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Teachers Network Leadership Institute:
List Archives
The Teaching Gap—NTPI Listserv Discussion

From: Pricejanet@aol.com 
Date: Fri, 5 Nov 1999 21:02:26 EST
Subject: Questions from ECS on The Teaching Gap
As promised, here is the second installment in the ECS questions for the Advisory Group meeting. These concern The Teaching Gap by James Stigler and James Hiebert. 

Background on the book:

For those of you who have not yet read this wonderful book, it is based on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). The authors argue that most efforts to improve education fail because they simply don't have any impact on the quality of teaching inside classrooms. They believe teaching is a cultural activity, "learned through informal participation over long periods of time. It is something one learns to do more by growing up in a culture than by studying it formally...If we took seriously the notion that teaching is a cultural activity, we would begin the improvement process by becoming more aware of the cultural scripts teachers are using. This requires comparing scripts, seeing that other scripts are possible and noticing things about our own scripts that we had never seen before." They present six principles for "gradual, measurable improvement" which are:

1. Expect Improvement to Be Continual, Gradual and Incremental

2. Maintain a Constant focus on student learning goals

3. Focus on Teaching, not teachers ("we believe that long-term improvement in teaching will depend more on the development of effective methods for teaching than on the identification and recruitment of talented individuals into the profession")

4. Make improvements in context (take elements of the local context such as teachers, students, curriculum, etc. into account when trying to improve the system because what works in one classroom might or might not work in another classroom.)

5. Make improvement the work of teachers ("teachers must be the primary driving force behind change. They are best positioned to understand the problems that students face to generate possible solutions. In fact, almost all successful attempts to improve teaching have involved teachers working together to improve students' learning")

6. Build a System that can learn from its own experience ("If efforts to improve schools are going to add up to more than just a temporary fix, it is necessary to find a way to accumulate knowledge about teaching and to share this knowledge with new practitioners entering the teaching profession.")

ECS questions (from Michael Allen whom we met at Snowbird):

1. Is their emphasis on teaching as a cultural activity in this country over-stated? What, is required, in your opinion, to overcome the influence of culture in American schools?

2. The authors put forward six principles that they postulate will lead to the improvement of teachers in this country. Are these six principles the right principles? What principles would you add to this list?

3. Do teachers today have enough information about student achievement to make the types of decisions that are needed to improve their practice?

4. From your perspective, do most of today's proposed reforms in teacher quality address these principles?

5. What additional steps are needed to create schools in which teachers continually learn to improve their practice?

Responses please, especially if you have read the book.

From: LeoCasey@aol.com 
Date: Sat, 6 Nov 1999 18:55:59 EST
Subject: Re: Questions from ECS on The Teaching Gap
To: Pricejanet@aol.com

In a message dated 11/5/1999 6:02:58 PM Pacific Standard Time, 

<< 1. Is their emphasis on teaching as a cultural activity in this country over-stated? What, is required, in your opinion, to overcome the influence of culture in American schools? >>

I think not. It is an excellent palliative to the nonsense that comes out from groups like Teach for America, which bases itself on the insulting notion that the problem with teaching in America is that we don't have the graduates of the Ivy Leagues flowing into our schools. So they recruit these folks, throw them headfirst into the most difficult inner city schools without any meaningful supports, and go on to further recruitment while these folks flail about and quickly leave teaching to go on to their preordained lives as lawyers, doctors, etc. One does not "overcome" culture, however. One recognizes it as the ground upon which current teaching and learning takes place, and digs in for the long struggle to find ways to transform it. The important lesson of Stigler/Hiebert is that there are no quick fixes in education, and that you need long-term transformative strategies that address the question of changing culture. 

2. The authors put forward six principles that they postulate will lead to the improvement of teachers in this country. Are these six principles the right principles? What principles would you add to this list?

I do not know if there are any right principles in a definitive sense. For example, are these principles better than the principles of the Coalition for Essential Schools? In fact, the two sets of principles operate at different levels of abstraction, and address different issues. What we can say is that these principles are good principles, and on the issues they address, they move in the right direction.

<< 3. Do teachers today have enough information about student achievement to make the types of decisions that are needed to improve their practice? >>

This feels like a rhetorical question, since the answer is so obviously no to me. It goes straight to the lack of meaningful professional development and professional exchange in virtually every school.

<< 4. From your perspective, do most of today's proposed reforms in teacher quality address these principles?>>

Again, I have a bit of a problem with the question. Do the principles of Stigler/Hiebert help us understand what needs to be done in education reform? Absolutely. Should we examine every reform in light of them? Probably not. Part of what they are saying is that there are no panaceas, and we should avoid the attempt to make that into a panacea. We should, however, -- and this is by no means a unique insight of theirs -- be continually asking questions such as how do this relate to student learning goals, how does this improve instruction when we examine any proposed reform. 

<< 5. What additional steps are needed to create schools in which teachers continually learn to improve their practice?>>

The question is so broad, that you will get general, almost formulaic responses. Schools need to be intellectual learning communities, in which teachers are engaged in constant discussion with each other on their labors and in common work. How you construct such communities, step by painful step, is the trick.

From: Pricejanet@aol.com 
Date: Sun, 7 Nov 1999 22:04:54 EST
Subject: Re: ntpi V1 #243-ECS Questions
To: ALESCHACK@aol.com

Arlyne points out that ineffective schools often stay that way because they are reactive, responding to constant crises, rather than proactive. The Teaching Gap describes a fascinating kind of proactive teacher driven professional development--the lesson study. These happen all over Japan. A group of teachers come up with a hypothesis about student learning and design a lesson to test that hypothesis. They watch one of their group teach the lesson to a classroom of students, evaluate the student results and revise the lesson and try it again. The lesson and their findings are widely disseminated. This is an important feature of Japanese school culture. 
Stigler and Hiebert strongly advocate adapting this practice in the U.S. as the cornerstone of improving teaching. What do YOU think, especially those who have read the book?

From: Pricejanet@aol.com 
Date: Mon, 8 Nov 1999 20:26:54 EST
Subject: Re: Questions from ECS on The Teaching Gap
To: JOERAFTER@worldnet.att.net 
CC: , Elmeyers@aol.com 

I must admit that I shared Joe R's pessimism about the ability of policymakers at any level to implement the fantastic ideas in the Teaching Gap. After all, the American school culture has a place for them--they are the factory owners, the principal is the foreman, we are the workers, the kids are the widgets etc. Somebody save us from our pessimism! What could policy makers at the state or district level do to encourage things like study lessons?

From: Pricejanet@aol.com 
Date: Mon, 8 Nov 1999 20:35:18 EST
Subject: Re: Questions from ECS on The Teaching Gap
To: LeoCasey@aol.com

Thanks Leo! I actually think the answer to "do teachers get enough information on their students' achievement level is contained in the Standards section of our forthcoming NTPI book. No they don't get enough information unless they do ongoing classroom based performance based assessment. Not only does that in turn require on going professional development, as Leo notes. It also requires some space in the assessment hierarchy for such assessment. The current mania for on-demand testing from on high may actually result in teachers getting less, not more information. Comments?

From: JudiFenton@aol.com 
Date: Tue, 9 Nov 1999 19:22:50 EST
Subject: Re: Questions from ECS on The Teaching Gap
To: Pricejanet@aol.com, JOERAFTER@worldnet.att.net 
CC: , Elmeyers@aol.com 

Janet, I think that while we are healthy skeptics on the issue of policymaker's ability to implement the ideas in The Teaching Gap, we wouldn't be doing what we're doing if we didn't believe that it could be done. 

I think that one (or several) well placed educator (s) (maybe you!) can begin to turn the tide. If we can realize some of the things that we are advocating for --more teacher time, more collaboration, meaningful professional development-- they could conceivably lead to having the structures in place to begin to implement some of Stigler and Heibert's suggestions on teaching. A few of us teaching at the university level and influencing how preservice is done, and we have the set up to make a real difference.

I actually had an interesting event occur in the Integrating Seminar that I teach at NYU last week-- We were discussing Standards (of course, with a capital S!) and we wandered into how math is taught in schools. I told them a bit about the Teaching Gap (Joe--Jeorge had heard of it because of you!) and the article based on it we had read about math teaching that Frances had recommended. My husband and I had been talking about it too and in the car the other day, we had been inventing math problems that were not easily solved by any formulas. So, I told my class about one of the problems to illustrate what a "good" math problem might be to encourage real problem solving skills. My students immediately began to try to solve the problem and after about 15 minutes, I had to bring them back to the topic, no one having solved the problem, but some great ways to begin to were brought up. They all seemed to understand how this kind of problem solving and teachers mulling and figuring out together and devising what their students might do could be a great thing. Well, I know I'm an incurable optimist, but I still think that if we could let policy makers have this opportunity to problem solve, they might even get it. Bring some good math problems with you Janet! I'm off to New Orleans for a few days--NAEYC conference-- see ya'll next week.

From: Patzim01@aol.com 
Date: Wed, 10 Nov 1999 06:37:44 EST
Subject: Peer Review ECS Commission of States Advisory Council
To: Pricejanet@aol.com

I'm not sure you received my Email before ... so here goes. I would love your care package on how peer review works as the main form of evaluation at your school. It would be invaluable to me as a member of our Teacher Review and Evaluation Committee, as we prepare to write a new teacher evaluation instrument. Peer Coaching is favored as a vital component of any evaluation process we develop. However, I just bought The Teaching Gap and I think your awe at the way  Japanese teachers assess and revise lessons rather than each other impresses me as a much better means to ensure quality teaching with "study lessons" rather than present evaluative methods used. I'm going to share your thoughts and comments of other Fellows who respond to your reports on the work of the ECS. 

From: LeoCasey@aol.com 
Date: Wed, 10 Nov 1999 10:50:11 EST
Subject: The Teaching Gap
To: ntpi-l@teachnet.org 

Now that we have all sung the praises of the Stigler and Hiebert book, let me raise a question I have. For those of you who have read the book (I had to be sure to get Price Janet's refrain in here), you know that the focus of their years long study is mathematics teaching. I wonder to what extent one can generalize from Mathematics to other subject areas. This is not a criticism of the work; to just have accomplished what they did in the field of Mathematics was itself a monumental task. But I suspect that there are different sub-cultures in particular areas, determined in no small part by the predisposition of teachers who go into the subject area. In high school, for example, English is filled with writer/artist types, Social Studies with political activist types, and so on. Anecdotally, I always hear folks complain that for some reason Mathematics is the subject that changes the least and the slowest. So what do you all think?

From: Pricejanet@aol.com 
Date: Wed, 10 Nov 1999 21:27:27 EST
Subject: Re: The Teaching Gap
To: LeoCasey@aol.com , ntpi-l@teachnet.org 

Yes of course as Leo points out, each academic discipline has its own sub-culture. But what struck me as very interesting about Japanese school culture across all disciplines is the keystone of on-going professional development—the study lesson. It seems that all Japanese teachers are expected to do action research. Imagine not only coming up with a hypothesis about student learning with other teachers but also designing a lesson to test that hypothesis. Imagine not only designing the lesson but also observing a teacher teach it and analyzing the lesson in terms of how well students learned the lesson. Imagine not just analyzing it but also revising it and trying it out on other classes. Imagine not only doing all that but also publishing the resulting lesson with a rich description of what it took to develop it in archives available to all other teachers. Imagine doing all this in any discipline in any school in the U.S. That's the difference between our school culture and theirs. What is routine in Japan would take a Herculean effort to achieve under our present conditions, even at a school as enlightened as good old IHS Queens.

To: Pricejanet@aol.com 
Cc: ntpi-l@teachnet.org 
Subject: Re: The Teaching Gap
From: J M Murphy janeny1@juno.com
Date: Sun, 14 Nov 1999 09:21:08 EST

I'm about halfway through THE TEACHING GAP and I'm astonished at how true it rings for me and how it translates directly to my 3rd grade teaching practice. I recognize much of what they have to say about American teaching and I'm learning a lot about why I struggle so with mathematics in my classroom. BUT... The formality of the teacher/learner relationship in Japan is interesting and troubling to me. On the one hand, so respectful of academic learning, and on the other hand so chillingly devoid of any acknowledgement of the subjectivity of teaching and learning. Am I correct in assuming that there is almost no room for individual teaching styles or connections between people to facilitate learning in Japan? Do even early childhood learners have different teachers for different subjects? Maybe I put a little too much emphasis on the importance of relationships in learning but this seems extreme to me. And it's probably not PC to say it out loud, but those lesson studies sound torturous to me. A whole year on one lesson? That's not feasible for this American teacher whose American culture has not prepared her to move sooo slowly through the issues. Also, the emergent curriculum is an important facet of my practice in early childhood education. Does anyone else have a problem with all this scripting of lessons? I'm also very curious as to what they do with the significantly LD, cognitively and or emotionally disabled learners. 

From: Pricejanet@aol.com 
Date: Wed, 17 Nov 1999 07:47:25 EST
Subject: Re: The Teaching Gap
To: janeny1@juno.com 

I loved Jane Murphy's response to the study lessons--partly because it was  soooo Jane but partly because it put words to my own misgivings. An American version would certainly be different. Still, I think focusing closely on one lesson probably helps with larger practice issues. I am reminded of the individual student studies pioneered by the Prospect School folks and how useful the Primary Language Record is, even if you only can use it with a few of your students. Also, I suspect that the Japanese teachers spend some time on subjective issues inherent in how the students are responding to a particular approach. The book says nothing about special needs populations. I think Judi is successful in her efforts to lure one of the authors to one of our meetings so we can pump him for more info.

From: Patzim01@aol.com 
Date: Wed, 17 Nov 1999 21:21:47 EST
Subject: Re: The Teaching Gap, Teacher Preparation in Republic of China
To: Pricejanet@aol.com  janeny@juno.com

Janet and Jane,

In 1994, I had the good fortune to join a language arts delegation of teachers and administrators for a People to People Citizen Ambassador to the Republic of China. During our 15-day stay, we visited Kindergarten, elementary schools, educational publishing houses, and Children's Palaces that are after school programs held in different buildings than the schools that provide programs that our specials do such as gym-type activities such as dancing, and fencing, art such as origami, computers, and academic subjects that ready the students for college, two educational publishing houses and two Universities to discuss teacher preparation. We were told by our National Guide from the Socialist Party that children with learning disabilities/special education are educated at special "training" schools or receive no formal education at all. Although this was a communist country, I assume that this is the accepted practice in other Asian countries. Teachers were trained in programs similar to our teacher preparation programs, but noteworthy was that teachers for elementary schools were young women. Older women were only visible as principals. I do not know about the high schools, but the universities were dominated by male teachers and only a sprinkling of women instructors.


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