************************************* 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: email@example.com