Last summer, our department turned its focus to our high school intensive reading teachers. Considering the shifts in text complexity, academic vocabulary, evidence-based writing, and the overall increase in rigor in the new CC ELA standards, we knew we’d have to pay special attention to these classrooms, which are made up of students scoring at the two lowest levels on our state reading assessment. We’ve always set the bar high for these classrooms in an effort to accelerate learning, but Common Core is moving it even higher.
In June, we gathered a team of ninth and tenth grade intensive reading teachers and instructional coaches to receive training and develop Common Core-aligned lessons that would be posted to our portal. What we discovered was, first, no one was comfortable enough with the new standards to jump into lesson development. Second, we questioned our motivation for creating a bank of lessons. It’s a nice idea, but how does that help teachers understand the new standards?
When I heard the analogy that creating a lesson bank is like cooking from a recipe, it made sense—handing teachers pre-written lessons is like handing me your favorite cake recipe. Sure, I can follow the recipe and make a cake, but I can’t segue my knowledge of a single recipe into becoming a successful baker. Handing teachers a lesson and sending them on their way doesn’t help them understand the elements of a Common Core lesson—why certain “ingredients” are necessary, what to do if a problem arises, how to enhance it, or how to duplicate its success.
Our solution was lesson study.
In very simple terms, lesson study is a professional development protocol used to examine the effectiveness of a lesson as it’s being delivered in a real, live classroom. We’ve had success using lesson study with other major initiatives in our district, so when Tara, our lead program specialist, suggested we use lesson study with our intensive reading teachers, it made perfect sense.
A team of us spent the fall facilitating groups in lesson studying three pre-written lessons. Through the process, our teachers were able to experience the shifts rather than just hear about them. They were able to examine them in an actual classroom rather than hypothesizing about what works. Better, they were able to watch as students grappled with difficult text and experienced success.
At the end of each lesson study day, we captured “key learning statements,” or those ideas teachers will carry into future practice. My tenth grade team said things like, “We need to be intentional and specific, make thinking explicit, and connect critical concepts so students can follow the learning.” They talked about gradual release of responsibility, the importance of modeling, presenting clear directions, and having high expectations. They also discussed the CCSS-aligned template and the variety of instructional strategies that ask students to read, write, listen, and speak. That’s the power of lesson study—the synergy of a group directing its own learning.
One of my fellow facilitators, Casey, who led a ninth grade team, said, “I was impressed with what my teachers took away and applied to their overall planning and teaching practices. The things they learned didn’t apply solely to the lessons at hand, but rather to their educational beliefs as a whole.”
Through this process, we have learned how to take a single lesson analyze its parts, its successes and failures, and make corrections, additions, and substitutions to improve teaching and learning.
We recognize that there’s more work to be done, and we are reconvening our teams in January to talk about the bigger instructional picture, but lesson study is teaching us to do more than just follow a recipe.
For more on the lesson study process, check out these links:
If you would like a more structured way to develop better lessons, check out our staff development kits.This post was written by Sally Weaver. Ms. Weaver is a Program Specialist at Marion County Public Schools in Florida.