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Japanese Lesson Study

This blog has looked at lessons education policymakers can learn from high–performing nations in Asia. Today I want to share an example for classroom teachers. Part of the definition of global competence is to provide students with an interdisciplinary approach to learning. Educators who plan lessons together create more effective learning experiences for students. This has been a proven practice in the Japanese education system for over a century.

Team teaching, teaching to strengths, having peers provide feedback, and observing others to learn new ideas and strategies are ways in which globally focused schools best serve students. When teachers plan together, even without team teaching, their combined knowledge and experience is always more valuable than what one teacher alone might develop. One example of such collaboration is called Japanese Lesson Study, a process developed during Meiji–era Japan, and still in use today because of its effectiveness.

Japanese Lesson Study is a collaborative professional development tool that encourages teachers to work in groups of four to six educators each, usually at a specific grade level, to plan, observe, examine, and refine classroom lessons. This process, which could take years, begins with the group of teachers setting a goal for themselves. They then create curriculum that aims to meet this goal. Teachers in Japan are expected to participate in this process and almost every teacher is involved in at least one lesson study group, and some also participate in districtwide groups, which meet in the evenings. The teams provide mentoring and training, but also allow teachers to try new teaching techniques. The process involves teaching the lessons, analyzing how they work in the classroom, and then revising the lessons with the group.

Here is an abbreviated version of this process which could be used for a single subject area or an interdisciplinary project:

  1. Decide on a research theme or goal—it should be something that fits within standards or a scope and sequence. For example, critical thinking in science inquiry.
  2. Meet with colleagues to plan a lesson on a specific topic and unit, pooling knowledge, and creating a first draft.
  3. Make collaborative decisions on content, the integration of global competencies, materials, and teaching strategies.
  4. Teach the lesson to colleagues as a form of practice. Some teachers are open to being observed while teaching the lesson to students.
  5. Use a rubric for the observation and specific language in their feedback, recording observations rather than criticisms.
  6. Review observations and rewrite the lesson to improve both content and delivery. Teachers from other schools are sometimes invited to observe the final version of the lesson.
Collaborative planning and team teaching is a winning combination for students. It provides enhanced content and builds teacher expertise, both of which can motivate students to learn.
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