You are on page 1of 21


DR. CHEAH UI HOCK Research & Development Division, Southeast Asia Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO) Regional Centre for Education in Science and Mathematics (RECSAM), Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, 11700, Gelugor, Pulau Pinang

Abstract Countries that have been successful in science and mathematics education point to teachers as a common and crucial factor in raising the level of student achievement. Teacher development is therefore a priority area as Malaysia strives to become a developed nation by 2020. While much of the in-service teacher development today has been focused on the increase of teacher knowledge, more thought and consideration need to be given to teacher support so as to enable teachers translate the newly acquired knowledge into classroom practice. Recently many countries have reported improved teaching and learning through the implementation of the Lesson Study approach. Through Lesson Study teachers improve through collaboratively planning, teaching, observing and thoughtful reflections of live research lessons. This presentation discusses a conceptual framework outlining the rationale, aims, features and benefits of incorporating Lesson Study as a school-based teacher development programme with the aim of helping teachers improve the quality of teaching in the classroom. __________________________________

Introduction Malaysias Current Status in Science and Mathematics Achievement In order to ascertain the status of science and mathematics education in Malaysia, it is perhaps pertinent to examine the performance of the school children in international studies. This would paint a clearer and updated picture of how Malaysian students fare as compared with their peers from other countries. Tables 1 and 2 presents the mean scores of Grade 8 students in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) for selected countries from 1999 to 2007 (Martin, Mullis & Foy, 2008). The standardized international average score for the TIMSS is 500. It is observed that although Malaysias mean scores remain above that of Thailand and Indonesia in 2007, its mean scores dropped significantly from 2003 in both the Mathematics and Science achievement tests. In order to remedy the situation it is imperative that all stakeholders take note of the TIMSSs indicators and find ways to improve science and mathematics education in Malaysia. While many may argue that tests such as that provided by TIMSS do not provide a complete picture of the status of science and mathematics education in the 2 participating countries, nevertheless the results do provide some indication of where Malaysia stands as compared with other participating countries. Albeit, the empirical results from TIMSS uses rigorous statistical analysis and thus provides reliable information as a source for discussion.

An Important Factor for Improving Mathematics and Science Achievement: Teacher Development The question that emerges as we look at the data from TIMSS is, How do we improve? There are of course several factors that influence the performance of students. Whilst different countries attribute the success of their performance in TIMSS to various factors ranging from, textbooks and careful structuring of the curriculum as in the case of Singapore to Confucian Heritage as in Hong Kong (Stacey, 2009), it is widely acknowledged that teachers play and important part in the success of science and mathematics education in all countries. Two high performing countries in the TIMSS and the Program for

International Assessment (PISA), namely Japan and Finland points to teachers and teacher development as the main factors for their outstanding results (Stacey, 2009). Mindful of these important factors, this paper seeks to look into the conceptual frameworks of one professional development program that has been successfully used in Japan in improving teachers skills knowledge and attitude, namely the Lesson Study. Preparing our Students for the Future Over the last fifty years, we have witnessed the world shift from the Industrial Age to the Information age. Its effect is that the workforce today requires more than just the skills that were sufficient fifty years ago. While school children still need the twentieth century skills to read, write and do arithmetic (the 3Rs), more is required of them to be able to fit into todays human resource needs. Todays 21st Century skills include critical thinking, problem-solving skills, computer and technology skills, and communication and self-direction skills (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2008; UNESCO, 2008). These new foci are continually included and emphasized in the Malaysian curriculum. The Malaysian Mathematics curriculum, for example, aims to develop individuals who are able to think mathematically and who can apply mathematical knowledge effectively and responsibly in solving problems and making decision. This will enable the individual to face challenges in everyday life that arise due to the advancement of science and technology (Curriculum Development Centre, 2003; p.1). The Malaysian curriculum in fact emphasises communication as well as critical and creative thinking. The main concern however is managing the curriculum so that students acquire these skills in the process of schooling. Are students being nurtured in developing these skills in the classroom? In-service Teacher Training Managing the curriculum includes disseminating information as well as the professional development of teachers so as to empower teachers to be able implement the curriculum well. There are two common ways of in-service teacher training: Formal training and school-based training. In Malaysia the formal mode of training which utilizes the cascade model is often used primarily because it is deemed to be more cost effective as more teachers can be trained within a short period of time. First, master trainers are trained at the national level. The master trainers in turn train other trainers at the state level who then train other teachers at the district level. The cascade model of formal training although useful in the mass training of teachers, however has its limitations. Often training is conducted off-site and teachers after having attended the training courses still find it difficult to implement the curriculum in actual practice. In short, the cascade model alone is not able to support teachers and help them overcome the difficulties in actual practice. School-Based Training School-based training is on-site and is initiated at the school level with the purpose of directly addressing the needs of the school. Table 3 compares the different purposes and roles of formal training and school-based training. Thus, school-based training can be used to supplement formal training. Teaching difficulties and classroom problems can be resolved through the school-based training. This paper posits that the in-service development of teachers only becomes complete when school-based training is implemented in conjunction with formal training.

