New Lesson Study Tools for College Faculty

By Jacqueline Raphael and Susan Bickerstaff
March 2021
abstract illustration of the lesson study process

Community colleges have undergone significant reform in the past decade, much of it led by faculty. However, few documented reform efforts have systematically supported faculty in improving teaching and learning. In fact, faculty professional development rarely focuses on classroom practice. On-the-job training is especially limited for part-time faculty, even though they make up the majority of instructional staff in community colleges.

Today, college faculty need more support than ever to enhance and refine instruction. In response to COVID-19, more instructors must use instructional technology and teach their courses online. As colleges rightly focus on reducing racial disparities in student outcomes, they must also support faculty in implementing pedagogical approaches that will close opportunity gaps.

To address these challenges, Education Northwest and the Community College Research Center partnered with three community colleges to adapt lesson study, a professional development strategy proven to be effective in K–12 classrooms, to the postsecondary context. In close collaboration with faculty members, we developed three new resources to support this work: a facilitator guide, a participant guide, and an online notebook that lesson study teams can use to record their efforts.

On March 18, we presented a webinar that introduced these new lesson study resources and shared findings on how lesson study affects faculty's teaching practices and behaviors, student learning, and student outcomes. College faculty also joined to discuss their own experiences with lesson study.

What is Lesson Study?

Lesson study is a structured, collaborative approach to teacher inquiry that examines how lesson design and instructional choices influence student thinking and learning. The goal of the process is to learn about practices that can lead to improved student learning more broadly.

Lesson study teams work in cycles consisting of four stages:

  1. Studying and planning a lesson
  2. Teaching, observing, and debriefing the lesson
  3. Revising and reteaching the lesson
  4. Reflecting and reporting on the results

How Lesson Study Supports Faculty in Changing Classroom Practices

In a forthcoming journal article, we describe specific ways faculty members changed their classroom practices during the project period. We also found that three features of lesson study supported the adoption of new instructional approaches.

Lesson study is explicitly grounded in goals for student learning.

The lesson study protocols during the cycles of planning, debriefing, and revision prompt teams to connect specific instructional strategies to both the specific goals of the lesson and longer-term student goals.

Lesson study asks faculty to look closely at students and their learning.

In each lesson study cycle, faculty teams observe two classrooms, and during these observations they focus their attention on students. This sustained, intentional observation of students interacting with course content may be an uncommon experience for many faculty members.

Lesson study provides a supportive environment to experiment with something new.

The framing of a cycle around a single lesson and the opportunity to innovate in collaboration with colleagues lowers the stakes for faculty members to change their instructional approach.

More About Lesson Study in Community Colleges

Education Northwest and the Community College Research Center published a 2019 report describing our collaborative project in more detail, including how faculty teams at our three partner institutions implemented lesson study. The report also shares promising practices that other colleges can use to realize the model’s benefits for their own faculty and students.