School leadership for improvement in primary mathematics education:
7. Collaborative lesson study for sustainability
"Over time in learning communities you get a little wave of something, and because it’s in a particular time and place with a particular group of people you kind of lose the steam on that. And so, for us as a school community we were thinking, how do we cement in the culture and the systems to make this sustained pedagogical shift? So that new teachers and new students see this is the way we teach at Russell School, this is the way we learn at Russell School." Board Trustee
"The lesson study is how we sustain this in schools. It keeps the excitement going, it keeps the challenge on. It keeps you collaborating with other teachers." In-class Mentor
"In the junior school nearly half of the staff are new. We have to make sure that not only do they get hold of the heart values, but the thinking around DMIC is embedded in their rooms as well." Principal
"It's about acknowledging now (Year 3 of implementation) that we have the tools ourselves and the knowledge to professionally develop ourselves." Teacher Leader (who completed postgraduate study)
The challenges of using time wisely for effective collaboration, and ongoing sustainability with staff turnover and retirement are significant. Collaborative lesson study is a tool to support sustainability.
Collaborative lesson study is an approach to structured collaborative professional learning that has been effective for enabling sustainable improvement in teaching in Japan. Collaborative lesson study was a focus of Dr Jodie Hunter's award winning doctoral research.
In what follows, in-class mentor Bronwyn Gibbs explains the collaborative lesson study process where a group of four teachers at Russell School plan together, share their thinking about task design and then successively observe and reflect on each teacher's practice in turn.
"You're increasing your own knowledge and understanding as well as the whole planning process. What do we think the kids are going to do? What are their misconceptions likely to be? How are we going to make the connections in this lesson? How do we make this happen?
And then the first teacher teaches the lesson with the other three teachers observing.
We have a framework of questions like: How are the children interacting? Was the level of challenge high enough? Was it too low? How do you know? All sorts of things to be looking for. So, it gives an amazing opportunity to really listen to what they're doing and what they're saying, and how they're working together. The following term you go back, rewrite the problem, rethink your understanding, and then teach the lesson again, and then have the conversation again."
Teachers at Russell School did collaborative lesson study planning early as they also kept an eye out on children requiring a nutritious start to the day at Russell School's 'Breakfast Club'.
The approach requires resourcing. When resourcing constraints on relief teachers were prohibitive, the principal took over teaching their combined classes as teachers observed each other's practice.
The findings [PDF 491kB] of the Teacher Professional Learning and Development Best Evidence Synthesis identify the challenge for maintaining momentum. For New Zealand to shift to an improvement trajectory for equity and excellence in primary mathematics and curriculum competencies more is required to support effective and sustained professional learning.
See the video on perspectives from Russell School on Collaborative lesson study for sustainability