In many ways, teaching is a lonely endeavor. It’s just you in front of a classroom of students, hoping they comprehend your lesson. It can be difficult to assess student progress or the efficacy of a lesson—particularly without the support of a knowledgeable peer. Introduced to Texas educators in 2016, the Texas Lesson Study (TXLS) program aims to eliminate those difficulties by connecting educators in small groups to reflect on and refine lessons.
This Texas Education Agency (TEA) initiative—which has approximately 1,500 participants on 216 campuses in 98 districts across the state—is based on the Lesson Study program, which originated in Japan and has been implemented worldwide. “This professional development practice … engages teachers in a process of systematically examining their teaching, with the goal of becoming more effective,” wrote Julia Myers, a researcher at the University of Hawaii, West Oahu, in the January 2012 International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.
“The ability to persistently and carefully consider what and how we are teaching, and to reflect on our actions as teachers to determine what works best for our students, is central to successful teaching.” As noted by Rosa Archer, a researcher at the University of Manchester who visited Tokyo Gakugei University to observe how the Lesson Study might translate to the English-speaking classroom, the program’s intention is not to produce a perfect lesson but to improve teaching.
The TXLS process involves a small cohort of educators participating in a five-phase process:
- Examine student data and identify a research theme and student expectations from the TEKS.
- Review instructional materials, research best practices, and plan an effective lesson.
- Teach the lesson, and collect observation data on students’ learning processes and engagement. One teacher instructs while the rest of the group observes.
- Reflect on the lesson and data collected, and refine the lesson accordingly. (Phases 3 and 4 may be repeated.)
- Share the research-based lesson and findings, and network with other Lesson Study groups. (TXLS participants share their lessons and videos on TEA’s Texas Gateway website.)
Anecdotal evidence abounds as to the success of TXLS and other Lesson Study programs; so does data. Based on 2017-18 program participation, TEA reports a 27% increase in student objective mastery when TXLS lessons are used. Plus, the teacher turnover rate among TXLS participants is only 13% compared with 16% statewide.
TXLS in Action
Each iteration of the TXLS program involves a small group of teachers from within the same Education Service Center (ESC) region. The program is open to teachers of any subject and grade level, often resulting in a diverse mix of professional experience and subject matter knowledge.
In the first phase of the program, the group reviews student data to select a learning standard from the TEKS. Although the majority of groups select a language arts or mathematics learning standard to unpack, participants have also gone through this process with a focus on a social studies, science, or fine arts TEKS. Typically, the learning standard selected is one that may be difficult for students; for instance, a group might choose to base its lesson plan around the Grade 5 TEKS skill for determining the meaning of English words based on a Latin or Greek root. There is no specific grade level that TXLS targets—teachers at every level, from prekindergarten through 12th grade, can participate.
Next, participants develop a theme they would like to pursue over the course of the Lesson Study process; this theme is an overarching goal for students. For example, Amanda Sager, an English/language arts instructional coach in Katy ISD, chose a theme focusing on how to “empower students to be confident learners through self-reflection, risk taking, and problem solving.”
Once a theme is selected, teacher participants move to the second phase, working together to discover the best instructional methods for delivering the lesson that will address those specific student expectations. Westwood ISD’s Jessica Brown, for instance, had her third grade students participate in a series of workstations in order to improve their comprehension of rhyming and grammar.
In Phase 3, the group selects one teacher to deliver the lesson, while the rest observe and collect observational data on student learning processes. After formative assessment data is collected and analyzed, the group then gets together in Phase 4 to discuss the strengths of the lesson plan, as well as opportunities for improvement. Some groups may repeat this process, while others might move to Phase 5, summarizing their findings and sending the findings to the Texas Gateway website so Texas teachers can access the lesson and videos of the lesson.
Why the Program Is Important
The Texas Lesson Study program offers educators the opportunity to improve their work through concrete data and analysis, creating a bridge between research and the actual practice of teaching. Brown notes that it’s “important for teachers to take data-driven lessons a step further and really dig into ways to better support and drive our students learning.”
“[The program] helped me look at different ways to incorporate research on ways students learn and in-depth specific data to help my students achieve their goals,” she added.
Blair Claussen participated in the Lesson Study program as a teacher in the Chicago Public Schools and is now the TXLS program manager at TEA. She notes the big takeaway from TXLS is teachers getting the opportunity “to see the learning process taking place during the lesson observation.”
“We want teachers to be seen as the expert and the knowledgeable figures that they are,” she says.
The End Result
The results speak for themselves, according to Brown, who saw her students fully engaged in their stations and really pushing themselves. Over in Katy ISD, Sager observed students making improvements in nearly every measurable category. Teachers themselves benefited, too—a study of the program’s pilot implementation reported that 84% of participants had experienced an increase in confidence in their teaching abilities. During the same period, 88% of students said they understood and enjoyed the lessons.
“I would definitely recommend Texas Lesson Study,” Sager says. “It was a lot of work, but it was the best kind of work because it was personalized to our campus and student needs.”
TXLS participants say the program is important because its mission itself is important: “to improve teacher effectiveness, share best practices, improve student outcomes, and provide a platform to demonstrate mastery within the teaching profession.”
“This program is a reminder to our communities and elected officials that this profession, like many others, has high standards, best practices, and research,” Sager says.
Want to Participate in TXLS?
The program is currently available in every ESC region and takes place over the course of the regular school year. TXLS is free of charge, and certain regions provide a stipend to offset costs for participants. For more information, visit texasgateway.org
, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
View recorded lesson plans and teachings from the implementation of the program at texasgateway.org