Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Reflection on a High School Lesson Study

Change is difficult. We see this in our children as they suffer through growth spurts, irritating peers, and math class. Lesson study, like change, is not an easy thing to do. Indeed, lesson study is in itself a big change that can take us out of our comfort zone. However, being out of our comfort zone from time to time can lead to some real growth. So with lesson study, we are asked to initiate our own growth spurt, deal with our peers and, in the case of this high school lesson study group, get through math class.

The group was a math department with six members at a large high school in central Florida. Some members were geometry specialists; some were algebra experts; while others were math generalists. Members of the group came through traditional teacher education channels, alternative certification programs, and foreign teacher training academies. They were a group of veteran and new teachers, both the men and women. Like so many content-driven departments in our schools, they were hardly a team when they first met for lesson study.

The first two-day lesson study cycle was tense. The group did not know what to expect, they were from different math disciplines, and from different areas of the sprawling campus, so they didn't talk much with one another. During this first meeting, the members sniped at each other, jostled for domination and were in general, as difficult as the adolescents they taught. At the end of the first day, a name was drawn to teach the lesson, but the chosen one did not show-up the day the lesson was to be taught. This teacher didn't call, she just didn't show.

The no show could have been a disaster. However, because the teachers planned the lesson together, it was their lesson, not the no-show's lesson. So another member of the group stepped in and taught the lesson and another person was found to collect data. The data were analyzed and conclusions were drawn about the lesson's successes and failures. In short, the group moved on and grew without their comrade.

The second two-day lesson study went slightly better. Like the previous cycle, the group agreed on a subject matter. But this time, a group member brought one of her own lessons to the group. While the group member offered her lesson as a goodwill gesture to ease the way for the group, it caused tension. It was not a bad lesson, but everyone approaches a lesson differently, especially when there is such a diverse group and changes needed to be made to suit the others. This needed to be the group's lesson, not one member's lesson. As changes were made the teacher offering the lesson became defensive and the attitudes around the table deteriorated.

Luckily, a lesson to teach was finally agreed upon and a teacher was chosen to deliver the lesson the next day. She showed up, and taught the lesson without incident. Data analysis went smoothly and tweaks were made to the lesson. Some members of the team noted that they would teach the revised lesson in one of their next classes. A team was beginning to emerge.

The third two-day lesson study cycle was noticeably different. The group planned the lesson together, a teacher was chosen and taught the lesson, and data analysis informed the changes to the lesson. The group was relaxed, considerate and conversant with one another. They even joked and laughed with each other. A team was born.

To observe the development of this team was an amazing experience. More importantly, a team that works together and shares ideas can only serve to improve student learning. Even in a high school, lesson study can work to develop teams across grades within a discipline. In short, initiating our own growth spurt via lesson study and creating with our peers can get everyone, students and adults alike, successfully through math class.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Lesson Study Reflection

Note: This reflection came at the end of the 2010-2011 school year and has been reposted here from DSC's lesson study blog. The author is Suzanne Teague, a veteran first grade teacher from Orange County Public Schools in Florida. So we thank DSC and the author very much.

My classroom has been packed away, books have been sorted, and memories of the past year are in the forefront. Summer is a time for reflection. As I reflect on experiences that would impact how I teach, the opportunity to participate in Lesson Study comes to mind. It was a powerful experience that not only impacted my teaching, but the students in my classroom, and work with my first grade team of teachers.

Spending quality time with my peers for extended periods over two half days was a bonus. We have always considered ourselves a community of teachers who value each other's ideas. Unfortunately, coming together to discuss our students and our practices has become a commodity. This extra time energized our discussion and ultimately the way we teach in our individual classrooms.

Through collaboration we not only considered our own students but all of the first grade students. Determining specific goals for them provided opportunities for thoughtful discussion. We determined what we wanted our students to take away from this specific lesson at this specific time of year.

Planning the lesson provided the unique opportunity to slow down the process. We analyzed every aspect of the lesson chosen from our Making Meaning® curriculum. In examining the questions, predicting their outcomes, and considering our own students, we thought deeply about the best strategies to meet the needs of our students.

When the lesson was actually taught there was a shift from the lesson to the students. Lesson Study gave us opportunities to "zoom in" and observe specific students to collect data. As I sat on the floor with a clipboard recording levels of engagement, conversations between partners, and reactions to the lesson being taught I was amazed at the students' conversations and literally felt like a fly on the wall. Surprisingly, the children didn't seem to notice or care that six extra teachers had entered their room to watch and listen.

