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The Teaching Gap: Best Ideas from the…

The Teaching Gap: Best Ideas from the World's Teachers for Improving…

by James W. Stigler

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Although this doesn't have practical ideas, I thought it was really informative and the authors were very realistic.

Interesting was to read the afterword. ( )
  sriemann | Mar 30, 2013 |
Recently I ate lunch with a work friend who loves math. In fact, I think she's just moonlighting as a computer programmer until she can figure out how to do math full time. That morning she had pointed me to Vi Hart's amazing math doodle videos and, not surprisingly, we wound up talking about them and how they do a brilliant job of making math fun and interesting. From there, our conversation touched on the various formative experiences the two of us had in learning about math as kids, our experiences with teaching or tutoring people in math, and the (many) woes of math education in the United States.

Somewhere during the course of the conversation I remembered this book, which I originally read more than ten years ago. I remembered i as being a fascinating comparison of how math is taught in the US, Germany, and Japan, and recommended it to my friend as a way to get a broader look at math education in the US, and at what other countries are doing differently and better. My original plan was to bring the book to work the next day and give it to her, but when I pulled it off the bookshelf I started re-reading. So it took a bit longer to get it to her.

This foundation for this book is a comparison of math education in the US, Germany, and Japan. A group of researchers took a random sample of schools in each country and went into them and video-taped an 8th grade math class from each school. By comparing what the saw in dozens of classes in each country, the researchers analyzed the differences in teaching styles between them.

The book starts with the actual research, describing sample classes from the three countries and then generalizing about the differences in lesson content and style between them. Since the authors are academics, this section also includes information about their methodology---how they tried to ensure that they videotaped a random set of classes, how they encoded the types of behavior and activity they saw in the videos, etc. Personally, I found this interesting---I like understanding how people in other fields do research---but I can imagine that this could be pretty dry for other readers.

But that is only the first part of the book, and although it was, for me, the most interesting part, it is really just the groundwork for the authors' primary argument. The authors describe the system of lesson study used in Japan. This is an ongoing process where each year teachers select a small number of topics to investigate. These may be very broad and abstract topics, such as, "How do we help students see both sides in an historical debate?" or very narrow, such as, "How do we help students start to understand the concept of 'borrowing' in subtraction?" The teachers meet regularly to discuss the topic, and typically prepare a new "lesson" which they try out in the classroom. They then write-up their results as a way of sharing their ideas and experience with peer teachers.

The authors argue that by having the teachers involved in this ongoing introspection about what works and what doesn't work in the classroom, the teachers themselves become more invested in finding (and using) better methods of teaching, thus leading to a continuing improvement in the quality of education. And they make a strong case for bringing something similar to American education. They identify some of the cultural and bureaucratic obstacles and suggest ways to overcome them.

As an engineer I was quite sympathetic to the argument in favor of lesson study. I, too, believe that the way you make any system better (whether hardware, software, or people) is to always be on the lookout for areas where there is room for improvement and then to figure out how to make them better. What is particularly appealing is that this general approach does not preclude any of the other ideas that people have come up with for improving education. It merely provides a vehicle for teachers to learn about them, reflect on what will work in their classroom, and discuss how to adapt ideas they believe in to their own lessons.
  Wombat | Dec 19, 2010 |
This book explores the videotape study of 8th-grade mathematics education that was part of the TIMSS. I won't do a long summary as the elements of Lesson Study, described in the book, are fully dealt with in that portion of this site. At the suggestion of the Lesson Study Implementation Committee, Metro Nashville Public Schools bought this book for all our teachers (approximately 4,500) at the beginning of the 2000-2001 school year. It is clearly written and interesting for anyone with a real interest in improving teaching and learning in our schools. ( )
  DaveShearon | Jun 17, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0684852748, Hardcover)

In a time when educators and politicians in the United States are fumbling for a fix--from vouchers to smaller class sizes--for ailing public schools, it's refreshing to read the more sophisticated take on what can be done to improve American education found in The Teaching Gap, a straightforward analysis of approaches towards teaching around the world. James W. Stigler, a UCLA psychology professor, and James Hiebert, an education professor at the University of Delaware, argue that America's culture of teaching needs to be changed before we see any real change in student achievement--and they're not simply talking about higher pay and more respect.

The bulk of The Teaching Gap examines the cultural differences among teaching methods, with detailed accounts of video observations of eighth-grade math teachers that were part of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS (which Stigler directed). American teachers in the videos tend to emphasize terms and procedures, thinking of math as a set of tedious skills. They try to interest students with praise and real-life problems. In contrast, Japanese teachers are more likely to emphasize ideas, expecting the concepts alone to stir students' natural curiosity. They weave together lessons that have a distinct beginning, middle, and end. Teachers in the other countries are more likely to share lessons on what works in the classroom and receive more sophisticated training, the authors found. Only seven out of 41 nations scored lower than the U.S. in TIMSS, placing American eighth-graders with those from Cyprus, Portugal, South Africa, Kuwait, Iran, and Colombia. Without falling into teacher-bashing mode, Stigler and Hiebert insist that reform efforts need to originate with teachers, not university researchers. They call for overhauling the teaching profession with stricter requirements, better peer review, and more demanding academic standards, as well as improved interaction between teachers. Their detailed examination of the study's video observations gets to the heart of the matter and should be worthwhile reading for educators, policymakers, and anyone interested in the condition of today's education system. --Jodi Mailander Farrell

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:56 -0400)

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