Academic mentors: Professor Mary James (2003-4),
Dr Dave Pedder (2004-9)
Linked TLRP project: ‘Learning how to learn in classrooms, schools and networks’ (2002-5)
The TLRP schools project ‘Learning How to Learn in Classrooms, schools and networks (2003-6) identified effective strategies for transferring AfL classroom practice across and between schools, classrooms and practitioners. As a Research Training Fellow working with this project I set out to investigate whether Lesson Study could be used as an approach to help teachers, to develop, transfer and innovate effective pedagogic practice.
Lesson Study is a teacher learning method originating in Japan in the 1870s. It was brought to the attention of US researchers following the success of Japan’s pupils in mathematics in the TIMMS international survey of performance in mathematics and science by 10 and 4 year olds. I became aware of Lesson Study in 2001 (as I promoting participation in the LH2L project by Essex schools) and was one of the first to trial Lesson Study in England in 2001-2 in the London Borough of Redbridge. It was the success of these trials and also encouragement from Professor Mary James which prompted my research proposal in 2003.
What Lesson Study is
Lesson Study involves a group of teachers improving pedagogic practice in an area of teaching revealed by their data to need improving. They do this by researching approaches likely to make the difference they seek and then systematically carrying out a sequence of jointly planned, taught and analysed ‘research lessons’.
Once they have developed an approach which they feel is replicable they share what they have done with colleagues either though a presentation, through a ‘public research lesson’ (popular in Japan where the lesson is taught in the school hall before an invited audience of local teachers and advisers and is followed by a discussion involving adults and the children) or shared by members of the group working with other teachers using the lesson study cycle to develop the approach elsewhere.
The research questions:
These have been the research questions which have guided my research.
1. In what ways does participation in Lesson Study groups help teachers to learn how to enhance the quality of pupil learning through their teaching?
- How do lesson study groups develop foci for their studies?
- In what way do these foci relate to and influence the learning of their pupils?
2. What are the affordances and barriers to teacher learning offered through Lesson Study’s linked processes of collaborative inquiry, lesson design, joint observation and post lesson discussion?
3. Is there a distinctive contribution by Lesson Study to Teacher Learning? If so, how does it differ from other approaches to classroom based collaborative teacher learning?
4. How do schools capture and optimise the spread of practice and knowledge developed through Lesson Study?
Two research phases
This research fell into two phases. The first was to carry out a 2 year pilot study to answer the question – ‘Would Lesson Study work in the UK and if so would it do so in a way which would add value to the range of professional development approaches already in use?’ The pilot was co-funded by the TLRP (through the salary release element of this award), the National College for School Leadership (whose ‘Networked Learning Group’ I was working for at the time of the trial) and CfBT (who were responsible at the time for the National Strategies contract and who had engaged Professor Charles Desforges to help oversee a development programme for Lesson Study. Professor Desforges was the Director of the TLRP at the time. The trial involved 20 schools – primary and secondary - from 8 local authorities across England. The schools identified common pupil learning goals. The teachers involved in the pilot conducted lesson studies in their schools and came together for a two day residential each term to share their lesson studies and to develop their approaches. The schools represented urban and rural schools with deprivation ranging from <12% - >35% FSM entitlement and with a range of cultural diversity from almost predominantly white British pupils to highly diverse – with around 90% of pupils learning English as an additional language. Over 100 research lessons were conducted, analysed, written up and presented.
Findings – Phase 1
Lesson Study was found to be a popular, powerful and replicable process for innovating, developing and transferring pedagogic practices. It was popular with both experienced and less experienced teachers alike. There was demonstrable impact on the quality of teaching and on pupil progress and attainment.
Significant improvements in pupil engagement, behaviour and skill advancement were reported (through Lesson Study presentations by Lesson Study groups, interview and discussion transcripts) in all cases. Despite the early days and small scale of the studies, there was some quantitative evidence of impact on learning. In one particular case for example, all pupils but one in a Y9 science class achieved a L5 in their KS3 tests (2004) where they had been expected to only to achieve a L4. Every pupil in the class achieved a raise of 1 grade in their GCSE target minimum predicted grades in Science as a result of separate internal assessments. Leaders and teachers involved attributed the gain to the improvements in practice made as a result of the lesson development work.
There was immediate evidence of schools and LAs adopting Lesson Study. Nearly all the lesson studies conducted in the pilot involved the gathering of pupils’ perspectives in the process. In some the pupils became partners in the research helping to analyse and comment upon and even contribute to the research lesson, the video material taken during the research lesson and the subsequent plans for the following research lesson. Alongside this pilot I was also conducting the literature review for my PhD. The review supported the design and analysis of the pilot study but also prepared me for the second phase of the research which will generate the main findings of my PhD and what I hope will be important outcomes of this award.
