Sunday, October 11, 2015

A Study of Lesson Study, or, One More Thing We Aren't Doing to Support Teachers

They are doing this program on WBEZ by American Radio Works, Teaching Teachers, about teacher prep programs and teacher practices in the US versus other places. These kinds of things are difficult for me to listen to, because of both the state of things now and the old, rusty feelings from when I was teaching (and when I quit). But the radio just stayed on through the program, so here I am accidentally listening to it and accidentally writing about it.

And it is indeed hard to listen to. Just now, a former math teacher just articulated exactly the pattern of events that led to me quitting all those years ago: 1) He'd identify an issue in his teaching he wanted to solve; 2) He'd go to a training or professional development on it and get great ideas; 3) He'd come back and implement it in his classroom, but he or the kids would have questions he didn't have answers for; 4) At the end of the day he'd sit down at his desk under a towering pile of student work needing review, discouraged because lessons didn't go well, and with no one to talk through his ideas and efforts, no way to see anyone demo new ideas, no way to practice methods, and no time to process anything except--on his own time--that paperwork. He felt alone, exhausted, and without any way to learn and get better, so he quit.

In the US, teachers are expected to "just figure it out," "just make it work." That's not the practice anywhere in the world with an effective education system; and even more challenging, even the most individual, solo learners do not have any time to learn and grow. Many countries have "lesson study" (Japanese method) or similar practices, where teachers in schools have plenty of time to get together and work on a specific teaching problem by sharing ideas--and that puts the focus on better teaching through practice and professional collaboration, not "better teachers." This is a mid-century American method that many countries adopted from the US but that is pretty absent in the US now. This is among the various topics the program addressed.

There are Lesson Study groups anew in the US, thanks in part to Tom McDougal, the guy whose story I summarized above--here's his organization. In the US it's mostly in math classes but in some others, too--there's one in Chicago for learning how to teaching using the Common Core framework. But teachers in the US mostly need to find a way to do it on their own time, if they are interested.

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