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.