Lesson Study: A Year of Learning

Updated: Feb 5


Teachers observe student thinking during a lesson study event.

Building a Learning Community


“The most brilliant educational visions are just splotches of ink on paper

until a teacher somewhere brings them to life in a classroom.”

~ Catherine C. Lewis & Jacqueline Hurd, 2011


A year ago, a colleague and I attended a public lesson study event at an elementary school in the suburbs of San Francisco. The school was a typical public neighborhood school, serving primarily students of color and a significant number of students learning English as a second or third language. As children chatted happily and filed into their classrooms, we found the gym and settled into our chairs. What unfolded next was absolutely magical.


After welcome remarks from the principal and the district superintendent, the mics were handed over to a team of elementary teachers – the research team – and a facilitator from the district office. The team explained that they were engaging in a research lesson; a lesson they had co-designed as part of an inquiry cycle exploring how to teach a particular mathematical concept to their students. As the team outlined the planning process for their research lesson on comparing fractions, I was struck by their thoughtful preparation and their genuine curiosity about their students’ thinking and learning. While these traits are likely shared by all teachers, it is rare to see them on display and celebrated in such a professional and public forum. The audience, perhaps 80 of us, was made up of teachers from neighboring schools, administrators, researchers, and parents – all gathered together to celebrate teacher inquiry and student learning.


As the research team shared their inquiry process, I jotted down their steps:

  • Gather & organize. The team assembled a willing group of teachers, determined a regular time to meet, and set up norms for how they would work together.

  • Research & clarify. The team decided on an authentic research question to explore and created a theory of action: “if we…, then…, resulting in…. They also researched the math concept they were planning to teach, deepening their own understanding of the mathematical content, and created a mathematical goal and an equity goal for the lesson.

  • Anticipate & plan. After researching their topic, the team designed a research lesson to explore their research question and decided what evidence of student thinking they would collect during the lesson. To make their data collection manageable, the team chose focus students and anticipated what they might say and do during the lesson.

  • Observe & collect data. The team then conducts their research lesson. One teacher teaches the lesson, while the other members of the research team collect data on student thinking from the focus students. Often outside content and equity experts are asked to observe the lesson and provide feedback afterwards.

  • Reflect & share. After the lesson, the team analyzes the data they collected on student thinking and reflect on what they are learning about their research question. They also share their new learning with colleagues and other educators through public lessons such as the one I was attending, or through written ‘memorialization’ documents.

After the overview from the research team, we had a chance to meet the stars of the show. The third grade students entered the gym to wild applause from the audience. Parents optimized their positions for photo-taking and the lesson began.


The lesson followed a launch, explore, discuss lesson structure with the teacher posing a problem, followed by independent think time where students made sense of the problem by themselves, followed by partner work, and finally a whole class discussion about three different student strategies. The students were avidly engaged throughout the lesson and shared ideas in both Spanish and English, building on each other’s thinking and ultimately deciding that their teacher had eaten more of her sandwich (2/3) than her friend (3/6) during lunch. There was palpable excitement in the room as the final summary point was made by a student in Spanish and translated by the teacher into English on the board for the students to record in their math notebooks.


As the children filed out of the room, the audience erupted into applause once again. Parents were beaming with pride as the students shyly accepted their well deserved accolades. Teachers were impressed and crowded the research team to ask detailed questions about pedagogy and setting up classroom learning cultures. Administrators sought out the principal to discuss the logistics of building such a rich adult learning community. The lesson was followed by a spectacular homemade sopapilla lunch hosted by the Parent Association. Over lunch, my colleague and I marveled at how incredible it was to see a whole community gather to watch and celebrate student mathematical thinking. We also decided to bring lesson study to our schools immediately.


The 10th grade cross-site lesson study team after their first public research lesson.

Over the past year we have hosted three public research math lessons – 10th grade, 8th grade, and 3rd grade – and numerous shorter lesson study sessions in science, math, and literacy across our 16 K-12 schools. Through participating in collaborative lesson study teams, our teachers have deepened their content and pedagogical knowledge, increased their leadership capacity, created a shared vision for teaching and learning, and developed a school culture of improvement. In true lesson study fashion, we would like to share our learning from the year. This is the first of a series of blog posts that will share the process and resources our teams used to engage in a research lesson inquiry cycle. We’ll include concrete examples, tips, and things we wish we knew when we started out.


We invite you to join us!


Next week: Laying the Groundwork for Lesson Study


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 sclresearchcollab.org







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