Participatory Lesson Study – Making the capture of data in Lesson Study more explicit

Whilst Learning Study makes explicit use of variation theory (Cheng and Lo, n.d.) as a basis for analysing and understanding the process of learning, Lesson Study can be vague in establishing a link between learning and methods of analysis. Cerbin and Kopp (2006) use an approach called ‘cognitive empathy’ by developing approaches to teaching in the research seminar which make student thinking ‘visible’, in part by attempting to plan from a student perspective. Lewis (2002) considers the need to watch eyes and faces, and capturing discussion between students. Whilst both of these approaches are important and positive, in neither case will they capture the complexity of the learning process which students experience.

In attempting to base data collection on a more critical foundation regarding the learning process, we have considered the work of Nuthall (2003) and Illeris (2007). Nuthall (2007:158) emphasises the complex process of learning and its relation to teaching,

‘…how students learn from classroom activities is not simply a result of teacher-managed activities, but also the result of students’ ongoing relationships with other students and of their own self-created activities or use of resources.’

This means that a series of levels interact to make each student’s learning highly individualised:

  1. A visible layer which is that which is public and teacher-led
  2. A semi-visible layer which is the student-led culture, relationships and interaction
  3. An invisible layer which is that of the mental processes such as prior learning and working memory which is central to individual sense making.

This last layer is not visible and therefore we need to seriously consider our definition of learning as a starting point for developing a meaningful and critical set of methods for data collection.

Here, we have used the learning theory of Illeris (2007) as a basis for our understanding and capture of the learning process experienced by students. He characterises learning as being the amalgamation of a cognitive dimension which is concerned with content and individual cognitive processes, an emotional dimension which includes elements such as motivation, emotion and a will to learn, what Illeris (2007, 24) terms the ‘… mental energy.. needed to carry out a learning process’, and a social dimension which focuses on interaction between the learner and their social and material environment. This means that data capture based on approaches such as observation are still important as they are essential for gaining insight into the social aspects of learning. However, observation of individuals and their behaviours is not able to search inside the individual to gain insights into their cognitive (and often emotional) processes. The result of taking this stance is that we must say explicitly that any capture and analysis of the learning process will always be incomplete; to complete research on teaching and learning is always to work with the partial, the incomplete. Whilst we feel that this approach is appropriate, we believe there needs to be greater explicit discussion within the lesson study research community concerning the processes of learning which inform our understandings of this central issue.

Our alignment with Illeris’ (2007) theory of learning has direct implications for the methods used to gain insights into the process of learning, and also underpins our desire to develop participative approaches. As shown in Figure 3

PLS data capture

The inclusion of student focus groups is seen as helping the lecturers gain an explicit understanding of student prior learning and also which elements in their learning they believe are important for them to take further at a given point in time. The stimulated recall interviews, using artefacts from research seminars as a basis for discussion begin to give insight into the ‘invisible’ worlds (Nuthall, 2007) of students as they engage with the teaching and learning in the research seminar as well as offering extra insights through student afterthoughts. Any discussion which occurs will obviously be incomplete as not all elements of the learning experience will be recounted or remembered and some of the experience may well have been subconscious, or will only be made sense of more fully over time. However, to gain direct testimony from students, particularly when triangulated against research seminar artefacts is an important addition to analysis. These interviews also give the potential to consider the emotional dimension of the learning process, as our experience of this approach to interviewing makes explicit the affective reactions of students to their learning. Meetings, focus groups and interviews are all recorded and sent for transcribing. Transcriptions are then considered thematically to begin to analyse and understand the main insights which a project uncovers.

Other methods used to capture the social dimension of learning include the use of video and audio recording as well as observation itself. We stress that this is a process of augmenting data capture rather than the loss of one approach to be replaced by another.


Cerbin and Kopp (2006) ‘Lesson Study as a Model for Building Pedagogical Knowledge and Improving Teaching.’ International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. 18(3), 250-257.

Cheng, E.C.K. & Lo, M.L. (n.d.) The Approach of Learning Study: Its origin and implications.

Illeris, K. (2007) How We Learn: Learning and non-learning in school and beyond. Abingdon: Routledge.

Lewis, C. (2002). Lesson Study: A Handbook of Teacher Led Instructional Change. Philadelphia: Research for Better Schools.

Nuthall, G. (2007) The Hidden Lives of Learners. Wellington: NZCER Press.


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