Investigating teacher learning in Lesson Study: the important link between reported observations and change of plans

From Section:
Programs & Practicum
Jan. 03, 2022

Source: Professional Development in Education, 48:1, 53-69

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this study, teacher learning is understood from a sociocultural perspective as making sense of the world, solving problems and exploring new perspectives through social interaction (Mercer and Littleton 2007).
The purpose of the study is to explore the processes of teacher learning in Lesson Study related to teachers’ sharing and analysis of classroom observations.
For this purpose, the researcher participated in a Lesson Study group of Social Science teachers at a lower secondary school.
This study addresses the following research question:
How does the Lesson Study group share, interpret and evaluate observations from the research lessons, and how does this process influence further planning of teaching?
This study explores how a group of teachers ‘make sense together and gain knowledge from social interaction’ (Mercer and Littleton 2007, p. 3) and whether this social process of sense-making (Mortimer and Scott 2003) supports the teacher group in solving problems and carrying out further activities in the classroom.
The focus is on how teachers use observations from research lessons to interpret and evaluate pupil learning and teaching, and whether this process of collaborating influences planning for further teaching.

The study has a qualitative design and was conducted at a lower secondary school in Norway.
The researcher participated in a Lesson Study group of Social Science teachers as a participant observer.
This role included participation in Lesson Study meetings and observation of research lessons.
The researcher audio- and video-recorded the research lessons and audio-recorded the group’s planning and post research lesson (RL) meetings.
All recorded data were transcribed by the researcher.
To document the Lesson Study process, the researcher also wrote field notes and collected lesson plans and reports.
This type of data helped describe the context of the study.

Data collection
Data for this study were collected during the spring semester of 2017.
The school was in the third semester of using Lesson Study as an approach to school-based professional development.
The group leaders were also members of the school’s coalition team, which met monthly to coordinate and revise the time schedule for the overall Lesson Study process.
Each LS group followed a process that included planning, conducting and reflecting on two research lessons.
Finally, the process led to a sharing meeting for all the Lesson Study groups at school.

The Lesson Study group of Social Science teachers comprised five in-service teachers that were teaching year 10 students (15–16 years old) and an assistant principal who facilitated the group.
The teachers in this group had from 2 to 20 years of teaching experience.
In addition, three pre-service teachers participated in both research lessons and the following post-RL discussions as a part of their teacher education programme.
The group wanted to promote students’ participation in peer discussions.
The researcher contributed to the group’ s planning meetings by introducing a research article (Mercer 2004) that presented a typology of student talk in classrooms.
The group decided to focus on encouraging students’ peer talk, inspired by the conception of exploratory talk (Mercer 2004), a type of collective reasoning where all participants engage critically but constructively with one another’s ideas.

The research lessons
The research lessons were conducted in two different classes in year 10 (10A and 10B).
In the research lessons, one of the teachers taught the lesson and the others observed one student group each.
The student groups received two envelopes, one with pictures selected for the discussions and one with scaffolding questions, to be opened if needed.

Observation forms
The aim of the group’s research lessons was to promote student participation in group discussions, including encouraging students in making arguments, asking questions, building on each other’s ideas and challenging each other’s arguments, all characteristics of exploratory talk (Mercer 2004).
Two observation forms were developed to support the observations and analysis of students’ talk in groups.

Approaching the data
For this paper, the researcher analysed the Lesson Study teacher discussions after the first and second research lessons (post-RL1 and post-RL2 discussions).
The post-RL1 and post-RL2 discussions lasted for about 53 and 56 min, respectively.
The researcher selected these discussions to explore whether and how the Lesson Study group linked observations from the classroom to evaluation of student learning and teaching and whether these observations were related to further planning.

Findings and discussion

The crucial link between shared observations and planning
The analysis uncovered a strong coherence between teachers’ reports of observations, interpretations of observations, evaluating of teaching and student learning, and further planning. The teacher group brought together and worked on ideas related to the promotion of peer talk.
Several observers reported and interpreted collected classroom observations, which gave the teachers an opportunity to create a common, extended understanding of what had happened in the classroom, according to the shared goal for the lesson.
Findings suggest that this interplay and connection among different types of teacher utterances depended on planned and structured observations.
The sharing phase of the discussions contributed to the teacher group’s collaborative meaning making (Mortimer and Scott 2003) through a social process where the participants put together rich evidence from the classroom as a foundation for making decisions about further teaching.
Hence, sharing and interpreting of classroom observations made space for teachers’ professional learning, understood as making sense of the world, solving problems and exploring new perspectives through social interaction (Mercer and Littleton 2007).
Shared ownership of the challenges and a common need and wish to do something about these issues were crucial in linking the reports of observations to further planning.

