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How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching



How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching

contributed by Vicki Collet

Making teaching a shared and public practice supports improved instruction.

When teachers have opportunities for collaboration, reflection, and inquiry, they “can find better ways to answer the learning needs of students” (Lieberman & Wood, 2002, p. 42). Teacher inquiry makes us question practices that have become stale, generate innovation, and create dynamic learning for ourselves and our students.

Over the past decade, I’ve participated in teacher inquiry using a process called Lesson Study. I’ve seen scores of teachers engage with authentic professional learning through this work. Lesson Study is a structure for teacher inquiry that is as straightforward as it sounds: the study of a lesson. However, Catherine Lewis, who learned about Lesson Study in Japan and has been instrumental in spreading its use in the United States, points out that during Lesson Study,

(Teachers) improve the lessons not as an end in
itself, but as a way to deepen their own content knowledge, their knowledge of
student thinking, their understanding of teaching and learning, and their
commitment to improvement of their own practice and that of colleagues…Lesson
study is not about discovering the one right way to teach a lesson, but about
building knowledge of many teaching strategies and habits of observation,
inquiry, and analysis of practice (Lewis & Hurd, 2011, p. 24).

When participating in Lesson Study, you will collaboratively plan lessons that become the focus of inquiry on effective teaching practices. Then you’ll observe one another teach lessons and collaboratively revise and refine your instructional plans, as shown in the figure below.

How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching

Inquiry is the essential element of Lesson Study, so the clear focus you identify for a Lesson Study cycle should propel your desire to investigate, to analyze and study together. Pursuing the questions your group has identified provides challenge and authentic purpose, which will increase your team’s motivation and engagement. Because you have identified the problem for yourself, the process will have immediate value. 

The goal of Lesson Study is not to create the ideal lesson that is universally useful. During teacher preparation and professional development, you have doubtless been taught and encouraged to use ‘best practices.’ Although it is true that some practices are more effective than others (and research has much to teach us), it is also true that there is no single, perfect lesson. This is true because you and I, and the students we teach, are diverse in so many ways. Lesson Study focuses on “the why of teaching: why teaching methods work in particular ways in particular settings” (Smagorinsky, as cited in Garcia & O’Donnell-Allen, 2015, p. 5). 

Grow your school with TeachThought PD Collaborative Lesson Study Workshops.

In our quest for better ways of doing things, Lesson Study can help us identify places where we are frozen in old practices and can help us warm to new ones. Lesson Study uncovers new approaches that are informed by the examination of evidence gained through our professional inquiry. Collaboration with colleagues who share similar contexts and concerns makes the insights gained especially helpful. By being the guides to our own professional learning, teachers resist stagnation and become mobile, active agents of change. With our colleagues, we take a learning stance by asking questions, taking risks, and reflecting on both successes and failures.

Study uses knowledge you gain from your own classroom to stimulate professional
conversations about teaching and learning. Shared experiences through joint
planning and observation support the conversation, helping you develop your own
understanding and share it with others.


If you are eager to investigate and improve instruction and increase your understanding about teaching, I invite you to learn more about Lesson Study. Lesson Study creates continuous learning cycles that put teachers in the driver’s seat of their own professional development.


Book: Collaborative Lesson Study: ReVisioning Teacher Professional


Request to join Collaborative Lesson Study Book Club on Facebook est (next book study begins January 13, 2020)

Vicki’s blog:

Vicki on Facebook:

Vicki on Twitter: @vscollet


A., & O’Donnell-Allen, C. (2015). Pose, wobble, flow: A culturally
proactive approach to literacy instruction. Teachers College Press.

C. & Hurd, J. (2011). Lesson study step by step: How teacher learning
communities improve instruction. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

A., & Wood, D. R. (2002). From network learning to classroom
teaching. Journal of Educational Change, 3, 315-337.

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The Selflessness Of Pedagogy: What Every Teacher Gives




The Selflessness Of Pedagogy: What Every Teacher Gives

by Terry Heick

It’s better to give than to receive–something that holds true for gift-giving and education.

