Monday, June 30, 2008

Patrick- International Lesson Study

Last week, a delegation of 26 teachers and principals from 25 countries visited the junior high school where I am teaching. They spent an afternoon at our school, during which we had a presentation, followed by an opportunity for them to visit the students' classes.

The countries represented included about 5 teachers from Africa and the Middle East, 10 from Europe, and 10 from Asia. The program is paid for by the Japan Foundation, which is a generously funded government institute that, for example, can host $100/head dinner parties for these 26 and another 75 guests, plus cover the flights, trains, and a weeklong stay in Japan for all participants. Of course, if your country doesn't go to war and maintain a standing army then perhaps you have money for other things.

It was interesting for me to get to meet and talk to many of the visitors. Also, when asked "Where are you from?", it was nice that people actually knew where Indiana was. Aside: It gets a little tiring when Japanese teachers ask, "Where are you from?"->"The US"->"Where in the US?" but when they ask that second question they maybe only know one or two cities in the US, such as LA and NY, and can't put them on the right coasts. Unfortunately, US and Japanese students are about the same when it comes to total ignorance of maps.

For me, perhaps the most interesting part is hearing what people expected to see when they visit a Japanese school for the first time. Since I've been working here, and I studied the Japanese educational system, I have forgotten some of the things that people expect, for example an absence of chalkboards (and in turn LCD screens/smartboards/something fancy in their place). In fact, nearly every school in Japan still uses chalkboards, and not just for classwork but to collect the attendance for the day and other mundane things.

In fact, Japan uses very little "high tech" equipment in the schools, and that includes not just computers but TVs.

Aside from that, probably the other biggest surprises for people were the inability to fail and suspend/expel students. "Without those punishments, how would we maintain order in our classes?" one teacher asked.

One does wonder sometimes.

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