THE NATIONAL COMMISSION ON MATHEMATICS AND SCIENCE TEACHING
FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
SEPTEMBER 23, 1999
TRANSCRIPT BY: FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE
620 NATIONAL PRESS BUILDING
WASHINGTON, DC 20045
[Accompanying PowerPoint slides are referenced in brackets throughout the transcript.]
[See Slide 1] Teaching is important, what happens in
classrooms is fundamentally important. Everyone here knows that,
yet, still it's kind of important to be told it again from time to
time. In fact, if you look at the reforms that have been
conducted in classrooms or in schools over the past 20 years in this
country, most of them have not focused on improving teaching in the
classroom. For example, there's been a lot of effort on changing
the political structure of schools, site based management, who has
power, who has control. There's been a lot of effort on putting
computers in schools, and even the standards movement, setting clear
learning goals and assessments for what students need to learn has not
fundamentally been targeted at changing what happens in classrooms,
teaching and learning in classrooms.
Now, you may think that because you're the commission on
improving the quality of math and science teaching, that you're going
to be different, you are going to change what happens in
classrooms. And what I want to start with today is going to be
the main point I want to make, which is that I'm afraid you won't be
different. I'm afraid you won't be different, and I want to urge
you to maintain your focus on improving the quality of teaching and
learning that goes on in classrooms. If you shift your focus to
questions of teacher licensure, teacher certification, how to recruit
better people into the profession of teaching, then I think you'll be
wasting an opportunity. That's one of the main points I want to
If you look at medicine, as an example, I think everyone
would agree that healthcare has made remarkable gains in quality over
the past 100 years. But, I want to submit to you that that's not
because better people are going into medicine. It's because there
is a professional knowledge base of medicine that has grown, that's
alive, that has grown over the years and that new practitioners can
participate in. It's not the exceptional doctors that determine
the healthcare most of us receive, but it's actually the average
doctor, it's what the standard practice is. And in education it's
the same way. What we need to do is, yes, we want the most
qualified people we can in the classroom. But, that alone is not
going to make the difference. What we need to do is find ways to
shift the focus from the teachers to the teaching methods, and figuring
out how to improve those methods, how to build a knowledge base for the
improvement of teaching.
The premise of everything I'm going to say today is that
teaching is not some magical, elusive quality that is only able to be
carried out by certain gifted individuals. But, teaching is
something that can be studied and improved. And that's really the
challenge that we face today. Now, [See Slide 2] what I'm going to do in my
presentation is I'm going to talk about -- I was a little
embarrassed that so many people came up and said they read the book,
because that makes me feel a little bit redundant and
superfluous. But, you probably didn't read it as carefully as we
TIMSS Video Study and a
U.S. Lesson [in middle of paragraph]
[See Slide 3] So what I want to do today is talk
about the TIMSS video study a little bit. I want to show some
video, because I want this commission to take a look inside classrooms,
and see what's going on there, and talk a little about what we learned
from that. Then I want to shift gears and talk about the
implications of the work that we've been doing for the improvement of
teaching, a lot of which is just our own opinion developed over time.
I really want to stress that anyone is free to interrupt me,
if that's not against the law, I don't know. Linda, can people
interrupt and ask questions? So anybody who wants to interrupt
and ask a question, I would really appreciate that, because there's no
way we can get through all the material that I have. But, I do
want to make sure that I save enough time at the end to talk about my
vision of how it is that we can improve teaching in the classroom.
All right, so first, what I want to do is I want to talk
about this unique study that I was privileged to conduct, and I also
want to point out that Lois Peak is here, and came up to me. Lois
Peak was the person who made this whole study possible, by securing the
funding from the National Center for Education Statistics. And
she just reminded me that we cooked up this whole idea 10 years ago on
a beach walk in California. And it's amazing how long it takes to
get anything done.
This study was actually a very simple study. A simple
idea it was to take national samples of classrooms, eighth-grade
teachers, and to videotape them teaching one lesson in a
classroom. We basically had a videographer in each country.
We did this in three countries, by the way, Germany, Japan, United
States, and simply gave him a schedule and had him go around for the
whole school year and tape what was going on. We took the tapes
that we received, and we sent them back to our lab at UCLA, and we
spent a long time with teams of researchers from all these different
countries arguing about what we saw happening on the tapes. And
it was a very exciting summer, I'll never forget, when the first of
these tapes came in.
[See Slide 4] This is an overview of the design of
our study, which is very simple. I think most of you probably
recognize this picture, I hope Senator Glenn recognizes this
picture. It was sent back from Mars a couple of summers
ago. This really summarizes the design of our study. It was
sitting in Los Angeles, waiting for these images to come back from all
over the world, and then analyzing them. And I have to say we
were really just as excited about seeing these things as the people
were at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where they were waiting for the
results of all the work they had done to get these images back from
[See Slide 5] We had three major goals in the
study. First of all was to just see what was happening in U.S.
classrooms, and this may, most people who aren't in education probably
figure we already knew this. In fact, almost everybody thinks
they know what's going on in classrooms, but no one really had the
opportunity to actually look inside a national sample of
classrooms. Another goal was to discover alternative teaching
methods. We were very interested in what they were doing in other
countries, particularly countries that had very high achievement, like
Japan. And we were interested in studying the effects of policy
on classroom practice. There are a lot of people who believe they
are influencing what happens in classrooms, and we wanted to take a
look and see if that was true.
Okay. What I'd like to do now is shift gears, and go
and actually show you some video from the study. And at the same
time I'm going to be able to show you a little about how it was
possible for us to handle this incredible quantity of video information
that's coming in. In our current study we're collecting more than
2000 hours of video. And the way we've done this is with
multimedia software that we actually designed and developed to help us
in this project. So, for example you can see we've got a software
screen with the video, we've got a transcript on the right, and it
gives us the ability to quickly run back and forth through the
videotape, and it also gives us an index over here of the video.
What this means is that we have in our database all of the
videotape that we collect, all of it transcribed, all of it translated
into English, so that we can search and find different pieces of
classroom practice that we're looking for in our analysis. This
is a huge advance, because this was not possible even five years ago,
to really do this, and now it is. People who used video
previously to study teaching only did it on a small scale, and I know
why, because it's really hard work to get on top of this.
What I want to do is just show you a few minutes of this
teacher, an American teacher, and let you watch it, and see what you
think. And then I'm going to show you a few minutes of a Japanese
teacher, and try to give you just some sense of what's going on in
these classrooms. And, by the way, I want to preface this by
saying this is a typical American teacher, and we can really say that
with some confidence, because we've looked at a national sample.
What is the angle that is vertical to the seventy-degree angle?
Vertical angles are formed by what, Juan?
Student: Umm…I don’t know. I was just
Students: Ha, ha, ha.
Teacher: Don’t get nervous, you do stretching. When I intersect lines I get vertical
angles. Right? Look at your definitions. I gave them to you. You have them. You don’t? You can look them up.
Teacher: Therefore angle A must be…
Students: Seventy degrees.
Teacher: Seventy degrees. Go from there. Now you have supplementary angles.
Teacher: I mean…I am sorry. Angle A.
Teacher: B is and so is?
Teacher: C. Supplementary angles add
up to what number?
Student: One eighty.
Teacher: One hundred eighty degrees. So if you know one is seventy the other one has
Student: Hundred ten.
Teacher: A hundred ten. Go from there…Okay. You have all you information. So we
we already figured these out.
How many people find this pretty familiar? Most people I show
this to say, that's my math teacher. This is very familiar.
Did you have a question or did you just point at this
QUESTION: It wasn't my math teacher, because I was
educated in the '50s when they taught, you put in geometry by deductive
proofs, which has largely disappeared from the curriculum.
DR. STIGLER: Right, right, but this is many people's math teacher. And two things I want to point out about this, first of all, this is a very typical pattern of teaching in the United States. And one of the points I'm going to make later is that we were really shocked at how little variability there is in teaching methods across the country. This is especially surprising in a country like ours, where we all believe we're very individual, autonomous, that we decide how we want to teach in our classroom, we have a very hands-off approach, but what's interesting is, when given the choice we all pretty much teach the same way. It's almost like those studies of identical twins separated at birth, and then they reunite them 40 years later and find out they have all these uncanny similarities. That's the way we feel when we're looking at these videotapes of American teachers, who are all independently deciding to teach the same way.
The other point I want to make is that a lot of the most
important characteristics of teaching in your own culture, and that's
the United States for most of us here, are very difficult to see unless
you do some comparison. And this is becoming clear to us, over
and over, all the time, because one of the things we've done in our new
study is we've gotten people from the seven different countries in the
study to come and bring us examples of videotapes from their countries,
and to tell us, you know, what they see that's important.
