In recent weeks we have been looking closely at the purpose of Lesson Observations. When it comes to developing classroom practice it seems to be a fairly redundant model. Experience suggests that most teachers will default to something they already know they can teach, stalling improvement. It would be very risky and indeed, very rare to find staff trying out new approaches when being observed. Our profession, in the UK at least, is a top down, judgemental one so it’s hard to operate outside of that remit. The move from grading lessons has done little to advance classroom practice and it’s a sad indictment of our education system that a fear factor and nervousness still accompany any ‘visits’ to class.
I talked recently at #TMBpool about the benefit of a Lesson Study approach in moving practice forward. While the logistics of running an authentic LS in primary schools is difficult due to poor funding and the number of staff required, such an approach is not impossible. I have blogged before about a school to school approach and the possibility of involving support staff as researchers. We are also looking at the use of other adults in school (as a Confucius Classroom School we have additional staff) and are in conversation with local universities and supply agencies about the possibility of utilising their students and teachers as research assistants. This model not only enables the school to run with a form of LS it also provides insights in what does and doesn’t work in the classroom and professional development opportunities to all involved.
With the class teacher taking the role of host researcher and additional adults acting as research assistants, the LS model outlined in previous posts can be adapted to suit this approach. With Lesson Observations, observers spend the majority of time watching the teacher teach (as Dr Neil Hopkin said ‘the only thing we can be sure of as teachers when we leave the classroom is that we have taught something‘). A Lesson Study approach with it’s emphasis on the learner’s response allows us to assess whether that teaching is having the desired impact.
On Monday we held our tenth annual Kaizen Conference. This is a day all schools in the partnership set aside each year for a shared Inset day. The Kaizen Inset day is the first date we all mark on our school calendars – usually a year or so in advance. The first Monday after the spring half term holiday is always our designated day to work together, share ideas and hear different speakers engage us with a range of educational thinking. This year, nine schools were involved from Blackpool, Preston, Wigan, Bolton and Liverpool. The morning was led by Dr Andrew Curran, a pediatric neurologist who specialises in ASD. Andrew’s messages about how the brain develops, how children learn and the barriers to learning were positively received and many of us wondered if such fundamental information was taught in initial teacher training, as without such understanding the role of the teacher is made all the more difficult. Andrew gave us an insight into how different parts of the brain act, the role of dopamine and serotonin and how we can create the optimum conditions for learning. His practical, no nonsense advice gave those present something to reflect on and consider when thinking about the pupils in their care.
As is the pattern each year, the afternoon was given over to a Teaching and Learning Exchange. At each Inset we run a series of workshops that allow staff from each school to share their practice on a range of different areas. This year, the afternoon was simply titled, The Love of Learning. Staff were invited to share something they really enjoy teaching. These practitioner led workshops ranged from hot seating, using picture books to develop critical thinking and developing characters through the use of props to forest schools, outdoor learning, yoga and mindfulness. Staff had the opportunity to choose three workshops from the fifteen on offer. The sessions provide a great opportunity for staff to find out more about what is happening in partner schools. It can lead to classroom visits and collaboration leading to focused, specific school to school support. The annual Kaizen Inset day is something all those involved look forward to. In a world where schools can easily become isolated, or forced into awkward and unwanted partnerships, we relish the opportunity to work together. Over the last ten year we have benefited from the input of some inspirational and passionate educators, we have worked together on a range of initiatives and learnt from each other through practitioner led workshops, where staff are comfortable to share with their peers and give an authentic take on things. We have built a strong, robust network that has grown from strength to strength and influenced the teaching and learning in each of our schools, more than any top down initiative or missive. Alongside our peer reviews, lesson study, pupil teaching and learning conferences, HT briefings and subject leader meetings, the annual shared inset is a great way for us to work together and learn from each other in uncertain times.
I recently blogged about our changing approach to Lesson Study. Having operated in a number of different ways, we have moved to a school to school model that we hope will be sustainable in the face of cuts to school budgets. Our existing model requires a lot of release time for staff, and although every cycle of lesson study has proved to be extremely valuable, such as model is operationally challenging as we move forward. The school to school model requires less release time and has other benefits that we are beginning to see from our early forays into this CPD research field.
As blogged previously, we have tried out different approaches and engaged in some school to school research but are now planning more strategically to build on our previous work. We recently completed a first round of school to school lesson study with three Y4 classes. One class acted as host and the research lessons took place in this class over a two week period. The three teachers involved followed the same approach as we had successfully employed in our own setting with joint planning time and post lesson pupil interviews and review built in to the process. As is often the case with such things, staff gave their own time over and above the release each school allocated, simply because the research findings and conversations enthused them.
The research in this round focussed on the language used in maths. The findings suggested that children in the class were put off tougher problems if they didn’t understand the words being used in the problems. Some children didn’t have a clear understanding of the word ‘explain’ and therefore avoided any problems using this word, even though they could solve the actual calculations. In response to this the teachers decided to create a bank of words often used in maths, and find simple explanations and meanings to display in classes next to them. From the post lesson pupil interviews it was felt this would help the children access the questions. The research shows that we may assume children’s understanding of some of the words we regularly use in maths and that it is worth spending time unpicking meanings carefully with children in order to give them the best chance of answering the word problems.
The staff involved in this latest round of research have now planned a presentation to deliver in staff meetings in the schools after the Easter break. This opportunity to share their findings in more than one school is also a great CPD opportunity and I am sure, it will open up further rich dialogue around this area. Following this successful trial, we plan to extend the model to other year groups during the summer term.
We embraced lesson study wholeheartedly a couple of years ago. The developmental approach to teaching and learning sits more comfortably than the judgemental. It encourages research and innovation and enables staff to improve their practice in a supportive and collaborative environment.
The problem with the Lesson Study model we adopted is that to run it successfully there’s a lot of release time required. We have worked in triads thus needing three teachers out of class to plan and review with two out of class for each research lesson (we work with a cycle of three research lessons). To sustain this model of LS is a challenge and we have therefore thought carefully about how we can continue to reap the benefits but without the financial costs and potential disruption to timetables.
Earlier this year we trialled a school to school Lesson Study with a partner school in Birmingham. Two Y6 staff worked together on a small research project and this gave us the incentive to take the idea further. We have decided this time around to work with two partner schools closer to home. This means each of us releasing just one teacher for each round of Lesson Study rather than three. In January we will begin a Y4 maths Lesson Study which we are all very excited about. It will build on the successful approach we have employed in school but with the added benefit of insights and ideas from beyond our own community. It further develops our school to school work and gives staff a great opportunity to learn and research with other practitioners. We still aim to continue with the distance LS using technology as much as possible to enable us to successfully work beyond local confines. Staff will still present their findings to their peers and the opportunity to deliver staff PD meetings with colleagues in other schools provides yet another opportunity to share research and learn from each other.
In this era of austerity with educational funding decreasing, it is important to continue to move forward as a profession and school to school Lesson Study provides a great opportunity for us to work together, share research and learn from each other.