Small Teams with Big Impact: Engaging in Lesson Study

Brian Harrison

The grade 6 students settle down as the lesson begins. A few scan the room, intrigued by the novel presence of three teachers and one administrator,  clipboards  in their hands. I begin the lesson; the topic is note taking and summarizing from informational text.

Why was I here? I don’t normally teach grade 6; I teach a grade 7/8 class, along with intermediate history, on rotary. Although I often try to get over to Kim Arbour’s grade 6 classroom to chat, to visit, to see what she and her students are up to, there never seems to be enough time. We squeeze in a few minutes for professional conversations on the fly, waiting by the photocopier, scrambling up the stairs as the bell rings, or perched upon the edges of our students’ desks for an end-of-the-day laugh – or on some days, a rant.

We teachers lead busy lives, often focused on the  urgent. We try  to steer our  conversations toward the important and long-lasting ideas that drew us to teaching in the first place, but the time always seems to fly away. When and how will we be able to have the professional conversations we want and need to have, we wonder. How do we fit our professional interests and concerns into the rush of our school days?

This year, as part of a project funded by our district school board, groups of teachers across our  region have been participating in  school-based action research designed to facilitate professional conversations to help improve teacher understanding and skill in teaching literacy. At our school, Jersey Public School in Keswick, we have decided to  incorporate lesson study into our project, and our focus is on deepening our understanding of  the role student engagement plays in the quality of their writing.

Lesson study is a process that originated in Japan.  It  involves  the  collaborative  planning, teaching, observing and  revising of  a specific lesson by a team of teachers. It is designed to bring teachers together to observe, first-hand, the impact that a lesson is having on students as the lesson is being taught. The lesson topic is usually drawn from a concern or issue that teachers on the team have identified as important. The team plans the lesson, then one of the members volunteers to teach it while the others watch and record their observations of the students.


Two elementary students laughing while reading a book

In 2011, the advocacy group People for Education published a startling report called Reading for Joy. The study, which is downloadable at peopleforeducation.ca, revealed that there has been a dramatic decline in students who report that they like to read.

fisheye photo of etfo members sitting around a round table at the annual meeting

Over the winter holidays I discovered The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha, who decided that there was so much bad news in the world