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Lesson Study – School to school

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.


Lesson Observation or Lesson Study?

We have been using lesson study for a while now and although it isn’t new, it is still fairly new to us. I have written previously about the approach we have adopted in school and it is a constantly evolving model.  We have embraced this practitioner based classroom research with enthusiasm and commitment.   We are a school of advocates!  We have developed a model of lesson study based on the work of Dr Pete Dudley (@DrDudley13) and it has transformed our approach to CPD.

Rather than waiting for the next course/training/magic bullet to change our practice, we have developed an ongoing, devlopmental model that everyone buys into.

Many courses have very little impact beyond the delivery.  Changes and development in classroom practice are rare and impact on pupil learning scant at best.  Rather than invest time and money into such tried and tested approaches we adopted lesson study.   We have found that educational research is at it most potent in its native environment and classroom practitioners its most powerful exponents.

Lesson observations are a passive experience – teachers choosing to teach a safe lesson to avoid unwanted judgements does not move practice forward.  The scenario often played out goes something like this – teacher has observation looming, choses to teach something (previously taught) that shows them in a good light, observation sheet is completed by observer, evaluation is shared with teacher, teacher files away observation and process closes.  Until the next round of observations.   This evaluative, judgemental model does little to improve teaching and learning when compared with lesson study.

Because lesson study is research based it encourages staff to take risks, try new strategies and reflect with colleagues on the impact on pupil learning.   Because lessons are co- constructed and focus on learner response, teachers do not feel threatened.  Lesson observations can feel more like a personal judgement of the teacher than a supportive developmental process.   Lesson study encourages a collaborative approach to classroom practice and a level of (often collective) reflection seldom seen with the traditional lesson observation model.  It promotes a rich professional dialogue around teaching and learning and through carefully planned research lifts the lid on many of the tacit practices lived out in the classroom on a daily basis.  The evidence based approach and powerful pupil voice (learner response and post research lesson interviews) so important to lesson study make it a developmental model of classroom cpd that is proving instrumental in moving practice forward.


Lesson Study – school research findings to date

As the end of the spring term approaches we have set aside time as a school to reflect on the first cycle of lesson study.   The research within school can be broadly divided into four key areas: learning partners, resources, use of praise/feedback and questioning.  We have chosen to present the findings as a booklet for staff to take away and consider.

We have kept the findings deliberately brief and hope that further dialogue will be generated after the Easter holidays. The four areas are outlined below in terms of findings, questions arising from the findings, actions and resources.

1. Learning partners

Findings– very much established as part of the school culture.  Clearly embedded and used throughout the school at different stages of development. Not all children clear about the role of a learning partner.  When best used the length of time was appropriate for the outcome and made clear to children e.g. 20 seconds to generate answer, 1 minute for discussion etc…  Some children were very passive when working with a learning partner, while others dominated.  Roles were not always equally shared.  Learning partners were seen to give lower ability children more confidence. “When you have ideas and your friend has ideas you can mix them up and get a better idea.” Y5 pupil.  Learning partners clarify learning and understanding for children. “I didn’t know what they meant (AFs) until my partner told me.” Y5 pupil.

Questions arising – how are learning partners chosen? How often are they changed?

Actions – clear guidance and clear success for learning partners needed.  Agreed protocols around successful learners and how to be an effective learning partner to be shared and displayed in classes.  Reward systems to include recognition of good learning partners.

Resources– AfL inset and staff meetings.  Bill Thompson’s work with staff and pupils, materials on server.  Ideas for turn taking shared.

2. Resourcing

Findings – resources available but not always used to maximise learning.  Resources generally out but children not always clear how to use them and what to use them for e.g. number squares, multi link.  Evidence of gap between stages of a child’s learning and resources given to support them causing confusion e.g. children still trying to understand cardinal numbers had been given number squares.  Evidence of pre learning being an effective resource to support lower ability children in accessing learning during lesson. This was most effective where the strategy to be employed in the lesson was made clear and addressed gaps in the children’s learning. AfL cups were used to good effect in one class.  Working walls, where used, were seen to have a positive impact and children were able to access this to support learning.

Questions arising – are tangible resources taken away from the children too soon?  Is training needed for teaching and support staff in effective use of appropriate resources and developmental stages of resources e.g. subitising

Actions – staff training on use of key resources

Resources – spelling booklet to support working memory.  AfL cups for each class

3. Use of praise/feedback

Findings – positive climate in all classes involved in research to date. All children displayed positive attitudes towards learning. Very little use of empty praise (orally).  Children understood why they were being praised due to teacher/adult’s clear explanation of the reason.  Clarification of praise was a strong feature of the research.  Quality learning and discussion with peers sometimes limited by constraints of the lesson which could hinder learning.

