Biology Department: Reflections on a lesson study
The first lesson study we conducted as a department wasn’t quite a lesson study. I say this having had 6 months or so to reflect on the process. The reason? Well, we got caught up trying to make it replicable and transferable. We wanted to gather data that would not only help us understand our students, but to also help other teachers utilize the findings.
As scientists with research backgrounds, we were keen to ensure we controlled as many variables as possible. We wanted to have a representative sample and that the only aspect affecting the results were the intervention. With this we hope that although our study was small, it could be transferred in principle to ‘the population’, whatever that may be.
But looking back, this was never going to happen. Firstly, even if we could control every possible extraneous variable, we are still an independent boarding school. This brings with it certain biases in terms of cohort, pupil attitude and logistical circumstances that don’t occur in many other places. So even if we controlled for all other factors, it is unreasonable to think that we could apply our findings to anything other than another school like ours….
I think we knew that, though, but we were still hoping that we could conduct some decent research. Even still, our sample was way too small. We didn’t randomize the groups. Two different teachers taught the lessons. The classes had different ability compositions. So on and so on; we were hampered before we started.
Lesson study is all about reflection on practice. We certainly reflected before, during and after the study, so I think there were some good lesson study aspects to our process, but looking back now, I don’t think we got as much out of it as we possible could have. By trying to control too many variables we lost sight of the point.
Lesson Study is about reflecting on practice to help your current pupils, in the here and now. What works best for them? And this can change as you go; you use the reflection and planning time to deliver a malleable intervention that improves pupil learning. Anything else is a bonus. Buy trying to add an element of academic research we corrupted the process, not really conducting a lesson study and not really conducting research. This is not to say that the process was not useful, far from it, but it could have been more useful.
So what’s the consequence? We’re going to conduct another Lesson Study. This time as it was intended. We’re also going to conduct some research to satisfy the academic scientists in us. But we’re picking the topics accordingly. The research question will hopefully allow us to gather data to answer a question that many science teachers ask. The lessons study will be more focused on our pupils and teachers.
We’ll let you know how it goes.