Lesson study (LS) is a much studied, structured approach that offers the time and space for teachers to focus constructively on children’s learning and plan lessons collaboratively with colleagues. The structure of the lesson study (or ‘research lesson’ as it is known in Japan) varies in form according to country and context, but at its core it enables teachers to jointly plan a lesson with colleagues with a targeted focus on one or more ‘focus children’.
Colleagues observe closely pupils’ response to learning activities, debrief these together and use their learning to design the next lesson. Most LS cycles consist of three planned–observed–debriefed lessons and may include brief interviews with children at the end of each lesson. A lesson study cycle should also include a research question (examples from our research schools follow later) and sometimes benefits from an external or internal ‘knowledgeable other’. As Lesson Study UK describe:
‘Lesson Study is a powerful, professional learning approach that dramatically improves learning and teaching and the practice and subject knowledge of teachers.’
Lesson study is predicated on joint professional practice, providing a structured and identifiable framework to enable teachers to work together collaboratively as part of their professional development. This enhances curriculum development by enabling a deeper understanding of how children learn in different contexts and which lesson activities most enable curriculum access. As Warwick et al. (2015) explain:
‘By enabling teachers to work together within an established professional community, LS offers the opportunity to gain a more profound understanding of both student learning and their own pedagogical approaches. Further, it enables the sharing of these insights with colleagues.’
We conducted a small research study, co-constructed and co-authored with three special schools in London and Berkshire. We compared lesson study across mainstream and special schools, exploring a number of research questions directing the focus of our project, including:
- What structures and processes might enable schools to use lesson study as an effective and sustainable professional development tool?
- What do schools believe the impact of lesson study to be on teachers and pupils?
Here, I will draw out findings that pertain particularly to the role of LS in curriculum development:
- Peer-to-peer interviews: one university researcher and one teacher-researcher interviewed the teacher-researcher from one of the lead schools, using an agreed interview protocol
- Teacher-interviewer visits to one special school and one mainstream school
- A questionnaire was designed by the team and sent out to all the staff in the lead schools, the interviewed schools and other schools in London known to be exploring lesson study.
We asked an array of interview questions, including: What impact do you think lesson study has had on: pupil outcomes, pupil learning, your classroom practice, your school’s professional development model, your school’s approach to teacher learning, your understanding of how children learn, your subject knowledge, your understanding of pedagogy, your attitude towards professional development, your understanding of the research process and your attitude towards research in schools?
While these questions do not reference curriculum directly, considerations of pedagogy, effective learning and reflective practice underpin how curriculum decisions are made.
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What types of research questions did schools choose to explore as their own ‘lesson study’ focus?
LS encourages schools to develop their own questions to refine their focus during lesson study. This enables teachers to think about what it is that they are trying to achieve and to discuss with colleagues how to achieve these outcomes for their focus pupils.
- How can we teach exploratory talk for more independent group work?
- How can we increase the frequency and quality of the interaction and communication of focus pupils?
- How can we use lesson study to improve the quality of written communication for students with dysgraphia?
- Can we improve pupils’ flexibility of thought and creative thinking within our creative writing lessons?
- How can we support pupils to have two-way conversations so that they feel valued and conflict is reduced?
The result of exploring these questions led to schools looking more closely at the ways in which the curriculum was, or was not, meeting the needs of its most vulnerable learners. In the words of one of our lead schools:
‘Scrutiny of the learning experiences of pupils have resulted in some significant changes to approach for key case study pupils; there was a redesign and refinement of curriculum as a result of lesson study work, with pupil voice and pupil choice at the centre of curriculum provision.’
Impact of lesson study in respect of curriculum development
Overall, a wide variety of positive impacts were identified by schools in respect of teacher development and pupil outcome, all of which feed into the reflective, co-constructed continuous journey of curriculum development:
- teacher ownership of own learning, empowerment, improved attitudes to learning
- de-privatisation of practice through quality collaboration and sharing of good practice
- development of new pedagogies
- better understanding of how children learn
- improved pupil learning including attainment
- changes to school policy and practice.
Lesson study unlocks the expertise residing in teachers and their colleagues. By adding opportunities for teacher dialogue, ideas from research, a focus on children’s observations and a structure for reflective practice, we create an environment for the continuous creation of an engaging and inclusive curriculum.
Warwick, P., Vrikki, M., Vermunt, J., Mercer, N., & van Halem, N. (2016). Connecting observations of student and teacher learning: An examination of dialogic processes in lesson study discussions in mathematics. ZDM Mathematics Education, 48, 555–569. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11858-015-0750-z
Some practical resources
UCL Centre for Inclusive Education Back on Track handbook (lots of free resources)