Questions – do all adults have a clear understanding of the purpose of praise and the impact this can have? How do we incorporate response time into children’s lessons and learning? How does this impact on lesson planning and timetabling?

Actions – develop further the language of praise (minimise ‘well done’, ‘good work’ comments and replace with comments related to effort and specifics). Further training based on growth mindset.  Amend marking and feedback policy.

Resources – Barry Hymer materials from Inset on server.  Feedback and marking policy (to be amended following work with Bill Thompson and Barry Hymer)

4. Questioning

Findings – questioning was seen to be most effective;

  • When children were given clear wait/thinking time either on their own or with a learning partner.
  • When children were given a leading role during discussions (e.g. basketball not ping pong)
  • When differentiated questioning was targeted towards individuals. (Differentiation to aid understanding through use of appropriate language and blank level questioning)
  • Where strategies were actively employed to promote whole class engagement rather than limiting questions to a number of enthusiastic respondents (e.g. lolly sticks, name generator rather than hands up).
  • Where pre prepared questions gave children time to think before responding (e.g. asking questions before a video clip)

A good range of open and closed questions were evidenced to reinforce, clarify, challenge misconceptions and to lead discussions.

Questions – is there any purpose to a ‘hands up’ approach? Do we need a whole school approach to effective use of questioning, e.g. lolly sticks, wait time?  Are all staff clear about children’s understanding of language?

Actions – school to further explore a ‘no hands up’ approach to encourage full participation and sustained engagement.  Training for support staff.

Resources– blank level questions posters, lolly sticks, Barry Hymer and Bill Thompson’s materials on Growth Mindset and AfL and information on server, question stems.

As stated previously, the above information will hopefully provoke further discussion as we move forward with lesson study.   Next term we will follow up the actions and fine tune our approach to LS in light of our findings.   It would be great to hear from anyone who is using LS or wrestling with the development of these key areas.


Cameras in the Classroom

Cameras in the Classroom.


Cameras in the Classroom

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!


Lesson Study

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!


Kaizen Inset 2014

On Monday 24th February, we have another joint training day with partner schools in the Kaizen network.   This is an informal partnership of primary schools who believe in the Kaizen philosophy of small steps to continuous improvement.   We have worked together for a number of years now and when planning our five Inset days, we always keep one free for a joint event.   In previous years we have worked with the likes of @TimRylands, @ZoeRoss19 and Damien Hughes to name but a few of the inspirational contributors, but this year the day is being run in its entirety by practitioners from our schools.

The morning will begin with Gina  (@mrsdonaldson) and staff from St Silas sharing their work on cooperative learning, the next two sessions will focus on iPads in the classroom and proven strategies one school has adopted to improve writing.   The afternoon is running as a speed learning event with staff choosing five 15 minute presentations to attend.   The range of subjects covered has been planned to ensure there is something for everyone.   It also gives those staff presenting, an opportunity to share their learning with supportive peers in an encouraging environment.   Ideal for any first time speakers.

The Kaizen Inset days are an important professional development event in all our schools’ diaries.   They give us the chance to work together, to share ideas and learn from each other.   This form of school to school support enables us to respond to each others’ needs in an immediate and bespoke way.   Staff form supportive relationships and school visits around specific areas of mutual interest are encouraged by Headteachers keen to develop the network for the common good.   This year’s event yet again, promises to be a great day for all involved.


School level models of CPD – a changing landscape

The way schools approach professional developed has changed dramatically over the last few years. The rise of teachmeets and similar models has seen a shift away from the content driven courses run by consultants and advisors of the past. Many now prefer the engagement and active involvement of peer led training as opposed to the passive learning model that is the diet of many traditional courses. The kind of course that generally takes staff away from their day to day practice to tell them how they can do their job better. The problem for many with such delivery is that it can lack credibility, practitioners like to hear from those who are walking the talk, who understand the day to day pressures and recognise the difficulties that can be encountered. Practitioner led training is popular as it not only gives its audience a ‘warts and all’ account of tried and tested approaches, but it also gives those presenting it an opportunity to develop professionally themselves.

A number of practitioner led approaches at cluster and network level can be replicated to good effect in individual schools.   Below are a few approaches that work well both with groups of schools and within single organisations:

Staffroom teachmeet – this sharing good practice model is a great way to get staff up and talking about what they are doing in class that is proving successful.   It promotes conversation around teaching and learning and a quick five minutes in front of peers doesn’t necessarily worry people in the way a longer slot in front of a larger audience might.

