Lesson Study: The power of three


The Japanese Lesson Study approach to teacher enquiry is gaining popularity in the UK. The technique sees three teachers working collaboratively to tackle specific barriers to learning. David Weston explains.


Lesson Study is a process of teacher enquiry, originally from Japan, which is being used across England to improve teaching and learning.

Uplands Community College engaged with the National Teacher Enquiry Network’s (NTEN) approach to Lesson Study. The process helped their students develop greater confidence while allowing the teachers to explore and improve their own pedagogy.

All the research around what makes effective professional development points towards teacher enquiry processes, where teachers get to collaboratively explore and improve their own practice. 

This has been shown to have much more of an impact on student outcomes than sending teachers on one-off courses or bringing in speakers to conduct after-school lectures.

One such model of teacher enquiry is Lesson Study. This is a model, rapidly gaining in popularity across England, which brings together a triad of teachers who work collaboratively to plan a lesson, predict student reactions, observe the reality, interview students and then reflect and repeat the process. What makes it different from many other models is that throughout the process, the triad focuses on three carefully chosen “case pupils” rather than the whole class. This allows them to explore in much greater detail the effect of their teaching on students’ learning.

At Uplands Community College, they have begun using this model by following the NTEN approach, which provides resources and support to guide participants through the steps of a Lesson Study “cycle” (see below).

With the help of a Lesson Study mentor, the triad is asked first to identify a clear research question. In Uplands’ most recent rounds of Lesson Study, two groups formulated the following research questions:

  • What impact will independent (self) assessment have on the written performance of underperforming year 12 students in the skills acquisition unit of AS PE? (Carried out by PE and English teachers.)

  • What impact will teaching literacy techniques have on the performance of low literacy students in year 12 when answering long answer exam questions? (Carried out by biology and geography teachers.)

A key feature of the research question is that it needs to be very specific, especially in relation to:

  • The learning (or behaviour) outcome which is to be improved (e.g. written performance in the skills acquisition unit of AS PE).

  • The chosen cohort of students (e.g. low literacy students in year 12).

  • The chosen technique to be trialled, selected with the help of relevant research and expert advice (e.g. independent assessment).

Another important feature of Lesson Study is that the triad should carefully consider how they will evaluate the impact of their planned work. At Uplands, the first triad created a custom assessment which they used both before and after their Lesson Study work. They also carried out interviews and surveys with both teachers and pupils. 

The group was mentored by lead practitioner for teaching and learning, Carly Heaver, who reported that: “All three (case pupil) boys’ marks went up by at least two grades between pre and post-test, and the recent AS mock exam was a success, above target grade. The PE teacher now feels more confident she is meeting needs of all students in that class simply by promoting and encouraging independence rather than scaffolding. 

“Students feel a greater sense of achievement and feel more valued by the teacher and feel grateful to have been part of the Lesson Study process.”

The second group who focused on AS level biology had a number of obstacles, for example the school’s science block was destroyed in the recent gales! However, even from the two cycles of Lesson Study they had managed to complete they found significantly positive results.

Ms Heaver continued: “Complications with the science roof being blown off has meant that the study was suspended last term. However, two cycles have confirmed that students respond well to recipes and checklists for exam technique, not just being taught the knowledge.

“They conducted tests with exam questions where content had not yet been taught and concluded, so far, that despite a lack of knowledge, students felt confident with how to answer questions following the generation of such ‘recipes’. 

“The triad concluded that a modern foreign languages teacher is a useful expert, as AS biology can be like learning another language and (the biology department) is now investigating techniques used by MFL for language acquisition.”

As with other schools in the NTEN network, Uplands Community College has found Lesson Study a rewarding process which is empowering staff, building confidence and improving the quality of learning and teaching.

It is, however, a very intensive process and needs a strong commitment from school leaders if it is to work successfully. In particular, school leaders need to ensure that:

  • Sufficient time is set aside for teachers to meet regularly to reflect on observations and plan future lessons.

  • Cover is made available so that teachers can observe each other’s practice.

  • Teachers’ time for these activities is carefully protected, and other aspects of their workload are carefully reduced and monitored to ensure that they have the time to prioritise this work.

In some schools they have experimented with using video technology to record and then discuss lessons as part of Lesson Study cycles. For example, at another school running Lesson Study, Park Infant and Nursery School, they used IRIS Connect to record one of their lessons and then discussed it in a staff meeting later on. At Goxhill Primary School in North Lincolnshire they simply used a handheld video camera.

However, while video technology can certainly help in this process it is also important that members of the triad are able to do classroom-based co-observation during the process as well, as they can glean much more information and insight in this way even if it is harder to resource.

Indeed these opportunities for peer-to-peer observation with no Ofsted-style judgements are one of the key benefits of the Lesson Study process. 

The act of planning a lesson together means that there is much more trust between participants when it comes to delivering the lesson, while the focus on “case pupils” means that the observation is of the students’ work rather than the teacher’s practice. 

This is a very powerful professional model which reclaims observation as a developmental improvement tool and is one of the reasons why the National Union of Teachers and National College supported the pilot work for the NTEN.

Lesson Study is certainly not an easy process to implement, and it requires a very supportive culture, strong leadership and the support of other schools. Within NTEN, Lesson Study is complemented by a peer-to-peer CPD audit process, in which Uplands Community College also took part. 

The process has allowed Uplands to both evaluate their own culture, procedures and leadership and help other member schools to evaluate theirs. 

As a result of this work, the school is currently working to develop their approach to evaluating impact while building on their existing strengths of strong governor support for, and understanding of, their professional development priorities.

If schools are able to carefully control rapidly increasing teacher workloads then Lesson Study holds the promise to make significant improvements in pedagogy and outcomes. 

It is currently subject to a large-scale evaluation by the Education Endowment Foundation as well as by more than 100 Teaching School Alliances as part of the Test and Learn research.

The NTEN approach to Lesson Study


  • Plan a lesson together.

  • Address each activity to a specific learning goal and predict how pupils will react and how you will assess this.

  • Pick three case pupils.


  • Teach the lesson with your colleagues observing.

  • Pay particular attention to the case pupils.

  • Conduct any assessment and/or interview during and after.

Reflect and plan

  • As soon after the lesson as possible, reflect how each activity elicited the sought-after change. Were your predictions correct? Why?


  • David Weston is the chief executive of the Teacher Development Trust, a charity dedicated to helping schools develop great teaching through world-class professional development. 


Further information
You can find out more by visiting http://tdtrust.org/nten/lesson-study and www.lessonstudy.co.uk





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