In fact, the act of giving isn’t just a matter of ultimately receiving more, or even an act of altruism and selflessness. It has more to do with seeing the big picture itself — a healthy, robust, functioning system of careful human performance — that becomes the goal. It’s in this simple paradigm shift that we, as teachers, can find a new level of performance as professionals, contentment in our craft, and changed lives in the communities we serve.

So how might we focus on that service not as a characteristic of my job, but as the goal itself–the most macro product of all? For teachers, this would obviously be built around the idea of service-oriented teaching, where we gain strength and perspective from serving others. It would lead to ‘other growth,’ including, on a broader level, the formation of a personal and professional ecology than can sustain us through the challenges of teaching.

What would this look like?

Other teachers who need us, and who we need

Parents who need us, and who we need

Students who need us for something other than clarifying instructions, providing credit, and letter grades

The community of our school, including grade levels above and below ours, that needs us for our performance, collaboration, and ideas, just as we need that community.

In a word, this looks like interdependence. So what can I give to begin?

They give themselves.

Teaching is martyrdom. So often, educators feel the need to give themselves up to be feasted upon until there’s nothing left. Giving yourself is a different kind of gift, though. Here, it means truly putting your self aside — your need to be the best, your insecurities, professional goals, need for affirmation, and so on — and instead give in to the act of teaching.

But more crucially, this giving of yourself implies that you give your whole self to the act of teaching — your creativity, affection, background knowledge, contacts, networks, dreams, hopes, and so on — in the whole merging of you and your work.

They give others the benefit of the doubt.

As a teacher, you’ll see a lot moving upstream and down — struggling readers that always seem to come from that school; that family that doesn’t seem to care; that co-worker who seems to challenge you at every chance; that administrator who always seems to find a way to poke holes in your teaching. That assessment. That law. That policy.

Never, ever stop questioning the things happening around you. Be a critical educator, ask tough questions, and ring the bell when you’re concerned. Just do so from a position of positivity — give others the benefit of the doubt. Use positive presuppositions, such as: “We’ve always been strong supporters of literacy here, so I’m confused why. . . ”




They give themselves the opportunity to learn new things continuously.

Okay, perspective change to first-person: I’m going to give myself the gift of learning. As a teacher, it makes sense to learn endlessly, not just to model it for students, but to keep my own curiosity and tendency for play stirring and alive.

I may learn a new set of literacy strategies. Maybe it’ll be a variation on the Socratic Seminar, or I’ll mash Fish Bowls with Agree/Disagree. I may bring new education technology into my classroom, or reach for new learning models such as project-based learning, sync teaching, or self-directed learning. I may throw out my desk and go paperless, mobile, or completely back to basics.

But I’m never going to stop learning. That is my gift to myself.

They give students a chance.

Maybe that’s a chance to surprise themselves. I want to give the gift of inspiration. Who doesn’t? And what better way can we inspire than by designing learning experiences that let students do things they didn’t think they were capable of? My gift would be giving students opportunities to surprise themselves through their own skills, critical thinking, creativity, and deep understanding of important ideas.

They give parents authentic opportunity to get involved.

It’s tempting to complain about parents that aren’t involved in their child’s schooling. Who on earth wants to be involved in schooling? Learning is a different matter — that’s something with a foothold allowing parents to engage meaningfully. This isn’t grades and homework, but rather understanding and the need to understand.

You may or may not get anything more from parents, but at least you’ve given them more tempting access than they’ve ever had in the past.

They give others chances to create new measures of success.

Teaching — properly done and measured as we do today — is impossible. It can’t be done. You cannot bring every single child to proficiency in every single standard while, at the same time, meeting their needs as human beings and helping them both see and reach their full potential. If this is your goal, you’re only going to disappoint yourself endlessly until you either burn out or realize that you’re lying to yourself.

Teaching, though, with new metrics of success — well, that’s suddenly a whole lot easier.

They give themselves a break.

