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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Lesson study groups as a teacher research learning community

Lesson study groups as a teacher research learning community
Sally B. Gutierrez


    When it comes to school reform, teacher development is one of the areas which should be given attention. In recent years, the emergence of teacher professional learning communities was continuously inspired by the community of practice (CoP) perspective (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Contrary to the ideas of the traditional one-shot and expert-driven professional development models, teachers in a CoP actively construct and re-construct their teaching practices through regular interactions. Lesson study, the popularly adapted form of teacher professional development in Japan (Saito & Atencio, 2013), resembles the most important feature of CoP which pays attention to how teachers use their lesson plans as objects of learning as they reconstruct their pedagogical practices. One feature that is unique to lesson study is the engagement of teachers as researchers. In fact, their collaboratively planned lessons are oftentimes referred to as “research lessons” (Saito & Atencio, 2013, p. 88). In this article, I present some empirical studies which regard a lesson study group as a teacher research learning community. The article is divided into sections which articulate various aspects in a teacher research learning community such as possible areas of study in a teacher learning community and a lesson study group as a research learning community. 

Some areas of investigation in a teacher research learning community 

    Studies show that teachers’ effectiveness increases when teachers come together and work with others of the same interests (Garmston & Wellman, 1999; Graziano & Navarrete, 2012; Hawley & Valli, 1999; Hiebert & Stigler, 2000). As they come together, they establish a community and focus their activities on finding solutions to their existing problems which may be in various areas in their teaching career such as content and pedagogical strategies. They may even focus on answering their questions on how to improve their professional competence. They may therefore employ research procedures that would unravel the knitted complexities of the teaching and learning process (Loucks-Horsley et al., 1987). 

    In education, teacher learning community can be situated in one school where teachers collaboratively use their lessons as their learning instruments. With trusting and collegial relationships, they can utilize lesson planning as an object of learning and as they continuously meet over time, they deepen their professional friendship, establish open communication, and become more reflective. Collaboratively, they can use their theoretical knowledge, experiences, and personal capacities to plan for lessons that would impact their students’ learning. Their extended engagement is sustained without pressures through collective efforts (Harris & Jones, 2010). 

        In the previous study, Gutierez (2019) articulated the processes of collaborative lesson planning of the teachers. In this study, the teachers were involved in identifying the impacts of their activities in their research learning community. Results of the study revealed that during the teachers’ reflections which is one of the processes of collaborative lesson planning, they identified the advantages collective and social process of research learning community, experience-based inquiry, and the value to collective leadership to name a few (Gutierez, 2019). Reflecting on these aspects, the teachers realized that their roles can also extend to becoming practitioner-researchers by gaining insights from each other in the teacher learning community. 

        Another teacher learning research opportunity is utilizing the teachers’ classrooms (Gutierez & Kim, 2017). By observing each other on how they implement their collaboratively planned lessons, they may focus on understanding the uniqueness of each classroom dynamics based on the students’ characteristics. In the study of Gutierez and Kim (2017), the teachers realized that even though the implementation strategies of a single lesson is already planned ahead, the teacher-implementer’s responsiveness to the unique and diverse students’ needs in specific classrooms may alter the plans that were set. However, there still needs scaffolding from each other to set contingencies for these unplanned scenarios that may arise. Teachers specifically mentioned that these realizations would not arise if they were not intentional in their inquiry in their classrooms. 

Figure 1. Teachers trying out their research lesson as one of their collaborative activities in a teacher research learning community

        Based on the above empirical studies, teacher research learning community should be established in such a way that teachers can regularly collaborate and exchange ideas and insights. By giving value to regular social interactions, they may gain understanding of their professional practices through collective scrutiny and judgement of their instructional methods. Moreover, they may situate their teacher learning communities at their own local schools considering their familiarity on the social and cultural norms that are existing. Thus, a teacher learning community can be a sustainable school-based PD wherein teachers increase their agency and effectiveness by utilizing various aspects of their teaching profession as objects of research. 

Lesson study groups as research learning communities 

            What qualifies a lesson study group as a teacher research community is the use of lesson plans as objects of learning. Using lesson plans as research materials in lesson study, teachers continuously try to understand and improve the quality of their lessons during their constructive critiquing in their learning communities. With the shared goal of improving their practices, they try to focus on their lessons and improve them according to the students’ responses. Moreover, as they establish a common interest of improving their practices, they focus their inquiry on their lessons and not on each other’s weaknesses in either content or pedagogy (Gutierez & Kim, 2017). 

        Using their lesson plans, each member in the lesson study team gather data during lesson observation and implementation that could be used as evidence and areas for discussion when they come together to conduct their regular interactions in the learning community. Through time and as teachers embrace the essence of practitioner-researchers, their discussions may deepen to include inquiry on how to reconcile practical and theoretical problems using their lesson plans as research materials (Gutierez, 2019). Moreover, since the direct implications are observed from the students’ responses, knowledge construction directly comes from the classroom through negotiated dialogues. 

            Traditionally, teachers are reluctant to engage in research activities. Dimmock (2016) identified barriers to their reluctance such as lack of time, motivation, and priority. However, looking into lesson study as a professional development which focuses on collaborative research lessons, teachers may develop the agency to become researchers in a community of like-minded professionals. Since lesson study is conducted in collaboration, lesson study teams can serve as the teacher learning community who regularly come together and conduct research. 


Garmston, R. J., & Wellman, B. M. (1999). The adaptive school: A sourcebook for developing collaborative groups. Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Norwood, MA. 

Graziano, K. J., & Navarrete, L. A. (2012). Co-teaching in a teacher education classroom: Collaboration, compromise, and creativity. Issues in Teacher Education, 21(1), 109-126. 

Gutierez, S. B. (2019). Teacher-practitioner research inquiry and sense making of their reflections on scaffolded collaborative lesson planning experience. Asia-Pacific Science Education, 5. 

Gutierez, S. B., & Kim, H-B. (2017). Becoming teacher-researchers: Teachers’ reflections on collaborative professional development. Educational Research, 59 (4), 444-459. DOI: 10.1080/00131881.2017.1347051 

Harris, A., & Jones, M. (2010). Professional learning communities and system improvement. Improving Schools, 13(2), 172–181. DOI: 10.1177/1365480210376487 

Hawley, W. D., & Valli, L. (1999). The essentials of effective professional development: A new consensus. In L. Darling-Hammond & G. Sykes (Eds.), Teaching as the Learning Profession: Handbook of Policy and Practice (pp. 127-150). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc. 

Hiebert, J, & Stigler, J. W. (2000). A proposal for improving classroom teaching: Lessons from the TIMSS video study. The Elementary School Journal, 101(1), 4-21. DOI: 10.1086/499656 

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991a). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Loucks-Horsley, S., Harding, C. K., Arbuckle, M. A., Murray, L. B., Dubea, C., & Williams, M. K. (1987). Continuing to learn: A guidebook for teacher development. Andover: The Regional Laboratory for Educational Improvement of the Northeast and Islands. 

Saito, & Atencio. (2013). A conceptual discussion of lesson study from a micro-political perspective: Implications for teacher development and pupil learning. Teaching and Teacher Education, 31, 87-95. DOI: 10.1016/j.tate.2013.01.001