For example, we had someone from the Czech Republic come,
show us videos, and tell us what is the key characteristics of teaching
in the Czech Republic, and what was amazing was she showed the videos,
she did some description, but she missed what to us were some of the
most amazingly interesting, strange things that we'd never seen
before. For example, almost every Czech lesson starts by the
teacher grading the students. And what this means is, the teacher
takes a student and calls on them, say, Paul, why don't you come to the
front, solve this problem. And Paul comes up and spends maybe
five minutes, maybe even more, struggling with the problem, and the
teacher asking questions back and forth, and the whole class
watches. And then the teacher says, okay, that's a B. All
right, why don't you sit down, we'll grade one more person today.
Now, this Czech representative didn't even mention that, but
we said, wow, what are they doing, that's amazing, we've never seen
that. She said, well, how else would you grade students, I mean,
that's obvious. So what's important here is that you don't really
see clearly what's happening in your own classrooms unless you begin to
take a cross-cultural view, and that's because teaching is a highly
cultural activity, which is something I want to come back to.
All right. Let's go to Japan and spend a little more
time looking at the Japanese lesson, and the reason I want to do that
is because many of you have probably never seen a Japanese
lesson. I'm going to turn on a subtitling feature, and what I'm
going to do is show you a little bit of the lesson from the beginning,
and then I'm going to sort of talk over it a little bit to help
introduce you to what's going on as we go. So this is the
beginning of a Japanese lesson, and this is a geometry lesson and I'll
just let the teacher take it from there.
[Video shown of Japanese classroom]
Now, this is very typical, he starts by talking about the concepts they
studied in the last lesson. And last time they studied this idea
that if you have a triangle constructed between two parallel lines and
you move the vertex along one line, but keep the base stable, the area
of the triangle doesn't change. And the reason for that, of
course, is because the base doesn't change, and the height doesn't
change, only the shape of the triangle. So now what he's going to
do is present the first main problem he wants the students to work on
today. And what he's done is he's taken two plots of land,
divided by a crooked line, he says this is Eda's land, that's Asuza's
land, and the problem is can we figure out a way to straighten the
boundary between their plots of land, without changing the area,
without changing how much land each person has. Eda and Asuza are
two students in the class, by the way.
So he puts a sign up that says, I want you to think up a method of
changing the boundary without changing the area of the land. And
then what he does is he just lets the kid loose to work on this
problem. And this is the way most Japanese lessons start, giving
students a problem that they don't know how to solve, and having them
work on it.
Now, what's interesting about this is, this is almost never
done in the U.S. In fact, most American teachers think that's
unfair to give someone a problem to solve that you didn't teach them
how to solve. So in American lessons we see teachers teach you
how to solve the problems, then they give you practice problems to work
on. In Japan, commonly they give them a problem that they don't
know how to solve. First they have them work on the problem
individually, and then later in the lesson the teacher says, okay, now
that you've struggled individually with this problem, I want you to do
whatever you want, you can work with your friends, you can work with
the assistant teacher, you can do whatever you want. And then
this is what the class looks like for about the next 15 minutes or so,
as the students are trying to work on this problem. The teacher
walks around, usually making little suggestions and hints, but the real
focus is on students struggling, trying to figure out methods for
solving a problem that they've never solved before.
Now, after they're done with this, almost invariably, in a
Japanese classroom, the teacher will call the class back together and
ask students to report on the different solution methods that they've
come up with in the class. And usually there are at least two
different solution methods presented. We can watch a little bit
of this first student. One of the things you'll notice is they're
not exceptionally articulate or anything, because they're talking about
things that they don't fully understand, but that's the nature of
learning something hard, like mathematics, is that you spent a lot of
time struggling with things that you don't quite understand. It's
the nature of my job, too, actually.
By the way, does everybody understand the solution to this
problem is to construct a triangle, draw a line that parallels to the
base of the triangle, and then if you move the vertex up or down you're
able to split the two areas in half without changing how much land
either student has.
All right. Often what happens in a Japanese lesson is
after the students have given their presentation the teacher summarizes
the different solution methods the students came up with. And
then the teacher goes on and presents another problem. And this
next problem is related to the first problem, but it's actually a
little bit harder. And the problem here is, here's an irregular
quadrilateral, how can we change this quadrilateral into a triangle
that has the same area as the quadrilateral.
And he's going to follow pretty much the same procedure, he
poses the problem, students are going to work on their own, then
students are going to work in groups, and as they're working the
teacher has them -- every time he sees a unique solution to
the problem, the teacher has them put their solution up on the
board. So that by the time we're at the end of the lesson you can
see that there are all these solutions up on the board, all having been
placed there by different students. And now the teacher is going
to go up and summarize the different solution methods the students came
QUESTION: Are their instruction periods approximately
the same length in time as in the U.S.?
They're very regular, they're usually 40 to 50 minutes. It's a
highly organized thing. You know, always the same period every
day and so on. By the way, the solution to this problem is to
divide the quadrilateral into two triangles, and then construct a line
parallel to that one, and then you can move this up and back and make a
triangle that you know is going to be the same area as the
quadrilateral. In fact, I think if we zip through this a little
bit, we can see the teacher doing a demonstration using technology to
demonstrate the different solutions that you can come up with for this
Okay. I want to stop, but yes?
QUESTION: I don't know if it's just my experience, or
just reflection on my own past, but both as a parent helping kids with
homework, and also as a substitute math teacher, I find that American
students, or at least the students that I reflect on by comparison
are -- break out in a cold sweat if you ask them an open
ended question in class, and particularly are frustrated if you don't
follow exactly what the teacher said as to the method of solving the
QUESTION: Yet, what the Japanese instructor is
presenting is there are many approaches to solving the problem.
And the American students are, I guess, preconditioned to think that
there is, I can only do it the way the teacher explained it, which
means the teachers solve it in advance, the student is not engaged in
any kind of assimilative thinking.
It's a very limited view of mathematics that we have in our American
classrooms. I mean, if you look at what mathematicians do it's
not go through the steps that someone showed them how to do, it's work
on problems that no one knows how to solve, exchange ideas about the
different solutions, try to justify their solutions and persuade other
mathematicians that they didn't make a mistake. This is what
mathematicians do, but it's not at all what goes on in school.
This is tough, my own kids also look at me like I'm crazy if I try to
get them to work on a problem they don't know how to solve. Their
answer is, we haven't had that, period, case closed.
But, I will tell a story from a study that we did a long time
ago. We had this idea, we were studying elementary school
children in Japan and the United States. And we had this idea
that we would give them an impossible math problem, and then we would
measure how long they worked on it, because I'm a psychologist, we love
those kind of measures, you can get the mean and the standard
deviation. So we gave the first graders and the mean time
for the first graders, we did about 12. We actually couldn't
continue this. The mean time for the first graders in the U.S.
was about 15 seconds. They looked at the problem and they said, I
don't know how to do that.
All of the 12 Japanese kids who got the problem worked an
hour, and didn't give up. And finally they had to go back to
class, because they had been pulled out to do this study, and the
Japanese collaborator said, we really can't use this problem, because
it would take too much time, and besides, you know, they're not really
getting anywhere, it's an impossible problem. But, the key was
these kids worked on it for an hour, and this was in first grade.
So how do you socialize students to believe that mathematics is such a
different kind of discipline that it's something you could struggle
with for that long, it's a really important problem.
QUESTION: Is this method also used across disciplines?
DR. STIGLER: Actually, we're studying science now, and it is used in science. But, I don't know about literacy or social studies. I would guess not. I would guess it would have to be a little bit different. Any other questions?
[See Slide 6] Okay. Well, what we've been able
to do is produce a couple of different kinds of analyses. One is
we're able to begin identifying these cultural patterns of
teaching. If you look at the two patterns I have up here, you can
see the one on the left is the one that characterizes American
classrooms, and actually it's a pretty good characterization of German
classrooms also. Most of the math lessons in the United States
that we looked at have two main parts. The first part is where
the teacher tells you how to do the problem. They give you
instruction. If they're a very good teacher, they also give you
some explanation about why the solution works the way it does. And then
they let students practice on their own. And what teachers do is
they go around and help the kids who are having trouble.
In Japan they just have a very different script or pattern
that emerges in most of the lessons. They're kind of backwards
from the American pattern. First, the teacher poses a rich
problem, that the students typically have not solved before. The
students struggle with that problem, they're confused, they don't know
what to do. You see a lot of evidence of that. The students
present their ideas, and their solutions, and they have a class
discussion about the methods and the teacher concludes the
discussion. Often, they'll go through this twice.
One other interesting thing I can point out, I think we put
this in the book, but American teachers have a real intolerance for
confusion. So any kid -- not only do we not pose
problems for students to struggle with, but if we see students
struggling most American teachers rush over to intervene and provide
help, because they don't think there should be strugglers.
Somebody struggling in math class it must mean we didn't teach them
very well, or we didn't explain clearly enough what they were trying to
do. Then, of course, the Japanese teachers think you should look
confused, and in fact, if you ask a Japanese teacher, do you think your
students really understood that at the end of this lesson, they'll say,
of course not, that's going to take weeks for them to understand
that. So different views of understanding. We have a very
instantaneous view, you explain it. If the kids get it, a light
bulb goes off and you move on. Whereas, in Japan they have a very
different view of what understanding is.
