Research themes and questions

Research Themes

it is important that lesson study efforts are directed carefully within an overarching theme - such as Teaching for Mastery, which was the focus of the Research Trials within the CfEM programme or Teaching for Problem Solving in the LeMaPS project.

This theme will set the direction of all your CLR activity over a substantial period. For this reason it is important that group agrees on the theme and has a shared understanding of what they mean by something like Teaching for Mastery or Teaching for Problem Solving. 

If Teaching for Mastery is considered as an example of a research theme, the first thing to do is to explore exactly what might be meant by this. During the CfEM research trials the Centres collaboratively came to an agreement of key principles that were applicable ensuring these were research/evidence informed. These were carefully documented and exemplified. See the Teaching for Mastery Handbook that sets out the Key Principles. In this way all teacher participants in the research were able to make sure that they had a shared understanding of the issues that they would explore in the research lessons. These principles were important in developing the exemplar lessons and their accompanying research questions. This was a substantial and funded research project and it is unlikely that you will be able to go into that depth and detail. However, you may wish to do something at a smaller scale that does provide an agreed overview. Perhaps a poster of important ideas will be informative for participants.


A word about research lessons

Central to CLR is the research lesson. This is not just any old lesson, it's a lesson that is carefully designed to allow the group to explore a question that they have identified that is important to their teaching within the overall focus of the research theme that informs all of their work.  You should expect the eventual lesson plan to have considerable detail in it. Akihiko Takahashi and Tom McDougal (2016) write, "[the] planning team creates a written document, called the lesson research proposal, to communicate what the team learned from their kyouzai kenkyuu [study of curriculum materials], and to explain their instructional thinking. It includes learning goals for a unit, an overview of the unit, a detailed teaching–learning plan for one particular lesson within the unit (the research lesson), a rationale for the design of the unit and research lesson, and a clear statement of how the research lesson aims to address the research theme and the learning goals. In our experience, a thorough lesson research proposal may be 9 pages long. 

You can see how this relates to the research lessons that were part of the Teaching for Mastery Trial here.

Research Questions

The research lesson in CLR explores a 'professional' or research question that the group seeks to answer. Consequently, the research question(s) relate very directly to important incidents that are planned for in the lesson. For example, if the group is exploring students' use of different representations in their solution to a problem, the lesson needs to be planned in ways that encourage such representation development. The lesson plan for the research lesson should be considerably more extensive than would be the case for a day-to-day lesson. It needs, for example, to signal to the class teacher (and observers) where opportunities to 'answer' the research questions are planned for, and to indicate what the planning team expect to happen and how the teacher might be expected to deal with what they expect students to do in response to the task(s).

Deciding on a research question for a lesson and a task for the lesson that will lead to a good research lesson is perhaps the most crucial part of the planning process. The LeMaPS project team found it useful to craft the research question and then ask what the implications will be for the task choice and lesson focussing on the issue of how the task will allow research lesson observers to observe student behaviours in relation to the research question.

Research questions might typically start with phrases such as,
How can we…
Under what conditions…
What is the best way to…
Will it make a difference to ….
What strategies . . .
What can we do to . . . so that. . .

To give a specific example, one research question that was used in the LeMaPS project was, “How can we support students to make sensible assumptions and simplifications so that the problem becomes manageable?”

The planning team decided that … The problem should be chosen to involve a large number of variables (such as time, cost). The students then have to consider which are most important, and make assumptions about their values.

They then decided that a suitable task would be The Z Factor from the Bowland Maths bank of assessment tasks.

Further examples of research questions that might be suitable if you were working in the reserach theme, Teaching for Problem-solving include,

How might we help our students to:

The document here gives examples of research questions from the LeMaPS project.

 In the Centres for Excellence in Maths research project each lesson had two research questions, one with a pedagogic focus and the other with a didactical (maths) focus.

For example, the research questions for a lesson about multiplicative reasoning had these two questions:

Pedagogic focus 

How is the lesson developed and brought to a close in ways that values and builds upon what students already know? 

Maths focus 

What evidence do you observe of students’ prior learning about multiplicative reasoning and how do they work with or modify this? 


Takahashi, A. and McDougal, T. (2016) Collaborative lesson research: Maximizing the impact of lesson study ZDM Mathematics Education, 48 (4)  pp. 513-526. 

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