The preceding represents a lot of giving, and also a lot of complexity, interdependence, opportunity, work, and chances to fail. So above all, I’m going to give myself a break.

I will give all of myself. I will give the benefit of the doubt. I’ll learn new things, promote self-discovery, connect with communities, and establish new measures of success. And when things go wrong, I’ll have a short memory. I’ll give myself a break and push on, excited about what tomorrow might bring.

Image attribution flickr user denisekrebs and cloudboard; What Every Good Teacher Gives
pay for an essay to be written

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18 Inconvenient Truths About Assessment Of Learning



18 Inconvenient Truths About Assessment Of Learning

by Terry Heick

I. In terms of pedagogy, the primary purpose of an assessment is to provide data to revise planned instruction. It should provide an obvious answer to the question, “So? So what? What now?

II. It’s an extraordinary amount of work to design precise and personalized assessments that illuminate pathways forward for individual students–likely too much for one teacher to do so consistently for every student. This requires rethinking of learning models, or encourages corner-cutting. (Or worse, teacher burnout.)

III. Literacy (reading and writing ability) can obscure content knowledge. Further, language development, lexical knowledge (VL), and listening ability are all related to mathematical and reading ability (Flanagan 2006). This can mean that it’s often easier to assess something other than an academic standard than it is knowledge of the standard itself. It may not tell you what you want it to, but it’s telling you something.

IV. Student self-assessment is tricky but a key matter of understanding. According to Ross & Rolheiser, “Students who are taught self-evaluation skills are more likely to persist on difficult tasks, be more confident about their ability, and take greater responsibility for their work.” (Ross & Rolheiser 2001)

V. Assessments of learning can sometimes obscure more than they reveal. If the assessment is precisely aligned to a given standard, and that standard isn’t properly understood by both the teacher and assessment designer, and there isn’t a common language between students, teacher, assessment designer, and curriculum developers about content and its implications, there is significant “noise” in data that can mislead those wishing to use the data, and disrupt any effort towards data-based instruction.

VI. Teachers often see understanding or achievement or career and college-readiness; students often see grades and performance (e.g., a lack or abundance of failure) (Atkinson 1964).

VII. Self-evaluation and self-grading are different. ‘Self-evaluation’ does not mean that the students determine the grades for their assignments and courses instead of the teacher. Here, self-evaluation refers to the understanding and application of explicit criteria to one’s own work and behavior for the purpose of judging if one has met specified goals (Andrade 2006).

VIII. If the assessment is not married to curriculum and learning models, it’s just another assignment. That is, if the data gleaned from the assessment isn’t used immediately to substantively revise planned instruction, it’s at best practice, and at worst, extra work for the teacher and student. If assessment, curriculum, and learning models don’t ‘talk’ to one another, there is slack in the chain.

IX. As with rigor, ‘high’ is a relative term. High expectations–if personalized and attainable–can promote persistence in students (Brophy 2004). Overly simple assessments to boost ‘confidence’ are temporary. The psychology of assessment is as critical as the pedagogy and content implications.


X. Designing assessment that has diverse measures of success that ‘speak’ to the student is critical to meaningful assessment. Students are often motivated to avoid failure rather than achieve success (Atkinson 1964).

XI. In a perfect world, we’d ask not “How you do on the test,” but “How’d the test do on you?” That is, we’d ask how accurately the test illuminated exactly what we do and don’t understand rather than smile or frown at our ‘performance.’ Put another way, it can be argued that an equally important function of an assessment is to identify what a student does understand. If it doesn’t, the test failed, not the student.

XII. The classroom isn’t ‘the real world.’ It’s easy to say invoke ‘the real world’ when discussing grading and assessments (e.g., “If a law school student doesn’t study for the Bar and fail, they don’t get to become lawyers. The same applied to you in this classroom, as I am preparing you for the real world.”) Children (in part) practicing to become adults is different than the high-stakes game of actually being an adult. The classroom should be a place where students come to understand the ‘real world’ without feeling its sting.

When students fail at school, the lesson they learn may not be what we hope.

