Virtual Tools and Protocols to Support Collaborative Reflection During Lesson Study

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Gorth, R. E., Bergner, J. A., Weaver, S. D., & Follmer, D. J. (2021).Virtual Tools and Protocols to Support Collaborative Reflection During Lesson Study. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 6(4). Retrieved from

by Randall E. Groth, Salisbury University; Jennifer A. Bergner, Salisbury University; Starlin D. Weaver, Salisbury University; & D. Jake Follmer, West Virginia University


Lesson study provides opportunities for teachers to collaboratively design, implement, and analyze instruction. Research illustrates its efficacy as a site for teacher learning. The setting for this article is a lesson study project involving preservice teachers, inservice teachers, and university faculty members. We supported collaborative reflection on practice among these individuals by using asynchronous and synchronous online tools and meeting protocols. Asynchronous online lesson-video review and tagging helped participants prepare to debrief about lessons they had implemented. Midway through one of our lesson study cycles, the COVID-19 pandemic occurred, eliminating opportunities to meet face-to-face for lesson debriefing sessions. In response, we developed and field-tested two protocols for online synchronous lesson study debriefing meetings. The protocols prompted conversations related to pedagogy, content, and content-specific pedagogy. After the debriefing sessions, lesson study group members reported improvements in their knowledge growth, self-efficacy, and expectations for student learning. We describe our use of online virtual tools and protocols to contribute to the literature on ways to support collaborative reflection on practice.


Differences in students’ science and mathematics achievement across countries have sparked interest in examining corresponding differences in teacher education models (Stigler & Hiebert, 2009). One model that has drawn a great deal of attention is lesson study (Lewis & Hurd, 2011). Lesson study is a cyclical process carried out in small groups. The group begins by identifying student learning goals and then collaboratively designs a lesson to address them. After the lesson, the group gathers for a debriefing session to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson. In some cases, but not all, debriefing leads to the redesign and reteaching of the lesson (Fujii, 2014). Debriefing provides an opportunity to collaboratively reflect upon issues such as student thinking, assessment mechanisms, and teaching tools (Groth, 2011). For many years, this process of continuous improvement of practice has provided a vital support structure for teacher learning in Japan (Watanabe, 2002).

Over the past 2 decades, lesson study has become increasingly prevalent in the United States (Lewis, 2016). Momentum for its use has been bolstered by research indicating that lesson study can foster knowledge of content, pedagogy, and content-specific pedagogy (Cajkler et al., 2014; Fischman & Wasserman, 2017; Huang & Shimizu, 2016; Lewis et al., 2009; Sibbald, 2009; Xu & Pedder, 2015). One of the most powerful features of lesson study is the opportunities it creates for reflection-on-action (Schön, 1987). Practicing reflection-on-action can help newer teachers eventually begin to make the types of in-the-moment adjustments to practice that requires (Saucerman et al., 2017; Schön, 1987). Lesson study provides opportunities to generate, test, and progressively refine ideas for improving teaching (Ricks, 2011). When inservice and preservice teachers collaborate during lesson study, a synergistic relationship between professional development for experienced teachers and clinical experiences for teacher candidates can take shape (Groth et al., 2020).

Despite the benefits of having inservice and preservice teachers work together in lesson study groups, forming such communities of practice can be challenging. Logistical considerations such as coordinating schedules for all participants are often nontrivial. Such problems are exacerbated by the fact that teachers in the United States generally do not have collegial work built into their everyday schedules to as great an extent as teachers in countries such as Japan, where lesson study has flourished (Stigler & Hiebert, 2009). Additionally, preservice teachers often do not initially notice important aspects of students’ thinking when observing lessons (Jacobs et al., 2010). So, simply observing a collaboratively planned lesson as it is implemented may not be sufficient for them to reflect productively on its key elements.

Technology-based strategies can help address some of the obstacles to having preservice and inservice teachers collaborate in lesson study groups. Synchronous and asynchronous online discussions can help address the logistical challenges of assembling groups at the same time in the same place. Lesson videos can also provide opportunities for drawing attention to key lesson events that may be missed during an initial observation (Star & Strickland, 2008). Such online discussions and analyses of lesson videos provide opportunities for collaborative reflection-on-action, which is at the core of the lesson study approach. In this article, we explain how we leveraged these technological tools to support and enhance reflection by preservice and inservice teachers as they critically analyzed their own work during a cycle of lesson study.


Context for Lesson Study

This article describes work that took place in two lesson study groups that worked in parallel to one another. In each group, preservice and inservice teachers collaboratively designed, implemented, and analyzed lessons that integrated science and mathematics. There were two preservice science teachers and two preservice mathematics teachers in each group. The lessons they created supported teaching of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS; NGSS Lead States, 2013). Group 1 worked with an inservice middle school science teacher. They created a lesson about Punnett squares and the probabilities associated with potential outcomes shown in their cells (NGSS MS-LS3: “Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits”). Group 2 worked with an inservice middle school mathematics teacher. They focused on a lesson requiring students to reason proportionally in scientific contexts such as examining ratios related to body length measurements and microscopic images (NGSS Crosscutting Concept of “Scale, Proportion, and Quantity”).

