The long term goal of lesson study as a professional development model is to enhance teachers’ content and pedagogical content knowledge and develop their capacities for designing and studying (researching) their own lessons. The expected output of a Lesson Study group is to develop a curriculum material in the form of a lesson plan. The process of developing the plan becomes a context for teachers to gain insights about how students think and learn the topic chosen and the discipline in general.
In my earlier post about Lesson Study I described what Lesson Study is and the Collaborative Lesson Research and Development project of UP NISMED about Lesson Study to find out if it will work in Philippines given its school realities. In this post I will describe my experience in facilitating a lesson study group of mathematics teachers all teaching Intermediate Algebra (Year 8 math). Our CLRD project introduces the first lesson study in their school. The discussion below shows how I “scaffolded” teachers learning of the LS process through a series of questions.
Like any project, Lesson Study starts with a goal.
1. Goal setting:
Although I wanted teachers to try the strategy Teaching through Problem Solving (TtPS), I didn’t want to impose it on them. So during the first meeting to identify the goal for our lesson study, I started with the following questions:
- What are some of the problems do you encounter in your mathematics class?
- What are some of your teaching problems in mathematics?
- What are some of your students learning difficulties in mathematics?
- What are some of the things you wish your students can do in your mathematics class?
My first question was too general. Identified concerns were about lack of textbooks, materials, absenteeism, students’ personal problems, lack of motivation, etc. These are problems that lesson study cannot solve except perhaps the problem on motivation. The second question was equally disastrous. I received a blank look. They don’t have teaching problems. It’s the students who have problems. Hence the third question. The students’ problem is that they are not learning their mathematics. This wasn’t very helpful. It’s too general for the purpose of lesson study. So I asked the fourth question. And Voila. The teachers said they wish their students could think! This was my cue. So I said, “that’s great, let’s put our heads together and design a lesson that would engage students in thinking and reasoning”.
2. Selecting the topic:
- What topic would you like to make a lesson about?
- What are the important ideas and skills should students learn about in this topic?
- What about mathematics will students learn from this lesson?
- Why should students learn this topic? Can we just skip this lesson?
The first question was received with excitement. Everybody was talking. It only took a couple of minutes for them to agree on one topic. However, when I asked why they like the topic they said that it’s because they already have activities for it and students find learning the topic easy. While there isn’t anything wrong with this one I encouraged them to think of a topic that the students find difficult to understand or that which teachers find difficult to teach. I explained that there will be about 5 to 7 heads that will work on the plan so they might as well take advantage of it and select a topic that they find problematic and solve it together. And they did.
Questions for selecting teaching approach/strategy
- What kind of mathematical task will make students think?
- When do you give problem solving tasks and how do you get your students to do problem solving?
- Would you like to try teaching the unit using a problem that you give at the end? Would you like to try to develop a lesson using TtPS?
I got what I wanted with the first question but there was a “but”. The group said “of course, it’s problem solving but students don’t like to solve problems”. Hence I asked the second question. As I have expected, problem solving is given at the end of the unit and they admitted that most of the time they skip that part for lack of time. When they do have time, they will solve a sample problem first and then ask students to solve a similar problem to practice the method of solution. So I asked the group “Do you think the students are really thinking here?” They said “a little because they only need to follow the solution”. So when I asked if they would like to try TtPS they said “we could try”. These teachers attended an in-service training with us about TtPS but admitted that they did not use it in their teaching for reasons ranging from lack of resources, time constraint, and that it is hard to make a lesson using one. I said that with 5 to 7 heads working on a plan using TtPS, they just might be able to make one.
3. Designing and Implementing the lesson plan.
Here are the steps they we went through in developing the plan:
- We selected a problem found at the end of the unit.
- The teachers solved the problem in different ways. I asked them to try solving the problem intuitively and using students previously learned knowledge.
- The teachers tried the problem in the class to know students difficulties with it. Decided it needed an introductory activity to help students visualize the situation.
- Wrote the teaching plan. Tried it out. Discussed the result. Revised the plan. Implemented it again.
You can tell by the process we went through that lesson study is highly rooted in the principle of social constructivism.
I recommend this book by Catherine Lewis. It’s a valuable resource for conducting your own Lesson Study. I met the author in two separate Lesson Study conferences. She was keynote speaker in 2010 World Association of Lesson/Learning Study and she was also speaker in the APEC Tsukuba Conference V in Japan. She is actively promoting LS in the US.