The teachers barely look up from their table discussions as visiting administrators pause to listen in, or pull up chairs nearby to hear more. Deeply engrossed in their discussions, which are regularly punctuated by laughter, the teachers in Project DELTA delve into deep analysis of recent, shared lessons, studying the impact of the content and strategies used by the teachers and the effect on students' understanding.
The Riverside County Office of Education is the LEA for the project, now in its second year, in partnership with California State University, San Bernardino. Developing Educators Learning to Teach Algebraically (DELTA) serves approximately 90 mathematics teachers from the Perris Union High School District in Riverside County and its four feeder districts: Menifee Union, Nuview Union, Perris Elementary and Romoland School Districts.
The cohort also includes special education and alternative education teachers from RCOE, and teachers from the charter school, Oak Grove at the Ranch. The project covers the grade/course span from third grade through Algebra I, and includes mathematics intervention teachers at the secondary level.
All of the participating districts, as well as the Riverside County Office of Education, strongly support their schools in the journey to becoming effective Professional Learning Communities. Thus, teacher collaboration was not a new concept for any of the teacher teams.
Teaching the public "research lesson"
Japanese lesson study--Jugyou kenkyuu--which is a cornerstone of Project DELTA, adds a new twist: the teachers take turns publicly teaching the collaboratively planned lessons with their own students for the rest of the team to observe and then analyze, based on the students' learning.
In the Japanese model, the team begins by studying frameworks and other documents to build their shared knowledge of the topic they are about to teach. Then the team collaboratively plans a lesson based on an upcoming topic. Everyone teaches the lesson to their own students, but one member volunteers to teach the public "research lesson," during which the other team members observe and collect data on student understanding as the lesson progresses.
After collecting the student work, the team reflects on the understanding demonstrated in the papers, as well as the student behaviors during the lesson that revealed their thinking. Then they revamp the lesson using the observation data and analysis of student papers, as well as insights from individual team members' experiences teaching the lesson.
Another teacher volunteers to teach the improved version of the lesson, while the others again observe and collect data. Afterward, the team analyzes the new lesson data along with the student work, and compares the results to those of the first lesson to see if student understanding improved. Finally, they discuss the broader implications for their mathematics instruction in general.
Most cycles include two such "live" student lessons and team reflections, but some teams have completed a third lesson cycle to maximize the potential of improving the lesson for students.
One teacher said, "We must design lessons very well so children want to learn, and want to pursue the questions themselves."
Impact on classroom practice
Catherine Lewis, co-author of "Lesson Study Step by Step," speaking to the Project DELTA teachers at the 2011 summer institute, discussed the improved quality of instruction over time resulting from the lesson study method of collaboration. Lewis is fluent in Japanese, and has observed this quality improvement trajectory firsthand in classrooms in Japan and the United States through her involvement with the model for more than two decades with a wide variety of students, schools and subject areas.
Riverside County Associate Superintendent of Schools Diana Walsh-Reuss …