Our learning journey never ceases. This is true for teachers as much as it is for their pupils. Research has shown that teachers become more effective in their teaching practices when they learn and inquire together. What can we do to encourage such learning among teachers?
The effective teacher is one who is committed to constantly improving on and developing his or her teaching practices. This process is enhanced when there are opportunities to collaborate with like-minded counterparts and also to observe and reflect.
Responding to this, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has encouraged the concept of the professional learning community (PLC). The PLC embraces the idea of getting teachers to work together in teams to enhance their effectiveness as professionals so as to benefit students’ learning.
Lesson study is one way of engaging teachers in such learning. It is one of several vehicles used in PLCs, and its popularity in Singapore is growing.
Lesson study is a professional development process devoted to instructional improvement. Working collaboratively to plan a lesson, teachers get to deliver a live “research lesson”, observe the way lessons are being carried out, and reflect on these lessons to improve their teaching practices.
Local Experience with Lesson Study
Over the last 2 years, North Vista Primary School (NVTPS) has made use of the lesson study approach as a way to develop their teachers professionally. And in August last year, they organized Singapore’s largest lesson study public research lesson.
Led by Mrs Irene Ong, Head of the Mathematics Department, and former School Staff Developer Ms Peggy Foo, a team of Math teachers was formed to fully experience the lesson study process. Their main objective was to find out whether pupils were able to reason and communicate mathematical thinking.
“We wanted to see what kinds of tasks and activities help our pupils reason and communicate mathematical reasoning more effectively,” explained Irene. “Besides just focusing on math, we also tried to incorporate technology into the lesson with the use of the interactive whiteboard and 1:1 computing.”
What was unique about the NVTPS experience was that the research lesson was made public – over 250 educators from Singapore and overseas, MOE curriculum specialists and university professors were present to observe the lesson.
Peggy, who is currently an Adjunct Lecturer with Marshall Cavendish Institute, noted: “It was the first time any school in Singapore had conducted a research lesson on such a large scale.”
The Lesson Study Process
Irene shared that they started the process by first developing a detailed lesson plan. “As effective questioning was part of the process, we had to think about the kind of questions we wanted to ask the pupils,” said Irene.
Peggy added that much was learned when the team was considering various possible responses from pupils of different ability groups. “More importantly, we have to think about how we could respond to them – to those who have already mastered the concepts and to others who have not fully grasped the basic concepts.”
After a detailed lesson plan has been developed, a teacher will then teach the lesson with the other team members as observers. This particular lesson was conducted by Irene in the school hall. The mass audience of educators participated as observers, watching the lesson as it progressed on stage.
The pupils’ discussions and work were also projected on the walls, to give the observers a window into the pupils’ reasoning and thinking process. This helped the teachers to develop an “eye” to understand pupils’ thinking and consider follow-up instructions to support their learning.
Both Irene and Peggy agreed that this was particularly useful as they were able to surface misconceptions the pupils had. Irene added that this process should be non-judgmental, and observers should note that they are there to draw out learning points from observing the lesson.
The team members, together with the observers, engaged in a discussion straight after the live lesson. This was facilitated by Dr Makoto Yoshida and Dr Yeap Ban Har, who are leading researchers and educators in the field of lesson study. The immediacy of this discussion ensured that the details of the lesson were still fresh in the teachers’ minds.
One of the key factors to note for lesson study is to be extremely clear of its purpose. “As we had a large audience, they needed to know exactly what they were observing. The learning was also exceptionally rich as we were able to hear diverse perspectives from different observers,” shared Peggy.
A Rewarding Experience
Irene advocates lesson study as a professional development tool as she believes that engaging in the whole lesson study process is extremely beneficial for teachers.
– Irene Ong, North Vista Primary School
Lesson study goes far beyond simply planning a lesson. After the post-lesson discussion, the team of teachers would go back to the lesson plans to refine them, and the whole process would be repeated again. It challenges teachers to improve on their classroom instruction as the group refines the original lesson, hence enabling them to design better lessons in future.
“The objective of lesson study is for teachers to grow professionally,” noted Irene. “One of the key features of lesson study is looking deeper into the children’s responses and developing effective strategies through that.”
Lesson study merges research and practice in the most practical of ways. This approach is rich in the possibilities for teachers’ professional and personal development, where teachers can continue to be active and engaged learners throughout their teaching career.