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A Model of school system to develop the school-based curriculum and support CPD using reflection and action research

Rieko Iwahama
Akashi Kindergarten attached to Kobe University

Tadashi Asada
Waseda University

Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Warwick, 6-9 September 2006


All the schools must have the autonomy, therefore all the school teachers are demanded to develop new learning units.

In Japan, Ministry of Education reformed the National Curriculum in 1999, in which the Integrated Learning was newly established. However, Ministry of Education did not prepare for the textbook and the teaching materials for the Integrated Learning. Therefore each school had to develop the new learning units by itself, for example, environmental education, international communication, health and welfare education and so on. In this situation there is a critical problem that is all the school teachers are demanded to have the ability of curriculum development. As for this thing, Bloom pointed out the 5 major problems of curriculum development, 1) the professional knowledge about subject matters, 2) social background of students, 3) the attitudes of learners, 4) teaching methods, and 5) learning styles and the way of learning. The ability of curriculum development consists of reflective teaching.

However, in Japan, it‘s very difficult for teachers to develop a curriculum within the school. All the schools have a kind of In-service teacher training system, ‘Kounai-ken’, which has focused on the professional development for individual teacher, rather than served curriculum development. So each school has to establish the support and collaborative system for curriculum development.

Details of the support and collaborative system

As for this problem, in Akashi laboratory school we have been trying to establish the support and collaborative system to develop the school-based curriculum for 5 years.

In the first year(2000 school year), we asked a university staff, who specialized in teacher education and educational technology ,to support the Akashi laboratory school. He had introduced a lot of teachers how to do reflective thinking after lessons with making use of videos. He had asked a practitioner ‘Why did you do the teaching in this situation?’, ’How did you interpret this teaching situation?’ with watching the recorded classes. He had played the role to extract the practitioner’s thoughts. We called him ‘prompter’. The other teachers learned the way of the reflective thinking by observing this reflective process between the practitioner and prompter. This reflective thinking program was held in ‘Kounai-ken’ 6 times in this year.

In the second year(2001 school year), all the teachers were asked to write the reflection cards based on their own practice as long as they remembered after lessons every day. This approach is a kind of journal keeping(writing) method. The reflection card includes 5 view points, the date, the student name, the teaching situation (the facts), the teacher’s interpretation about the facts and what the student learned, Teacher’s interpretation is very important to develop the school-based curriculum, since it represents what the students learned from lessons and the teacher’s reflection thinking. The teachers were able to write the cards based on the Kounai-ken in the last of this year. By the end of this school year, they wrote totally about 4,000 cards. Next ,they classified these cards with the KJ method based on the point of what the student learned. They created 10 categories about student learning. Further they arranged these cards according to the student age in each category, and they grasped the process of what the student’s learning. As the result, they made the 10 tables of the learning process from the age of 3 to 15.

In the third year(2002 school year), they revised these tables with the same method. At the same time, some teachers tried out to develop 2 new learning units based on the student learning process in 2002 version Table.

Fig.1 The procedure of making the table of learning process

From the view point of professional development

This support and collaborative system has two purposes. One purpose is to support the professional development, especially focusing the reflective thinking and the understanding of action research cycle. Another is to support the school-based curriculum development. These two purposes are interdependent.

From the view point of professional development , this system demands the teachers to have the ability of reflection. However the Japanese teachers are not always accept to reflect their own practice. In Japanese culture the teachers tends to distinguish between ‘uchi (inside)’ and ‘soto (outside)’. They are open to the inside, but not to the outside. In order to reflect their own practice, they need to open their own thoughts to the outside. That’s why they cannot accept the way of reflection emotionally. In Akashi laboratory school some teachers understood the importance of the reflective thinking. They explained other teachers about the importance of the reflective thinking based on their own practiceo that some of other teachers gradually came to understand the reflective thinking and try it, too. After a while, it became a kind of the school culture to reflect own practice everyday. So the quality of the reflection became better. Consequently they were able to recognize the written cards among one another. Moreover in order to improve the reflection ability, the teachers are demanded to classify the reflection cards. We call this approach ‘double reflection’. With ‘double reflection’, they are able to become aware of the necessity of evidence which means ‘the facts’, and the validity of their own interpretation. Indeed, in the first year (2000) in Akashi Laboratory School, almost all teachers just wrote the cards. They were not able to recognize the importance of the facts. However, they became aware of the meaning of the facts after they classified the reflection cards.

From the view point of school-based curriculum development

With improving teachers’ professional development, Akashi laboratory school came to have a lot of information about the students’ learning. If each teacher had used the reflection approach to improve only their own practice, the reflection wouldn’t have led to the curriculum development. In Akashi Laboratory School, the teachers made ‘the Table of Learning process ’to share the reflective thinking among all the teachers. The purpose of the Table is to play a role that the teachers develop a new learning unit individually or in a group based on this Table.

The Japanese educational system is 6-3-3 system, which means elementary school for 6 years, from the age of 6 to 12, secondary school for 3 years from 13 to 15 , and high school for 3 years from 16 to 18. And kindergarten is for 3 years from the age of 3 to 5 . All the schools are controlled by the National Curriculum. However, this National Curriculum according to the 6-3-3 system does not always match to the students/pupils development. Therefore the government indicated some schools to research and to develop the curriculum from the point of connection between kindergarten and elementary school, between elementary school and secondary school and so on. The government asked the schools to develop the school-based curriculum with the integrated learning curriculum which had been established

Now in Japan the government regards the National Curriculum as the national minimum achievement, so that the government has encouraged all the schools to develop the school-based curriculum.

