"Creating Shared Instructional Products: An Alternative Approach to Improving Teaching" by Anne K. Morris and James Hiebert is a featured article in the January/February 2011 issue of Educational Researcher. Paralleling our work in lesson study, the authors seek to solve two enduring issues in education: large variations in learning opportunities for students across classrooms and improving instruction. In the article, Morris and Hiebert propose a system that centers on the creation of shared products that guide classroom instruction via three features:
1. All members of the group share the same issues, for which the product, e.g., a lesson, offers a solution;
2. Improvements to existing products are usually small and are assessed using data; and
3. The products are jointly constructed and continuously improved with contributions from everyone in the group.
Among other things, the authors also note two examples of systems that build public and changeable knowledge products. The first was the quality movement in health care and the second was lesson study in Japanese schools. The latter has grown over the past 60 years into a nationwide system that is seen by many to be largely responsible for the high quality of teaching in Japanese classrooms in grades 1 to 8. This lesson study process depends on small tests of small changes over extended periods of time. It is a focus on the details of instruction and is not a quick fix. The data collected from the first teaching of the lesson is enough to suggest a change in the lesson. The data collected from the second teaching of the (now changed) lesson is an assessment of the change made. This process, replicated over time, by many lesson study groups, is what begins to amass these small changes into improved instructional products. Moreover, the authors argue, the variation of the lessons taught across classrooms is reduced and all students have the opportunity to be involved with higher quality instruction.
Morris and Hiebert note that the four key characteristics of these lessons are:
1. They are created around particular learning goals;
2. They must be detailed enough to directly affect instruction;
3. They are testable and improvable; and
4. They are accessible to teachers when needed, not stored in a drawer somewhere.