John Mynott, School of Education, University of Aberdeen, UK
The more experience I have with leading Lesson Study, the more impact on teachers’ professional learning I think it has. Yet there are concerns about Lesson Study’s translation into the United Kingdom (Seleznyov, 2018, 2020) and the outcomes of Lesson Study are not always positive (Mynott, 2019, 2020). These concerns should not be ignored, because through responding to them, we can begin to model a sustainable approach to UK Lesson Study.
Lesson Study is a collaborative endeavour, bringing teachers together. Originating from Japan (Stigler and Hiebert, 1999; Lewis, 2002), UK Lesson Study is strongly influenced by Dudley’s (2020) model. Participating teachers explore lessons through a question or theme and follow a simple sequence: prepare, plan, teach and review (Dudley, 2015). Dudley (2015) does, however, warn that there is danger to this simplicity, as Lesson Study can be adapted or innovated just for the sake of it. It is therefore useful to see Lesson Study through Cropper’s (1996) suggestion that sustainable collaborations should be understood as continued persistence. Cropper (1996) proposes that sustainability should not be a performance measure for collaborations, suggesting instead that collaborations will always require effort and continued persistence if they are to be of value. By framing Lesson Study as a collaboration of continued persistence, the onus is placed on developing Lesson Study as a means to support and develop ongoing professional learning.
This article aims to give an example of collaborative persistence over three years from 2017 to 2020. Each academic year makes up a phase in a time series or temporal case study (Yin, 2018) of Lesson Study in a two-form entry primary school in England. Figure 1 shows the evolution of the phases. From comparative analysis of the case study in its distinct phases, the themes of group membership and facilitation in Lesson Study emerged, as well as its integration as a method of professional learning.
Professional learning structures involved weekly staff training sessions, which focused on different areas of learning for teachers. Each year, the school development plan identified key areas for professional learning, and weekly sessions were augmented with additional training for newer teachers, provided both internally from peers and externally from courses.
Case study phases
Phase 1: Repiloting
Phase 1 was a single Lesson Study cycle (Dudley, 2020) linked to consonant clusters in phonics (Mynott et al., 2018). This cycle used an extended preparation phase (Mynott et al., 2018) prior to the observed lessons, as the need for expertise had been identified in previous Lesson Study work (Mynott, 2019). The extended preparation was an adaptation of the Lesson Study cycle used by Dudley (2020), where additional training, reading and collaboration takes place prior to the lesson section, and a facilitator helps to keep track. This extended preparation cycle also utilised a facilitator to help keep track. Part of this repiloting aimed to counter previous findings; ensuring that outcomes were positive for teachers’ professional learning.
The membership of the Lesson Study team was small, with only three participants. As the team was exploring an area of learning interesting to them, their learning was rich (Mynott et al., 2018). However, considering the limited integration of the cycle throughout the wider school community, there was little evidence of impact beyond the Lesson Study team.
Phase 2: Developing links
In Phase 2, the Lesson Study cycles continued to use the extended preparation phase and facilitators. However, there were differences and learning from Phase 1.
Firstly, the areas of focus for the Lesson Study cycles were drawn from the development areas of the school, so they were linked to wider professional learning. The school development plan focused on oracy, notebooks and curriculum development, and so the focus areas were drawn from those that the school was working on. Oracy was selected as a way of promoting talk, which would support pupils with their learning across the curriculum. Notebooks were selected because they had been identified as a practice that could be improved on during discussion in a recent quality assurance visit.
Secondly, the learning from the Lesson Study was facilitated at an organisational level, to enable it to be shared in a considered way in the professional learning sessions at the end of the academic year. The outcomes were considered as being useful for all staff, and so time was set aside for the Lesson Study participants to share their learning. This also changed the membership of the Lesson Study teams: a wider group of teachers were enabled to participate if they wished. This meant that a larger group of staff were invested and involved in the Lesson Study and it was not something that felt as distant as it had in Phase 1.
In terms of facilitation, the Lesson Study cycles in Phase 2 were aligned to the professional learning structures of the school but still had limited interaction with them, even though the focus areas of both the Lesson Study cycles were drawn from aspects of the overall school development plan. While this meant that the cycles had relevance to the wider school, the initial stimulus did not necessarily mean that the Lesson Study participants shared ideas and learning as it was being undertaken. While its start and end were facilitated to link to the professional learning structures, the actual Lesson Study cycles and their learning did not interact apart from in a summative way. This meant that they were more aligned to the professional learning structures than in Phase 1 but were not integral to them.
A key difference in Phase 2 was that the learning was shared in a more considered and planned way than in Phase 1. Staff development meetings were set aside for this learning before and after the 2019 summer holidays. Organisational facilitation meant that the learning from the Lesson Study cycles could be carefully sequenced and therefore considered by the wider staff.
