What is Lesson Study? A primer

“Lesson Study” is the most common English translation of the Japanese kyouzai kenkyuu. (The other translation is “lesson research.”) Lesson Study is the primary form of teacher professional development in Japan. While Lesson Study in Japan functions at different levels of their education system – school, district, and national – most of the work supported by Lesson Study Alliance is school-based, and is part of an on-going, school-wide effort to address a teaching/learning issue of shared concern.

The research lesson and post-lesson discussion

The most visible component of Lesson Study is the “research lesson,” a carefully-planned lesson designed to explore and test out certain ideas for improving student outcomes. The research lesson is taught by one teacher to her or his students while other educators observe and take notes. The observers are usually teachers and administrators from the same school or other schools.

Following the lesson, the teacher and observers gather to discuss the lesson, sharing data to understand the impact of the lesson on the students relative to the goals of the lesson and the research question that it was designed to explore, and how its design and implementation affected that impact. The discussion concludes with an invited expert who gives “final comments”.

Planning before, reflection after

Less visible than the research lesson, but crucial to the effectiveness of Lesson Study, are the planning that goes into the lesson and the reflection done afterwards. The planning is usually done by a team of 3-6 teachers, including the teacher who will eventually teach the lesson. It typically spans 6 or more 90-minute sessions, usually a week apart, or 3 full days during the summer, and includes some consultation with an expert (a “knowledgeable other”). The result is a written research lesson proposal analogous to a research proposal from the sciences or social sciences: it includes:

  • a literature review (kyouzai kenkyuu, or research), which includes a careful examination of the standards and of one or more curricula and thoughtful analysis of possible tasks and materials;
  • a statement of the problems the team aims to address (“Research theme”, and “Background and rationale”);
  • a description of the experimental procedure (unit plan and lesson flow); and
  • a plan for analysis (assessment questions within the lesson flow, and “Evaluation questions”).

Following the post-lesson discussion, the team reflects on what they learned and records their findings as an addendum to their research proposal. This reflection is shared with the school community so that everyone has an opportunity to learn from the research lesson.

The purpose is not to create a great lesson

A common misunderstanding is that Lesson Study is about creating a great lesson. It is not. Lesson Study serves three objectives. The main objective of school-wide Lesson Study is to test strategies and develop teaching techniques that will improve all future lessons. A second objective is to strengthen teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge. A third objective is to improve teaching and learning of specific content.