One of the early successes of our Lesson Study has been the use of ‘pre learning’ sessions with key pupils. This simple idea came from one of our vice principals @glynnlee who suggested rather than supporting key pupils to catch up with learning after the lesson, they are given a pre lesson session that introduces them to the key concept about to be taught. This short session enables staff to look at resources and strategies that will help them access the learning in class and ultimately give them a greater chance to succeed with their peers.
These sessions have been delivered by teaching assistants who work closely with the class teacher and go through their planning to ensure a common approach is adopted that benefits key individuals who might normally struggle in the lesson. Interviews with pupils post research lesson have revealed just how powerful this technique can be. One Y4 pupil commented that he had just had his best lesson in school ever! He was able to access the learning and contribute more fully to the lesson due to a sharp, focussed pre lesson session that prepared him for the learning ahead.
The recent introduction of lesson study at school was greeted with enthusiasm by staff. They quickly saw the benefits of such an enquiry based, collaborative approach to professional development. The only problem some had with the form it would be taking was that we intended to film the lessons. We have used cameras in the classroom before with varying degrees of success. Staff would come back into school after taking the video home recognising certain idiosyncrises about themselves and reflecting on what they observed in their classrooms, “don’t I sound broad!”, “have you heard me? I can’t shut up”, “I can’t believe how many of my own questions I answered”. I’d question to what extend such an approach changed practice but we all recognised it was a powerful vehicle if used in the right way. Enter Lesson Study. We firstly reassured staff that the filming would only be used to support this process and not broadcast across the school for end of term amusement. In fact, the footage would only be seen in its entirety by the staff who were being filmed – if they chose to sit through it. For the purpose of LS it would simply be a reference point, a chance to discuss some small detail, a momentary response from a pupil or an unexpected reaction to a teaching point raised by a member of the group during the post lesson discussion. All those involved so far have watched the recorded footage and gained something from it. As part of the Lesson Study, staff are asked how they think the case study pupils will respond. The observers then record how those pupils did respond and this then leads to discussions about what we think is happening as opposed to what is actually happening. The filming helps with this as it gives staff the opportunity to observe the things they can miss during the cut and thrust of classroom delivery, it enables them to reflect on, replay and pause their teaching at key points to move learning forward in the future. Amongst other things we have been able to discuss key areas of AfL that we are developing; response and wait time, approaches to questioning and peer to peer work all with the assistance of recorded evidence. Staff have taken to this aspect of the Lesson Study process probably because the filming doesn’t really feature them! It focusses on the learner response and gives teachers the chance to view something they rarely get to see, their own classroom practice. It enables them to hold up a mirror to their teaching. They can also check how broad their accents are!
It’s early days but already LS has gripped the school! Staff who are involved in our initial work are finding it to be the most rewarding professional learning they have been involved in at school. Before Christmas I began looking at Lesson Study as a new way of supporting staff in the classroom. We have used coaching models previously, we have used peer observations, staff have filmed their lessons and reflected back on the findings (usually watching the video with a glass of wine, late at night, well away from their colleagues!) and we have used the traditional model of classroom observation that serves little purpose beyond monitoring and supporting self evaluation. What we were looking for was an approach that changed our approach to collaborative working, that enabled staff to take risks, to experiment and to ‘unpick’ their practice before reshaping it and putting it back together in a more effective, supportive and sustainable way.
Our approach in school owes a great deal to the detailed and hugely informative research undertaken by Pete Dudley (@DrDudley13). Pete’s work and his recent book ‘Lesson Study – Professional learning for our time’ give a really clear account not only of the benefits of LS but also how to get started in school. Earlier this month we devoted a staff meeting to introducing LS to the school. Some had heard a little about it but the majority were unaware of such an approach. For many, lesson observations, however you dressed them up were something that was done to them rather than with them. The biggest selling point for LS is that it really is, as Hargreaves refers to it, ‘joint professional development’. There is no hierarchical structure, it is an approach that encourages and promotes a shared working arrangement where all contributions are equally valued and positively received. This is easier said than done so to help encourage such an approach we agreed a protocol based on that found in Pete’s Lesson Study handbook (www.lessonstudy.co.uk) which helped build the right climate from the outset.
As we have an AfL working party in school we were not short of volunteers to get up and running with LS. Indeed, all staff saw it as much more appealing than the usual observations so we could have realistically started it with any class. Cover for staff is something that we had to build into the budget for this term so we had to be clear about costs and committed to making it happen. We began with four members of staff working with two Y3 classes. The AfL working party had already begun looking at questioning and pupil response so we took this as our lead. We spent our first LS session agreeing a lesson plan (importantly this became a shared plan with equal contribution) we spent a good couple of hours really picking the lesson apart, questioning why certain things were being done, why this or that approach was being taken, the purpose of activities etc. When we were all happy we moved onto discuss the three case pupils and what the class teacher would expect each of them to be doing at each stage of the lesson – this would be a key part of the case study lesson. We finally looked at the questioning and response time and discussed the different approaches we have been developing and how they could best support and stretch the learning.
The next day the case study lesson was taught by the class teacher with three colleagues watching carefully to see how the case study pupils responded to the learning. Did they respond as the teacher thought they would? What did we learn from their responses? Did anything unexpected/unplanned for happen? The lesson was filmed for us to use in our reflection and post lesson discussion and despite the class teacher’s mild concern(!) she ultimately saw great benefit in using this to support group and self reflection. After the lesson we interviewed the three case study pupils. Their responses were enlightening and not always what we (or the class teacher) anticipated. We then met to unpick the lesson, share the pupil responses and our observations of them as recorded on an agreed pro forma. We also shared our annotated (joint) lesson plan and discussed the use of questioning and how we could improve on things for the next lesson the following day.
By this time we were all getting quite excited about Lesson Study and any of us could have delivered the revised lesson the following day so great was our enthusiasm and desire to move learning on. Our reflections and discussion after the first case study lesson could have gone on for hours beyond our agreed time and we were oblivious to the passing of the school. It is amazing how much professional dialogue was generated by the experience – so much more than would normally take place after traditional lesson observations. The revised lesson gave us all a chance to see our input, changes and improvements move the learning forward. Again we observed three case study pupils representing different learner groups, again we interviewed them after the revised lesson for their contributions to the research. Our animated post lesson discussions made it clear that Lesson Study has a clear place in our school practice and is key in our approach to joint professional development. As we prepare for this week’s round, word has spread and we can’t wait to get started!