Last week, I joined two colleagues to carry out a Lesson Study looking at Decimal Place Value with Year 7. The actual resources we used are here, this is just a quick reflection on the process.
There are various ways you can do lesson study, but ours looked like this:
- 3 consecutive lessons taught to one class by their normal teachers (this happened to be me)
- 4 reflection / planning sessions: 1 before the lessons, 2 in between and 1 straight after the 3rd lesson. These were about 30 mins each.
- The 2 other teachers arranged cover for the 3 lessons they missed and they both observed all 3 lessons.
- Before the 1st lesson, we identified 3 students in the class whom they were to observe closely and have a quick chat with at the end of each lesson.
It was intense, but highly rewarding. It also had quite a high impact in terms of lessons requiring cover. I have done lesson studies in other formats before, e.g. over a longer period of time where each teacher teaches the same single lesson to their own class over a number of weeks with the others observing. My experience was that this was the best for a number of reasons:
- Seeing a series of lessons is how we actually teach and it is useful to see the learning building from one lesson to the next
- The observing teachers get to know the students and observe and understand their learning needs
- There is no such thing as a “perfect way to teach Topic X” as every class is different and so comparing the “same” lesson between different classes is not as instructive as watching the learning develop over a series of lessons.
Of course, another reason this worked so well was my excellent colleagues who had so many interesting things to say about the lesson. I learned a lot.
I’m sure we have all sat through INSET sessions where you simply feel like you are not likely to use the ideas any time soon in your classroom, because they are generic whole-school sessions. It’s looking like a lot of next year’s twilight INSET time at my current school will be allocated for Lesson Study next year. I reckon that’s the best CPD you can do. It’s an effort to set it up, but well worth it.
I’ve been teaching for 3 years, I’ve learnt a lot, but also appreciated that the learning never stops. CPD doesn’t mean going on courses, it means spending a reasonable portion of your time looking at new ways of doing things, never just accepting that you are going to teach things the same this year as you did last year.
This wonderful tome written by a group of fabulous Amercian teachers is something that I think might become one of those sources I go back to again and again.
The basic idea is to replace “Tricks” with a proper teaching of deep understanding. There is a wonderful array of unhelpful mnemonics, cute stories and memorised procedures in here including such gems as “Ball to the Wall” and “Make Mixed Numbers MAD”. For each one, the authors suggest a better approach to instil deep thinking.
On reading this, I was relieved that I don’t use a lot of these bad tricks in my teaching, but there were a few that made me stop and think about my own practice. Including:
- 2.8 BIDMAS (usually PEDMAS in US schools). The first problem is that Divide doesn’t necessarily come before Multiply. The authors suggest an alternative, GEMA, but I’m not sure that this is all that helpful either. I’ve tended to teach this early, in Year 7 and 8, but the problem is that the second item you come in the list, call it Indices, Powers or Exponents, is not something known at this stage. So I just say, ditch the acronym until much later. Just start with saying multiply/divide happens before add/subtract unless we use brackets to indicate otherwise.
- 3.5 Dividing fractions. Whilst I have never said “Ours is not to reason why; just invert and multiply” I must confess that I do use Keep Flip Change (KFC) a lot! So I like the idea of getting common denominators first and then dividing the numerators. The idea being that once students practice a few they will discover the short cut. This takes a confident teacher, though. I can think of some students who would just feel that I have wasted their time showing them a long method and might even think I didn’t know the short-cut!
- 4.5 Pythagoras. Instead of a² + b² = c², leg² + leg² = hypotenuse². Interesting, but I’m looking for a better word than “leg”…
Anyway, that really is just scratching the surface of this wonderful resource. It should just make you stop and think about the fundamental way you explain maths concepts. Because it doesn’t matter how many wonderful resources and activities you plan into your lessons, a significant part of students’ learning will still come from your explanations.