The second phase of the research has involved a close analysis of two research lesson study cycles taught in two different primary schools. The research aims to explore what are the critical features of teacher learning in Lesson Study (c.f. research question 3 above). The research has involved extensive, detailed discourse analysis into teacher learning during key elements of the Lesson Study process. Interim outcomes led to a further refinement of the Lesson Study model and a clearer understanding about the features which distinguish Lesson Study from other forms of collaborative, classroom based teacher learning (such as peer or expert coaching) and the precise value which they add in particular contexts.
Phase 2 also set out to shed what I believe is important light on the ‘black box’ of teacher professional learning which happens when teachers engage in classroom based collaborative enquiry based learning. This final element of Phase 2 of this research is still ongoing and I am likely to submit my thesis for examination in the summer or autumn of 2010. Some emerging findings are set out below.
The research has involved collecting and transcribing over 7 hours of teacher discussion during Research Lesson planning and analysis meetings. In one school the curricular focus is literacy and in the other it is mathematics. Both schools focus on children in Year 4, (8-9 year olds).
Nearly five hours of this material was then used for a broadly inductive analysis of the discourse features and knowledge references used by the teachers as they engaged in collaborative classroom based enquiry led learning.
20 minute interviews were also conducted with the two teachers in the first case study group and the three teachers in the second case study group as well as the head teachers of the two case study primary schools. These have also been transcribed and analysed.
Emergent findings from phase 2
A number of common themes emerge across both cases which are linked to the research questions. They concern:
- The ways in which the groups of teachers establish a pupil learning focus
- The effect which ‘case pupils’ have on the Lesson Study learning process
- The ways in which members of the Lesson Study groups establish roles and build relationships within the two groups
- The effect which ‘case pupils' have on the teacher learning process
- The ways in which members of the Lesson Study groups establish roles and build relationships within the two groups
- The ways in which the two groups interact together in order to accomplish the production of collaborative research lesson plans, and to conduct research lessons and post lesson analytical discussions
- The identification of elements and patterns of spoken interaction which are key to the teacher learning and practice development which takes place
- The ways in which the research lesson plans draw particularly on the group members' knowledge of curriculum, subject, pupils, and pedagogy.
- How the groups utilise their first hand data of case pupil behaviour, gathered during the research lessons and from pupil comments in interview, and how this contributes to the new knowledge the teachers gain
- How the members of both groups change their subsequent teaching as a result of what they have learned during the Lesson Study
- Features of the processes of practice transfer and practice adoption seen in both case studies.
So the Lesson Study process focuses participant teachers' attention on the effectiveness of the lesson - and not on the effectiveness of the teacher. This minimises the sense of vulnerability often felt by teachers in an observed lesson and exploits the potential for teacher learning offered by collaborative, classroom based, practice-focused enquiry.
Publications which have resulted from this research project
The main publication channels have been through the National College for School Leadership (phase 1) and the National Strategies (phase 2). In both cases – and particularly the latter – the reach of these publications has been significant with 20,000 distributed to Local Authorities for use with consultants and schools in bespoke CPD packages. IN addition to this the Lesson Study booklet has been downloaded 1500 times in the past three months with the numbers climbing each month.
One outcome of phase 1 of this research (the pilot study) was a series of booklet published in 2005 by the National College for School Leadership and jointly badged by the TLRP and CfBT. These were:
Getting Started with Networked research Lesson Study
Phase 1 of the research led to the publication of three sets of materials for teachers and school leaders to use to ‘get started with Lesson Study. The first of these is called ‘Getting Started with Networked research Lesson Study’ and contains a practical guide for leaders of schools working in networks.
Networked research Lesson Study: illustrative accounts of practice
The second booklet contains illustrative accounts of practice and vignettes from the pilot and can be downloaded from:
Networked research Lesson Study: tools and templates
The third booklet contains tools and templates for teachers and practitioners to use in order to get started with Lesson Study. They include a planning proforma, a pupil interview proforma and a post lesson discussion proforma and is at.
In addition a fourth booklet in a related series, also published by NCSL, featured the use of Lesson Study (from a pilot school). The publication was ‘Making mathematics count in a network of schools’ (NCSL, 2005)
Lesson Study in the National Strategies
Lesson Study (LS) was first used by the National Strategies in 2005 with learning networks of primary schools who took on some of the findings of the NCSL networks. Since 2007, when the researcher took on the National Directorship of the Primary National Strategy LS has subsequently been used as a methodology for school based professional learning and for cross school support from ‘leading teachers’ who work with schools where there is evidence of a slow down in pupil progress in literacy or mathematics.
The refined model for Lesson Study has informed the development of a booklet and DVD used by the National Strategies.
