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.
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!
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.
There are a range of different ways of sharing good practice. One of the most interesting approaches I have seen recently is Speed Learning.
I attended my first speed learning event a couple of years ago. It was organised by Claire Lowe (@clairelowe2) and Kirstie Andrew-Power from the SSAT. They had gathered a group of practitioners together to share their learning experiences in short presentations at a local high school one evening. The twilight session began with an introductory key note by a guest Headteacher and quickly moved into the speed learning presentations. Each presentation took place at a table and delegates moved round the room every 10 minutes hearing up to six different presentations. The opportunity to hear from a range of practitioners close up and personal was well received. Those presenting were able to share ideas from their ipads, laptops and other devices rather than relying on large screens to project their work. This gave the short presentations a more intimate feel and an energetic buzz filled the hall as attendees heard from the likes 0f @ianaddison and other teachers in the area talking about a range of tech and non tech initiatives that were proving successful in their own schools. Some gave out information and shared examples of learning using the table top presentation idea to good effect. Following the presentations a closing keynote rounded off the event and looked to the future of such continuing professional development opportunities.
The speed learning model is a great way for practitioners to share ideas and innovations. It requires careful organisation and timing, a number of willing presenters and an audience. Such an event can reap dividends as staff return to school armed with a number of tried and tested approaches, peer support and new contacts helping to foster a sustainable and vibrant form of sharing and staff development. The model is particularly successful where a numeber of schools in close proximity agree to sacrificing a staff meeting or two for the common cause with one hosting the event.
SSAT are supporting a series of Speed Learning events up and down the UK over the summer term, if you haven’t managed to get to one yet you might like to check where your closest one is by following the link below. http://www.ssatuk.co.uk/ssat/speed-learning-2/
St Silas in Liverpool and Hawes Side in Blackpool are hosting two North West speed learning events on 12th and 13th June respectively. Contact @mrsdonaldson82 and @smichael920 on twitter for further information.