Lesson Study Overview

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The practice of Lesson Study, which follows a continuous improvement process in teaching a topic, originated in Japan in the 19th century. Its purpose was to enable Japanese teachers, who had traditionally used individualized instruction, to acquire group instruction skills from their peers in western countries.Lesson Study may take the form of Professional Development, as well as Teacher Research, and consists of three major forms: school based study, cross-school study, and cross-district study. Lesson Study is widely viewed as the foremost form of professional development in Japan and is credited with success in improving classroom practices within the Japanese elementary school system. [1][2][3][4][5][6][7]

The Lesson Study process generally comprises the following steps:

  1. Defining a teaching problem based upon student needs
  2. Lesson Study planning, with the student and the teacher as the focus
  3. Focusing the lesson on student thinking,learning, and misunderstanding
  4. Evaluating the lesson's impact on student learning and reflecting on its effect
  5. Revising the lesson based upon the data collected
  6. Teaching the revised lesson to a new class of students
  7. Evaluating and reflecting
  8. Sharing the results.

The Video Introduction of Lesson Study provides an in-depth overview of the process and our Glossary of Lesson Study Terms defines common words and phrases associated with Lesson Study.

Lesson Study in Japan

Lesson Study as Professional Development

Lesson Study has played an important role in professional development in Japan since the beginning of Japanese public education more than 200 years ago. One of the reasons for its popularity might be that Lesson Study provides Japanese teachers with opportunities to: (1) make sense of educational ideas within their practice; (2) change their perspectives about teaching and learning; (3) learn to see their practice from the child’s perspective; and (4) receive support from their colleagues. For example, one Japanese teacher said:

"It is hard to incorporate new instructional ideas and materials in classrooms unless we see how they actually look. In lesson study, we see what goes on in the lesson more objectively, and that helps us understand the important ideas without being overly concerned about other issues in our own classrooms."[8]

Three characteristics set Lesson Study apart from typical professional development programs. These characteristics are described below.

  1. Lesson Study provides teachers an opportunity to see teaching and learning in the classroom in a concrete form.  Teachers to focus their discussions on planning, implementation, observation, and reflection on classroom practice. By looking at actual practice in the classroom, teachers are able to develop a common understanding or image of what good teaching practice entails, This in turn helps students understand what they are learning.
  2. Another unique characteristic of Lesson Study keeps students at the heart of the professional development activity. It provides an opportunity for teachers to carefully examine the student learning and understanding process by observing and discussing actual classroom practice.
  3. Lesson Study is teacher-led. Through it teachers can be actively involved in the process of instructional change and curriculum development.

Lesson Study as Teacher Research

Lesson Study is a form of research that allows teachers to take central role as investigators of their own classroom practice and to become life-long autonomous thinkers and researchers of teaching and learning in the classroom.  It has played an important role in improving curricula, textbooks, and teaching and learning materials in Japan. In fact, most Japanese mathematics textbook publishers employ as authors classroom teachers who are deeply involved in,and their materials are in some manner examined through the process of lesson study. In addition, Japanese teachers publish many Lesson Study case-study books, which usually contain examples of actual practices as well as their hypotheses and reflections about instruction and learning in the classroom, Most of these books are available in the education section of large bookstores. The books help allow teachers to obtain new ideas for instruction as well as understanding of student learning. The books help them teachers engage in the discussion of new educational ideas based on case studies,

Three Major Forms of Lesson Study

Example of Lesson Study Groups


Main Purpose

School-Based Lesson Study

  • Usually all teachers from a school participate
  • Establish a school Lesson
  • Form several subgroups that engage in a lesson study cycle
  • Achieving systematic and consistent instructional and learning improvement in the school as a whole 
  • Developing a common vision of education at the school through teacher collaboration

