Bill Cerbin, Ph.D. & Bryan Kopp, Ph.D
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

Lesson study is a simple idea. If you want to improve instruction, what could be more obvious than collaborating with fellow teachers to plan, observe, and reflect on lessons? (Lewis 2002)

Lesson study is a form of classroom inquiry in which several teachers collaboratively plan, teach, observe, revise and share the results of a single class lesson. Teachers work through the steps listed below. (To learn more about the process, visit our Lesson Study Guide.)

  1. Form a Team: 3-6 teachers comprise a team.
  2. Develop Student Learning Goals: Team members articulate what they would like students to know and be able to do as a result of the lesson.
  3. Design the Lesson: The team designs a lesson to achieve the learning goals.
  4. Plan the Study: The team decides how to observe and collect evidence of student learning.
  5. Teach and Observe the Lesson: One team member teaches the lesson while others observe and collect evidence of student learning.
  6. Analyze Evidence and Revise the Lesson: The team discusses the results and assesses student progress toward learning goals.
  7. Document and Disseminate Their Work. The team documents the lesson study and shares their work with colleagues.

In a lesson study, teachers carefully explore how student learning, thinking and behavior change as a result of the lesson. The practice of lesson study can lead to instructional improvement as teachers become more knowledgeable about how their students learn and think and how instruction affects student thinking.

What is unique about lesson study?

Lesson Study involves backward design which starts with the clarification of the goal or endpoint of the learning process and then the design of instructional experiences that lead to the goal. During the lesson design phase teachers talk about how students are likely to respond to each element of the lesson.

Teachers try to anticipate how students will interpret the subject matter, what kinds of difficulties they may experience and what kinds of experiences are likely to support their learning. The pervasive concern with student learning throughout lesson study distinguishes it from other types of teaching improvement activities. In lesson study, teachers:

  • base the lesson design on their ideas about how students learn
  • observe student learning when the lesson is taught
  • analyze observations of student learning after the lesson is taught, and
  • use information about student learning to revise the lesson.

There are four main reasons that lesson study is worth the time and effort in higher education.

Teaching Improvement: It is an ideal venue for teaching improvement. In contrast to workshops and seminars that discuss general teaching strategies, lesson study looks directly at one’s classroom. Teachers focus on how their students learn and what kinds of instructional activities support student learning and thinking. By focusing on one lesson, instructors can make learn about students, instruction, goals, and subject matter without undertaking extensive course revision.

Instructional Materials: Lesson study results in a field tested lesson and materials that can be used and adapted by other instructors. The systematic, evidence-based approach makes it possible for teachers to build on one another’s work. By the end of the lesson study process, teams produce knowledge about how students learn from instruction.

Teaching Community: The Lesson Study process helps build communities of practice around teaching. Instructors report that collaborating with their peers is a particularly rewarding experience. Lesson study cultivates mutual understanding of goals, teaching practices and student learning among teachers.

Scholarly Inquiry: Lesson Study is a form of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning—the final products are suitable for professional presentations and publication. Lesson Study integrates teaching and research, theory and practice. Read more about the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

Lee Shulman, former President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, has said that the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) ultimately improves student learning and occurs when “our work as teachers becomes public, peer-reviewed and critiqued, and exchanged with other members of our professional communities so they, in turn, can build on our work. These are the qualities of all scholarship.” Lesson Study is a form of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL).

Brief History of the Lesson Study Project

The Lesson Study Project trains and supports teachers to use lesson study practices to improve teaching and learning in higher education. The project began in 2003 at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where 16 instructors in Biology, Economics, English and Psychology carried out lesson studies in their classes. Since 2003 there have been more than 100 lesson study teams involving well over 400 instructors on campuses throughout the University of Wisconsin System. See examples of completed lesson studies at the Project Showcase.) There are campus-wide lesson study initiatives at the UW Colleges, UW La Crosse, UW Green Bay and UW Stout, and active lesson study teams on many other campuses in the Wisconsin System.

The Lesson Study Project has been supported by the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and the Office of Professional & Instructional development at the University of Wisconsin System.

Further Reading

Chokshi, S. & Fernandez, C. (2004). Challenges to importing Japanese lesson study: Concerns, misconceptions, and Nuances. Phi Delta Kappan, March, 520-525.

Fernandez, C. & Yoshida, M. (2004). Lesson study: A Japanese approach to improving mathematics teaching and learning . Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Fernandez, C., Chokshi, S., Cannon, J., & Yoshida, M. (2001). Learning about lesson study in the United States. In E. Beauchamp (Ed.) New and old voices on Japanese education . Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Fernandez, C., & Chokshi, S. (2002). A practical guide to translating lesson study for a U.S. setting. Phi Delta Kappan , October, 128-34.

Fernandez, C. (2002). Learning from Japanese approaches to professional development: The case of lesson study. Journal of Teacher Education , 53, 393-405.

Fernandez, C., Cannon, J., & Chokshi, S. (2003). A U.S.-Japan lesson study collaboration reveal critical lenses for examining practice. Teaching and Teacher Education , 19, 171-185.

Hiebert, J., Gallimore, R., & Stigler, J. (2002). A knowledge base for the teaching profession: What would it look like and how can we get one? Educational Researcher , 31, 5, pp.3-15.

Lewis, C. & Tsuchida, I. (1997). Planned educational change in Japan: The shift to student-centered elementary science. Journal of Educational Policy , 12, 313-331.

Lewis, C., & Tsuchida, I. (1998). A lesson is like a swiftly flowing river. American Educator , 22(4), 12-17; 50-52.

Lewis, C. (2002). Does lesson study have a future in the United States? Nagoya Journal of Education and Human Development , 1, pp.1-23.

Lewis, C. (2002). Lesson study: A handbook of teacher-led instructional improvement . Philadelphia: Research for Better Schools.

Lewis, C., & Tsuchida, I. (1998). The basics in Japan: The three C’s. Educational Leadership , 55, 6, 32-37.

Lewis, C., Perry, R., & Murata, A. (2004). What constitutes evidence of teacher learning from lesson study? Paper presented at the American Educaitonal Research Association Conference, April, 2004.

Lewis, C, Perry, R., & Hurd, J. (2004). A deeper look at lesson study. Educational Leadership , 61, 5, 18-23.

Stigler, J.W., & Hiebert, J. (1999). The teaching gap: Best ideas from the world’s teachers for improving education in the classroom . NY: Free Press.

Yoshida, M. (1999) Lesson study: An enthnographic investigation of school-based teacher development in Japan, Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Chicago.