Lesson Study: what is it? How does it work?

Illustration of dominos being used in maths

Lesson Study: what is it? How does it work?

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By Camtree Team

In this blog, Hannah Owen describes her experiences of taking part in Lesson Study, some of the distinctive features of the approach, and the benefits it brings for teachers and learners.

I still remember the first time I encountered Lesson Study[1].  I had been emailed a flyer which detailed a project involving Lesson Study aimed at improving outcomes for children across the borough in Mathematics.  Luckily, before dismissing it as ‘just another training course’ I read down the page to find out what it was all about.  It seemed that Lesson Study was not an intervention with proscribed strategies for improving the practice but rather an approach that engaged with teachers’ own knowledge and skills and provided opportunities for them to experience practice beyond the walls of their classroom and potentially their school.

Not long after, I found myself part of a Lesson Study group with two teachers from neighbouring schools and an expert in Primary mathematics to facilitate the learning process.  And so, using Research Lesson Study[2] we set about problematizing issues of practice that we were experiencing, working collaboratively to find solutions before observing and reflecting on the outcomes.  Since this first eye-opening experience as a teacher, I have gone on to implement Lesson Study in several contexts as a leader.  But why?  What is it about Lesson Study that makes it special?

Firstly, the central premise is to improve the learning experiences of the children.  Therefore, right at the beginning of the process, focus children are identified, and it is their progress that is monitored throughout each session.  By predicting and then observing how they access and engage with the learning, the group can adapt tasks and activities to meet the needs of individuals.  Furthermore, by interviewing these children, a deeper understanding of particular issues and challenges can be uncovered which in turn contributes to the knowledge of both the subject and pedagogy held by teachers.

Secondly, Lesson Study enables teachers to deal with real issues which real children face in their classrooms.  Thus, the lessons planned are ‘working hypotheses’ developed in concert with others to understand how best to support pupils’ learning in relation to a specific problem or issue that they have encountered.  Through interaction, members of the group can combine their intellectual resources and make joint sense of their experiences, creating new understandings which they could not have achieved as individuals. 

Finally, as teachers we are often unaware of the ‘tacit’ knowledge that we use to teach when in action in the classroom and this makes describing and changing practice rather challenging.  We all know that change can be unnerving but through Lesson Study, safe spaces can be created in which we can not only experiment with teaching to improve our children’s learning but we can also begin to understand how we ourselves can learn collaboratively with others. 

In fact, many of the teachers I have worked with have also highlighted the value and benefits that they derived from learning collaboratively, describing how focused classroom observation provided them with detailed insights which enabled them to see their children in new ways. 

“I didn’t know just how much it could benefit the children and how much I would learn for my own practice from it.”[3]

[1] Lesson Study is an approach to teacher professional development used widely in Japan.  It involves a small group of teachers co-planning a series of lessons based on a shared learning goal for the pupils, with one teacher leading the co-constructed lesson and their colleagues invited to observe pupil learning in the lesson.  The team then develop their future practice, based on feedback.  Murphy, R., Weinhardt, F., Wyness, G., Rolfe, H. (2017) Lesson Study: Evaluation Report and Executive Summary, Education Endowment Foundation (www.educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk)

[2] Research Lesson Study (RLS) was developed by Pete Dudley in 2005.  Further information can be found at www.lessonstudy.co.uk

[3] Owen, H. (2018). Changing Perceptions of Mathematics through Lesson Study [PACES Essay]. University of Cambridge

About the Author

Hannah Owen is deputy head of The Grove Primary School in Cambridge where she leads on teaching and learning, and professional development.  She believes empowering teachers to become ‘natural experimenters’ is central to improving teaching and learning.  As a result, she encourages teachers to engage with action research and lesson study to find new solutions to issues of classroom practice and implement curriculum development.  She is studying for a PhD at the University of Cambridge where she is researching the nature of dialogic interactions within lesson study, investigating the links between dialogue and the learning patterns and processes of teachers.