Stigler and Hiebert on Lesson Study

Lesson Study involves teachers working through four stages. James Stigler and James Hiebert modified the Japanese model for use in North America, and it has been modified further by individual boards, schools and teachers. Stigler and Hiebert published their findings in 1999 in The Teaching Gap: Best Ideas from the World’s Teachers for Improving Education in the Classroom.

Step One: Define the Problem and Set Goals

First, a group of five to seven teachers identifies an area where students struggle. Usually it’s an important topic that is tied to a major curricular goal. It could be problem solving, independent learning, numeracy skills, and so on. The teachers then look at a specific aspect of the curriculum – one concept in particular – where they can address the large goal. They share best practices and research other strategies to teach that concept and engage all learners.

Ideally, a facilitator or outsider guides the group. In the Japanese model, that person is called the knowledgeable other. During this and all stages, the facilitator works to keep the group on task and moving forward and also to develop a strong sense of trust and collaboration among group members.

Step Two: Plan

After much researching, thinking and sharing, the group begins planning one lesson that will teach the concept to the target students. The lesson is planned in minute detail – often scripted. It includes the sequencing of activities, teacher questions, anticipated student questions and planned responses, timing, strategies to differentiate instruction, student seating, teacher position and movement in the classroom, most appropriate examples, anticipatory and summarizing activities, and so on.

Sometime during this planning phase, the group members decide who will deliver the lesson and what the other group members will watch for during its delivery. The lesson is shared and anyone could teach it. What’s important is not who teaches it but the impact of the lesson on the students and what happens during its delivery.

Team members plan what to observe and how to record their feedback on important things like the engagement of all the students, time on task, the appropriateness and effects of examples, visuals and manipulatives, and the use of the chalkboard, whiteboard or flip chart. Student understanding is the main indicator peers observe, and team members determine what forms that will take beforehand. Similarly, they must decide how to observe and measure student confusion or understanding without interrupting the teacher or getting involved in the lesson themselves.

Step Three: Implement

Implementation involves delivery of the demo or public research lesson with colleagues observing. Often, other teachers who are not part of the team are also asked to observe. The principal, department head and other subject or grade-level teachers who aren’t as familiar with the content or topic are good choices, as they provide fresh eyes. The group may videotape the lesson, first making it clear to students that the taping is not about them but about teacher professional development. It’s important, of course, that students act as naturally as possible.

Step Four: Debrief

Ideally, the lesson debrief takes place on implementation day. The demo teacher begins and then other observers share feedback on the effectiveness of the lesson. Everyone remains focused on student engagement and understanding. It’s not about the teacher who delivers the lesson but about how students understand the concept. Teachers may invite students to give feedback on how they feel the lesson went.

Discussion focuses on what to do the same and differently next time, what worked well and what didn’t. It also provides direction for further study and the ongoing improvement of practise. In the Japanese model, teachers would begin planning now to deliver the same lesson again.

One of the key outcomes at this point, and throughout the process, is broad and meaningful application for teachers’ professional practice. What will teachers do in their own classrooms as a result of this Lesson Study and its impact on student learning?