XIII. Most teachers worth their salt can already guess the range of student performance they can expect before they even give the assessment. Therefore, it makes sense to design curriculum and instruction to adjust to student performance on-the-fly without Herculean effort by the teacher. If you don’t have a plan for the assessment data before you give the assessment, you’re already behind.

XIV. Every assessment is flawed. (Nothing is perfect.) That means that the more frequent, student-centered, and ‘non-threatening’ the assessment is (here are some examples of non-threatening assessments) the better. It’s tempting to overvalue each assessment as some kind of measuring stick of human potential. At best, it’s an imperfect snapshot–and that’s okay. We just need to make sure teachers and students and parents are all aware and respond to results accordingly.

XV. As a teacher, it’s tempting to take assessment results personal; it’s not. The less personal you take the assessment, the more analytical you’ll allow yourself to be.

XVI. Confirmation bias within assessment is easy to fall for–looking for data to support what you already suspect. Force yourself to see it the other way. Consider what the data says about what you’re teaching and how students are learning rather than looking too broadly (e.g., saying ‘they’ are ‘doing well’) or looking for data to support ideas you already have.

XVII. Assessment doesn’t have to mean ‘test.’ All student work has a world of ‘data’ to offer. How much you gain depends on what you’re looking for. (Admittedly, this truth isn’t really inconvenient at all.)

XVIII. Technology can help make data collection simpler and more effective but that’s not automatically true. In fact, if not used properly, technology can even make things worse by providing too much data about the wrong things (making it almost unusable to teachers).

The Inconvenient Truth About Assessment

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5 Out-Of-The Box Assessment Strategies Every Teacher Should Know



Assessment Strategies

5 Out-Of-The Box Assessment Strategies Every Teacher Should Know

by Judy Willis M.D., M.Ed., & Terry Heick

Most teachers and current textbooks offer varied approaches to the material to be learned so the teaching can be brain-compatible with the varied student learning styles.

It is only logical that respect for these individual learning styles be incorporated into assessment forms and out-of-the-box assessment strategies teachers should know and use when appropriate. For example, teachers responsive to interpersonal learning styles find cooperative group work a way to pull in those learners as well to give students with artistic, computer, dramatic, or organizational skills the opportunities to enter the learning experience through their strengths and interests

It follows that assessments should also provide opportunities for each student’s unique learning style to access his or her highest performance success level. A variety of assessment forms and some student choice can bring students to the assessment with less anxiety and increase the positive learning experience as well as providing the opportunity for them to demonstrate what they know (as opposed to what they don’t know).

Examples include:

Option 1: Open-Book & Take-Home Tests

This one is fairly straight-forward–allowing students to use resources to create responses to assessment questions. For obvious reasons, many teachers shy away from open-book tests: The answers are all ‘right there’ in the book and it can seem to teach students to use books instead of their brains.

However, open-book tests can function as a powerful scaffold for more challenging assessment forms, providing a starting point for assessment of standard mastery (i.e., what they can do with the ‘answers’ at their fingertips).

More importantly, it can allow for higher-level assessment. Books and other digital resources at home give them access to lower-level information (stuff they can Google or ask a friend), but not the higher-level thinking that requires them to synthesize disparate facts and perspectives to construct new knowledge.

This is where the shift of assessment of learning to assessment for learning can begin.

Option 2: Student-Made Tests

These are assessments that they prepare and the teacher can alter so the answers are not just memorized. For example, in history after studying the different agricultural products in the northern and southern colonies, the self-test questions a student writes might be:

  • What were the crops from the colonies in the north and from the south?
  • How are the climates, land and water supply different in one northern city and one southern city?
  • When the teacher rewrites the question it could prompt more analysis and executive function connections if it is rephrased: “Give an example of how the climate, water supply, and soil influenced the agricultural products in one northern and one southern city during the Colonial Era.” In this example the teacher knows that the student has reviewed the facts necessary to make the higher-level connection and analysis and therefore has the tools for successful higher-level thinking.

