Bronxville Elementary School teachers have been participating in a long-term professional development, called lesson study, over the last four years, in which teams of teachers collaboratively plan, observe, refine and analyze their classroom lessons. Given the success of the method, which originated in Japan and has been credited for the improvements of the country’s math and science program, Bronxville Middle School math teachers also incorporated lesson study into their teaching this year.
“One of the main benefits is that it improves instruction because the teachers are looking at and analyzing what’s going on in the classroom during the lesson and they’re collecting student work and analyzing it,” Assistant Principal Adrienne Laitman said. “They’re making improvements based on what they’re noticing and then they’re re-teaching the lesson and determining whether the students are more successful.”
As part of the lesson study, one member of the group of teachers, who collaboratively designed a particular lesson, teaches it to his or her students while the rest of the group members observe and take notes. Then, they reconvene and refine the lesson based on what worked and what didn’t work before a second member of the group teaches the lesson.
“It’s a very elaborate process,” said Director of Curriculum and Instruction Mara Koetke, who added that it’s recommended that teachers do a cycle of lesson study twice a year. “This is a focused, pointed opportunity for teachers to learn from each other and then refine something, which doesn’t happen as much as people might think.”
Koetke said lesson study is not meant to evaluate teachers, but it’s more about establishing a culture where visitation is welcomed and feedback is encouraged and accepted. She said the innovative approach to teaching establishes a commitment among teachers to improve on important, cornerstone lessons.
Middle school math teachers Connor Mitchell, Jennifer Oliveri and high school teacher John Ruiz, who teaches an eighth-grade math course, were recently involved in a lesson study together. Instead of giving their students the mathematical formula to find the volume of three-dimensional shapes, they gave two pieces of paper to the students and asked them to make two different styles of containers. The students had to determine which container would hold more popcorn and then come up with the mathematical formula for volume.
“The rich and meaningful conversations students had with each other at the conclusion of the lesson proved that helping kids understand a general formula for volume, which is the area of the base times the height, would lead to long-term understanding of the concept,” Oliveri said. “The lesson was aligned with the Bronxville Promise in terms of students’ ability to think critically through reasoning and conceptualization, and innovation by developing a bias towards experimentation to build understanding.”
Oliveri said that having the opportunity to collaborate in the lesson planning process with fellow teachers was an excellent experience.
“The intellectual conversations we had regarding the course material and even educational philosophies gave our lesson purpose and focus,” she said. “Each of us became personally invested in delivering an effective and engaging lesson for our eighth-graders. Furthermore, it was interesting to see that as math teachers each of us initially attacked the concept of volume from a different angle.”
As a result of this teaching method, Laitman said, teachers are more comfortable collaborating and having others in their classroom. It also impacts them beyond the particular study lesson they taught and many teachers said they’ve started to rethink the rest of their lessons.
“This has been such a long standing successful form of professional development in the elementary school, so we were really thrilled that some middle school teachers were willing to try it and had a very positive experience,” Koetke said. “It’s a really good data point for the district and we’re hoping to scale it up.”