The post-RL discussions: similar structure, different pattern
The two post-RL discussions had the same main structure involving a sharing phase, organised as turn-taking, followed by an evaluation/planning phase.
Despite similarities in the structure of the two discussions, the frequency of utterances labelled by different codes revealed differences in patterns in terms of planning and evaluation.
In the post-RL1 discussion, the group planned the next research lesson based on interpretations and evaluations of RL1, which gave the discussion strong features of planning.
The post-RL2 discussion was not followed by a new research lesson and could be characterised mainly as an evaluative discussion.
Sharing of observations from the research lessons was identified twice as often in the post-RL2 discussion than in the post-RL1 discussion.
In addition, the teachers interpreted observations more frequently in the post-RL2 discussion.

Teacher learning occurred as learning points
The analysis of crucial parts of the discussions led to rich descriptions of learning points (Dudley 2016) understood as critical moments within teachers’ talk where change of practice is discussed and considered.
This study describes how a LS group changed plans for teaching based on sharing, interpreting and evaluation of teaching and student participation.
This collective process can be understood as learning, which in a sociocultural perspective can be defined as making sense of the world, becoming able to solve problems and taking on new perspectives through social interaction (Mercer and Littleton 2007).
A space for teachers’ collective professional learning Though a small study like this has limitations, it highlights how participation in a LS group can open up for teachers’ collective professional learning.
It illustrates how teachers in a Lesson Study group collaboratively can expand their understanding of what is going on in the classroom, through interpreting and evaluation of student learning and teaching based on specific, planned observations in research lessons.
The structured form of Lesson Study with teachers observing, sharing and discussing evidence from living lessons (Murata et al. 2011) seems to make a space for teachers ‘to switch off the filters which, since their early careers, have blocked out important elements of daily classroom information’ (Dudley 2013, p. 119).
This common, expanded understanding can influence teachers’ further planning and teaching.
Does lesson study provide short-term or long-term learning?
Even if this study has revealed examples of teacher learning, it is timely to discuss whether Lesson Study in this context has the potential to promote short-term or long-term learning.
Lesson Study is certainly appropriate for short-term learning when teachers understand something new, recognise a new aspect, or change their teaching based on interpretation of observations from the classroom.
The excerpts in this paper give examples of learning points, which might be classified as short-term learning that is much closer to the western idea of teacher learning than the slow, but deep process of continuous professional learning that is central in the original Japanese understanding of Lesson Study.
This article suggests that teachers’ professional learning achieved in collaboration with colleagues, such as LS, has the potential to increase teachers’ active positions towards the world, which according to Freire (2000) may change both themselves and the world.

Dudley, P., 2013. Teacher learning in Lesson Study: what interaction-level discourse analysis revealed about how teachers utilised imagination, tacit knowledge of teaching and fresh evidence of pupils learning, to develop practice knowledge and so enhance their pupils’ learning. Teaching and teacher education, 34, 107–121.
Dudley, P., 2016. How Lesson Study works and why it creates excellent learning and teaching. In: P. Dudley, ed. Lesson Study: professional learning for our time. Oxfordshire: Routledge, 1–28.
Freire, P., 2000. Pedagogy of freedom: ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Mercer, N., 2004. Sociocultural discourse analysis. Journal of applied linguistics, 1 (2), 137–168.
Mercer, N. and Littleton, K., 2007. Dialogue and the development of children’s thinking: a sociocultural approach. Oxon: Routledge.
Mortimer, E. and Scott, P., 2003. Meaning making in secondary science classrooms. Philadelphia: Open University Press.
Murata, A., et al. 2011. Introduction: conceptual overview of Lesson Study. In: L.C. Harts, ed. Lesson study research and practice in mathematics education. Dordrecht: Springer, 1–12. 

Updated: May. 17, 2022
Lesson Study | Observations | Teachers’ learning