Lesson Study Group at Mills College

Frequently Asked Questions

I am new to Lesson Study. What should I look at first? How do I start lesson study?
Please visit the section of our website called New to Lesson Study.

Most lesson study examples pertain to mathematics.  Can lesson study be used in other subject areas?
Yes, lesson study can be used in any subject.  Many U.S. examples pertain to mathematics because The Teaching Gap (a cross-national comparison of mathematics instruction) first drew international attention to lesson study. There are well-established lesson study efforts in a variety of subjects, including history, language arts and science

We have a limited budget to try Lesson Study. What is the best use of our funds?
Funding for substitutes is needed, so that teachers can observe live research lessons. Shared observation and discussion of live classroom lessons is central to lesson study. Overall, two components central to successful lesson study are (1) establishing effective collaborative groups and (2) accessing knowledge that pushes group members’ thinking.  To build (1), training in lesson study, stipends for teachers (for after-school or summer meetings), formative feedback on group effectiveness, and trained lesson study facilitators may all be useful.  To build (2), consultation with subject-matter experts (for example, subject-matter coaches or university-based educators), involvement of subject matter experts as commentators on research lessons, and collaborative study of excellent curriculum and research may be useful.

Is anyone in our area using Lesson Study?
Check our database of lesson study sites; please note these are self-nominations and are not endorsed by us. Since group information changes, we also recommend posting a message to the Lesson Study listserv. Feel free to contact us for additional sites which may not yet be included in the database or to let us know the details of your lesson study programs if you are not listed.

Where can I find out about using lesson study in pre-service education (teacher education)?
Many sites are now using lesson study in pre-service courses, nested within elementary or secondary curriculum and instruction or methods courses. Some include micro-teaching (teaching within the pre-service class) so that aspiring teachers can experience the lesson and practice collecting student data before conducting the research lesson in a classroom. We provide a short list of referenced articles, web sites and dissertations on this topic in the section of the website called Preservice.

Where can I find out more about lesson study?
Lesson Study Project
for college instructors University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
Teaching American History Project, Oakland Unified School District, Oakland, CA
Math New Mexico

Also see our Links page for more information regarding recommended publications and organizations using lesson study.

What is the evidence of Lesson Study’s effectiveness?
Our IES-funded randomized controlled trial of lesson study found significant positive impact of lesson study supported by mathematical toolkits on teachers’ content knowledge, students’ content knowledge,  teachers’ reports of collegial learning effectiveness, and various beliefs and dispositions related to improvement (such as expectations for student achievement, interest in mathematics, and the perceived relevance of research for practice.) Analyses are ongoing, but an abstract of current results is available here.

Our NSF-funded trial of lesson study found mixed impact on teachers’ mathematical knowledge and personal dispositions.  A summary of project results is available here.

Lesson study is still relatively new in the U.S.  Figure 1 provides a model of how lesson study has impact on teachers and on student learning. Evidence that lesson study impacts student achievement (on standardized tests) is found in Lesson Study Comes of Age in North America which discusses the emergence of school-wide lesson study at a California elementary school. This article notes the importance of the school principal (who used lesson study to respond to state and district-mandated changes) and of regional resources (such as expertise and funding from the Noyce Foundation coaching network).

What is Successful Adaptation of Lesson Study in the U.S.?, traces the evolution of lesson study over four years in one school district in the western U.S.  Teachers initially saw the purpose of lesson study as producing “polished lessons,” that could be disseminated; later, they came to see lesson study as a system for learning from colleagues, students, and curriculum.  Teachers initially emphasized the planning phase of lesson study, but later emphasized the entire cycle, and particularly the feedback into instructional planning of the data gathered during the research lesson.  Several factors that supported these changes are discussed, including (1) professional community and distributed teacher leadership (which made possible reflection and refinement of the lesson study model); (2) the use of technical resources such as protocols and other organizing tools; (3) fiscal resources to support an extended lesson study effort; (4) use of a broad array of knowledge sources (including university-based, foundation-based, and Japanese resources) to support the lesson study effort; and (5) finding ways for lesson study to help them respond to district mandates.

What are your Lesson Study research findings to date?
Findings from our NSF-funded grant (Lesson Study: Case Studies of an Emerging Reform) currently in the publication process include the following:
(1) Teachers in all 6 study sites have sustained their self-initiated lesson study for 7-9 years though there has been considerable year-to-year variation in participation.
(2) Each study site showed some evidence of 'institutionalization,' i.e., of lesson study becoming a regular part of local culture. Evidence of institutionalization included, for example, expansion to more teachers, school sites, or subject areas; modification of local operating practices to incorporate lesson study; survival of leadership shifts; and locally-initiated use of lesson study to respond to district or state mandates.  However, lesson study is probably not firmly established at any one of the sites.  Rather, it is likely to be vulnerable to leadership changes, loss of personnel, priority shifts, etc..
(3) Due to the scattered and changing participation in lesson study at most of the sites, we concentrated analyses on the school-wide lesson study site where all teachers participated.  At that school, analysis of year one and year three lesson study groups shows a substantial increase over time in proportion of statements focused on student thinking or student work (from 18% in the year one group to 43% in the year 3 group) and a decrease in evaluation of teachers and the lesson ('That was a great lesson'; from 8% in the year one group to 1% in the year 3 group) The 3- year net increase on the state standardized test for students who remained at the school-wide lesson study site from 2002-05 was more than triple that for students who remained at other district schools (91 vs. 26 scale score points, F=.309, df=845,p<.001). While a causal connection between the achievement results and lesson study cannot be inferred, other obvious explanations (such as changes in student populations served by the school and district) have been ruled out.

We want to evaluate our Lesson Study effort. What measures should we use?
Measures will depend upon your design and interests.  Figure 1 shows intervening changes that we hypothesize as central to lesson study. Please contact Rebecca Perry (rperry@mills.edu) for further discussion of measures.

Who can I contact with any additional questions?
Send an email to info@lessonresearch.net with questions or concerns.