Study | STEP 4:

Study Standards, Research, and Curriculum Materials

The point of the Lesson Study cycle is not simply to produce a lesson but to study the topic and student thinking in depth.

90-240 minutes

  • Examine standards related to your topic to find out what key understandings students need to develop over the grades in your school
  • Investigate student thinking related to your topic, drawing on research, your teaching experiences, and other data
  • Examine your curriculum to understand how it builds the key understandings
Two teachers studying materials, with the one on the left taking notes


Consider Your Approach

Your team’s investigation of existing research and curriculum materials will build lasting knowledge about your subject, your teaching methods, and how students learn this material.
This step is the heart of the Lesson Study process. It is a chance for your team to explore the resources that exist about teaching your research theme and topic, and then share your learnings with one another.

The process may seem simple, but you’ll need at least 3-4 sessions to do it well. It is also important that you take time to consider all of the different kinds of resources that might help you: standards, research on student learning, and existing curricula.

Decide how you want to divide up the research throughout your team, and how you will each share what you’ve learned with the group. Consider the framing questions in each section below to guide your approach.


Examine Standards

Examine your standards (as well as related frameworks, etc.) and consider the following questions.

  • What are the key understandings students need to develop about this topic?
  • How does student learning of this topic develop over the grades?
Careful comparison of related standards across grade levels often reveals hidden expectations about student learning. For example, if a phrase such as “using objects” disappears from addition-subtraction standards between grade 1 and grade 2, this raises the important question of how teachers can support this transition away from object use.
Discuss your ideas about the bullets above as a team, and summarize the discussion in your team notes.


Investigate Research on Student Learning

Now that you have identified key understandings students need to develop, consider the following questions:
  • How do students develop these understandings?
  • What challenges and misconceptions are typical?
  • What distinguishes a learner who deeply understands this topic from one who doesn’t? What insights do students have when they have deep understanding?
  • What is known about the experiences, models or insights that spark student understanding?
Your own teaching experience is one important source of information to answer these questions. So is research conducted outside your school. We recommend that you draw on both.
Begin by discussing the bulleted questions above. In your teaching, what you have noticed about student understanding and misunderstanding of the topic under study? Supplement your discussion by doing as many of the following as you can:
  • As adults, try student tasks related to the topic you want to study; work independently and then share your strategies, so that you learn about different ways of thinking;
  • If you wish, try a task designed to be challenging to adults, in order to experience some of the struggles students might experience;
  • Examine student work–from prior years, or from a task you give students now, in order to illuminate what students understand and their misconceptions.
  • Arrange for a team member to observe and interview a few students as they solve a task related to your topic of inquiry. (You can find examples at’s Lesson Study project  and Math Reasoning Inventory.)
Draw on outside knowledge as well:
Good resources will illuminate what it means for students to really understand the topic under study, how students develop key understandings, and what gaps or misconceptions are typical.  (We recommend starting with trusted sources to save time and increase the quality of resources you locate.)
If team time is short, you can consider assigning some resources as “homework” or having different team members read and summarize different resources.
Be sure to use your team notes keep track of what you learn as you try tasks and study outside resources. You can also summarize your insights in Background and Research on the Content (Section #3) of the Teaching-Learning Plan.


Examine Your Curriculum

How is your own curriculum designed to build the key understandings of your topic of study? Study your own curriculum, especially any materials in the teacher’s edition that illuminate the content and its development. If time permits, compare your curriculum’s treatment of the topic with another curriculum (ideally, one that is research-based and well-regarded). Consider the following questions:
  • How does our curriculum treat this topic? For example: What are the unit goals, and how do they relate to the big understandings we identified? What role does each individual lesson in the unit play in building the key student understandings?; Why are the lessons sequenced as they are?; Why are particular tasks designed as they are?
  • What knowledge will students need going into the unit? How will they develop each new understanding that is expected in the grade-level standards?
  • How does our curriculum compare with other curricula or with what is known from research? For example, what choices related to task sequence, models, examples, tools, etc. might affect student learning? Why did the writers of our curriculum make the particular choices they did? What are the advantages and disadvantages of various choices?
Summarize your insights into the design of your curriculum in your team notes or in Background and Research on the Content (Section #3) of the Teaching-Learning Plan.