It’s no secret that Lesson Study works.
There are many, well documented success stories and it has been used to great effect in Japan.
There’s a reason Japanese students consistently score in the top ten in the Organization for Economic Operation and Development’s Programme for Student Assessment. But today’s blog isn’t about Japan, it’s about improving the quality of elementary level science instruction and how the educators at Long Branch Elementary in Liverpool, New York are doing it.
What is lesson study?
For those that may not know, Lesson Study is a widely utilized collaborative professional development practice (2015, Wikipedia). Lesson Study starts with a group of educators that pick a content focus with the express purpose of preparing a research lesson. That group will convene regularly to share research, discuss national, state and local education policies and standards correlating to the subject at hand. This enables teachers from a wide variety of subjects and disciplines to cross-pollinate their ideas and research with one another in a directed and focused environment. By observing and critiquing each other’s lessons and delivery these educators are able to elevate each other’s abilities and knowledge base. And by the transitive property, the students are exposed to a well-constructed lesson plan.
How are the teachers at Long Branch Elementary using lesson study?
These educators decided to focus their lesson study efforts on the sciences, including studying a national framework for science education and how they could adopt it to fit their specific needs.
According to their proposal, they wanted to be guided by the following three questions:
- How do we design science instruction that makes students’ thinking visible?
- How can we meet our students’ needs and simultaneously address the new science framework?
- How will evidence of students’ learning be used to help us revise our original lesson?
What did they learn?
The project at Long Branch Elementary has been so successful that their program and teaching tools have spread to two other schools in the region, with educators from those schools now participating in the lesson study program. In addition, at the time of their report, they had three out of the four research cycles completed and implemented, with the final research team in the midst of their own cycle and well on their way to completion.
The educators participating expanded their knowledge base about claims/evidence, science content knowledge, and constructivist methods for teaching elementary science. The teachers also expressed “self-efficacy and confidence in regards to teaching claims and evidence, using inquiry-based instruction and teaching with student science notebooks.”
Teachers weren’t the only ones to benefit. Students had the opportunity to collect data, engage in scientific experimentation and increased the level of science knowledge throughout the course of the cycle.
How did Lesson Study support improved science instruction?
Understandings gleaned from the Lesson Study were used to inform instruction. For example, educators learned that it can be difficult to facilitate discussions with students with varying levels of comfort with the subject matter. Teachers report that teaching students to make claims based on evidence has been a bit of a pedagogical challenge, as the students tend to confuse evidence with claims. They also found that without visual aids, such as graphs and charts, the difficulty in communicating these ideas increased exponentially. These valuable understandings of what wasn’t working in the science research lessons provided educators with specific modifications they could make in their lessons to make student learning more effective.
What did they learn about implementing Lesson Study?
The structure of their school is not very supportive of lesson study which has forced them to start their meetings during the summer. They found they cast too wide a net when it came to getting the research groups started and think that scaling down the research lessons will improve the speed in which they can be implemented.
How can you make this work at your school?
Research and texts on lesson study are not hard to come by. The biggest challenge you can face is that your school does not have the time or resources to implement the necessary bits and pieces at study inception, however, once the process gets going the road gets easier as the work invested makes future studies easier. Bottom line? Lesson study works. Make it work for you.
Learn more about Lesson Study
Addressing the Knowledge Gap
Among the many challenges facing us in education one of our most formidable foes is the comprehension gap, across all content areas, between students of low socioeconomic status and those of high socioeconomic status.
E.D. Hirsch, The Case for Bringing Content Into The Language Arts Block and for a Knowledge Rich Curriculum Core for All Children American Educator, Spring 2006.
[T]his neglect of [content] knowledge is a major source of inequity, at the heart of the achievement gap between America’s poor and non-poor”
The Importance of Literacy Skills
While there are many factors that attribute to poor performance, one of the chief offenders is a lack of literacy skills. This is often noted at the college level when students are forced to take non-credit developmental education classes just to catch up to the basics. This both demoralizes the student as well as extending the amount of time they have to spend in, and thus pay for, college.
By expanding literary sources, however, we expand the sphere of knowledge surrounding the content areas. Students can gain a broader context of how a given subject fits into the larger narrative of the real world.
“If they want their students to learn complex new concepts in different disciplines, they [content teachers] often have to help their students become better readers…”Chris Tovani in her text Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?
Peer Assistance and Review (PAR): A Teacher Development Project
Teachers need to move beyond textbooks to increase their literary skills so that they can better communicate their subject to students. So how do we get a teacher to step away from the science textbook and into some Sagan or Hawking?
One of the ways we can work to address the knowledge gap is through the model of Peer Assistance and Review. In order to address inequity, our featured project at The School of the Future has done just that. With a Teacher Development Grant from McCarthey Dressman, The School of the Future helped improve the overall literacy of their teachers and subsequently their students.
Supports for Improved Content Literacy for Educators and Students
- Collaboratively Created Curriculum
Teachers in high school met after school and collaborated to develop, create, and implement a curriculum that would enhance their students’ ability to read and write in the content areas (History, Math, Science and Technology) across the 11th and 12th grade.
- Shared Texts Across Content Areas
The group worked together to come up with a list of shared texts across content areas. While history and science have obvious literary sources outside the textbook, with a subject like math the teachers could study the history of math and biographies of mathematicians to give a wider scope to how the content area applies to the real world.
- Content Literacy Support
Included was a training program for inexperienced or ineffective teachers to improve their literacy skills across their content area, specifically focusing on grades 11-12 to start.
The Difference: Educator Driven Approach
The difference between this program and previous initiatives aimed at teaching reading in the content areas was that previous efforts were top down administrative mandates that focused on ensuring uniformity in how reading, whereas the current effort was focused on expanding the teacher’s actual knowledge base. Past “one size fits all” approaches to teaching reading in the content areas failed to account for the fact that students read different types of texts in every content area.
The unique aspect to this program is its need for a personal “buy-in” from the teachers. Not a monetary buy-in, but those teachers who want to get involved will need to be willing to pull up their sleeves and put a little more time on the table.
The Impact: Students Identify and Analyze Printed and Non-Printed Texts
What have the teachers accomplished with this project?
During year one, five teachers (half the 11th/12th grade team) studied professional literature in their content areas to be able to implement a plan for teaching students to independently identify and analyze multiple non-fiction printed texts and non-print texts, at the student’s own instructional level, appropriate for the content of the class. Classroom visits and observations of each other in the form of Lesson Study, analysis of student growth, refinement of practice, creation of videos, continued throughout the year. In year two, participants in year one become “Anchor” teachers and shared best practices with the half of the team that was not previously involved (“Innovator Teachers”). For year three, the 11th/12th grade teacher team will mentor the 9th/10th grade team.
PAR provides teachers with the opportunity to work collaboratively to improve professional development. But it is not easy; successful implementation of PAR requires commitment, time, resources, cooperation and flexibility from the teachers involved. In successful PAR projects teachers play a key role in the support, assistance and review of their colleagues. Everyone has to pull their weight for the program to be successful
Teachers can look to existing program models, such as the California Peer Assistance and Review program to get some idea on how they can best start their own. Those who have experienced it emphasize that PAR models should only be used as reference tools, not as fixed templates, which could hinder the development and implementation of plans tailored to meet individual schools and students needs and goals.
Learn more about PAR