As we enter into a new school year, talking and planning about our work, I keep coming back to the idea of Lesson Study as a way to meet many of our professional needs. As a coach and a principal, I found Lesson Studies to be some of the best days spent with my teachers, collaborating and learning side-by-side. I was fortunate to have the budget to afford full day releases for grade level teams to come together in this way, and it was so powerful. For the purpose of ensuring a common language, below is a summary of how I structured Lesson Study (based off of the Japanese model).
A team of teachers would have a substitute take over their classes for a full day in order to complete a Lesson Study. In the beginning, I would facilitate the work, though it was my goal for the coach and/or teachers to take on that role once they had experienced the process. We would begin the day setting the expectation- there was always one instructional and/or curricular area that a grade level wanted more focused support in (small group instruction, engagement during Read Alouds, structured partner talk using academic language, etc.) and that would be established before coming to the meeting. The facilitator would review the focus area and the current data of the class in which the lesson would be taught. Reviewing the data, whether formal or informal, is a critical step in supporting teachers with the bridge between formative assessment and instruction, which is made out of sound planning. Once the group had a sense of the students and the focus area, we would begin to plan a lesson.
The first part I always made clear to the team was that we were collaboratively planning a lesson for this particular class and we wouldn’t decide who would teach the lesson (and it could be one or more of us co-teaching!) until after it was fully planned. In my school we were using a common planning document to support lesson planning, so we all had a copy of that document as well as the curricular resources for the grade level and content. This became a truly collaborative discussion as we went through each area of what we had defined, as a staff, were crucial elements to a strong lesson. The discussions became richer when teams were comfortable enough for members to disagree with one another. When teachers have to justify their thinking, whether it is about where to chunk a text for a shared reading or what type of sentence frame to create to support partner talk, they begin to see what elements of their repertoire have purpose and meaning for students and which elements are things they have always done just because. In addition, it is so powerful for teachers to have to find their own voice and a common language to explain the work they do in isolation in their classrooms. If a school has a specific professional development focus, this is a great way for the group to discuss that focus and what it looks like in a lesson plan.
Needless to say, the facilitator often has a tough job during the planning of the lesson. He or she must keep the group focused on the task, aware of the time, and ensure that all participants have a voice. At some point, you have to make sure everyone has a complete lesson recorded so that any one of them would feel comfortable teaching the lesson as planned. Once the plan has been created, the facilitator helps the group determine who will be the actual teacher (or teachers) of the lesson. Part of this discussion centers around the purpose- we developed a lesson as a team, we want to see it in action, observing the students, and then determine what worked well for students and what needs revising. With new teams, or a school new to this process, I recommend that the principal or coach volunteer to teach the first round. This gave me “street cred” with a staff who didn’t know me well yet, and took the pressure off of the teachers, who had never experienced any sort of peer observations. Whenever possible, I encouraged the team to co-teach, with various members taking on parts of the lesson to share the load and have more ownership of the teaching.
Next the entire group would go into the selected class to teach the lesson. Anyone not delivering instruction was responsible for sitting as close to students as possible to record what they were saying and/or doing throughout the lesson. We set clear expectations for the observers during this time, even ensuring that we were spread out around the room to record as much anecdotal notes about students as possible.
After teaching the lesson, the entire group returns to the planning room to debrief. The facilitator ensures that the conversation is about the implementation of the group lesson plan, and not an evaluation of the teacher(s) who delivered the lesson. Student work and quotes are critical to helping teachers analyze the effectiveness of the actual lesson as it related to student performance. The facilitator must also make sure to bring the conversation back to the instructional focus of the school so that teachers can discuss what that focus looked like in action in the classroom. The second part of the debrief involves the application phase. The team members discuss what this particular class needs next, following up on this lesson. They also discuss how they would adapt this particular lesson to meet the needs of their specific students. This can lead to one of two things: They make a commitment to trying the lesson in their own room the next day or the entire team revises the lesson and goes directly into another room to teach it again (I would not recommend this for your first round of Lesson Study, but for future stages, when the planning phase can be done quicker with a more experienced team).
The final, and truly significant, stage of Lesson Study, is to debrief the process of the work. Teachers need time to reflect on the collaborative nature of planning, observing and debriefing a lesson as a group. The hope is that the teachers find value in the process to improve their own instructional performance, their collaboration with their team, and ultimately their students’ performance. What is most powerful is when the team becomes hungry for more collaboration time, when they ask for more time to conduct Lesson Studies on their own and when they begin to explore peer observations.
As I look ahead to this new school year, and talk to my colleagues about the need for more in-depth, collaborative planning, I believe that Lesson Study is the best way to move our instructional conversations forward.