Sometimes you find a RIOT topic, and sometimes a RIOT topic finds you. I was jumping around from article to article last week when Michele sent out the latest issue of LOEX and this article caught my eye (perhaps because I was hungry): From Prix Fixe to A la Carte: Using Lesson Study to Collaborate with Faculty in Customizing Information Literacy. It describes using a research method called “lesson study” to collaboratively design and assess a one-shot information literacy session for a first year composition course at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. I ended up reading more about lesson study and found the concept really intriguing. This entry focuses on the above article, as well as one that informed it.
What is lesson study?
Lesson study originated in Japan, and is a way of systematically designing and assessing a lesson plan in a way that contributes to our knowledge on teaching and learning. In lesson study, a group of teachers works in a small team to plan, teach, observe, analyze, and refine individual lessons (Cerbin and Kopp). In Japan, the resulting lesson plans and studies are published and disseminated for other teachers to build from and use so that “in essence Japanese lesson study is a broad-based, teacher-led system for improvement of teaching and learning” (Cerbin and Kopp). The Cerbin and Kopp article I keep quoting proposes a model of using lesson study in the college classroom. Instructors at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (where Cerbin and Kopp teach) have actually been using the lesson study method since 2006, and have a really great site that documents the process and shares all of their results. This is the context through which the LOEX article I found originated, as the project has spread to multiple UW campuses and throughout departments.
To embark upon a lesson study, a small team of teachers comes together to select a course, topic, and goals for student learning. Often, these teams are composed of instructors teaching the same course but they can also be interdisciplinary teams (hello, librarians!) working toward common goals. In the Jennings et al. study, 4 librarians collaborated with 3 composition faculty. Their initial list of goals was huge, and they reported that the process of sitting down with faculty to discuss the meaning of their goals, how they could be taught and assessed, whether they could reasonably be taught in a one-shot, and how they fit into the overall curriculum was one of the most valuable aspects of the lesson study. Eventually, they whittled down to two outcomes, leaving the other concepts to be taught in preceding classroom activities or discussions.
The next step is to plan the lesson. One of the main goals of lesson study is to design lessons that make the process of student learning visible, so that it can be observed. Once the lesson is planned, teams must design the study of the lesson. This involves deciding what data they will collect to assess student learning and thinking, and what observation guidelines they will use when team members observe the lesson being taught. To me, this focus on how students learn is what makes lesson study different than other forms of assessment.
“…the primary focus of lesson study is not what students learn, but rather how students learn from the lesson. To investigate how students learn, teams focus on student thinking during the lesson, how they make sense of the material, what kinds of difficulties they have, how they answer questions, how their thinking changes during the lesson and so forth.” Cerbin and Kopp
Teaching and Observing
Once the lesson and study have both been planned, one team member teaches the lesson while the others observe and collect data. Data collection may involve field notes, checklists, rubrics, etc. Cerbin and Kopp note that lesson studies promote observation of students rather than the performance of the teacher, and that the collaboratively planned lesson (not the teacher or the students) is what is being judged.* This takes the heat off of individuals and “helps pave the way for public knowledge building.”
After the first go-round, the team debriefs to talk about their experiences, analyze data for evidence of student learning, and discuss possible changes based on what they found. The revised lesson can then be used in another class, continuing the cycle of evidence-based improvements.
Documentation and Sharing
The idea behind lesson studies is that they will produce valuable knowledge to be shared with others. Teams extensively document both the lesson portion and the study portion so that they can be disseminated and shared.
Why is it valuable?
Some of the reasons Cerbin and Kopp value lesson study include:
- it encourages scaffolded, reflective design and assessment
- it can help build a shared language for teaching and learning among instructors
- it offers an evidence-based approach to teaching improvement
- it provides a framework for investigating teaching and learning in the classroom
Jennings et al. reported that using lesson study to design the composition one-shot began a process of continual improvement and engendered a “culture of collaboration” among members of the lesson study team. It also led to further library involvement in the integration of information literacy into some curricular revision in the department. Eventually, it also led to similar studies in courses within other departments. They reported that in a science lesson study group, the process revealed that faculty assumed their students came to them with much more robust information literacy skills than they actually did. Through the process of planning the lesson study, “Faculty began to recognize and internalize the idea that if they wanted their students to use information in the sciences effectively and appropriately, it was incumbent upon them to integrate information literacy into the curriculum rather than assuming the students were gaining these students elsewhere” (Jennings et al.). Hooray!
I think this could be a great way to promote collaboration, and to work in some meaningful assessment work. It is difficult to assess the actual process of student learning, and I think this is one angle from which to approach it.
*Yes, this method requires IRB approval
Questions to think about:
- Where might a lesson study fit in our teaching?
- Who on campus might we partner with?
- How would we share our findings?
Cerbin, W. & Kopp, B. (2006). Lesson Study as a Model for Building Pedagogical Knowledge and Improving Teaching. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 18(3).
Retrieved from http://www.isetl.org/ijtlhe/pdf/IJTLHE110.pdf
Jennings, E., Kishel, H., & Markgraf, J. (2012). From Prix Fixe to A la Carte: Using Lesson Study to Collaborate with Faculty in Customizing Information Literacy. LOEX Quarterly, 38(4).
Retrieved from http://commons.emich.edu/loexquarterly/vol38/iss4/4