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The Teaching Gap

This is one of the best books I have read when it comes to teaching. It really has made me consider deeply how I teach, and how I want to grow as a teacher.

“In Japanese lessons, there is the mathematics on one hand, and the students on the other. The students engage with the mathematics, and the teacher mediates between them.” p.25

“In Japan, teachers appear to take a less activ erole, allowing their students to invent their own procedures for solving problems.” p.27

In the U.S., teaching math has simply become “stating rules, rather than developing procedures, and thereby turning mathematics into a matter of following rules and practicing procedures.” p.46

Definition of mathematics: To learn to think logically while searching for new properties and relationships. p.49

In Japanese mathematics, 53% of the lessons contained proofs – learning them or writing them. As well, Japanese teachers will almost never give a solution to a problem when it has been posed. The solution is left up to the class to discover. The teacher will direct and prod, but never just give it away.

The second half of the book explores teacher professional development. In the U.S., reform comes often, with the change desired quickly. Thus, there really has been no change, because, as Stigler and Hiebert show, teaching is a cultural activity, deeply ingrained in the subconscious of everyone. Changing it does not happen quickly or easily, and as they show in an anecdote, even when a teacher thinks they have changed, they probably haven’t in a significant way.

In Japan, teaching has changed dramatically over the last 50 years because they don’t mind changing slowly, one lesson at a time. Each week, teachers are given time to get together to workshop one specific lesson. Bit by bit, talking, researching, experimenting, teaching it to each other, teaching it in the classroom and observing the results, they come to what they feel (for now) is the perfect way to teach that particular lesson (eg. multiplying fractions). They then compile, as a group, a official report, so that other teachers all across the country, can access what they have found. Over time, given patience (which the U.S. does not seem to possess much of), it is easy to see why teaching has changed and improved.

Oh how I long to do something like this, to collaborate with other teachers. Reform should not be given to some outside professionals sitting on the third floor of a university. It should be carried out by teachers.

Of course, this does nothing to change the system itself, but it is something that doesn’t happen right now, and would of great benefit to teachers.

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