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Building collective teacher efficacy: a reflection on using lesson study to encourage professional discourse in a secondary school

Written by: Rob Clifford
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Lesson study has been ‘the primary form of professional development in Japan for over a hundred years’ (Takahashi and McDougal, 2016, p. 514). The features of effective lesson study as defined by Takahashi and McDougal, such as, ‘careful study of academic content’ (p. 520), ‘a highly structured, school-wide… process’ and ‘done over several weeks rather than a few hours’ (p.516), show significant crossover with those highlighted as important for effective teacher professional development by Cordingley et al. (2016).

With this in mind, we believed that lesson study provided a practical model to support developing professional discourse, from sharing best practice towards building more research-based, ‘collective teacher efficacy’, currently identified by Hattie (Visible LearningPlus, 2018) as having the most significant effect size of all school-based strategies and interventions.

Joining the Teacher Development Trust (TDT) ‘Implementing Lesson Study’ course, run in conjunction with Sheffield Hallam University, provided training in the lesson study process, methods of research and critical reflection. At school, following an invitation to join a ‘Best Practice for Progression’ working party, 15 colleagues came forward and were divided into cross-curricular, non-hierarchal triads. Rooted in the TDT training, we defined key elements for each study:

  • Select an area of interest and focus (e.g. underachieving boys) and identify a cohort of three students that could be observed in each class
  • Identify the precise issue (e.g. underachieving boys not developing detail of responses)
  • Research evidence-backed strategies
  • Define impact measures
  • Observe the impact of the strategy in triads
  • Evaluate

Colleagues had a single-page proforma to write up findings, and shared these at a ‘TeachMeet’-style INSET.

Example lesson study enquiries included:

  • What impact does the completion of a learning diary have upon the confidence levels of Key Stage 4 anxious girls when faced with a challenge?
  • How might using structure strips improve the quality and detail of independent written work in underachieving Year 9 boys?

The approach immediately stimulated lively, solution-focused debate. However, working within the parameters was challenging. For example, reading on metacognition and self-regulation only inspired the idea of the learning diary, meaning that although the conceptual approach was research-based, the actual strategy employed was not.

Once underway, there were further shifts to the parameters. One group decided to trial the same strategy – flipped learning – to see how it might impact different cohorts. Some groups spread the observations over a year, allowing refinements of the strategy, whereas one group completed them all within a day, allowing close reflection of impact.

As the boundaries of parameters were pushed, so was the validity of the research. However, prioritising purposeful engagement with pedagogy and exploring the impact on student learning through pre-defined criteria still created a high level of professional discourse. Designing the project was a motivating experience that forced us to challenge our assumptions about what we ‘know’ works (and how we know it). Even if this could not be defined as ‘pure’ lesson study, it was significantly shifting the conversations from ‘sharing a good idea’ towards Hattie’s ‘collective teacher efficacy’.

The recent Education Endowment Foundation report into lesson study (Murphy et al., 2017), based on the Edge Hill University format, has caused some concern: ‘the project found no evidence that this version of lesson study improves maths and reading attainment at KS2’. However, this comes with the caveat that ‘some control schools implemented similar approaches to lesson study’ and that ‘If that is the case, the results suggest that this version of lesson study had no impact over and above elements of the lesson study approach that were already widely used.’

Importantly, it also states that ‘teachers felt lesson study was useful professional development, valued the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues in a structured way and reported several changes to this practice as a result’. This positive impact on teachers is crucial. As stated, our own work could not be defined as formal research, but responses to the anonymous survey were very positive:

  • It was interesting to hear about different strategies and I could not wait to see how I could apply these to my context. I felt inspired to research more, to trial new strategies and evaluate their impact.
  • It has changed the way I view lessons. I now look for challenge, and how the teacher has equipped the students with the tools/strategies needed to tackle it. This has enabled much greater discussions about learning with the learner being the focus.
  • Lesson study provided the freedom to pursue areas of interest/challenge. It created purposeful and very focused discussions between colleagues. It was more of an ongoing strategy that was discussed, implemented, researched and evaluated. The action of constantly having to revise the strategy made it more present in day-to-day practice than a one-off session ever would have.

One hundred per cent of respondents responded yes to the question of whether the project had an impact on student learning, and this was rooted in focused observations of engagement, review of outcomes of work and student voice survey. In addition to this, comments suggest an impact that goes beyond the reach of an individual strategy: colleagues were invigorated, working collaboratively, and critically evaluative of the strategies that they were attempting to use. Crucially, they were altering their view of how to approach new ideas, potentially with a much longer-term impact.

In his response to the EEF research, the Chief Executive of the TDT, David Weston (2017), highlights a number of studies that show a positive impact, but also states that it is ‘no panacea: using this process is no guarantee of good outcomes and more research is needed’. In times of a number of challenges in the education system, whilst the research on approaches to lesson study and impact on outcomes carries on, it seems to be a very effective way of engaging colleagues, bringing research into schools and building a stimulating environment within which to meet these challenges.

References

Cordingley P, Higgins S, Greany T et al. (2015) Developing great teaching: Lessons from the international reviews into effective professional development. Teacher Development Trust. Available at: https://tdtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/DGT-Full-report.pdf (accessed 17 January 2019).

Visible LearningPlus (2018) The Research of John Hattie. Available at: https://www.visiblelearningplus.com/content/research-john-hattie (accessed 30 November 2018).

Murphy R, Weinhardt F, Wyness G et al. (2017) Lesson study evaluation report and executive summary. Education Endowment Foundation. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/projects-and-evaluation/projects/lesson-study/ (accessed 17 January 2019).

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

Weston D (2017) Does lesson study work? Teacher Development Trust. Available at: https://tdtrust.org/lesson-study-work-look-new-eef-trial (accessed 24 November 2018).

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