Lesson Study 101

Lesson Study is a professional learning cycle where 2 or more teachers identify a challenge to learning, research possible solutions, plan a lesson together using this knowledge, observe the lesson and reflect upon their findings. This cycle is then repeated until all members of the group have delivered a collaboratively planned lesson and their finding are often delivered to colleagues or others to share their learning.

Dudley (2010) identifies the process originating in Japan in 1872 and due to this it is a significant proportion of the researched written by practitioners in Japan. He identifies this as a “highly effective form of collaborative, classroom-located teacher learning which focuses upon improving and innovating practice knowledge.”


1) Identify an aspect of teaching to improve.

2) Research approaches to improving this aspect.

3) Plan a lesson collaboratively.

4) Lesson is taught and observed.

5) Target students interviewed.

6) Group meets to discuss findings.

7) Cycle restarts.

8) Next steps; presenting findings and forming new groups.

Identify an aspect of teaching to improve

This is a crucial aspect of the process, without determining the focus for improvement this would become a generic lesson observation; Lesson Study is about targeted teacher research making a difference, not measuring a teacher by their performance in a one off lesson. Dudley (2014) recommends looking at the needs of individual students (or groups of students), teaching strategies, the content or curriculum strand to be developed. These give a sound basis to form an area of focus for a Lesson Study project.

From a practical point of view, you may know which areas your students perform less well in due to test or examination results. If you’ve got specific teaching and learning targets for your performance management this could be a personal focus for your project or you could look at whole school priorities to identify a target group. You may wish to choose your target students by sticking performance data for one class in a spreadsheet and filtering those with the lowest progress giving an objective measures for identification.

If you and your colleagues are fortunate enough to teach the same students and either have non-contact periods at appropriate times or your school is supporting your project and willing to cover lessons to allow the observations to happen you could target exactly the same students for each cycle.

Research approaches to improving this aspect

Once you have identified the focus aspect it is important to research possible approaches to improving this. This can be from reading academic research, books and blogs, observing skilled colleagues, discussions with experts or going on an appropriate course. The key is to spend time looking at and reflecting upon what you find rather than rushing in to write a lesson, what you’re really after is a finely crafted lesson based on your research and your identified need. It’s about application of knowledge to your context to see if it works. If you end up with more questions than answers you’ve definitely picked a valuable focus for your enquiry.

Plan a lesson collaboratively

The initial part of the process identifies who we want to learn what and the research gives some ideas about how that might happen. The collaborative lesson planning means that as a group you explore what this learning experience might look like. The aim of the planning is to take joint responsibility for the lesson and give all members of the group ownership; it’s about working together to find ways of making the students learn what you want them to. Each aspect should be discussed thoroughly and critiqued until all members of the group are happy with the result.

This could be explored on a micro-scale by looking at one activity, focusing on starters, plenaries, progress checks, questioning, thinking skills or any other aspect for a targeted short period of time. This can create a lesser time requirement for the planning and observation phases if you wish to focus intently on a short section of learning.

Make sure you’re planning your lesson with your key aspect as your focus, after all “Memory is the residue of thought.” Willingham (2010); indicating that students will remember what they were thinking about. Make sure they’re thinking about what you want them to remember.

Lesson is taught and observed

The lesson is then delivered by the lead teacher for the cycle and observed by the other members of the Lesson Study group. The observers focus should be on the identified students and their learning. Nuthall (2007) identifies the huge significance in student peer dialogue in the learning process either supporting or sabotaging comprehension and learning and this has made observing student dialogue a focus in my classroom practice and when observing others.

If as a group you have difficulty finding time to observe each other there are various video recording packages available such as IRIS or the VEO App which could be used to record lessons for later viewing and discussion. (Please note there are other packages available.) Personally if doing this I would leave the microphone with a table of targeted students to focus on the peer dialogue of students.

A variation on the traditional process could be to have an expert coach watching the live stream from another room providing prompts and support to the teacher delivering. This would require clear ground rules and signals in place but would allow the deliverer to access expert support immediately during the lesson. This could even be a pedagogical strategy which you could explore with your Lesson Study group.

Target students interviewed

Following the lesson the target students should be interviewed regarding the relevant aspects of the lesson. I tend to focus the dialogue around three key questions:-

What did they learn?

How did they learn?

What were their challenges to learning?

The first two allow me to identify what successes there were and what process got them there. The final question allows me to reflect on what to do next, supporting the identification of the focus aspect for the next Lesson Study Cycle.