QUESTION: Did you say their class sizes are
proportionate to the U.S.?
Approximately 40 students in Japan.
QUESTION: And the German classes and the American
Much smaller, of course, much smaller, of course. California
class sizes are pretty high, although that's something else I want to
point out, is that there's an interesting paradox looking at these
teaching methods around the world. We deal with individual
differences in a very different way than they do in Japan. In
Japan there is absolutely no tracking, and no ability grouping until
10th grade, at the earliest. So all students, whoever they are,
however fast they learn, are all put in the same classroom. In
the United States we divide students up at from the very earliest
ages. Even in kindergarten, we often will have a different class
for the students who need a little more help with their English, and a
different class for the students who are native English speakers, and
so on. We're always dividing people up to deal with their
One of the results of this is that in Japan there is actually
more variability in terms of preparation in a classroom than we see in
the United States. This is one of the findings from previous
research we've done. And paradoxically, in Japan they've
developed a lot of teaching methods that are especially suited to
highly diverse classrooms. Paradoxically, in the United States,
where we have a very high priority and a lot of diversity, priority
placed on addressing diversity, our teaching techniques really don't
work that well in diverse classrooms.
QUESTION: Most math classes -- most math
teachers in America use the textbook as the curriculum, and they use
the teachers guide that is often script for them. In Japan, do
they have textbooks, or is the curriculum pretty much designed by the
No, they do have textbooks. And this is one of the things I want
to talk about later. They do have textbooks. But, a lot
of -- and they do have teachers' manuals, and they do follow
them pretty closely. However, those textbooks and those teachers
manuals change over time, because in Japan they have a system for
collecting feedback, back up from classrooms, to improve the kind of
techniques they're using in classrooms. So we tend to have a
negative connotation toward a script, we say only a bad teacher would
use a script. But, I want you to think again about what
professionalism means in other professions, like medicine.
Medicine, you're supposed to use the standard practice, unless there is
an unusual situation that develops and you need to be able to do
something different. In teaching, we devalue teachers who use the
standard practice. So one of the points I want to make is that
what we need to do is figure out how to shift the standard practice,
not act like there’s something wrong with using standard practices.
QUESTION: Two quick comments. Currently in
high schools there’s two academic tracks for math instruction, called
high and low. The current high level track teaches one-third less
math than the standard academic track in the 1950s when I went to
school. So while we do have this diversity here, it's
considerably less than what was the single standard track in the
'50s. The second is, you mentioned that in the Japanese
classroom the teacher says, we’ll struggle over this concept for
several weeks and then they'll get it, and in the American teacher says
it once and then everybody supposed to get it immediately. Then
when we look at the textbooks, the fourth grade book, and fifth grade
book, and the sixth grade book are sort of 90 percent the same.
So we basically don't expect them to get anything, because everything
is going to be repeated the next year, and the next year.
The problem is we expect them to get it all in one day or one week, but
they don't really get it. So we have to repeat it the next year,
and the next year. It's a little bit of a tortoise and a hare
phenomenon here. In Japan, somebody described Japanese teaching
as slow and sticky, and American teaching as quick and snappy.
And I think that's a pretty good description that can go with this.
[See Slide 7] Now, in addition to identifying these
patterns we also did a lot of quantitative analyses, because one of the
things that's very important when you're looking at videos is videos
can be very informative, but they can also be very misleading.
You can see a powerful example on video and assume that it means more
than it does. So one of the things that we're also trying to do
is check ourselves by figuring out how to code quantitatively what's
happening in the videos.
And I brought one example which is, you know, when the
teacher gives students stuff to work on, on their own at their desk or
in groups, we call that seat work. And one of the things we
looked at was, what was the kind of task that students were posed
during seat work. And we divided it into the three levels, the
first was to practice routine procedures. The second one was to
apply concepts in novel situations. And then the highest level
was invent or think, and this included things like can you think of
another way to solve that problem, or how many solutions can you come
up with, or can you prove that that would always be true, not just in
this case. This is the higher level thinking.
And what you can see is that in Germany and the U.S. they
have a very similar pattern. About 90 or more than 90 percent of
the time students are given work to do on their own, they're asked to
practice routine procedures. In other words, to do things they've
been taught how to do already by the teacher. But, if you look in
Japan you'll see that the tape I showed you is very representative of
what's going on in classrooms. The majority of time Japanese
students are given work to do at their seats they've given this highest
level, they're asked to invent, they're asked to think, they're asked
to reason, prove, engage in the kind of activities that mathematicians
QUESTION: Just sitting here thinking, as an employer
how I would react to something like that. It's one of those
things that you talked earlier, you go, well, yes, I do that. Why
not let the students do as they do in Japan, because in the workplace
that's what's expected of you, where they discover the means to a
solution. Yet, the culture of the American classroom is, follow
this prescriptive approach and you'll have the answer to the
test. Yet, you put them in the workplace and it
doesn't -- problems don't get solved that way.
Right. A lot of this is about goals, it's about being clear about
what you really want students to learn, not only in the short term, but
in the long term. And that's something that is great that's going
on right now, with the whole standards movement, is people have finally
focused on what they want students to learn. But, then that is a
political debate, what do you want students to learn. Do you want
them to be able to, as fast as possible, execute the same solution to
the problem that everyone knows, or do you want them to be able to come
up with three different ways to solve a problem that they've never seen
before, or maybe you want both and there's nothing wrong with
that. But, you have to realize that the kind of instruction we
see is highly related to the kind of learning outcomes we're going to
QUESTION: Could you comment on how these two different
methods will change in terms of teachers’ preparation,
because it seems like it's easier to follow the straight, you know,
just tell how to solve the problem and you work on that, instead of
challenging the student, what kind of new methods, and whatever you
try. It takes very experienced teachers, I actually
learned all my math and science, you know, in Asia, in Taiwan, and
before, and I see the teachers’ preparation, dedication perhaps makes a
lot of difference.
Absolutely, it takes a lot of preparation. But, you know, it
takes a lot of work and preparation to teach the way we teach,
also. In fact, if you look at a lot of these videos, American
teachers work very, very hard. If you think about it, they're
trying to make sure they teach every single step. In some ways
the Japanese teacher's job is easier, because they pose the
problem. But, the other thing I want to point out is, they don't
do it by themselves. They have a knowledge base, they have
resources they can go to. Every Japanese teacher can look up this
problem in a book, because this problem would be used all over
Japan. And they can go read up on it and find out, here's the
five most common solutions. And so they have the resources
available that they need.
Let me move on. And, but keep interrupting, that's
great. I'm happy to be interrupted. [See Slide 8] Let me move on, and I wanted to talk
about three important lessons that I think we've learned from this
study, beyond the particular findings, lessons that I think are
important for your work.
QUESTION: You mentioned diversity, but just touched on
it in your comments. Do you have any recommendations of how
teachers could do more to deal with diversity in the classroom?
Well, one of the things I want to stress, and I was going to bring this
up a little later, but let me bring it up right now. I'm not
recommending that we teach like Japanese teachers, and there's a lot of
reasons why I'm not recommending that. The main one is that we
won't be able to. Teaching is a complex system. In fact,
I'll just put this point out of order. Teaching is a complex
system, you go into an American classroom and act like a Japanese
teacher, and within a day or two you'll be back to acting like an
American teacher. Why? Because the pressure is so great
from all the other different components in the system, not the least of
which are the students. So students -- in fact, I do
this in my college teaching. I'm always trying to improve my own
teaching at the university. And I go in and it's amazing how much
backlash you get if you try to change anything.
For example, I remember last year I said to my students, they
asked for a review sheet of everything that was going to be on the
midterm. And I said, well, what I'd like you to do is go back
through everything we've read, and all your notes, and you make up what
you think are the most important concepts and those will probably be
the ones on the midterm. They said, that's not fair, you have to
tell us what's on the test. And I said, well, that's the way
we're going to do it. They complained, and complained, and
complained, and they never stopped complaining until the end a number
of them wrote in and said they learned a lot by trying to make their
own review sheet. But, the fact is, you get hit a lot.
So I'm not recommending that we adopt Japanese techniques,
but one of the things I do want to say is that because teaching varies
so little within a culture, and varies so greatly across cultures, one
of the things that's very hard for us to do is to envision
alternatives. If you're a teacher in a classroom, what you tend
to do is teach the way you were taught. I mean, teaching is one
of the only professions where you have a 13 year apprenticeship before
you ever go out and get in the classroom, because everyone is a
student. And all those years that you're a student, you're
learning what it is that a teacher does. And if you even ask a
kid, you know, pretend you're a teacher, they'll do these same sorts of
things. So what's hard for us is to envision alternatives.
This is something we can get by looking at Japanese instruction.
