Bromley Heath Junior School, Bristol
This two-form entry school with 240 pupils is situated in the north east of Bristol, in an area that consists mainly of private houses built in the 1950's - the school itself opened in 1959. For the year prior to the project, the school has promoted and developed a creative approach to learning throughout the school. In mathematics, all teachers have implemented interactive teaching strategies. Learners have been developing autonomy and control of their learning journey through a choice-based learning route in mathematics, based on the early years foundation stage curriculum model.
Aims and overarching theme for the lesson study cycles
To investigate how children apply their mathematical knowledge in different situations alongside interactive mathematical strategies.
How we set up the project
The lesson study project was designed to support all teachers. The experience of planning, examining and sharing knowledge and skills can build confidence. It aimed to allow teachers to experiment with what works and does not work, supporting them to develop as more reflective practitioners.
Bromley Heath teachers were new to lesson study and the Mathematics Subject Leader had regular telephone conversations with the NCETM external consultant to track and discuss progress. All eight teachers in the school were involved in two lesson study teams which investigated how children apply their knowledge of mathematics alongside the use of interactive mathematical strategies. The lesson study has involved two complete rounds, where staff met and planned a lesson, one teacher delivered the lesson (whilst three others observed the children) and then they met to discuss the outcomes, followed by planning and teaching a follow-up lesson. This process was then repeated for a second cycle.
Challenges we faced and how we overcame them
- Organising cover for the parallel classes whilst the lesson study lesson was taught and teachers observed it.
- Engaging all teaching staff with the project. At first, some staff felt that it would provide them with no development in understanding and therefore were slightly disengaged. These staff came on board with the project as it developed and they could see the positive information that it provided to them about children and the way they were learning.
- The children do respond positively to interactive teaching strategies, with high levels of engagement. However it was evident that if a number of interactive strategies are employed (either simultaneously or in close succession), this can lead to a reduction in engagement due to children becoming overwhelmed.
- Children employ a huge range of strategies to solve problems, often using methods outside of the formal strategies that they have been taught.
- The impact of the problem-solving activities on mixed-attainment groups. The lower attaining children were seen on more than one occasion to dominate the group and decide who could/should solve the problem. Whether this was simply down to characters or is apparent in other mixed-attaining group contexts is yet to be investigated.
What we have learnt
The lesson study cycles were very interesting for all participants. They promoted staff conversations, both within and outside of teams, about the way children learn and the value of employing interactive teaching strategies to engage children. The outcomes above also sparked debate about the development of teaching and learning in general.
Although the lesson study does involve a fairly heavy time commitment at first, this does become less so, as the process develops. The outcomes do warrant this, as they could not be achieved in ‘normal’ circumstances.
Top tips for other schools that wish to develop lesson study
- Be flexible in how you approach the project and expect the unexpected! Teachers are the ones who find the flexible staffing within a class (i.e. multiple staff observing others), more disconcerting than the children who are involved in the lesson. Teachers need to relax and not spend too much time worrying about how the children will respond. Children will surprise staff in the way that they respond to concepts and they will not be fazed by having more than one member of staff observing them.
- Allow adequate time for review of lessons and do not be too keen in rushing ahead to planning the next - the conversations that evolve and develop after the observed lessons are very important in helping to plan the next cycle of lessons.
- Be prepared for findings that are different from those you may have predicted in advance. Although these become easier to predict the more you are involved in this process, teachers can be stuck in their thinking and the whole process helps them to widen their understanding of children’s learning and therefore plan their teaching more appropriately.