Cross-School Lesson Study


  • Organized as an intra-school Lesson Study group
  • Usually subject-oriented groups (e.g., math teachers from each school in the district gather to conduct lesson study)
  • Meet once or twice a month
  • Developing communication among the schools in the district
  • Exchanging ideas between the schools
  • Improving instruction and learning in the district as a whole

Cross-Districts Lesson Study

(Regional or Nation-wide)

  • Usually a voluntarily organized group
  • Group of enthusiastic practitioners with purpose of improving teaching and learning or curriculum in a certain subject
  • Meet once or twice after school on off-school days
  • Developing new ideas for teaching chosen topics
  • Investigating curriculum sequences and contents
  • Developing curriculum

Improvements in Teacher Practice

Lesson Study embodies many features that researchers have noted are effective in changing teacher practice, such as using concrete  materials to focus on meaningful problems, taking explicit account of the contexts of teaching and the experiences of teachers, and providing on-site teacher support within a collegiate network. At the same time, Lesson Study avoids many features noted as shortcomings of typical professional development, e.g., that it is short-term, fragmented, externally administered, and insensitive to the local context and individual needs of teachers (Firestone, 1996; Huberman & Gusky, 1994; Little, 1993; Miller & Lord, 1994; Pennel & Firestone).

One of the key components in these collaborative efforts associated with Lesson Study is “the research lesson," in which, typically, a group of instructors prepares a single lesson, which is then observed in the classroom by the Lesson Study group and other practitioners,  afterwords the lesson is analyzed during the group’s post-lesson discussion. Through the research lesson, teachers become more attentive attentive to the process by which lessons unfold in their class, and they gather data from the actual teaching based on the lesson plan that the lesson study group has prepared. During the post-lesson discussion,  teachers review the data together in order to

  1. Make sense of educational ideas within their practice
  2. Challenge their individual and shared perspectives about teaching and learning
  3. Learn to see their practice from the student’s perspective
  4. Enjoy collaborative support among colleagues[8]

See the Guide for planning and analyzing mathematics lessons in lesson study and Classroom Innovations Through Lesson Study for videos of Lesson Study instruction.

Areas of Focus in Mathematics

Listed Below are six areas of focus associated with Lesson Study in the teaching of mathematics.

  1. Mathematical Thinking
    As teachers engage in kyozaikenkyu during Lesson Study, one of the focal points, is students' mathematical thinking.Teachers help students learned to master new topics so when planning the public lesson, teachers investigate how to pose problems in ways that enhance students' mathematical thinking.They also analyze the impact of the numbers chosen for the main learning task and how they may influence students' mathematical thinking.
  2. Problem Solving
    To teach through problem solving teachers must be able to clearly articulate what they want students to understand and help them appreciate how they can develop that understanding using what they have previously learned (potential learning trajectories).
  3. Teachers' Questioning
    How teachers pose questions influences students mathematical thinking, and thus their mathematical learning. For this reason, one of the main discussion points during the lesson planning phase of Lesson Study is how to pose the main learning task to students. Suppose, for example, that the students' task is to determine the area of a L-shaped figure. Instead of instructing students to "Find the area of the Shape," the teacher, may say:
         "Let's think about different ways we can calculate the area of this shape."
         "Let's calculate the area of this shape using what we've already learned."
         "Let's think about how we can use the formula to find the area of a rectangle to find the area of this new shape."
    Teachers can then observe how students responded to the question during the public lesson to evaluate the usefulness and appropriateness of the question posed.
  4. Board Writing
    Board writing is an important part of Japanese mathematics education. It was shown in the TIMSS video study that there are significant differences in the way in which board writing is used in Japan and is the United States. In Japan, board writing serves multiple purposes; for example, it provides space to display students' ideas, to summarize important ideas, or to provide an example of notebook writing.
  5. Note Taking
    As a consequence of the importance of good note-taking skills, teachers must help students learn how to take good notes. These skills can provide students with notes that are both a record of the lesson and learn about learning.
  6. Facilitating a Whole-Class Discussion
    The discussion phase of a lesson is the most critical time in a structured problem solving lesson. During this time students analyze, compare, and contrast ideas. This collaborative reflection raises the level of mathematical discourse and enables students to develop new mathematical understanding. Teachers must plan how they will facilitate the discussion by anticipating students' possible strategies for solving a problem and the sequence in which they will present ideas and what strategies they should emphasize.

