MAIC Lesson Study Network
The MAIC Lesson Study Network – a diverse network of K-12 schools in Southern California supported by the Center for Research on Equity and Innovation (CREI) at the High Tech High Graduate School of Education – came together to work on the persistent problem of improving students’ mathematical agency and outcomes in middle- and high-school mathematics.
Network teachers used lesson study and an improvement science framework to test, adapt, refine, and spread student centered math practices in their respective contexts.
Student achievement in mathematics continues to be a critical equity issue in the United States (Bohrnstedt, et al., 2015; Lee, 2002). What math courses a student takes in high school strongly correlate with economic success a decade later, and account for up to one quarter of the future income gap between students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and their more affluent counterparts (Rose, 2004). The starting point for achieving mathematical equity is to understand that conventional approaches to math education in the USA are structured for inequitable access and promote a lack of engagement. As early as elementary school, many students see math as something they cannot do (Boaler, 2014). Due to this lack of mathematical agency (i.e. the belief that I can do math), many students interpret struggle in math as a lack of ability, and consequently fail to persist. Unfortunately, math classrooms often reinforce this lack of agency by rewarding speed and procedural fluency over deep understanding of mathematical concepts and problem solving ability.Research clearly shows that quality teaching matters for student learning (Rowan, et al., 2002; Wright, Horn, & Sanders, 1997). If we aim to produce more equitable outcomes for our traditionally underserved students we need to support teachers in developing the dispositions and skills to make student-centered pedagogy a reality. Improvement communities have emerged as a promising mechanism for shifting cultures and scaling best practices quickly across diverse contexts. However, this is only half of the equation. Teachers need opportunities to get into each other’s classrooms, see student-centered practices in action, and collect data on student thinking (Sharrock, 2018).
Lesson study is a promising structure that addresses these issues (Waterman, 2011; Lewis, et al., 2006; Saunders, et al., 2009). It also creates a public proving ground that places students – and student thinking – at the center of reform. Lesson study recognizes that knowledge for standards-based instruction cannot all be captured in written documents such as frameworks and teacher manuals and that “knowledge for teaching is embodied in instruction and is spread and refined as teachers watch and discuss practice” (Lewis & Hurd, 2011, p. 103).
This project explored the impact of lesson study within a Network Improvement Community (NIC) on teacher agency and their Latinx and African American students’ mathematical agency and success. The High Tech High Graduate School of Education acted as a network “hub” in partnership with three Southern California school districts to leverage lesson study within the Mathematical Agency Improvement Community, a network focused on exploring how student-centered instruction impacts student mathematical understanding and achievement, particularly for Latinx and African American students. The specific goals of the study were to understand:
How teacher participation in lesson study influences their students’ mathematical agency and achievement.
How participating in lesson study impacts teacher practice and agency – the belief that they can improve and have the tools and pedagogical skills to meet the learning needs of all their students.
" I can learn if I put in the effort"
"I am part of a mathematical community"
"I feel intellectually engaged and challenged"
Network Theory of Action
Improvement efforts focused on three primary drivers, (1) curriculum/task selection, (2) student-centered pedagogies and instructional practices, and (3) lesson study leadership professional development. During a lesson study cycle teacher teams engaged in anticipatory planning – thinking through the different strategies their students might use to solve a math problem – and used these insights to craft questions to facilitate class discussions. For the second driver, teachers utilized student-centered practices tested in the first two years of MAIC to elevate student mathematical ideas and build students’ mathematical identities. Finally, to build teacher leadership capacity for leading lesson study, activities during the in-person convenings were structured to provide teachers with the opportunity to engage in the core practices of lesson study and plan for engaging in the process during the action periods
To understand what student-centered practices support mathematical agency and success, MAIC teachers had students complete a Student Agency Survey three times a year.
Improvement science also places an emphasis on “practical measures” that teachers can use to know if they are making progress toward their aim and to guide their next steps (Yeager et. al., 2013). As teachers implemented the student centered practices in their lesson study cycles, they studied student work and closely observed student thinking to learn about student learning.
In addition, CREI faculty surveyed all participating teachers 2-3 times each year in order to understand their key learnings, the degree to which they found participation in the community valuable, and the degree to which they felt supported to conduct the work in their context.
