From Experience to Expertise: The Development of Teachers’ Learning in Lesson Study

Sep. 20, 2015

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 66(4), p. 349–362, September/October 2015.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study explores questions of how educators (i.e., district leaders and teachers) learned about mathematics through lesson study but also how they were socialized into lesson study (LS) as a collaborative, routine practice.

The 21 participants in this study were all educators in Whitney, a small public school district located on the edge of a major urban city in the Northeast. The four “math specialists” were district-level mentors and coaches who primarily worked with elementary school teachers. The 16 classroom teachers taught in the sixth, seventh, or eighth grades.
The district mathematics curriculum director, Linda, was also included in the study as the coordinator of lesson study activity in Whitney.

Using a sociocultural perspective on teachers’ learning, the author compared the participation of educators who were new to lesson study (“LS novices”) and had less than 1 year of experience with lesson study with those who had more experience with the practice (“LS experienced practitioners”).The second team had worked together on lesson study for more than 2 years.
This case study incorporates a total of 39 semi-structured, opened interviews about educators’ perceptions of their work, ethnographic field notes across classroom and professional development settings, and examples of teachers’ lesson plans and related professional development materials.


The author discovered a few key differences illustrate possible elements in the developmental progression of lesson study. Teachers who are newer to lesson study and who have a “less developed” practice tend to focus on learning how to teach through problem solving, watching other teachers to get ideas for activities or strategies, and seeing the collaborative work as a way to combine efforts to teach a better lesson. LS experienced practitioners, in contrast, were comfortable with the routine and can see their role as developing problems that elicit student thinking, they observe classrooms to see the effects of that pedagogy directly on students, and they use their understanding about students to generate collective insight and collaboratively revise and reflect upon instruction. 

As teachers became active members of the LS community, their participation patterns and reflections about their learning indicated greater expertise aligned with the tenets of lesson study—for example, they tended to notice the multiple strategies students use to solve problems or they commented on designing instructional tasks that elicit student thinking. LS experienced practitioners might come to understand that there are larger goals such as learning about students’ misconceptions that transcend the output of individual lesson plans.

Moving From Experience to Expertise
The author discusses how educators might progress from having a less developed to a more developed understanding of lesson study.
She considers two ways that educators who participate in lesson study might develop knowledge and skill over time. First, LS novices might start to sound similar to LS experienced practitioners simply as they increase their activity in the community and undergo a process of socialization, engage in dialogue with peers, and acquire increased fluency with the LS routine. Over time, LS experienced practitioners are more likely to develop a shared vocabulary and understanding of their work that are consistent with the goals of lesson study.

A second possible way to support learning within professional communities is a concept called deliberate practice (Ericsson et al., 1993). Deliberate practice happens when the practitioner is motivated to learn, exerts effort on performance within a routine and over time, and uses knowledge and feedback to organize information (Ericsson, 2004). These characteristics—purposeful participation, presence of a routine, extended time, and feedback on performance—differentiate deliberate practice from a simple accumulation of experience.


The author argues that educators should be aware of the importance of including both novices and experts when forming learning communities related to lesson study or other school-based teacher learning models. Novices can learn from observing and discussing practice with experts, who would provide feedback to novices and demonstrate how the practice looks at more “advanced” stages. Moreover, to encourage deliberate practice, those forming learning communities should be intentional about having coaches or experts to provide feedback and engage practitioners in reflection about and application of their new learning.

The author concludes that lesson study is a practice that has less developed and more developed forms of participation, and those who propose to support or study these learning communities can benefit from examining educators’ learning and interactions across the full spectrum from novice to expert. Whitney teachers who participated regularly in this form of collaborative learning began to emphasize listening to students as the impetus for reshaping their pedagogy and listening to one another as the foundation for continuous growth.

Ericsson, K. A. (2004). Deliberate practice and the acquisition and maintenance of expert performance in medicine and related domains. Academic Medicine, 79(10), S70-S81.
Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363-406.

Updated: Sep. 21, 2016