Exploring the impact of lesson study on the theory-practice gap in pre-service teacher education
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Studies of initial teacher education have repeatedly revealed a disparity between the theory taught in teacher education programmes and the subsequent practice of these teachers in the classroom (Allen, Butler-Mader & Smith, 2010; Cheng, Cheng & Tang, 2010; Korthagen, 2010). Defined by Cheng et al (2010) as the “inconsistencies between the selection of the best teaching strategies and the most commonly employed teaching strategies” (p. 94), this concept of the theory-practice gap is not new. However, despite vigorous attempts of researchers to address this problem it remains a central issue in teacher education today. This study seeks to examine if a curriculum specialisation in mathematics education, based on the principles of Japanese lesson study, can support pre-service teachers in bridging the theory-practice gap. Qualitative data was collected from a variety of data sources including; pre-service teachers’ lesson plans, reflections and presentations, observation of lessons taught by the pre-service teachers and interviews with the pre-service teachers. Analysis of the data revealed that lesson study is indeed an effective approach in assisting the pre-service teachers to bridge the theory-practice gap. Through this classroom-based inquiry approach and with continuous guidance from the mentors (teacher educators teaching the course) the pre-service teachers began to judge the success of their lesson based on student learning. This new focus on student learning enabled them to make vast improvement in both their lesson planning and implementation. In their lesson planning they demonstrated a greater understanding of important components of the lesson, they began to critically examine the representations they chose to teach the mathematical content and they displayed a more knowledge-based anticipation of students’ responses. In practice they developed a confidence in their use of constructivist teaching approaches, they improved their questioning and collaboration skills and they began to reflect more openly and honestly on their lessons.