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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.


The Lesson Study Cycle

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.

Pre Lesson Learning

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.

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.

Practice in Action

Most teachers never get to see beyond their own classrooms. As a profession we don’t get out much! We rarely see others in action, observe their pratice in an informal way and talk about pedagogy from the front. Opportunities for reflection are generally given little time in CPD programmes as other priorities jostle for our attention.

It is with this in mind that we are embarking on school visits for our next teacher training day on Monday. 25 teachers will be making trips to various partner schools across the north west and beyond as we try and give staff the opportunity to get into other classrooms, other schools in different Local Authorities, to learn from each other, to share thoughts, ideas and innovations, to see practice in action. It is something we have been keen to do for some time and we’re excited about the potential to develop stronger links and delighted so many of our partner schools have agreed to the visits. A reciprocal arrangement has been agreed and our partners will be visiting us in the autumn. Our first staff meeting of the half term will provide the opportunity for everyone to share their visits, it is something I’m really looking forward to.

Hawes Siders – a soap in the making!

The new green screen studio at school has given us lots of opportunities to extend learning in more creative and innovative ways. The books at bedtime initiative has been a great way of engaging parents and younger children through a cbeebies type selection of stories read by older pupils, staff and local celebrities. Another great idea we’re about to get started on is ‘Hawes Siders’ our very own soap!

We’re going to start the drama by running a lunchtime club for our script writers. Miss Johnstone has very kindly agreed to work with those interested to get some of their school stories up and running. Another group of pupils will help with the filming and green screening and our budding thespians will take on the roles required by our writers. We’re keen to get going next half term and see how the idea pans out but we envisage being able to film short scenes every month or so. The writers will meet a couple of lunchtimes each week and share their ideas for storylines. We’re hoping this soap will run and run! We’re also thinking about whether to use audioboo, or maybe podcast different trailors and snippets across the school blogs to whet people’s appetite.

It’s promises to be a great project to get stuck into after SATs and something different classes can get involved in with competitions for different storylines, posters to advertise the soap etc… I’ll keep you posted on how it develops. If you’ve any thoughts or ideas, or you’ve done something similar in your own schools, please let me know.

Networking For Excellence

The 5th SSAT National Primary Conference entitled ‘Networking for Excellence’ provided a fantastic vehicle for the Network to live out it’s ‘By Schools For Schools‘ motto. A range of great practitioner led workshops complimented the key note presentations that bookended the day.

Bill Lucas, Nick Stuart and Neil Hopkin got the day off to a great start with Bill sharing research into intelligence that contributed to his recent book with Guy Claxton ‘New Kinds of Smart’. Nick Stuart, Chair of the SSAT shared how he sees the Primary Network growing in influence within the Trust as numbers continue to increase and Neil Hopkin, Chair of the Primary Network led delegates in an unexpected dance that will surely see the light of day on you tube providing someone saw fit to film it.

The wide and varied range of workshops meant there was something for everyone with EY, KS1 and KS2 covered for New Technologies, SEN, Leadership and Curriculum. Feedback suggests the workshops were very well received and much as I would have liked to get to the Forest School (led by @icklekaty) and Games Based Learning (@duck_star) workshops, I was delighted to host David Mitchell (@deputyMitchell), Lee Glynn (@glynnlee) and Jack Sloan (@jacksloan). The heavyweights of blogging shared their impressive successes and the importance of ‘traffic’ to ensure the pupils have an audience for their work. David and Jack have had a huge number of hits on their blogs with some famous contributors making the process exciting for the children. The use of web 2.0 tools was also highlighted and Jack, Lee and David extolled the benefits of a range of easy to use tools that can be embedded into blogs without difficulty. Animoto, wordle, wallwisher, voicethread and audioboo to name but a few were given a good press by those presenting.

The day was closed by Alison Peacock from the Cambridge Primary Review, Guin Batten, Olympic rowing medal winner and Sue Williamson, Strategic Director at SSAT. Their underlying message was one of opportunity, the chance for us to grasp the nettle and make a difference as we move forward in this uncertain future. The Primary Network provides schools with a strong national and international body of knowledge and innovative practice through which they can share ideas, build links and learn from the best. The conference give those attending an opportunity to ‘Network for Excellence’ and witness the ‘By schools For Schools’ approach in operation. In the future such practices can only increase.


The first thing that impresses you about Devonshire Road Primary is that it’s a brand-new building shaped rather like beehive!   It is a fantastic building with great facilities some of which were evident as we entered their hall and saw the huge screen that wouldn’t have looked out of place in an IMAX cinema! The hall isn’t used for lunches – it is given over to clubs and activities at lunchtimes with dinners being served in the ‘street’, a wide corridor that runs alongside the hall.

This was the third teachmeet in Blackpool and again attendance levels were high, over 130 people there to lurk enthusiastically or to present for two or seven minutes.  It is great to see the unconference format take off in such a positive way across the town and it is also great to see people travelling a fair few miles to join in the fun, to present, support and encourage as the teachmeet approach becomes an established part of the educational culture in Blackpool.

Many staff attending TMBpool3 were first timers so it is understandable that some of the presenters ran over their allotted times.   The professional, polished presentations from the likes of @simonhaughton @deputymitchell @primarypete and @HGjohn and a virtual presentation from @ianaddison showed just what teachmeets are all about.   Sharp, to the point presentations that quickly and succinctly get their message across, leaving you with ideas and innovations that you can readily follow up, try out, share and develop.   Hopefully their experienced approaches will provide many of those attending with the desire to have a go themselves next time.

It’s great to see teachmeet develop the way it has across Blackpool.   It is providing classroom based practitioners with a real platform to share their best practice and innovative approaches with colleagues.   The sharing of good practice is key to developing as a profession and teachmeets provide a grass roots model of professional development – people who walk the talk.   It is not a hierarchical model, it is based on a ‘floorboards up’ approach that sees those who stand in front of children on a day to day basis share what works and what excites them about teaching and learning.   It is also great to see so many headteachers actively supporting this approach to sharing good practice beyond the class room and staff room, to develop a real collaborative approach, building a real, lateral network across the town. This is the great thing about teachmeets; they provide staff with the opportunity to not only be enthused and motivated about innovative and new ideas but sometimes just reassure themselves what they’re doing is the right thing and others are doing it too!

TMBpool3 was another success and I’m sure the event was a positive experience for everyone who attended. I’m also sure that based on tonight’s experiences many of these teachers will be back at Anchorsholme Primary on February 10 for TMBpool4.   As always huge thanks goes to @mister_jim and @TomSale for their fantastic efforts in selflessly putting together a superb event.