lesson study

New York

At Japan's Harvard, an attached high school with a special focus

Just before the new year, I spent 20 days visiting schools in Japan. The Abe Fellowship for journalists, supported by the Japan Foundation and administered by the Social Science Research Council, paid my way.  I visited under the influence of two powerful works: “Big Bird Goes to Japan” and “The Teaching Gap,” the 1999 book by James Hiebert and James Stigler. "The Teaching Gap" elevates a relatively obscure professional development practice native to Japan — “lesson study” — as a major solution to the American educational dilemma. I wanted to see if Stigler and Hiebert were right. The following is the first in a series of posts describing what I found. One slide in a presentation by the vice principal of the University of Tokyo's Attached Secondary School. TOKYO — Before I visited Japan, another journalist I know who had just traveled there urged me to be skeptical. The Japanese make a lot of promises, he said, but dig just a little bit, and you’ll find that most claims don’t hold up. I had this in mind on my first school visit, to the University of Tokyo’s attached secondary school. I had heard about attached schools, fuzokukou in Japanese. They were like the old “practice” or “laboratory” schools in the U.S., I was told, where those studying to become teachers learned from master teachers who used their classrooms, in turn, to hone ever-better teaching practice. (I described one such school in this article; search for “Cook County Normal School.”) Fuzok teachers were supposed to be true masters, so talented that some became famous, attracting hundreds of admiring teachers to the public lessons that are common in Japan. Maybe most intriguing, fuzokukou schools’ close ties to university teacher training programs suggested an interest in teaching that persisted even in the ivory tower.