Why Lesson Study?
Too often, teachers’ professional development experiences are sit-and-get lectures with directives to implement practices that may not take into consideration students and their needs. This disempowers teachers and restricts their agency. It strips power from those with the potential to make the greatest change. Teachers are the ones who best understand the students in their classrooms, so they are the ones best suited for making instructional decisions. One way we as Writing Project teachers can advocate for students and teachers is through a process called Collaborative Lesson Study.
Lesson Study keeps the power for change in teachers’ hands. As a sustainable cycle for growth, it empowers teachers as they respond to the varied needs of learners. It is professional learning that treats teachers as professionals.
Demands and Advantages of Lesson Study
Lesson Study is a cycle for planning, teaching, and reflection—a familiar routine for teachers. But to this cycle, Lesson Study adds intentional collaboration every step of the way. Templates and protocols support joint problem-solving and strengthen both the process and the products. Working together enhances our capacity, stretches our comfort zones, and increases the meaning and value we find in our work.
Many of the demands of Lesson Study will be familiar to Writing Project teachers, who often work collaboratively. In Lesson Study, our minds bend together around plans for a single lesson, then we go public with our practice so that we can closely examine it. We get to see the collaboratively-planned lesson in action, with students. It’s kind of like a demonstration lesson on steroids:
Lesson Study = Demo lesson + Collaborative planning + Students
Writing Project teachers will notice that the opportunities for reflection and feedback that make demonstration lessons powerful are part of the Lesson Study cycle. Adding the chance to see how students take up the work is an extension that is worth the effort. The more eyes we have on students as they learn, the more information we’ll collect about their learning. So having peers join us during the lesson we’ve carefully planned together makes for an incredible learning experience!
The ReVisioning Cycle
I like to think of Lesson Study as a cycle for reVisioning instruction—not only do we revise a single lesson, we gain insights that give us new vision for instructional possibilities.
The cycle starts with studying. First, we study what our students need. Our Lesson Study focus might come through an examination of student work, a review of the curriculum, and an examination of our long-term goals for students. Once we have determined a focus, we find out what is already known about the topic. We learn together, engaging with the profession as we examine research and ask questions about practice. Professional literature, curriculum guides, and teachers’ manuals can inform the work.
Next, it’s time for collaborative planning. We map out a unit in broad strokes, but we take a fine-tuned look at a single lesson. Together, we brainstorm possible approaches for meeting lesson objectives. It can be helpful to think about challenges when a similar lesson was taught in the past. Most importantly, we want to include strategies that make thinking visible. That’s key, because the next stage in the cycle is observation.
I like to meet together right before we observe the lesson. This is a time to revisit the questions that guided our planning. We review the plan with an eye toward what to watch for, thinking it through from students’ point of view. Then, when we’re in the classroom, we take careful note of the learning that is going on. Watch how the teacher and students navigate the complexities of teaching and learning.
After the lesson, we build in time for both individual and collaborative reflection. We review our notes and mark things that seem important. Together, we describe what was heard and seen, focusing on students’ responses. We talk about what we noticed and why it matters. This conversation helps us deconstruct best practices.
Our observation and reflection give us insight about content and approaches and foresight about adjustments needed for our own classrooms. The lesson becomes a microcosm for understanding instructional practices that can be broadly applied. Having seen the lesson in action, we will have a clearer vision of what it could be, with modification. This helps us reVision the lesson and expand our instructional views.
Finally, we reteach. But no lesson is ever the same twice, so the reteach is really a reinvention of the lesson, recreated for our own classrooms. Reteaching a lesson gives us the opportunity to continue asking questions and reflecting on successes and missteps. Then we are ready to begin the Lesson Study cycle again! Collaborative Lesson Study is a cycle for continuous professional learning: we are always in the process of becoming our better teacher selves.
Across the nation, teacher shortages are exacerbated by burnout and turnover. Teachers face pressures from accountability measures, and their efforts are sometimes misrepresented in the media. An additional concern is that many teachers are deprofessionalized by being asked to teach from scripts or programs that strip them of instructional decisions.
It is important to look at structures within school systems that are causing teacher stress. Collaborative Lesson Study treats teachers as professionals who can guide their own professional learning. I believe that professional development should be done by teachers, not done to them. Lesson Study is professional development that comes from the inside out, not from the top down. Teachers are empowered as they determine new ideas and methods to incorporate into their teaching. Through Lesson Study, teachers work as professional learning communities, leading their own learning and the learning of their students.
The Lesson Study process resonates with Writing Project teachers and leaders because it incorporates our core values—the social practices that guide Writing Project work. Through Lesson Study, we advocate for teachers and students because Lesson Study reveals best practices for both teacher and student learning. Lesson Study is a framework for purposeful collaboration. We learn and engage with the profession as we study resources to guide lesson planning. We go public with our practice as our lesson is taught, in the classroom, with students.
I hope Writing Project teachers will consider leading at their schools and sites by bringing Lesson Study to their teams as a way to enhance professional learning communities. As Angela Duckworth points out in her book, Grit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of Success, “There are no shortcuts to excellence. Developing real expertise, figuring out really hard problems, it all takes time.”* Lesson Study is not a quick fix; it is authentic, productive professional learning. Lesson Study is a cycle for instructional improvement that pays ongoing dividends.