The central feature of teacher learning in Japan is called Jugyou Kenkyu or lesson study.
It is a way for teachers find opportunities to reflect on many school and classroom problems that challenge them and develop their own responses. Fujii (2013) says
For Japanese educators, Lesson Study is like air, felt everywhere because it is implemented in everyday school activities, and so natural that it can be difficult to identify the critical and important features of it.
Jugyou Kenkyu is based on a long-term continuous improvement model and focuses on pupil learning, improvement of teaching and collaborative activities. It provides various opportunities:
- for change and enriching classroom practices
- for improving teaching
- for understanding children thinking
- for advancing students’ academic achievement
- for enhancing learning
- for progressing school effectiveness
- for teachers’ professional development
- for creating schools as professional learning communities
The idea is simple enough. If we want to improve education, we need to get together to study what we are doing and then focus on improvement. It is a way of improving the knowledge base of the teaching profession. Self-study, self-reflection and colleague critiques of our teaching are important parts of this process.
Stigler and Hiebert (1999) in ‘The teaching gap: Best ideas from the world’s teachers for improving education in the classroom’ describe lesson study as consisting of the following eight steps:
1. Defining the problem
2. Planning the lesson
3. Teaching the lesson
4. Evaluating the lesson and reflecting on its effect
5. Revising the lesson
6. Teaching the revised lesson
7. Evaluating and reflecting, again
8. Sharing the results
But some argue that this doesn’t go far enough in explaining what is involved. Lewis and Hurd (2011) characterise Lesson Study as a four part cycle:
1. Study curriculum and formulate goals
Consider long-term goals for student learning and development. Study curriculum and standards, identify topic of interest.
Select or revise research lesson. Write instruction plan that includes: Long-term goals, Anticipated student thinking, Data collection, Model of leaning trajectory, Rationale for chosen approach.
3. Conduct the research lesson
One team member teaches the lesson, others observe and collect data.
In a formal lesson colloquium, share data from the lesson to illuminate student learning, discrepancies in content, lesson, and unit design, and broader issues in teaching-learning. Document the cycle to consolidate and carry forward learning as well as new questions into the next cycle of lesson study.
Intimately connected to Jugyou Kenkyu is kyozaikenkyu (or kyozai kenkyuu) which means the study of instructional materials and it is the central activity in their everyday practice. In kyozaikenkyu, teachers examine the content, the teaching tools and the literature related to the teaching and learning of the specific content. It is intention and intensive.
But this isn’t about creating ‘outstanding’ and there are some misconceptions to avoid as noted by Chokshi and Fernandez (2004):
- Lesson study is about creating a unique, original, or never-seen-before lesson.
- There will be no benefit from just a few lesson study lessons; it’s important to conduct lesson study for as many lessons as possible.
- Lesson study is about perfecting a single lesson.
- Lesson study is about producing a library of tried-and-tested lessons for others to use.
Lesson study is a teacher-led and teacher-driven professional development activity that looks at what works and what doesn’t. It also involves sharing insights with each other and knowledgeable others. It is about achieving learning improvements, increasing teacher collaboration, developing new ideas, investigating content and developing curriculum.
Lesson study is a fine idea but having the time and space to do this is almost impossible for UK teachers who have the biggest teaching workload in the world.
New research – a new term has come into the mix Collaborative Lesson Research – see more here.