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 have just completed our first cycle of Lesson Study and the response has been extremely positive. A more explicit focus on pupil learning and a deeper understanding of how they learn has been a prominant feature of this first round of research. The shift from teacher at the centre of an observation to learner at the centre of the research is significant. Where traditional observations tend to warrant a quick post lesson chat before the handing over of a judgemental, evaluative A4 sheet, Lesson Study has encouraged us to look in fine detail at the process, to develop practice and collectively reflect on findings. The high level of professional dialogue, both in the joint planning stage and during the post lesson discussions has reflected the interest and enthusiasm of those involved. I am sure not all were completely sold on the idea of four adults and a video camera invading their classroom, followed by a thorough dissection of what had occurred, but once through the process all recognised the power of such an approach and believe it is worth developing across the school.
As with any new initiative in school, the Lesson Study model still needs work for it to be successfully embedded. There are potential issues around cover and creating the time and space needed to run Lesson Study properly. We are probably still too kind to each other when it comes to professional discussion and I am sure the gloves will come off given time. We placed great importance on the protocol and everyone signed up to this but we will revisit it in the next round and ensure everyone really does feel safe to disagree, to challenge assumptions and beliefs and to share ideas and approaches, however outlandish they may sound. The level of dialogue generated following each research lesson has been staggering and I believe that will only grow over time. The protocol is important in clarifying to all involved that there is no hierarchy rather equal research partners co creating lessons and reflecting on the findings. This takes away the notion of one teacher and their work being the focus and encourages a sense of collaboration and joint professional development.
In the next cycle we are keen to involve support staff more as they have such a crucial role to play when it comes to learner response. We have not yet settled on the right way to collate and share the research findings. For this first round it will be disseminated through staff meetings and electronically via the school server but in the future this could take the form of teacher demonstrations, presentations, handouts, booklets or videos. As our overarching focus for this first round has been questioning, we have begun to run a series of staff meetings to share the research and open up ways to move practice forward as a result. The use of praise, learning partners and resourcing also featured significantly in this cycle and sharing the findings of these areas is planned over the next term. For us to develop teaching and learning it is important that we move away from simply evaluating lessons and their effectiveness to a system that promotes professional development by allowing staff to experiment with new ideas and strategies in a safe and supportive environment. I believe Lesson Study gives us that opportunity.
One of the key areas of AfL development in school is questioning. We have been looking at effective use of questioning for some time and staff have embraced the work of Dylan William, Shirley Clarke and, more recently Bill Thompson, who has been in school working with our AfL group. The introduction of Lesson Study this term has enabled us to really progress this work.
We made questioning the overarching area of Lesson Study. In addition to the focus on three pupils representative of different learner groups we decided to look closely at questioning. This enabled us to observe Bill’s recent input at close quarters and also gave us an area that would allow for repeated research regardless of subject or theme. With each Lesson Study we have been able to learn from the questioning observed in the previous one. We began by looking carefully at wait time. Many teachers were surprised by how little time they left after asking a question. Following Lesson Study, staff are consciously making an effort to pause for longer, to give children more time to consider their response rather than rushing for an answer. We have also looked carefully at the ping pong v basketball argument, questions and answers that bounce back and forth between pupil and teacher as opposed to being passed around the room by the children to their peers for a range of responses. As with the ‘no hands up’ sessions this approach ensures all learners are alert and ready to respond rather than only the confident few. Through Lesson Study we have been able to observe learner response and have noticed that in some cases, if children put their hand up and are not chosen, they become more passive in their learning. We have also observed that many will not put their hand up and simply ‘opt out’ seeing this selective process as optional participation. Where ‘no hands up’ has worked best staff have been explicit about the session, explaining to the children that for this particular session they will be using lolly sticks or a name generator. Where this has not been clearly stated some children will continue to put their hand up as a kind of default for each question asked, regardless of whether they will be asked or not.
A recent research lesson gave us the opportunity to look at pre questioning. The teacher told certain children that after a film clip he would be asking them specific things about what they had seen. The questions were targeted to key children and differentiated accordingly. This gave the children a focus and time to consider their responses. The class were also told that those answering would be able to chose peers to help them, using the basketball technique thus engaging the rest of the class. Asking a question and giving the children time to discuss responses with talk partners before answering has also enabled pupils to give more thoughtful and considered responses and again, the opportunity to observe this process through Lesson Study has furthered our understanding of how such an approach to questioning can have a positive impact on learning. As with all aspects of Lesson Study, the conversation and professional dialogue generated around the use of open and closed questions, wait time, learner response, talk partners and more has been powerful and positive, leading to changes in approach that we hope with have a lasting impact. None of the techniques and approaches are new, some have been used to good effect in school already, but Lesson Study has enabled us to really get beneath the surface of questioning and support each other in developing and furthering classroom practice in a way that no other form of professional development has been able to.
