Elliott, J. (2014), "Lesson study, learning theory, and the cultural script of teaching", International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, Vol. 3 No. 3. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJLLS-08-2014-0028Download as .RIS
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Lesson study, learning theory, and the cultural script of teaching
Article Type: Editorial From: International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, Volume 3, Issue 3.
The paper by Sarkar Arani et al. focuses on an attempt to analyse a lower secondary science lesson in Singapore in order to reveal the “cultural script of teaching”, the beliefs and values that are tacitly embodied in the structure of a lesson, its major features, patterns of interaction between teacher and students and between the students themselves, and aspects of the learning process the students engage with. There are increasing calls, the authors argue, for this script to be made explicit through Lesson Study. They argue that it is unlikely to be revealed through post-lesson discussions between those teachers whose practices are likely to be shaped by a similar cultural script, since it will constitute a shared background to their practice and therefore unlikely to be fore grounded through discussion. Yet the development of teaching as an educational practice depends on engaging practitioners in a critique of the cultural scripts that shape practice. The development of teachers is not a process that proceeds independently of, and antecedently to, changing the practice of teaching and learning in schools and classrooms.
According to Sarkar Arani et al. the transformative potential of Lesson Study will require a cross-cultural form of lesson analysis and dialogue, which brings the cultural script that shapes the lesson into the focal awareness of participating teachers. Their paper is an exploratory case study of a cross-cultural lesson analysis aimed at understanding and bringing about changes in the cultural script of teaching. It involved making transcripts and a video recording of the lesson available to a group of Japanese teachers and educational researchers to analyse. This analysis was then fed back to the teacher, his colleagues, and the principal of the Lesson Study School, as a basis for discussion. The discussion was then made available to a group of Singaporean teachers and researchers, who met to analyse the lesson from a Singaporean perspective with the aim of revealing the cultural script that shaped the teaching.
Lesson Study as it evolved in Japan is itself shaped by a cultural script in which the idea of the “research lesson” is conceived as an integral component of educational practice. Arani et al. cite a distinction made by Friedman between “research in practice” and “research on practice”. This distinction has been frequently made by those who wish to contrast the process of educational action research with the process of “research on education”. Lesson Study in Japan evolved as a form of educational action research, of “research in practice” where “practice” tends to be shaped by a collegial and collaborative professional culture as opposed to the culture of individualism that tends to shape professional practice in western countries.
Anne Brosnan's paper tells a story about professional resistance to one attempt to introduce Lesson Study in the context of “Project Maths” in the Republic of Ireland. In 2008 the project, under her leadership as national co-ordinator, embarked on a four-year programme of teacher professional development that was aimed at introducing a new post-primary mathematics curriculum to 24 pilot schools. It followed a “root and branch” review in 2005 by the Irish National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), a statutory body charged with advising the Minister for Education. The review addressed concerns about achievement in mathematics of students, on the basis of both evidence gathered nationally and international comparisons. With respect to the latter, in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for 2003, Ireland achieved an average rank of 17 in mathematics. Overall studies of post-primary mathematics suggested declining performance with an instructional emphasis on mechanical procedures and drills rather than “learning with understanding”. By PISA 2009 Ireland had fallen to a below average rank of 25 for mathematics.
It was in this context that Lesson Study was introduced to help teachers engaged with Project Maths to implement the new mathematics curriculum in post-primary schools. This curriculum emphasised the development of an understanding of mathematical concepts and problem solving skills. The introduction of Lesson Study was seen as providing teachers with systematic opportunities to “become their most incisive and articulate critics” as they reflected about the problems of implementing the aims and values of the new curriculum. Lesson Study, and its key feature of the “research lesson”, is a routine and integral component of classroom practice in Japan and developed an international profile following the Third International Mathematics and Science Assessment (TIMSS) in 1999.
The professional resistance to the introduction of Lesson Study that is depicted by Brosnan is perhaps a warning to those who assume that transplanting educational practices from one national context to another is a straightforward process. It can be explained by the fact that educational practices tend to vary across national contexts because they are shaped by rather different cultural scripts. The transfer of practices from one context to another is a complex affair. Brosnan states that she was aware of this. A survey at the end of the first year of the pilot revealed that the cultural gap between professional practice in Ireland and Lesson Study was greater than expected, inasmuch as most teachers experienced little discussion of teaching and learning in their schools. Too much had been expected too soon. Although half the schools produced lesson plans as a system requirement they were seen as models of the new curriculum in action rather than “research lessons”. Brosnan argues that there was little appreciation of lesson planning as an opportunity for all maths teachers to reflect together deeply about the relationship between “the subject, students and teaching approaches”. Perhaps Lesson Study had been viewed, by the project team, more as a professional development activity, which helped to create a bridge between distinct professional cultures, than a professional culture in itself.
