Thinking through lesson study for task design and learning insights

Today was one of those days where being able to slow down and reflect can lead to some new insights and ideas for future change. On Friday I’m running a day-long workshop together with Joan, my partner-in-crime on our MA International Education research methods module considering issues around research methods pedagogy. We’ve spent a great day putting together what we hope will be a reflective consideration of our research into this area, and as with all such events we’ll spend some time discussing possible ways forward.

Over the past year, we’ve gained a number od ideas and insights from the use of Lesson Study. We’ve found this approach invaluable as part of a much wider action research approach exploring the module development we’ve undertaken, and have no doubt that it has been a worthwhile activity in opening up new thinking and understanding concerning some (but no where near all) of the pedagogic changes we’ve made. As we started to think about some of what we’ve learned this year, and how we might gain further insights next year, we started to think about the difficulty some students have in understanding abstract concepts such as ‘ontology’, particularly for those whose own languages do not have a similar notion/concept. At this point, we started to think about how we can gain a better understanding of student learning of this, and how we can help develop better approaches to help deeper conceptual understanding. Normally, in Lesson Study the unit of analysis is the lesson, focusing on a leaning challenge across that period. But why can’t the unit of analysis be much shorter, a single task?

With this in mind we’re beginning to think about the idea of using a modified version of lesson study, possibly even bringing in elements of learning study (as variation theory and phenomenographic perspectives might be useful) to develop a deep planning approach, with observation and stimulated recall interviewing in an attempt to open up the process of thought and learning going on in that single task. The process might look something like this:

1. Begin by interviewing three students from different educational/cultural backgrounds to establish their implicit ‘ontologies’ and also the degree to which they have been exposed to/understand the concept.

2. Work in a team of three including the two of us who run the module and a colleague from the English Language Teaching Unit who is an expert in English for Academic Purposes (EAP). We would develop a single task designed to open up student thinking and activity on ontology, considering initial reflections from students as a starting point and combining this with academic understanding of the concept.

3. Complete observation of the task, with the observers in close proximity of the three students, noting observable activity, recording any dialogue and videoing with VEO to time stamp evidence. As soon as the activity is finished, the observers would then conduct short (10-15 minute) stimulated recall interviews with the students to discuss how they approached the task, what they were thinking and how they now understand the concept of ontology.

4. Two days after the session, we would ask the students to complete a second interview asking them what they understand by the term ‘ontology’ and how they would use it in explaining their wider understanding of research methods. This is to see which elements of change in their schema is longer term – if any.

The reason for discussing this with students both immediately and after a gap serves two purposes:

– the immediate discussion helps understand interaction with the task and how the student makes sense of it. Does it help them begin to gain a better understanding? How well are they able to navigate the task? What elements of ontology as a concept are they interacting with? How are they beginning to relate these elements? As a consequence, how well has the task worked in opening up the concept to analysis, interpretation and synthesis? Are there other ‘external’ factors at play such as experience or prior learning?

– the longer term interview allows us to begin to understand which elements have remained as a residual effect, but also to understand what intervening processes might be responsible. Has the student simply remembered some aspects? Have they gone on to read more about the concept? Have they tried to utilise the concept in follow up work? In other words what are the complex interplay of factors and experiences the students have (or have not) used in stabilising and/or augmenting their understanding and use of the concept of ontology.

Beyond the second interview the team can then come back to evaluate what they have learned from both the task and the aftermath as a way of beginning to consider wider, longer-term interventions and structures for helping stabilise and augment conceptual understanding further.

If this gives us useful insights, we might then begin to think about task design for relating concepts!!

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