In Japan, kenkyuu jugyou is a fundamental aspect of professional development for teachers. The term is a combination of “jugyou,” or teaching and learning, and “kenkyuu,” meaning study or research, and it is most often translated as “lesson study.”

Lesson studies are collaborative, teacher-led sessions aimed at collectively improving the quality of instruction by incorporating research around a specific topic.

How lesson study works

In a lesson study, a number of teachers meet and identify a particular teaching problem to solve as a group. For example, students might be having trouble understanding exponent rules.

After identifying the specific areas in which students struggle, teachers begin exploring why—a process that could involve reading education literature and reviewing past lessons.

Teachers aren’t typically researchers, so oftentimes an outside advisor who doesn’t work at the school will help identify articles and research material for the group to peruse.

Once the research is done, teachers in the lesson study group collaborate to create a lesson plan. The lesson plan functions like an experiment, complete with its own hypothesis: if we teach this material in a particular way, we believe students will learn the content more effectively. 

Then, theory becomes practice: one of the lesson study participants will teach the group-generated lesson plan to students. The other teachers are on hand to observe results as well. In fact, teachers outside of the group are welcome to attend, as are educators from other institutions. The Japanese call these sessions “public research lessons.”

A win-win for teachers and students

A number of Asian and European countries promote collaboration among teachers, providing opportunities for lesson study-style group exploration and professional development—with great success. But educators aren’t the only ones who benefit from lesson study.

“I had always seen education as teachers giving knowledge to children, as a top-down process,” one teacher participant noted. “Through my work with the elementary science research group, I came to see education not as giving knowledge to children but as giving them opportunities to build their own knowledge.” 

Many school districts in the United States are paying attention. In 2015, Florida began promoting lesson study in an effort to boost student performance. If the effectiveness of the lesson study model abroad is any indication, the results will speak for themselves.