What is Lesson Study?

The practice of lesson study originated in Japan. Widely viewed as the foremost professional development program, lesson study is credited with dramatic success in improving classroom practices for the Japanese elementary school system (Fernandez, et al., 2001; Lewis, 2000; Lewis & Tsuchida, 1998; Shimahara, 1999; Stigler & Hiebert, 1999; Takahashi, 2000; Yoshida, 1999).

A particularly noticeable accomplishment in the past 20 years of lesson study has been the transformation from teacher-directed instruction to student-centered instruction in mathematics and science (Lewis & Tsuchida, 1998; Takahashi, 2000; Yoshida, 1999). The success of lesson study can be found in two primary aspects: improvements in teacher practice and the promotion of collaboration among teachers

First, lesson study embodies many features that researchers have noted are effective in changing teacher practice, such as using concrete practical materials to focus on meaningful problems, taking explicit account of the contexts of teaching and the experiences of teachers, and providing on-site teacher support within a collegial network. It also avoids many features noted as shortcomings of typical professional development, e.g., that it is short-term, fragmented, and externally administered (Firestone, 1996; Huberman & Gusky, 1994; Little, 1993; Miller & Lord, 1994; Pennel & Firestone, 1996).

Second, lesson study promotes and maintains collaborative work among teachers while giving them systematic intervention and support.

During lesson study, teachers collaborate to: 1) formulate long-term goals for student learning and development; 2) plan and conduct lessons based on research and observation in order to apply these long-terms goals to actual classroom practices for particular academic contents; 3) carefully observe the level of students’ learning, their engagement, and their behaviors during the lesson; and 4) hold debriefing sessions with their collaborative groups to discuss and revise the lesson accordingly (Lewis, 2002b).

One of the key components in these collaborative efforts is “the research lesson,” in which, typically, a group of instructors prepares a single lesson, which is then observed in the classroom by the lesson study group and other practitioners, and afterwards analyzed during the group’s debriefing session. Through the research lesson, teachers become more observant and attentive to the process by which lessons unfold in their class, and they gather data from the actual teaching based on the lesson plan that the lesson study group has prepared. The research lesson is followed by the debriefing session, in which teachers review the data together in order to: 1) make sense of educational ideas within their practice; 2) challenge their individual and shared perspectives about teaching and learning; 3) learn to see their practice from the student’s perspective; and 4) enjoy collaborative support among colleagues (Takahashi & Yoshida, 2004).