DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And let's consider, for a few minutes, the life of a schoolteacher. It can be isolating - a lot of time spent with students, little interaction with other teachers. There are now efforts to change this. Here's Katrina Schwartz from member station KQED in San Francisco.
KATRINA SCHWARTZ, BYLINE: One person who feels that isolation acutely is Lauren Christensen, a third-grade teacher at Sanchez Elementary in San Francisco.
LAUREN CHRISTENSEN: You can just get so wrapped up in this own little world of yours with the students that you teach.
SCHWARTZ: Christensen and her colleagues are trying to break down the walls of the classroom.
CHRISTENSEN: How many eighths are equivalent to one-half? Ashley?
SCHWARTZ: So in the back of the room, two other teachers watch how her students react. For this lesson, Christensen decided to get creative. She designed a math problem about a video game, a topic she knows her students love. The game's character, Jeff, has to use fractions to crack a secret code to move on to the next level.
CHRISTENSEN: And the code is matching equivalent fractions. And so let's see - what fractions does he have? Four fourths, one third.
SCHWARTZ: It takes Christensen several minutes to get through the details of the story. When students finally get to work, some of them are struggling. I turn to ask one of the teachers observing, Marna Wolak, what sticks out to her.
Marna, I'm curious what you're seeing.
MARNA WOLAK: I see a lot of struggle right now.
SCHWARTZ: Yeah, I see one kid put his head down on the table.
WOLAK: Yeah, looking out the window - a couple are looking out the window. One put his head down.
SCHWARTZ: These teachers are doing something not totally common in schools. They're literally studying one another's lessons. The method is called - no surprise - lesson study, where teachers watch one another in action to figure out how to improve. It's been successful in Japan and Singapore for decades and is making a resurgence in the U.S., too.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: Jeff's equivalent fraction. I wonder what is that - because I don't know.
SCHWARTZ: What we're seeing is that Lauren Christensen's fractions lesson with the video games and Jeff and the code and the keys was too complicated. Some of the kids can't figure out what they're supposed to do. But she could have missed that without one of those other teachers watching.
CHRISTENSEN: All right, (singing) ba-ba-da-ba-ba. (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: Aw, I didn't finish.
SCHWARTZ: After the lesson, teachers gather to answer specific questions about how students interpreted and solved the problems.
WOLAK: So the next parts of the protocol are discussing as a group what this teaches about student thinking and learning.
SCHWARTZ: Here, Christensen is tapping into the expertise of her fellow teachers. She's getting specific insights about students she knows are struggling. And maybe most importantly, the whole process gets teachers out of their classrooms and working together on improving teaching.
CHRISTENSEN: It's really powerful to have other educators' ideas. And I always learn something new. And it always causes me to think in another way.
SCHWARTZ: But there can be drawbacks of lesson study. It takes a long time, and schools have to find substitutes and pay them when teachers are out of the classroom. Marna Wolak, who teaches fifth grade, says the results aren't always immediate, but that's not the point.
WOLAK: Our goal is higher student achievement, and we're not going to achieve that, I feel, working in isolation.
SCHWARTZ: And she says the insights she gains during lesson study carry over into her teaching every day. For NPR News, I'm Katrina Schwartz.
GREENE: And Katrina's story came to us from KQED's Mind Shift team.
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