We used two technology-based strategies to support reflection in each group: asynchronous lesson-video analyses and synchronous debriefing sessions. Group members were prompted to analyze their lesson videos asynchronously in preparation for debriefing sessions. Debriefing sessions were then to occur during face-to-face meetings of each group. However, after each group’s lesson was implemented, the COVID-19 pandemic caused cancellations of in-person meetings. Given the situation, we devised and implemented protocols for online synchronous debriefing sessions. The placement of the asynchronous and synchronous activities within the overall lesson study cycle is shown in Figure 1. Next, we describe the nature of the synchronous and asynchronous activities and how they supported collaborative reflection.


Figure 1

Placement of Synchronous and Asynchronous Activities Within a Lesson Study Cycle

Asynchronous Lesson-Video Analyses

In each lesson study group, each group member implemented a portion of their collaboratively planned lesson as their entire group observed in person. They video recorded each lesson as it was taught. Each video was then uploaded to a password-protected platform ( for group members to review. We took this step because having educators analyze videos of their own lessons can foster critical self-reflection and more careful attention to student thinking (Hamel & Viau-Guay, 2019). Video review of lessons is a powerful and rapidly growing teacher education practice (Arias et al., 2020; Barth-Cohen et al., 2018, Hawkins & Park Rogers, 2016; Tripp & Rich, 2012).

We provided group members with a link and password to access their lesson video and asked them to start by reviewing it on their own. As they viewed it, they clicked on the lesson videos to add time-coded notes about the different events they believed to be significant. We asked them to add notes on what they would want to do again if teaching this lesson and also what they would want to change. Each individual did this for the portion of the lesson they taught as well as the other portions.

Figure 2 shows the interface that supported asynchronous video analyses. The play button appears in the lower left corner. As viewers played the video, they could move the pointer anywhere on the screen and click to make a comment. Figure 2 shows comments that were made about how it would have been helpful to have a word wall for students at the 20:28 mark of Group 1’s lesson. Remarks made by a preservice teacher in the group appear at the top of the pane on the right side of the figure. Another preservice teacher and the inservice teacher for the group responded to the initial comment to form a conversation thread. All of the conversation threads for the video could be viewed by scrolling through the pane on the far right or by using the vertical white hash marks at the bottom of the video screen. Each hash mark indicated a point at which viewers made comments on the video.


Figure 2
Online Interface Used to Support Asynchronous Analysis of Videos

As comments about the video were posted, the university faculty members who would later facilitate synchronous debriefing sessions (the first and second authors of this article) monitored the posts and offered some of their own thoughts on the lesson. We took this approach because research illustrates that knowledgeable others can add value to the lesson study process by introducing perspectives the group otherwise may not consider (Fernandez, 2002). We also monitored the discussions to check that all group members were participating and sent reminders to those who still needed to contribute. Having contributions from all group members on an array of strengths and weaknesses of each lesson helped set the stage for each group’s debriefing session.

Synchronous Debriefing Sessions

Our overarching goal for debriefing sessions was to engage participants in discourse focused on analyzing their thinking related to designing, implementing, and reflecting on each lesson. Facilitators can foster this type of discourse by asking educators to consider the impact of their teaching decisions on student learning (Santagata & Angelici, 2010). Conversations that foster discourse about lesson videos in this manner can be structured in many different ways. Next, we describe two slightly different structures we used to facilitate such debriefing sessions in a synchronous online environment.

The facilitation protocols for each debriefing session are shown in Table 1. Although debriefing sessions were conducted virtually, neither protocol strictly requires a video-conferencing platform to implement. Group 1’s debriefing session had a mix of small-group/pair and large-group interactions. Group 2’s debriefing session kept the entire group together for the duration. The debriefing sessions occurred 3–4 weeks after lesson implementation in order to allow sufficient time for group members to complete their asynchronous lesson review and tagging. Each session lasted approximately an hour and was conducted via video conferencing ( Participants’ video tags were used to catalyze discussion in each debriefing session because the tags made participants’ thinking about the lesson readily visible for analysis, reflection, and critique.


Table 1

Two Facilitation Protocols for Lesson Study Debriefing Sessions


The two debriefing sessions differed in how they structured participants’ interactions. Group 1 broke into smaller groups to review all of the video tags and compile their observations about what they would and would not change when teaching the lesson again. They then reassembled for a large group discussion to share their notes and observations. Group 1’s session culminated with a discussion of an exit-ticket writing prompt about the main changes they would make to support student learning when implementing the lesson again. In Group 2, the facilitator initiated the conversation by pointing out specific lesson-video tags pertaining to content, pedagogy, and content-specific pedagogy and inviting participants to respond. The Group 2 facilitator sustained conversation throughout the session by continuing to invite comment on specific tags. Along the way, Group 2 participants were invited to share thoughts on what they would keep and what they would change when implementing the lesson again.

Each debriefing session protocol leveraged the capabilities of the Zoom conferencing platform in unique ways. In Group 1, Zoom breakout rooms were used to form smaller groups at the outset. The Group 1 facilitator visited each breakout room to provide help as the smaller groups reviewed video tags. Group 1 also made use of the Zoom whole-group chat feature at the conclusion of their session to have participants summarize key changes to make when implementing the lesson again. Group 2 members used the whole-group chat feature to share observations throughout the session as others were speaking. The Group 2 facilitator also used Zoom’s screen-sharing capabilities to play segments of video that had been tagged by group members. Key video segments were played for the group to stimulate their recall of lesson events and the tags they had assigned. Both debriefing sessions were video recorded in Zoom to allow for later analysis. Although the motivation for holding sessions on Zoom was to work around COVID-19 meeting restrictions, the capabilities can be equally valuable post-pandemic in helping facilitators overcome challenges associated with assembling preservice and inservice teachers all in one place at the same time and also in providing structure to their reflection processes.


