Lessons Learned – Introducing the Lesson Study process at Oakham

This blog will introduce the rationale behind Lesson Study and some of the key aspects of the process. The Teaching and Learning team hopes you will be involved in a Lesson Study of your own during the Spring Term. We are running two events specific to setting up a Lesson Study amongst Oakham staff. The key dates for your diary are;

 Friday 18 January: 13.30-14.00 in the Smallbone Library Meeting Room – TeachMeet on the Lesson Study process

Tuesday 5 February: 16.30-17.30 in the WA – Teaching & Learning Workshop on the practical use of Lesson Study

w/c Monday 3 March – Open Door Week: time to practice what we plan


On the dark, wet days leading up to Christmas, what is it that gets teachers up in the morning? For me, it is that I relish thinking about what I will teach each day and how I can deliver it in as engaging a way as possible. OK, this feeling does not envelop me every morning. But it is almost always the thing that gives me the push I need. This term, I have been fortunate enough to rely on Observing Learning Week to nudge me into doing this more than usual; partly because I wanted to avoid making a fool out of myself in front of colleagues, but also because it was nice to have an excuse to improve the way my students learn. After all, most of us have been covering the same content year-in, year-out for longer than we would care to mention. Some freshening up of our teaching and learning is healthy. This was certainly true for me. I knew there was a complex run of lessons coming up that desperately needed re-thinking if I was going to make it accessible to my students.

We can all think of some parts of our curriculum, a segment of knowledge or a skill set, which are really tricky to convey. Nevertheless, rows upon rows of our former students have sat in front of us while we perform pretty much the same routine, with the odd teacher-tangent thrown in, without testing a different way to help them grasp these parts of the syllabus. Did every one of those students, who received our instruction, understand what we taught them, and the way we taught it? Certainly not. So I wondered; why did I keep teaching this nasty little topic in the same way? I knew that I needed to reflect on the following question; at what point did the information and skills cemented in my head, whilst travelling to the brains of the students, get convoluted or lose meaning?

Whilst Observing Learning Week certainly opened up the opportunity to refine my lessons, I wanted this to become an ongoing, and ever-changing, process. This is where the idea of Lesson Study comes in. Derived from the century-old Japanese practice of jugyo kenkyu (literally translated as lesson study or lesson research (Fernandez, 2002, p. 394)), and exported to British schools in earnest towards the end of the twentieth century, the Lesson Study model allows teachers to pick out a specific aspect of teaching and learning, collaboratively plan its delivery, then collectively review its impact on learning, before trying again.

A full Lesson Study cycle involves locating a particular skill or section of knowledge that students struggle with. You then team up with other teachers who want to pursue a similar issue. This can be departmental or across subjects, normally in groups of three. In your group you co-plan a lesson that addresses your chosen focus area, allocate your first ‘teacher’ of the lesson and put your shared plan into action. The other two teachers in your group observe the learning (not the teaching) that goes on in the lesson, looking out for the outcomes of certain case students, before meeting together immediately afterwards to reflect on and, thus revise, your original plans. The varied ways in which the students react to the lesson thus jumpstart the next cycle, which begins again with a different teacher delivering to their class, but with the same collective format as before. Students (and their often surprising responses to learning) are at the heart of this process.

Lesson Study owes its popularity, at least in part, to two of its central attributes; simplicity and flexibility. Every Lesson Study cycle starts with the simple questions; what is our focus and who is our focus? This accessible dual question can generate a vast array of responses. For example, I have coordinated a Lesson Study into the application of SOLO Taxonomy in GCSE History with a view to improving the deeper-level thinking skills of comparison and analysis, targeting students on the ‘old’ C/D grade borderline. A future Oakham Lesson Study could look into issues ranging from differentiation and combating low-level disruption to inquiry-based learning and MYP unit planning.  A Study into any single aspect will have the added benefit of leading you on to a subsequent focus area. The choice is yours and the possibilities are abundant.

For me though, it is the fundamental principle of teamwork and shared professional development that draws me to Lesson Study; teachers work collaboratively throughout. Any great ideas are everyone’s to revel in. When a plan goes wrong (it invariably does at some point), you have each other’s pooled experience with which to reflect on and refine your strategies. Observations are only ever of the students’ learning and not of the teacher’s teaching, as you all planned the lesson together. Therefore, teachers are free to enjoy a pedagogical ‘out of body experience’, genuinely appraising what the students are getting out of the lesson and questioning how you could help them go further. As Warwick et al (2007) say; “The unique strengths of Lesson Study are…in helping teachers to see their learners with fresh eyes and to better understand: what the pupils know, how to connect that to the new knowledge in hand and how to diagnose what might be creating barriers to the pupils in doing this.”

Inherently, Lesson Study is an ongoing process; as the Japanese say; “a lesson is like a swiftly flowing river” (Lewis & Tsuchida. 1999). If at first it doesn’t succeed, you try and try again. Therefore, in those quiet, calm moments of the approaching holiday (if you can find any), take some time to consider how you and your students could benefit from Lesson Study in the New Year. Try to think beyond the boundaries of your subjects and normal routine. Think instead about how you could take risks and improve the way your students learn, even if just a little at first.


Further Reading

Dudley P. (2018) Some reflections on recent development in the Lesson Study literature. Available at: http://lessonstudy.co.uk/2018/07/new-blog-from-pete-dudley-some-reflections-on-recent-development-in-the-lesson-study-literature/ [accessed 29/11/18]

Dudley P. (2013) Lesson Study: a handbook. Available at: http://lessonstudy.co.uk/lesson-study-a-handbook/ [accessed 29/11/18]

Dudley P. (2016) Lesson Study: Lesson Study Workbook. Camden. Available at:

http://lessonstudy.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Lesson_Study_Handbook_-_011011-1.pdf [accessed 29/11/18]

Education Endowment Foundation. (2018) Lesson Study. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/projects-and-evaluation/projects/lesson-study/  [accessed 27/11/18]

Fernandez C. (2002) Learning from Japanese Approaches to Professional Development: The Case of Lesson Study. Columbia University.

Lewis C & Tsuchida I. (1999) A Lesson Is Like a Swiftly Flowing River: How Research Lessons Improve Japanese Education, in Improving Schools 2(1): 48-56

Simmons M. (2015) The role of ‘koshi’ in UK lesson study.

Teacher Development Trust. (2018) What is Lesson Study? Available at: https://tdtrust.org/what-is-lesson-study [accessed 5/12/18]

Weston D. (2017) Does Lesson Study Work? Available at: https://tdtrust.org/lesson-study-work-look-new-eef-trial [accessed 29/11/18]

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