Lesson Study One school-based training approach that is becoming increasing popular in many countries is the Lesson Study. Lesson Study originated from Japan and has been used as a teacher development approach to improve teaching and learning for over a hundred years (Isoda, et al., 2007). The concept of Lesson Study runs parallel to the idea of Kaizen where workers come together to brainstorm and solve problems at the workplace. The main features of Lesson Study are: 1. Shared long-term goal. The teachers come together to discuss and decide the long term-goals in an area which they hope to see improvement. 2. Focus on lesson content and subject matter. The foci of the lesson observations are the lesson content and subject matter. 3. Careful observation of students learning in lesson. The classroom observations focus on the students learning, rather than just emphasizing how the teacher teaches. 4. Live observation of lesson. Classroom observations are done live with real students who have not been taught the lesson before. (Lewis, 2004) The Phases in Lesson Study There are four phases in the implementation of Lesson study as shown in Figure 1. Teachers come together as a group to first study the curriculum and to decide on the long-term goals to focus on for improvement. The group then plans the research lesson either individually or collaboratively and even when this is done individually, peer assistance and advice are often sought. In the planning process the teachers anticipate student thinking. One member of the group then teaches the lesson while the other teachers in the group observe the lesson and make notes. A post lesson discussion is then held to reflect on the lesson and to suggest how it can be improved

Lesson Study shares close similarities with Action Research. Both approaches emphasize planning, implementation, the conduct of the action or the lesson, and reflection. There are however some differences (see Table 4). One main difference is that while Action Research utilizes various research techniques in collecting the data on which the subsequent reflection is based, Lesson Study depends primarily on peer observation as the main mode of data collection. Further, Lesson Study tends to be more collaborative rather than individualistic. The main advantage of using Lesson Study is that Lesson Study focuses on the improvement of the lesson through the use of lesson plans and peer observation, tasks which are the core business of teachers. It reduces the necessity to educate teachers on extraneous research techniques (as would be required in the case of Action Research) which do not form part of the teachers everyday work.

Benefits of Lesson Study Teachers who take part Lesson Study are able improve their skills, knowledge and attitude through continuous increments. The teachers are thus able gain confidence in their teaching as they hone their skills and knowledge through Lesson Study. These instructional enhancements take place because the Lesson study approach encourages teachers to: 1. Think carefully about the goals of a particular content area, unit, and lesson 2. Think deeply about long-term goals for students 3. Study the best available lessons 4. Learn subject matter 5. Develop instructional knowledge 6. Build capacity for collegial learning 7. Develop "the eyes to see students (Lewis, 2004) Conclusion and Recommendation The Ministry of Education in Malaysia must be commended for its continuing and tireless efforts to improve science and mathematics education in the country. The Malaysian science and mathematics curriculum is reviewed and updated once every few years so as to reflect new trends in science and mathematics. Much time, effort and resource have been given in revising and updating the curriculum and the training of teachers, in addition to providing a first class infrastructure to the schools. Yet there still seems to be a gap between what is envisaged in the curriculum and what is practiced in the classroom. While the country can boast of an up-to-date curriculum, the main concern is that the implemented curriculum, that is, what actually takes place in the classroom might be vastly different from what was intended in the curriculum. Teachers are the root and the foundation of the success of curricular change. True educational reform takes place only when teachers through commitment make changes in their classroom practice. To understand any new changes in the curriculum teachers need to be coached in order to develop and hone new teaching skills such as to engage students in scientific and mathematical discourse. It is thus recommended that teacher support in the form of a school-based

teacher development program be put in place. One such program, which has proven to be a success in Japan, and is becoming increasing popular in many other countries is the Lesson Study. Teachers in Japan attribute the improvements in their teaching skills to Lesson Study model of teacher development (Stigler & Hiebert, 1999). It is perhaps timely to recommend and suggest that the final piece of jig-saw be put in place so that Malaysia can truly harness the young minds in the schools today in order that they can become the main driving force of the new economy as envisioned by the nation (National Economic Advisory Council, 2010). It is imperative that young minds are nurtured so that the learning of mathematics and science includes the processes of thinking, discourse and reasoning as stipulated in the curriculum. This task, however, will necessitate that teachers acquire new skills and hone old ones so that they will be able to guide students to be critical and creative and to be able to think scientifically and mathematically. Training courses alone will not be enough. It is only through effective school-based teacher development programs such as the Lesson Study that teachers can improve their knowledge and skills. It is therefore an opportune time to incorporate Lesson Study as a teacher development program in Malaysian schools. References Curriculum Development Centre. (2003). Integrated curriculum for secondary schools: Curriculum specifications Form 2. Kuala Lumpur: Curriculum Development Centre. Isoda, M, Stephens, M., Ohara, Y. & Miyakawa, T. (2007). Japanese lesson study in mathematics: Its impact, diversity and potential for educational development. Singapore: World Scientific. Lewis, C. (2004). Does lesson study have a future in the United States? Retrieved on 20 October 2008 from Martin, O.M., Mullis, I.V.S., & Foy, P. (2008). TIMSS 2007 International mathematics report: Findings from IEAs Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study at fourth and eighth grades. Chestnut Hill, MA: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center. National Economic Advisory Council. (2010). New economic model for Malaysia: Part 1. Putrajaya, Malaysia: National Economic Advisory Council. Retrieved on 11 June 2010 from Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2008). 21st century skills, education & competitiveness: A resource and policy guide. Retrieved from Stacey, K. (2009). Mathematical and scientific literacy around the world. In U. H. Cheah, et al. (eds.), Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Science and Mathematics (CoSMEd 2009), (pp. 1 7). Penang, Malaysia: SEAMEO RECSAM. Stigler, J. & Hiebert, J. (1999). The teaching gap: Best ideas from the worlds teachers for improving education in the classroom. New York: Free Press. UNESCO (2008). ICT competency standards for teachers: A policy framework. Paris: UNESCO