While we will not have grade level or CAASPP data for the 2019-20 academic year due to Covid=19, several positive shifts occurred for student groups of interest from five school teams from the 2017-18 to the 2018-19 academic year (see graphs). Student groups of interest included Latinx, Black, and female students. Due to the small number of Black students in our network classrooms (usually only 1-3/class) it was impossible to determine if shifts in achievement were statistically significant and they have not been included. However, for Latinx and female students several teams saw significant improvement in achievement over year one of the Lesson Study Network. It should be noted that these positive shifts occurred for teams that had been working on student-centered teaching practices for the previous two years in our Mathematical Agency Improvement Community.
Teachers reported that participating in the network helped them engage with the lesson study structures, implement student-centered practices, collaborate, and use data to inform instruction.
Many teachers also felt that by participating in the network, they finally had the tools to teach in a way that aligned with their beliefs. Perhaps most significant in terms of increased teacher agency and confidence, was the finding that network teachers were instrumental in bringing student-centered practices back to colleagues at their school sites. Teachers reported sharing core lesson study practices with colleagues – empathy interviews with focus students, looking at student work, anticipating student thinking, and closely observing student thinking during a lesson – as well as student-centered practices such as a launch, explore, discuss lesson structure, participation quizzes, group norms, and accountability quizzes.
98% Anticipate student thinking and misconceptions
85% Determine mathematical understanding goals for my lessons
92% Determine an equity goal for my classroom
100% Create a learning culture where students grapple with mathematical ideas
94% Become more confident facilitating whole class discussions
98% Create a learning culture where multiple approaches are expected
94% Collaborate more effectively with colleagues to refine our instructional practice
91% Use observational data and student work to determine how well a lesson met my mathematical understanding and equity goals
On Implementing Student Centered Practices
"My participation in the network has allowed my teaching to really blossom and create a lasting impact with my students. Through the network, I was able to really fine tune my pedagogy. I had always been curious about learning how to create a more rich and equitable/humanizing approach to math. Lesson study allowed me the opportunity to collaborate with other teachers, view their classrooms, open my doors to others, and really pay attention to student thinking to move the lesson in the right direction for students in order to deepen their thinking. It has helped me to be more aware of the students I'm serving and offering what is best for them.” ~ 6th grade teacher
“As a staff, we have used lesson study to introduce student-centered practices such as LED [launch, explore, discuss] lesson structures, anticipating and leveraging student ideas, and setting equity goals.” ~ 7th grade teacher
“Yes! Our lesson study group worked on creating learning and equity goals for students, we anticipated student thinking and thought through inside/outside questions to understand and push student thinking, we have also conducted empathy interviews with focus students.” ~ 9th grade teacher
On Collaborating With Colleagues
“It has allowed me to be vulnerable in my practice with colleagues. Through the lesson studies, it allowed for us to really think about our practice as a team (without judgments) to provide richer experiences for our students.” ~ 6th grade teacher
“I feel a renewed sense of camaraderie and commitment to shared goals. The work of teachers is really hard and on low days can be demoralizing but being with other network teachers has helped me feel inspired and supported. I learn so much from others and feel empowered because I never feel alone. “ ~ 7th grade teacher
On Using Data
“Lesson study allowed my colleagues and I to deeply study student work to assess mathematical understanding and refine future lessons. “ ~ 7th grade teacher
“With lesson study there is so much that can be learned about teaching and student learning from just the one lesson.” ~ 12th Grade Teacher
“MAIC and lesson study confirmed my beliefs that putting my students at the forefront of my teaching practices and instruction will ultimately lead to the most successful lessons. There is so much value in analyzing student work to drive mathematical goals and understandings. This helps us meet students where they are and push them to where they can be.” ~ Math Teacher Support Staff
Structures That Facilitate Lesson Study
Key structures that supported teachers in participating in lesson study and refining student-centered practices included:
Participating in the network as a team
Regular weekly meeting times and agendas
Choosing focus students in order to focus the learning from the lesson study – looking at student work, anticipating focus student thinking, and closely observing student thinking
In addition to the cross-site collaboration that occurred during convenings, teachers valued working with lesson study teams from their own schools. From our previous network we found that teachers and schools benefited the most when school site teams contained two or more teachers. For the Lesson Study Network we required teams of three or more from each school to ensure that each participant had colleagues to plan and debrief with. Teachers also benefited from regularly scheduled time to meet and suggested agendas to guide their work together. Teams that met weekly were able to finish three lesson study cycles over the year.