Debriefing Session Discourse Themes

After the debriefing sessions occurred, we reflected upon the video recordings. In previous work, we found that debriefing session conversations foster conversations about content, pedagogy, and content-specific pedagogy (Groth et al., 2020), so we sought to determine the extent to which our synchronous online debriefing sessions had done so. To begin the process, the recordings were uploaded to the same Vimeo platform we used for storing the groups’ lessons and having them tag important events (Figure 2). Next, the third author of the paper, who was not involved with either lesson study group, viewed the videos and inserted tags to identify instances of discussion about content, pedagogy, and content-specific pedagogy. A tag was inserted whenever a new conversation related to one of the three categories began. These tags essentially helped us debrief about our debriefing sessions.

As we took inventory of tags and discussed them, we found that the two debriefing sessions differed in their emphases. Table 2 contains a summary of the number of times each type of tag was inserted. Group 1’s conversations leaned more heavily toward general pedagogy. Group 2’s session contained examples of how debriefing sessions can foster conversations about content. Each group discussed content-specific pedagogy. Next, we provide examples to illustrate how each theme entered the debriefing sessions.


Table 2

Frequencies of Conversation Tags Related to Content, Pedagogy, and Content-Specific Pedagogy for Each Debriefing Session

Note. Analysis of Group 1’s debriefing session resulted in a total of 23 conversation tags; analysis of Group 2’s debriefing session resulted in a total of 38 conversation tags.


Discussions About Content

Group 2’s discussions about content focused on ideas related to ratio and proportion. One of their lesson activities was to have students compare body lengths. In reviewing the lesson, they noticed that students at times made simple comparisons, such as saying that one person’s head was longer than another’s. The group wanted students to transition to comparisons that incorporated ratios, such as looking at the length of one’s head versus one’s overall height. The former comparison was correct, yet not helpful, in addressing the lesson goal of using proportional reasoning to make comparisons in scientific contexts. This debriefing session interaction provided a distinction useful for assessing and guiding students’ work on the lesson activities, namely, that of correct versus helpful comparisons.

Group 2 also discussed appropriate measurement techniques for the problems they had assigned. During their debriefing session, the inservice mentor teacher for the group explained she wanted students to see that some of the problems in their lesson could be approached with nonstandard units, saying, “Really, the ratio is just a comparison of, depending on what body parts you’re comparing them to…you don’t always have to have a standard unit of measure, so I was just trying to pull that into the conversation.” The university faculty member for Group 2 expanded on this thought by talking about the difference between additive and multiplicative approaches, noting that the lesson goal was for students to examine ratios of measurements to one another, regardless of the units used, rather than to subtract the smaller measurement from the larger. Later in the discussion, the group considered the number of femurs needed to measure out one’s height as an example of a ratio they wanted students to understand. This portion of the debriefing session helped clarify the mathematical reasoning goals for the lesson and hence provided a basis for later conversations about the types of pedagogy and content-specific pedagogy that would help students achieve the goals when implementing the lesson in the future.


Discussions About Pedagogy

Both lesson study groups talked about the extent to which their lessons captured students’ attention. Group 1 noticed that most students seemed to be focused and paying attention, but they also discussed how to get all students engaged from the start. One suggestion was to “use an attention-grabbing personal example or an example from well-known Hollywood stars right up front during the lesson.” They conjectured that students would be more motivated to delve into Punnett squares if they were used to predict traits of offspring from actual people rather than abstract entities. As they viewed their lesson video, Group 1 also identified points at which they could have paused to get all students’ attention back before moving on. Like Group 1, Group 2 discussed the opening example for their lesson. It involved having students say what they noticed and wondered about a picture showing a boy’s face with several measurements marked. The group agreed that the opening helped catch students’ attention and helped students understand their later work with ratios. Hence, Group 1 decided to alter the “opening hook” for their lesson, and Group 2 decided to retain theirs in its current form when implementing the lesson again.

Another pedagogical focus for both groups was examining their questioning. Group 1 noticed that their short, general questions such as “What?” and “Why?” did not get much student response. They became conscious of the need to create more specific questions rather than relying mostly on general ones. Group 1 was also surprised that students did not seem to notice some of the key points from a video about Punnett squares, so they decided to give students focus questions before the video when teaching the lesson next time. Specifically, they decided to use the prompt, “In this video, you will be introduced to something called a Punnett Square; write down 3 thoughts or pieces of information that you got from the video and be prepared to share.” The preservice teachers in Group 2 noticed they had trouble spontaneously devising questions to engage students during the lesson. The mentor teacher from Group 2 suggested writing some of these questions in advance and embedding them in the lesson plan.

During Group 1’s debriefing session, they considered strategies that could be used to help students learn vocabulary. They thought that building a word wall, anchor chart, or word bank could help make vocabulary more visible. Doing so might increase the chance that students would use relevant disciplinary vocabulary in their conversations with one another. The group decided to put the vocabulary for the day on a word wall as each word was introduced during the next implementation of their lesson. Students could then record the new words in their notes in a word bank. The vocabulary in the word bank would then be ready for students to use again during future lessons on Punnett Squares. These strategies could help students become more familiar with the relevant vocabulary for the lesson and increase their usage of it.

