Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Embedding Professional Learning Through Lesson Study

Michelle Flaming, Math Consultant, ESSDACK

There are many forms of professional development available for teachers today. One of the most under used, but most effective, is the Lesson Study. Lesson studies are used on a weekly basis in many other countries. Those countries,according to TIMSS, out-performour students in the area of mathematics. This type of professional development is as much a norm in their country as our one-day back to school in-services are in the United States. This article will discuss what lesson studies look like, the purpose, and the benefits of this type of professional development for our professional teachers. We will also look at a specific example of how a lesson study was used to improve the mathematical learning of fourth graders in a Kansas district.

Lesson study is job-embedded professional development. Teachers, usually from the same grade, sometimes not, get together to discuss student learning and misconceptions. Seven teachers are gathered around a table in the workroom of a Kansas school. They are preparing for their first lesson study. They have looked over their assessment data and realize that all of their classes scored poorly on the measurement benchmark. “Why do our kids have such a hard time with measurement and reading a ruler?” is the topic of conversation.

The seven teachers design a purposeful lesson that should address measurement, and more specifically, reading a ruler. As the lesson gets finalized the teachers then decide on who will teach the lesson created by the group. As the group prepares the lesson to be followed easily by the presenting teacher, they also decide on who will observe and take notes on which students.  As the lesson is presented, teachers watch their individual students, taking notes on what the student understands and the student misconceptions.

About 15 minutes into the lesson, a student misconception, caused the lesson to take a turn. It became very clear that students were misreading a ruler because 1. They didn’t understand the concept of an inch. (The inch is the space between each of the lines.) 2. They were counting the number of lines on a ruler not the spaces. The teachers couldn’t wait to get out of the room to tweak their measurement lesson now that there was a better understanding of the misconceptions.

The lesson was tweaked to address this newfound knowledge, and the teachers decided once again who would present the tweaked lesson this time. The teachers choose another classroom and followed the above process with the modified lesson. Students in this classroom had the same common misconceptions but the lesson was now focused on addressing the real misunderstandings. As the seven teachers left the room and went back to the break room to discuss their findings many articulated that this was the BEST job-embedded professional development they had ever experienced in their entire professional life.

Fast-forward six months, students are now scoring higher than in the past on this state assessed benchmark. The apparent solution to an existing problem was teachers working together to improve their teaching and students’ mathematical learning.

What?  The job embedded professional learning called Lesson study originated in Japan as a cycle of instructional improvement focused on planning, observing, discussing research, and drawing out their implications for teaching and learning more broadly.
Why? Lesson studies focus on the heart of professional learning: what happens in the classroom between teachers and students.  As professional learners, teachers study and collect data on the supports and barriers to students’ learning. Lesson studies are teacher-led processes that allow teachers the opportunity to think about the goals of lessons, deepen the knowledge of content and instructional pedagogy, strengthen collaboration with other teachers, and create continuous dialogue about learning.

How?  Lesson study is a simple idea that can be conducted in so many different ways. Below is a set of steps that most lesson studies follow.

1.      Form a Lesson Study Group – It is best if this group (four to six) is a willing group that is focused and committed to learning. Trust is a major factor, so time is needed to develop ground rules or norms and to build a collaborative group. It often works well for teachers from the same grade or similar grades to be a part of the group.

2.      Focus the Lesson Study – The group needs to determine the short and long term goals for student development and also determine the content area and topic.

3.      Plan the Research Lesson – Don’t start from scratch. Begin by using existing curriculum materials and enhance them. Whenever possible, build on the best available lessons.  Teachers should try the lesson, by putting on their student hats, and anticipating student thinking. Where might the misconceptions be?  Does this task work on the concept and goals of the lesson? 

It is then important to make a data collection plan. Determine who will watch which students, what are we observing? The specific data collected will depend on the study team’s goals.

4.      Conduct the Research Lesson –One team member teaches the designed lesson and the rest of the team members closely observe student learning, behavior, and misconceptions agreed upon from the planning process.  As hard as it may be, only the chosen team member should be teaching the lesson.

5.      Reflect on the Research Lesson –The goal of this time is NOT to evaluate the teacher but to share data on students’ responses to the lesson. Protocols or agendas for this discussion should be made clear so all members understand the purpose and desired discussion.

The teacher who taught the lesson speaks first and has a chance to reflect on the challenges in the lesson. Other members then share the data they collected. After each has had an opportunity to share, they should discuss common themes, possible problems, changes that need to be made, etc. An hour is usually sufficient for this step.

6.      Planning Next Lesson Study –Lesson studies are not just a one-time professional learning opportunity; they are ongoing. Members should consider what they have learned about the subject matter, students, and instructions, and should determine what the group would like to do next. What are the next steps?

In conclusion, lesson study is a job-embedded professional learning that puts the decisions back into the hands of the professionals – the teachers. Jackie Hurd, a U.S. teacher, said of lesson study:

“One of the things that I really love about it is that it puts a professional part back in teaching that we have to battle all the time … being able to say, ‘This is like a science, and we can figure these things out and get better at them.’”


Powerful Designs for Professional Learning – Second Edition

Lesson Study: A Handbook of Teacher-Led Instructional Change (Lewis)
Can You Life 100 Kilograms? (

Does lesson study have a future in the United States?  Lewis, C (2002)

Lesson Study: a case study of a Japanese approach to improving instruction through school-based teacher development. Yoshida, M (1999)

Lesson Study Project (

No comments:

Post a Comment