Reflections on Collaborative Lesson Study

When in Japan last week, I (Clive) was able to gather some opinions on “Japanese lesson study,” which to a degree is being advocated in other countries as well as Japan. Briefly, it involves a teacher preparing a lesson, perhaps with help from others, teaching the lesson with colleagues looking on, and subsequently getting feedback from those present (other than the students) on the lesson and its delivery.

During a visit to an elementary school, the principal told me that those doing the teaching don’t enjoy the experience, though he is inclined to think that on balance it is useful. At a teacher education institution I learned that student teachers have to engage in lesson study as a key element in their final practicum. A teacher educator commented that the student who is “on show” typically feels under extreme pressure, is unable to sleep the night before, has to keep entirely to a script submitted beforehand, and is subjected to strong criticism afterwards by fellow student teachers, notably for diverging from the script. She clearly wasn’t keen on the process, at least as implemented in pre-service programs she is familiar with.

It seems to me that collaborative lesson development has to be handled very carefully, in Japan or anywhere else. Discussing with colleagues what and how to teach has enormous potential benefits, and many teachers in our longitudinal study are in favor of it. However, a friendly, collegial atmosphere must be established; it should be made clear that each teacher is in the end responsible for their practice; appropriate departure from what is planned should be applauded rather than condemned; and there should be no expectation that all teachers will teach the same things in the same way. This is in keeping with important general ideals of teaching such as constructivism, flexibility, individualization, and teacher professionalism.


4 thoughts on “Reflections on Collaborative Lesson Study

  1. Hi Clive, I know of a school that participates in lesson study 2 times per year; for certain, the person teaching in the lesson study is a highly experienced teacher. Actually, what happens in the preparation of the lesson study is that teams of highly experienced teachers prepare for the observation. This lesson study not only involves the teaching of very experienced teachers but a staff of observers who are also highly experienced. Moreso, the environment is very supportive and collegial. The lesson is not only designed by the teacher who is teaching the lesson but is one that is designed with thoughtfulness, experience, and consideration for student learning. The lesson is constructed by a team; so while the one teacher is chosen to teach the lesson the staff understands that the lesson study is not a critique of the teacher’s teaching but is an analysis of the lesson and study student learning. While lesson study is a process that is valued in this school, it does come with anticipation and stress — and that is among highly experienced teachers! Student teachers and other educational organizations (i.e. Ministry leads and teachers outside the school) are invited to observe and take part in the analysis of learning. There is also a discussant in the process of lesson study; an expert who brings together what was observed in lesson study and the comments from the group during the deconstruction of the lesson. I was the discussant once and I recall the intensity of the process. It seems like such high pressure to have student teachers be the ones to conduct the lesson. Afterall, student teachers are only beginning teachers… and not the ones who should be observed by a large group of experienced colleagues for the purpose of advancing our understanding of teaching and learning. Furthermore, the focus on lesson study is on learning and how children respond to the lesson and we know that more often student teachers are so focused on their own performance that I suspect the focus and purpose of lesson study gets flipped on its head. It is interesting how the process of lesson study gets used in a variety of ways.

  2. “appropriate departure from what is planned should be applauded rather than condemned”

    Absolutely, the focus on “sticking to the script” seems severely misguided, just as is using such superficial criteria to evaluate student work.

    As a pre-service teacher, I was never observed with such scrutiny. However, I had several opportunities to teach a well-prepared lesson with other faculty (beyond my mentors or professors) observing. I viewed the experience as something for my benefit, as it was always a formative practice. Generally, I feel that we need to do away with the ideas that teaching is a talent (rather than a learned and developed skill) and that an individual’s approach to (and success at) teaching reflects some fixed personal character trait. The more I remove the personal ME from my evaluations, and the more I view every day as a learning opportunity, the more relaxed I am.

    Of course, to echo one of your points, everyone must view it as an open learning experience.

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