Printer Friendly

Lesson study: a new model of collaboration.


Lesson study is a professional development activity long favored by Japanese teachers. Successful lesson study requires collaboration among the participants. In this article, I will describe the process of lesson study and illustrate how lesson study may serve as a new model of collaboration in teacher professional development.


As Ms. Cabrella gathered her fourth grade students to the front of the classroom, about 15 other teachers stood in the back of the room. When Ms. Cabrella finished giving instructions for the mathematics activity, the students went back to their assigned seats to work in small groups. As the students began to work, the observing teachers moved around the classroom. The observers were taking notes as they watched carefully what the students were doing. When Ms. Cabrella signaled for the whole class discussion, the observing teachers again moved to the back of the classroom. They continued to observe the class discussion as they took more notes. After the lesson was over, the students went on to their music lesson. Ms. Cabrella and the observing teachers sat down to discuss the lesson. Ms. Cabrella first offered her reflections on the lesson. Two other teachers who planned the lesson together with Ms. Cabrella also gave their reflections. Then, other teachers shared their observations, raising some questions. The discussion was critical but always respectful. Finally, the principal who was serving as the facilitator asked Dr. O'Neal, a professor from a local college, to share her observations with the group. She first thanked Ms. Cabrella for opening her class for others to observe. She then offered several comments, mostly positive. Finally, she brought up an issue that, in her view, the group had not fully considered. When Dr. O'Neal completed her remarks, the principal announced the end of the meeting.

This vignette illustrates a professional development activity called lesson study. Lesson study, a commonly practiced professional development activity in Japan, has attracted the attention of many US educators, including the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century. The committee's final report (2000) recommended the establishment of a building- and district-level Inquiry Group to engage teachers "in common study to enrich their subject knowledge and teaching skills" (p. 9). According to Chokshi and Fernandez (2003), there are more than 70 U.S. groups currently engaged in lesson study. Wilms (2003) suggested, based on his observations of lesson study in Los Angeles, that lesson study may fundamentally change the structure and culture of schools in the United States. Watanabe (2002) also suggested that lesson study is a culture as much as a professional development activity. Lesson study is inherently collaborative (Chokshi & Fernandez, 2003). It requires the participating teachers to collaboratively plan, observe, and reflect on a lesson. Both building and district administrators may play a significant role in this collaboration. Finally, lesson study often involves outside experts who are often college/university faculty members. The purpose of this article is twofold. First, I will describe lesson study as a teacher professional development process. I will then discuss how lesson study may serve as a new model of collaboration among classroom teachers, administrators, and higher education faculty.

Lesson Study: The Process

There are many different types of lesson study practiced in Japan; however, the format getting the most attention in the United States is the one that centers around a study lesson (or research lesson). This is probably the most common format of school-based lesson study in Japan, whether it involves a single school or an entire district. In this form of lesson study, a group of participating teachers will first identify the study theme. In order to identify the theme, teachers often engage in a critical reflection on their goals for students and where they may not be as successful as they would like to be. Thus, the study themes frequently reflect the identified gaps between the goal and the current state of students. Here are two examples:

* "Mathematics lessons woven by children's ideas: through children's conversation." (Hakusui Elementary School, 2002, translated by Watanabe)

* "Developing children who are compassionate and willing to serve others." (Toyouke Elementary School, 2002, translated by Watanabe)

Sometimes these themes will focus on a particular subject matter as the first example indicates, while other times they may focus more on what we might call character issues as in the second example. Others may combine the character theme with a more subject-focused theme. Other themes include issues such as effectively reaching students with special needs, implementing new content, and developing a closer connection with the surrounding community. Once the study theme is identified, the group then shifts its attention to how it might address the problem through a lesson. During this process, participating teachers will often research how other lesson study groups may have dealt with similar themes. They will often investigate the curriculum to develop a deeper understanding of subject specific goals. They focus on understanding the relationships of various topics discussed at different grade levels. By locating the current topic within the school curriculum, the teachers can identify what prior knowledge students are likely to have and for what future topics the current topic is a foundation. As the teachers plan the study lesson, their attention will often focus on how the main question should be posed, what kinds of instructional support materials are to be used, and how to facilitate class discussion. They will also consider how they may know they are achieving the goals they set forth.

The instructional plan they develop for a study lesson is more than a simple lesson plan. (See Lesson Study Research Group, n.d., and Lesson Study Group at Mills College, n.d., for sample plans.) It also includes a discussion of the study theme and how the group may be interpreting the goal, a detailed discussion of the content topic and its relationship to other topics, and an evaluation plan. The lesson plan part is also much more detailed, including anticipated students' responses and other instructional considerations. These detailed plans appear to serve two purposes. First, they assist the teachers in having a clear image of how the lesson might develop. Second, they serve as "road maps" to other teachers who are observing the study lesson.

