Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Workshop 8 Mathematical Modeling Teaching Strategies
Teaching Strategies:

Listening to Students

Lesson Study
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Lesson Study

What It Is
The Benefits of Lesson Study

When the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) was conducted in 1996, more than 60 percent of American math and science teachers who participated in the study reported that they never had the opportunity to observe or be observed by another colleague. In contrast, Japanese teachers observe colleagues in classrooms all the time.

Derived from the Japanese word jugyokenkyu, the term "lesson study" refers to the process by which a group of teachers cooperatively plan lessons and examine how students respond to these lessons. Lesson study is the favored form of professional development among teachers in Japan, and it is an emerging form of professional development in many parts of the United States.

What It Is

According to James Stigler and James Hiebert, authors of The Teaching Gap, the Japanese technique of lesson study is the most powerful method for changing classroom practice. During the process, teachers work collaboratively to:

  1. Identify an instructional problem to solve or goal to attain.
  2. Plan a lesson - including what activities to use, the order of activities, and perhaps even the questions to ask.
  3. Teach or observe the lesson.
  4. Discuss the lesson as it was taught - what worked well and what could improve.
  5. Revise the lesson.
  6. Teach the lesson again, if necessary, possibly using a different teacher in the group.
  7. Share the results of the discussions and observations with colleagues.
Listen to what Orlando Pajon has to say about the process of lesson study:

Listen to audio clip of teacher
Orlando Pajon
This lesson has been possible because of the collaboration of the math teachers here in our department, especially the ones that are working with the SIMMS curriculum... Read More

Lesson study is not about making a perfect lesson. Rather, it is a formal process that allows teachers to work together, observe one another's classrooms, examine their practices, discuss ideas, and learn from each other's successes in order to become more effective educators. The following elements of lesson study are taken from the online article "Improving Student Learning One-Lesson-at-a-Time" by Jenny Sue Flannagan and M. Gail Derrick in ENC Focus:

Focusing the Lesson
Lesson study usually focuses on a broad, school-wide goal such as "independent thinking" or "love of learning." The teachers help determine these broad goals and choose the specific topic of the lesson. The topic often relates to concepts that the teachers have observed are difficult for their students to understand.

Planning the Lesson
The teachers research the topic of the lesson, reading books and articles about the target concept. They collaborate to develop the lesson plan and present a draft to their peers for feedback.

Teaching the Lesson
One teacher from the team presents the lesson in his or her classroom. The other teachers observe the lesson very closely, taking notes on what the students and the teacher are doing and saying. They may document the lesson through video, photographs, audiotapes, and student work.

Reflecting and Evaluating
The group meets to discuss the lesson and their observations. The teacher who presented the lesson speaks first, outlining how he or she thinks the lesson went and identifying problems. The other teachers contribute their own observations and suggestions.

Revising the Lesson
Based on problems identified in the first presentation, the group revises the lesson. Changes are usually based on student misunderstandings that the teachers noticed during their observation. The group may meet several times to improve the lesson and prepare for a second implementation, although sometimes the teachers may decide not to re-teach the concept [or lesson].

Teaching the Revised Lesson
A teacher presents the lesson to a different group of students. The same person may teach the lesson a second time, or a different teacher may try it out. Often, all the teachers in the school observe the revised lesson.

Reflecting and Evaluating
The entire faculty participates in the second debriefing session, which may cover more general issues of learning and instruction. An outside expert working with the lesson-study group, such as the subject-area coordinator, also participates in the debriefing.

Sharing Results
Teachers share the lessons they develop through this process, creating a bank of meticulously crafted lessons to draw upon for the future. The teachers may publish a report about their study, including the teachers' reflections and a summary of group discussions. In addition, teachers from outside the school may observe teachers presenting the lesson.

Read what David C. Webb has to say about the process of lesson study:

Read transcript from teacher educator David C. Webb
What you may not notice in this video is that teachers have worked extensively to select good problems that can be used to launch activities and to engage students in modeling... Read More

Lesson study differs from the planning that teachers already do in that it involves an observation component not generally associated with writing lesson plans. In addition, it may include the testing of new ideas, discussion of beliefs about learning, and reflection on what was observed in the classroom. Through lesson study, teachers learn from their practice, and they engage in developing and sharing professional knowledge.

