Category Archives: lesson study

Why I love lesson study

I love lesson study.  I recently finished another cycle and I was thinking back to when I first learned about it. I remember talking with Sadie about my frustration of doing workshops and having some teachers say, “That sounds great and all, but I can’t do that with my kids.” Sadie pushed me to use lesson study as a way to help teachers see what their kids CAN do.

Adapting lesson study for the urban school I work with took some work. I spoke about the structures and systems we used at NCTM with an assistant principal, and dear friend, who has been a key player in making lesson study part of the school’s culture. Over the past two years, we’ve made modifications to lesson study that helped make it a sustainable initiative for the school.

Here’s the main reason I love lesson study: It is a vehicle for studying problems of practice. Many questions teachers and administrators have about teaching and learning can be explored in lesson study. Curious about how to adapt a new curriculum for your students? Let’s do lesson study. Want to explore how to do more problem-based lessons with your students? Let’s do lesson study. Want to explore how to help struggling students? Lesson study. It’s become such a part of the culture that that teachers will say, “I want to try out this idea I heard out, can we do a lesson study on it?”

I also love it because it’s collaborative. Too often, teachers are left on their own to solve problems of teaching and learning. Sure, they are helped accountable and given “feedback” during observations, but schools rarely provide them with the tools and support to examine the problems they are most interested in studying. Lesson study creates a risk free way to experiment with new ideas.

The same goes for administrators. Having assistant principals and principals involved in lesson study has been so helpful, even if they never taught math. They offer a different perspective to the group and they learn more about teaching and learning math.

It’s similar to what I love about research so it’s not a huge surprise that it’s the work I am so drawn to it.  It’s also been the most successful PD I’ve been involved in. Given that I believe we learn by doing, it makes sense to me that we learn more when we are engaged in doing the work of teaching and learning together.

Want to read more about lesson study?

Check out the lessons study group at Mills College.

Check out the lesson study group at Teachers College: 

Read “A Lesson is Like a Soflty Flowing River: How Research Lessons improve Japanese Education

Lesson Study

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I’ve been hearing and reading about lesson study for a long time, but I never had the experience to be part of one.  Luckily my work this year involves getting lesson study off the ground at a handful of schools.  It’s been an amazing experience. In fact, I think it is the best professional development I’ve been a part of. For those of you who don’t know what lesson study is, here’s how the Teachers College Lesson Study Research Group describes it:

“Lesson study is a professional development process that Japanese teachers engage in to systematically examine their practice, with the goal of becoming more effective. This examination centers on teachers working collaboratively on a small number of “study lessons”. Working on these study lessons involves planning, teaching, observing, and critiquing the lessons. To provide focus and direction to this work, the teachers select an overarching goal and related research question that they want to explore. This research question then serves to guide their work on all the study lessons.” 

I think part of the reason I love lesson study is because it aligns with my experience doing research, but it has a more immediate impact than the research that I am involved with in my academic life.

For me, setting the research question the team wants to study is the most interesting and important part of the cycle. It allows the group to really focus on an aspect of teaching and learning that they want to improve.

One school I work with is trying to shift to a culture of problem-solving.  They want to move away from the idea that in math class the teacher shows students how to do a procedure and students blindly follow it.  Instead, they want to build problem solving skills and perseverance in students so that students can build on what they know to solve problems.  As many of you know, this is a difficult change for students (and sometimes teachers) to make.

Lesson study allows us to struggle with this challenge together.  We can look at questions like: “How do we best allow students to productively struggle?” or “Which types of tasks build problem-solving skills?”  Having multiple brains to look at these questions in the context of a specific lesson allows us to build on the collective wisdom of the group. It also allows for the experience to be shared so that it isn’t about a particular teacher, but rather about a particular lesson.

Lesson study is some of the most interesting work I’ve done as an instructional coach.I can’t wait to share more in the weeks to come. I’d also love to hear about your experiences with lesson study.