Stan Pesick and Carolyn Halpin-Healy: Introducing Lesson Study
Defining Lesson Study
Stan Pesick: So what is lesson study? Well, lesson study really is an investigation into teaching. A collaborative investigation by teachers. So by turning the words around, it's really studying a lesson. And it's framed by two things: a topic that teachers want to teach to, and a student question students are going to answer—and then a teacher question. What I mean by that is a research question. Another name for lesson study is 'research lesson.' And so what do you want to learn about teaching and learning through this lesson that you're going to teach? And so through that question teachers gather evidence, which can be student talk, student work, student writing. And then they use the evidence to kind of answer that question.
So an example may be that you may want to teach a lesson about Nat Turner. And the question might be, for students, was Nat Turner a hero? Or was Nat Turner's revolt a success? If your question is, is Nat Turner a hero, you might want to think about, well, to answer that question what kind of criteria do kids have for measuring and judging a hero? So how do you help kids develop a criteria and how do kids use criteria? You might investigate that question through the work on Nat Turner. And then that, ideally, that lesson, what teachers learned from that lesson, spills over into your whole practice. And so they might think, oh, whenever I ask an evaluative question, I need to make sure kids have the criteria they're writing from.
Carolyn Halpin-Healy: So, it's a form of professional development, through which teachers not only develop effective lessons, but really develop their own content knowledge, and they develop their pedagogies—and really their central values of teaching.
Stan Pesick: So, unlike other kinds of professional development, which are driven by kind of answers—here's what a researcher found or here's what we found—if you do this [unintelligible], then X will happen—lesson study is a little messier. But lesson study, because it's research, is driven by questions, not answers. And so it's teachers generating knowledge about teaching through their content, through their practice. So it kind of takes traditional profession development and turns it on its head. It says teachers can be producers of knowledge about instruction, not just consumers of knowledge
Carolyn Halpin-Healy: Lesson study takes place very much within a context, within an historical subject focus, within a particular student focus, and within the framework of a professional practice. So it's highly collaborative and highly democratic. And this, of course, is what makes it very messy, but also very exciting
Stan Pesick: It draws teachers in. It asks them to be thoughtful professionals. I've had teachers say to me—particularly people who teach at an elementary level or—we have a high number of students who have low literacy levels, with schools that are under threat of sanction because their test scores are low, or because history's been kind of pushed out of their curriculum, because of that, and they're given scripted programs to use and then measured by the fidelity with which they met their programs. And teachers say to me, you know, when I work with colleagues and we do lesson study, I kind of remember that I can be thoughtful about my practice. I can remember that that's why I go into teaching. Now, that's a lot to say about one particular practice, and I'm not saying it happens all the time, but at the bottom of lesson study is this notion for teachers that they can contribute to the knowledge base about teaching, and I think that that's really a powerful, democratic idea.
Carolyn Halpin-Healy: Stan, you said it asks them to be thoughtful professionals, and it also provides the context and it honors their professionalism and it honors their craft, and it's very validating. And at the same time that it honors teachers, it's not about teachers. It's not about what any individual teacher does in the classroom—it's about teaching the subject well and keeping the students in mind. And by that, I mean, essentially trying to understand what and how students are learning.
Benefiting from Lesson Study
Stan Pesick: So the evidence you use to answer your teacher question is evidence agreed upon ahead of time—that, if you want to know, for example, if Nat Turner is a hero, then you want to have evidence in there that kids have to work with, right, about that. So, Nat Turner's confession, right? A list of people who were killed during his raid. And teachers are going, kids are looking at it and going I can see why he'd want to do it, but, oh, there were little kids and babies that were killed as part of this, what is that, how do you grapple with that. So it forces the question. It forces also the lesson to be deeper, I think, because you have to build into the lesson places where evidence may be generated to analyze.
Carolyn Halpin-Healy: Well, as Stan said, it's sort of a perfect medium for bringing historical knowledge into the classroom, because one really cannot do topic-free, subject-free, content-free lesson study. It has to be about something. So as teachers develop their lesson, they are often going back to the drawing board and making sure that they understand the history very well. They're often considering which documents or images are they going to be presenting to their students. And therefore they're doing quite a lot of research. So their content knowledge is being very well-developed throughout the process.
Stan Pesick: We didn't anticipate that. It wasn't our big first goal with it. But through lesson study teachers are delving into content much more deeply. They're learning more content.
