Lesson Study is a professional development practice that Japanese teachers engage in to systematically examine their practice with the goal of becoming more effective. The practice originated in elementary school math and science but has expanded to all other subjects and grade levels. Lesson Study practice has been catching on in the United States since the late 1990’s. For example, Teachers College at Colombia University sponsors a Lesson Study Research Group. In a Lesson Study, a small group of teachers collaboratively plans, teaches, observes, and critiques a lesson. While working on a study lesson, one of the teachers teaches a class using a lesson the group jointly planned. As the teacher works, the other teachers in the group observe. The group reconvenes afterwards to critique the lesson. Often, a different teacher reteaches the lesson trying to implement changes discussed during the critique session. The goal is to develop a strong lesson that most teachers could use effectively.
In writing The DBQ Project units, we did not follow a formal lesson study format. However, we developed our 6-Step Method for teaching a DBQ after years of observing what students need to do to analyze documents and then write an analytical essay about them. Many of the questions we wrote took test drives in actual classrooms before publication, and those that did not were subjected to interrogation from discerning teacher readers who were looking for the glitches that commonly occur in classrooms.
During the past two years, The DBQ Project has received testimonials from teachers who have used DBQs or Mini-Qs as the subject of lesson studies in their schools. Rather than writing their own lesson plans, these teachers are using ours and then critiquing each other’s practice. For students, writing a Document Based Question is a complex task even if there are only a few documents as there are in Mini-Qs. For teachers, there are considerations about strategies for delivering instructions, modeling document analysis, coaching students, asking probing questions. It is important for teachers to encourage risk taking while maintaining rigorous standards and correcting mistakes. We wholeheartedly support the practice of Lesson Study and applaud those who are using our materials to improve their own practice. Teaching, like writing and thinking, requires practice and collaboration.