The contribution of Lesson Study to teaching and assessing pupils with learning difficulties: Recent UK developments

Brahm Norwich, Peter Dudley, and Annamari Ylonen


This chapter is organised into four broad sections. The first focuses on the context and background for these studies. It sets out a UK version of Lesson Study, how it was developed, and what it can contribute to teaching and assessing pupils with learning difficulties. The section then outlines what the term ‘learning difficulties’ means in a UK context and how these definitions relate to international definitions. The second broad section is about a two- phase Lesson Study project that focussed on moderate learning difficulties (MLD). This section outlines the basic purposes and design of the project and reports a systematic qualitative analysis of Lesson Study outcomes in terms of contexts and processes. In the third broad section, we give a brief account of how Lesson Study was used for assessment purposes. A rationale is presented for the assessment-related use of Lesson Study to complement its use for teaching development. The fourth and final broad section draws some conclusions and considers some future prospects for development and research.

Context and background

The background of the Lesson Study model used in these studies

Lesson Study is a form of teacher-led action research that focuses exclusively on collaborative, classroom-based enquiry into improving pupil learning. It originated in Japan. Little was known about Lesson Study outside Japan until nearly the beginning of the 21st century, when James Stigler and James Hiebert’s book, ‘The Teaching Gap' (1999), began to attract a wide international readership. This book effectively detonated Lesson Study’s ‘big bang’, leading to an explosion of interest in the process and a rapid migration out of Japan and around the world.

The Lesson Study model used in the studies reported in this chapter was developed in England over several stages (Dudley, 2012, 2015a). The first period began at the turn of the century and reached its conclusion in 2005, by which time the main features of the model of Lesson Study used in this study had evolved. The second period from 2005 to 2010 saw this Lesson Study model put into practice on some scale and then evaluated. A third period that started after 2010 has involved Lesson Study being increasingly appropriated by schools themselves rather than by central or local improvement teams, and has taken place in an education landscape in which social media have served to link the ideas and practices of school-based Lesson Study practitioners. In terms of school administration and school improvement, this period has witnessed a quiet revolution, leaving a landscape of school improvement and local school organisation that is hardly recognisable in comparison to what existed five years earlier. It is encouraging that Lesson Study has grown in use and popularity throughout this period of change, rather than becoming consigned to the back burner as school and system leaders coped with the changes. This suggests that, despite a long lead-in of ten years in the UK, Lesson Study is taking root and becoming durable, finding an important niche in the repertoire of teacher learning and improvement practices in use in schools today. As we shall relate later in the chapter, this may indicate that the benefits to learning and teaching of children with learning difficulties afforded by the use of Lesson Study in mainstream and special schools can be nurtured and evolve in the emerging new landscape of school improvement and teacher development.

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