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.
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.
Tomorrow it’s our annual Kaizen Inset Day. Each year we agree one common training day for all our staff. We pool our resources to bring in the best people to lead a day in one of our schools. This work can then be further developed in our own settings with collaborative approaches informed by a shared message.
Kaizen means small steps to continuous improvement. The name of this Japanese business model suits our aims perfectly. We set up this informal network as a group of new (ish) head teachers around ten years ago. Our initial aim was to support each other in our burgeoning leadership roles. We shared a common set of values and beliefs and we were all keen to work closely, to develop a school to school support model that would help our schools grow, and help us grow as school leaders.
Initially our network was a leadership support mechanism but it quickly grew to a body which included pupil teaching and learning groups, digital leaders, debating societies and subject leader clusters. Recently children from each school visited Houses of Parliament. This followed a joint pupil teaching and learning day looking at school values. Before half term the teaching and learning groups shared presentations based on findings amongst pupils in their own schools on ‘what makes the ideal teacher, the ideal learner?’ Debating societies at the same pupil conference debated whether the government should pay for homes for the homeless (this topic was chosen by the pupils from a number of options). The work the pupils are engaged in is shared back in their own schools via assemblies and school council meetings. A focus on speaking and listening is developing the confidence and understanding of those involved, and the more we can involve, the better!
Staff work together on key aspects of their roles and this is something we will be developing further this year with our focus on collaborative improvement and lesson study. Subject leaders find it useful to moderate beyond their school and local clusters (Kaizen involves schools from across the region and internationally) and in this new age without levels, such sessions are more important than ever. Last year our Kaizen Inset Day was led by Professor Barry Hymer, we looked carefully at the research into Growth Mindset and how such work could impact on our schools’ approaches. This year the day is being led by Dr Pete Dudley, to build on our approaches to Lesson Study. Plans are already afoot for inter school research using the Lesson Study model. The afternoon will be given over to a Teaching and Learning Exchange, where staff from Kaizen partner schools share a range of pedagogical approaches that they are having successes with in the classroom. These practitioner led workshops provide a ‘warts and all’ view that is refreshingly honest and helpful to colleagues in developing their own practices.
The Kaizen network grew organically. There was no top down initiative, no external funding and no outside agenda. The strength of the partnership is the shared belief that by working together, supporting each other and collaborating, we can improve the teaching and learning in our schools and provide a better all round education for our children.
Following our first year of lesson study, we have changed the format in school for this academic year. As a staff we spent time at the end of the summer term discussing the impact of LS to date and deciding on the best way forward. We were all convinced that this was the right way to develop teaching and learning but felt it worth tweaking our approach to get more out of it.
As a three from entry primary we are well suited for the model we’ve developed. Each term a different class in each year group becomes the research class. The ‘host’ teacher works with their two year group colleagues to plan the lesson study and the three teachers (along with any support staff involved) write up their research. This research is then shared by the host teacher at a lesson study staff meeting the following term. Over the year each class in each year group will be the research class once, all teachers will take on the role of researcher/research teacher, and each will present research findings to staff. All staff will have taken part in at least three lesson studies. As in the past, we are restricted to two ‘formal’ research lessons during the cycle, due to timetabling and class cover required however, the impact of the research goes beyond the formal process and is instrumental in driving developments in teaching and learning. .
The cycle below outlines our current approach to lesson study
Planning Meeting 1
Agree and sign Lesson Study protocol
Agree on lesson to be taught, who is to teach it and area of focus from AfL work
Plan lesson in detail together as a research team with area of AfL focus in mind, considering any resources necessary and any pre lesson preparation.
Research lesson teacher to identify three pupils, broadly representative of the differing learning groups in the class. Teacher to identify how they think the pupils will respond at different points in the lesson, researchers complete proforma (planning, observation and discussion sheet)
Research Lesson 1
Camera set up prior to lesson to enable inconspicuous filming for class teacher’s reference. Researchers complete proforma whilst observing identified pupils (emphasis is on the learner response)
Researchers also record thoughts regarding AfL focus for feedback in post lesson discussion.
Post Lesson Pupil Interviews
Each researcher interviews identified pupil following the lesson using profroma (suggested questions for post lesson interview) encouraging pupils to answer fully and share any thoughts on the lesson and the learning
Post Lesson Discussion
Following the first research lesson (RL1) and pupil interviews, research team come back together. Session follows format below:
a) Teacher shares thoughts on the lesson/learning
b) Researchers take turn to share findings (notes) on pupil’s response to learning (how teacher thought they would respond/how they were observed to respond)
c) Researchers take turns to share post lesson pupil interview findings
d) Film footage shared (if necessary) to support findings. Footage then provided for teacher to view later
e) AfL focus discussed in general terms and researchers share any notes made during research lesson.
f) Next lesson discussed in light of findings from RL1, changes/amendments made as appropriate, children for observation agreed.
Research Lesson 2
Cycle begins again
Research is then written up by year group team and saved on the school server. The host teacher then uses the research notes to inform presentation to staff.
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.
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!