Lesson Study

Japanese Lesson Study

Lesson study is the core form of professional development in Japan, and is often credited for the steady improvement of Japanese elementary instruction (Hashimoto, Tsubota, & Ikeda, 2003; Lewis & Tsuchida, 1997; Stigler & Hiebert, 1999). Educators from across the world have shown enormous interest in lesson study since the Third International Mathematics and Science Study brought it to public attention in 1999; however,  as with many other promising innovations , there is a real danger of it being misunderstood, wrongly applied and then discarded. There already exists a heavily modified version of lesson study in the primary national curriculum which, although it has many useful features, is far removed from its Japanese counterpart.

This site is committed to studying the effectiveness of Japanese Lesson study as it is practised in Japan.

What is Lesson Study?

Lesson Study is a method for improving teaching based on systematic and careful observation of lessons concentrating on learners and in particular on their learning.

Lesson Study is a Goal-Driven Activity. Teachers select an overarching goal of agreed importance to guide their work on all the study lessons. A school generally works on the same overarching goal and same content area for 3-4 years. It is then turned into specific, measurable objectives that can eventually be used to evaluate the success of your research lessons over the next three years.

Fernandez and Yoshida (2004) explain that Lesson study is a direct translation of the word jugyokenkyu which itself is made up of two words, jugyo, meaning lesson and, kenkyu, meaning study or research. Tanaka (2007) points out that the expectation is that all Japanese teachers should be “educational researchers on their own practice.” He adds that unlike traditional research, it is collaborative by nature and is not necessarily written up as a scientific paper but it is “observed and demonstrated in their study lessons by other teachers.” Tanaka (2007) explains that in most elementary schools lesson study groups are usually formed according to three age levels (1st and 2nd grades, 3rd and 4th grades, 5th and 6th grades) and selected academic subjects which generally includes mathematics. Fernandez and Yoshida (2004) state that each group is responsible for 2-3 cycles per year with each study lesson being taught twice. They go onto to say that a cycle may require around 20 hours per teacher and stretches over a six week period. Stepanek et al. (2007) adds that each group is supported by “knowledgeable others” who provide expertise in the actual Lesson Study process, help to plan the lesson and provide curriculum expertise. Fernandez and Yoshida (2004) point out that although Lesson Study has a much longer history than konaikenshu and it was the amalgamation of the two ideas that form the basis of Lesson Study as we know it today. Shimizu (2002) adds that, as Lesson Study is an essential part of pre-service teacher training, all teachers entering the teaching profession in Japan already have a strong grounding in Lesson Study.

Many Japanese lessons tend to be centralised around one problem as is explained in the “Open Approach” document.

If you want to know more about Japanese Lesson Study then please email us.

Recommended readings

Lesson Study: Enhancing Mathematics Teaching and Learning Burghes, D. & Robinson, D. (2009).  An extensive review of Lesson Study and the use of collaboration as a method of school-based professional development. The report is a CfBT publication.

Open Approach (pdf)