School-wide Lesson Study

In school-wide Lesson Study, teams at a school focus on a long-term vision for student learning, using Lesson Study to test and refine ideas to bring that vision to life.

An elementary-age male student points while his female teacher stands beside him and observes

When you have a Lesson Study open house, and you have anywhere from 20 to 100 people watching the lesson and giving feedback on that lesson, there’s very few corners that aren’t lit or rocks unturned in that lesson. Everything’s exposed and, at the end, you’re definitely going to have opportunities, more opportunities to learn and grow than you would if you went on that journey on your own.

—Leroy Gaines, Principal, Oakland Unified School District

Why Go Public?

You can take your work beyond your school site by holding an open house with public research lessons. You may also want to publish a report of your work. Going public can be a powerful way to deepen your school’s work and to spread effective practices across a district or beyond.

Why Conduct an Open House with Public Lessons?

Public research lessons are a major means of spreading new instructional approaches in Japan, and are becoming a tradition in some parts of the US. They are valuable for the host school and the visitors:

Journals allow students to:

  • The school conducting public research lessons has a chance to consolidate their school-wide learning, as they prepare to present it to outsiders, and also to be challenged by the questions and comments of outside educators;
  • Outsiders attending the public lessons have the chance to be immersed in classroom culture and professional learning culture that may be quite different from their own—and may inspire change in their own classroom and school.
  • For districts, public research lessons provide a natural means to disseminate innovations, since teachers have an opportunity to see an innovation in live classroom practice and to be inspired by students’ responses.
  • Coherence within our profession increases, as standards or professional lingo that were previously just splotches of ink on paper are brought to life in classrooms; for example, two mathematics educators observing a lesson together may discover that they meant quite different things by “problem-solving.”
Professional development programs often assume that teachers can learn a new teaching strategy by reading and discussing it, watching it on video, or trying it with adults. An Open House rests on a different set of assumptions: that teachers develop crucial knowledge by seeing new teaching strategies in action in a classroom, by carefully observing student responses and making sense of them with colleagues, and by hearing first-hand the insights of teachers who are working to change their instruction. Many visitors to the San Francisco Open House linked below found the professional culture very compelling. What elements of the pre-lesson discussion are similar or different to professional learning interactions at your school? Are there elements that are compelling to you?
The team’s public research lesson can be viewed below.
The live research lesson allowed teachers from other schools and districts to dive into a classroom culture that inspired and informed change. An Open House with public research lessons is a big undertaking that needs to be planned months or years in advance. A planning checklist and sample agendas are linked at the end of this page.

How Can Public Research Lessons Improve Teaching Across a District, Region or Nation?

Researchers note that many good instructional ideas developed in the U.S. have been taken up by Japanese educators and spread more rapidly in Japan than in the U.S. Public research lessons are one big reason why.

Imagine if you were to attend a national conference of science teachers or language arts teachers and fan out to schools in the destination city, rather than heading for a hotel. At the schools, you would observe and discuss research lessons designed to bring to life the organization’s vision of teaching mathematics (or language arts, science, etc.). In addition to conducting research lessons and post-lesson discussions, the schools would provide written research plans (including lesson and unit plans), tools from their work to improve instruction, and a chance to hear distinguished final commentators (for example, authors of standards and creators of major innovations) comment on the lessons. You would have the chance to see students in action and ask their teachers how they built classroom routines and practices that interest you.

At the San Francisco elementary school whose Open House pre-lesson discussion is linked above, teachers are pioneering “Teaching Through Problem-solving.” When visitors saw this vision of student learning in action, many were inspired to begin changing their own instruction. One visitor said, “I saw the student mathematics journals, tried them the next day in my classroom, and have never stopped.”

Why Publish Your Work?

Many educators first learn about Lesson Study by reading about it in a professional journal. You can see examples from history, language arts and mathematics linked below. If your Lesson Study yields insights you think will interest other educators, consider writing it up. Or consider making your Teaching-Learning Plan and/or research lesson video available at sites like this, at the Lesson Study Alliance, or at a site for the discipline you studied. The more that educators share their work from Lesson Study, the more we can all “stand on the shoulders of giants” as we plan instruction. A stronger voice of practicing teachers in professional journals will improve both practice and research.

Would a Network or Professional Organization Further Your Work?

In Japan, professional organizations devoted to advancing subject-matter teaching, specific pedagogies, art forms, and social justice causes all have networks of teachers engaged in Lesson Study.  Some professional organizations around the world are beginning to incorporate Lesson Study in this way, so that members can see, not just talk about, their instructional vision when they attend an annual professional conference. Typically, planning commences several years in advance of the conference and the venue is selected based on the availability of a district or set of schools willing to conduct research lessons.  In return, the district gets the opportunity to work with a leading educator from the organization who serves as a knowledgeable advisor to local Lesson Study work. The Silicon Valley Mathematics Initiative (SVMI) provides one example of a mathematics-focused Lesson Study that has spread some valuable practices, such as “re-engagement lessons” across a region. This article covers SVMI’s work in further detail.

Collaborative Lesson Research

In Japan, school-wide Lesson Study is often used to pioneer a new instructional approach and allow first-hand observation by educators across a district or region.  As educators see an effective new approach, they naturally want to bring it back to their site. So teacher-initiated spread of innovation–rather than top-down initiation–fuels improvement. As schools build on each other’s work, impressive innovations like Teaching Through Problem-solving can develop and spread across a nation.  (You can learn more about Teaching Through Problem-solving using the top navigation bar.)

In Japan, lab schools and other schools interested in building and spreading innovations conduct Open Houses that feature research lessons at every grade level, or in every classroom.  We are not aware of any schools beyond Japan that have yet tried this! But you can probably imagine the galvanizing effect of knowing that, a few years hence, educators from across the region or nation will visit your school to see your vision in action and to gain knowledge and inspiration for their own work.

Akihiko Takahashi and Tom McDougal coin the term “Collaborative Lesson Research” (“CLR”) to distinguish the rigorous form of Japanese school-wide Lesson Study that has supported robust knowledge development across Japan. They identify six characteristics that distinguish Collaborative Lesson Research, including an outside “knowledgeable other” and public sharing of results. Their research provides many insights into the features that support system-wide improvement through Lesson Study.

Planning Checklist for Open House
Conference Agenda – Smaller Research Lessons
Conference Agenda – Large Public Research Lessons