Posted by: Bill Lord | January 24, 2010

Lesson study

taken from I have been talking a lot recently about the lesson study model of collaborative
classroom based CPD – this has been in my work delivering CPD, working with
teachers in schools and more recently in discussion on Twitter with my PLN.

The lesson study has its origins in the Pacific rim and most widely in Japan
where  it is seen as the main medium of school improvement CPD where it is called kenkyuu. The best definition is taken from this blog post on Teaching expertise
In a lesson study process, groups of teachers identify an area of need in pupil learning and progress in their classes that is need of improvement. They then enquire into developments in teaching that are likely to have an impact on this aspect of pupil learning.

The group spends between one and three years working together:

  • planning interventions in lessons which may improve pupil learning
  • teaching and collaboratively closely observing these ‘research lessons’
  • carefully discussing the outcomes, and
  • writing up what happens – ‘failures’ as well as ‘successes’.

This is a very focused form of CPD and promotes the teacher as a learner and researcher, indeeed, research shows that Japanese teachers tended to have a more sophisticated subject knowledge of mathematics than teachers in other countries and part of this was attributed to the lesson study model. There are many other factors which could be attributed but this is worth considering.

Since 2003 there has been significant work taking place in England on introducing an adapted model of lesson study in to both Primary and Secondary education and the National Strategies has put funding into school budgets to enable them to use it as part of their CPD model in recent years.

In the English model teachers work together having decided upon a focus for the lesson study. The models I have seen have started with a question of ‘How can we make the teaching of X better?’ This has led to an enquiry led approach which has concentrated on a group of targeted children

So two or more teachers work together, developing practice in the classroom, focus on the needs and learning of real pupils and trying to solve a teaching or learning based problem which is affecting pupil progress. They engage in developing a teaching technique which is designed to improve a specific aspect of learning for identified pupils. With my literacy hat on I often work with teachers who take the focus of Guided Writing or the modelling of writing in shared writing.
The teachers plan the lesson (or part of a sequence) collaboratively using the idenitified approach with three ‘case’ pupils at the forefront of their thoughts. These children will be representative of others in the class.
It is important to note that there is not a sense of one colleague leading the other through the process. The emphasis is, as stated earlier, on exploring what will make the teaching something better rather than someone a better teacher. This is an important nuance as it is a more supportive process. how many times have teachers had Heads tell them that they ought to observe a colleague and, rather than seeing it as supportive, have presumed that it is an accusation of not being as good as them? I do like the move of emphasis on to process for this reason.

Once the planning is completed one of the teachers teaches the lessons whilst the other observe with a clear focus on the case pupils’ learning. This allows them to explore how the strategies and  collaboratively planned approacheshave impacted on learning.

After the lesson it is advised that they carry out a post lesson discussion. The recommendation isd that this is within 36 hours but I would personally recommend on the same day if this is possible. This ‘post match analysis’ involves comparing what had been planned for the pupils’ learning and their progress with how they were observed to learn and the progress made. There is an important discussion at this point accounting for any differences.
The group of teachers agree and record what has emerged which might inform teaching  or further study lessons. After a seres of two or three or more study lessons the group identifies points learned about the pedagogic approach which could be used across the school.
In Japan when an important technique has been developed it is shared through a public research lesson where the lesson is re-taught before an audience of teachers from neighbouring schools who watch the lesson and then engage in a discussion with teachers and pupils. This is possible as it is a core part of their culture of school improvement.
There are always dangers of adopting successful approaches wholesale from other countries as too often we ignore the cultural and historical factors which have made them possible or successful but the amended approach which has been trialled and used in England has been positively received and has had impacts on pedagogy in schools.
If you wish to know more this Teachers’ TV clip is worth watching whilst these pages on the National Strategies website are very useful:
I have been the question  whether this process is limited to Literacy and Mathematics. The funding at present is centred on core subjects but the benefits are not limited to those subjects particularly when the focus is on key pedagogies. It would be very interesting to see a Lesson Study group working on the use of technology to aid the learning of a key concept.
Having posted this yesterday, I have returned as I think that it is important to discuss the financial implications of the lesson study approach. It, obviously, has implications for supply cover to allow two or three teachers to meet, plan and develop the lesson or sequence, work together in the same lesson and then undertake the follow up tasks. The schools that I work with who have undertaken one cycle of lesson study have all moved onto a second cycle. This is because they believe that it had an impact on learning and teaching and ultimately on the pupils.
There is a chance that the impact could actually be through the raising of standards through scrutiny. What I mean by this is if a school has a clear focus on one area, gives it a high profile through CPD and lesson observations then it is going to concentrate the mind of the teacher. This leads to less slippage in lesson time, more of an emphasis on the progress of the children and often, in my opinion, a raising of standards.
If one also considers that the school will not be paying for teachers to attend external CPD as well it does make the cost of the approach less onerous.
Lesson study is new to many schools but it should be seen as an extension of Collaborative CPD strategies such as coaching and mentoring.

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