And now to answer your question, which is do I have any
recommendations about diversity, I wouldn't recommend any particular
teaching techniques, because I don't think that should be what anyone
does. However, I would say that we can learn a lot from cultures
who worked, who have perfected techniques that tend to be especially
useful in diverse situations. I don't think our teaching
techniques are, so I think we have a lot to learn.
QUESTION: Can I ask question? What is the level
of parental involvement, and so on, on this? It seems to me under
the Japanese system you're talking about it would a whole different
thing to try and help a kid doing homework, like the governor is
talking about at home, whatever than it would be under the American
system. Did you tie in any study of that, also?
Well, I've done that in other research. And it's interesting the
kind of parental involvement is very different in the U.S. than in
Japan. U.S., there's more direct teaching, parents try
to actually help their kids do the homework, get the right
answer. In Japan it's a much more indirect kind of help. So
provide a desk for the student, or provide time, or give them snacks,
but not actually get in there and help them do the homework.
I'll tell you one other interesting thing, and that is we're always talking about parental involvement. Every school you go into now that's a good school there's parents all over the place. And one of the things we learned in showing our videotapes to our colleagues from Japan is they said, who are those people in the classroom? And we said, that's the parents. They said, you've got to be kidding. And they said, you let parents teach? They couldn't believe it. And you know, when you think about it, it's a very interesting point. Would you let parent volunteers go in and do surgery in the operating room, just to show that you have a hospital with a lot of involvement? No. It's just another example of the very, the very subtle ways that we undermine teaching as a profession. Yes, it looks like a great thing to have parents in the classroom. But, think about it, what you're saying is, anyone can teach, and I think we do believe that.
Let me just talk about three truths about teaching, and this
is things that -- some of which I've touched on already, but
I think are important. First of all, teaching in this country is
a very private activity. I said it before at the beginning, that
most of our efforts to improve education have not focused on what
happens in classrooms. One of the reasons for this is that
policymakers believe it's none of their business what happens in
classrooms, because everyone in our society has told them that over and
over again. A teacher goes in their classroom, they shut the
door, that's it, it's their classroom, they're the ones who get to
decide what happens. One of the consequences of this organization
of teaching is that we have no shared language for talking about
I was at a meeting two days ago, this is my third Washington
meeting, and I've got to get out of here. But, someone was saying
that he takes in his graduate class at Harvard University, and these
are mostly experienced practitioners coming back for a masters degree,
and he shows them videotapes from classrooms and has them talk about
it. And he says, it's the most painful thing he does every year,
because they don't have anything to say, they don't know how to talk
about the practice that's going on in their classrooms. We saw
this with our videotapes. We got all the videotapes back, and we
were trying to agree just on what we could point to was happening on
One of the things we thought we'd do is, this was math, we
thought -- I said, why don't we mark all the problems they
work on in a math lesson. And do you know that we struggled for
months to try to define what a problem is, and we could never agree on
it. We were never able to talk about how many problems they do in
a math class. Now, in our new study actually we went back and we
are going to talk about how many problems they do in a math
class. But, the point is, we have no shared language for talking
about teaching, which is a huge problem if you're trying to improve
professional knowledge, because knowledge requires that you be able to
communicate about that knowledge.
QUESTION: Dr. Stigler,
should this be three truths about American teaching, and America and
this is really what you're saying --
Well, most of these are true about all teaching. But, nowhere
have I found teaching to be such a private activity as it is in the
United States. I mean, somebody said, even sex, you know more
about what people do in their bedrooms than you know about what
teachers do in their classrooms. And it's true. For the
most part we don't think we have a right to know. But, you know,
if we don't get into classrooms we will not improve education.
That is the bottom line. Whether you think teachers are
under-qualified, not capable, whatever, you cannot improve education if
you don't work with teachers, because they are the gatekeepers, they're
the ones there, they are the ones who have access to the information
that's required, and you have to get to them.
Second is that teaching is a complex system, and I already
sort of made this point, but I want to make sure you understand that
you can't just copy a teaching technique that you see on a
videotape. It's actually a fun thing to try, and you learn a lot
about yourself as a teacher when you do that. But you immediately
learn that it won't work because of all the things that aren't
there. You know, you may change your behavior, but your students
don't change their behavior, or they have all these materials and we
don't have those materials, or in the last lesson the students studied
how to find the area of parallelograms and our students didn't study
that, so they don't know what they need to know to do this
lesson. And this come up over and over again. So there's no
feature of teaching that's always good or always bad.
So all these wars that are going on between we should do
basic skills, we should do direct teaching, or we should do discovery
learning, the fact is all of those things are good sometimes, it just
depends on the situation. There is nothing wrong with discovering
something in the right situation. There is nothing wrong with
giving a lecture. In fact, one of the ways
Japanese -- Japanese teachers engage their students in more
discovery than any country that we've studied so far. They also
lecture more than teachers in any other country that we've studied so
far. But for them the key is, the best preparation for a lecture
is yourself struggling with a problem, then they're prepared to hear a
lecture. So the whole thing about teaching is that it's a
complicated system and you can't take a simplistic view.
And then finally, I've pointed to this already, but this is
an extremely important point, teaching is a cultural activity. It
varies a lot more across cultures than it does within cultures.
And there are some important implications of this. First of all,
teaching is learned implicitly, not explicitly. So it's not the
same as learning to be an engineer where most of what people learn they
learn in college and graduate school. With teaching, it's learned
implicitly, and that makes it very hard to change. It's also hard
to see, as I talked to you before. But, teaching is hard to
change. Everyone who has ever tried to change teaching will tell
you that it's really hard to change teaching.
QUESTION: If all of this is true, how do you explain
the fact that American students in the fourth grade sample of the
TIMSS did quite well, compared to the other nations. So where
does it fit in? Is it part of the culture that's working and
other parts that are not?
Well, they didn't really do that well. And actually if you look
at the TIMSS results what you find is the further you go through school
the more behind American students are. So at fourth grade they're
not as far behind because they're only in fourth grade. But,
these are like linear functions, and I think it's important to not act
like there's something different going on in fourth grade that makes us
superior. We're just not as far behind. And also, we're a
very rich and privileged country. A lot of kids know all the
stuff they're learning in school before they ever go to school.
And that really takes you a long ways in school. You can get
through first grade, second grade, fourth grade, and still do pretty
well if you go home at night and you're engaged intellectually by your parents.
But, it can't take you the rest of the way. That's the
problem. So that's the way I look at it.
QUESTION: Now that technology is being introduced in
the classroom, another element, are the Japanese ahead of us in terms
of that? I saw that the Japanese teacher seemed to use a video,
especially with math, for the teacher's acceleration. You can
talk about it a long time, but if you see a graph or you see something
moving you can understand it, the concept is better.
No, the Japanese are not ahead of us in terms of technology in the
schools. We have more computers in the classrooms than we ever
see in any other country in the world. However, the Japanese
understand that putting the tool in the classroom will have no effect
on what's happening in the classroom unless you study it and figure out
how to integrate it into your classroom practice. So what's going
to happen in Japan is they're going to be very slow to integrate
technology into the classrooms, but they're going to do it in a very
thoughtful way. They'll have teacher study groups, and they
already have them all over Japan, studying how to use technology.
The way we saw it in this tape is one of the most common ways it is
used in Japan, which is as a focus for class discussion. The most
common way computers are used in American classrooms is to give extra
drill and practice to some students, so that the teacher can work with
another group of students. That's the most common thing we see.
QUESTION: So could we say that we are only number two
to in science in relation to other countries in the world on TIMSS and
something happens along the way that our students don’t do as well in
the upper grades -- that is not exactly true? You know, you
mention that we’re falling behind -- the reason that we are doing so
well on the fourth grade…
Well, you know, we don't hardly teach science at the fourth grade
level. That's one of the things that was also in the TIMSS report
that most people didn't notice, is we scored very well in science, but
we don't really teach it in school. So again, it gets back to the
point I was making before, which was there are a lot of different ways
to learn things. Math is interesting, because most of the math
kids learn they do learn in school, that actually makes it a pretty
interesting topic for study.
Yes, I'll take a couple more questions. Then I'm going
to move on, because I don’t know, do I have an ending time? I bet
I do. Because I want to make sure I talk about how to improve
QUESTION: Yes, you collected these data when?
These data were collected in 1994 and 95.
QUESTION: Okay. Since 1994-95, one of the things
you mentioned was that, in fact, this teaching is situated within a
complex system, instruction materials are part of it, preparation is
part of it. And even the kids and what they expect is part of
this system. Since then, some new instruction materials have come
out that have a different structure, and call for a different kind of
teaching. And actually now there's been an opportunity for some
school districts to actually implement those materials and start kids
from kindergarten through a different kind of instructional sequence,
where there is, in fact, at least the beginnings of a different system
starting. In your new study are you going to be
looking -- have you looked at any of those classrooms, are
any of those included in your new study?
