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By Susan Schwartz & Judy Blaney, OISE, University of Toronto

Lesson Study Day at VIS, an innovative and cutting-edge initiative, turned out to be incredibly successful! As a lab research partnership school with the Master of Teaching Program at OISE, University of Toronto, VIS offers teacher candidates a warm, open, and flexible environment in which to see exciting and current educational initiatives in action. Lesson study is a professional development initiative for teachers that originated in Japan, is endorsed by the Ontario Ministry of Education, and is being implemented in many schools and school boards across Ontario. It involves a number of steps:
1) co-planning of a lesson;
2) co-teaching the lesson – where one teaches while others observe;
3) co-debriefing and revising the lesson; and
4) co-reflecting on what was learned in order to improve teaching practice.

Lesson study serves to deepen teachers’ understanding of student observation as a powerful assessment tool to inform their teaching and to support their students’ learning. It highlights the value of collaborative planning, collaborative inquiry, and reflective practice, where teachers explore issues together to enhance their teaching and learning. What made it even more powerful for our teacher candidates was that the lesson study experience happened at VIS.

Two classes of teacher candidates arrived at the school and were warmly welcomed by Founder and Director Marie Lardino who answered many questions – about her background and how she founded the school, about her philosophy and style of leadership, about the teachers’ and students’ strengths, hiring practices, and parent involvement at VIS. We were then given a tour of the school, and immediately after that, the groups set up in five different classrooms, with one teacher candidate teaching the lesson while the rest observed, along with a VIS teacher in each classroom. Afterwards, each teacher candidate group went off and debriefed the experience, revised the lesson, and then continued to work together to write a report. This process was repeated in the afternoon when a second group of 25 teacher candidates arrived to teach – mathematics in the morning and language in the afternoon – all with a focus on social justice, relevance to students’ lives, and making a difference.

Lesson Study day 1 Lesson Study day 2 Lesson Study day 3

While the teacher candidates were setting up for their afternoon lessons, we met with the VIS students and here is a sample of what they said:

  • I liked how interactive the teaching was (the puzzle activity).
  • I don’t really like math, but it made it not seem like math. (We were graphing where clothes came from.)
  • We got to see the next generation of teachers who might be teaching our children, gain experience teaching first-hand.
  • Here at VIS, teaching and learning is a priceless thing. I like that you’re doing something to help make other teachers just like the teachers here at VIS.
  • VIS people are special and if those teachers learned from our teachers, and if they go off to other schools, they can change the schools and how people think of children and education.

Here is one teacher candidate’s reflection about the day. Melanie Peto wrote:

The experience of visiting VIS and observing the lesson was absolutely amazing. I have never been in an alternative or private school before, and so it was very cool to see such a unique and interesting way that a school can be formed and run. Hearing Marie Lardino’s philosophy and vision was very inspiring as well. Meeting the students of Voice was fantastic. The way they engaged in our lesson, worked in partners and small groups, discussed issues and offered thoughts and opinions was really exciting. They were critical, insightful, opinionated, good listeners, and all around very engaging children. It was really hard for me to sit silently and watch Caitlin teach without jumping in (a feeling which most of my classmates also admitted to), both because I felt invested in the lesson and because I wanted to interact with these brilliant students. I’m glad I stayed quiet though, because having the opportunity to not talk and just listen was so useful. Being on the periphery allowed me to see and hear things I wouldn’t always get to see and hear. I saw immediately when one student was struggling with a particular part of the math. I could tell which parts of the lesson engaged the students the most. I could listen to their conversations in partner work and think about what in the lesson was going well and what I would change next time. Most of all I could really appreciate how their critical, problem-based, self-led global education at Voice has made them able to offer ideas and creative thoughts, feel safe enough to disagree with someone and have reasons for their choices, and really analyze and apply what they learn. Overall I enjoyed it and found it fascinating; I would recommend trying it again with the Master of Teaching classes in years to come. This has impacted my ideas about my own future teaching as well. It has made me see how important it is to offer choice and independence to our students; a trusting atmosphere allows them to develop into responsible students who can take ownership of their own learning. It also made clear that infusing real world concepts/issues into the everyday subjects can increase engagement and give the students a reason to learn. The effort we put into creating a dynamic lesson that would actually mean something to the students paid off. They were interested in the lesson and felt like they learned something. This experience will remind me to always be considerate of the social justice or real-world lens when creating lessons. It also served to show me how much students are capable of when we trust them, challenge them, and allow them to take responsibility for their learning.

I’m sure you will admit that this is powerful learning for all involved, and it was made possible in this inspiring learning environment! As teacher educators, we discussed the value of lesson study as implemented this year as an effective and engaging assignment for a teacher education program, and we believe that all partners – VIS students, VIS staff, OISE teacher candidates, and OISE instructors – have benefited!

  • The VIS students benefitted by having the opportunity to participate in engaging and thought-provoking enrichment mathematics and language lessons that stretched their thinking and made them more socially aware. They also gained insights into how teachers learn to teach in a collaborative way, and they appreciated their own school as being special and valued as a partnership school with the University of Toronto.
  • The VIS teachers benefited by having the opportunity to observe their students from a different perspective, gaining insights into their students’ learning. As well, they observed some engaging lessons and an exciting form of professional development and collaborative inquiry that they already do as a staff but are talking about pursuing in a more formal way.
  • The teacher candidates benefited by finding out first-hand the value of co-planning, co-teaching and observing, co-debriefing, and co-reflecting, as well as seeing an inspiring alternative school and global education philosophy and community in action. Some will return to VIS as teacher candidates next term for their final placement, while others may end up as staff members at VIS in the years to come.
  • We as teacher educators benefited by discovering the potential of lesson study in teacher education and the exciting domino effect that can happen when all parties collaborate and learn together.

As faculty members of the Master of Teaching program, we feel fortunate to be partnered with this school and value the mentorship and rich teaching and learning experiences that we gain! A special thanks to Director and Founder Marie Lardino and to the staff at Voice for their strong commitment and support of our teacher education partnership. We hope we will continue our collaborations for many years to come.
Susan Schwartz & Judy Blaney