Carolyn Halpin-Healy: The process of writing a lesson that is appropriate for lesson study, that is one that is that's, as you described, that is focused, that is sort of well-coordinated between the research question and the student question, which then has to be answerable. You're setting up a kind of a tight structure for a lesson. And teachers have to be able to get to the essential of the matter and to learn to be concise And, as you know as a historian, you have to know a lot to be able to get the point across concisely
Stan Pesick: Part of learning history or becoming more thoughtful of history is not just the content but the thinking that goes with it. Understanding history as a subject that has interpretation, that has ideas of significance, that works with evidence. So as you begin to debate among the group of teachers what topic are you going to teach, it's really a question about historical significance. Why is this topic worth teaching to me? Why is it worth spending time on? I think that's another piece of the content, because I would add historical thinking to historical content as a whole piece.
Carolyn Halpin-Healy: So it's not only that teachers are trying to encourage their students to develop historical habits of mind, but they themselves are cultivating their own historical thinking
Stan Pesick: Then what we learned over our first couple years was the teachers were very used to planning lessons, and so they spent a lot of time planning lessons. And one of the problems—one of the challenges of lesson study is that there's only a certain amount of time that people to collaborate. You can get subs for a certain number of days, but you can't get everybody together for a long time. It's got to move reasonably quickly through the process of planning. So they spend all that time planning, but the part which is most powerful, the analysis part, got short shrift.
So we kind of produced a video where we followed a couple of groups of teachers, 5th grade, through the analysis part to give teachers an image of what that looked like. And so here's where we're headed, so we've got to get there. So that's been very helpful.
But we've kind of tweaked and added to it all through the seven or eight years now to kind of take each step—like Carolyn said there's a planning step and there's a teaching step and then there's an observation step, and then there's an analysis step. So that, okay, at each point along the way, where can we deepen the experience so it becomes professional development in each part?
Refining the Research Question
Carolyn Halpin-Healy: A real challenge is honing in on a research question, and so I'm still not sure we've gotten to a very sort of refined way. Sometimes we would instead opt for a much sort of looser framework. The teachers of the planning team wanted to think about student talk—or wanted to focus on student talk. That's not quite a research question, we couldn't quite push it towards the research question, but it was sort of enough of a frame around which to build the lesson and have the discussion among the teachers in the debriefing.
Stan Pesick: We struggle with that issue of the research question as well. Because people really weren't used to framing their preps in that way, as an investigation. I mean, they do it all the time, right, you teach a lesson, you're driving home from work and you're thinking, why didn't that kid answer the question? I thought he knew it. Or I asked this question and nobody got it, or you're lying awake at night—you're kind of doing it all the time, but you're not doing it systematically, sometimes, you're not doing it with colleagues who can bring other eyes to the table about it. So we're not used to framing a research question the same way people, maybe trained researchers are, or [people who] have gone through some teacher research training themselves.
Stan Pesick: People would ask questions—sometimes, not all the time—but, 'can students read primary source documents?' Well, yes, of course they can, that's not really a question that's worth investigating. You might want to reframe it as, 'can we build instructional structures that will support students reading documents like a historian?' That's a question worth investigating. So we've kind of ourselves, put out kind of guidelines for what makes a good research question and where it comes from. We're making progress, but it's still messy.
In some ways, the end product of the lesson is the least important part of the process. The most important part of the process is the actual learning that happens that spills over into the rest of their practice. What we have them do is when they've finished the lesson, they actually write up an analysis of what happened, what they wanted to happen, what they thought happened. Using student work, to say how successful the lesson is or not, what they do is they refine the lesson. That to us is the most important end product, not the lesson.
Carolyn Halpin-Healy: In many ways a sort of pristine, refined perfect lesson will be a very fortunate byproduct. What's really important is this process. And we've had some questions in the panel today, or at least one question, that seemed to sort of hint at, how can we share perhaps on the web or through some 2.0 application—how can we sort of share what's going on in lesson study? And my sort of knee-jerk reaction was you really can't, or what you can share in that way is limited—that what's really exciting is what happens in the room, and you have to be in the room when the teaching and learning is going on and when the teacher discussion is going on—the professional debriefing where teachers say okay, what did we just see? What happened? Did they learn it? Was it taught well? What did the students come away with?