Well, I would like to look at those classrooms, and many people will
look at those classrooms. What's important about our study is
that it is a national sample. So what I can tell you is, and this
was a surprise to me, and I think would be a surprise to everyone, is
that if we're working with these new curricula and new teaching
methods, we tend to think they're really catching on. The fact
is, they're not really catching on. They're so miniscule that
they hardly show up at all in the national sample. Now, I believe
we should be studying those, because I think that we can learn a lot
from that kind of research. But, it just doesn't happen to come
out when you study the national sample. Now, in our new study, I
can't say for sure, we're still collecting the data. So we may
find more evidence of that.
But, another thing I want to say, and I was going to say this
later, but since later may not come I'll say it now, is the third goal
of our study was to look at reform, to see what effect it has in
classrooms. And you do see evidence, in our last study we asked
teachers have you read the NCTM standards, and all these new documents
that are out there to tell teachers, these are recommended things,
changes you should make in your classroom. And 75 percent of the
teachers had read them, and 75 percent of the teachers said they
implement them in their classrooms. And so we have the videotape,
so we said, what about the lesson we videotaped, can we see it
there? And yes, they said, it's right there, you'll see I'm
implementing the NCTM standards in my classroom. And then we went
back and looked at the videotape, and what you see is just like what's
on every other videotape, what's going on here?
In the book we told that story that Al Shankar told, which
I'll tell again for the people who didn't hear it, because I think it's
exactly what happens. He was telling a story about when he
visited Israel back in the '60s, I think it was, and he was looking at
housing projects that had been set up to house immigrants from other
Arab countries. And they were telling him that one of the big
problems they had in these housing projects was health because the
Arabs were coming in, and they were eating off the floor, and it was
causing a lot of health problems and disease and everything. So
they started a campaign to get Arabs to eat off tables. And
Shankar said, well, that's interesting, could we go in and look and see
how a family is living. He said they walked into a household of a
family who had recently immigrated from Yemen and he said, there they
were, the family, eating dinner off a table. The only thing is,
the table was upside down, and the legs were sticking up in the air,
and the food was on the underside, and they were all sitting on the
floor around it. What they did is they used the table to fit into
their cultural system.
This happens all the time with teaching. The reason it's important to know that is not to discourage you, that you can't improve teaching, but to realize that you can't improve teaching by writing a document and printing a whole bunch of copies and sending it out to everybody. And, sure, the same is going to be true for the report this commission puts out. There's going to be a report, it's going to get printed, but that alone is not going to change what teachers do in classrooms. It may lead to things, hopefully, that do change what teachers do in classrooms.
[See Slide 9] Let me move on now to the final part
of my presentation and talk about improving teaching. I want to
go back to the point I made at the beginning. I said, it would be
a tragedy if you make your work into solving the problem of how to get
different kinds of people into the classroom. That is important,
improving the quality of the teachers is important. But, it's not
going to be enough, and in fact, it's not going to solve the problem of
improving the methods that happen.
Right now we can go back and we can say, actually, there are
two other kinds of improvement, or ways that you can improve
teaching. The second way is to improve the competence of the
teachers in the classrooms. Now, I want to make the point here
that of course you want teachers in the classrooms to be as competent
as possible. But, in the TIMSS video study you saw many examples
of competent teachers, competently implementing limited teaching
methods. And I think that's how I would characterize the teacher
I showed you today. This is a competent teacher. He's warm,
he's well liked by his students, it's got a good climate. But, he
has a very limited view of what mathematics is, and limited teaching
techniques. So the point I want to make is that improving the
competence of teachers also is only going to be another little bit of
the way. What we need to do is figure out how to shift the
methods that teachers are using.
QUESTION: Have you compiled any evidence that shows
that when teachers are brought in, let's say from industry, and outside
of the educational realm that it's actually improved in teaching, or
doesn't improve the teaching competence by showing that they have more,
as this fellow here said, they have more of a business orientation and
you have them work as more in discovery rather than the typical
I haven't done a formal study, but I can tell you from personal
experience, they teach just like everyone else teaches, because you put
them back and say, now you're a teacher. And they go, I'm a
teacher, so they start acting like a teacher. It doesn't matter
how they acted in business, they're going to act like a teacher when
they get in the classroom. So I don't think you're going to see
any big difference in the kind of teaching methods that they use.
So really the key, and most Americans I think would rank
order these in the order that I've listed them. They think the
first thing is to get really good teachers in the classroom. Now,
beyond that it would be nice to give them a little in-service and let
them improve their competence. And most Americans don't even know
what you mean when you say, well, let's improve the methods. What
I want to urge you to consider is totally changing the order of
these. The most important gains are going to be made by figuring
out a way to improve the teaching methods that are used in
classrooms. Beyond that, improvements in competence will
definitely follow. And beyond that, we're going to be dealing
with the teachers that are in the classrooms right now. Any
policy we try to implement to recruit different kinds of people in
teaching, I don't think they're going to work, necessarily. And
also, it's going to be a very hard thing to do, it's going to take a
long time. The best way to recruit better people into teaching,
by the way, is to give them a professional life, is to let them become
members in a profession with a professional knowledge base, and that's
what you get when you improve teaching methods.
So the point, the main point I want you to understand today,
which I highlighted is that the key to long-term improvement is to
generate – figure out how to generate, accumulate, and share
professional knowledge. What we desperately need is a knowledge
base to underlie the teaching profession. And we do not have this
today. One of the things I want to say that's a great tragedy is
we have 3 million teachers out there, some of them are outstanding,
they didn't get to be outstanding because we trained them well.
They didn't get to be outstanding because they participated in
professional knowledge base, they got to be outstanding because they're
just outstanding people who went into their classrooms and learned from
their own experience. The biggest tragedy that I think we face is
that we have no way to learn even from those teachers.
There is no way for an excellent teacher to share what they
know with other teachers and so we can't possibly improve. Yes,
individual teachers can improve, but unless we can figure out a way for
them to share what they know with other teachers, then each new teacher
will start new. And yes, the ones who work extra hard, the ones
who are extra smart, some of them are going to be excellent teachers,
and they're going to figure out what to do. But again, we have to
keep starting over each time.
Deborah, did you have your hand up?
QUESTION: I just want to respectfully also say that
improving teaching methods I think is extremely critical, but also
helping teachers and educators find a way to internalize those methods
is critical. Because I know we've done training in the summer,
and somebody may implement a program and use teaching methods that are
very effective, and then not really internalize them and carry them
over to the classroom throughout the year.
Good. That's a very good point. And I'm going to come back
to that as soon as I move on.
QUESTION: When you talk about improving methods, the
implication is that maybe we know what good methods are. And,
I'm going to address that in just a second, too.
QUESTION: And something else I hope you'll address is,
what advice would you have to those of us in universities in terms of
preparing the next -- I mean, what do we need to do in order
to put teachers in the classroom who are adept at these new methods?
Okay. I will answer that in a second because I have an
answer. Let's take one more question, Diane, and then move on,
because I'm afraid they're going to kick me out here.
ANSWER: You're fine.
Really. I'm used to being kicked off.
ANSWER: You've negotiated a good deal, Jim.
Yes, go ahead, Diane.
QUESTION: You talk about the key to long-term
improvement is the generating, accumulating and sharing of professional
knowledge. You already mentioned that in Japan one of the
mechanisms for sharing this accumulated professional knowledge is
through the textbooks that, in fact, reflect this, and there's other
resources available that teachers can go in. And you've alluded
to their time for collegial discussion. Would you elaborate other
kinds of mechanisms they have for doing that?
Yes. I am going to do that. In fact, these are all the
things I was just about to say, so maybe I should just go on and say
it, and then ask questions.
[See Slide 10] Okay. So, how do you do this,
how do you improve the teaching methods? That's really the
key. And I want to talk about two different approaches. One
is the old approach, and one is what I would call a better
approach. So the old approach is, as the questioner there pointed
out, assumes that somebody knows the best way to teach, and in
particular it assumes that it is researchers who know the best way to
teach, people like me, for example.
And, most people think that the biggest bottleneck in
improving teaching is not that we don't know how to teach, but it's how
to get that message across to the teachers and everybody will tell you
that. You know, if we could only find a way to get them to
understand what we're saying. But see, they're not smart
enough. And that's one of the reasons why people say, you know,
we need better people in the classroom because people who are
researchers go out and say, I need somebody who understands what I'm
saying. Well, part of the problem is, most researchers don't
really know that much about what's going on in classrooms. And a
lot of the ideas that come up with actually aren't useful to particular
classroom teachers. And that's one of the problems.
But there are some other problems also. Another problem
is that -- well, same problem, researchers really aren't the ones
in a position usually to know what's the best way to improve teaching
in the classroom. And finally, there just aren't very many
researchers. There might be a few thousand researchers out there
trying to figure out how to improve teaching techniques, but there's
three million teachers out there. The work of coming up with
enough good ideas to improve teaching methods isn't going to come from
The other thing I want to point out though, is that we have
to get beyond this idea that anybody knows the best way to teach.
