Dufferin-Peel Lesson Study
Dan Peter ran his first Lesson Study (LS) in 2006 when he was an Elementary math consultant in the Dufferin-Peel DSB. Among many methods of creating communities of learners to effect classroom change, Lesson Study, he says, is the Cadillac model.
“Most participants felt it was the best PD experience they ever had,” he says.
Teachers commented that observing their peers in a non-judgmental format was powerful learning. “Their focus was on students and lesson delivery, and they found it intense,” Peter remembers.
“Just because you have a community of learners doesn’t mean you will have forward movement,” he says, comparing LS to Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) set up in most schools around the province today.
“The benefit of LS is the facilitator – the knowledgeable other – who moves the group forward with both probing questions and silence. Ideally, the facilitator should have knowledge beyond the classroom, possess strong facilitation skills and be a good listener.”
Lesson Study brings like-minded professionals together with a limited goal and an intense focus. The amount of spillover into everyone’s practice is amazing. It’s not just about improving the teaching of the demo teacher; all those involved experienced a strong impact on their practice because they saw things from a different perspective. “There was so much thinking, reflecting and collaboration – these have a powerful impact for teachers.”
Natasha Moore participated in a study with Peter in 2006 when she was a Grade 5 teacher at Cardinal Newman Catholic School in Dufferin-Peel. “I loved it,” she says. “The collaboration, the different perspectives, the breaking down of the curriculum into such small parts was fantastic.”
Her group of four chose to develop a lesson on equivalent fractions. They received two days per month of time release, and took four of those days to meet, get to know and trust each other, set their LS goals and develop their 40-minute lesson.
“It was scripted,” says Moore. Together, they worked out where to stand, what examples to give, how to ask questions. They anticipated students’ answers and questions and discussed where the children should sit in the room. “We even decided what gestures we would use and the appropriate words and tone of voice for speaking to the children.”
The debriefing session was amazing, says Moore. She and three other Dufferin-Peel teachers observed the lesson, took detailed notes and participated in the debriefing session immediately afterwards.
So what did they conclude? What will they do differently from now on?
- It’s important to explain vocabulary at the start of a class; don’t assume the kids know it. Put it on a word wall or post terms on the board.
- Use manipulatives but make sure the kids are comfortable working with them before the lesson; otherwise, they become a distraction. “Now, the first math lesson I teach every year involves my students playing with manipulatives. From then on they don’t want to play with them; they will use them properly.”
- The most important takeaway – use a variety of different visuals to reinforce the message and concept. For example: Use a pie chart to show 1/2, use a fraction strip (think of a ruler and shade in half of it), and use a visual set model such as a checkerboard with half white and half black checkers. The point is that all the children may not connect with all the visuals, but everyone will connect with at least one of them.
Moore says of the outcomes: “I look at myself as an educator and I’m more aware of my practice now. Every time I do fractions I use representations and visuals to connect with the variety of learners in my classroom. I reflect on my practice all the time now. I anticipate children’s questions and answers. I think about how I give instructions, how I speak, where I stand in the room, what gestures I use.”
Lesson Study for Pre-Service Teachers
Today Dan Peter teaches in York University’s pre-service program. He wanted to introduce LS to his students, so he’s running a pilot program with three teacher candidates to one mentor teacher during the second placement. They are integrating LS as part of the program.
Last year he enlisted Moore to serve as a mentor teacher and LS coach. She was part of the team that opened a new school, St. Josephine Bakhita, in the Dufferin-Peel Catholic DSB. Three pre-service teachers, Nina Bekanovic, Shannon Jordan and Athena Prosdocimo, worked out of Moore’s Grade 4/5 classroom and participated in math Lesson Studies. This year Bekanovic is filling an LTO position in the Halton Catholic DSB and Prosdocimo is completing a JK/SK LTO contract at St. Josephine Bakhita.
Prosdocimo says, “Having time to collaborate, share ideas, talk about how to teach something and how the children would react was powerful learning for me. We talked about differentiated instruction in our classes at York, but planning how to connect our lesson with 20 different learners and then being able to observe its impact in the classroom was powerful.”
She says that being an observer made her aware of how much happens in the room – things she never saw as the teacher.
Over the course of half a year, Moore and her teacher candidates completed three Lesson Studies. Each time they invited other teachers and the principal in to serve as observers during their demo lessons, and each time the pre-service candidates’ confidence and skills grew.
“We’d always be discussing our practice or reflecting on it – at lunch and recess, during our planning time, after school. LS gave me a much stronger awareness of my professional practice,” says Prosdocimo.
Big Learnings for the St. Josephine Bakhita LS Group
- Be keenly aware of time spent on each activity.
- Use a minds-on engaging activity at the start of every lesson
- Bring in real-life examples as much as possible. For example: When you’re doing a lesson on triangles, start by asking children to give examples of triangles they see in everyday life.
- Define important concepts and vocabulary first.
- Watch for signs of engagement and disengagement.
- Think carefully about what examples to use, how to write on the chalkboard, where to stand in the classroom.
- Don’t assume that because a child isn’t raising his hand, he isn’t paying attention
Fred Albi, the principal at St. Josephine Bakhita, says, “LS helps accelerate the development of skills; it allows beginning teachers like Athena to reflect on various teaching and learning strategies and see what works well for her and for others. This is only one type of professional development; there are others that are also effective. But what I like about LS is that it is specific to individual teachers and what is happening in their classrooms. It’s about the precision of good pedagogy.”