APEC and Lesson Study

The APEC Education Network (EDNET) is sponsoring projects which are using Lesson Study as a way to improve the quality of education in both Mathematics and Language Learning. A key aspect of lesson study is the creation of educational videos for teachers and students, and EDNET is collecting examples from both mathematics and language learning lessons. 


The Mathematics project, Classroom Innovations Through Lesson Study, was approved in 2005 to meet the APEC Ministerial priority of “Stimulating Learning in Mathematics and Science”.  It has led to the development of several videos of lesson study in classrooms which can serve as models of mathematical teaching or as a focus of a discussion. Additionally, papers presented at the three conferences sponsered by this project provide an in-depth description of the practice of lesson study in APEC economies. A collaborative network of Lesson Study experts among member economies has formed as a result of this project.

Language Learning

The Language Learning project was approved in 2009 and is just getting underway.  The project is a response to the APEC Ministerial priority of developing a Strategic Action Plan for English and other Languages, aimed at strengthening economies' human capital and increasing global competitiveness. The objectives of this project include:

  • Sharing the methods of Lesson Study;
  • using practice as a realistic and effective approach for in-service teachers' professional development in language teaching by promoting higher proficiency in shared languages; and
  • collaboratively applying and evaluating the Lesson Study approach for the pragmatic teaching of languages among the APEC member economies. 

Direct beneficiaries of this project include language teachers, students and pedagogical specialists in APEC member economies.  Furthermore, schools and governments may be indirect beneficiaries, as the lesson study approach fo the teaching of foreign languages can strengthen students' knowlege and offer them an advantage in the global workforce.

Example videos of Lesson Study in language learning are already available, and expansion upon this effort is under way.  See for example an interesting video for Spanish 1, which is taught in Grade 8, in which children perform mock phone interviews to authentically practice the Spanish language.  This video and many others can be viewed here.


  1. Fernandez, C. and Yoshida, Makoto (2001). Lesson study as a model for improving teaching: Insights, challenges, and a vision for the future. In The Eye of the Storm: Improving Teaching Practices to Achieve Higher Standards: Proceedings of a Wingspread Conference, September, 2000. Washington DC: Council for Basic Education.
  2. Lewis, C. (2000). Lesson Study: The core of Japanese professional development. Paper presented at AERA annual meeting, April 2000.
  3. Lewis, C. and Tsuchida, I. (1998). The basics in Japan: The Three C’s. Educational Leadership 55:6, 32-37.
  4. Shimahara, N.K. (1999). Japanese initiatives in teacher development. Kyoiku Daigaku Gakkou Kyouiku Sentaa Kiyo, 14, 29-40.
  5. Stigler, J. and Hiebert, J. (1999). The teaching gap: Best Ideas from the World's Teachers for Improving Education in the Classroom. New York: Free Press.
  6. Takahashi, A., (2000) A Current Trends and Issues in Lesson Study in Japan and the United States, Journal of Japan Society of Mathematical Education, Volume 82, Number (12): 49-6, pp.15-21.
  7. Yoshida, M. (1999). Lesson study: A case study of a Japanese approach to improving instruction through school-based teacher development. Dissertation, Department of Education, University of Chicago.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Takahashi, A. and Yoshida, M. (2004). How Can We Start Lesson Study?: Ideas for establishing lesson study communities. Teaching Children Mathematics, Volume 10, Number 9. pp.436-443.

See related

Mathematics Education
Mathematics Standards
Mathematics Assessment
Language Curriculum and Instruction