Sunday 11 October 2015

Lesson Study - The New Brain Gym?

If you are interested in teaching and learning, teacher professional development or school improvement, this post is for you.  Unfortunately, education is a 'fashion-led' profession and we are seeing  'fashion' now raise its head in the form of the widespread adoption of lesson study.  Lesson study is now being widely used as a mechanism to support the development teachers as inquirers.  Yet, the EEF's current view is There is some evidence that Lesson Study could have a positive impact in English schools, but not yet enough to justify scaling it up.  With this view position being  supported by Dylan Wiliam at the 2015 Sunday Times Festival of Education.

With that in mind, there appears to be little evidence of lesson study being critiqued or challenged as a way of supporting a teacher's learning before lesson study is implemented within an individual school.  Furthermore, in the reports published by schools who have used lesson study, there would appear to be little public reflection on either the lesson study process or examples of lesson study not meeting the needs of teacher development.  That does not mean that such reflection has not happened, it just does not appear to be in the public domain.

So what are we to do?   Given this lack of evidence, it would be sensible to look at alternative ways of supporting teachers develop their practice.  One approach is School Based Instructional Rounds (SBIR), which I will now examine in more detail.

Instructional Rounds (IR) :The background

Initially designed and developed by the Harvard Graduate School of Educations to be used within a network of schools, Instructional Rounds (IR) was inspired by the approach adopted by the medical rounds that doctors use as part of their training.   Although there are several versions of medical rounds, the essential elements involve doctors - be it trainees, interns, house officers, residents or consultants - observing and discussing the elements of a patient's diagnosis after a thorough review of the evidence and consideration of the various forms of intervention/treatment.    As Elmore et al (2009) state : The rounds model embodies a specific set of  ideas about how practitioners work together to solve common problems and to improve their practice.  In the education context, we call this practice instructional rounds, or rounds for short 

School Based Instructional Rounds : How does it work?

Although initially designed to work across a network of schools, the IR model has subsequently been developed to work at the level of individual schools.  So how does it work?

1. The school identifies a 'problem of practice' on which observers will focus during the classroom observation.
2. After a brief orientation, observers divide into groups to observer in three or four classrooms, spending about 20 minutes in each.
3. During the observations, observers write down specific non judgemental and non evaluative notes about what teachers and pupils are saying and doing in relation to the problem of practice.
4.  Following the observations, observers and participant teachers then analyse the data looking for patterns, and suggestions for improvements in practice or school systems (Adapted from Teitel, 2014)

What are the advantages of School Based Instructional Rounds?

SBIR have a number of potential advantages over network based IR, which Teitel identifies as follows:
  • In-house teacher observers are likely to understand their context better than guest observers, which reduces the time necessary for briefings.
  • In-house teacher observers have a more intimate knowledge of both pupils and what is being taught.  This is likely to give the observers a better handle on what is being learnt by pupils
  • Given the more detailed nature of the observation and with it being conducted by colleagues, it is likely to lead to a speedier take up of actions required for improvement
  • Follow-up - there is an embedded aspect of SBIR which makes it more likely that the outcomes of discussions will be followed-up and discussed.  As such, SBIR are far less likely to be seen as standalone events, with no follow-up.

Possible pitfalls 

Teitel goes onto identify two possile pitfalls of SBIR, and these include: one, teachers who know each other well staying in the 'land of nice;' two, teachers may not be able to notice what's happening as certain things are taken for granted.

School Based Instructional Rounds and School Improvement

Teitel identifies 5 key design questions which schools may want to consider, if they are going to incorporate SBIR into their school improvement work.
  • Why develop SBIR?
  • Who should be involved at the school, and why?
  • What school-based meddles makes the most senses, and how will it work logistically?
  • How will SBIR be integrated into existing improvement structures?
  • How can educators take advantages of the benefits of SBIR and minimise the downsides.? (Teitel, 2014)

Some final words

Lesson study may have been adopted in your school after an extensive evidence-led evaluative process and works and that's great.  Lesson study may not have worked in your school and setting, and that's a shame for both colleagues and pupils.  Lesson study still requires further study to judge it whether it should be scaled-up.  With that lack of evidence in mind, SBIR offers an alternative to lesson study, which may or may not be right for you school, and that's a decision which is up to you.

Next week, I will be looking at another alternative to lesson study - Strategic Inquiry.


Elmore, R. F., Teitel, L., Fiarman, S. E., Lachman, A., & City, E. A. (2009). Instructional Rounds in Education: A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Publishing Group

Teitel, L. (2013)  School-Based Instructional Rounds: Improving Teaching and Learning Across Classrooms, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Publishing Group

Teitel, L. (2014) School-Based Instructional Rounds : Tackling problems of practice with teachers ; Harvard Education Letter, Vol 30 (1)


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