At several points during Group 2’s debriefing session, there were conversations about how to make parts of the lesson more efficient. These conversations were motivated by their observations that students ran out of time to do all of the planned lesson activities and to complete the exit ticket thoroughly at the end. The inservice mentor teacher for the group suggested putting name cards on the classroom tables ahead of time so students would immediately know where to sit and get started more quickly. Some of the activities for the lesson required students to recall who had taken measurements and what they had measured. Noticing that students took longer than expected to recall this information, one of the preservice teachers in the group suggested having students label things with their names as they worked. Others suggested using colored pencils to help code the information about the person measuring and the object measured.

Another pedagogical consideration voiced during Group 2’s debriefing session pertained to teacher modeling. Specifically, the group talked about how to improve their demonstration of the measuring techniques students were to use. During the lesson, they had shown students still pictures of one of the preservice teachers in the group taking measurements. Group 2 decided they could improve this portion of the lesson by creating a 30 s demo video to use instead during their next implementation of the lesson. They believed a video would reduce student confusion about how they were to measure and reduce the number of student questions about how to get started measuring.


Discussions About Content-Specific Pedagogy

Group 1’s content-specific pedagogy discussions focused on striking an optimal balance between the mathematics and science objectives for their lesson. One of the preservice teachers in the group observed, “Time was too short on Punnett squares and pedigrees—maybe we should just stick with Punnett squares and then explore the mathematics of them to make a stronger connection between mathematics and science.” Others agreed that the lesson seemed rushed because it contained too much content to address. For example, one of the preservice teachers who taught Punnett square content during the lesson suggested pausing to help students interpret the probabilities and percentages involved. The group talked about how it would be valuable for students to understand that probability gives a grounded estimate of an outcome’s occurrence, but the frequency with which the event occurs may vary slightly from that estimate. Allowing students time to do probability simulations and analyze the data could help illustrate that point. The group felt that mathematical ideas of this nature were largely left unexplored during the lesson, and they thought that going deeper into the mathematics content during the next implementation of the lesson would help students develop a better understanding of the scientific content as well.

Group 2’s content-specific pedagogy discussions centered on their observations of students’ proportional reasoning and teaching strategies they could use to help it develop. This led to a discussion about how U.S. students, in general, tend to struggle with proportional reasoning. The university faculty member for the group suggested explicitly prompting students to write how many times longer one measurement is than another rather than letting students just report how many units longer one object is than another. For example, students who say that a six-unit-long object is two units longer than a four-foot-long object could be prompted to think about how many times larger the first object is than the second. One of the preservice teachers built on this suggestion by saying students could be asked to think about how many head-lengths make up their overall height. Doing so would provide a natural transition to thinking about how many times larger overall height is compared to head height. Others suggested looking at the relationship between arm length and foot length in the same manner. The group decided to start the lesson with these types of prompts the next time they taught it to help students begin to reason proportionally.


Perceptions of the Lesson Study Experience

We administered a three-part survey to collect data on our groups’ perceptions of the lesson study experience. The first part of the survey gathered their descriptions of the topic, focus, and goals of the lesson study cycles. The second part asked participants to rate the degree of change in their knowledge and beliefs as a result of participating in lesson study. This part consisted of items developed by Akiba et al. (2019). We modified some of the items slightly because they were initially developed for lesson study in a mathematics education context and referred to a specific set of state standards. The modified items contained language applicable to STEM more broadly and learning standards for our state. Together, the items in the second part of the survey assessed participants’ perceptions of their knowledge growth (e.g., “I know more about how to develop a student-centered lesson”), self-efficacy (e.g., “I believe I can teach my students more effectively if I continue to engage in lesson study”), and expectations for student learning (e.g., “I learned the value of giving a challenging problem in order to show what my students are capable of”). In the final part of the survey, we asked participants to describe ways in which the use of online tools (such as Zoom) facilitated or hindered their ability to engage in effective debriefing. We also asked them to describe the strengths of the lesson study cycle and the improvements that were needed.

The survey was administered 3–4 weeks after the debriefing sessions. Based on the need to link individuals’ responses over time to address the ongoing evaluation of our lesson study project, the surveys were not anonymous. For the purposes of the present work, all data were summarized in aggregate rather than being associated with specific individuals’ names. Table 3 contains key findings and representative qualitative feedback. Responses to Part I of the survey provided evidence that participants shared clear and consistent goals (e.g., “to engage students through [an] integrated math and science lesson”) and lesson foci (e.g., “Compare different body parts to show proportionality and [determine] the change in scale without magnification”). Participants’ ratings of their growth in knowledge, self-efficacy, and expectations for student learning were strong at the conclusion of the lesson study cycle (Part II); mean scores exceeded the agree (5) response option and, in the case of self-efficacy and expectations for student learning, approached the maximum score value on the response scale.


Table 3

Summary Findings: Participants’ Reflections on Lesson Study

a Reflects a focus of Group 2’s lesson study cycle.

b Items were administered using a 6-point scale ranging from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (6).