We should be agnostic on the best way to teach. A great
opportunity exists now because we have so many states adopting
standards for learning. What this should do is focus us not on
what's the best method, but the best method of teaching is the method
that helps students learn the most. That is how we should define
good teaching. And we should not seek an end to that. We
should stop, you know, back and forth from old math to new math to this
and that, and start implementing a system where we're not going to
argue in favor of any particular method. What we're going to do
is develop a system where any idea is worthy of being tested. And
if it helps students learn more, it's an idea we're going to work more
with, and we're going to perfect. And if it doesn't help students
learn more, we're not going to do it, even if our ideology tells us
it's the right thing to do.
QUESTION: One of the things that I thought of in a
meeting we were in last week that really relates to what Jim says, and
there is hope. Jim has worked with some of our teachers and after
having an opportunity to reflect on watching different strategies, they
have gone back and worked together and looked at what they want to do
in the classroom. But in all of our meetings in the last week and
this week, we continue to hear about the medical model. And it
finally dawned on me where Jim is talking about refining better
techniques. In the 1950s when my father had cataract surgery, we
lived in Ohio, and they had to take him to Michigan to have the surgery
and they put his head between two cement blocks on a bed for two weeks
so that he had this recovery time. And, unfortunately, I
inherited that trait from him, and I've had to have a number of
cataract surgeries, and I've gone into the hospital at 9 a.m. and I'm
out by noon.
The medical model has said we have taken strategies or
techniques, and we've built upon them for a number of years and
continuously refined them so that the practitioners can use them.
And it seems that on numerous occasions we're prepared to throw
everything out and start over again as opposed to refining these
concepts and using them, as Jim has said, in an eclectic way, to use a
variety of strategies that have continuously been refined, and I
thought that one medical model really spoke volumes about what it is
that we're charged with doing.
Thank you, Paul.
Now, a better approach, the one that I want to argue needs to
be considered, is more like what we see in Japan, the lesson study
movement in Japan. What it does is, it says teachers have to play
a central role in the development of professional knowledge. We
need to figure out a way to capture the knowledge that teachers are
developing, capture their experience, and let them generate,
accumulate, and share knowledge among their colleagues.
Now, some people would say, you know, this is never going to
work because teachers are the whole reason we're discussing it in the
first place. And to them I would simply say, first of all, I
disagree. But, second of all, whether you think teachers can do
this or not, there's really no one else who can do it. Because
teaching is such a cultural activity, and so highly contextualized,
there's no one -- you cannot go around the teacher.
There is no one else who is going to be able to observe what teachers
observe and come up with the ideas that teachers come up with.
Now, yes, people can -- teachers don't only learn from
their experience, they can get ideas from a lot of different
sources. And even from researchers. But ultimately, whether
some idea is going to work to help students learn more in classrooms is
going to have to be something that teachers are part of
discovering. There's no way we're going to be able to get around
Now, I want to talk just a little bit about lessons
studied. But I'll take Deborah's question first.
QUESTION: I guess I don't see the dichotomy between
those two. The teachers will play a central role in helping to
identify practices that are making a difference with kids, play a role
in identifying parts of the work that people can't see, all these
things you've been talking about, language, the fact that it's complex,
strikes me that you're right that teachers have to play a central
role. But that doesn't seem at odds with the notion that we need
disciplined study of teaching, which is what research can
contribute. Without that, we're very likely, especially given
your argument about the cultural embeddedness of the practice, to
simply give a high status to some practices that don't work because it
won't be necessarily situated in a disciplined approach to figuring out
whether certain techniques actually do work for kids. It seems to
me you'd want to argue for something that combines these two.
Well, I do. And I always argue for something that combines these
two. But the problem is, I think this dichotomy is important
because the first approach is so ingrained. Most teachers don't
believe they should have any role in improving teaching. They
think when they go to an in-service they're supposed to have somebody
tell them what's the latest, and what's the greatest. They don't
take responsibility for that. And I think that that we have to
really counteract because we're wasting so much information that we
Yes, we do need disciplined study of teaching, and that is
going to play a part of it. [See Slide 11] And one of the things that I want to
talk about for just a few minutes is lesson study in Japan because it's
an example of the kind of system that I'm talking about that's actually
In the book we talk about it, and I don't need to go into
great detail, but the key of lesson study in Japan, and this is
something that 99 percent of all elementary school teachers in Japan
participate in, about 50 percent of all middle school teachers, is that
teachers participate in lesson study groups. And what lesson
study groups do is, they meet together two to five hours a week.
And their focus is on improving teaching in their classrooms, that's
what they do in a very concrete way. And the way this work goes
is, first of all, they get together and they plan a lesson. And
usually they'll only do one or two lessons a year, so it's a very
intense process, and I brought some pictures that one of my graduate
students gave me who spent a year with a lesson study group, and just
here's a picture of teachers in a Japanese school. And this is a
very typical activity.
Now, in front of them they have detailed lesson plans because
they use lesson plans not to write in their books so a substitute will
know what to do, not to write in their book because the principal is
going to inspect it later, but they use it as a planning tool to
actually think through how instruction can be improved. And these
lesson plans are about 10 or 15 pages thick. And they go through
the lesson in such detail that you can't imagine.
For example, this group spent three hours talking about
whether, this was in first grade, they were going to learn subtraction
with borrowing for the first time, and they spent three hours talking
about whether they should do the problem 12 minus 7, or 13 minus 7, as
the first problem. And they had an amazing discussion where they
thought through, well, these are the 12 different things a student
might say. And, oh, some students may misunderstand it. And
they actually went through. And that's the level of planning they
[See Slide 12] When they're done planning the lesson,
they go into the classroom and teach it. One of the teachers
teaches it, and all the other teachers watch. And you can see
they're all fanned out here observing what the students are doing
during the lesson. They collect the students' work, they look
over the students shoulders, and 90 percent of their discussions about
these lessons have to do with how did students understand the
instruction that we planned? How is it helping them learn what we
wanted them to learn?
So, what's unique about this is that they're trying to
improve teaching by directly studying teaching, not by going and taking
a course on child development or technology or cognitive science in a
college, but by going into the classroom and saying, let's take this
lesson, and see if we can make it better. They teach the lesson, [See Slide 13] and then they meet to go over what happened. And here's
some pictures from a meeting, and this is a meeting in a school where
this is the second time they've taught this lesson.
They invited all the teachers in the school to come, and
there were about 70 teachers in this school. We don't have a shot
that shows all of them. But what's interesting here is, first of
all, that's the principal of the school on the top. Every teacher
in this school is there to hear about this first grade math lesson, the
principal, the vice principal, the music teacher, the art teacher, this
was the key most important thing going on in this school was the focus
on how to improve teaching. And the guy on the bottom, by the
way, is a researcher. He's a consultant who was called in to
watch the lesson and to provide his feedback, and so on. So,
Deborah, there is a role in their system for university-based
Now, at the end of this whole lesson study process, these
teachers write the report. And these reports are the story of
what they did. Here is the lesson plan we first planned.
Here's what happened when we taught it. Here's the problems that
occurred, some of the students didn't get this, some got the wrong
idea, they developed a misconception. Here's our hypothesis about
why this didn't work. And here's a solution we're going to
propose. Then we redid it with the solution, the revised lesson
plan is there. Then we tried it, and here's what happened the
next time we taught it. Did it solve the problem? Hey,
maybe we're right about what we thought was the root of the problem.
Now, if you go to any bookstore in Japan, you can see shelves
and shelves of books written by teachers, products of lesson
study. So that if you're a teacher in Japan, you can buy books on
how to teach all the different parts of the Japanese curriculum.
Whatever part you're struggling with that year, whether it's fractions,
subtraction, geometry, proofs, you can find books written by teachers
that explain the results of their lesson study. And this is the
way they accumulate and share the professional knowledge base.
Now, in Japan, it's a lot easier because they have a national
curriculum, so any particular lesson that the teachers choose to work
on is immediately shareable and it's shareable because that lesson is
going to be taught by other teachers throughout the country. So,
they really have an interest in finding out what your lesson study
group learned about how to teach that lesson.
Now, what can policymakers -- and the other thing I
wanted to say, by the way, is I was just in a meeting two days ago and
heard a whole bunch of presentations by the superintendent, the
principal, and a teacher from District 2 in New York City, which has
something very similar to this going on in their school. They
decided, their whole focus was going to be professional
development. And the focus of all their professional development
is how to help students learn more.
They started this 10 years ago, they went in, they took every
student, they looked at where they were, and they said, what can we do
to help them? We're going to organize ourselves around figuring
out how to do that. That's what the teachers do. The
principal's job is to help teachers do that, help the teachers get
together and figure out how to help these kids learn. The
superintendent, their job is to help the principals help the
teachers. And they've made remarkable gains.
Often people say, we can't do that here because it's
Japanese, and we're not Japanese, which is obviously true. But
what's interesting to me is that the Japanese never take no for an
answer, they never say, we can't do that here because it's
American. They say, that's an interesting idea, let's study it
and see if that would help us. I think we need to have an
attitude more like that.
