Skip to main content

Improving from Within

Lesson Study Cycle
I spent the past week working with a motivated team of educators to understand how to help groups of 8th graders move from concrete to more abstract thinking.  It has shown me, once again, the power that a small group of people can have when they set their minds to it.

Japanese Lesson Study as a form of teacher professional development has the potential to change how educators view teaching and lesson planning, how they view what students take away from a given lesson, how students view a block of instructional time in the classroom - whether they are just enduring, or whether they are truly engaged and learning.  A few conditions have to be met and understood first, however, if Lesson Study is to truly make a difference and take hold in any school setting.  This post is not about what Japanese Lesson Study is, or how it works; you can certainly find much on the concept by doing a simple online search.  Rather, my purpose here is to document my thoughts on this intense form of professional development.

After spending the week planning, observing, debriefing, and reteaching with this team, it became clear to me that everyone really needed a break.  We ended the cycle on Friday, still needing to debrief the re-taught lesson, but agreed that it would just have to wait until Monday.  It had been an exhausting week.  Mentally taxing.  But some of the best PD we had ever been through.  

To be clear, this process is not a quick fix; better teaching and deeper understanding do not happen overnight.  Lesson Study is a process, the results of which can be powerful and lead to a thorough understanding of concepts over time.  For example, we were wondering why our 8th grade students have such a hard time thinking in abstract terms.  Is it developmental?  Are they even capable of thinking in the abstract, knowing what we know about natural learner characteristics of the adolescent student?  Through the intense process of Lesson Study - as the team developed the lesson, observed one of the teachers on the team deliver the lesson, debriefed, made changes, and then re-taught the lesson - we discovered that, through careful and deliberate questions, well-placed times for the teens to turn and talk to one another, the intentional use of visuals to aid in thinking, and plenty of built-in time for reflective thinking and writing, our teens are indeed capable of beginning to understand thinking in abstract terms.

In further posts on this topic, I will explore the topic of "soft starts" and how important it is for the teacher delivering the lesson to feel comfortable and able to put her own creative flair into the lesson (as we discovered after the initial teaching of the lesson).  In addition, I will write about how absolutely critical it is that district-level administrators provide support, even if it is only in their understanding that some time out of the classroom is necessary throughout this process (especially for the observation phase of the cycle), and that this time will give back ten-fold in the end.  Especially if increased teacher knowledge and instructional prowess is what we're after.  Teacher knowledge and skill, after all, do increase levels of student knowledge and achievement.  On this, I think we would all agree.  




Popular posts from this blog

Finally!

I am visited by two former Seniors on a recent Friday in early June.  They have been out of school for only a short time, having graduated three weeks prior.  We stay in touch because, well, that's one of the main reasons I am in this profession - to make a lasting difference in the lives of students.  But it's not only the students; it's their families as well.  I attend their graduation parties, keep up to date on their life happenings, I even recently attended the wedding and reception of one of my former students whom I had taught when he was in the 6th grade.  He's now 28.  
But this is what is required of this job.  We are in the business of making lasting impressions.  For anyone who doesn't believe this to be true, and that your only job as an educator is to impart knowledge and provide kids with information that they could just as easily find online, you are sorely mistaken.  I could easily insert here all of the research that proves, beyond the shadow of…

Parenting and the Principal

Very REAL Life, Part I

I need to tell you about my life as principal.
Particularly from the standpoint of this life as husband, dad and foster/adoptive parent.
And the daughter I have who is sitting in prison.

It is the winter of 2009.  I had just been accepted into the Doctoral program at National Louis University, and was heading to an informational meeting about the program when my wife called.  I was pulling into the high school where our cohort would be spending a lot of class hours together over the next few years, excited about this journey my family had agreed was the best time for me to embark upon, even more ecstatic to be the first in my family to achieve this prestigious degree.

We didn't realize the road I was about to travel was actually riddled with potholes, detours, wrong turns, and dead ends.

My wife can barely speak.
It seems like a lifetime, though it is actually 10 minutes on the phone with her,
trying to calm her down,
sitting in my Volvo with the engine turn…

Real Writers. Real Writing. Real Voices

Same 7th grade classroom.
Different group of students.   It is a warm afternoon and the fans are on.   I think back to my days as a 7th grader.   My teacher's name was Mrs. Zurn.   She passed away in the mid-90's and I remember her clearly for her loud voice;  Her booming voice and I remember her because she used to make us write.
A lot.

And it was always about the things that she wanted us to write about, never about the things that I CARED about like music and motorcycles and the ATV's that I spent my weekends on, flying through the cornfields and woods that I lived next door to.  Or my parent's divorce and my dad moving to California and how much I missed him.  We couldn't write about that stuff. 
Instead we wrote about St. Thomas and our favorite lunch, and if we could be anything when we grew up what would it be, and Mother Theresa and what our favorite color was and why, and writing a letter to Pope John Paul II.  I went to a Catholic school.  You can probab…