How My Students Create And Study For Their Own Exams

This is the process I use for student-created math final exams in my classroom. Your process may differ depending on grade level, content area, or other local concerns.

  1. I give the structure for the tests students are required to create such as, “Include 15 calculations and 5 word problems with 2 from each of the 10 subsections of the chapter”
  2. I make a copy of each test and change the numbers, but not the structure of the equations. They knew I would do this and that the numbers will be different than the ones they used
  3. Students are assigned homework to make practice tests on their own, using the template of the test they created and changing the numbers themselves
  4. In class, for further review, students exchange their practice tests with partners for study and to the confirm accuracy of their answers (as I don’t have an answer key to all of their self-created tests)

Option 3: Project-Based Learning!

Projects (pre-approved by the teacher) that demonstrate comprehension or mastery of the material covered in the unit can be ideal assessments.

They can become the packaging that connects the newly learned patterns of knowledge to related, previously stored knowledge. To see if the project assessment achieves this end, consider the questions:

  • Does this assessment examine understanding and not just rote memory?
  • Is the student called upon to think during the creation of the project?

These projects can include skits, posters, oral presentations, debates, papers, or demonstrations that assess understanding apart from rote knowledge. For some units the projects can be done in pairs or groups, as long as there is a means of assessing each individual student’s participation in the final product. This could be through verbal interviews with students individually after the completion or presentation of the project.


A project example for a unit of study of modern Europe would have students select a country and simulate travel to that country including finding out how to get passports and visas, what the passport oath is, what clothing to bring, what hotels are near the important historic or cultural places they plan to visit, the money exchange rate, a budget, location of cities to visit along their travel route through their country, useful phrases to know in that language, cultural behaviors appropriate to that country, items they might expect to find on menus.

They might also create a menu, a travelogue, cook a meal, or prepare a ‘scrapbook’ with pictures from the Internet and descriptions of their responses to ‘visits’ they made to these places.

If standardized testing is of critical importance, each unit can include a test using the form they will experience during state testing. However, letting them know that their grade will be calculated weighting equal or even greater percentage on the more authentic assessment will reduce test anxiety and show them that higher level thinking and reasoning is valued more than rote memory in the big picture, but that they must be prepared to be successful on all types of assessments.

Option 4: Written Response–Or Rather, The Pre-Writing

I almost didn’t include this one because it’s one teachers have used for eons–the short answer, the open-response, the essay, etc. These forms can also be guilty of assessing the students literacy skills and use of the writing process as much as they do mastery of standards.

But the writing process imposes a cognitive load on students few other assessment strategies and forms are able. It requires students to grasp a purpose and an audience, pre-write their ideas, craft a compelling argument that demonstrates a position, and then revise their writing for power and clarity.

That’s a lot of steps for growing thinkers who can often get lost in the steps between the prompt and handing it in.

So for struggling writers–or even the ‘distinguished’ ones–grade the pre-writing. Accept concept-maps, diagrams, charts, and other forms of pre-writing as at least preliminary evidence of understanding. This part can even be done on an exit slip on the way out of class, and returned the new day with a green light (go for it), yellow light (with this change, you can proceed), or red light (we need to talk) feedback systems.

Option 5: Student-Created Questions As Assessment

The kinds of questions students ask about a topic, standard, or idea can be more illuminating than a dozen traditional multiple-choice questions (and that’s the point of assessment strategies –to provide data to revise planned instruction, yes?)

So, take a topic-government for example. Which questions imply understanding, and which do not?

What is government? (Nope.)

What kind of government do we have? (Buzz. Try again.)

Why do we need government? (better, but need more here.)

What are the strengths and weaknesses of various forms of government? (Now we’re talking.)

Historically, what government forms are the most enduring, and why? (A good one too.)

Given current cultural trends, what kind of governments might be expect to see 200 hundred years from now. (Eureka! Understanding!)

5 Out-Of-The Box Assessment Strategies Every Teacher Should Know; image attribution flickr user vancouverfilmschool

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