Well, what can policymakers do to help all this happen?
I think there are three things that I want to leave you with.
First of all, the emphasis on standards and assessments is really,
really important. And I think that you've got to affirm that in
the recommendations that come out of this commission because if you
don't have clear standards for what you want students to learn, this
kind of professional knowledge-based development can't occur. The
only criterion by which we know something is an improvement in teaching
is if it helps students learn more. So that's very important.
Second of all, there need to be incentives provided to make
work by teachers on improving teaching a significant part of their work
week. This is something that more and more people know.
There are a lot of schools now that have teachers getting together,
collaborating, trying to improve the instructions going on in their
school, and everyone who does some of this sees the value instantly,
and the teachers see the value instantly.
The problem is, most school districts say, it's impossible to
find any time for our teachers to get together and work. They're
too busy teaching. That's what we pay them for is to teach.
Incentives have to be put into place so that professional development
is seen as not something extra that teachers do in the summer, or go
back to a university and do, it's something that's part of their work
week, and has to be built in. And this somehow needs to be
Finally, using the kind of technology that I've demonstrated
here today, I think that there could be a national role in developing
an archive of professional knowledge about teaching that includes not
only written reports, but also videos, and teachers’ explanations of
what's going on. We need a way to capture this knowledge, and it
seems to me that something that a nation could do is begin to put
together such an archive.
[See Slide 14] So, in conclusion, and then I will
take as many questions as you want to ask, but I do want to stop,
teaching quality can only be improved inside the classroom.
Teachers have to be part of this process any way you slice it.
And we shouldn't continue to waste the experience that they have.
Currently, we have a lot of experience and no way to profit from it.
We need to move beyond these ideological wars about what
people think they want to happen inside classrooms and, instead, ask
ourselves this question, 50 years from now, will we be able to look
back and say, you know, teaching has gotten gradually better over the
past 50 years. Unfortunately, today, we really can't do
that. We can't look back and say, you know, teaching has gotten
gradually better, there have been some real advances. Fifty years
from now, we ought to be able to do that, and that ought to be a major
goal of a commission like this is to figure out how we can ensure that
that will happen.
And, finally, developing this professional knowledge base I
think needs to be a national priority.
So, that's all I prepared to say and I'll take as many
questions as you have.
QUESTION: How much of this is a national policy in
Japan that this is the way they will teach, and it's put out, and
that's they way they do it, standardized all over Japan, and how much
of it is left up to individual teaching schools, and so on?
And the other, you haven't really brought in Germany.
You mentioned in the book Germany, and I wonder if there were serious,
if there were major differences there also?
Yes. Well, you know, one of the things interesting about Germany,
we didn't know this when we first started the study is, they don't
actually do that well in mathematics. Their achievement is not
that high. And in many ways, they're teaching looks a lot like
our teaching. There are some differences, but that's the reason
we haven't focused on it as much.
But your other question is really interesting, which is how
policy works in Japan, and it's a very interesting situation in Japan,
where there is top down policy, there's no question about it. But
there also is a great deal of feedback up from teachers that influences
national policy. And one of the ways this happens is through the
network of national schools in Japan. There's 100 national
schools in Japan and they're kind of like laboratory schools. But
the way the government uses them is like this, the government in Japan,
the ministry of education puts out new curricula and new teacher
guidelines, and so on, every ten years. And they're always
thinking about five years ahead.
So if they have an idea, like right now a good example is
technology. They're very interested in how to, in figuring out
how to use technology in their classrooms. Now, what they do is,
they put out a directive to their national schools, and it's always
very vague. It says, we need to find ways to use technology in
classrooms to help our students understand mathematics more deeply.
In these national schools all over Japan, teacher groups get
together and they read this stuff, and they go, what does that mean
"technology," and they don't know, and they talk about it.
They're usually vague. They say, deep understanding, what's deep
understanding? They talk about it. And then, they develop a
lesson study group to focus on the issues that the national government
has asked them to focus on. The results of what they learned five
years later ends up getting built into the national education policy.
So, yes, it's a national policy and centralized, but it's
highly influenced by feedback up from teachers. It's a very
QUESTION: What's your assessment of the teacher
preparation programs in our colleges and university, and is what we're
doing in these programs compatible with what you think needs to happen
in the classroom?
Well, I'm not an expert on teacher education programs, but most
teachers don't think teacher education programs help prepare them very
well for teaching. I went through a teacher education program,
and I don't believe it prepared me very well for teaching. I
think that teacher education programs also largely take place outside
the classroom. Now, part of that is because they must. They
take place in universities. Yes, I think we could improve the
focus on practice in teacher training programs, we could use more video
and have one of the things that teachers-in-training could learn is how
to analyze classroom practice and talk about it. They could learn
a shared language from talking about what happens in the classrooms and
analyzing it, and trying to envision ways to improve it.
But the key is probably in-service training. In Japan,
they don't do any better at pre-service training than we do. And
most Japanese teachers don't think they learn very much from
pre-service training. The difference is, that's most of the
training American teachers ever get is what they got in their
pre-service training. The rest is sink or swim. The
difference is, in Japan, they jump in and they have a lifelong path of
learning, a place that they can continually be working to improve their
knowledge, improve their skills, and so on.
By the way, I want to say something, Japan, the teachers in
these groups believe that the main thing they're doing there is trying
to improve teaching methods for the nation. They don't believe
what they're doing is trying to improve their own skills. But of
course, they do improve their own skills in these groups. The
group that my students studied, one of the teachers was a first year
teacher. He said, she didn't really say a word the whole
year. Maybe she said a little bit. But what she's doing is,
she's getting socialized into a profession that values reflective
inquiry on what's happening in classrooms, and studying how to improve
it, and that's what that teacher is learning.
QUESTION: Jim, could I have, I think we will limit
questions to the commission members here for a little while. We
have about ten minutes left here, and I appreciate the interest of
other people here, and that's great. Your questions have been
good. But let's limit this to commission members here for the
remaining 10 minutes of the questions.
QUESTION: In your book, you made reference to the fact
that the Japanese in their classrooms have all of the students from
high to low range. What about gifted and talented programs, and
special ed kinds of programs that we have here in America, do they have
those in Japan, and how does it affect the instruction?
For the most part, they don't have those kinds of programs, although
they think they need those kind of programs more and more. They
have people constantly studying our educational system because they
worry they're not doing enough for their gifted students, for
example. But, for the most part, they don't have those kind of
And that saves a lot of money. I mean, in a Japanese
school, all the money goes to classroom teachers. They don't have
special teachers particularly. They don't have janitors.
The kids clean the school themselves. They get together every day
and scrub the school. There are no janitors in schools.
They don't have cafeteria workers to serve lunch, the kids go get the
lunch and serve the lunch every day. The kids clean up after the
So, Linda Darling-Hammond, who I understand is going to talk
to you this afternoon, has some statistics on percentage of staff in
school that are actually in the classroom, and we're one of the
lowest. We're like 43 percent of school staff are in the
classroom teaching students. In Japan, it's closer to 70 or 80
QUESTION: One of the things I think we need to
understand about the Japanese study groups, and the Japanese teachers
is that they actually go into the universities before they can ever
enter teacher training with a lot more knowledge of math than our
teachers have. And I think having that knowledge enables them to
do more in study groups from this knowledge base, but especially at
elementary and middle school. What most of our elementary
teachers lack and many of the middle school ones. And I think
that issue is one that actually has to bring the commission to talk
about issues of certification, and although the focus on the teaching
and the instruction is prime, I don't think we can neglect those other
things that impinge upon teaching and what teachers know and why they
are able to do the kinds of teaching that they do.
Yes. That's true. And now you're going to get us all
depressed about how we don't know enough math. And part of this
is a chicken and egg problem. I mean, the only way our students
are ever really going to learn more math is if we do a better job
teaching math to them. And this is going to take a very long time.
However, I just want to say that I don't think it's true that
if teachers just take more math courses, they're going to be better
math teachers because the knowledge it takes to teach mathematics is
not the same as knowledge of mathematics. But, yes, you have a
very good point, because our students knowledge of mathematics is very,
QUESTION: I agree with that. And I think there's
a very good exposition of the kinds of knowledge that the teachers need
about math in Liping Ma’s book.
QUESTION: I would like to make a comment on this
teachers lesson groups. It appears very similar to the QC
circle. In fact, this has been proving so successful in the
manufacturing industry, was invented in the United States in the 1960s,
but nobody followed that in American industry. But the Japanese
perfected it in their industry, and in the 1980s, and they became so
successful. U.S. immediately going back to implement the QC
circle, exactly a quality control circle, found the people on the front
line, and now you ask industry, it increases the productivity and
efficiency tremendously. I think this is very similar.
I think it's a very important point, and the idea is so simple.
It is the people in a position to know how to improve the qualities are
the ones right there doing it. So, give them that as part of
their job is to study what's happening and figure out how to improve it.