According to Brosnan teachers’ immediate concerns with implementing the new maths syllabus, innovatory pedagogies, and examination reforms, overshadowed any concern to improve the quality of students’ learning experiences in the longer term. Following the survey at the end of the first year of the pilot, the Project Maths team set aside attempts to implement lesson study for the remaining three years of the project. It decided to focus professional support on addressing the immediate concerns of teachers, such as changes to the syllabus and examinations. However, a further survey at the end of the three years revealed that there was evidence of increasing collaboration between teachers, a better understanding of the material produced by the project team, greater capability at implementing the new syllabus, increasingly familiarity with the new examination structure, and a better appreciation of the learning benefits of new teaching approaches compared with drill and practice methods. Brosnan contends that the teachers had learned from their earlier experience of attempting to implement Lesson Study, and were now drawing on aspects of that experience some three years later, as they began to focus on the impact of the curriculum reforms on the students’ learning experience. The NCCA, following consultation with the Department of Education and the Principals of the pilot schools, decided that the conditions were now right to reintroduce Lesson Study as the central approach to advancing the aims of Project Maths. A further year was added to the pilot project in order to facilitate this.
Brosnan concludes that what was learned, from an attempt to implement Lesson Study in the context of Project Maths, was that teachers’ immediate concerns about proposed curriculum reforms need to be addressed in the context of a longer term cultural transformation of practice in the form of Lesson Study. She argues that too much was expected too soon, while on the other hand as a professional learning process the introduction of Lesson Study was not too early and led in the longer term to significant professional learning.
The Irish study is a good demonstration that changing the cultural script of teaching is no quick fix. As Brosnan points out the introduction of Lesson Study in a particular context is not a straightforward event that makes an immediate impact on practice in the classroom. It is part of a longer term process of cultural transformation. Unfortunately, many policy makers are simply looking at high-performing educational systems to provide quick fixes to the position of their systems in international performance tables. Lesson Study provides no such quick fix. Instead it offers the prospect of a longer term cultural transformation of teaching and learning. It is to the credit of the policy-community in Ireland that it came to acknowledge this.
Brosnan suggests that a cultural transformation of practice through Lesson Study at the level of the classroom will depend on recasting the role of school leaders. In Project Maths the professional development activity for the first four years engaged teachers at the level of the classroom rather than school leaders. It was only in the additional fifth year that leadership roles at the school level were recast to facilitate cultural transformation of classroom practice. School principals and their deputies were consulted with a view to providing proactive, yet collaborative rather than “top down”, leadership in driving Lesson Study forward by creating the organisational spaces and resources in which it could flourish. In this respect it is interesting that the principal of the Singapore school in the case study by Sarkar Arani et al. is an active participant in the cross-cultural lesson analysis.
The research by Adulyasas and Abdul Rahman, into the effectiveness of “Lesson Study incorporating Phase-Based Instruction (PBI) using Geometer's Sketchpad” in Thailand with three groups of Grade 7 students (12 years), stems from a policy context in which there is national concern over poor levels of achievement in geometry, as evidenced in both national tests and PISA and TIMSS. Under-achievement in geometry is regarded as a matter of particular concern nationally since, according to the authors, it is viewed as the mathematical subject with the greatest practical significance. The authors cite research that reveals the difficulty pupils have in learning geometry and their misconceptions of geometric concepts. It is interesting that, once again, national concern about levels of performance revealed by international comparisons is part of a policy context in which “Japanese” Lesson Study gets introduced as an approach to improving the quality of teaching in schools.
However, the Lesson Study depicted by Adulyasas and Abdul Rahman is informed by a well-articulated theory of the development of geometric understanding; namely, that of van Hiele. This theory claims that geometric thinking progresses hierarchically through five distinct levels, the pedagogical implications of which have been elaborated by van Hiele as a process of PBI, proceeding through five stages. The authors cite research studies in Thailand, which claim that instruction structured by van Hiele's pedagogical concepts enhances students’ geometric thinking and improves their attitude towards geometry. However, they also report research that finds widespread resistance amongst teachers in Thailand to using van Hiele's theory and pedagogical concepts to inform their instructional practice. Lessons so designed were regarded as too complex and time consuming compared with traditional ones.