Participants also provided meaningful reflections on the effectiveness of online facilitation of debriefing as well as the lesson study cycle as a whole. Specifically, participants appreciated the ability to work through lesson planning and initial implementation collaboratively (e.g., “Being able to go through the cycle of implementing our lesson was an interesting and [effective] teaching experience to see the effectiveness of the lesson and how to best apply it to each and every student”). They also commented on the logistics, structure, and organization of lesson study (e.g., “Picking the groups ahead of time and having very clear directions”). The majority of participants (87.50%) indicated positive views of online facilitation of lesson study debriefing, suggesting that Zoom provided a viable means to support this part of the process. Participants’ suggestions for changes and improvements centered on doing an additional cycle to build efficacy in lesson delivery, improving the compilation and dissemination of meeting notes and accomplishments, and developing better connections between science and mathematics content in lesson plans.

The survey also allowed us to assess participants’ attainment of key teacher learning outcomes. Teachers answered questions on a 6-point scale to rate their growth in learning expectations for students, knowledge, and self-efficacy. At the conclusion of the lesson study cycle, each group reported developing higher expectations for student learning (Group 1: M = 5.75, SD = 0.50; Group 2: M = 5.33, SD = 0.47). Groups also reported growth in knowledge (Group 1: M = 4.89, SD = 0.73; Group 2: M = 5.42, SD = 0.47) and self-efficacy (Group 1: M = 5.38, SD = 0.52; Group 2: M = 5.94, SD = 0.13). Given the small sample size, it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions about growth in teacher learning. However, these preliminary findings suggest potentially promising effects on key learning outcomes for participants after engaging in the types of discourse and critical self-reflection supported by the online tools and protocols we used.



Although some of the approaches we have described were designed out of necessity because of COVID-19, they are useful for more than just overcoming barriers imposed by a pandemic. In the United States, the persistent barrier of lack of time built into school days to engage in collaborative reflection can be partially overcome using the asynchronous and synchronous strategies we have described. These strategies sparked collective discourse about pedagogy, content, and content-specific pedagogy, and teachers reported improvements in their knowledge, self-efficacy, and expectations for student learning during the project. In our case, lesson study supported interdisciplinary discussions between science and mathematics teachers. However, the approaches we have described are broad and general enough to help science teachers collaborate with those in other disciplines as well. Although lesson study is perhaps most widespread in science and mathematics, teachers in several other disciplines have also found value in it (Xu & Pedder, 2015).

The work we report here was done with small groups and focuses mainly on the reflective portions of one lesson study cycle, so it represents a starting point for further investigation rather than a set of definitive conclusions. We invite others to experiment with our protocols and tools over multiple lesson study cycles and refine them as they observe their impact on teachers’ learning. Just as teachers’ practice is continually improved by engaging in multiple cycles of lesson study, tools and protocols like the ones we propose can be refined through multiple iterations of use. As such refinement occurs, the field can progressively develop increasingly more powerful approaches to fostering teachers’ learning.


This article is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number DUE- 1852139. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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Providing High-Quality Professional Learning Opportunities Through a Lesson Study Conference

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Dotger, S., Whisher-Hehl, J., Heckathorn, J., Moquin, F. K. (2021). Providing High-Quality Professional Learning Opportunities Through a Lesson Study Conference. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 6(4). Retrieved from

by Sharon Dotger, Syracuse University; Jessica Whisher-Hehl, Syracuse University; Jennifer Heckathorn, Syracuse University; & F. Kevin Moquin, Syracuse University


We report on the development and implementation of a conference designed to highlight the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013) using lesson study as an effective professional-development practice for inservice teachers. The purpose of this article is to highlight details from the development and implementation that can be used by others wishing to replicate the conference. First, we give an overview of the practice of lesson study and explain how it was used by one of four lesson study teams that taught their research lesson publicly at the conference in front of 80 observers. Then, we describe a sample research proposal and share specific information about the processes used to coach the lesson study teams and plan the conference, and we share conference agendas and diagrams of lesson implementations to support readers’ visualization of the implementation. Finally, we conclude with three planning components that were vital to our ability to execute the conference and link the design to existing lesson study literature.


Science education has sought to improve student learning since its inception as a discipline. The publication of A Framework for K-12 Science Education (National Research Council, 2012) seeks to advance that agenda with equitable outcomes for all students; however, wide-spread implementation of instructional practices that breathe life into its vision and those of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS; NGSS Lead States, 2013) has yet to be realized. One means to improve student learning is to improve teachers’ instruction, which necessitates teachers’ learning. Yet, opportunities for teachers to learn in science remain infrequent, especially in the elementary grades (Plumley, 2019).

A recent meta-analysis identified five evidence-based conditions for teachers to improve instructional quality: Learning opportunities must (1) be sustained, (2) focus on daily problems of teaching, (3) support teachers’ focus on student thinking, (4) develop teacher communities, and (5) study and enact particular instructional routines and practices (Gibbons & Cobb, 2017). Lesson study was identified as one of six potentially productive coaching activities that met all five of the conditions (Gibbons & Cobb, 2017). As a practice, lesson study foregrounds collaborative teacher research into the intersections between standards, research findings, and instructional materials, resulting in a lesson designed to test an instructional hypothesis. Therefore, lesson study provides a structure for teachers to dig into the fundamental goals of the National Research Council’s (2012) framework and the NGSS and test if and how their best instructional ideas yield student learning outcomes in the classroom.

