Learning from each other

With an open mind and the right attitude, teachers can work together continuously improve lessons in the classroom.

HOW do we improve our daily teaching?As teachers, we work hard to prepare our lessons. We hope that every lesson will be effective and interesting, and that all our students will learn well and do well in their examinations.

We want to try out new teaching approaches, the latest technologies and the most interesting teaching aids. We want the best of everything for our students.

However, in a typical Malaysian school scenario, teachers are not just busy with teaching, but plenty of other administrative and non-teaching responsibilities. For most teachers, time is the biggest challenge.

The majority of our teachers work full time, but not everyone has the “full time” to prepare and to teach.

On top of that, it is not possible for every teacher to be competent in his content knowledge or pedagogical content knowledge for every subject that they teach, though ideally that should be the case.

Is there a platform or venue that encourages collaboration among teachers?

Lesson Study

The first time I heard about the concept of “Lesson Study” was when I attended the 9th International Congress of Mathematics Education (ICME) in Tokyo in 2000.

As part of the conference programme, all the participants were invited to observe an open lesson in some Japanese schools who were practising Lesson Study.

The open class teaching was observed by more than 50 teachers and conference participants.

It was a Primary One class with about 30 pupils. Although the whole classroom was packed with foreigner participants and local teachers, both the teacher and his pupils went as usual, undisturbed by the presence of the observers.

After the lesson, a panel made up of the teacher and four other local teachers were set up to discuss and critique the lesson taught.

I thought the lesson was well organised and effective, but most of all I was impressed by the open attitude of the teachers and the commentators.

Later, we were told that this kind of observation and sharing has become part of the Japanese school culture, and this is part of the teacher professional development process called “Lesson Study”.

There are generally five main steps in a Lesson Study cycle:

Step 1: Identify and Formulate goals

This step involves setting up a lesson study group with four to six teachers who are teaching the same subject and/or at the same level.

The main aim of the first discussion is to identify and formulate the goals that they want to achieve in the lesson study cycle.

Ideally, the group would come to a consensus with regard to the best strategies to use in order to enhance the students’ learning.

Step 2: Plan Lesson Together

The group agrees on a common agenda with regard to drawing out teachers’ knowledge and ideas of an effective lesson based on their experiences, observations of students’ abilities, as well as resources and textbooks to use.

The group meets at least three times discuss teaching ideas and problems, to draft out the lesson plan and to appoint a teacher in the group to carry out the teaching.

Subsequently, the teacher who teaches the lesson would consolidate the lesson plan, particularly the content’s coherence.

Step 3: Teach and Observe the Lesson

During this step, the teacher would carry out the actual teaching in the classroom while being observed by the members of the Lesson Study group.

The observers are there to reflect on the weaknesses of the lesson plan and should avoid helping the students.

Step 4: Reflect and Revise the Lesson Plan

After the lesson, the group would come together to reflect on the lesson that was taught in the classroom.

Such reflective collaborations are aimed at helping to overcome weaknesses of the lesson taught and to suggest alternatives solutions to tackle the problems faced.

Subsequently, the group revises the lesson plan collaboratively.

Step 5: Teaching the Revised Lesson Plan

In this step, another teacher from the group is assigned to teach the revised lesson plan in another classroom. The process of carrying out steps three and four are thus repeated.

The short term product of the Lesson Study cycle is to develop an effective and meaningful lesson plan to cater for the needs of students’ learning, while the long term goal is to help to develop teachers’ learning and their professional development.

Benefits of collaboration

Analysis and observations from the above lesson study projects in Malaysia show positive feedbacks from the participating teachers.

For example:

  • Lesson study encourages the sharing of knowledge and skills and reduces the workload of lesson preparation;
  • strengthens collegial support;
  • encourages reflective practices;
  • and enhances teachers’ content and pedagogical content knowledge through group discussions and reflections on peer teaching. Their teaching thus becomes more student centered and less teacher centered.

However, despite the enormous benefits, there remain several issues and challenges that constraint the implementation of Lesson Study. These are mainly time, commitment and administrative support.

In conclusion, Lesson Study could be an effective model of teacher professional development that provides a systematic structure which encourages collaboration and cooperation among teachers.

Through this type of collaboration, teachers are encouraged to research further their students’ thinking and the curriculum of the subject they are teaching.

Consequently, this would enhance teachers’ content and pedagogical content knowledge which eventually improves the quality of their teaching practice, which would contribute toward better student achievement.

In fact, the approach could be applied to any subject or skills that the teachers are not familiar or have difficulties with.

Despite the various issues and challenges which are inevitable with any introduction of new innovation, I strongly promote the setting up of lesson study groups as an alternative tool for teacher professional development. I hope that the collaborative culture of Lesson Study will soon become part of our Malaysian school culture.

by Assoc Prof Lim Chap Sum from The School of Educational Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia. She can be contacted through theva@usm.my.

Read more @ http://thestar.com.my/education/story.asp?file=/2010/6/13/education/6400286&sec=education

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