Research and Reflections
Part 4 of What I Learned Observing Japanese Lessons

The Secret Sauce

Phil Daro was a lead author of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS-M) and works with teachers, districts, and developers to improve math teaching and learning. He has worked with SAP most recently on Math Milestones. He was invited by the Lesson Study Learning Alliance and Project IMPULS in Japan to spend 2 weeks visiting schools and engaging in workshops with Japanese and American mathematics educators focused on improving math teaching through Lesson Study. He shares his observations and work through this series.

The move: Students write in notebooks. Assign students to write their ideas about how to use math they have learned to achieve a clear and simple purpose like “compare” or “plan how to solve” or “show why…” 

And recall the work is done when the students have written enough ideas to talk about. Not when everything is completed. This allows the lesson to move on without having to wait for all the students to finish something unnecessary for learning. 

The key value of writing in managing differences among students stems from four things:

  • Writing is durable while thoughts and talk are ephemeral…fleeting. Durable accommodates the moment-to-moment asynchronous nature of attention. Distractions, daydreams, brain naps, and confusion spawn a steady cadence of interruptions for many students. When their attention reorganizes, what is written is still there while the talk has moved on without them.
  • Writing on the board should last all lesson long. It is the record of the lesson. Teachers here plan their board writing in advance. Two-thirds of the board space is reserved for student writing or teacher recording student talk. Students can see what’s going on whenever they need to by looking at the board. The assignment is clear, and the lesson summary is also clearly marked. Students write the lesson summary in their notebooks. 
  • Writing varies from student to student without creating pacing and management issues. One-word or number answers cannot vary beyond right/wrong, which creates unnecessary pacing and management problems. 
  • Student presentations are based on their written drafts. The presentations are not improv like in U.S. classrooms; they are prepared and revised using feedback from peers. Much more coherent. 

The move: Use student writing in notebooks and on the board as primary classroom management and lesson pacing tool. Plan board work ahead, and then adapt based on student responses to lesson.

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About the Author: Phil Daro was a lead author of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS-M) and continues to work on implementation and policy issues related to the standards.