When in Japan last week, I (Clive) was able to gather some opinions on “Japanese lesson study,” which to a degree is being advocated in other countries as well as Japan. Briefly, it involves a teacher preparing a lesson, perhaps with help from others, teaching the lesson with colleagues looking on, and subsequently getting feedback from those present (other than the students) on the lesson and its delivery.
During a visit to an elementary school, the principal told me that those doing the teaching don’t enjoy the experience, though he is inclined to think that on balance it is useful. At a teacher education institution I learned that student teachers have to engage in lesson study as a key element in their final practicum. A teacher educator commented that the student who is “on show” typically feels under extreme pressure, is unable to sleep the night before, has to keep entirely to a script submitted beforehand, and is subjected to strong criticism afterwards by fellow student teachers, notably for diverging from the script. She clearly wasn’t keen on the process, at least as implemented in pre-service programs she is familiar with.
It seems to me that collaborative lesson development has to be handled very carefully, in Japan or anywhere else. Discussing with colleagues what and how to teach has enormous potential benefits, and many teachers in our longitudinal study are in favor of it. However, a friendly, collegial atmosphere must be established; it should be made clear that each teacher is in the end responsible for their practice; appropriate departure from what is planned should be applauded rather than condemned; and there should be no expectation that all teachers will teach the same things in the same way. This is in keeping with important general ideals of teaching such as constructivism, flexibility, individualization, and teacher professionalism.