Background and purpose of this lesson study open house




About a year-and-a-half year ago, Dr. Clea Fernandez at Teachers College, Columbia University came to the Greenwich Japanese School and asked us to participate in her research project, in order to gintroduce the strength of gjugyokenkyuh (lesson study) in the U.S.h  This request was really surprising to us, since we had always wanted to learn more about the strengths of American education.  Both within Japan and outside of Japan, people often say that gJapanese people are always learning ideas from the U.S., but they are not sending their ideas out.h  This sentiment applies not only to the education field, but to other fields as well.  Therefore, we never thought that we could be the ones sending ideas to someone else, until we heard Dr. Fernandezf request. Although we were a little hesitant about it, we had great expectations for the opportunity to be involved because we thought that this might lead us to a true exchange between two countries.  As the project progressed, our expectations were met.  We would not have otherwise realized the similarity of concerns and dreams that educators share in the U.S. and Japan.

Since our participation in the project required us to explain the Japanese education system to teachers at an American school, it also gave us an opportunity to carefully look at our own education system.  At the same time, we learned many interesting ideas from the American teachers who were carrying out their educational activities in American culture.  This experience helped us discover many viewpoints that we did not have before, and that we could apply to our own educational activities.

We think the experience that we gained from helping conduct lesson study at Paterson Public School #2 was very fruitful.  We have not summarized the results of our exchange yet, but we are sure that the reports from this collaboration will be very meaningful, and will help us learn about the strengths of each otherfs educational system.  We are hoping that the participants in todayfs lesson study open house will understand that this event is part of a journey towards understanding each otherfs educational system.







Thoughts we would like to share with American educators



About the Japanese curriculum




What do we see as one of the most striking differences between elementary- and middle-school education in the U.S. and Japan?  We believe the most striking difference is the fact that we have national gCourse of Studyh guidelines (Gakushu-shido-yoryo) in Japan.  This government-regulated Course of Study explains the basic learning and achievement goals for students at each grade level.  The Course of Study has a binding force behind it, since all Japanese schools are required to follow these guidelines. 

The Japanese education system is based on the belief of providing students with equal basic academic abilities; many believe that this core belief is the most important force behind Japanese education.  Therefore, many people in Japan are invested in the process of revising the Course of Study.  As part of this process, decisions to change anything in the Course of Study are carefully discussed and debated among the educators, researchers, and representatives of the nation.

Schools in Japan usually develop their own curricular approaches (kyoiku-katei) at the end of the school year in order to achieve the learning goals that are specified in the Course of Study.  These curricular approaches become the basis of a one-year learning plan, and will also provide a foundation for school planning.

Hearing the American teachersf concerns at Paterson School #2 made us appreciate the usefulness (from our point of view) of a strong national curriculum, such as the one we have in Japan.  Our role in this project was to help the American teachers learn the basics of lesson study, such as how to conduct study lessons (kenkyujugyo), lesson study meetings, and open houses, and also how to develop lesson plans  (gakushu-shidoan) for lesson study. However, we feel that curriculum is central to the process of developing lessons, and that teachers who do lesson study need to understand this and think about it during their lesson study process.

These lesson-study exercises were eye opening for us in many ways.  Most of all, the cross-cultural exchange made us revisit what we thought we knew well, which was the purpose behind all the professional-development training (kenshu) we had been conducting to improve ourselves.  It reinforced for us the fact that all of our professional development activities were geared towards achieving the goals written in the Course of Study, and towards understanding them at a deeper level.

Since we are dispatched by Monbusho (the Japanese Ministry of Education) to provide an equal education to the children of Japanese professionals residing in the U.S, we still have a duty to carry out kenshu.  Part of our kenshu in the U.S. is to learn about the American education system, and to always keep in mind how we can incorporate the ideas we learn into our Course of Study curriculum; therefore, we have been conducting kenshu at our school with our eyes always focused on the trends of Japanese education.  Our approach may be different from how U.S. teachers think about their professional development, because there is more freedom to create onefs own goals in the American curriculum.                

Since we have focused so much on the Course of Study, we would like to describe what we think are the strengths of a curriculum based on the Course of Study.  First, the Course of Study provides student learning goals, such as what content to teach and what level of learning to expect among students, so what to teach becomes clear to teachers. This aspect of the Course of Study helps us teach basic knowledge and skills to our students more effectively.

Second, because all teachers clearly understand the same goals outlined by the Course of Study, teachers can complement each otherfs strengths and weaknesses by working together at the school.  In this way, teachersf skills for teaching can also be improved.