Second Science & Mathematics Education Workshop for Stake-Holders 2010 Meeting the Needs of Rural and Innovative & Creative Teaching in Science and Mathematics 6 8 July 2010 Tang Dynasty Hotel, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

What is our current status in science and mathematics ? Preparing our students for the future: 21st Century skills in Maths and Science How do we improve? How can teachers acquire knowledge of teaching Outline of teacher education in Malaysia Lesson Study: The way forward for in-service teacher education




Chinese Taipei Japan Republic of Korea England

569 550 549 538

571 552 558 544

561 554 553 542

United States
Australia Malaysia

514 492

527 510 420

515 471




1999 Chinese Taipei Republic of Korea 585 587

2003 585 589

2007 598 597

Japan England

579 496

570 498

570 513

United States
Australia Malaysia Thailand Indonesia

509 519 467 403

505 508 411

496 474 441 405

20th Century skills: reading, writing, mathematics 21st Century skills: critical thinking, problem-solving skills, computer and technology skills, and communication and self-direction skills Developing human resource needs of the country towards the NEM

Teachers Teachers Teachers

Pre-service training In-service training - Formal training - School-based training

Pre-service Training In-service Training

National Trainers
District Trainer District Trainer District Trainer

District Trainer District Trainer

Teacher Teacher Teacher


Senior Teacher Teacher Teacher


School A

Senior Teacher

Teacher Teacher

District/State Level Committee

School B

Formal Training
Often Initiated at the National Level Address needs from the national perspective Useful for transmitting information from National to school level National ownership of training program

School Based Training

Initiated at the School Level Directly address school needs

Useful for solving issues at classroom and school level

School teachers have direct ownership of program

Derived from two Japanese words: jugyokenkyuu () Jugyo = lesson ; kenkyu = study/research





Study 1. Study Curriculum 2. Consider long-term goals for student learning and development Reflect/ Discuss 1. How did the students learn? 2. How can the lesson activities be improved? 3. What can we do for the next lesson cycle?

Plan 1. Plan research lesson 2. Anticipate student thinking 3. Plan observation, data collection

Do Research Lesson 1. One member teach 2. Others observe/ collect data

Shared long-term goal Focus on lesson content and subject matter Careful observation of students learning in lesson Live observation of lesson

Lesson Study

Action Research

4 phases: Plan, Teach, Observe, 4 phases: Plan, Act, Observe, Improve Reflect Focus on improving the lesson Focus on improving action in a variety of school related problems Basis of Evidence/ data collection: Research techniques More indivualistic

Basis of evidence/ Data collection: Observation by fellow teachers Collaborative

Continuous incremental improvements of teachers skills, knowledge and attitude Teachers become more reflective of curriculum, content and lesson Improved collegiality within the school Improved personal discipline Improved morale among teachers

Many years ago, at Sipitang in Sabah there was a very strong and skilled woodcutter who asked for a job with a timber merchant.

He got the job with a good salary and decent work conditions. And so, the woodcutter was determined to do his best for the boss. His boss gave him an axe and on his first day, the woodcutter cut down 15 trees. The boss was pleased and said: Well done, good work!

Highly motivated, the woodcutter tried harder the next day, but could only fell 13 trees. The third day, he tried even harder, but only 11 trees were chopped down. Day after day, he tried harder but he cut down fewer trees. I must be losing my strength, the Kayan woodcutter thought. He apologised to the boss, claiming he could not understand why.

When was the last time you sharpened your axe? the boss asked. Sharpen? I had no time to sharpen my axe. I have been too busy cutting down trees, said the woodcutter. He sharpened his axe and immediately was back to 15 trees a day. Since then, he begins the day by sharpening his axe.

The woodcutter does need downtime to rest, but it is not sharpening the axe. The woodcutter only becomes more productive by sharpening his blade, analysing new woodcutting techniques, exercising to become stronger, and learning from other woodcutters.

Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.

John Cotton Dana(18561929)