The Japanese use a collaborative process called “lesson study” to develop teachers’ skills over their career. The lesson study process is used during preparation, induction, and ongoing professional learning. It helps teachers develop the expertise for teaching a subject and is deeply rooted in practice (Jensen et al., 2016).
The lessons study process involves teams of teachers working together to research, plan, teach, observe, and reflect on lessons (Figure 1). A typical lesson study cycle focuses on a subject-specific lesson and takes at least five weeks to complete. To commence the cycle, the teacher team agrees instructional goals and jointly plans a lesson. One or more teachers will then lead the lesson while others watch and collect evidence on student engagement and learning. After this, a debrief discussion is held on what happened, how students approached the assigned task and how the lesson can be improved in the future (Takahashi and McDougal, 2016).
Figure 1. Lesson study cycle in Japan
Lesson study is nearly universal in Japanese schools, although its implementation varies (Lewis, 2016). In many schools, it is a part of a school-wide process to develop teachers and improve instruction by collaboratively analysing the impact of different teaching practices on a school’s theme for the year to improve student learning (Chichibu and Kihara, 2013).
Prospective teachers are introduced to lesson study concepts during their university coursework. These trainee teachers then use the process during their practical training placement, and again during their induction year once employed by a school.
Tamagawa is a private university and K-12 school in Tokyo that uses lesson study to train its teachers. In coursework that precedes and follows their practical training placement, teacher candidates prepare for and reflect upon the lesson study process (Tamagawa Academy (K-12) and University, 2018).
The sequence is as follows:
The process of lesson study, coupled with pre-and post-practicum coursework, comprises the core of an effective beginning teacher learning process that builds deep and subject-specific teaching skills. It is embedded in the work of teachers, connected to student learning, scaffolded by curriculum and mentor teachers, and repeatable over a teacher’s career.
The OECD Review Team in its visit to Japan from 5-9 September 2016 concluded that lesson study is a strength in that it:
The OECD Review Team also noted there could be:
This case study describes a “Promising practice” drawn from an OECD review of Initial Teacher Preparation in Japan from 5-9 September 2016.
The OECD Review Team identified a number of “Promising practices” in each country. These practices may not be widespread or representative, but seen in the context of other challenges, they represent a strength or opportunity to improve the country’s initial teacher preparation system – and for other countries to learn from them.
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