Finally, the curricular approaches that we develop under the Course of Study guidelines can be related to a particular schoolfs goal, which is established by each school to help improve the quality of its students and schooling (as based on that schoolfs situation and student needs).  By relating nationally-prescribed Course of Study guidelines to our school goals, we can support student growth consistently and coherently, by the all teachers at the school, and throughout all grade levels.






How lessons fit into the curriculum




Obviously, we are not able to demonstrate the strengths that we describe above through todayfs lesson study open house.  What you will see today is the teaching content that is nested within a lesson; however, we hope that you will also appreciate that these lessons are reinforcing the Course of Study curriculum that we described above.

The content that we are working with and teaching during a lesson have to provide the students with a feeling of satisfaction for learning, within the time provided in the lesson.  Furthermore, the contents and goals that we are trying to achieve during a single lesson are only a smaller part of the larger goals of the unit.  Since the goals of a unit are achieved by a series of smaller goals that are coherently accumulated, the curriculum of the unit is also carefully planned.* In addition, these units are themselves a smaller part of the subject-area curriculum that is organized under the grade-level goals.

The curriculum is therefore organized very carefully, and is based on the following assumption: if students can achieve the goals of each unit one by one, they can achieve the goals of the subject, which is guided by the Course of Study.  The goals of each grade level are connected to the next grade levelfs goals, and this connection of goals has become the basis for thinking about the goals of our school.  These goals carefully consider what kind of skills and knowledge the students hope to acquire by the time they graduate from our school, and what kind of growth patterns they exhibit during their school years.  At the end of the school year, we usually discuss our curriculum, which is closely tied up with our school goals, with all the teachers at our school.  We then incorporate improvements to the curriculum for the following year.  The principal of the school is responsible for approving the final curriculum.






How does lesson study fit into this?




As we have explained, schooling is carefully developed under the Course of Study guidelines.  We believe that konaikenshu (teacher training based on whole-school lesson study) plays a very significant role for investigating how our curriculum can follow the Course of Study guidelines from many angles.  Through konaikenshu, we believe that we can identify

our problems, attempt to resolve the problems, and develop a better curriculum for the students.  In addition, we believe that conducting konaikenshu is very effective for improving the quality of teachers (including teaching skills), because all the teachers at a school are looking at their schooling, lessons, and students under the same themes and goals, by showing each otherfs lessons. 


Finally, the new Course of Study in Japan will be enforced in the year 2002.  At our school, we have already begun to reorganize our curriculum to adapt to this new Course of Study.  We have also begun to investigate the changes in it, through the process of lesson study (or konaikenshu).  This particular focus of konaikenshu is different from what we are presenting today. Finally, if you examine the trend of changes in the Course of Study, which are made every 10 years, you may observe that they are all centered around asking schools to improve studentsf many different qualities; these qualities cannot be achieved by just developing studentsf basic knowledge/ skills.  Furthermore, these changes need to correspond to specific changes of the time, such as the new 2002 requirement for establishing a time for integrated study (sogoteki na gakushu). 

Interestingly enough, we believe that the idea for an integrated curriculum originated in the U.S.  We believe that one of the major strengths of American education is it emphasis on fostering students who display originality and expressive abilities.  Ideas such as integrating curriculum, having students set up their own study themes, finding ways to investigate student interests, and presenting their findings to others, are all strengths we have learned from American education (during our visits to several U.S. schools).  If we reflect on our experiences, and try to think about the strengths of both countriesf education systems, and then try to practice these ideas at schools, we believe that all of us could potentially develop wonderful schools.  This last sentiment is the main point we would like to highlight through todayfs lesson study open house.

We are hoping that you will get the opportunity to better understand our method of teaching, which is based on our everyday practices in classrooms, and which in turn are guided by the Course of Study. We also hope that you will appreciate the importance of lesson study in the context of konaikenshu, which promotes collaboration among teacher learning.  We are hoping that you may adapt something you see or learn today in U.S. schools, just as we have implemented ideas from your schools. Finally, we believe that the common mission among Japanese and American educators is fostering students who have problem-solving skills, expressive abilities, and a strong basic knowledge foundation.  Many schools in Japan incorporate these qualities into their school goals—in Japanese, we call these qualities ikiru chikara, or skills for living.



Thank you. 



The Greenwich Japanese School Lesson Study Research Group


*A CD-ROM that illustrates this unit-planning process will be made available shortly.