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Topic: TIMSS - Instuction and Professional Development
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Jerry P. Becker

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Registered: 12/3/04
TIMSS - Instuction and Professional Development
Posted: Jan 19, 1999 4:15 AM
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From Policy Brief - What the Third International Mathematics and Science
Study (TIMSS) Means for Systemic School Improvement, The National Institute
on Educational Governance, Finance, Policymaking, and Management and the
Consortium for Policy Research in Education, U.S. Department of Education,
Washington, D.C., November, 1998, pp. 15-17. For sale by the U.S.
Government Printing Office, Superintendent of Documents, Mail Stop SSOP,
Washington, D.C. 20402-9328 [ISBN 0-16-049826-0].

*************************************

What TIMSS Says About Instruction and Professional Development

Most of the rich details about comparative instructional practices come
from the TIMSS videotape studies. This research shows how differently
eighth-grade math is taught in the United States, Germany, and Japan
(Stigler and Hiebert, 1997a; 1997b). In the United States, and to some
extent in Germany, teachers usually teach a math lesson by explaining a
topic and demonstrating a procedure. Then the students practice solving
problems while the teacher goes around the room helping those who are
having trouble. Problems that are not done by the end of class are often
assigned as homework.

In Japan, students spend less time practicing routine procedures and more
time analyzing and proving than their American counterparts. A typical
lesson in Japan focuses on just one or two carefully selected problems, and
forms a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. Students work on
a challenging problem for part of the class period, then share their
solutions. The Japanese teacher uses lecture and demonstration to highlight
important aspects of the students' solutions or to show another solution.
Before the end of class, the teacher summarizes the main point of the day.

This is not to suggest that Japanese teachers are less active or directive
than United States or German teachers. After allowing students time to
struggle with challenging problems, they often follow up with direct
explanations and summaries of what students have learned. Seventy-one
percent of Japanese lessons contained at least some lecturing, compared
with only about 15 percent of U.S. and German lessons. Japanese teachers
also control the direction of the lesson in subtle ways, such as selecting
an opening problem that can be solved by modifying a method developed
during the previous lesson (Stigler and Hiebert, 1997b).

The TIMSS studies also asked content experts to judge the instructional
quality of the taped lessons. None of the U.S. videotaped lessons were
judged to be of high quality. For example, one indicator of quality is
whether students engage in mathematical reasoning, such as doing
mathematical proofs. Sixty-two percent of the Japanese lessons, 21 percent
of the German lessons, and none of the American lessons contained instances
of this type of reasoning.

Another gauge of quality is whether key mathematical concepts and
procedures are developed through examples, demonstrations, and discussions,
or whether they are simply stated by the teacher. For example, one teacher
might state that the area of a right triangle is calculated by following a
specific formula (1/2 base x height); another might develop this procedure
by showing how the formula can be derived by combining two triangles to
form a rectangle. In German and Japanese lessons, math concepts and
procedures were generally well developed; in U.S. lessons, these concepts
were usually just stated and not developed.

How do Japanese teachers generate high-quality lessons? First, the Japanese
educational system takes a very different approach to teacher professional
roles than the U.S. system. In Japan, the lesson is admired and respected,
like a finely crafted work of art. In the United States, we do not place
very high value on the concept of a great lesson. As one indicator, 31
percent of teachers' lessons in the United States are interrupted by
outside distractions, such as a loudspeaker announcement or a visitor at
the door, which can disrupt the coherence of the lesson (Hiebert, TIMSS
Policy Forum). This finding speaks to the need for local policies that
respect instructional time and make the classroom a haven for teaching and
learning.

Second, Japanese education reforms tend to focus directly on classroom
teaching-specifically, on well-designed and well-taught lessons. In the
United States, we have a history of trying to improve the quality of
teaching through such indirect levers as certification requirements,
teacher accountability standards, and management practices, rather than
focusing on teaching itself (Stigler and Hiebert, 1997a). Japanese teachers
develop and refine their lessons through a structured, collaborative
process characterized by "lesson study groups"-small groups of teachers who
meet weekly to design, critique, revise, and try out lessons.

A group may take a year to refine three 45-minute lessons. New approaches
are tested, with colleagues providing feedback. Critiques focus on student
learning: What did this student say, how much did that student understand?
When the revisions are finished, the lessons are shared with other
teachers, and the best are distributed nationally. From this experience,
the teachers not only produce better lessons, but they also learn more
about pedagogy and effective practice, and engage in rich intellectual
conversations. The U.S. system does not have any similar built-in
mechanisms that encourage teachers to study and continuously improve the
quality of their instruction.

*************************************
*
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618)453-4244
Phone: (618)453-4241 (office)
E-mail: jbecker@siu.edu



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