Once the study lesson is developed, the group will actually teach the lesson in public. Other teachers are invited to attend the lesson. When lesson study is school-based, only teachers from the same school building participate; however, public lessons at a district-wide lesson study or a university-affiliated school attract teachers from many different schools. At a large lesson study open house, there may be several study lessons happening concurrently. When observing teachers arrive at the study lesson site, they are usually provided with the instructional plan prepared by the group. The observing teachers carefully read the plan to understand the study theme and the main idea being implemented in the study lesson. This allows observing teachers to focus on specific goals of the lesson study group and provide relevant comments. During the lesson, observing teachers take very careful notes, often times on the lesson plan section of the instructional plan they received. This practice also allows the observing teachers to be constantly focused on the theme of the study lesson. During whole class interaction, the observing teachers stand in the back of the classroom, but once the students begin working on the main instructional task. either individually or in groups, the observing teachers will move around the classroom freely so they can observe what students are doing. Whether the study theme is on a particular subject matter or on more broader character development, the focus of lesson study is students' development. Thus, observing what students do during the study lesson is a crucial component.

After the study lesson, all participants engage in a post-lesson debriefing. For a school-based lesson study, this meeting is often facilitated by the principal or the chairperson of the lesson study committee. A typical debriefing meeting starts with comments from the teacher who taught the lesson. The teacher usually elaborates on the study theme, how the main task was developed/selected, and what s/he observed during the lesson. Other members of the study group then provide their reflections on the planning and the lesson. After their comments, the discussion is opened to all participants. In some study groups, the facilitator will first let the observing teachers make comments and ask questions. Then, the facilitator will summarize and synthesize the comments and questions and ask the study group teachers to address the questions raised by the audience. In other groups, this period becomes a question-and-answer session between the audience and the study group teachers. In either case, the discussion should focus on the study theme, and the facilitator will play an important role in making sure the discussion does not stray from the theme.

The post-lesson debriefing usually concludes with comments from an invited outside observer. In Japan, this outside observer is often a college or university faculty member. This person may work very closely with the study group at every stage of lesson study, or s/he may only attend the public lesson. In either case, the study group invites the particular person for her/his specific expertise. This person, known as "knowledgeable other" in many US lesson study groups, sometimes encourages further discussion by posing questions that are prompted by the lesson. In some cases, the knowledgeable other's comments may focus on the study theme's background information or on a particular academic topic.

After the debriefing, the study group meets again to reflect on the study lesson. They may revise the study lesson after taking into consideration various comments and observations shared during the debriefing meeting. In some cases, they may even teach the revised lesson in another classroom. This teaching, however, is not always a public lesson. The only observers may be the members of the study group, perhaps including the knowledgeable other. The study group then prepares its final report. In some cases, the final report may be presented at a professional meeting. In other cases, it is only made available internally. Some groups publish their final reports online. Whatever form it may take, the production of the report is an essential component of lesson study as it focuses the members' attention back to the study theme. The members then critically reflect on how well they were able to meet the goal(s) they had set for themselves. For additional discussion on lesson study, see Lewis (2002) and National Research Council (2002). Research for Better Schools (n.d.) also maintains a website with numerous resources for lesson study practitioners.

Lesson Study: Model of Collaboration

As the description of lesson study makes clear, teacher collaboration is at the heart of this form of professional development. Although lesson study definitely involves teachers collaboratively planning a lesson, it goes beyond simply having common planning periods for a group of teachers. Teachers in a study group not only plan a lesson but also observe and critically reflect on the lesson together. They also conduct an in-depth study of the particular topic on which the lesson will focus. In some cases, a teacher in the group might "pilot" the planned activity in her/his own classroom. Thus, they become collaborative researchers. During the study lesson, the teachers, both those who planned the study lesson and those who are observing the lesson, collaboratively gather data that may help the study group analyze how effective it is in dealing with the study theme. They analyze their observations and discuss what their observations illustrate. In some ways, the spirit of lesson study has much in common with the teacher-as-researcher, or action research, movement. However, what makes lesson study unique is that all teachers who participate in lesson study become co-researchers. They engage in designing an intervention (study lesson), gathering and analyzing data, and considering the implications of their findings.

Lesson study also changes the way teachers and administrators collaborate in professional development. During lesson study, administrators often provide behind-the-scene support--by providing necessary time and resources for teachers, encouraging teachers to persevere, etc. Administrators may also become a resource for identifying a useful outside knowledgeable other. In addition to the support role, sometimes administrators themselves become deeply engaged in the lesson study process. They may attend the planning meetings, and in some cases, they may even teach study lessons. As noted before, during the post lesson debriefing, administrators often play a significant role as moderators of the discussion. Through such involvement, they may become true instructional leaders in their schools. They can also gain first hand knowledge of curricular and instructional issues the teachers face in their day-to-day work. Lesson study also provides a new model of collaboration between K-12 professionals and university faculty members as they become involved as outside knowledgeable others. Although outside knowledgeable others do not have to be higher education faculty, they are definitely a group of people who can offer valuable insights to enhance lesson study. However, for this collaboration to be successful, both K-12 professionals and university faculty may have to transform perceptions of their roles in teacher professional development.

