|Metro pioneering new way
By DIANE LONG
DELVIN / STAFF
Xiaodong Lin, a professor at Peabody College, talks about
traditional Japanese education during teacher training at Rose
Park Middle School.
For teachers at Metro’s Rose Park Middle School and Pennington
Elementary, the tiniest details about cultural differences and
educational research were a fascinating exercise in last week’s Lesson
Study, a new approach to teacher interaction that could change the way
American education does business.
Along with Bellevue, Wash., and Jacksonville, Fla., Nashville is
leading the nation with an experiment to transform educational practices
by tapping into teacher expertise. And by next year, teachers and the
public should be able to see the results on the Internet.
Last Wednesday was the second of five days in Metro’s school year
when students stay home and teachers work together in small groups in a
Japanese-style study session to devise better classroom lessons.
This is in stark contrast to the American teaching tradition of going
it alone. When educators aren’t closeted in their classrooms,
they’re expected to attend training sessions in which outside experts
tell them how they should be teaching.
The new attention to teacher collaboration is based on The
Teaching Gap, an educational comparison of international teaching
styles that’s making waves among educators. In the book, authors James
W. Stigler and James Hiebert make the case that American education is
bogged down with ineffective practices because it doesn’t tap into and
continually develop the skills of its own teachers.
"This is not a quick fix, and that’s exactly the
difference,’’ said Tom Ward, principal of Hume-Fogg High and
chairman of Metro’s Lesson Study committee.
"If this process is nurtured, it is a bottom-up,
teacher-initiated, teacher-directed, school and classroom improvement
plan,’’ he said. "My inherent belief is that if teachers spend
intensive time working collaboratively on lessons and learning, you’re
going to see some improvement in scores at the end of the year."
The lesson-study process got national attention after the recently
completed Third International Mathematics and Science Study, which
investigated teaching in several cultures. After studying videotapes of
teachers in their classrooms, the researchers found that Japanese and
American teachers, in particular, showed drastic differences in how they
taught a lesson and that Japanese students had better academic scores.
One reason, researchers found, was that Asian teachers spend
considerable time together to collaboratively craft and hone a lesson on
one specific skill.
In America, teachers close their classroom doors and work in
isolation. Traditionally, school schedules sometimes include time for
individual planning but almost never for working together.
"Teaching is the most isolating profession there is," said
Leslye Lapidus of Rose Park Middle. "There’s never been a time
allowed to share.’’
That allotted time was the goal of school board member David Shearon,
who initiated the push last year to include the lesson-study concept in
teacher training. Board members eventually approved five group-planning
days for teachers and mandated that each school organize a lesson-study
"If Saturn can’t build better cars without getting their
front-line workers in small groups and thinking through their process,
how in the world do we think we’re going to do a better job of
educating students — which is a far more difficult task — without
getting teachers involved in small groups working to improve our
process?’’ he asked.
"It’s not that we don’t have capable teachers,’’ Shearon
said. "They’re one of the most altruistic groups in the country.
They want kids to learn. They have the education and experience to make
it happen. What we had to provide was the time and the structure for
them to work together.’’
Board member Chris Norris, who took office in August, sat in on
lesson study at Sylvan Park Elementary and H.G. Hill Middle last week
and saw the process at work.
"It’s based on respect for teachers, that teachers are
intelligent professionals who can offer professional development to each
other and who do not have to be spoon-fed from people outside the
system,’’ she said.
At Rose Park, teachers struggled with adapting the plan to an
American school schedule. They got some help from Xiaodong Lin, a
professor of educational culture and technology at Peabody College of
Vanderbilt University, who explained how schools in China use the
process and how Japanese teachers work together.
American teachers, she said, can make the transition.
"Lesson study has to be adapted because American teachers are
trained very differently,’’ Lin told the Rose Park faculty.
"But if you choose a very specific but fairly complex problem, the
things you learn from this lesson can be applied to others. You use that
one lesson to anchor that analysis."
At Rose Park, five fifth-grade teachers formed a group to improve
students’ writing skills — specifically, to help students use
possessive nouns properly.
They struggled with developing the lesson and coordinating their
daily schedules to make time for collaboration.
"There was some confusion at first,’’ said Rebecca Callaway.
"We’re used to having people come in and tell us what to do. Now
it’s our responsibility to decide what we need to do."
And it’s tough for Rose Park Principal Oliver Smith to stay out of
the process, which must be teacher-led.
"Sometimes I feel frustrated I can’t put more out there,’’
Smith said. "It’s hard, but in the long run, it’s more
beneficial. This is the greatest opportunity we’ve ever had to improve
At Pennington Elementary on Wednesday, grade-level groups of teachers
had identified the topics of their specific lessons and were sharing
their research results with one another.
"It’s amazing, as we talked how many ideas we came up
with,’’ said kindergarten teacher Trish Parker. Her group will focus
on teaching "directionality,’’ helping students learn right,
left, top, bottom and other positions. "There’s a wealth of
experience and knowledge in our group, and that’s what we’re trying
to tap into."
For Pennington Principal Pattye Evans, the lesson-study plan is a
"This is where the rubber hits the road, right here with
teachers in the classroom,’’ she said. "They’re learning the
concept that it’s OK to ask for help, it’s OK to ask questions.
It’s that powerful."
Last month, school board members approved $150,000 for consulting and
software that will enable Metro teachers to post their lessons on the
"We want to showcase the work of the teams,’’ said committee
chairman Ward. "We’ll set up a Web site where you can see the
lesson and lesson-study observations and conclusions."