The Lesson Study cycles in Phase 2 might be best described as trials of ideas and exploring the literature around notebooks and oracy. In this way, they were highly relevant to the professional learning structures of the school, but as the ideas within them were emerging, and limited by group expertise, the learning was not shared outwardly during the Lesson Study cycles.
Phase 3: Integrating
The extended preparation Lesson Study cycle format with facilitators continued in Phase 3. But there was a further evolution in how the cycles were facilitated and linked to the professional learning of the school.
The sharing at the end of Phase 2 had inspired new participants to be involved in both Lesson Study cycles, and the new members built on the previous learning. Participants in the notebook cycle in Phase 2 had agreed that it was more important to focus on how children were thinking about their learning and the metacognition of this. In the oracy cycle of Phase 2, smaller group/ pair oracy had been explored, and the new Lesson Study cycle in Phase 3 wanted to expand on that learning with larger discussion groups.
The facilitation changed as Phase 3 began. The two Lesson Study cycles in Phase 3 had dedicated facilitators who had a clear role in supporting the Lesson Study cycle. These facilitators were also members of the senior team within the school, so were able to ensure that the organisational facilitation was in place to enable the Lesson Study teams to meet regularly and work with the senior team. This meant that they could work together in altering the professional learning sequence to ensure that the delivery of Lesson Study learning was useful for both the Lesson Study team and for the school’s professional learning structures, thereby allowing for a more integrated Lesson Study model.
With the expansion of interest in the Lesson Study learning, it became important for the Lesson Study cycle participants to share their learning at more regular intervals. This meant a more cohesive structure, as seen in the diagram relating to Phase 3, and meant that there needed to be staff development meetings dedicated to sharing the learning from the Lesson Study cycles. These sharing points coincided with key steps within the Lesson Study cycle, at the end of the preparation phase, after the lessons and then at the end of the Lesson Study cycle, although this last sharing point was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic school closures in 2020. The impact of these more frequent learning-sharing points meant that the Lesson Study cycles were more integrated into the professional learning structures and the whole of the staff team had a clearer idea of what was being developed within the Lesson Study and what this was showing the participants about practice linked to metacognition and oracy.
This summary of a case study specifically focused on two elements that changed as Lesson Study developed within a school. Lesson Study was sustained because of a consistent endeavour to evolve it to meet the needs of the community that it served. It was therefore sustainable under Cropper’s (1996) definition of sustainable collaboration. Yet the extent of this endeavour should not be underestimated.
To facilitate the development of an integrated Lesson Study, you need to think about Lesson Study not just as an isolated part but as an integral strand of the whole professional learning structure within a school. Sherrington’s (2021) model suggests three professional learning streams, and the interaction between them is identified. However, these links are less pronounced in Sherrington’s model than within this case study, where the interaction between the Lesson Study cycles and the professional learning structures became integral to the overall professional learning within the school. Whatever happens in Lesson Study cannot only stay there; the value that it has is in the interchange between Lesson Study and the professional learning structures. Ideas for Lesson Study come from the professional learning structure and the Lesson Study becomes a dynamic space in which these ideas can be explored and refined. This learning can then be passed back into the main professional learning structure for the benefit of all staff. This process is iterative, and the constant evolution draws in the wider staff. Any questions that the staff raise about the learning can also be channelled back into the Lesson Study cycle and the process can continue to evolve. By Phase 3, the process is interactive and the learning inside both the Lesson Study cycles and the professional learning structures is dynamic.
This dynamic process sounds straightforward, but in a busy school it will require a concerted effort to organisationally manage the different elements. The participants of the Lesson Study cycle need release time to attend and engage. The staff development meetings in the professional learning need to be flexible enough in scheduling to work with any variations in timescale, as Lesson Study cycles can vary in their duration. Therefore, the share points will not be exact before the Lesson Study cycle starts. Due to the nature of this organisational management, it is important that the facilitator of the links between Lesson Study and the professional learning structures is able to give the time and create the space.
With the correct facilitation, integration can take place. This integration is the essence of the sustainability of Lesson Study. In the integrated phase, Lesson Study acts as a trial space – a place where ideas can be created and explored and innovation can take place. This positions it as a research group aligned to the main professional learning structures of the school. As this evolves, more staff would be drawn into the Lesson Study cycles at different points, but all staff would benefit from sharing the learning from each cycle as it develops. They can draw this learning into their own practice, and conversations will no longer be only in the Lesson Study cycle, but will be in all aspects of professional learning, whether that is structurally organised or in those more incidental organic interactions that take place in schools.
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