The term lesson study is used quite widely and increasingly by teachers the world over. Consequently, many practices have come to be thought of as lesson study, with some of these not being particularly close to the original models which originated in the Far East, particularly in Japan and China.
Fundamentally, teacher research into their teaching practice and their students' learning in classroom lessons is central to lesson study (LS). This research is collaborative with teachers working together to explore teaching and learning. For this reason, sometimes the term teacher research group, or collaborative lesson research might be used instead of lesson study.
Akihiko Takahashi, a Japanese educator, now living and working in the United States writes, "Lesson Study” is a translation of the Japanese phrase jugyou kenkyuu, which refers to a set of practices that have been used in Japan to improve teaching and learning for over 100 years. Lesson Study is credited with enabling profound changes in math and science instruction in Japan in recent decades, but Japanese teachers use Lesson Study to hone instruction in all content areas, including p.e. and foreign language"
Takahashi, A. and McDougal, T. (2016) Collaborative lesson research: maximizing the impact of lesson study. ZDM Mathematics Education 48, 513–526 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11858-015-0752-x
He goes on to suggest that in its translation into other countries the cultural context and school structures don't necessarily support direct adoption of the Japanese model. It is probably best to take a pragmatic view of trying to get in place a model that "works for you".
Fundamentally, Lesson Study can be considered as involving teachers taking part in cycles of action research that explore student learning. However, to ensure that it is as effective as possible these cycles are carefully organised in a systematic way so that individual teachers and the group as a whole benefit in terms of their learning.
A typical (or possibly idealised model) is described below.
1. As a group we begin by identifying a research focus. This will be fundamental to our work as a group.
The focus, for example, may be problem solving, so the research questions for lessons in the cycle of lessons will relate to the teaching of problem solving processes, rather than content. So, for example, for one lesson the research question may be: How can we enable students to select and use mathematical representations when problem solving?
2. A detailed lesson plan is needed for each cycle of LS. This is effectively the 'research proposal' for the lesson.
This may be produced by a small planning team and may include input from outside expert who has been asked to help the team. The intention of the plan is to seek to find some answers to the research question. At the heart of the plan is the careful anticipation of how students will respond to the task(s) of the lesson and how the teacher might respond in turn. The plan also anticipates what the teacher will do at vital moments in the lesson to progress learning and help students overcome their difficulties. More detailed advice is given here.
3. The lesson is taught by one of the planning team. This lesson is observed carefully by the teachers involved in the Lesson Study group. This may include teachers who are part of the group, an 'outside expert' and student teachers.
4. The research lesson is then analysed in the post-lesson discussion involving the teacher and all the observers. The outside expert may be expected to make a particularly significant contribution to the post-lesson discussion by providing insights informed by research and in-depth knowledge of the research issue.
This post-lesson discussion plays a crucial role in teacher learning - based on careful and detailed observation of the lesson it provides opportunities for detailed discussions that we don't often have space to engage in with colleagues.
5. This leads to the potential for a collaborative development of a summary of learning (of the group).
This learning is then taken account of when the cycle begins again, with a new research question.
Using this process, learning gradually accumulates through collaboration with colleagues in a spirit of mutual professional development.
The benefits of the Lesson Study approach include:
§ increased collegiality as a result of collaboration in planning, observing and reflecting on lessons
§ enhanced personal skills and an increased capacity for critical analysis, for creative design, and for linking practice to goals
§ the opportunity to develop a better picture of what constitutes good teaching from close observation of teaching and learning as it takes place in the classroom
§ the teacher-led nature of the professional development, which keeps students at the centre in ways that have immediate practical value in teachers’ classrooms.