Andy Newell discusses teachers working together to plan lessons and the use of video to help with reflection and improvement.

This post was written by Andy Newell (@andynewell1), Managing Director of IRIS Connect (@IRIS_Connect). It originally appeared in SecEd in October 2012. It is one of the articles in our National Teacher Enquiry Network October half term newsletter (sign up here).

Collaborative lesson planning refers to the joint efforts of teachers to plan their lessons in scheduled meetings. Based on their reflections, examination and discussion, teachers design lessons and activities to continually improve the teaching and learning process. This model ensures sustainable improvement in teaching. Collaborative planning has been shown to:

  • Deliver cross-curricular learning beyond departmental boundaries.
  • Provide a way for teachers to engage in professional dialogue which fosters co-operation and trust.
  • Help teachers focus on practical teaching problems through evidence of student learning inside and outside the classroom.
  • Support curriculum development where new ideas and methods can be put to trial.

I was privileged to gain an insight into the collaborative lesson planning taking place at the Cramlington Learning Village in Northumberland. They have been using their collaborative process (based on the Cramlington Learning Cycle) for a number of years and archiving the consequent lessons on their virtual learning environment which now represents the combined efforts of many teachers over many years.

To my mind when schools talk about heritage this is the kind that actually matters. In order to achieve this Cramlington have had to make some brave timetabling decisions to facilitate and enable teachers to undertake this level of planning but the outcomes in terms of improving teaching and learning have been significant and widely applauded.

A central question is how do you gather enough data to reflect and evaluate objectively and then use this to drive further improvement by providing enough teachers with access to the innovation? The drive to solve this problem has led to a number of innovative solutions.

For example, in the Japanese lesson study model, lessons are planned in minutia: the expected response to individual questions and even the written notes of students are recorded in tables within a collaborative planning document. A multitude of observers are invited to attend the lesson to record where the lesson deviates from the plan and to observe the impact on learning of each of the carefully planned interactions.

However, as with all Plan-Do-Check-Act cycles there is an inherent tension between the process of capturing sufficient information to inform evaluation, and disturbing the classroom dynamic to the extent that the data lacks validity.

This is where technology can help. It is clear that the ability to take “snapshots” of students’ learning and perspectives is intrinsic to the evaluative phase, and a range of technologies are emerging to allow teachers to quickly and simply evaluate the impact of the planned lesson.

Unobtrusive video systems can be used to capture an overview of the classroom and via a remote control allow the observers to focus their attentions on different aspects of classroom activities without significantly impacting on the lesson itself. Videos can then be uploaded to a shared space to facilitate collaborative analysis alongside the objectives for the lesson. This way the video material becomes reusable learning resource studied from multiple perspectives.

Permissioned videos can also be shared widely within a community of teachers to model the new practice or as the basis of coaching relationships with less experienced teachers to help embed new skills in practice.