One way of interpreting this resistance to van Hiele's theory and teaching approach is that it challenges the cultural script of teaching, which has traditionally shaped the teaching of geometry in Thailand. Adulyasas and Abdul Rahman imply that changing this cultural script will involve further innovation and improvement. Hence the use of ICT, in the form of the Geometer's Sketchpad software, to develop students understanding of geometrical concepts, through the different levels of thinking depicted by van Hiele, via an active process of inquiry learning. The authors acknowledge the OECD's view that the use of ICT in itself does not have an effect on teaching and learning, but argue that this is when it is isolated from a teacher development process like Lesson Study. The latter is designed as a quasi-experiment in order to test its effectiveness in promoting the use of GSP as a device for enhancing students’ understanding of geometric concepts through PBI. As such the pedagogical design is shaped by a theoretical and conceptual framework that is itself not open to critique, testing and further revision by teachers through Lesson Study.
The reader may discern two levels of research being reported in the paper. First, there is the research by teachers aimed at improving lessons. Second, there is research into the effectiveness of the Lesson Study cycles in enhancing students’ geometric thinking as defined by van Hiele's theory. The latter is based on statistical analyses of data from pre- and post-tests that have been designed by professional researchers. One must therefore distinguish between research carried out within the process of Lesson Study itself and research carried out on this process.
The paper by Ko on “Learning Study – the dual process of developing theory and practice” depicts a rather different kind of theory informed Lesson Study which emerged in Hong Kong, to that reported by Adulyasas and Abdul Rahman in Thailand. In Hong Kong the “Japanese Lesson Study” methodology was used to transform “variation theory”, a learning theory developed in Sweden at the University of Gothenburg by Marton and his co-workers, into a pedagogical tool for use by teachers to inform the design and analyses of their lessons. In the Hong Kong context, undergoing a radical process of curriculum and assessment reform, Lesson Study was redefined as “Learning Study”, inasmuch as the use of variation theory drew teachers’ attention to the pedagogical conditions for improving students’ experience of the objects of learning that make up the curriculum. Lesson Study was developed as “Learning Study” to support teachers’ engagement in a process of school-based curriculum development. Ko draws on a case study of a Learning Study on “Chinese language writing” with four classes of nine-year-old students in Hong Kong, in order to demonstrate how teachers may not only use variation theory to inform the pedagogical design and analysis of lessons, but in so doing are also able to collaborate with researchers to test elements of the theory in action and thereby contribute to its further refinement and development. Ko provides an example of a Learning Study in Hong Kong in which a major claim of variation theory that “contrast should precede generalisation” is tested by teachers working in collaboration with professional researchers. In her case study theory and practice become joint objects of reflection, and as such form the basis of a mutually beneficial collaboration between teachers and theorists. Such collaboration engages the latter in research with teachers in the process of the Lesson Study itself.
As Lesson Study globalises beyond its original Japanese context it will shape up in different ways in order to meet the challenges and issues posed by using it as an instrument for changing the culture of teaching and learning in particular societal contexts. This journal will aspire to capture much of this diversity and foster a process of informed debate, discussion and mutual learning about the practice of Lesson Study as it unfolds and diversifies globally as an educational change strategy the editors are inviting the Advisory and Review Boards to comment on articles in previous issues and their authors to respond to these comments. Such discussion pieces can be found in this issue, and we hope that readers will find them of interest. Some are relevant to issues posed in this editorial about contributions to this volume. You are welcome to add your own comments and e-mail them to me at mailto:Lessonstudies@uea.ac.uk for possible inclusion in the next issue.
Another recent innovation in this Journal is the publication of research posters that focus on improving the quality of teaching and learning through research. Prior to this we involved our Advisory and Editorial Review Boards in the development of criteria to guide the review process. In this issue we are pleased to publish a research poster by Sunil Singh Naphray. The poster depicts a process of action research aimed at implementing “A delivery model for embedding Functional Skills on vocational courses in offender learning”. The model is of a four dimensional process – practical task, contextualised knowledge, situated learning, transferability to other areas – of preparing prisoners for resettlement by embedding the learning of functional skills, such as numeracy and literacy, across a range of vocational courses. The course portrayed in the poster is that of plumbing and it shows how transferable mathematical knowledge can be developed by embedding it in a practical task, such as fitting a bathroom suite in the vocational training workshop. The poster depicts the conditions of successful delivery of the model; the high degree of collaboration between vocational and Functional Skills tutors, the widespread peer observation of lessons followed by evaluations of teachers and their learners, the sharing of good practice across the vocational department. It also depicts the indicators of successful delivery in the offenders’ experience of learning and how it differs from their experience at school. This research poster is a reminder that the journal welcomes Lesson and Learning Studies carried out in organisations other than schools, and from which schools may have much to learn, inasmuch as they may make more progress in changing the cultural script that traditionally shapes pedagogical practice.