Using Coaching to Support Lesson Study

Have you been using Lesson Study in your school? This increasingly popular process is an ideal way to set up a group of teachers for collaborative team work. When careful attention is given to the protocols of the process, an open collaborative environment can be created for authentic discussion of the work of teaching. The valuable outcome is an increased shared understanding of quality teaching practice. This article gives a brief outline of the process, then makes suggestions as to how Lesson Study can be strengthened even more, by integrating some coaching tools.

What is Lesson Study?

The origins of Lesson Study are in Jugyoukenkyuu – a format from Japan which has now gained the interest of educators elsewhere around the world. Adaptations of the process can be found in the United Kingdom, in the USA and Australia.

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) defines lesson study as

“a small team of teachers working together in a systematic cycle of planning, teaching, observing, refining and reviewing specific lessons in order to examine their practice and improve their impact on student learning”.

In this model, the team of teachers usually identifies a student learning need or pedagogical challenge. This becomes the focus for the ‘study’, as teachers work through a number of steps to design, implement and review a lesson or lessons that would lead to better outcomes. The discussion involved in the process allows teachers to share and examine their practice in a collaborative context. The most helpful aspect here in building mutual trust is that the discussion is about the lesson, not the teacher. It needs to be emphasized that lesson study is best implemented in a whole-school environment of practitioner enquiry and research, as it is primarily a research tool, working in cycles of observation, evidence gathering, discussion and learning. It is not a tool for teacher observation.

The main benefits of lesson study, according to research, are:

  • increased knowledge of subject matter
  • increased knowledge of instruction
  • increased ability to observe students
  • stronger collegial networks
  • stronger connection of daily practice to long term goals
  • stronger motivation and sense of efficacy and increased ability to observe students
How can coaching help?

The AITSL “How-to” Guide identifies five phases of the Lesson Study cycle. These five phases are listed below, with tips on how coaching methodology could enhance the discussion phases.

Phase 1, planning the lesson, is a critical foundation not only for the improved student learning that is anticipated, but also for building collegiality and trust in the team.

We suggest using the GROWTH model to guide this process, as it is a tried-and-tested structure for developing a plan of action.

  • G – what is our goal? what do we want to know?

  • R – what is already working well in relation to this, that we can build on?

  • O – what pedagogical approaches could be included in our lesson plan?

  • W – what will we do?

  • T – when and how will we do it? How can we best write the lesson plan? Who will deliver the lesson? What will we observe during the lesson? What do we need to decide today?

  • H – what do we need to be aware of in order to carry out these actions?

This forms the action plan for the team.

Phase 2 is the first classroom observation.

Phase 3 is the Post-observation meeting. We suggest a positive, strengths based approach will work best here. The aim is to bring an open, curious mind to the data and interrogate it together. This is often termed an ’inquiry habit of mind’ – we do not presume an outcome, instead we keep searching for increased understanding and clarity. The notion of dialogue is helpful here. In dialogue, we aim to truly understand another’s point of view rather than be driven by the need to advocate on behalf of our own opinions. David Bohm, in his well known book, On Dialogue (Bohm, D, 1996), describes this as "a flow of meaning in the whole group, out of which will emerge some new understanding". The creation of a new, shared meaning is the ‘aha’ moment.

Some tips for good questions? Ask questions that:

  • indicate your own active listening
  • are open-ended and call a person to respond from different perspectives
  • promote reflection and learning

The skill of clarifying involves checking for understanding. This can be more skillful than simply repeating back what we hear. A helpful article by Robert Garmston expands the concept of paraphrasing. He outlines three useful versions: to acknowledge and clarify, to summarise and organise, and to shift discourse to a higher or lower logical level.

At GCI we have developed some simple formats for debriefing on observation data. These consist of

  • A simple, positive opening to the discussion, such as “Overall, what went well? If we could do this differently, what would be one thing we would change?”
  • Then examine the data, with an inquiry mindset, for instance “Looking at our observation data, what have we noticed? What else have we noticed? What else?”
  • A summarizing question such as “What is emerging from this as a focus for improvement?”
  • Then use the GROWTH model to articulate this focus as a goal and develop a plan to redesign the lesson

Phase 4 is the second classroom observation

Phase 5 – the final discussion. This examines the observation data using a similar format to the Phase 3 discussion, with a shift to comparison of the data from the two lessons and agreement on what is learned in relation to the identified focus of the Lesson Study.

The summarizing question will now be “what have we learned? What is important for us to include in our report?”

Finally, a scaling question would be useful to assess the group learning. This could be "On a scale of 1-10, where 1 equals ‘no learning’ and 10 equals ‘the best professional learning I have ever had’, how useful has this process been for your learning?". This can be followed by "What is one thing we could have done that would have moved this one point up the scale for you?". This strategy would also be useful to include in the report, for the benefit of other groups involved in Lesson Study.

To think about:
  • How could you strengthen lesson study in your school by using coaching tools?
  • How much understanding of coaching would be necessary for participants and how could this be achieved?
  • What other coaching tools do you see as useful? What have you tried already?