To provide teachers with training in the NGSS and to spark a catalyst for the growth of lesson study beyond a single classroom or school, we developed and implemented three lesson-study conferences. The goal of this article is to report on the first-year conference design and the lesson study process used to facilitate it. We chose to focus on the first year of the conference to highlight the details of the foundational design to assist others in replication, should they choose to do so. To prepare this article, we conducted a retrospective analysis of artifacts from the first year.

In addition to organizing the conference, most of the authors doubled as lesson study coaches for the teaching teams. This positionality allows us to report on aspects of the lesson study process and the conference design. We analyzed information from records, including notes from team meetings, conference organizer meetings, artifacts, news coverage, and photographs. The utilization of cloud-based documents and the tracking of changes to documents (in this case, Google Docs) facilitated this process.


Lesson Study

The origins of lesson study have been traced to interactions between Japanese and U.S. teacher educators in the 1870s (Makinae, 2019). Lesson study took root in Japan and continues to provide a structure for teachers to collaboratively study and improve their standards, curriculum, instructional materials, and pedagogy (Dotger, 2015; Fernandez & Yoshida, 2012; Lewis et al., 2012; Takahashi & McDougal, 2016). Through a research cycle, a team of teachers and other educators, such as instructional coaches or administrators, work together through a four-phase process: study, plan, teach, and reflect. During the study phase, the teaching team selects a topic of interest and articulates a research theme, which states the instructional moves and tools that teachers will use in the research lesson and the hypothesized student learning that will be evident as a result. The team investigates their own and their students’ knowledge of the concept. The team then shifts to the plan phase, designing a lesson that will elicit the students’ thinking that the participants will review to evaluate their research hypothesis.

An example of a research hypothesis might be as follows: By using board work, student writing, and discourse practices, more students will contribute to building a consensus model. The research hypothesis drives the team’s study of the curriculum materials and their plan for instruction. The studying and planning should be integrated with one another. Teams are often facilitated through the process by a knowledgeable other or “coach” with experience in the content area and lesson study. Collectively, the team and coach plan a research lesson embedded within the larger unit of study that will be taught by one member of the team while the other members and the coach collect evidence of student thinking in real time. This evidence is used following the lesson to evaluate the research hypothesis. When additional observers who are not members of the teaching team help gather data, the research lesson is “public.” To these observers, the research lesson may seem like a singular event in the lesson study process. However, the research lesson cannot be divorced from its context within the larger unit of study, especially because the team’s work during the study and plan phases expanded not only their knowledge of the instructional actions contained in the research lesson but also their knowledge of the whole unit. For the sake of organization and brevity, we point interested readers to in-depth descriptions of the lesson study process as described in other works (e.g., Seleznyov, 2018; Takahashi & McDougal, 2016, 2019).


A Science Lesson Study Conference

In 2016, the state’s adoption of an adapted set of standards based on the NGSS drove teachers’ need for professional development opportunities. Our team included a science teacher educator, a coordinator of science professional development for the region’s state-endorsed educational agency, an assistant superintendent of instructional support, and a classroom teacher experienced with lesson study. The varied professional roles of our team members positioned us to notice and respond to that need for professional development. We envisioned using lesson study as a means to improve teachers’ instructional practice and familiarity with the NGSS. Further, we brought multiple teaching teams together in a lesson study conference to share that learning with others. To meet these goals, we took on multiple roles, including planning the conference and coaching the teams. Given the cyclical nature of lesson study and the overlapping responsibilities of roles, reporting on these practices simultaneously is difficult. To provide insight into both, we first discuss the experience of one teaching team and their research lesson, and then we discuss the preparation for and implementation of the conference.


The Experience of a Teaching Team

Several criteria were considered for selection, including the team’s previous experience with teaching a live research lesson, the team’s familiarity with the instructional units, and the proposed grade level focus for the lesson study cycle. These criteria allowed us to narrow our focus in three ways. First, this limited the span of grade levels that would be represented at the conference, which allowed for an in-depth focus on the changes required by the new standards for elementary science. Second, because these teams had at least some members who had previously participated in lesson study, we focused more on the standards and instructional materials than on the lesson study process. Likewise, given the size and scope of the conference, we believed that teams with experience would feel more confident about their participation than those without experience. Table 1 provides information on the grade level focus for the research lessons, the coaches, the size of the teaching teams, and the number of people on each team with prior lesson study experience.


Table 1

Lesson Study Team Information

Once recruited, teams participated in a full lesson study cycle. To illustrate, we focus here on the experience of the fourth-grade teaching team. This team consisted of four elementary teachers, two of whom had prior lesson study experience, and was coached by the first author. She oversaw the lesson study cycle and assisted the teaching team in finding instructional resources, developing their research theme, and studying the content. Like all other teams, they attended the summer jumpstart institute held in August, which was designed and facilitated by the first two authors. During this time, the teaching teams refined their lesson study ideas and studied the NGSS, related documents, and instructional materials. By the end of the summer meeting, each teaching team began planning their unit and the lesson they felt would best allow them to investigate their research hypothesis.

At the conclusion of the summer jumpstart, the teaching team and coach scheduled ongoing meetings (approximately every 7–10 days) to continue their study of materials and the preparation for the public research lesson. Once the school year started, these meetings were held after school, and members of the teaching team received minimal compensation for their time.

Figure 1 provides details of the work undertaken by the fourth-grade team and their coach as they progressed through lesson study’s study, plan, teach, and reflect stages. The figure shows that a great deal of lesson study work occurred prior to the research lesson and that the public research lesson was only a small portion of the whole cycle. In the context of the conference, however, the research lesson was the most public component.


