Key components of lesson study from the perspective of complexity: a theoretical analysis

January, 2020

Source: Teachers and Teaching, 26:1, 118-128

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this essay, the authors propose to expand the theoretical understandings of Lesson Study (LS) by observing it from the perspective of the epistemology of complexity (also known as ‘complex thinking’ or ‘systemic thinking’).
They adopt this viewpoint under the assumption that it is useful—though not necessarily required—for thinking about the cognitively complex teaching-learning processes (McAlpine et al., 2006) that, additionally, are executed in an educational reality that is itself unattainable and emerging. By applying the lens of complexity, teachers can capitalise on opportunities for reflection and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
The authors attempt to present complex thinking as a cognitive attitude that can allow teachers to make sense of and carry out the process of LS.
The goal of their theoretical analysis has been to make LS more understandable, therefore helping to confront the challenges that have arisen when teachers have tried to apply it outside of Japan.
Along the same lines, they have referred to LS as a practical and reflective process that helps teachers implement and analyse sets of knowledge, abilities and actions to address the complex relationships between objectives, policies, resources and methodologies.
The entire LS cycle revolves around the research lesson (RL), a product tailored to a specific context and to specific groups of students, assuming their features are unique.
This approach avoids over-simplification by paying attention to the local and particular, while simultaneously recognising its embedding in a global context.
The educational needs of the current context set the LS working group in motion, and those needs also shape its course and determine its end point.
LS’ continuity depends on change, observation and critical reflection and, through them, the original RL progresses.
The authors have suggested that LS, even in the face of the impossibility of anticipating every classroom circumstance, makes a good case for continuous planning and reflection. In LS, teachers forget about mechanical certainties and accept approximate knowledge and partial comprehension as starting points.
From there, discoveries and learning happen, thanks to inaccurate predictions.
LS can contribute immensely to teachers’ professional development, as it presupposes openness towards mistakes.
It asks of them to be willing to shape their practices by taking advantage of emergence, boosting pressonance and operationalising their own wisdom and knowledge.
This process faces the complexity inherent in classroom systems by encouraging teachers to reflect on what they have experienced, embracing their own and others’ reflective critique to devise strategies for improving the RL.
In doing so, participants in LS relate to each other as a collective of competent professional researchers, cognoscente subjects in the creation of the RL and their learning processes as teachers.
The authors have suggested that LS is based on more an ecological than a mechanistic conception of reality. In this sense, LS is a process for constantly seeking an RL befitting a context, goal and topic.
The pursuit of an unreachable ideal—the perfect RL—is also the only way to bring teachers closer to achieving an envisioned archetypical lesson for a specific moment and situation.
LS proceeds, and the RL evolves, as teachers engage in collaboration and tolerant dialogue to problematise previous ways of doing (benefited from the original Japanese cultural features), as they make use of strategy and situated thinking to attend to unforeseen situations and compare alternatives, and as they remain aware that they can only have ephemeral control over the actions that they carry out and the product that they create.
And, as all of this happens, the RL itself stops being the main goal (Stepanek et al., 2007) or an end in itself.
Instead, it becomes a window on a wider perspective of education (Lewis, 2009) through a process that should be explored in future theoretical and empirical research.
Deleuze said that ‘(. . .) there is no other method for finding other than a long preparation’ (Deleuze & Parnet, 2007, p. 7).
The authors propose that—viewed from the perspective of the epistemology of complexity—LS is in fact a form of long preparation in which teachers move forward by developing tentative answers that lead to subtler questions.

Deleuze, G., & Parnet, C. (2007). Dialogues II. Columbia University Press. (Original work published 1977)
Lewis, C. (2009). What is the nature of knowledge development in lesson study? Educational Action Research, 17(1), 95–110.
McAlpine, L., Weston, C., Timmermans, J., Berthiaume, D., & Fairbank-Roch, G. (2006). Zones: Reconceptualizing teacher thinking in relation to action. Studies in Higher Education, 31(5), 601–615.
Stepanek, J., Appel, G., Leong, M., Turner, M., & Mitchell, M. (2007). Leading lesson study. A practical guide for teachers and facilitators. Corwin Press. 

Updated: Oct. 25, 2020