Lesson Study

Taking Professional Learning into the Classroom

by Leanne Miller, OCT

Above, from left: Classroom teacher Natasha Moore, OCT, Special Education resource teacher Avril Metivier, OCT, then-pre-service teacher Athena Prosdocimo, OCT, and principal Fred Albi, OCT, confer during the implementation stage of a Lesson Study at St. Josephine Bakhita Catholic ES in Brampton.

It’s a validation of what you do in your classroom. The opportunity for collaboration is big – shared dialogue, shared problem solving, shared strategies, shared ways to help struggling kids, bored kids, all types of learners. There’s opportunity to debrief and get feedback from colleagues – targeted and focused, nothing personal. It’s all about sharpening lesson delivery and ensuring that all kids, all types of learners, get it all the time.

That’s how the eight members of the science Lesson Study team at Walkerville CI in the Greater Essex DSB sum up their experience.

Barbara Mitchell, OCT, who teaches Grade 1 at Roxborough Park Elementary School in the Hamilton-Wentworth DSB, remembers “sit and get” professional development sessions where teachers were bombarded with information one day and expected to incorporate it into their classes the next.

The Lesson Study (LS) approach enables teachers to discuss, observe, reflect on and improve their practice over time. It encourages reflection on how they teach, not just what they teach. A group of teachers may spend an entire school year and several time-released days working on just one lesson. The group will set goals, do research, develop a lesson plan, deliver and watch the lesson, and debrief, analyzing student and teacher learning.

“The support and collegial talk among the Lesson Study team members – especially the support of the coach – allows us to think about and change our practice and to share and learn from each other,” says Mitchell.

Greater Essex and Hamilton-Wentworth are only two of the many boards across the province that are using LS as one type of embedded professional development. It’s proving to be a success.

Recently, Jenni Donohoo, OCT, heard Thomas Guskey, a professor at the University of Kentucky and an expert in research and evaluation, speak. He said, “Less emphasis on what’s new and more emphasis on what works.”

That sums it up for Donohoo, Research and Evaluation Consultant for the Greater Essex DSB. “It really captures how I feel about powerful designs for professional learning, such as Lesson Study, and that is why we continue to promote it and support it,” she says.

She adds that they have taken to heart the work of American researchers Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers, which shows that, without follow-up support, only five per cent of teachers actually transfer learning from PD workshops into classroom practice. Adding practice, feedback and coaching caused the figure to rise to 75-90 per cent.

Mitchell’s experience confirms these findings.

Examining practice with new eyes

Lesson Study is about a group of professionals with shared goals and a strong level of trust and respect collaborating to improve their lesson-delivery skills though talking, researching, planning, observing and sharing feedback.

James Stigler and James Hiebert, who introduced LS to North Americans after they studied Japan’s teaching system and its method of embedded professional learning, describe it as a way for teachers to examine their own practice “with new eyes.”

Optics was recently added to the Grade 10 science curriculum, and at Walkerville CI, science teachers want to make sure non-physics teachers can teach it properly. They want to integrate more differentiated instruction (DI), literacy strategies and critical-thinking skills into their practice.

“LS is empowering,” says Elizabeth Hanes, OCT, who is a coach and Think Literacy team teacher in the Greater Essex DSB. “It enables teachers to determine the focus of their professional development and to experiment and adapt their practice to best support their students’ achievement. It’s about pedagogy. The focus is on how we teach, no matter who is teaching.” Everyone in the group works to prepare the lesson, but only one person teaches it. The lesson is taped, and the group then watches it to see what works and what doesn’t.

The Greater Essex DSB is so committed to job-embedded professional learning that, for the past three years, it has funded a coach like Hanes in every secondary school.

Clare Howitt, OCT, Superintendent of Curriculum and Professional Learning for the Greater Essex DSB, says, “In these fiscally demanding times, we have taken a hard look at how best to align funding to improve student achievement through creating professional learning opportunities that help strengthen instructional practice.”