Figure 1

Timeline of a Lesson Study Cycle

Because this team taught their research lesson publicly, they created a presentation for the attendees who observed the lesson. They emailed their lesson research proposal to the conference attendees a few days prior to the conference. The purpose of the presentation was to update observers on any changes, introduce them to lesson study, introduce observation procedures and norms, and answer questions. Following the presentation, one member of the teaching team taught the research lesson. After the research lesson, the team held the post-lesson discussion.


A Sample Research Lesson

For the sample research lesson, we continue to use the fourth-grade team from the first year as an example case. Unlike the other teams in the first year, this team did not have a new set of instructional materials to work from; therefore, they adjusted their old materials. Their research theme focused on whether the use of science notebooks and careful planning of whiteboard space by the teachers could enhance the students’ learning. They hypothesized that by using notebook writing, students would be able to better explain their reasoning to others and generate claims that connected observations together to answer the research question. When the teachers set their research theme, they noted that in prior years, their students seemed to struggle with explaining themselves to their peers or comparing their ideas to those of their classmates. Further, they hypothesized that careful use of the board to document student thinking would create an exemplar for students to draw from in constructing their own notebook entries and make their thinking visible to one another. Because the research lesson was a continuation from a lesson that they began in their home classroom, the board helped students link ideas across lessons.

The research lesson took 2 days to complete—only the second day was public at the conference. The lesson goal was for students to be able to answer the focus question: How do objects change during an interaction? In the first half of the lesson, they observed a hand boiler as a class and then discussed what they noticed before, during, and after the interaction between a hand and a hand boiler. Students then worked in four teams at three stations to record their observations in their science notebooks. In the second half of the lesson, the students observed three more stations, recorded their observations, and then discussed as a class how they could answer the focus question and support their answer with evidence from multiple interactions among the seven that they studied.

In their research proposal, the team articulated multiple questions to guide lesson observers in gathering helpful evidence of student reasoning. One of the key questions that the team had when planning was the degree to which they should structure students’ exploration of manipulatives and records in the science notebook. To gather information from the research lesson to address this question, the teaching team posed several questions to the observers to guide their observations of students. These questions included: How are the students observing the objects and their interactions? How are the students recording their observations? What language are the students using to describe their thinking? The teaching team wanted to use this evidence to evaluate the efficacy of the structure they provided students in bringing together multiple observations to build an explanation.

 The Conference Experience

Preparation for the conference began 10 months prior to the date it was held with the recruitment of the teaching teams. Figure 2 provides a detailed account of the tasks undertaken to prepare for and conduct the conference and outlines which tasks fell to which groups. The colors in the chart are used to clarify the tasks for each group and show the interactions between groups over time. For example, the work of the conference planners, shown in yellow, intersected with the coaches’ work, shown in blue, over the summer. This overlapping effort is shown in green to demonstrate this cooperation. Because the coaches worked so closely with the teaching teams, much of their combined work is shown in purple.


Figure 2

Workflow Chart for Lesson Study Conference Planning

We held the conference on a regional professional development day when classes were not in session. This enabled the conference to be held at a local school, which reduced costs and provided the multiple, large, open meeting spaces needed. Additionally, teachers did not require substitute teacher coverage, administrators were able to attend, and students could participate in the live research lessons without missing class time. Teaching team members recruited students at the grade level of their live research lesson to participate. The team sent a letter to parents informing them of the conference agenda, planned activities for the students, and the transportation plan. This letter also requested their permission for their child to attend and be photographed or interviewed by local media and inquired about medical needs. Each team was able to recruit the majority of students in the focal class to participate in the conference so that the lesson mimicked a typical class day. Teaching assistants from the students’ districts accompanied them for the day, and students were bussed to the conference location from their home school. When students were not in the live research lesson, they attended enrichment experiences at the conference location with local children’s programs from museums, the zoo, and a local gym. Elements like color-coded classroom t-shirts and bagged lunches helped to make the day special for students, and the students also received a big round of applause from the conference attendees.

Conference participants were recruited from over 20 public K–12 school districts in the region. Although the research lessons were limited to Grades 2–6 content, participants from across the K–12 spectrum were encouraged to attend due to the novelty of the standards and the lack of experience most teachers had with them. For many conference participants, this was the first opportunity they had to see lessons designed for the NGSS. Additionally, school and district administrators, including instructional coaches, curriculum coordinators, principals, and superintendents, attended the conference, as did some preservice teachers and faculty from a local university. In the first year, 338 participants attended the conference.

The full agenda for the conference is shown in Figure 3. To begin the day, the conference organizers introduced the audience to the agenda and explained their vision for the conference design. Immediately following, all attendees listened to a keynote address given by a director of a national center focused on science education. She explained the purpose of her center and how it responded to the NGSS and gave an overview of evidence on the efficacy of the center’s teacher professional development and instructional materials design projects.


