Can New App Help ‘Lesson Study’ Make Inroads in U.S. Schools?

By Kristine Kim — March 18, 2016 2 min read
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As they grapple with new instructional expectations, a growing number of teachers are working to improve their practice through the “lesson study” approach to professional development, according to a KQED Mind Shift story.

The term lesson study is a translation of the Japanese phrase kenkyuu juygyou—literally,”research lessons.” It is a highly developed practice of teaching and learning in Japan.

In lesson studies, teachers develop lessons to achieve a specific goal in collaboration with their colleagues, according to an OECD overview. During the lesson, participating teachers observe a colleague leading a lesson and are responsible for recording the lesson as well as compiling notes on instruction strategies and student behavior. The lesson is then followed up by a discussion in which the team examines the effective aspects, areas for improvement, and offer suggestions as well as insight.

“It gives you a chance to really think through all the details and address all the problems you are trying to address,” Tom McDougal, executive director of Lesson Study Alliance in Chicago, told KQED. “And you do it with the moral and intellectual support of your colleagues and it’s not evaluative.”

According to the KQED story, lesson study has been used in Japan since the 1960s, when a teacher-centered elementary education took root. The Japanese education system advocates for the continuous improvement of teaching practice that is led by teachers.

To expand the use of the practice in the United States, McDougal and Akihiko Takahashi, a DePaul University math education professor, developed the Collaborative Lesson Research model, which offers a breakdown of the lesson-study process.

The Lesson Study Alliance has also developed an iPad app called Lesson Note that’s designed to support the lesson studies.

The app gives teachers tools to take notes on each individual student through an online seating chart of the classroom. Observing teachers can also use a timer to gauge class time spent on student discussion and insert pictures within their time-stamped notes. Transitions between different stages of the lesson are also recordable, and users can upload student work.

In the U.S., interest in lesson study sparked in the late 1990s among U.S. teachers and policymakers, according to Dr. Catherine Lewis, the director of lesson-study research projects at Mills College in Oakland, Calif. The publication of The Teaching Gap, by James Stigler and James Hiebert, in 1999 included a chapter on “lesson study” and a video study of the practice in different countries.

However, time and space limitations—as well as questions about its impact on student performance—have curtailed its growth in U.S. schools.

McDougal hopes that more U.S. schools will make the shift to lesson study, suggesting that wider use of the practice could build instructional expertise.

He told KQED, “There’s really only a handful of people in the U.S. who know lesson study and know content and know teaching, and are really good at analyzing the lesson and giving remarks at the end of the lesson.”

Image: Collaborative Lesson Research, Lesson Study Alliance

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.