Poetry and Music of Lesson Study

During this March break, I started thinking about my role as an Instructional Coach and wondering about the conceptual metaphor I chose (bridge) to frame my work this year. I’m asking myself some big questions about some recent lesson studies in local schools.

How do I authentically reflect on the journey of learning bridging understanding among the participants?

How can I be present in the moment of instruction, both acting and observing, while trying to capture all that happens on the path to understanding?

During my morning run, I listened to an On Being podcast with Joe Henry who talks about his daughter who is currently in her senior year of high school. He notes that in Grade 12  “everything is about later as opposed to having an experience and giving that value” now. He says that all experience becomes a checklist of actions to be completed. Joe Henry writes poetry and music; he understands the unknowable act of living, but still attempts to explain it.

In my role as a coach, I meet Administration and teachers in the middle, as co-learners, and  I try to focus my work on the facilitation of lesson study. It is rewarding work that takes time, energy, and commitment on the part of everyone involved; everyone’s voice and observations must be valued. I have to let go of what I plan to allow the poetry and music to happen.

Yet, I’ve heard and observed much hesitation, much reluctance to participate in lesson study. It is messy and can feel uncomfortable. Teachers might feel a loss of control, or perhaps reluctance to participate is based in fear – perhaps if we try to understand too hard how it is working, we stop understanding the mystery of why it is working.

I also know there are many legitimate defenses against lesson study – the amount of time out of the classroom is significant. However, even in my limited experience with the process, lesson study has been pivotal in changing my professional practice and I’ve seen the same transformation in others; lesson study has shown me the tremendous value of observations.

When a lesson study is done with a focus on objective observations of student behavior, participants gain insights from a shared experience. It is a powerful process of cooperation and collaboration.

At a local high school, I had the opportunity to observe two lessons with a focus on reading strategies. The lessons had a common article, but one lesson was in a Learning Strategies class, while the other was in a Science class.

In both lessons, students worked together to make meaning and write responses to questions based upon the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test.

In the debrief, one fragment of observation provided some insight into the struggle of one student; in both lessons, the student struggled with vocabulary words. “sow” was misunderstood as “cow” and the student had no understanding of the word “aviation”. This momentary observation connected all five teachers in understanding the student; it was a bridge shared.

The challenge of lesson study is observing without inferring. It can be difficult to find the right balance between general and specific observations. It often feels more like art than science, more like listening to poetry or music – part of it is completely unknowable.

But it doesn’t mean that we don’t listen and we don’t observe, because there is something invaluable to be gained. We might not be able to measure and graph it. We might not be able to understand it the first time through, but the poetry and music of lesson study is in the process.

In fact, I believe the power of lesson study is the shared authority of our observations; the bridge where weight bearing is a shared endeavor. We are equals struggling to build a bridge of understanding through observing their learning.