Lesson Study the Carnegie Way: Sharing Ideas for Continuous Improvement

Carnegie’s Lesson Study provides a framework for faculty members who are part of a Networked Improvement Community (NIC) to be involved in continuously improving the Foundation’s two mathematics pathways—Quantway™ and Statway™ — from curriculum development to implementation in the classroom.

The specific goal of a Lesson Study cycle may be any of the following:

  • To test a lesson as written, identifying problems that are either specific to that lesson or that may cut across lessons, and hypothesizing improvements in the materials and/or their implementation that might enhance learning opportunities for students;
  • To design and test a change, in either the materials or the implementation; and
  • To work on a general problem that cuts across specific lessons and that the community sees as a high priority.

Michelle Brock, one of Carnegie’s Lesson Study Handbook authors and Statway faculty member from American River College in Sacramento, said Lesson Study is a way to get a lot done with one tool. “The instructors concentrate both on what the students are able to do and on what our role is in making that happen,” she explains. “It forces you to narrow your focus into seeing that one thing that is either supporting or denying the students’ understanding.”

The team members will work together to plan, observe each other, and identify the most difficult and high-priority obstacles.

The Carnegie Lesson Study protocol that Brock and others created has been piloted with faculty teams in the NICs and will go into a wider trial later this year. By participating in Lesson Study, the team members will work together to plan instruction, observe each other teaching, and identify the most difficult and high-priority obstacles that stand in the way of success of the pathways. As Julie Phelps of Valencia Community College noted, “Teaching is a lonely job, and it is really great to have others watch and experience what is going on in my classroom to help inform us all on how to improve our methods to have better student engagement.” The general goals are to:

  • Improve the Statway or Quantway  instructional program (both the materials and the implementation);
  • Improve instructors’ own knowledge and skills for implementing the program; and
  • Develop a professional community focused on improvement.

Lesson study is fundamentally a research and development process. A core focus of the work is to analyze the program in cause-effect terms, generating and testing hypotheses about how the instructional activities are processed and interpreted by students; how students develop content knowledge based on their instructional experiences; and how changes might be expected to improve students’ learning. In other words, Carnegie is involving its NIC faculty members to improve the materials and the pedagogy.

Brock said that being involved in Lesson Study improved her preparation for class. “I thought I was pretty good before, but being involved forced me to ask the harder questions about how what I did in class impacted student learning.”

She added that Lesson Study is not just one more activity piled onto a faculty member’s already heavy workload.

“I appreciate that it does take more time, but the payoff is worth it. We get another perspective and get to see what others are doing.”

Brock said that participating in Lesson Study was part of her commitment to being in collaboration with other faculty members in the co-development of Statway. “I believe in Carnegie’s vision that Statway has the possibility of netting amazing results for student success in developmental mathematics and those of us involved in this initiative from the beginning were committed to going beyond the ‘what’s in it for me’ thinking.”

Carnegie Lesson Study groups are most commonly site-based (at the college); they include from two to six members; and are facilitated by one of its members. The group organizes its work around Lesson Study cycles, usually a minimum of two cycles per year. Each Lesson Study cycle takes from five to eight hours of faculty time, plus an extra two to three hours of the facilitator’s time. It is expected that time spent on Lesson Study will reduce, at least partly, the time faculty would need to spend preparing to teach the program.

A Lesson Study cycle often focuses on a single lesson, and sometimes even a specific part of a lesson. The findings of site-based Lesson Study groups are shared with other Lesson Study groups working on similar lessons, changes, or problems. Carnegie also anticipates cross-site groups working virtually on common problems.

"Our faculty group is very good at collaborating and sharing results, informally."

It is this sharing component that Janet Zupkus of Naugatuck Valley Community College in Connecticut and another contributor to the Handbook, finds most helpful. “Our faculty group is very good at collaborating and sharing results, informally.  We meet weekly for an hour and discuss what went well and what didn’t and share all supplementary materials. Through conversations at the Carnegie Winter Institute, we found that other colleges are not meeting regularly, so the Lesson Study process will hopefully initiate that process and allow them to see the value in meeting regularly, especially with the new curriculum. The other benefit for the formal process is now we will get feedback from all the other participants, not just our own college members.”

No matter what the goal, an important element of Lesson Study is to produce a report in which the group’s inquiry and findings are shared with the Networked Improvement Community. With groups working on improving a common instructional program within a common improvement framework and on common problems encountered when implementing the program, it’s expected that these reports can provide a foundation for continuous improvement of the NIC.