QUESTION: There are two things that really resonated to
me as I listened to you. One was when you talked about how in all
of our years we've learned this culture of what a teacher is, and that
we immediately become that, and I thought how true that was when people
want to teach me new methods that I should be using in my classroom,
they always use the old methods. So, the lesson I got on how to
individualize instruction was done by lecture, that when I was done
listening to the lecture, I was supposed to go back in my classroom and
implement an individualized approach to students. So, it hit that
all of a sudden I understand why, because as soon as they got in front
of this group of teachers, they immediately got into the mode of
teacher, and into that culture that says, this is how you present it.
The second thing that really hit me is, when you were talking
about and showing the slide or pictures of the teachers working in
groups, it goes to how we define what is the work of a teacher.
As I listened to you, and your emphasis about the key to long-term
improvement of generating and accumulating this professional knowledge,
and the teachers have to play a key role, that has to be their
work. But in our systems, that's now how they define my work as a
teacher. My sister, before she was a judge, was a practicing
lawyer, I used to tease her that lawyers bill you for more time than
when they're in front of the judge or jury. They have work that
they are, it's their work to prepare for that. But as a classroom
teacher, they often see my work is the only time I'm working is when
I'm in front of the students. And so I only work six hours a day,
because I'm only in front of the classroom for six hours a day.
But if we only paid lawyers when they were in the courtroom, they would
be a lot less expensive.
They'd raise their hourly rates then.
QUESTION: But what you demonstrated by those pictures
in Japan, it is the work of the teacher not only to present lessons to
students, but to cultivate and develop that professional
knowledge. They weren't doing that on Saturdays and evenings
after teaching six hours. That was part of their work. And
that is a cultural change that has to occur in order for us to
implement what you call the key to really changing the quality of the
instructional methods that occur.
Very good point, very well taken.
QUESTION: Playing off of that same idea, could you tell
me just a little bit, I think it's a remarkable, remarkable process in
Japan, other than the instructional emphasis on the research roles that
the teachers do play, what sort of non-instructional responsibilities
do those Japanese teachers have?
Well, it depends on the grade level, and the school. But, a lot
of them do have a lot of non-instructional responsibilities.
Japanese teachers spend a lot of time on things like sports day,
children's day, special days and celebrations and so on that they're on
the committee to work on. It takes a lot of time. But, in
Japanese elementary schools, well, there’s two big differences.
One is they only teach about four hours a day on average, in front of a
classroom. American teachers teach about six. But, the
other big difference is, Japanese teachers are at school nine hours a
day, that's a big difference from American teachers who are at school
six-and-a-half to seven hours a day.
So both of these things are part of the problem. I
mean, yes, we need to build more time into the work week of American
teachers, but if teachers are really professionals there is no other
profession where people only go to work and stay there six-and-a-half
hours a day. Now, yes, what teachers do is they go home and they
work till 11:00 at night, getting ready for school the next day.
But, that is a different kind of work, that's private work. And
what's key in Japan is the value placed on collaborative, public
work. It's a very public process.
GLENN: We're going to have to end this pretty
soon. Two more questions then we're going to have to call a break
QUESTION: I had the great pleasure of visiting several
schools throughout Japan as a math teacher, and observing the same
things you were doing. I found that the pressure was on exit
exams, so even though students were not tracked, they were tracked by
the results of their exams. So I'd like to hear your thoughts on
their exams. The issue that we have with social promotion with
our kids’ attitudes, thinking, well, I'm going to pass anyway, and not
having the national or the state exams.
Well, that’s very interesting. Obviously these exit exams in
Japan have a huge influence on everything that happens before.
But, one of the things we found in our study is that the focus on
testing is, it's there in America. That's what we see in our
classrooms. I'd say 90 percent of the lessons we looked at, at
some point the teacher talked about a test, a test on Friday, you don't
have to take the test if you got your quiz problems right. We're
moving the test up next week because of the vacation. We never
saw Japanese teachers talking about tests. Tests are part of
Japanese life, but they're not part of classroom life. That's all
part of what makes you go to school with the right attitude and work
hard and study hard.
And they do have social promotion in Japan, because they have
the test at the end of ninth grade to get into high school, you always
go to the next grade in Japan. Now, at the end of ninth grade,
you may get tracked off into a vocational track, and you know that can
happen. But, before that nobody gets held back in Japan.
I'm not saying it's good or bad, that's just the way they do it,
although there's a lot of problems with -- it's easy to say
end social promotion, it's much harder to actually make a policy that
makes sense, and actually helps students learn more and succeed.
One more, yes?
QUESTION: There's much written about the pressure that
young Japanese girls and boys experience in their school years.
And I wonder what's known, or what can be known about how that connects
with the way in which teaching is done, or are there so many different
kinds of cultural influences that you can't really sort that out?
In other words --
Are you saying that maybe they feel more pressure because of the way
QUESTION: I'm asking whether we know anything about
Well, actually, there's a lot of pressure that American students feel
also. In fact, if you look at indicators of mental health, you
know, school phobia, and psychosomatic illnesses, and all kinds of
stuff like that, psychological problems, American students are probably
under more stress than the Japanese students. But, they're under
stress about completely different things, you know, girlfriends,
boyfriends, drugs, sex, violence, safety and so on. So it's very
important to put this whole stress thing in context. But, you
don't see evidence of Japanese kids under stress.
I mean, one thing I've learned from doing research in Japan
for almost 20 years is that you can't ask the Japanese to tell you how
serious their problem is, because they have -- everything is
terrible, they are a very self-critical society, you know. They
go, our schools are terrible, they're awful. I remember a few
years ago somebody was talking about the dropout problem in Japan, and
how terrible it was. So somebody -- and they had
newspaper articles, the front page, and kids were dropping out of even
elementary school in Japan, it was so bad, the pressure. And
somebody went and did a study of the percentage of students who
actually drop out of school in Japan by the end of 10th grade, it’s
like one-quarter of 1 percent, or something, compared to, say, 20
percent almost in the United States by that time. So you've got
to be really, really careful in listening to the Japanese tell you what
their problems are because we have much bigger problems, we have huge
problems, and most of them have nothing to do with teaching.
Shall we take one more?
GLENN: One more, that's it, that’s it, one more.
QUESTION: In the U.S. there has been a lot of emphasis
on girls dropping out --
Let's take two questions.
QUESTION: There's been a lot of emphasis on girls
dropping out of math classes, particularly in the middle years because
U.S. kids are interested in boys and as they're developing, is that
true in Japan? I think we’ve addressed a lot of that
problem. Are there are lot of girls going into math, and how do
they do in math?
One thing you ought to realize is Japanese kids hate math, they don't
like math. They think it's the hardest subject in school.
American kids like math, all the way up until they get to the end of
elementary school, and they think it's a lot of fun and it's very
easy. Japanese teachers think math is the hardest thing to
teach. American teachers think math is the easiest thing to
teach. But, they don't allow the girls to drop out of math as
early in Japan as we do here. So they get through more
curriculum. But, you have to understand that they don't love
math. They really don't like math. And that's a
problem. They don't like math more than we don't like math.
QUESTION: I think one of the issues is that for
policymakers is that many times I don’t think there is an understanding
of assessment and I think oftentimes policymakers may take that issue
QUESTION: And tie it to that's how they will grade
teacher performance and teacher pay. And then when you do that, I
think what happens, teaching methods and creativity go out the window,
because you begin to teach to the test and teach so that students
perform, so that your school doesn't end up graded as a low performing
school, if you will, in a certain area. What would you say, or
how do you address the issue of keeping the assessment and standards,
what makes them important, but not to the point that you are really
tying them into teachers in the classroom?
Well, two things, one is make them better. This is our first
draft at standards that states are adopting now. A lot of them
aren't very good. And a lot of the assessments don't match the
standards, and a lot of the assessments don't really measure things
that most people think are important. So let's make those
better. I don't think we should say, because teachers in Texas
are teaching to the test, therefore we shouldn't have tests. I
think that would be a big mistake. But, the other thing is,
people have to realize that teachers right now are doing the best that
So it doesn't make sense to go, in my view, and say, we're
going to pay you less because your students didn't learn as much, or
we're going to pay you more because your students learned more, because
the teachers have no idea of what they're doing that made their
students learn more or learn less. So it seems to me that we've
got to just drive home the fact that although standards and assessments
are important, they don't tell you how to improve, all they do is tell
you whether you are improving or not. And you've got to look
somewhere else to find out how to improve. And we just have to
keep saying it, I guess.
QUESTION: Part of the point that you made in terms of
improving the model was sharing knowledge, people can't share things
that they don't have, just like you can't teach what you don't
know. And if this is going to work there's got to be a very, very
significant increase, across the board, particularly in the elementary
schools in the math or science courses before they even start
majoring in education as a lot of people do. Can it work any
People always need to get smarter. I mean, that's true. The
smarter we are, the better we're going to do.
Thank you very much.
(Applause and end of video.)