Is lesson study the jewel in the action research crown?

Is lesson study the jewel in the action research crown?
Date25th May 2023AuthorSarah MarshallCategoriesTeaching

I first came across Lesson Study in 2019, although it has been around as a process for a long time. In fact, it has 140 years of history in Japanese schools and is now increasingly used in East Asia, the US and Europe. Dr. Pete Dudley introduced lesson study into the UK from Japan in 2001 and has led its development through the Research Lesson Study (now Lesson Study UK) network. Like other forms of Action Research, it is a model of teacher-led enquiry, in which a small group, often a triad, work together to target an identified area for development in their students’ learning. Using existing evidence, practitioners collaboratively research, plan, teach and observe a series of lessons, using ongoing discussion and reflection to track and refine their interventions (read more about the model here).

What sets it apart for me as a form of Action Research is both the collaborative nature of the process and the structure within which it occurs, focusing on the impact of the intervention upon the learning of specific individuals.

Lesson study in practice at Huish

There are a series of clear stages to the process which give a very helpful framework to the research you conduct. The first of these is to identify what you want to improve and why, and who you wish to work with. 

A few years ago, as Course Manager for A level Biology at Richard Huish College, I wanted to introduce more flipped learning into our teaching and learning. However, together with some members of the team, I was concerned about whether our students with lower mean GCSE scores would cope with the preparation work sufficiently well and therefore whether this style of learning would disadvantage them. Lesson Study seemed like a great way for us as a team to explore our concerns together. 

The next stage of Lesson Study is to consider existing knowledge and experience and make use of any research or studies that you know of in this area. This then leads to jointly planning a lesson or activity. Some of us had already trialed flipped learning, and we also considered the research around its use; we discussed common problems, such as what to do with students who hadn’t completed the preparation work. We then jointly planned a lesson focusing on an area of the specification where we wanted to improve student engagement. We hoped that using flipped learning would mean that more lesson time could be spent in student discussion, problem solving, application of knowledge and planning of experiments rather than in content delivery.

The next stage involves teaching and lesson observation. One of the practitioners teaches the jointly planned session and the others observe. However, a key part of Lesson Study is that the observation isn’t of the lesson per se. It is of the learning taking place in three ‘Case Study’ students. These can either be chosen at random or include a targeted group. As we were interested in students with a low mean GCSE score, our Case Study students were those who fell in this category. They had been identified in advance, and so those observing watched one each. 

After the lesson, the Lesson Study model requires you to meet up as a group to feed back and discuss findings. The idea is then to re-plan the lesson, or plan a different one, taking into account what you have learnt; another teacher teaches it, and the rest observe. In our case, the planned activities had gone well and only needed minor tweaking before the second teacher taught it to her group, and the rest of us observed the learning in a new set of Case Study students previously identified in her group. 

Following the second observation there is a final meeting, where you make a summary together of what you think you have learned, new practices you have developed, or questions and further issues thrown up by your study and how these will feed into future practise. The last step is to share your learning with others, so that it doesn’t just stay with you. In our case we discovered that in both lessons the lower ability students coped well with both the preparation work and with all class activities. When questioned, a couple of them said they actually preferred the flipped learning style as it gave them chance to read ahead and familiarise themselves with the material, and so they were more confident than usual to contribute in class and felt more able to apply their knowledge to the exam questions. 

 Feedback from my team involved in the process was positive too:

“Co-planning the lesson was my favourite part of the Lesson Study and something I would like to do more of. I found I was more ambitious of what my students could achieve.”

 “As we had jointly planned it, I hadn’t felt under any pressure to ‘perform’ during the observation. We were all collectively responsible for its success or failure.”

What we learnt

The result of exploring this issue through Lesson Study was that everyone had witnessed the effect of flipped learning on the students we had been concerned about and had been reassured. Also, because we had collaboratively planned activities for the sessions, observed others using them, and reflected upon this, we felt more confident in our own use of flipped learning. We all agreed that flipped learning would be incorporated into our Scheme of Work in the future. I don’t think our exploration of this issue would have been as effective without Lesson Study as a methodology.

 Dr. Pete Dudley writes on the LSUK website

“Lesson Study is a powerful, professional learning approach that can dramatically support the development of learning and the practice and pedagogical knowledge of teachers.  It not only produces very positive improvements in student achievement and professional learning, but it is also really popular with an increasing number of teachers who have experienced it.” 

I must say, I have to agree. 

Sarah is Head of College Teaching and Learning at Richard Huish College in Taunton.

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