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Volume 18, Number 3
May/June 2002

Can Japanese Methods Translate to U.S. Schools?

Asian practice shows promise here—and highlights cultural differences


It's 10 a.m. on a Wednesday at Paterson (NJ) School Number 2, and seven teachers are crowded around a circle of student desks, debating how to introduce the concept of geometric shapes to a special education class. Brightly colored foam shapes are piled on one desk, while rectangular perfume boxes and cylindrical tennis ball containers clutter another.

"We can start the lesson by asking them to group similar objects together," suggests 5th-grade teacher Beatrice Parga.

"I'm concerned these kids will characterize the shapes by color instead," says 8th-grade teacher Bobbie Wolff, "or maybe group all the pointy things together—like cones and triangles."

"Maybe it would be good if they group them in a way we don't want them to," says Bill Jackson, the school's math coordinator. "They may learn that three out of the four shapes have parallel, congruent faces."

The teachers trade and debate ideas as they try to anticipate how students will respond to the lesson and what teachers can do to turn those responses into learning opportunities. They are engaged in lesson study, a professional development process developed in Japan.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

C. Fernandez and S. Chokshi. "Translating Lesson Study for a U.S. Context: Practical Information and Advice for Teachers Interested in Conducting Lesson Study." Unpublished paper available on the Lesson Study Research Group website (see below).

Lesson Study in Japan. A website by Mills College researchers with articles, videos, and interviews with lesson study experts.

Lesson Study Research Group
. Teachers College, Columbia University.

C. Lewis. Lesson Study: A Handbook of Teacher-Led Instructional Improvement. Philadelphia: Research for Better Schools, in press.

C. Lewis. "Lesson Study: The Core of Japanese Professional Development." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, April 2000.

C. Lewis. Educating Hearts and Minds: Reflections on Japanese Preschool and Elementary Education. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

C. Lewis and I. Tsuchida. "A Lesson is Like a Swiftly Flowing River." American Educator, Winter (1998): 14-17, 50-52.

Research for Better Schools, Mid-Atlantic Eisenhower Consortium for Mathematics and Science Education.

J. Stigler and J. Hiebert. The Teaching Gap: Best Ideas from the World's Teachers for Improving Education in the Classroom. New York: Free Press, 1999.

M. Yoshida. Lesson Study: A Case Study of a Japanese Approach to Improving Instruction Through School-Based Teacher Development. Doctoral dissertation. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1999.