In November 2019, I attend my 3rd CANMEE lesson study training. “Lesson Study is a Japanese model of teacher-led research in which a triad of teachers work together to target an identified area for development in their students’ learning. Using existing evidence, participants collaboratively research, plan, teach and observe a series of lessons, using ongoing discussion, reflection and expert input to track and refine their interventions.” (Teacher Development Trust) In short, lesson study is a professional development model where teachers plan, teach, and reflect together around an identified goal or focus. The key piece is one or more shared classroom experiences teaching real kids.
In the United States, the typical professional development happens in a school cafeteria, office building, often associated with a county office of education, or in a hotel ballroom or convention center in the form of a conference. These professional developments are led by teachers or more often by former teachers that have been removed from the classroom for a number of years. I am one of those teachers that has not lived the life of an everyday teacher for 9 years. The critical piece that is missing from this professional development model is the students. I can sound convincing talking about the latest research and teaching strategies with colorful slides directed at the teachers. But does it really work with students?
Lesson study incorporates teacher learning and training with real students. Students who are not robots and do not always respond or behave in predictable ways. In November, I attended the lesson study conference with Fawn Nguyen, Melissa Wantz, and Margarita Mosqueda. Three AMAZING classroom teachers that are now in coaching roles. After spending 2 days learning about lesson study, we decided to give it a try. We reached out to two third grade teachers, Erika Padilla and Jaqueline Leal. We targeted Erika and Jaqueline because they were two teachers that we have a good relationship with and are open to trying out new ideas. The two teachers were willing to give up a few hours or their after school time to let us experiment with lesson study.
For Fawn, Melissa, Margarita, and myself, we wanted to know what was the big deal about lesson study? Is it doable in our current structure? Is it a better model for professional development?
We met in December to determine our learning goal, when the public lesson would take place, and logistics we needed to work through to pull this off. Last week, the team of 6 met to plan a 3rd grade lesson on elapsed time. We started with the districts adopted math curriculum and picked the lesson that fell on the day of the public lesson. We call it a public lesson because it a lesson that we all observe together, with one of us teaching. In addition, we could invite other teachers, parents, and administrators. With this being our first attempt, we stuck with the six of us.
Besides students meeting the publisher and Common Core learning goal of calculating elapsed time, our team wanted to focus in on students communicating their thinking. We read through and dissected the publisher lesson. It was a strong lesson but we wanted to ensure we connected more to students. We felt that the more the students could talk about elapsed time in their own lives, the more they would connect to the lesson and the more engaged they would be. With the learning goals in mind, the six of us modified the lesson to meet the needs of the students.
Today was the public lesson. We went into the process hoping Erika or Jacqueline would volunteer to teach it. Understandably, they deferred to me. It was a new process with a group of highly respected peers observing. The safe thing was to let someone else teach. The exciting part for me was that I got to teach the class that has by twin 9-year old boys. It was a fun crossover between my professional and family life.
Immediately following the lesson, the six of us met in an empty room to debrief. Besides getting to see my two boys as math learners, the reflection process was the highlight of my morning. Fawn played the role of the content expert. She focused her observations on the mathematics and the students’ strategies. Margarita focused on how our two focus emerging bilingual students responded to the instruction. Melissa, whose expertise is in Language Arts, provided an outside perspective and led as the facilitator. Erika and Jacqueline provided the perspective of the teachers that work with these kids and teach the mathematics curriculum on a daily basis. Their feedback and reflection was a gift, one of the most influential professional learning experiences I have had in years. I feel all six of us grew significantly as educators today.
We ended our time by reflecting on the lesson study process as a whole. We all agreed it provided an amazing professional growth opportunity because of the planning and reflecting around a common experience with real children. Some of our other takeaways:
It is so valuable to take your time early in the year to set up your classroom norms, routines, and learning community. I benefited today as the classroom teacher because of the work Erika put in to establish those norms, routines, and learning community.
Knowing and connecting with your students matters. Being an outside guest teacher left me without the student connection, without knowing the individual student’s strengths and needs, and without them having that connection with me.
Although we want right answers, wrong answers provide more opportunities for rich mathematical discussion and student learning.
Provide opportunities for students to share their thinking with each other and take the time to truly listen to their thinking without judgement.
Let the students own the math and the learning.
We asked Jacqueline and Erika about their perspective about lesson study as a model for professional development. They asked for more and offered to take on the role of the teacher next time. Margarita, Fawn, and Melissa will continue to explore lesson study as they are all content specialists in the same district.
I want to wrap up this post with a HUGE thank you to Erika, Jacqueline, Melissa, Margarita, and Fawn for the opportunity I had to learn from them and to grow as an educator. Their willingness to share their diverse experiences and expertise helped me grow as a classroom teacher and as a person that supports classroom teachers in the area of mathematics. There are so many reasons we can generate for why the Japanese lesson study model won’t work in the US. Everyone of those reasons is worth overcoming so that teachers can learn with their peers, in front of real students. Afterall, the students are why we are here.