What is Lesson Study?

Lesson study is the primary form of professional development for Japanese teachers. Its goal is continual improvement of teaching so that children will learn more. Its primary focus is how students think and learn.

It differs from other forms of professional development because it takes place in the moment of teaching and learning. Its focus, as described by Jim Stigler and James Hiebert in The Teaching Gap, is teaching, not teachers, children working, not children’s work. The success of a lesson study is measured in teachers’ learning, not in the perfection of a lesson. That better lessons are created is a secondary byproduct of the process, but not its primary goal.

Groups of teachers work to formulate lessons that are taught, observed, discussed, and refined. Teachers engage in lesson study only a couple of times a year because the process is intense. A lesson study cycle consists of:

  • Selecting a focus
  • Planning the study lesson
  • Public teaching of the lesson
  • Focused observation of the lesson based on the group’s goals
  • Evidence–based debriefing
  • Revision based on the group’s reflection
  • Teaching of a revised lesson

Planning is not ordinary lesson planning. An important part of planning a study lesson is called kyozai kenkyuu, which has been translated by Makoto Yoshida to mean intensive study of materials. This does not mean textbooks alone, but includes understanding the topic being taught, examining materials for teaching it, and seeking any research that might exist. Sometimes a team will call upon an expert in the field to help think through the content. Along with this, great attention is given to:

  • what you want students to know at the end of the lesson
  • how to engage or motivate students
  • the question to be posed and how best to word it to make students think
  • how students are likely to think and how to respond to anticipated errors
  • how to arrange the work produced so it tells the story of the lesson, and
  • how to end the lesson to help students make sense of it.

All of this is consistent with AFT’s view of effective professional development and the ER&D program.

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