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Connecting Effective Instruction and Teachers' Content Knowledge

author: Maryellen Harmon, Alfred Manaster
presented at: 1998 LSC PI/Evaluator Meeting
published: 01/22/1998
posted to site: 10/21/1998

Connecting Effective Instruction and Teachers' Content Knowledge

Alfred Manaster and Maryellen Harmon
Thursday, 7:00-9:00 p.m.

Video from the TIMSS study shown of Japanese math classroom.

Participants were asked to think of the video in terms of the following questions:

1. What aspects of the math and science in this lesson support student learning of math?

2. What other aspects of this class support student learning of math?

3. What helps create this pedagogical environment?

--How can all of us as a community foster the kinds of learning we saw in this lesson?

--What professional development activities will help teachers construct a rich intellectual and social classroom environment?

Participants were first presented with the overhead:

What is the Typical Japanese Lesson Structure:

The typical script:

Teacher poses complex lesson.
Students struggle with problem.
Students present ideas or solutions.
Class discusses solutions.
Teacher summarizes conclusions.
Students work on similar problems.

Harmon discusses how this lesson structure, which was derived from the math videos, relates to science. She points out that in science students would design experiments and also would have the further step of interpreting data. The tough part of this lesson is to let the students struggle; teachers should not jump in and help them right away. In addition, in creating tasks for students to overcome, the danger is in forcing students to use a very strict methodology to approach the task (must get the weight, the volume). This must be avoided.

A conference participant raises the point that in the video, the teacher recalled a previous lesson (using a computer) to set the stage. As a hint or a prod for this day's lesson. A problem is that [US] teachers don't set the stage, even if they have wonderful problems to practice. The teacher poses a problem, and they wait for a miracle to happen. And it doesn't happen. And so they tell [the answer].

Another conference participant says: Another interpretation of Japanese teaching is that he came in with thoughts about what kinds of answers to expect from his students. We don't know and we don't have a way of recording that.

Another conference participant adds that Japanese teachers get 20-30 hours per week of preparation time.

Manaster: Lessons in Japan, and his colleague across the country, have polished this lesson. They know what they are teaching, why they are teaching it, and what to expect. They didn't construct this lesson themselves. it was constructed by a nations of teachers. Japanese teachers like large classes because they know the kinds of answers to expect, and larger classes make it more likely to get all these answers, and so teachers can demonstrate different ways of trying to solve a problem. An example was a teacher who, during student work time, noted which students were making which answers (and had all the answers previously written down to do so). Then he knew who to call on to get a specific response, and he even had specific spots on the blackboard for them to write their answers, so he could draw them together.

Another conference participant says: It's also OK for students to make mistakes.