Learning walks – many staff rarely get into their peers classrooms and giving a couple of staff meetings over to learning walks means they will be able to spend time learning from each other, getting ideas, discussing how the learning environment can support learners and informally planning future developments.   We spend an awful lot of time moving around school to meetings, classes, assemblies etc… so it is nice to actually slow down and make the walk around school purposeful in itself.   A meeting on the move!

Moving the meetings -asking staff to host a staff meeting in their classroom is a good way of encouraging them to talk about learning and the learning environment in more detail.   It is also a way of sharing the leading role and developing leadership skills in others. Having staff meetings in different classrooms can effortlessly put teaching and learning high on the agenda.   It is amazing how much dialogue around practice can grow out of a simple question about a classroom display.

Staff Surgery – I have posted about this approach on this blog before but simply put, we make use of this model to support staff in developing their use of technology.   Each term we have a staff meeting where everyone brings along a device (or we use the IT suite) and we share what is working well, what people are doing with their blogs, what they are struggling with or have heard about. It is a real collegiate environment and has become a recognised opportunity in school to develop collective and individual use of technology to support learning.   Recently phase meetings have also introduced an ‘app of the week’ where staff will share an app they have been using in class on their iPads.

With a range of external directives and initiatives competing for space and time on an already crowded staff meeting agenda, taking a step away to develop such sharing is hugely valued and seen by many as the best way to approach school level cpd.


Bridging the gap

Lucy's out of school business!

Lucy’s out of school business!

The countdown to the animators next upload!

The countdown to the animators next upload!

I visited a partner school a while ago and as I walked through the Foundation Stage I looked over at a group of children on the class computers. The teacher laughed as he explained to me that when the children had started school in September they went immediately to the computers, picked up the mouse and pointed it at the screen! Their pre school experiences with gaming platforms clearly dictating their understanding of how to approach this new experience. I recently recounted this story to a friend who explained that his three year old had stood in front of their television, put his hand in the air and attempted to ‘pinch’ to control its content as he was already comfortably doing with his iPad!

These two incidents illustrate the stark difference in experiences with technology for our youngsters and older generations. They also highlight the need for us as educators to understand the out of school experiences of children in order to bridge the formal and informal learning gap. For many pupils their out of school experiences with technology and their inquisitive, exploratory approach to each new device only serve to widen the learning gap. Celebrating their skills and developing understanding in school provides us with an opportunity to build on their out of school interests, benefiting their learning and sense of achievement.

In the last few weeks I have been sharing some of the children’s out of school hobbies with their peers in assemblies. Lucy from Y5 has her own business out of school which she advertises on her website http://www.yummycupcakes.webeden.co.uk/
Adam, Josh, William and Regan make their own animations and upload these onto their website http://theanimators1.weebly.com/animation-page.html Such enterprise and innovation are celebrated, supported and where possible, these out school interests encouraged within the school setting. We plan on ordering staff cakes from Lucy!

Our older children now bring their own devices into school to use as learning tools where appropriate. The technology they so often hold in their hand while out of school has such potential in the classroom that it makes sense to embrace it and explore its learning potential.  The challenge is for us as educators to find ways to blur the children’s formal and informal learning, to bridge the gap between in school and out of school experiences in order to support their development, and where appropriate using the tools they are becoming increasingly accustomed to.


Uncommon Inset

I have blogged before about our Kaizen network of schools, a small group of primaries who share common beliefs about education and learning.   We began to work together about six years ago to improve the learning experiences of our pupils, we weren’t funded by any external agency and followed no external agenda but grew ourselves from the ground up, following our own instincts about what our schools needed.   Within our network we agreed from the outset that as Headteachers we were privileged to be able meet and work together on areas of common interest. We support each other and challenge each other benefitting from such collaboration. We share common Inset days which provide all staff with the chance to meet up with peers in partner schools and work together on mutual areas of interest. The sharing of costs and resources has enabled us to move all our schools forward through a collegiate and supportive model of sustainable and relevant professional development. Recent shared Inset with the likes of Tim Rylands, Zoe Ross, Lane Clarke and others has been extremely well received by staff who are then able to build on what they’ve seen through school visits and joint working within the network.

This year we are once again taking advantage of ‘uncommon’ Inset days. This is when we put a working day aside for all our staff to get into partner schools to spend time in someone else’s class, working together, observing, taking in new ideas and approaches, and sharing good practice. Each school chooses a day when all the others are in full operational mode (not straight after a half term) and organises staff to visit one of the network, in small groups, to be let loose to spend the day being part of a different environment. These visits are followed up back at school with discussions and actions, further targeted visits and future projects. We have find these uncommon Insets to be invaluable. It is reported by McKinsey, that to improve teachers need to see best practice in an authentic setting, our approach gives staff the opportunity to do just that.