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Thoughts on Japanese Maths. Teaching
Posted:
Jan 27, 2000 11:35 AM


************************************************** From the AMTE listserve ... January 26, 2000  in what follows, Stephen Sproule wrote to the listserve, and Tad Watanabe responded to it. **************************************************
A few thoughts about Japanese mathematics teaching practices:
Stephen Sproule wrote:
> It is noticeable that in the 8th grade (and too a lesser degree in > the 12th grade class) Japanese class the teacher has a very rigid > preconceived idea of what answers he is wanting. He had > predesigned paper labels with various properties of parallelograms > stated on them. As the students worked on investigating the > properties of a parallelogram he walked amongst them. He only > chose students to share their ideas if they matched with his labels. > We know, from the video, nothing about the understanding of the > other students.
Tad Watamabe responded:
Japanese secondary school teaching is very much different from what you may observe in elementary schools. However, the fact that the teacher had predesigned papers may also suggest that Japanese teachers practice (and very good at) anticipating students' thinking. About 3 years ago, I met a Japanese math educator and he gave me a videotape of a fifth grade teacher's lesson. He said this is one of the best teachers he knew. I asked him why he considered this teacher so highly. He said that's because of this teacher's ability to anticipate his students' thinking. He said, if you show the teacher a problem, he can predict with accuracy how most of his children will solve the problem. In the lesson on the video, he starts out the lesson by asking the class what they did the day before (this seems to be pretty typical in Japanese lessons). Then, he *asked the class* what they wanted to study. He let his students talk, with very little coming from the teacher. After a couple of minutes, the class (and the teacher) agreed on what they will do. Then, the teacher calmly pulled out a sheet of paper with the day's objective as decided by the class preprinted and put it on the board. I think this episode shows me that the teacher is very good at anticipating students' thinking *and* also very skillful in facilitating (orchestrating?) the discussion.
It is also true that Japanese teachers walk around while students work on problems and they often select who would go up to the board. At least in elementary schools, teachers often call on students who have incorrect answers to the board, too. In fact, they seem to try to put as many different solutions as possible so that the class can critically analyze the solutions.
Stephen Sproule wrote:
> Many Japanese teachers say they can create engaging lessons > and explore interesting mathematical questions more freely > because their students are getting what is required for school > leaving and university entrance exams at private after school > classes. You may notice how well constructed some of the > students' answers were in the video. Invariably they have seen the > ideas at after school classes and now bring a fairly narrow view into > the classroom as a starting point. I would say most teachers would > enjoy teaching a group of students who already had a starting point > for the day's work?
Tad Watanabe responded:
Although after school private classes (juku's) are common, I don't think the percentage of students who attend them is near 100%. In fact, there are so many different types of juku's that it would be difficult to get a good grip on this statistics, I think.
I also had a chance to talk with a group of math teachers at a very good high school when I was in Japan 3 years ago, and one thing they told me was that they emphasized how to write good solutions. So, it is something high school teachers (at least at that particular school) try to teach, although it may still be a "fairly narrow view."
I also think Japanese teacher enjoy teaching a group of students who already had a good starting point, but I don't think it is necessarily for the day's lesson (assuming this means students know good deal about the topic already). Rather, I think Japanese elementary schools prepare students very well to be good students  how to participate in class discussion, how to present their ideas to the whole class in writing or orally, etc.
Stephen Sproule wrote:
> It was very interesting to note the 8th grade US teacher's lesson. > There has been much criticism of this lesson and much could be > done to improve the lesson. However what I have not seen raised is > the nature of the worksheet he handed out to the students. This > came from a published source. ...
Tad Watanabe responded:
One thing I noticed about elementary school curriculum materials from Japan is that they do not use many worksheets. They emphasize students actually writing in their own notebooks much more, even in the first grade. Now, this may have much to do with the language structure. In Japanese, there is a set of basic characters which are soundbased (phonemic???). Once children learn these characters, they can write anything they say because "spelling" is very consistent. They continue to learn Chinese characters but they are not necessarily needed to express your ideas.
I noticed that even "reform" curricula in the US make a very heavy use of worksheets, though the nature of their worksheets is very much different from what mainline publishers' series often include.
Tad Watanabe further comments:
We really don't know much about the role of "juku" in Japanese education. Yes, there are juku's whose primary purpose is to prepare their students for college (and sometimg HS and Jr. HS) entrance exams. But, there are other types of juku's. Some are there to help those students who may be struggling to keep up (or already behind). Others are more "enrichment" type, including abacus and caligraphy schools, which are semiacademic. Moreover, do we really know juku's teaching is "pure drillandkill"? My own limited experiences (and much too long ago) were not the type of worksheets after worksheets...
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Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 629014610 USA Fax: (618) 4534244 Phone: (618) 4534241 (office) (618) 4578903 (home) Email: jbecker@siu.edu
mailto://jbecker@siu.edu