Hanes, a full-time coach at Walkerville, facilitated a Lesson Study last year, and this year she is a member of the LS team led by head of science Annette Nelson-Szpak, OCT.

The two agree that establishing a culture of trust among teachers is necessary for Lesson Study.

With Lesson Study, the focus is on good pedagogy, not how we are doing personally.


From left: Math facilitator Mary Elliott, OCT, and Jane Johnston, OCT, during a Lesson Study on multiplication with Grade 6 students at Franklin Junior PS in Hamilton

This is the first Lesson Study for chemistry teacher Greg Driedger, OCT. “Many teachers, including me, have a fear of someone walking into our classroom and judging us,” he says. “With Lesson Study, the focus is on good pedagogy, not how we are doing personally. It focuses on improving our practice. It’s beneficial having my colleagues observe what is going on during a lesson. We can’t see everything that happens; we need each other to do that.

“We’re supposed to be scientists,” he continues. “We can’t be afraid to experiment. What better opportunity to take risks than with a group of fantastic professionals who support you.”

Chemistry and student success teacher Anna LaPorte, OCT, was also involved in last year’s LS. “We all have the knowledge of content. It’s the strategies and delivery we need help with,” says LaPorte.

Physics teacher Milica Rakic, OCT, adds, “It’s beneficial to see how others think and approach their teaching. That’s the best way for me to learn. I know I need to integrate literacy strategies, use graphic organizers for example, and LS provides proven, effective strategies. My students benefit and my practice is strengthened.”

Another member of the team is Marianne Brown, OCT, who teaches Grade 8 at General Brock PS and has experience in differentiated instruction. Nelson-Szpak explains: “We quickly realized that none of us secondary teachers had a strong DI background, and we needed that badly, so we invited Marianne to be part of our team.”

“Our shared goal is to ensure the success of every child,” says Brown, “and DI makes it easier to deliver all the content and engage all learners.”

Nelson-Szpak compares the refined lesson to others she has taught: “Because we worked on providing students with clear instructions, they better understood what was expected of them for the activity and the post-activity exercise. The lesson ran smoother than in the past because I had only one job to do, and that was organizing the activity and keeping it running. And the Smart Board kept the students more engaged so they understood better.”

Structured approach

Four years ago 40 teachers and six facilitators in the Hamilton-Wentworth DSB participated in math Lesson Studies. This year more than 400 teachers and 22 facilitators are involved.

Sandie Rowell, OCT, the board’s Program Effectiveness Consultant for Elementary math, had more teachers interested in participating than the budget could support.

Rowell and her team of facilitators take a structured approach with LS. Today is the first day of a four-day program involving more than 70 Grade 1 teachers.

On day one, all 70 meet and get to know the other six members of their assigned group. The teachers are grouped according to similarity. Teachers from the same school or family of schools are together, as are French Immersion teachers. They’ll work with their group and their facilitator from December until mid-February.

The teachers spend the rest of the day learning the theory of LS, practising some strategies for teaching math and reviewing the curriculum. Before day two, the group facilitator models or co-teaches a three-part lesson in each member’s class.

During day two, the large group looks at student learning, identifies one focus for each group’s Lesson Study and plans the lesson.

On day three, one team member teaches while others co-teach or observe the students. Then the group debriefs. Before day four the teachers use the lesson in their own classrooms.

On day four, all the participants share their experiences and refine the lesson plans, which are then put on the board’s web site.

Big outcomes

Rowell explains that many Elementary teachers are not comfortable teaching math the way the Ministry requires.

“Ministry expectations require teachers to use high-yield teaching strategies such as teaching through problem solving and to use the textbook as a resource only, not as the main teaching tool. Teachers are being asked to teach in ways that they themselves may not have experienced or seen in classroom situations.

“Today,” she says, “thanks largely to the LS approach, our capacity is much higher. There is a much stronger knowledge and skills base in our board, along with excitement around the teaching and learning of mathematics.”