Group meets to discuss findings

Dudley (2014) identifies the importance of this process being about the learning in the classroom, not the judging of the lesson. It is essential that the dialogue within the group is focused on learning, processes, observations and pedagogical strategies. It is creating this climate which reaps the greatest benefits in Lesson Study Projects. The skill of the group to self-regulate these discussions or of a facilitator leading the group can significantly impact on the professional learning of the participants. So, to reiterate, it’s not about the teacher, it’s about the learning.

Cycle restarts

The intention being that each member of the group delivers a collaboratively planned lesson building each time on the knowledge gained from the Lesson Study cycle. I have referred to this as a Lesson Study project several times throughout this piece as I consider a series of cycles the complete project. Once all members of the group have delivered a lesson it is customary to share findings and, if desired, form new project teams.

Next steps; presenting findings and forming new groups.

Traditionally once a Lesson study Project has been completed the teachers share their findings, often with colleagues but sometimes in journals, blogs and at Teachmeet events. Allison (2014) provides information on these and a selection of other ways in which teachers can share their findings from research projects. If only your group gains knowledge from your project it has value, but if you share that knowledge it has far more.

Once you have completed a Lesson Study Project if you wish to continue with the practice you could begin again with the same group or you could each form new groups, academic splinter cells if you will, where the more experienced member can share their understanding of the process as part of the project.

Things to consider

As with any research project it is essential to consider the type of information you wish to gather, qualitative or quantitative, both? What are you going to gather the information about? Which ways will you gather this data? What questions will you ask? What are the ethical ramifications of your research and methodology? If you’re really committed to the Action Research aspect of teacher led research I strongly recommend Baumfield, Hall, Wall et (2012) as an excellent starting point for practitioner enquiry in education.

Getting Started

All that’s really needed to begin a Lesson Study project is a friend (a colleague will do), access to the materials on the Lesson Study UK website (link here) and a openness to investigate the learning in your classroom in a different way. If you really want to go deeper into the thinking behind it I recommend Dudley (2010), Dudley (2014) and Allison (2014); all of which feature easy to follow summaries of the process.

In an ideal scenario each group would have a skilled facilitator who has been through the process previously as Dudley (2014) identifies the huge importance of the dialogue between teachers in this process and that the quality of that dialogue improves with experience in Lesson Study. Hence the suggestion of founding new groups shared above.

Why Lesson Study?

Most significantly it’s a teacher led approach to improving learning in the classroom, the intrinsic motivation comes from making our own discoveries. It makes us engage with other sources of knowledge when we are planning and preparing our lesson. It encourages us to talk about learning and pedagogy with our colleagues, always a wonderful thing. It provides an opportunity to reflect on our practice in a non-judgemental way with our peers. It sharpens our focus on things we could improve and students we could better support. It opens up dialogue with students about their learning, informative for us, an opportunity for metacognition for them. The only downside I see with the process is the investment in time, this isn’t about quick fixes, it’s about honing our classroom craft.

What if it goes wrong?

In real terms lessons can, and sometimes do, go badly. The purpose of Lesson study is to be a collaborative action research project built around dialogue and micro-research. The consequences of it going wrong are the same as any other lesson, the students don’t learn as much as you’d like and you need a new strategy.

In terms of the group going wrong through conflict and not adhering to roles or expectations, there are two real options, talk through the issue like reasonable adults or realise that your particular group aren’t going to gain from working together. Sometimes it’s good to know when to let something go.


Allison, S (2014) Perfect Teacher Led CPD, ITL Press

Baumfield. V, Hall. E, Wall. K (2012) Action Research in Education: Learning Through Practitioner Enquiry, SAGE

Dudley. P (2010) from: McGrane. J and Lofthouse. R (2010) Developing Outstanding Teaching and Learning: Creating a Culture of Professional Development to Improve Outcomes, Optimus Education

Dudley. P (2014) Lesson Study: Professional learning for our time, Routledge Research in Education

Nuthall. G (2007) The Hidden Lives of Learners, NZCER Press

Whillingham. D (2010) Why don’t students like school?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How The Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom, Jossey Bass

Barry Dunn – @SeahamRE

Featured image created using the Typorama & PhotoFunia Apps.

Update, links to Lesson Study Reports:-

Lesson Study UK

Study Cam
Thanks to @lessonstudyuk for sharing these links.



  1. Pingback: Lesson Study 101 | researchatwix
  2. gwenelope · July 18, 2015

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber and commented:
    Useful step by step guide to Lesson Study, something I hope the land of FE can and should make use of.


  3. pcepolhill · July 19, 2015

    Thanks—Useful summary. But the reference should be to Dan Willingham, not Whittingham.

    Liked by 1 person

    • barrydunn · July 19, 2015

      Thanks:) sleep deprived errors slipping through again.


    • barrydunn · July 19, 2015

      Even worse I attributed it correctly in the text and incorrectly in the references. Stronger coffee is in order.


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