Lesson study also differs from other collaborative activities in which teachers participate. Most importantly, it requires teachers to focus on a specific goal, namely improving their own understanding of student thinking. In addition, lesson study requires the interaction of teachers within the classroom during observations. This differs from traditional forms of professional development - college courses, all staff meetings, workshops, and conferences - because it allows teachers to discuss lessons in a tangible setting, involving students, rather than discussing instruction in the abstract, without students.

Read what teacher James Salazar has to say about bringing lesson study to a school:

Read transcript from teacher James Salazar
To begin a lesson study effort, it may be best to start with a small group of interested and dedicated volunteers... Read More

Listen to what David C. Webb has to say about the culture of a school engaged in lesson study:

Listen to audio clip of teacher educator
David C. Webb
What really struck me was the way teachers engaged in reflecting on the lessons they were observing in the video and the way they were open to discuss different ways to run the lesson in the future, or at least to ask a different assessment question or to use different numbers... Read More

The math teachers at Bel Air High School are in their third year of lesson study. A lesson study program is a long term commitment to improve student achievement. In all likelihood, test scores will not rise overnight because a lesson study program has begun at your school. The lesson study process is a multiyear system of change, so it is necessary to highlight incremental change and recognize small successes. At department meetings, make an announcement about effective collaboration. At a parent teacher meeting, present strategies that are now being used in classrooms as a result of the lesson study discussions. Any positive reinforcement will provide momentum.

List the ways in which teachers at your school share with one another their knowledge about teaching.

record your thoughts in your journal

The Benefits of Lesson Study

According to the Iowa Association of School Boards, "The small amount of staff development that focuses on teachers' instructional knowledge and skills is often not sufficiently rigorous or sustained to produce lasting on-the-job changes." Recent research supports that assessment, suggesting that instructional change only happens when professional development is long term, sustained, and intellectually demanding. In addition, the content of professional development activities must focus on the material that teachers teach and on strategies for teaching it. Professional growth is most likely to occur when teachers learn together, assist one another with lesson planning, focus on improving the quality of student work, and work collaboratively to resolve the daily challenges of teaching and learning.

Read what David C. Webb has to say about the benefits of lesson study:

Read transcript from teacher educator David C. Webb
Most teachers, especially in middle school and high school, are somewhat isolated... Read More

Many teachers believe that lesson study may not be worthwhile because the limited amount of time they can devote to it will only allow them to produce a few lesson plans a year. Teachers often ask, "With so much to teach, is it really wise to devote so much time to just a sliver of content?" The answer is yes. Lesson study is not meant to serve as a venture in curriculum writing, and it is not expected that new lessons will be written for every day of the school year. As stated by Clea Fernandez and Sonal Chokshi in a 2002 article on lesson study for Phi Delta Kappan magazine, "Lesson study is not a vehicle for creating a library of tried and tested lessons for teachers to borrow from a shelf and import into their own classrooms. It is a process for creating deep and grounded reflection about the complex activities of teaching that can then be shared and discussed with other members of the profession." By writing, observing, and revising just one lesson, the teachers involved in lesson study will be able to share their knowledge with one another.

Lesson study provides a forum in which teachers can bring forth all the good ideas they've learned at workshops and conferences or developed on their own. In addition, lesson study may be the mechanism for opening new lines of communication between colleagues and may serve as the starting point for further discussions. Although a lesson study group may only formally plan and revise one lesson a year, the ideas brought forth throughout the process may help with the planning and delivery of other lessons.

Read what David C. Webb has to say about lesson study in mathematics:

Read transcript from teacher educator David C. Webb
In any lesson that a teacher designs, there's a limited amount of time that teachers have to engage students in developing new mathematics or revisiting topics, and good problems can reap great rewards for a teacher... Read More

As noted by lesson study expert Patsy Wang Iverson, lesson study can serve as the basis for district wide staff development.

Lesson study should not be viewed as just another program to be added to a potpourri of professional development opportunities; neither should it be viewed as a replacement activity. Rather, lesson study can become the foundation of site-based professional development, which treats teachers as professionals and builds their capacity for lifelong learning. It can help integrate the variety of professional development activities, courses, conferences, and workshops that teachers attend individually or in groups, and which, up until now, have not provided much synergy. Lesson study can serve as the means by which teachers can share the knowledge they gain from their various professional development experiences and channel them into the collaborative research lessons they develop and then teach while assessing student learning and understanding. (From "Why Lesson Study?" Lesson Study Conference presentation, 2002)
Explain how a lesson-study group might foster dialogue about instruction among the teachers at your school.

record your thoughts in your journal

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