was not for him but for his students and that he appreciated his colleagues' frankness because their intent was to help him to become a better teacher. Wow! It was very moving, to say the least.

There is so much more to say about how wonderful the visit to the Takehaya school was and all that we learned. But what sticks out the most to me are those words from Mr. Yamada. If we don't open ourselves to such critique, how can we ever improve what we are doing? Thank you Mr. Yamada for teaching all of us a very valuable lesson.

Dewa Mata (bye),

Bill Jackson

Day 1 & 2: Link - "What American Teachers Can Learn From Japan"
Day 5: Link Here - "Developing The Whole Child"

Originally published the Daily Riff June 2010

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.

  • CJ Westerberg

    May be a better way for teacher assessment (and not just development), instead of what is being increasingly used now -- test scores -- which is a seriously flawed system in its present form.

blog comments powered by Disqus
It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
Leonardo da Vinci
Follow The Daily Riff on Follow TDR on Twitter

find us on facebook


Cool Smart Teen: Changing the conversation about building stuff

SMW, 11.04.2013

Not just building an app to play with . . . but a test for cancer

Read Post | Comments

Riffing good stories innovation.jpg

Video: What is the link between "design-thinking" and creativity?

SMW, 11.03.2013

Creative Confidence: Must-Watch Interview on Charlie Rose

Read Post | Comments
early education.preschool.jpg

How Much Do Early Years Lead to Student Success?

CJ Westerberg, 11.03.2013

"The idea being that wasn't necessarily to create little engineers everywhere, though that would be great for us. The idea was to take advantage of the natural learning process and curiosity that children have at that age . . ." Tamika Lang, Boeing

Read Post | Comments

NEW: Weekend Reading

SMW, 11.03.2013

Looking for Intimacy in the Age of Facebook is a higher education course (yes, you heard right). Interestingly, social media may inhibit creativity and innovation

Read Post | Comments

The New Resume

SMW, 10.31.2013

A picture is worth a thousand words. A video game-like format is worth . . .

Read Post | Comments

Noam Chomsky: The Purpose of Education

CJ Westerberg, 10.31.2013

"Education is really aimed at helping students get to the point where they can learn on their own. . . "

Read Post | Comments

Noam Chomsky: In the news again, this time about Twitter and High Schoolers

SMW, 10.31.2013

Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus at MIT, "father of linguistics", political commentator.  From bio: "Besides his work in linguistics, Chomsky is internationally recognized as one of the most critically engaged public intellectuals alive today":               ...

Read Post | Comments

Choke: Test-taking - - - a different way to look at test-prep?

CJ Westerberg, 10.28.2013

"Most students will not find a steady diet of test-prep drills and worksheets to be particularly meaningful, and accordingly, they will not put forth optimal learning effort."

Read Post | Comments

Does your school have a beehive?

CJ Westerberg, 10.27.2013

"If we want children to be inventors, we have to give them opportunities to invent." - 5:00 mark, Mission Hill video

Read Post | Comments