A Look into Lesson Study

Last week Physics teachers Kathryn Smith and Judy Jennings engaged in a Lesson Study.  If you are unfamiliar with Lesson Study, it is professional development in which teams of teachers collaboratively plan a lesson, observe student behaviors during the lesson, and study outcomes after the lesson.  The goal is to conduct this mini-research as a way to identify how to best meet students’ needs.  This teacher-driven type of PD has been proven to be the most effective in improving student performance.  Below I outline our process throughout the Lesson Study.

Phase 1 (Scheduling):  Kathryn and Judy contacted me (the instructional coach!) needing collaboration time and asked to participate in a Lesson Study. We set up a lunch date to meet and discuss.

Phase 1B (Planning):  The three of us met over two lunch periods to first discuss what gaps they had identified in student learning and then to plan the actual lesson together.

  • The gap: As the students work through inquiry labs, they need to be able to support their claims with evidence and reasoning.  Kathryn and Judy noticed that students were struggling with this skill.
  • The standard: We decided to start with a standard and chose: Speaking and Listening 3- Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric. We reasoned that students must engage in a lot of low-stakes discussion to help them improve at supporting claims.  As a group we decided to build in a time for students to evaluate claims during a lab.  Our idea was that the discussion itself would help them to identify and correct errors in their reasoning.   Later, when they were writing their own lab reports, they would use what they learned during the discussion to sufficiently back up their own thinking.
  • The lesson: Since Kathryn had the Mu of the Shoe lab already coming up, we decided we would incorporate the Listening and Speaking 3 activity for her 5th period class. The students would conduct the lab and then be paired up to present their findings to another group for evaluation.  Our debrief would take place immediately after (during lunch) to determine needed changes to the lesson before 6th period.
  • The data: As observers, Judy and I would note student behavior during the lab and record:  on-task behavior; the use of academic vocabulary/scientific terms; accessing notes from their science notebooks; and asking quality questions as they evaluated one another.

Phase 2 (Teaching and Observing):  During the first lesson Kathryn gave the instructions and projected their pre-assigned groupings. During the lab she moved from group to group asking guiding questions. The groups were comprised of four students each. Once they finished the lab, Kathryn had the each group pair up with another and asked them to present their findings.

What we noticed:

  • Students did access their science notebooks and found formulas and graphs that they thought would help them.
  • In conversation and in writing, the students weren’t always using the academic vocabulary/scientific terms.
  • When the students presented their finding to the other group, they were not evaluating as we had hoped.  They listened, but did not engage in the type of scientific discourse we wanted.
  • In addition, while all students were on task, not all students in the group spoke when presenting their findings.

Phase 3 (Debriefing and Improving):  During the debrief we discussed our observations and worked through how to achieve all students speaking and evaluating one another.  Perhaps if they had more access to the academic language they would all participate?  We could have them quickly go through and highlight science terms in their notebooks that they could use when speaking and when writing.  Or we could give them a list of terms to describe the lab equipment so they stopped saying, “We used the thingy to pull the shoe.”  Since our main focus was on Speaking and Listening 3 and students being able to evaluate the line of reasoning, however, we chose to only change three things prior to the re-teach.  1) We gave students a few minutes of “Procedure Pondering” to individually brainstorm how they would approach the lab before then meeting with their groups. 2) We changed one word in our directions to the students.  Instead of saying “present” to the other group, we would ask the students to “compare” their findings.  3) We wrote guiding questions up on the whiteboards that students could access as needed when interacting with the other group.  Hopefully these questions would lead to more evaluation of claims/evidence/reasoning.


Phase 4 (Re-teaching):  Kathryn implemented the changes for her 6th period while Judy and I observed and noted student behaviors which are outlined in step 6 below.

Phase 4B (Reflecting):  Our final debrief took place immediately after 6th period.

  • When it came time for the students to evaluate one another, the word “compare” made a huge difference. Student groups were engaged in back-and-forth/question-and-answer conversations.
  • In addition, this class was much smaller so Kathryn had grouped them only in pairs, as opposed to four students per group in period 5.  The group size was not a factor we had considered during the initial teaching.  However, it was clear that with only two students per group, no one student could fade quietly into the background and not speak.
  • While not all students used the scientific terms, they were engaged in much more discussion of concepts and terms, asked more questions, and found discrepancies.  We observed students erasing answers, conducting the experiment again, and sharing ideas.  Because they were asked to compare, they were engaged in more discussion and exposed to more ideas.
  • Our final conclusions were that this second group did, in fact, engage much more effectively.  Leading students carefully into discussion is a wonderful tool that helps them practice the type of critical thinking and evaluation of ideas that the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards demand.

Kathryn and Judy both ended the Lesson Study excited about their next lab.  We all gained from the conversations about student behaviors and results that took place. This type of teacher-driven professional development is effective in helping educators target areas of growth and then conduct their own in-class research.  Once we study our lesson in action, we can more effectively guide our students toward mastery of the skills they need to achieve.

Here is what Judy and Kathryn had to say about Lesson Study

Both of the lesson studies that I have taken part in have been extremely valuable to my professional growth as a teacher. This time, I focused on discussion to aid student perception, reasoning, and understanding of a challenging lab involving frictional forces and the coefficient of friction. I love getting to help plan a lesson, watch it being implemented, and then make it better for the next class-on the SAME day. Those notes that I write in my planner that say, “DON’T DO THIS AGAIN NEXT YEAR” or “CHANGE  (grouping method/assessment method/whatever) FOR NEXT YEAR” are in no way as effective as a lesson study. With lesson study I collaborate with a team of passionate teachers, and we get to make immediate changes yielding immediate impact on students! I also really appreciate how focused lesson studies are. It’s easy to accomplish our goal when we have dedicated collaboration and reflection time.  —Judy Jennings

I learned a lot about organizing an activity that focuses on structured academic conversation. By total accidental luck, we discovered that the conversations in each lab group were significantly more productive (with 100% student participation) when students were working in pairs instead of groups of 3-4. I definitely need to buy more lab supplies for next year! Also, we changed just one word in our directions for starting conversations. Instead of asking one group to “present” to another, we asked them to “compare” their labs, to find similarities and differences. This was a very productive use of our time. Having input from other teachers helped me improve this lab in a lot less time.                                                                                                                     —Kathryn Smith

So….Who’s next?  Grab a friend (or two or three!) and contact me so we can start your Lesson Study!