Grade 3 EQAO numeracy scores in Hamilton-Wentworth have increased by two to five per cent in the past four years. In the 10 schools where teachers have been involved in LS for at least two years, test scores have increased by five to 30 per cent.

Teachers appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with others who teach the same grade. They report a better understanding of curriculum expectations and the theories and decisions that underlie the curriculum. They value seeing evidence of student learning, and they appreciate the benefits of DI for all students – those who struggle and those who are doing well.

Jean Barber, OCT, teaches Grade 1 at Janet Lee PS. She joined the first Lesson Study four years ago because she “didn’t know any other way than to use the textbook.” Not so now. She uses problem solving, real-life examples, “tons of manipulatives,” and both she and her students have fun during math. Parents of her students have told her that their children are loving math.

Donna Boudreau, OCT, teaches Grade 1 French Immersion at Dundana PS. Last year she taught Grade 3 and was involved in a Lesson Study. “It helped me differentiate instruction for the various types and levels of learners in my class. The children came at problems from many different angles, which was so different than teaching from the textbook, as I had previously been doing. LS and our problem-solving approach within the three-part lesson has shown me that there isn’t just one right answer any more.”

Boudreau reflects on how she learned to introduce concepts differently as a result of the Lesson Study.

“I used to start by saying, ‘Today I am going to teach you about quadrilaterals,’ and go on to list their properties and draw one on the board.

“Now I give the children, working in random groupings, some pictures of quadrilaterals and ask them to discuss what they notice. I let them explore independently. They all come up with the same answers: four sides, four angles and two sets of parallel lines. They use their own language. They don’t know the word parallel, but they show the concept by holding up their arms side by side. What’s interesting is that they remember the characteristics better because they came up with them themselves. They are excited to discover and learn at the same time.”

Boudreau does a whole-class share after the exploration activity. Students hear the same thing from each group, so their learning is reinforced and their findings are validated by their peers, not by the teacher, which is also empowering and reinforces learning. When she explains the concept of parallel, the children quickly use the correct term.

“I have taught quadrilaterals before, and I know that my students learned it better when they did their own exploration. The lesson stayed with them better – and that’s all types of learners, not just the stronger children. The three-step lesson with its emphasis on problem solving and consolidating learning is the best way for me to teach math concepts, not just quadrilaterals.”

It’s difficult for many teachers to let their students struggle, says Victoria Resovac, OCT, but that’s what she encourages. The math facilitator for Elementary schools in Hamilton-Wentworth facilitated Grade 2 Lesson Studies last year. She says, “It’s difficult for many teachers to teach differently from how they were taught. Most of us learned by practice and drill, not by problem solving.”

But, she says, “We saw the teachers move from being the sage on the stage to being the guide on the side as they substituted lower-level math activities, such as practising procedures, with higher-yield strategies like problem solving, using the three-part lesson.”

“The Lesson Study exposes teachers to research-based best practice. Many teachers feel dissatisfied with the prescriptive approach to mathematics and are looking for ways to deepen their students’ understanding of and enthusiasm for math. Lesson Study provides them with opportunities to develop programming that will be satisfying to them and beneficial to students.”

Lesson Study has also been embraced by teachers at école catholique Sainte-Croix in Haileybury, about two hours north of North Bay – part of the conseil scolaire catholique de district des Grandes-Rivières.

Last year at Sainte-Croix, Grade 1 teacher Kara Lefebvre, OCT, and her colleagues, Grade 3 teacher Jennifer Duchesne, OCT, and Dinah Charland, OCT, who teaches Grade 2, participated in a mathematics Lesson Study.

In a small school where you are the only person teaching your grade, the opportunity for collaboration is “super,” says Lefebvre.

Over a period of four months, two days each month were set aside for a numeracy curriculum Lesson Study. The sessions took place in their school.


From left: Dinah Charland, Jennifer Duchesne and Kara Lefebvre pair students for problem solving at école catholique Sainte-Croix in Haileybury.