Unlike traditional professional development activities, where university faculty members are often considered as dispensers of professional knowledge, in lesson study, knowledgeable others are considered equal partners in the process. Although they are invited to participate in the study group because of their expertise, their role is much more than that of a workshop leader or a guest lecturer, both of which may be a part of the knowledgeable other's roles. In addition, a knowledgeable other may serve as a cheerleader by encouraging and re-affirming the value of lesson study. This is an important role even in Japan where lesson study is a regular professional development activity. A knowledgeable other may teach a study lesson and allow other teachers to critique the lesson. Such an action not only encourages teachers to take the risk to open up their teaching for others to observe, but also model self-criticism and critical reflection on one's own teaching. A knowledgeable other also promotes discussion among participating teachers, whether it is at a study lesson planning meeting or at a post-lesson debriefing.

These roles may be very different from what university faculty members have become accustomed. What does it take for someone to be an effective knowledgeable other? Comments by teachers who participated in lesson study suggest three important characteristics for an effective knowledgeable other. First, they must possess a "learning" mind set. They must understand that lesson study is a process through which everyone, including themselves, can learn. They should not go into a lesson study group with an attitude that they are there to teach teachers. Rather, they must respect teachers, children, and content, and they must be open to their own learning that may result through their interaction with other participants of lesson study. Knowledgeable others may possess certain expertise, but they must respect other participants as their equals.

Another important characteristic of effective knowledgeable others is their ability to read the audience--in this case, teachers participating in lesson study. They must determine where the teachers are with respect to the research theme/focus of the study group. Finally, knowledgeable others must have the ability to select a few key ideas on which to focus their discussion. A Japanese professor who is known for his excellence as an outside knowledgeable other once commented that his rule is "praise ten and critique one." Effective knowledgeable others must carefully focus participating teachers' attention on a few key ideas. An effective knowledgeable other must be like a master teacher. S/he must first understand where the students (lesson study participants) are in terms of their understanding of teaching and learning, and make comments appropriate for the learners.


Not only is lesson study a new model of professional development, it also provides a model for new collaborative and collegial relationships among teachers, administrators and college/university faculty members. However, precisely because the collaborative relationship in lesson study differs from current practices, effective lesson study will not automatically occur. Further research is needed to help us better understand lesson study as a professional development practice. In particular, research on the role of knowledgeable others and the developmental stages of lesson study groups are two issues that demand immediate attention.


Chokshi, S. & Fernandez, C. (2003, April). How international evidence matters: Implications for policy and practice. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL.

Hakusui Elementary School. (2002). Retrieved May 15, 2003, from

Lesson Study Group at Mills College. (n.d.). Lesson plans. Retrieved May 15, 2003, from

Lesson Study Research Group. (n.d.). Lesson study work samples. Retrieved May 15, 2003, from

Lewis, C. C. (2002). Lesson study: A handbook of teacher-led instructional change. Philadelphia, PA: Research for Better Schools, Inc..

National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century. (2000). Before it's too late: A report to the nation from the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century. Washington DC: Education Publishing Center.

National Research Council. (2002). Studying classroom teaching as a medium for professional development. Proceedings of a U.S.-Japan workshop. H. Bass, Z.P. Usiskin, and G. Burrill (Eds). Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Research for Better Schools. (n.d.). Lesson study: Readings and resources. Retrieved June 27, 2003, from

Toyouke Elementary School. (2002). Retrieved May 15, 2003, from

Watanabe, T. (2002). Learning from Japanese Lesson Study. Educational Leadership, 59, 36-39.

Wilms, W. W. (2003). Altering the structure and culture of American public schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 84, 606-615.

Tad Watanabe, Pennsylvania State University

Watanabe, an Associate Professor of Mathematics Education, works with pre- and in-service elementary school teachers.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Rapid Intellect Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Watanabe, Tad
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Dec 22, 2003
Previous Article:Enticing faculty to library instruction workshops.
Next Article:Increasing information competence in medical school faculty.

Related Articles
Town and gown: models of musical collaboration. (College Faculty Forum).
Collaboration at the post-secondary level.
Collaborative initiatives supporting inclusive classrooms.
Fostering collaboration in urban schools.
Educators are constantly searching for effective ways to improve student learning and enhance student outcomes.
Honing the power of technology.
Collaborative online problem solving with preservice general education and special education teachers.
Evaluation of an innovative approach to improving middle school students' academic achievement.
Promoting good citizenship.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters