On and off in my life, I’ve been engaged in what might be called ‘comparative pedagogy’ –that is, looking at different ways of teaching and learning topics, most typically math, which, in addition to being a favorite subject of mine, has been the subject of intense educational reform battles my entire life.
I’m not going to wade into those fights, but am sharing one fascinating thing in comparative math teaching that I learned about doing a project a few years back on problem solving (an explicit part of the much debated Common Core standards).
Teaching problem solving in a typical U.S. classroom, indeed even what we think of as a problem for math class, can differ from what is presented in other countries. In Japan, problems, even at early grades have more conceptual richness, requiring a ‘puzzling out’ period, not just an application of a procedure. And when a teacher works with a class to teach a problem, he or she plans out how the entire problem will be written out progressively on the board (using chalk, not an overhead) and taking a substantial portion of the class time.
By the time this interactive work is complete, the group’s thinking about the problem will be visible on the board it its entirety. Part of the planning for this, is the teacher’s planning how to present it, Bansho-Keikaku, and it is part of the lesson study that Japanese education is so well-known for.
It isn’t just math class that relies on this practice, but the humble chalk and chalkboard when used with skill intention brought coherence to other disciplines too. A representative quote.
“Most importantly, teachers carefully preserved a lesson storyline as they progressed across the board. They added elements in a strategic sequence that helped bring coherence to the lesson, and rarely erased content unless they reached a major instructional transition.”
I have seen (although never had) teachers in the U.S. who had this kind of skill and approach, but it does seem like a rarity here, and a missed opportunity.