Fig.2 shows the process of developing and improving a learning unit through the reflection in ‘Kounai-ken’. This is a supportive and collaborative system for curriculum development. The process is below:

  1. To identify the objectives of a learning unit through the brainstorming among some teachers based on the Table of Learning process, the existing school curriculum and the National Curriculum.

  2. To make a learning unit (subject , materials , lesson plans ,the way of introduction ) based on assessment what students already know and the tables of Learning process and so on) ,and to discuss about the each teaching role during the lesson

  3. To implement a lesson plan

  4. To reflect the lesson and write the reflection cards down after lessons with asking ourselves ‘why’ ,based on the facts. For example, ‘why did I have concerned with this situation?’ ‘why did I think some students were bored during the lesson?’ ’What did the students learned indeed?’

  5. To discuss about the implemented plan and learning unit among some teachers based on the reflection cards and To make the revised learning unit plan

  6. To improve the Table of Learning process after accumulating a lot of reflection cards

Fig. 2 The process of developing and improving a learning unit through reflection in Kounai-ken

Case study: development of a learning unit between kindergarten and elementary school in Akashi laboratory school

Akashi Laboratory School tried to develop some learning units based on the Table of Learning process. We will introduce a learning unit, ’Doro Dango’, which is for the age of 5 (the last year of Kindergarten) and the age of 6 (the first year of elementary school). We created this unit in collaboration with 2 Kindergarten teachers, 2 elementary school teachers and a university teacher. Since then this unit has been improved based on the practice by many other teachers every year.

In Japan the National Curriculum for kindergarten has 5 domains, which are Japanese Language, Health and Safety, Human Relationship, Expression (to express by body, picture, music etc.), Environment (children have something to do with natural and social environments). The objectives of the learning unit ‘Doro Dango’ include the Human Relationship and the Environment domains. In addition, we had the Way of Life domain objective based on the Table of Learning process.

Summary of the developed learning unit ‘Doro Dango: a mud dumpling

< objectives/aims >

  1. To recognize the nature of mud, sand, and water while touching, mixing, and feeling them

  2. To invent how to make a better mud dumpling based on his/her experience while thinking about a causal relationship among mud, sand and water

  3. To show his/her mud dumpling and teach what he/she learned through making it to other students

< a period of learning >

From May to June

< the flow of lesson >

(1) The introduction: Whole class learning activity

...To understand the common objective to make a mud dumpling

(2) The development: Individual learning activity

...To make his/her mud dumpling according to one’s image, skill, awareness by trial and error

(4) The conclusion: Individual learning activity

...To reflect his/her own activity

The system of this project (show Fig.2)

Akashi Laboratory School consists of kindergarten, elementary, and secondary school, which are in the same place but in the difference school buildings. We developed the curriculum development system based on practice. As mentioned above, the key of this project was how it facilitated conversation among teachers. We used a mailing list

Fig. 3 The process of improving the learning unit ‘ a mud dumpling’

for conversation. In developing a new learning unit, we needed to share a lot of information about children on our practice At the same time we needed to have a lot of time to discuss about how to improve our plan and support based on the facts each class as soon as possible. The mailing list, which a university teacher (T. ASADA) introduced, helped us, kindergarten and elementary school practitioners, headmasters, a university teacher), to share a lot of information and to contact with each other without the liaison conference.

After implementing this project, we learned many things. What to learn as the kindergarten teachers is below:

  1. The age of 5 children can do the project learning in May, the early time of the school year, when the learning task is clarified. So far, kindergarten teachers believed children never did the project learning in May, according to their teaching experience.
  2. How they support children to clarify the task.
  3. Many viewpoints of teaching materials, for example the nature of mud, sand, and water. So far they tended to recognize or evaluate children’s activities from the viewpoint of human relationship and the way of tackling.
  4. It’s possible for the age of 5 children to prepare for materials from their own needs by themselves. So far, teachers always prepared for almost all materials and tools for children, for it says that learning environment is one of the most important thing in kindergarten education.

On the other hand elementary school teachers learned how to support individually and how to establish an effective learning environment for children to learn on their own initiative. They keenly realized it is important for them to understand individuals in detail and clarify the goal and the way support for each child.

Collaboration in ML

   The feature of this project is to use ML to facilitate the interaction among teachers. Fig.4 shows the order of utterance during this project.

Teacher D and Teacher F have the teaching experience about the liaison lesson between kindergarten and elementary school, so they are the node of conversation. Especially, Teacher F plays the main role of this project. It is thought she served as the mentor to other teachers. For example, she wrote ‘I think it is very useful for us to write how each child does in the class to discuss about the liaison project from now on.’ This is the role modeling as the function of mentoring. And Teacher D showed the teaching policy of the last project and asked them what the teaching policy of this project is. This is the function of coaching. In this way ML is becoming the field of mentoring.

Fig. 4 The order of utterance during project in ML

In Japan all the schools are required the autonomy, which means the system of developing and improving the school-based curriculum. In the process of developing and improving the curriculum, all school teachers have to make their own professional development continuously. We tried to establish the school system and develop the school curriculum. Consequently we found that the school system included reflective teaching system, and the mentors within the school developed the school-based curriculum and supported CPD.

This document was added to the Education-Line database on 15 December 2006