With help from Marc Goulet, OCT, an education adviser for math and physical education at the board, they followed the familiar cycle – set goals, plan, implement, debrief – and were thrilled with both the method and the results.

“Before,” says Duchesne, “when I presented math problems, they were often closed questions that might need only a yes or no answer. Or if I sensed a student was having difficulty, I might try to help too much. I was focused on the answer. Now, I leave space for the students to explore possible solutions.”

While various forms of professional development are useful to teachers, for the team at Sainte-Croix this experience had the significant advantage of direct implementation.

Since a mix of active learning, reflection and repetition works with our students, say the team members, it should also work for teachers.

The three teachers were so pleased with the results of last year’s workshops, they have continued to collaborate and have extended the principle of collaborative learning to their students as well. They now dedicate time each Friday for sessions in which students work in pairs to explore problems.

“We try to pair students who are at the same level so that one doesn’t race ahead of the other in finding solutions,” says Lefebvre.

Teachers check in with each pair to ask, “What tools will you use to look for a solution?”

Since November the three teachers found another possibility for team teaching and are now twinning classes. By combining Grades 1, 2 and 3 when they cover oral-communication curriculum, they enjoy the advantages of peer feedback on what is working and what to change.

Lefebvre, Duchesne and Charland say they’ve gained many tools that they continue to use. The results are big for students as well.

“Some students used to suffer from what we call the blank-page syndrome,” says Charland. “If they weren’t sure of the answer, their notebooks would be empty.

“Thanks to these methods, they’re exploring possibilities and gaining confidence. They’re no longer afraid to try because they are leaving evidence of their exploration.”

The correct answer may be a goal, but in these classes students are now proudly sharing their methods of finding solutions. And this way, they all learn more.

Dufferin-Peel Catholic DSB

Natasha Moore, OCT, a Grade 4/5 teacher at St. Josephine Bakhita Catholic ES in the Dufferin-Peel Catholic DSB, has collaborated with pre-service teachers to conduct Lesson Studies in Elementary math in her classroom.

“I look at myself as an educator and I’m more aware of my practice now,” she says. “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.”

Read more on Lesson Study in the Dufferin-Peel Catholic DSB and see Lesson Studies in Elementary math conducted by Moore and pre-service teachers:

Hamilton-Wentworth DSB

See Lesson Studies in Elementary math conducted by Grade 3 teachers in the Hamilton-Wentworth DSB:

See also

What Is Bansho?
Sketch of a Three-Part Lesson
Stigler and Hiebert on Lesson Study
Joyce and Showers on Professional Development

The four stages of Lesson Study

Lesson Study is one of the job-embedded programs currently in use that aim to incorporate professional development into classroom settings. These parts of the cycle usually occur on a single day.(Illustration)

Lesson Study Cycle

1 Set Goals

Identify specific student needs and formulate curricular goals

Between Stages 1 and 2

Research, brainstorm, go off on valuable tangents, explore mathematics concepts as teachers

2 Plan

  • Develop lesson plans
  • Devise data-collection strategies
  • Rationalize the approach
  • Anticipate student responses

Between Stages 2 and 3

Plan pre- and post-lessons in the sequence, carefully considering student groupings, conducting exploratory lessons, acclimatizing students to presence of video camera

3 Implement

One or two members of the team teach/co-teach the “public” lesson; other members observe and collect data, such as video documentation and work samples

Between Stages 3 and 4

Reflect on actions, make possible lesson adjustments, develop comments from notes made, experience feelings of accomplishment

4 Debrief

  • Analyze data collected
  • Discuss student learning, teacher learning, pedagogical content learning

Between Stages 4 and 1

Additional teaching after revising the lesson, review video documentation, reflect on the process after the excitement of the public-lesson activities

Illustration source: What’s Going on Backstage? Revealing the Work of Lesson Study (2009) by Catherine Bruce and Mary Ladky