“It gives me a chance to collaborate with my school's math team. During the normal school day, it is often hard to find time to think through problems, create, or discuss issues. So having the space to do that during the lesson study network convenings is great!” ~ 11th grade teacher
"I appreciate getting to learn from the ideas of a brand new teacher and a teacher who excels in an area I still want to grow in. We each bring different strengths to curriculum design and what we value about learning mathematics for our students. Getting to learn together at MAIC and through Lesson Study has really changed the dynamics of our group. Hopefully that has seeped into the two other members of our maths group.” ~ 9th grade teacher
"Choosing focus students and looking at their work, anticipating their thinking, and closely observing their thinking and learning during a lesson has deepened my own understanding of how students make sense of math." ~ Math Coach
The Power of Lesson Study
Our findings suggest that lesson study within the context of a network improvement community is an effective structure to support the spread of student-centered teaching practices. We also saw a positive impact on student agency and achievement over the course of the network.
Professional development is most effective in shifting teacher practice when teachers engage in ongoing, collaborative, learning opportunities focused on student learning, and aligned with school improvement goals (Darling-Hammond, et al., 2009). Lesson study supports teachers in developing a shared vision of equitable mathematics teaching and a community of support to test out practices to improve instruction. Lesson study also provides an opportunity for teachers to engage in cycles of inquiry to improve practice. Reform efforts are often based on test score data which is far removed from the classroom and of little value for guiding instruction. In contrast, data collected through lesson study is considered “low-stakes, high-yield data” (Shulman, 2007) allowing teachers to explore which elements of a lesson have the greatest impact on student learning.
Lesson study also allows teachers to focus on a particular student or group of students throughout the entire lesson in order to notice the moment when the light bulb goes off (or doesn’t) and what factors contribute to student learning (Lewis & Hurd, 2011). This is important because in order to better serve our traditionally underserved students, we must become students of our students’ thinking. Lesson study provides a structure for teachers to learn how their students make sense of mathematical concepts, and how their instructional practices support or hinder that process.
Implications for Math Teachers
Lesson study provides a mechanism for teachers to better understand the pedagogical practices and classroom conditions that support student mathematical agency and success by focusing on the how of teaching. In US schools, the bulk of teachers’ planning and professional development time is spent focused on what to teach, instead of how to implement more equitable teaching practices (Lewis & Hurd, 2011). In addition, lesson study includes teachers in the data collection and analysis process, and therefore builds knowledge for teaching in those best positioned to use it.
Teachers can initiate change at their school sites by focusing on and discussing instruction and its impact on student learning with colleagues. Teachers can use the resources in the Lesson Study Hub Document to explore lesson study practices with colleagues – in particular, the resources for those new to lesson study, the coaching/PLC resources, or the agendas for conducting a research lesson.
Implications for School Leaders
MAIC Lesson Study teachers repeatedly brought up the benefits of seeing their colleagues test out practices in their own classroom. Teachers appreciated doing anticipatory planning together, observing each other teach and test out student-centred practices, and debriefing together. By focusing on student thinking during the lesson study events, teachers gained important insights into how students make sense of mathematics, and came to see this thinking as a valuable source of data to drive instruction. School leaders are perfectly positioned to create structures and find opportunities for teachers to plan together, observe each other’s classrooms, and help facilitate lesson study debrief sessions. Additional resources for administrators can be found in the Lesson Study Hub Document.
Teacher Education Programs
This year the High Tech High Graduate School of Education also piloted lesson study in its new Teacher Apprenticeship Program (TAP). The program is a two year credential/masters program designed to provide an embedded, hands-on experience for new teachers and adopted lesson study as the framework for the second year masters level inquiry work. Second year TAP students participated in three inquiry cycles of lesson study and documented their learning on their digital portfolios. Example portfolios can be found here and here, and a video the masters cohort put together to introduce the rising first year TAP teachers to the lesson study process they will be engaging in over their second year can be found here.
Implications for District/State Policy
Findings from this study also have implications for district and state education departments. The MAIC Lesson Study Network hub supported lesson study through regular convenings and lesson study focused resources that could also be provided by district offices. Another good example of a district office that supports lesson study is the San Francisco Unified School District. The SFUSD provides professional development opportunities focused on building teacher capacity for lesson study, as well as an extended program that supports experienced teachers in facilitating lesson study at their schools.