IRIS Supported Lesson Study

LESSON STUDYThe 15 minute forum tonight was led by Martyn Simmonds and Hannah Townsend and focused on a project they have been working on.  Working alongside Brian Marsh from the University of Brighton and another colleague from the geography department, they have been developing the use of IRIS supported lesson study.  Lesson study is widely acknowledged as a great form of CPD – it’s teacher led, collaborative and hugely empowering.  Other groups have used it at DHS – here and here – but not using IRIS.

Martyn started the session by talking through the process they have been using:


  1. Form a team
  • Three colleagues from the same subject area were used, as this allowed the discussion to centre around subject specific pedagogy.
  • The team comprised a cross-section of the department in relation to experience and teaching styles – a second year teacher, a Subject Leader who was new to the school and a teacher with many years valuable experience at the school.
  • All three joined the project because they were all keen to work collaboratively and improve their practice.
  • The whole process is non-judgemental and is in no way linked to appraisal.  It is also non-hierarchical – nobody ‘leads’ the group.
  1. Observe each other teach
  • One member of the team acts as the teacher and teaches an agreed lesson.
  • A second member acts as the observer and controls the IRIS camera.
  1. Review the lesson
  • All three members of the team meet to review the lesson.
  • The third member acts as the coach and hasn’t seen the lesson that was taught.  Their role is to ask questions to promote discussion.
  • The advantage of using IRIS to do the lesson observation is that it allows greater flexibility in terms of time.  Lesson study is time intensive and can be restricted by cover arrangements etc.  By using IRIS, the lesson can be watched back later at a time convenient to all three members of the group.

Key points of focus for the observations were:

  • Teaching style;
  • Delivery of the lesson;
  • Methods used by the teacher which had a positive effect on pupil progress and learning;
  • Aspects of the teachers’ delivery which did not seem to support pupils’ learning.
  1. Set specific teaching goals
  • Following the lesson review, the team agrees 2 or 3 targets for further development.
  • These then become the focus for future planning and lessons.
  1. Collaboratively plan
  • The team then meets to jointly plan activities/strategies for the next lesson, that will allow the teacher to focus on achieving the development points set in the last lesson review.
  1. Repeat the observation and review process.
  • Somebody else then takes the role of teacher – and teaches the next jointly planned lesson.  The roles of coach and IRIS controller are also switched around.
  • For this and subsequent observations the review process has specific targets to focus on, based on the review of the last lesson.

Hannah then went on to talk about her experience of being part of the project, starting with how is it different from normal observations?

  • Using three members of staff as opposed to one, means that more can be spotted – as different people notice different things.  This makes the feedback richer.
  • Using observers from the same subject is really useful – they know what works in your particular subject.
  • Collaborative planning is an extremely valuable part of the process – especially when it focuses on development points from the last cycle.
  • It’s more frequent, so you have more opportunity to embed and refine skills/ knowledge discussed.
  • It makes you think – Can I improve further or is this as good as I can be?

How does it support a teacher growth mindset?

  • It encourages teachers to learn from success of others – and not be threatened by it.
  • It makes you focus on a specific aspect of your practice to improve e.g. questioning in my classroom is now more purposeful, challenging and effective.
  • It has made me think about my own language – and how this supports a growth mindset e.g. ‘you can’t do it…yet’
  • Carol Dweck’s theory of the Growth Mindset hinges around the importance of focusing on and praising the process of learning, not the outcomes – lesson study supports this in terms of professional learning.
  • In an article by Stephen Tierney he says “If you want Growth Mindset in the classroom then you need Growth Mindset in the staff room.  Growth Mindset is part of a wider deep cultural process aimed at improving the quality of teaching and outcomes for students”. Lesson study supports this.

How is it beneficial to me as a teacher?

  • Enables reflection.
  • I learn from observing as much as being observed
  • Lesson study has benefits of reducing the levels of anxiety experienced by teachers being observed.   However, the level of professional challenge involved must be maintained.
  • It gives another perspective on your practice – fresh eyes and experience.
  • It’s non-judgmental – so you take on the feedback more, as you are not just focused on a grade.
  • You can look at specific aspects of your teaching e.g. questions asked equally, equal participation, withdrawn students etc.
  • It celebrates your successes – boosts confidence.
  • The Finnish system is built on internal accountability to the profession and not to an external body.   There is much to admire in the Finnish system but to me, what blazes through is trust in the professionalism of teachers.  Talking of the Finnish system, Laukkanen (2008) noted that “Empowerment of the teaching profession produces good results.  Professional teachers should always have space for innovation …” 
  • In The Guardian newspaper, an article written by Brian Lightman (General Secretary of the ASCL)  addresses some of the challenges facing the English school system and confusion about Ofsted inspections – he says there is “a culture of fear around inspection which hampers innovation and sensible risk taking”.
  • There should be less fear surrounding lesson observations. In turn this can create a more innovative approach to teaching and a  willingness to experiment and push the boundaries.  It creates a more supportive environment, without fear of judgement.
  • Lesson study is about inviting colleagues to see the great things happening in your classroom, feedback and discussion around an agreed focus/ goal and setting objectives for making improvements next time. Moving away from telling you which box you tick.

How is it beneficial to the students I teach?

  • I can reflect and make my teaching practice better.
  • I use the expertise of other teachers to improve my teaching.
  • Things I might miss, are picked up on.
  • Better quality teaching.
  • “Japanese teachers say that the most powerful part of lesson study is that you develop the eyes to see children.” –Catherine Lewis, Mills College.

Things I found hard about the process:

  • Setting the appropriate level of challenge/feedback/goals – not too easy, not too hard, just right – can be a difficult. These are not just our colleagues, in many cases they are our friends, and the last thing we would want to do is offend them – Goldilocks’ Level Challenge.
  • If one of the trio is in a higher position, it can be hard to criticise and question them initially.
  • It is time consuming – but IRIS helps with the flexibility of when you can review the lesson.
  • Can make you feel that you are not good enough – but with supportive colleagues, this soon goes.
  • Finding appropriate colleagues.  They must have a growth mindset and want to improve their practice.
  • If one colleague is more senior, you need to ensure that there is enough purposeful feedback for them.
  • “Lesson study in and of itself is an empty shell that will be filled according to the knowledge and skills brought to bear by the group of teachers conducting this activity.” – Clea Fernandez, Promising Practices for Improving Instruction – It’s what you and your colleagues bring to it – you get out what you put in!

Some final thoughts from others:

  • “Lesson study helps teachers make the transition from being objects of research to actual researchers in the classroom.” —Patsy Wang-Iverson, Research for Better Schools
  • “Lesson study is easy to learn but difficult to master.” —Sonal Chokshi, Lesson Study Research Group of Teachers College, Columbia University
  • “I thought, how can teachers improve their teaching without doing lesson study?” –Akihiko Takahashi, De Paul University
  • “Lesson study is a very powerful way to bring teachers together to structure and organize their thinking about classroom practices.” Clea Fernandez, Promising Practices for Improving Instruction
This entry was posted in 15 Minute Forums, General Teaching and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to IRIS Supported Lesson Study

  1. misslisa67 says:

    Thanks. I enjoyed the description of the process, and could see a lot of value in the collaboration. Does the group know where they might go next? Also, I wondered if you’d seen James Mannion’s Praxis blog on pedagoginthemachine ? On #ukedchat tonight quite a few people were asking where they coudl see this sort of example of teacher research.. Your team might consider contacting James to post their work?

  2. Pingback: 3 Things | Class Teaching

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