I recently read an article that was assigned in my doctoral program called “Teaching Between Desks.” The article describe an interesting practice that educators in Japan do in their classrooms on a daily basis. After a little bit of research beyond this article and asking educators in America I realized that most people are unaware of this practice. Although I found some articles on the practice and observations conducted in Japan by Americans, this way of teaching is unknown in the U.S. I thought it would be a great idea to share what I have learned and recently implemented in my own classroom about this practice.
An Instructional Practice
In the article “Teaching Between Desks” the author introduced a successful strategy used by Japan educators. The practice was observed by U.S. citizens through several videos that highlighted a strategy that is highly used in their school system. The practice called kikan-shido, or “between desk instruction,” shows a teacher walking around the classroom monitoring students as they worked. “For decades, Japanese educators have used this practice to engage students in deeper thinking around challenging problems and tasks (Skoda, 1991).
How it works
Prior to giving students independent work the teacher teaches a lesson that involves modeling and paired exercises that challenges students. The questions asked to each student promote higher order thinking. Differentiate these questions to fit the needs of each student. The questions also challenge students who are mastering the material and encourage the students that need it. The Japanese educators took the time to plan out these between the desk instruction prior to teaching the lesson. The questions they are asking are a part of the overall lesson plan. The four principal functions of kikan-shido are:
- Monitoring student activity: The teacher actively walks the room and between the desks to monitor student work.
- Guiding student activity: The teacher prepares the lesson through modeling and paired exercises before giving students independent work.
- Organizing materials and the physical set up: The teacher has a clipboard to take notes with the lesson plans in front of them on a tablet or printed paper.
- Engaging students in social talk: Students are working independently to practice the skills taught while the teacher walks the room and ask questions.
Similar Best Practices
You may hear this strategy and think that it is similar to some of the best practices we use in the United States. However, the intent of the Japanese educator is quite different from the practices we are currently using. While the teacher is walking the classroom the intention is to focus on the students and the independent work they are completing. The teacher will look over the students shoulder and hold one-on-one discussion, ask questions and give praise. The teacher does not give the student their independent work after teaching the lesson and they complete it on their own. Instead, the teacher is still active with the students through monitoring and assisting them as they work.
The “Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) drives this practice. Instructional Framework: this framework is geared towards moving students towards independence. The gradual release is the responsibility of instruction from the teacher to the student. It typically takes place in a linear process but doesn’t have to. Educators can begin at any point in the framework, which reads as a triangle whose components are:
- Focus lesson (I do it)
- Guided instruction (We do it)
- Collaborative (You do it together)
- Independent (You do it alone)
Each student moves throughout the framework as they master skills being taught. At times they made need reinforcement of the skill. It is the teacher’s responsibility to move students along appropriately.
Decision makers of the American education system believe the between desk instruction can benefit the teachers in America. With a demand of increasing rigor and higher order thinking among students this strategy may be another stepping stone. The simplicity of this practice makes it easier to begin to implement into your classroom or school today.
Teachers may feel that things are being added to their plate. Though this may be true at times, I believe this practice would be worth adding. It will only involve a little bit more planning. For example, a teacher’s lesson plan is laid out with step-by-step instructions on what they will be teaching for each lesson. The teacher will have to add in some question sets that they can ask students at each level. Using a clipboard or IPAD to track student responses or taking notes on the process of their work will only benefit the teacher later on when they have to make decisions about assessments, lesson planning and mapping.
What can we learn?
The teacher can learn how to expand the thinking of their students by asking them questions. It is important for the teacher to construct a clear image of where they want to take their students. This image will help them determine what they want the lesson to look like. Planning ahead is a huge component to making this practice work in the classroom. The process of teaching this practice will not come overnight. “Findings from a case study conducted on teacher change showed that it took at least three semesters for teachers to adopt and effectively implement a new instructional approach to a high school science classroom” (Emerling 2014). With consistency and follow through from the teacher, administrators and the district, this strategy can prove to be a useful tool for everyone involved.
What practices do you currently use similar to this in your classroom? Comment below and share your ideas. We would love to hear from you!
Ermeling, B., & Graff-Ermeling, G. (2014). Learning to learn from teaching: A first-hand account of lesson study in Japan. International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, 3(2), 170–192. Retrieved from http://independent .academia.edu/BradleyErmeling
Sakoda, K. (1991). Kikan-shido no gijutsu [The art of teaching between desks]. Tokyo: Meiji Tosho Shuppan Kabushikigaisha