Four Ways Lesson Study Improves Teaching

In order to ensure the academic success of our students, teachers must be supported to continuously improve their practice.  One way teachers can grow is by learning from each other, if given the right opportunity and context. Kyle Prince, math teacher at Central Magnet School in Rutherford County, was recently inspired by his own growth as an educator through the practice of lesson study. In this post Kyle shares four ways lesson study can improve teaching and ultimately outcomes for students.

by Kyle Prince, 2015-16 Middle Tennessee Grand Division Teacher of the Year

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Kyle meeting with colleagues in a PLC as part of the lesson study cycle.

Professional learning communities (PLCs) have become increasingly popular in Tennessee schools. As teachers collaborate to improve, a form of professional development called lesson study can be used to propel PLCs to a whole new level. In fact, researchers have argued that lesson study is one of the most effective strategies to build and sustain an effective PLC. Over the last three years, I have experienced lesson study first hand, and the unique opportunity it provides teachers to hone their craft.

Through my experience with lesson study, I have realized that we can learn so much about teaching by focusing on improving a single lesson. This may seem counterintuitive, but it can result in powerful changes over time. For example, my group members have helped me better identify strengths and weakness of a lesson and create a collection of techniques that I use to alter my lessons on a daily basis.

Moreover, lesson study has altered my beliefs about the teaching and learning of mathematics. My lessons have evolved from focusing on the teacher with students working individually at their desk, to students working in small groups on cognitively demanding tasks – exploring, discussing, and sharing ideas with others.

LessonStudyLesson study is simple in its structure. It consists of a group of teachers first working collaboratively to carefully craft a lesson, then they observe and discuss the lesson together in order to improve their shared understanding of the content, teaching methods, and student thinking. This process of teaching, revision, and re-teaching often culminates with an exemplary lesson and new ideas about teaching and learning that can be shared with others. This approach to teacher learning has been shown to be useful in improving teaching in various situations and at many different levels. Here are a few advantages that I have found:

1. Context.

Lesson studies operate within classrooms, with real students and in real-time. This allows teachers to form a common vision of what ideas actually look like in practice. Most importantly, lesson study allows teachers to learn in a familiar setting that contains key complexities, such as student characteristics, time constraints, materials, and the physical environment.

2. Collaboration.

Lesson study provides the opportunity for teachers to make teaching a communal practice by working collaboratively to improve teaching. The lesson study structure, in which a successful lesson is a combined effort, supports participants in growing outside of their traditional practices.

3. Reflection.

Discussions within the lesson study context can create great moments for teachers to reflect upon and alter their own practices. In addition, time to reflect and think about the lesson allows teachers to envision reform-based teaching within their own classroom and adjust underlying assumptions about teaching and learning.

4. Ownership.

Another important aspect of lesson study is that it provides teachers the opportunity to participate in improving the profession. As a result, teachers feel a sense of ownership and pride as they make their contributions, which can make it more likely that they will implement the ideas in their own classrooms.

9/9/15 Kyle PrinceCentral Magnet School

Kyle engaging students in a math lesson at Central Magnet School.

This practice supports the notion that improving teaching does improve teachers. Indeed, we can learn so much from each other given the right opportunity and context. Lesson study just provides the structure through which we can collaborate. My hope is that once teachers experience the advantages of lesson study, it can be a self-sustaining system that is built-in and an assumed part of the teaching profession. I know we have a long way to go, but I would like to encourage you to give it a try and experience the benefits for yourself.

For more information about lesson study go to http://lessonresearch.net/ or http://www.tc.columbia.edu/lessonstudy/lessonstudy.html.

This article is based on theory found in many scholarly journals.  To find out more information, check this reference list.