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!
It is a sad fact that for many primary teachers their educational world seldom extends beyond the four walls of their classroom. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the day to day pressures in the high stakes arena and the opportunity to get out, to observe, to share, to collaborate and to reflect is often sacrificed for the potential short term gains of being permanently in the class. The problem with this is that long term development is hindered. One of the simplest, most effective ways to improve practice is to enable staff to get out of their own classroom and into those of their peers. This is easily managed in one school and only slightly more difficult to organise amongst several. We often overlook this most valuable resource in favour of more expensive professional development in the form of courses, conferences and training but class to class and school to school links can be hugely beneficial.
While visiting one of our partner schools in Beijing I witnessed such a refreshing approach. I asked our colleagues what the additional teachers in the lesson were doing – Were they trainee teachers? Was a peer observation in progress? Apparently it is routine in the school for a teacher to ask in the staffroom if a colleague wouldn’t mind watching them teach – perhaps they are trying something new and want feedback, it may be that they have concerns overs something else in the lesson and they want a second opinion. The process was one of complete openness and support and something I was keen to emulate on my return to school.
Staff meeting are often run from classrooms now as this is another opportunity to staff to get into their peers’ learning environment, to ask them questions, offer ideas and advice, compare and contrast. Our next round of peer observations has been an opportunity to match up the strengths of one member of staff with areas of development for another. This isn’t a perfect match as you can imagine but gives peer observations a stronger focus and a strategic edge. This pattern of getting staff into the classrooms of their peers with complimentary strengths is being extended to our partner schools after half term giving teachers the opportunity to see others wrestle with similar issues in their own school and beyond. It also provides staff with the chance to see someone who has strengths in an area they might be developing. Seeing someone ‘walk the talk’ is so much more powerful than hearing someone talk about what they do on a course, it has credibility with staff and enables them to build a strong professional partnership with fellow practitioners. Allowing staff to get out of the classroom to build such partnerships can only help what goes on in the classroom
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.
There are lots of inspirational practitioners in schools, piloting new approaches and ways of working, but often the ideas and initiatives they are exploring never make it beyond one or two classrooms. How do we move from pockets of innovation to a culture of innovation?
One of the most important ways to make this transition it to develop a culture of coaching. There obviously needs to be encouragement from school leaders to run with new ideas; to trial different approaches, to fail, evaluate and modify, but beyond this peer support can be a powerful lever for change. The development of blogging is an example of how such an approach can be effective.
In many schools the development of blogging is limited to one or two classes where the teachers are confident in their use of technology, have the right attitude towards innovation and can see the tremendous possibilities of this medium to further children’s learning. Our first attempts at blogging would fit this model. With the encouragement of the head, one or two teachers with a passion for ICT made fantastic use of the blog, they got their children and parents on board and really enjoyed developing their learning and engagement. We looked at where we wanted blogging to go (a campus style blog with every class and pupil group represented) and knew that for us to reach our goal we had to have all staff comfortable in developing their skills in this area.
As with any new initiative, we anticipated, reluctance, fear, worry and concern across a large staff. We had already begun to look closely at coaching in other areas of classroom practice and staff development and consequently explored how this might support us in promoting blogging. Through careful planning and management we were able to arrange one to one support at various times, pairing up confident staff with those less so. We had broad agreement that the use of web 2.0 would be a whole school objective for performance management and in pm meetings we outlined how this might be supported. The introduction of staff surgeries (see earlier post: the staff surgery) each term, to support each other and share concerns and ideas has also been helpful in promoting blogging across the whole school.
We spend so much or our time in schools isolated, working alone with children in a classroom, pressed for time and too tired at the end of the day to consider our own professional development. Arranging coaching meetings gives staff time to reflect on their practice, to talk through things with their peers and to explore innovative approaches with the support and encouragement of those around them. Sometimes the best resources are close at hand, we just need to create the time and space for coaching and support to develop.
Last term staff filmed themselves teaching, noting the key areas they were happy with and those they wanted to further develop next year. This approach to observation filled some with dread however discussions with everyone suggest that most teachers got something out of the experience and found it a powerful tool for reflection.
All staff set up cameras in their classrooms and filmed a lesson of their choosing. They then watched the results in the comfort of their own homes (most with a large glass of wine!) and completed a pro forma which was then used as the starting point for a discussion with their phase leader. The observations were revealing to staff and the initial thoughts of many were similar e.g. ‘Do I really sound like that?’ ‘Don’t I say err a lot!’
A common revelation was the ‘over teaching’ staff felt they were doing. The amount of time spent ‘delivering’ to the whole class in relation to the amount of time the children spent ‘on task’ engaged in their own learning rather than listening to the teacher. This is an area many have decided to focus on following the observations.
The filming of lessons can be daunting for staff but ultimately the process proved to be very powerful and one worth using again.