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Ongoing PD: Lesson study

For over a century, lesson study has been an important part of ongoing teacher professional development (PD) in Japan and it’s a method that has spread to other parts of the world, including Australia.

Hundreds of educators gather in a corridor outside a classroom, listening intently and craning to catch a glimpse of the lesson being taught inside.

For well over a century, lesson study (jugyou kenkyuu) has been an important part of ongoing teacher PD in Japan. Professor Yoshinori Shimizu, from Tsukuba University, says when it began in the 1890s it involved a criticism lesson and a model lesson. ‘In a criticism lesson, the teacher is observed by many people and the lesson is discussed intensively and extensively afterwards. The model lesson is just to demonstrate some model-type lesson [for teachers from other schools].’

Today there are many types of lesson study activities - intra-school (in elementary schools and some secondary schools), within whole school districts or cities, at a prefecture level and national events attended by thousands. At an individual school level, most teachers participate at least once a term.

What does it involve?

In The Teaching Gap, James Stigler and James Hiebert describe the steps that typify the lesson study process:

  • Defining the problem - for example, the aim may be to engage students, or teach a specific skill.
  • Planning the lesson - this often starts with the teacher looking at books and articles by other educators. Planning includes discussion of questions (The Teaching Gap talks about maths teachers discussing at great length which number to use in a problem), misunderstandings, precise timings and even how to organise and use space on the chalkboard.
  • Teaching the lesson - one person teaches and the others observe.
  • Evaluating the lesson and its effect - not an evaluation of the teacher.
  • Revising the lesson - often to address student misunderstandings, this could include rethinking activities, questioning or resources used.
  • Teaching the revised lesson - to a different class and often by a different member of the group; members of the school faculty are also invited.
  • Evaluating and reflecting - this with time faculty members and possibly an invited expert. A key question is ‘what was learned?’
  • Sharing the results - writing a report, possibly published as a book for use in an individual school or at a bigger scale (prefecture level or via a professional publisher). Teachers from other schools may also be invited to observe the final lesson. ‘Takeaways’ include a copy of the lesson plan, expected student responses and teaching ideas.

References: Lewis, Catherine C. (1995) Educating hearts and minds: Reflections on Japanese preschool and elementary education. Cambridge University Press.
Stigler, J. W., & Hiebert, J. (1999). The teaching gap: Best ideas from the world's teachers for improving education in the classroom. Simon and Schuster. New York, NY

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Teacher magazine and has been reproduced with the permission of the Australian Council for Educational Research. To read the full article and to read more articles like this visit www.teachermagazine.com.au.