The term ‘Lesson Study’ is used to describe a variety of ways of working and has a range of interpretations. Generally speaking, it describes a process where teachers plan, teach and develop lessons collaboratively. Lesson Study is a key feature of the way many teachers in Japan work, and has now been adopted in American and, more recently, in some English schools. The method can be used across all sectors from Early Years through Primary, to Secondary, FE and beyond.
Any initiative which has its focus on improving teaching should be welcomed, and Lesson Study places the power to change in the hands of the teachers involved. Lesson Study is more than teachers planning together and observing each other: it is a way of researching lessons and the learning that arises from them.
The model generally starts with teachers agreeing a focus for their lesson study: this involves thinking about the type of learner they want to cultivate. For example, teachers could describe their ideal students and choose an aspect of this to work with. This might be: ‘become an independent learner’ or ‘be a creative thinker’ or ‘focus on an aspect of the curriculum such as ‘understanding place value’’.
The second step in the process is to consider how the success of this focus will be recognised: for example, how will we know that our children have become independent learners?
Subsequent steps involve planning the lesson together, teaching the lesson with others observing, reviewing the lesson, and then re-teaching (often a different teacher doing so).
For teachers new to Lesson Study a good starting point would be to watch the How Many Seats? video produced by Catherine Lewis, shown at the NCETM International Research Conference in London in February 2007. This video is one of a series showing different examples of Lesson Study in practice in American classrooms. Once viewed, it can be used with colleagues to sow the idea of Lesson Study and the benefits which can emerge from taking part.
An article written by Pete Dudley, Director, the Primary National Strategy, 'The ‘lesson study’ model of classroom enquiry' gives an overview of the background to Lesson Study.
Derek Robinson, Head of Mathematics at Bishop Luffa High School, Chichester, has been involved in collaborative practice models for over a decade, and in the past three years has trialled Lesson Study methods. Working on this initiative with colleagues has led him to acquire a wide knowledge of the literature available, as well as a deep understanding of the nuances involved in putting Lesson Study into practice. Derek gives some insights in 'Is Lesson Study worth the effort?', which also gives access to his planning and observation sheets. The lesson study cycle is described by Robinson as having five phases. He quotes Lewis in reminding participants that it is easy to over-simplify the complexity of the work. Lesson Study is a very subtle and sophisticated process, and the cycle needs to be experienced on a frequent basis over considerable time to even begin to understand the nuances involved. According to Robinson, the process begins with deciding upon an overarching goal which attempts to bridge the gap between actual and ideal students. Once this is established the five steps are as follows:
- Step 1: Collaboratively plan the study lesson
- Step 2: Seeing the study lesson in action.
- Step 3: Discussing the study lesson
- Step 4: Revising the lesson (optional)
- Step 5: Research bulletins—a vehicle for sharing lesson study insights and strategies
The Primary Perspective
The processes described above are not specific to mathematics and can be used across the curriculum. This could be of particular use to Primary School teachers. If you are working in the Primary sector you might be interested in reading the following reports from some primary teachers who engaged in Lesson Study using National Strategy guidance and a focus on Number. You might also be interested in some NCETM funded work carried out at Upperthong J & I School, where the agreed focus was on problem solving activities using collaborative group work and promoting quality discussion.
The Middle School Perspective
If you work with pupils at Key Stage 2 and 3, you may be interested in reading about Middle School Lesson Study at Hexham Middle School who opted for Division as the departmental focus for this initiative.
The Secondary School Perspective
As a result of attending a NCETM event on Lesson Study, led by David Wright from Newcastle University, Andrew Gillmon, Head of Mathematics at Salford City Academy, decided to join forces with the Science department to plan and teach a lesson on Density to a Year 9 group. Andrew also drew on some ideas for cross curricular work given by Dr Colin Bielby (SAPS project) at the same event. Andrew subsequently led a workshop on his work at an Influential Mathematics Teacher event organised by the NCETM in Leeds in November 2008.
Salford City Academy: Lesson Study Resources
Salford City Academy: Information Sheets
The mathematics department at All Saints RC High School, York decided to focus on Trigonometry with top set Year 9 pupils. Comments from this initiative included:
‘It was great to work as a team and really get our teeth into a topic; the review sessions were great for my own personal development’
All of the pupils involved were positive about the lessons and enjoyed the ‘variety’ provided by having new teachers in the classroom. They also found the visualisation sessions interesting and a new experience.
‘We did visualisations quite a lot which was good; we’d not done anything like that before in maths.’ – pupil
Lancaster Girls’ Grammar School carried out an NCETM funded project centred around Lesson Study, the findings of which are published in the final report.
The FE Perspective
Lesson Study in Sussex
There was a workshop on Lesson Study at the 2008 NCETM FE Summer School, and you can read Jorj’s blog about Lesson Study in Sussex.
Lesson Study in the North West
Mathematics teachers at Wirral Metropolitan College wanted to know if pockets of excellent practice in teaching and learning mathematics can be transferred effectively, as part of a project 'Taking Action, Measuring Impact'. They decided to address this question by bringing together a team of maths teachers to work collaboratively to improve teaching and learning at Level 1 Numeracy. This included those that had been identified as demonstrating good practice.
Suggested further reading
- Lewis, C (2007) Educating Hearts and Minds, Cambridge University Press
- Lewis, C (2002) Lesson Study, RBS, Philadelphia
- Stigler and Hiebert (1999) The Teaching Gap, The Free Press, New York