The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Elizabeth Holmes

'Serious potential': David Weston on the benefits of lesson study

Across the country, schools are using lesson study to explore the 'what next' of learning. Elizabeth Holmes caught up with David Weston to discuss the growing popularity of this imported approach.

The continuing personal and professional development of teachers will always be of the utmost importance in our schools, but it can be difficult to know what, exactly, will have the greatest impact.

Conflicting opinions abound, and navigating the research can be difficult when the loudest voices dominate the debate.

What is lesson study?

Lesson study is a model of teacher-led research that was first developed in Japan. A triad of teachers works to identify a development area for their students’ learning. The teachers use existing evidence to plan, teach and observe a series of lessons, using input from experts to keep track of and refine their interventions.

The Teacher Development Trust (TDT), an independent charity founded by teachers and dedicated to improving the educational outcomes of children, has been promoting lesson study as a professional learning tool for some years.

Its chief executive, David Weston, has seen lesson study grow in popularity. ‘If you consider the various projects, networks and organisations involved then it's reasonable to estimate that over 1000 schools have tried it in some form.’

This is no surprise. The weight of research behind lesson study seems robust, breaking down its impact year on year, links between teacher learning and pupil learning, and advances in the teaching of maths among others.

For David, this is partly because lesson study maps well on to the research undertaken to identify what makes effective CPD.

And anecdotally, many teachers seem to enjoy using it.

Is it a panacea?

No. Sadly, nothing is.

As David explains, ‘the approach involves a lot of peer-to-peer discussion and observation and can take up a lot of time. Without careful support and structure, or without a sharp, well-chosen focus and an underpinning of robust evidence, lesson study can have very little impact on pupil outcomes.’

Once again, the ‘Bananarama principle’ comes into play. When done well, lesson study is clearly a powerful model. It engages teachers in thinking deeply about the curriculum, assessment and how pupils think and act in the classroom.

When done well, lesson study is clearly a powerful model

Furthermore, ‘it can facilitate valuable discussions of pedagogy and subject matter, giving teachers new perspectives on their practice’.

This is not only the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of teaching, but also the ‘what next’. 

How can we get it right?

Power of three: 'it aint what you do (it's the way you do it)

The tried and trusted triad of sufficient time, well-structured conversation and additional support from practitioners will be a school’s key to success. David also emphasises the importance of a firm commitment from the school’s leadership, an organisational structure that facilitates professional thinking and – above all – a willingness to try new things.

‘We have found some schools who claim to be “doing lesson study” when in fact they're doing something far less structured,’ David explains. ‘The term is at risk of becoming so loosely defined that is rendered meaningless.' 

'On the other hand, what we in the UK call lesson study could be known as “collaborative lesson research” by Japanese practitioners.'

We have found some schools who claim to be 'doing lesson study' when in fact they're doing something far less structured

On the strength of existing research, and anecdotal evidence from the schools that have already adopted lesson study, it definitely seems to be something you should consider adding to your arsenal of CPD tools if you haven’t already.

‘It would be fantastic to see more schools getting involved,’ says David.

‘Ultimately, the TDT provides training and tools around lesson study because we believe that it offers a well-structured way of engaging with more effective approaches to CPD.

When combined with a sharp focus and supported by high quality expertise, we believe that it's a model with serious potential.’

'The most powerful form of CPD I've ever seen'

Hawes Side Primary School turned to lesson study when it became clear that traditional lesson observations simply weren't working.

In this glimpse of lesson study in action, headteacher Michael Shepherd describes the transformation that took place.

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