TSA Lesson Study

Toledo School for the Arts
2020-21 Lesson Study Professional Development
Letha Ferguson, Principal

Toledo School for the Arts’ teachers began a new kind of professional development this past school year called Lesson Study. Teams with four or five teachers from different subject areas spend weeks researching and developing a single lesson to solve a challenging learning outcome. This collaborative approach to lesson development has been around internationally for decades. Dr. Gabriel Matney, Professor of Mathematics Education at BGSU, has dedicated much of his research into Lesson Study as a form of instructional improvement in education, and hopes to expand the practice throughout the Northwest Ohio region.

Why spend weeks on one lesson? The primary goal of Lesson Study is not the lesson itself, but the method of engaging educators in the research and collaboration process. The process excites the teachers to find new ways to engage students in learning complex concepts through a variety of instructional practices. The process also prepares teachers to be better evaluators of their lessons and the student outcomes the lessons are intended to achieve.  

TSA’s first Lesson Study Team, comprised of 8th grade English teacher Anna-Marie Adamson, math teachers Katie Gill (7th grade) and Shawn Hayes (7th and 8th grade), and band teacher Jay Welenc, focused on adding and subtracting integers for 7th graders. The team also wanted to help students understand that the productive struggle is just as important in mathematics as in music, dance, or creative writing. Students were given an assignment to design a parking garage with 10 levels below ground and 10 levels above ground. They could find an image off the internet or draw their own model and bring it to class. During the lesson they were given scenarios to discuss in their groups and write number sentences to represent them. This lesson was conducted on Zoom and students were put in breakout rooms for group discussion. The lesson was taught to one class and observed by the team. After the class was dismissed, the team discussed ways to improve the lesson to get closer to the desired outcomes for students. Then the lesson was taught again to a different class modified to include the suggested improvements. The team discussed again and taught a third time. The team reflected on the process and what the process taught them personally as well as what it taught them about their instructional practices.

“I observed outstanding peer educators who had a real connection to their students, especially in a virtual setting,” Adamson stated after the process concluded. “I experienced time to improve, something I will take forward since I teach the same lesson multiple times.” Hayes reflected on the difference in Lesson Study observations and observations conducted by supervisors for evaluation purposes. Often evaluations put teachers in a box separate from student outcomes. She wrote, “The lesson study process is a way of breaking down those walls but also, in what feels like the first time, the focus has switched to the student. Are they getting it? Is this working? What can we do differently?”

This team joined forces during the second semester and designed a lesson they were able to teach in person once TSA returned after months of virtual only instruction. The teachers, joined this time by Assistant Principal David Johnson, decided to focus on students learning to site evidence in the text to support their conclusions. They did this by setting up a murder mystery with clues and evidence the students had to study in order to solve the crime. When it came time for student groups to explain who they thought had committed the crime, they had to state what evidence lead them to their conclusions. The students were really engaged in solving the mystery. Bought what did the teachers learn about their instructional practices through the month-long process? “Watching students engage in an activity that they really cared about makes me want to improve content so that the materials I choose to teach standards is material that interests the students,” wrote Adamson in her post Lesson Study reflection. “I see that it actually matters.  I love collaborative activities, but observing such a strong amount of student ‘buy-in’ was really gratifying.”

During the second semester another team of teachers learned the Lesson Study process. Ryan Randolph (7th grade Science and Social Studies), Lydia Horvath (Visual Arts), Jennifer Fong (6th grade English) and Jen Henderson (10th grade English) all had a positive experience. They chose to develop a lesson that taught students how to reflect on their own learning and how well they had managed their assigned task. This lesson could be taught in any grade and any subject because it was about the skill of self-reflection. “The major thing for me was just the process,” Randolph wrote after the month-long Lesson Study was complete. “So often, we get caught up in the specific role of the teacher and their personality, their teaching style, or their classroom management.  I’m not attempting to discount or even minimize the impact of those factors on good teaching, but what this process helps to focus on is the actual content, techniques, and student outcomes of the lesson itself.  The fact that we could discuss, as a group, aspects of a lesson that we could implement regardless of content areas, was pretty invigorating.  In a school that truly loves to see collaboration not only among students, but teachers as well, this is a process that could enthusiastically be implemented on a larger scale within our entire school.”

The Lesson Study professional development is supported through a federally funded grant to Bowling Green State University’s College of Education. The grant is to develop partnerships between K-12 schools and colleges of education. BGSU formed Project IMPACT (Improving Motivation, Pedagogy, Assessment and Collaboration for Teachers) with the grant funding. Lesson Study is one professional development offering through Project IMPACT. “We will continue to spread this opportunity to all our faculty, as we see it as transformational in improving student outcomes,” said Letha Ferguson, Principal and Advisory Board member for Project IMPACT.

TSA Lesson Study