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Deciding on Data to Collect During a Research Lesson

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

This blog series documents how our network of schools became interested in lesson study. We have shared how our lesson study teams got started – by creating a shared vision of their hopes and dreams for students, determining a research question and theory of action, narrowing in on a specific content area for their research lesson, and then exploring the mathematical content and selecting a mathematical understanding goal and an equity goal for their research lessons. We have also documented our first three public lesson study events, a 3rd grade lesson on comparing fractions, an 8th grade lesson on negative exponents, and a 10th grade lesson on quadratics.

Data collection tool from a 10th grade public lesson on quadratics.

In the last post in this series, we shared the process our research teams used to script their research lessons and to anticipate focus student thinking. Next, the teams turned their attention to what data they could collect to learn more about their research question and theory of action.

At this point, lesson study teams had engaged in significant student-focused inquiry. They established a communal vision through their hopes and dreams for students, crafted research questions and theories of action to guide their inquiry cycles, and researched important mathematical concepts, deepening their own mathematical content knowledge. They also kept students at the center by learning as much as possible about their focus students. Through empathy interviews the teams learned about their focus students’ experiences of success and challenge, and by exploring work samples the research teams learned deeply about their focus students’ mathematical understandings and problem solving strategies. Even though the actual research lesson is considered the culminating learning event – where data on student participation and thinking is collected and analyzed – the truth is, teacher research teams had been engaged in rich and meaningful learning throughout the planning process.

With the insights gained from their planning process, teacher teams reviewed their research questions and theories of action, and then responded to the following two questions to guide their data collection design:

  • What might it look and sound like if our focus student is grappling with the mathematical content understanding goal?

  • What might it look and sound like if our equity goal is being realized?

Using their knowledge of student thinking from looking at work samples and the anticipated student thinking for the research lesson, the teams brainstormed what they might hear or see if their focus students were grappling with the mathematical understanding goal. Since it can be challenging to collect comprehensive data on what students say and do over an entire lesson, having some cued up ‘look-fors’ supports meaningful data collection.

We also received some excellent advice from Dr. Catherine Lewis from MIlls College on how to collect rich data during a research lesson. As a network we had been observing lessons, but often found the debrief portion unfocused and not as useful as we felt it should be. Our issue was that with everything that goes on during a typical lesson, everyone's focus was pulled in different directions throughout the lesson. Observation notes felt disjointed and like one-off noticings – what a student said over here, what another said over there, how the class in general seemed to respond to the teacher – instead of feeling like a cohesive narrative about what we cared about most – student learning. At a conference, Dr. Lewis shared that the richest data is collected when teachers each closely observe one focus student for the entire lesson and capture that student’s thinking. Ideally, each teacher on the research team observes the focus student they interviewed during the empathy interview stage, and that this is also the student whose work they’ve analyzed and whose thinking they’ve anticipated for the research lesson.

Teachers observe a 7th grade lesson, closely observing focus students' thinking.

This was a game changer for our lesson study teams. Debriefs were now anchored in concrete data about how a particular student of interest experienced the lesson and what learning occurred. Observing teachers could pinpoint when 'a-ha' moments happened and what teacher or peer interactions contributed to the moment. This lead to more insight about which lesson structures and teacher questions were productive for student learning and also provided objective data for determining next instructional steps.

Similarly, the teams brainstormed what it might look and sound like if their equity goal was being realized during the research lesson. For example, for the following equity goals:

  • Students will present mathematical justification and show they value others’ ideas by listening to them and responding to them with their own mathematical justification (from an 8th grade lesson study team)

  • Students will listen to, value, and build off of each other’s ideas (from 5th grade and 9th grade research teams)

The teams decided to track data about whether their focus student shared their ideas with a partner, in a small group, or with the whole class, and whether or not others built off of their ideas. They also decided to track the nature of what they shared. Were they justifying an idea? Were they challenging or agreeing with someone else’s idea?

Once the teams decided what data to watch for, they created note-catchers to use to capture observation data during the research lesson. Below are some examples of data collection tools designed by our research teams:

  • Mathematical goal: Students understand that fractions can be represented as less than one whole and greater than one whole and can use this as a source of comparison.

  • Equity goal: Students will participate in turn and talks and whole-class discourse to share mathematical thinking without fear of being incorrect or being judged by peers.

  • Mathematical goal: Interpreting and comparing lines of best fit, including making sense of the slope and intercept of a linear trend line in the context of data.

  • Equity goal: Students will listen to, value, and build off of each other’s ideas.

After deciding on what data to collect, it was time to conduct a mock lesson to practice using the questions the team had come up with to facilitate student thinking – a final run through before trying out their research lesson with the students.

For educators looking to try lesson study in their own contexts, we found that:

  • Closely observing one focus student’s thinking throughout a lesson provides the most meaningful data

  • Anticipating what focus students might say or do if they are grappling with the mathematical understanding goal supports teachers in noticing and attending to focus students’ sense-making process during the research lesson.

  • Determining concrete behaviors that indicate whether the equity goal is being met provides an easy way to track data related to the equity goal.


Daisy Sharrock works at the Center for Research on Equity and Innovation at the High Tech High Graduate School of Education, and is part of a Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative-sponsored research team that is currently engaged in the following study: Leveraging the Power of Improvement Networks to Spread Lesson Study. Read more about their current study here. We are grateful to JFF, KnowledgeWorks’, and the Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative and its funders for their support. Learn more at

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