Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Six Take-Aways from Lesson Study

The research team. I'm taking the picture
but you can see my laptop, back right.

Ninth grade English teachers are participating in Lesson Study again this school year. The Developmental Studies Center (DSC) contracted with Orange County to facilitate lesson study for the district. This is my second year participating. If you're not familiar with lesson study, let me sum it up.
During lesson study, a team of teachers meets for 2 days. In those 2 days, we plan, deliver, collect data and reflect on a research lesson we design and teach. On the first day we review and adapt a lesson plan. Currently we are using a lesson created by DSC

The point of the process is not the lesson, not having the perfect lesson. The point is collaborating and seeing how the instruction actual works in terms of student learning. The point is the messiness of working together to figure out if students are actually learning and doing what we intend. The first day is all about building consensus. As a teaching team we have to agree to each part of the lesson, down to what the teacher will say. 

We don’t know who will teach the lesson nor to whom (which students) until the end of the first day when names are drawn from a hat. Why draw names? The teacher is chosen last in order to keep everyone on the team invested in the process. 

On the second day, we meet for an hour to discuss data collection points. The facilitator reviews each step of the lesson and asks the team what data we would expect to collect if the student understood the concept or did not understand the concept. We review the data collection instruments, arm ourselves with pens and paper and set off to the research classroom. Then the chosen teacher teaches the lesson  while the research team collects data on the students during the lesson. Today we also had visitors at school observing the process. After the lesson we reconvene to review the data in order to see if the lesson met the academic and social goals we set for it. Part of data processing is transferring the data collected onto sticky notes which we then post in yes/no columns on charts showing the goals of the lesson.  We collected data on two goals, one academic (identifying pros and cons) and one social (effective oral communication). We wrap up our debrief by reflecting on what we learned about the qualities of a good lesson and what we learned about the lesson study process.
We do 3 cycles of lesson study per school year (so that’s 6 days of teachers learning together). We are in cycle 2. This time around, I was chosen to be the research teacher. Fourteen educators visited our school to observe the process; we had 3 facilitators (district and DSC personnel) and 6 research teachers. It’s a crowded room. I taught a 10th grade class of 25 students who were sitting in small groups of 4-5. 

How did the research lesson go?

In a word, fine. It went fine.  The students seemed to be doing what we asked them to do from my perspective. We planned too much to complete on a short Wednesday bell schedule, even if the initial computer set up had not eaten 5 minutes we would have run short on time. Computer problems at the start aside,  I felt as if I recovered well and was still able to do the lesson as planned. I just felt awkward with my back to the class as I recorded student’s observations on the white board. I don’t like to present a lesson that way, but that’s the difference between being in the teacher’s environment and being the students’ environment. When we teach a research lesson the research teacher goes to the students’ class—the research teacher does not teach his or her own students.

Had that been my classroom, I would have just slid the paper copy of the organizer under the document camera and proceeded that way. I was in unfamiliar territory, but it's not about me, right? It's about the learning. So, what did I learn? There were many light bulb moments. One, concerned student talk. I was surprised at  how even though I felt as if I was talking/reading too much, I talked 20 min. and the students talked 19, but that reflection came later.  My initial take-aways are below.

Take-away  #1: Never turn the computer off. My laptop has been ill of late and  booting up sometimes takes 5 minutes. My fault, I know, but jeez do I hate it when the computer crashes.

Take-away  #2:  Get set up ahead of time. Krystin and I should have just dashed out of the pre-meeting early and gotten set up. We can’t run during the 6 minute class change bell and expect to be set up and ready to go at the start of the period. We lost 5 minutes there and that’s preparation, I think.

Take-away  #3: Kids are willing. The students went with the program. Of course, with so many visitors in the room they won’t act up, but it’s still delightful to see kids choose to engage with contact as these kids did.

Take-away # 4: Things are not always what they seem. For me as a teacher, that’s the bang of lesson study’s buck. I get to see and hear what students were actually doing and saying because the research team collects the data.

There is a big difference between what we think we’re teaching and what students are actually learning. It’s difficult for a teacher to see just exactly what the students are willingly doing. For instance, during this lesson students were discussing the pros and cons of genetically modified foods. We read “Techno Foods” and students would turn and talk, then highlight pros and cons, then turn and share the pros and cons with their partners before sharing out to the group. As I circulated listening for on-task student talk, I came across a quiet group. Not knowing if they’d already talked about the article, I paused and asked: “Did you talk to each other?” The students responded, “yes.” It wasn’t until we got back to the debriefing room that I actually saw what the students had said. One of the research teachers captured their conversation:

Boy 2: “What we said before.”
Girl 1: “I know.”
Girl 2: “This is difficult.”
Girl 1: “Can we write it down?”
The group laughs.
Girl 2 to Boy 2: “Want to sharpen my pencil for me?”
Teacher: Did you all talk to each other?
Girl 1: “Yep!”

image from Shutter Stock
Take-away #5: Visual support matters. Kids need something to look at, something with directions on it or engaging pictures. Though students were able to follow my directions, and what I wrote on the white-board,  I missed the visual support my computer offers. We had this great image to kick off our discussion of genetically modified foods (see the orange in the apple skin), but instead I did a guided visualization to get kids to picture it themselves. Still, I couldn't resist later showing them the picture on the laptop once it had recovered. 

Take-away  #6: Always bring back-up. I had shut my laptop down before we left the room, but I guess I closed the computer before Windows finished that process. My laptop doesn’t like it when I do that. Fortunately, I had my Beth back-up (a colleague on the study team). Unfortunately, I had not emailed her or the team the power point I'd created with the directions. Fortunately, I knew the lesson and had a clean white board at my disposal. Unfortunately, using just the white board for the organizer meant I had my back to the class and couldn’t use the great apple/orange picture we planned to us.

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