Lesson Study: a practical guide for head teachers, Leading Teachers and Subject Leaders (2008)
In 2008 the National Strategies published a booklet designed to help Primary School Head teachers, Subject Leaders, and Leading Teachers to introduce Lesson Study into their school. The boolet drew on this research. The aim is to use the Lesson Study professional learning model to develop and deepen practice knowledge of particular pedagogic approaches used to help improve pupil learning in some of the most demanding strands of learning in literacy and mathematics which are set out in the Primary Framework for Teaching Literacy and Mathematics.
This booklet can be found at:
Lesson Study in Action (web based DVD)2009
From September 2009 a DVD designed to illustrate the key principles of Lesson Study in Action will also be available from the National Strategies and can be found at
Thousands of schools have now used Lesson Study across England. In Spring 2008 school based ‘leading teachers’ funded by the DCSF and trained in Lesson Study by the National Strategies carried out lesson study cycles with year six teachers in schools where there was evidence of a fall-off in pupil progress in KS2 in 14 local authorities. The focus was on either mathematics or writing. Over 30,000 children were in the total year six cohort. 2008 KS2 results from those schools showed that they had made double the national improvements in mathematics test results, double the national improvement in the combined English and mathematics test score and a 4 percentage point increase in writing against a flat picture nationally. This was repeated in 2009 when funding was made available to all Local Authorities. There are now 2000 leading teachers trained and funded to support colleagues in other schools using Lesson Study.
Evidence from this use of Lesson Study helped to prompt Sir Peter Williams to recommend Lesson Study as a methodology for developing and improving primary mathematics teaching in his review fo the Secretary of State in 2008.
There is now an online Lesson Study pilot being run with 4 ITT provider institutions. The NS as also hosted an online discussion forum for leading teachers in November 2009. There are growing case studies posted on the WhatWorksWell website (see below). One example can be found at:
For more examples visit WhatWorksWell at the link provided below in the ‘unexpected outcomes’ section.
Learning How to Learn: Tools for Schools (Fulton, 2007)
was produced through the Learning How to Learn: classrooms, schools and networks TLRP programme. It contains practical guidance and examples of tools developed and used by schools in the project. This includes Lesson Study. Details of the publication are at http://www.tlrp.org/dspace/handle/123456789/805
A summary of my findings and research up to January 2009 have been published on the TLRP research capacity building area of this website which was migrated across to the BERA website in the summer of 2009. The link to this is:
A number of research papers on Lesson Study have been presented over the course of the fellowship, drawing upon this research at its various stages. They include the following.
Lessons for Learning: research lesson study innovation, transfer and metapedagogy – a design experiment?’ (2004)
The following theoretical paper was presented at the TLRP conference in 2004. It examines the development of lesson study and discusses the degree to which Lesson Study might be viewed as a form of design experiment. http://www.tlrp.org/dspace/handle/123456789/114
I attended the first conference of the World Association of Lesson Studies in Hong Kong in 2007. I went on to present papers at this conference in 2008 and 2009. These were:
‘Lesson Study in England’ (2008)
The paper provides a summary of the development of Lesson Study and its current use in English schools. It also presents some emergent findings of my phase 2 research on the fields of knowledge upon which teachers draw in the Lesson Study process.
In 2009 the remaining funds in my RTF award were used to fund a third trip to Hong Kong to present two further papers. The first of these draws upon emergent findings from my research. It is entitled:
Does Lesson Study differ from other methods of coaching in promoting teacher practice-knowledge development and learning?
The second was from a policy perspective and describes the ways in which Leading Teachers in England have used Lesson Study to help improve teaching and learning of those strands of teaching and learning in literacy and primary mathematics which teachers find hardest to teach and learners find hardest to learn – and the considerable impact this has had on standards. It is entitled:
How Lesson Study has contributed to a National Strategy for improving teaching, learning and progress of primary pupils in England and is helping to grow system-wide practice transfer and knowledge creation
Both these papers will be published on the WALS website in 2010.
Learning and Teaching Update published a piece on this research in February 2008 entitled Lesson Study: an approach to teacher professional learning. This is available at: http://www.teachingexpertise.com/articles/the-lesson-study-model-of-classroom-enquiry-2950
In addition to these publications this research featured in an article by Warwick Mansel in the Times Educational Supplement in June 2006. The piece was entitled ‘Perfect Lessons from Japan’ and as well as drawing on the Lesson Study pilot, one of the schools involved in the research was featured in the piece.
‘Case pupils’ (Dudley, 2008) are pupils who have been identified by member of the Lesson Study group as archetypal members of learners groups within the class being taught. In many ways they will typify the needs of a number of learners within a particular group and thus they can exemplify the barriers and solutions to learning which may also unlock learning for others within the class.