There’s a form of cogent professional development that requires teachers to collaboratively create, participate in, and reflect on a lesson. It’s called lesson study, and it’s research-based, student-centered, and eye-opening.
What Is Lesson Study?
In lesson study, one teacher teaches a team-crafted lesson while their team observes. I was on a team with two classmates from my online graduate course, but the number of teammates can vary. The lesson the team works on is called a “research lesson” because it’s grounded in the research and best practices that team members bring to the process after agreeing upon the learning goals. After discussions and improvements, a second teacher teaches the revised research lesson.
Catherine Lewis and Jacqueline Hurd outline the pedagogical benefits of lesson study in Lesson Study Step by Step: How Teacher Learning Communities Improve Instruction, and teachers can apply Lewis and Hurd’s four-step method of peer-generated professional development to incite powerful, thought-provoking discourse and reflection.
1. Creating the study curriculum and formulating goals: To begin the work of relationship-building, my two teammates and I discussed what our classrooms looked and sounded like. We determined our goals for our lesson, and voted upon a number of tasks that we felt were aligned with our goals. We agreed to use an instructional framework outlined in the book 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions to guide our lesson.
Our goal was to explore the first and fifth Standards for Mathematical Practice:
- SMP 1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
- SMP 5: Use appropriate tools strategically.
We settled upon Graham Fletcher’s “Array-bow of Colors,” a three-act task about using multiplication of two-digit factors to determine the number of Skittles in a jar. Our fourth and fifth graders knew various multiplication strategies but had no formal exposure to the standard algorithm. The strategy each student would choose would provide rich evidence about individual understanding of multi-digit multiplication.
2. Planning: Lewis and Hurd direct educators to find research content to support the focus of the lesson. This step creates the opportunity for teachers to deepen their content knowledge, share familiar instructional strategies, and create a bank of new ones.
This second step was critical to planning the research lesson because it required us to become aware of current research-based practices. Our research articles focused on types of questions that would facilitate, guide, and deepen our students’ thinking. We read, took notes on, and debated resources such as “The Importance, Nature, and Impact of Teacher Questions” by Jo Boaler and Karin Brodie, in order to apply our newfound information to our lesson.
We also took time to solve the task ourselves in as many ways as possible to anticipate student computations and misconceptions, create questions that we would ask to facilitate student thinking, and plan alternatives and extensions for struggling and advanced students.
3. Teaching the research lesson: In a normal lesson study, the teacher team is in the classroom for the teaching of the research lesson, observing and recording how student learning is impacted by the lesson design and how students react during the task.
Because my teammates and I don’t live in the same place, they were not in the room when I went first and taught it, so I recorded the lesson, which helped me critique myself. My reflections and the critical feedback of my teammates were both data for revising the lesson.
I asked several of the questions my teammates and I had generated together and recorded student work on an anticipation guide I had designed in order to connect the least sophisticated strategies to the most sophisticated strategies for the students.
4. Reflecting: In lesson study, teachers use things like student behavior, engagement, and interest level to analyze the depth of learning that has occurred. Reflecting requires teachers to discuss the supports they provided for students and, more importantly, to focus on the barriers to learning that may have been present in the research lesson.
Because we discussed the missteps in my execution of our lesson plan, my teammates and I adjusted (or retaught, in my case) accordingly to prevent these missteps from being learning barriers moving forward. These adjustments deepened our content knowledge as well, which is a compelling effect of lesson study.
Because I reflected upon the lesson from the students’ point of view, my focus remained on how to enhance their learning and thinking. Strengthening student learning allowed me to strengthen my own capabilities.
Lesson study allowed me to, as Lewis and Hurd wrote, view my instruction “through the eyes of students and colleagues.” It was a humbling experience, and it reminded me that even the best plans can be revised and enhanced.
Our lesson study was not quick—it took about four weeks. But there are shorter variations of lesson study that you and your colleagues can adopt.
If you decide to try a lesson study, I think you’ll find that it can help deepen relationships, provide impactful learning for both students and teachers, and serve as valuable professional development.