After the lesson, we came back together to examine and analyze the data. Compiling the information we individually gathered gave us a picture of the entire class. There were some surprising trends in our findings. Most of the partners had real conversations about the mentor text that was used to guide the lesson. Their connections went further than the surface level we had anticipated. This led to further conversations about what made a positive difference in the lesson.

There were many layers in the impact of Lesson Study. First, I could not wait to teach the identical lesson with my own group of first graders. But even bigger was the impact the experience had on my personal lesson planning. I began to anticipate what might happen during a lesson and make more adjustments during the planning process. Knowing the developmental levels of my students and the goals I set for them empowered the planning process. Lastly, the conversations that took place during the study rejuvenated our team of teachers. We could not wait to share the experience with fellow staff members. But mostly, we consciously made more time during our already busy schedules to discuss curriculum. These rich discussions about our students, lessons, and practices made us think more deeply about our teaching practices as a whole. This not only impacted our team of first grade teachers but an entire group of first grade students.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Best Case PD

Lesson Study as "Best Case" Professional Development

Like most teachers, I would rather have cavities filled sans anesthesia than attend run-of-the-mill, "sit and get" professional development. Fortunately, participation in a different form of PD shifted my thinking about what professional learning can be—dynamic and intriguing.

Hello, Lesson Study!

The days were long and the work was hard, but it was wonderfully worthwhile. Much more valuable than a sit and get, much more fulfilling because of its participatory nature and level playing field, and much more informative and useful for instruction.

During each two-day cycle, we planned one lesson together. We used resources that were already available to us (our Teacher Editions) to plan one lesson with our students' needs in mind. We came to a group consensus about the lesson content and the content was taught as it was written.

Focused on the students

We all planned the lessons as a group, so it wasn't about us as individual educators. It was about the students. In fact, at the conclusion of the first day, we drew names out of a hat to decide who would teach our lesson (and we drew names again to decide whose class that person would instruct) so that we were all vested in the lesson and that the focus remained on the students' engagement and learning.

During the observation/data collection phase, we listened to and recorded conversations as they unfolded between students. We really listened. As a result of our listening, we are even more mindful about our assumptions about what learning should look like. Now we gained specific knowledge into how our students were learning:

  • We realized that Johnny, who was often described as "busy," was really listening, while Bobby, who looked as if he was on task at all times, was really zoned out and not paying attention at all! 
  • We realized the power of our words and that changing one word in the lesson changed students' understanding.
  • Being able to focus solely on the students, we learned to be adept kid-watchers and data collectors.
  • We are now more able to think of our students—individually and collectively—to guide our instruction each time we plan.

Professional Learning Community

Being already in a thriving Professional Learning Community, this process helped us become more efficient. We take ownership for all learning, both ours and the students of our school. One telling difference is the language that we use to discuss children. Instead of "my class" or "my students," we now say "our classes" or "our students."

Our time was well spent learning through Lesson Study. I learned more in those few months than I had in my entire teaching career. As a group, we gained a better understanding of what works for both students and colleagues in terms of differentiated instruction, learning styles and modalities, and collaborative planning and reflection. Most importantly, we developed a greater sense of ourselves as teachers and learners.

Note: This is a repost from DSC's Blog on 11/18/2010 – Thank you Ms. Rapp (Orange County Public Schools, Florida) and DSC!

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Here are some recent testimonials about lesson study in Florida.

"I seriously loved doing this lesson study!  It has been the most helpful professional development - I enjoyed my colleagues and I learned a lot.  I'm really looking forward to the next cycle!" – Florida K-8 Teacher

"Thanks to everyone that helped to make this a successful Learning Community.  I had my reading department meeting this morning and the teachers were still talking about the experience.  In fact, one teacher shared that many of the participants agreed that this was probably the best PD that they have had in all of the years in the County.  This is something to be said.  They also thought that everyone should have this experience." – High School Lesson Study Lead

"The learning and sharing has not only built friendships but true professional collaboration as well." – Florida K-8 Lesson Study Lead

"Just wanted to let you know that the teachers who participated in Lesson Study the past two days were very positive in their reflection of the process.  They all participated enthusiastically and shared many learnings they are able to take back to their own classrooms.  One of the teachers even said, 'it would be wonderful if prior to a formal observation, both the teacher and administrator worked together in planning the lesson, as this would make the observed lesson very transparent.' This teacher felt the post conference would be much more informative and reflective for both administration and teacher. I know this is unrealistic, but it does speak to the value of this process.  The teachers look forward to participating in this process again!" – High School Teacher Support Specialist

"Our teachers that participated caught the enthusiasm and want more!  It is so exciting." – High School Principal