Oakmere Primary School took part in the first phase of the NTEN Lesson Study pilot starting in January 2013 which encouraged schools to engage with the Lesson Study process. Here, Julie Lilly, the headteacher at Oakmere describes their experience.
Following the seminar at The Wroxham School with David Weston and Pete Dudley, we were inspired to give the lesson study approach a go – especially as the evidence in Southeast Asia was so astounding. Our first step was to decide which teachers would be involved. A Year 1, 3 and 4 class were chosen as they all had challenging groups of children with multiple vulnerabilities, plus a huge array of abilities. The class teachers were experienced teachers but were faced with difficult differentiation and pedagogical issues.
In Year 1, no matter what the class teacher tried; no matter how dynamic and engaging the lessons were, her groups were not working and subsequently nor was the desired effect on all children. In Year 3, the class teacher had a proportion of low ability boys with challenging behaviours and in Year 4 there was a significant range of abilities including a group of children hovering in the P-Levels and just above, and a group of able mathematicians at Level 4.
The experience of Katie, one of our Year 4 teachers:
Due to range of ability in my class, it was decided that our EYFS leader (M) would be part of our Lesson Study team, as she could provide ideas to engage and motivate my pupils working below the NC levels; as an experienced Year 6 teacher, I would feel confident in stretching the higher ability group and my Year 4 partner (A), who is in an enthusiastic NQT and would be able to gain a lot of CPD from this experience.
Our first meeting was brilliant. M had so much experience to share and this, for me, was a turning point – I’m not on my own, I don’t have a magic wand to just ‘know’ how to tackle this challenge and that that was okay – even in my tenth year of teaching. A was able to contribute to planning a fun Maths lesson on measuring capacity with her Year 4 hat on and I could see how to extend the task for the more able group. We planned the lesson and observed it the following week.
The evaluation element to the cycle was crucial, enlightening and safe – we had all taken part in planning this lesson and I felt so confident in the knowledge that I wasn’t being judged. I have a deeper understanding into what makes my class and individuals tick and looking forward to the next round of lesson studies.
Our next step is to branch out to those teachers who took part in the first lesson study to create new groups. We will have a writing or science focus for the next round but will need to be more careful with timetabling the cycle as training and busy schedules made it difficult to complete the three lessons. Knowing now how valuable just one Lesson Study is, it shouldn’t be so quickly put aside for other events in school.
This project has helped us to recognise that our established system of professional development was not the most effective way of developing individual practice further; was not always appropriate for all three Key Stages and was often tacked on to a busy day, when engagement could be less than focused. More importantly, there was very little element of choice, which research shows is very important. We acknowledge the importance that PDM’s [Professional Development Meetings] had had on the development of Subject Leadership but felt that the messages/ideas shared could be as easily discussed in INSETs or Briefings.
In my position as Head Teacher, I was very excited about this project, but felt a certain amount of trepidation over, in what some may see, as handing the reins for school improvement over to the teachers, with what could be seen as quite a weak system of accountability. However, I knew that it was important as Anderson and Kubiak (2003) had suggested that I remain ‘hands off’. I felt that it was essential that I built trust to get a full buy-in to this. The teachers needed to believe that this was something done by them for them; there was no expectation of portfolios, written reports or ‘evidence’, in any formal sense. There were expectations about sharing and feedback but I knew that they would consider these to be reasonable and in line with our usual practice.
When asked “Do you think that action research is a useful way of developing you as a teacher? If yes, can you give me a few reasons why.” the teachers came up with this:
Again, a word cloud capturing responses regarding how teachers felt their project impacted on their pupils:
Over the period of this project we have moved from a ‘school causing concern’ to a ‘good’ school. Of course, our improved outcomes in all areas does not rest solely with this project, but by having taken part in the project we were able to demonstrate to inspectors that we had a sense of agency. We now saw ourselves as the, ‘test-bed’ for our own improvement (Hopkins, 2007), which gave them the confidence to feel that the school was on the right path to sustain the improvements they were seeing.
Needless to say, we now have a new strategy for professional development at Oakmere and at its heart are the principles of lesson study/action research.
As a leader I have often been made to feel that the improvement of learning sits solely with me – if only I had the time, the knowledge and all the skills needed!
However, I prefer to think that my role, as a leader is to breathe life, excitement and enthusiasm into the learning environment for students and for teachers (Mitchell and Sackney, 2008). This project has encouraged me to do just that. Thank you.
Since running the pilot we have now refined and developed our approach to NTEN Lesson Study and developed a comprehensive set of guides, recommended timetables and tools. You can find out more here.
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