Lesson Study:  What is it?

The 2004-2005 school year marked the beginning of a new era in professional development in the Petal School District.  The daily class schedule was adjusted to accommodate an additional period called Lesson Study for members of the high school science department.  The Lesson Study period allowed the entire science faculty to meet as a collaborative team each day to participate collaborately in developing quality lessons.
A growing body of research supports collaborative professional development among teachers.  Traditionally, teachers in the United States plan instruction in isolation with little or no opportunity for collaboration with their colleagues.  It is the norm for a teacher to exit the profession with years of invaluable - yet unshared - experience and expertise shaped by teaching thousands of lessons to hundreds of students.  In Japan, professional collaboration has long been a routine part of a teacher"s work week.  Known in Japan as Lesson Study, it is a time-intensive activity practiced by both novice and experienced educators and is the means by which lessons are continually improved and student achievement is increased.  Lesson study may include a variety of activities related to strengthening instruction such as examination of curriculum and concepts, development of assessments, peer-critiques of instructional practicies, and collaborative unit construction.
Using the Japanese model for Lesson Study, the Petal High School science department conducted research related to instruction, assessment, and student learning; redesigned curriculums for biology and physical science courses; developed, administered, and analyzed common assessments; shared individual instructional strengths; and collaborated with colleagues on instructional planning, teaching strategies, and classroom management.  These accomplishments resulted from the realization that great strides can be made when teachers work together and that professional interaction is not about territory, ego, or hiding weaknesses.  It"s about sharing insights, expertise, and encouragement so that individuals may become better teachers.
Lucretia Carpenter, department chairperson for the Petal High School science department, summed up the department"s feelings about their first year with Lesson Study when she said, "At first, some of my colleagues and I were excited about the opportunity to have time each day devoted to collaboration.  The excitement waned within the first few weeks.  Years of professional isolation had left some of us indifferent, inflexible, intolerant, and intimidated.  Differences of opinion resulted in heated discussions, angry tears, and frequent trips to the principal"s office.  Some group members strongly resisted this change in professional development.  It took an entire semester for us to Begin to work together as a team.  However, after working through the initial pain often times involved in change, we have become more focused, and the team time has given us more opportuntities to grow professionally than we have ever had."
Thanks to the ground breaking work of the high school science department, Lesson Study has been embraced by the Petal School District.  The program has been expanded to include science, social studies, math, and language arts at the high school; daily collaborative team time at the middle school; and grade level professional learning communities at the elementary schools.