Advancing Equity Through Lesson Study and Networked Improvement Communities

lesson study

The High Tech High Graduate School of Education, in partnership with three Southern California school districts, formed a networked improvement community (NIC) to investigate how the lesson study approach may be used to boost outcomes in middle and high school mathematics classrooms.

In particular, the research team explored how specific student-centered instruction and assessment strategies impact student mathematical understanding and achievement, particularly for Latinx and African American students.

Findings from this investigation demonstrate that lesson study can create a public proving ground that places students—and student thinking—at the center of instructional decision-making and equity-focused reform efforts. Furthermore, lesson study is well-adapted for remote, hybrid and in-person learning environments.

What is Lesson Study?

Lesson study is a form of professional learning designed to enrich and apply educators’ understanding of student thinking. It begins with a group of teachers crafting a lesson together and then asking a broad research question about that lesson’s impact (i.e. How can we facilitate rich mathematical discussions in our classrooms?)

One member of the group teaches the lesson (although the lesson belongs to the group and is not seen as individual person’s lesson) while the other teachers collect data that captures student thinking at various points in the lesson. Data collection can include empathy interviews, which help teachers gain a deeper understanding of how students perceive mathematical concepts, what makes them feel successful in math learning activities and what they’re left wondering about after a certain activity concludes.

Teachers then meet to share findings and discuss implications for student learning, lesson design and whether the techniques used can be counted on to produce greater equity in outcomes.

For a complete stepwise description of High Tech High’s lesson study approach, plus examples, videos, materials and suggestions for implementation, take a look at their resources.

Research Questions

  • How does teacher participation in lesson study, within the context of a NIC, influence students’ mathematical agency and achievement?
  • How does participating in lesson study impact teacher practice and agency—the belief that they can improve and possess the tools and pedagogical skills needed to do so—to meet the learning needs of all their students?
  • How do teachers use data within the context of lesson study to assess student thinking and drive instructional decision-making?
  • What are the structural, cultural and interpersonal conditions in schools that support and/or hinder lesson study and teachers’ development of student-centered, equitable practices?

Research Project Activities

This research project brought together a network of teachers from diverse schools and districts in Southern California to focus on how to enhance African American and Latinx students’ mathematical agency and outcomes in middle- and high-school mathematics. Members of the Mathematical Agency Improvement Community (MAIC) used the lesson study approach within an improvement science framework to test, refine and adapt student-centered math practices in their respective contexts.

The three main activities of the research project were:

  • Lesson study professional development: Activities during network convenings were structured to provide teachers with the opportunity to engage in the core practices of lesson study and plan improvements based on what was discovered.
  • Coaching on student-centered instructional practices: Teachers were coached to learn and use student-centered practices designed to elevate student mathematical ideas and build students’ mathematical identities.
  • Selection and study of curriculum and task: During convenings and team meetings, teachers collaborated to choose distinct lessons they would study, then predicted and observed the different strategies their students might use to solve specific math problems, and finally used these insights to refine instructional approaches.

Key structures that supported teachers in participating in lesson study and refining student-centered practices included:

  • Participating in the network as a team
  • Regular weekly meeting times and agendas
  • Choosing 2-4 focus students and looking at their work, closely observing their problem solving, and anticipating their thinking

Data Collection and Analysis

Over the course of the two-year project, participants included 85 teachers from 21 schools who collectively served over 12,000 K-12 students. From 2018–2020, the project served a total of 6013 female students, 6006 male students, 880 Black students and 5401 Latinx students.

The following section describes the types of data collection and analysis utilized to answer the four research questions.

Student Agency

DATA
  • Observation notes from lesson study teachers (3x/year)
  • Student Reflections (pre/post)
  • Student Agency Survey developed and validated by the Carnegie Foundation’s Student Agency Improvement Community (SAIC) (pre/post)
ANALYSIS
  • Open and thematic coding
  • Correlation analysis of survey items and student achievement data

Student Achievement

DATA
  • Student Work Samples collected and analyzed by lesson study teachers (3x/year)
  • Observation notes from lesson study teachers (3x/year)
  • California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP scores*)
  • Final grades
ANALYSIS
  • Assessed according to Common Core State Standards
  • Open and thematic coding
  • Correlation analysis of survey items and student achievement data 
*Due to COVID-19 there was no CAASPP data for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Teacher Agency

DATA
  • Video/audio/planning notes from lesson planning, observation, and debrief sessions
  • Teacher Practice Survey (pre/post) 
  • Teacher interviews (yearly)

ANALYSIS
  • Open and thematic coding
  • Correlation analysis of survey items and teacher participation in interventions

Contextual Factors

DATA
  • # of lesson study events at participating school
  • # of teachers participating in lesson study
  • Teacher Practice Survey (pre/post) 
  • Teacher interviews (yearly)
  • Video/audio/planning notes from lesson planning, observation, and debrief sessions

ANALYSIS
  • Open and thematic coding
  • Correlation analysis of survey items and teacher participation in interventions 

Key Findings

Educators​

  • Lesson Study provided a rich, collegial structure for teachers to learn how their students make sense of mathematical concepts and where and when their instructional practices support or hinder that process.
  • Lesson study bridged gaps in math departments where there are disagreements about how to teach math.
  • By focusing on student thinking during lesson study events, teachers gained important insights into how students make sense of mathematics and came to see this thinking as a valuable source of data to drive instruction.
  • Lesson study also helped teachers:
    • determine equity goals for their classroom
    • create a learning culture where multiple approaches are valid and misconceptions are valued
    • become more aware of status issues in their classroom and design and implement targeted interventions to promote equity

Teachers’ top three lesson study practices they considered to be most beneficial to their teaching:

Students​

  • Over the course of the study, Latinx students, both male and female, made significant improvements in math proficiency.
  • After engaging in empathy interviews and guiding teachers’ practices, Black and Latinx students were more likely to believe they could succeed in math class.
  • There were significant and positive shifts in Black students’ perceptions of themselves as “math people.”
  • Latinx and Black students, both male and female, reported an increase in feeling comfortable sharing their ideas in math class.
The results of this research suggest that shifts in student identity and agency are possible over the course of a year, and that lesson study, with its close focus on student thinking may be a significant factor in the positive shifts. The combination of student-centered practices and lesson study can have a positive impact on student agency and success for marginalized learners.

Implications

For Math Teachers​

  • Lesson study provides a mechanism for teachers to better understand and implement student-centered pedagogical practices and classroom conditions that support student mathematical agency, academic success and equity.
  • The lesson study approach is well-suited to in-person, remote, and hybrid learning environments.

For School Leaders

  • Participating teachers repeatedly extolled the benefits of seeing their colleagues test out practices in their own classroom. Teachers appreciated doing anticipatory planning together, observing each other teach and test out student-centered practices, then debriefing together.
  • School leaders are well-positioned to implement lesson study components (within schools or across a network of schools) that permit teachers to plan together, observe each other’s classrooms, stay curious about what might best promote equity and help facilitate both greater educator collegiality and student achievement.

For District Leaders and Policymakers​​

  • District office leaders who are invested in rich professional development opportunities for educators that can be counted on to promote greater equity should consider supporting lesson study events and implementations through regular convenings, NICs and targeted resources.
  • A good example of a district that supports lesson study is the San Francisco Unified School District. The SFUSD provides professional development opportunities focused on building teacher capacity for lesson study, as well as an extended program that supports experienced teachers in facilitating lesson study at their schools.

Additional Resources

Funding for this study provided by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, Oak Foundation and Overdeck Family Foundation.

Photo courtesy of Yekaterina Milvidskaia.

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