Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Reaping the Systemic Benefits of Lesson Study

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Reaping the Systemic Benefits of Lesson Study

Article excerpt

Professional development fads come and go, with little lasting impact. But as lesson study takes hold in the U.S., it increasingly reveals its potential to advance the entire teaching profession. Ms. Chokshi and Ms. Fernandez assess the current state of U.S. lesson study and detail how its practitioners can capitalize on and extend its influence.

MOST READERS of the Kappan will know that lesson study is a Japanese approach to teacher professional development that has recently become popular in the U.S. Indeed, lesson study activity has been spreading rapidly for several years and continues to proliferate today. However, to date, most of the discussion and research about U.S.-based lesson study has focused on how individual groups of teachers can implement this practice or become engaged in it more deeply and fruitfully.1

Our goal here is to expand these discussions by considering the broader systemic issue of what the teaching profession as a whole can gain from this activity. Our work observing and supporting a number of U.S. lesson study groups has positioned us to monitor national lesson study activities and track their growth. We wish to discuss the potential of lesson study, identify some pitfalls that could undermine its influence, and offer a few concrete suggestions for avoiding these pitfalls. Our goal in sharing these insights is to help U.S. educators think about how to transform lesson study from the latest professional development fad into a sustainable, broad-scale activity, so that it does not end up in the "graveyard" of U.S. education reforms alongside so many other trendy innovations.


Lesson study begins with a group of teachers identifying a common goal (e.g., "helping students become autonomous and critical thinkers") and a content area (e.g., mathematics) to focus on. Then, as a concrete way to explore how to achieve their chosen goal, teachers work collaboratively on a small number of lessons by planning, teaching, observing, revising, and reteaching them.

Although lesson study came to light in the United States during the early 1990s, it did not garner widespread interest until the publication of The Teaching Gap in 1999, a volume that discussed the findings from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) Video Comparison Study in an anecdotal, narrative manner. Even though lesson study was not the intended subject of the TIMSS study, authors James Stigler and James Hiebert introduced the idea in approving terms:

We are attracted to the Japanese notion of lesson study because it lays out a model for teacher learning and a clear set of principles or hypotheses about how teachers learn. Lesson study embodies a set of concrete steps that teachers can take, over time, to improve teaching. These steps may need to be modified to work in the United States. But we believe it is better to start with an explicit model, even if it needs revising, than with no model at all.2

The great popularity of The Teaching Gap, coupled with the images in the TIMSS videotapes, may have helped convince others about the need for a similar approach in the U.S. and certainly helped spark the rapid growth of U.S. lesson study activity. Indeed, we have identified over 150 clusters of lesson study activity, ranging from large-scale initiatives to small groups of teachers at a single school, that span 31 states and involve at least 2,200 teachers. These numbers probably underestimate the actual scope and extent of lesson study activity in the U.S., since it is difficult to keep tabs on new initiatives, which are constantly forming, and on existing lesson study clusters, which continue to evolve. We are also seeing a growing number of meetings and conferences, websites and listservs, and preservice courses or workshops devoted solely to lesson study.

Given its current appeal, lesson study appears well-positioned to exert a significant impact on education in the U. …

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