Figure 3

Conference Agenda

Following the keynote address, the conference shifted to the research lessons. Each conference participant was assigned to one of four research lesson introductions based on grade-level preferences gathered during registration. The introduction oriented the observers to the teaching team’s goals and provided an overview of the lessons the students experienced leading up to the research lesson. The teaching teams also shared their research hypotheses and the rationale for their lesson design and gave guidance to the observers on gathering specific evidence of student thinking that would be used in the post-lesson discussion to evaluate the research theme. Figure 4 shows the layout of one of the gymnasium spaces for the research lesson introduction, research lesson, and post-lesson discussion. The intent of the figure is to show the multiple uses of the space as well as assist the reader in visualizing the interactions between the teaching teams, facilitators, coaches, keynote speakers, conference participants, and students. Facilitators were assigned to each research lesson to act as moderators, upholding discussion norms and guidelines for observations. Facilitators were colleagues with prior knowledge of lesson study and prior experience with teacher professional development.


Figure 4

Lesson Introduction, Research Lesson, and Post-lesson Discussion Layout

Each of the four teaching teams taught their lesson twice with different student groups. The teachers had recruited enough students from the appropriate grade level at their school to split between the two lessons. At the conclusion of the lesson and the second keynote, the two groups switched; the group that came from the keynote went to the second iteration of the research lesson, and the group that came from the research lesson went to the third keynote presentation (Keynote 3).

The keynote speeches that ran opposite of the research lessons were given by a science teacher educator with two decades of experience in elementary science education and a classroom teacher from another state who had already been teaching using the NGSS. The teacher educator spoke to the kind of teacher learning that was required for teachers to implement the NGSS, whereas the classroom teacher shared her experiences and advice for transitioning to NGSS-aligned instruction and attending to associated assessment demands. Each was selected to further the conference’s goal to connect local classroom-level work with national initiatives in improving science teaching and learning. The design decision to have two different keynotes was based on two key considerations. First, we wanted to limit the number of observers present in any research lesson. By offering the lesson twice, each lesson was observed by approximately 40 educators rather than 80. Second, we wanted the keynote speakers to be able to observe a research lesson to facilitate their opportunity to connect their expertise to the learning experience for the students. Therefore, the second keynote speaker observed the first lesson iteration, and the third keynote speaker observed the second lesson iteration.

Following the second iteration of the research lesson, Groups A and B reconvened in the same space where the lesson introduction took place. The facilitator led the post-lesson discussion using established protocols (Lewis et al., 2019; Takahashi & McDougal, 2016). The teacher of the research lesson shared their thinking about the lesson first, followed by their teammates, and then the facilitator invited observations of student thinking from conference participants and final comments from the attending keynote speaker. Through this collaborative approach, the group collectively evaluated the teaching team’s research theme and discussed its implications for future instruction.

To conclude the conference, everyone gathered for a panel discussion in the auditorium. The goal of the panel discussion was to connect the topics raised in the keynotes, the research lessons, and our collective observations of student thinking. The panel members included the first two authors, two conference organizers, the keynote speakers, and a member of each of the four teaching teams. The third author facilitated the panel discussion, allowing time for panelists to comment on the goals of the conference and taking questions and comments from the audience. During the closing and next steps, participants were asked to complete a Google evaluation form. The evaluation included six Likert-scale questions with the option to add comments to each response. Of the conference participants, 273 completed the evaluation form.

Overall, conference participants provided generally positive feedback about their experience. The results are summarized in Table 2. As we compare the responses across the questions, we notice that participants were most positive about attending additional professional development at the regional science center that focused on the new standards. Participants were more interested in conducting lesson study with colleagues as opposed to studying standards with colleagues. One way to interpret this difference is that the participants need additional opportunities to learn about lesson study to understand that studying standards with colleagues is a core component of the study phase.


Table 2

Likert-Scale Evaluation Responses (n = 273)

Survey respondents added 40 comments about conducting lesson study with colleagues that ranged from “All teachers should do this” to “Not at this time” or “Time to work with others is limited.” When asked if they would attend another conference like this in the future, 38 respondents added comments. More than a third asked for there to be lessons that focused on middle and high school contexts—which we did in subsequent years. Other isolated comments included, “It was amazing to be able to watch and discuss authentic student learning,” and “I was on one of the teaching teams and would definitely participate again.” Fortunately, members of teaching teams did return for additional work in subsequent years and brought additional colleagues with them. Although this may not be a direct measure of their learning, teachers’ continued participation is a signal of their interest and that they found the process valuable.


Discussion and Conclusion

The purpose of this article was to report on the first-year conference design and the lesson study process used to facilitate it. To that end, here we expand on three components that we consider crucial to the success of the conference. First, we decided to hold the conference on a professional development day, which meant that classes were not in session. This decision had implications for the entire conference design, including the number and type of participants we were able to recruit. Additionally, we used a school as the conference location, which gave us access to multiple large instructional spaces (e.g., auditorium, gymnasiums, music rooms, and library). If we held the conference during a typical school day, we would have had to limit the number of public lessons and the number of participants who could attend the conference. However, because the conference took place on a professional development day, we needed to recruit students to participate in a learning opportunity on a “day off” at a different location. Therefore, as Figure 2 clarifies, we created a student schedule that mimicked a traditional school day, including providing transportation, supervision, and enrichment activities for the students when they were not in the research lessons.

Second, the progression of the lesson study cycle for the teaching teams was influenced by several factors. Once the conference date was identified, the coaches collaborated with the lesson study teams during the summer jumpstart to set a progression of meetings during September and October that allowed them to complete the study and plan phases of their cycle. Each of the research lessons was embedded within larger instructional units. Because the research lessons were not isolated events, teaching teams had to carefully implement their lessons so that students would be in the right place and last-minute edits to the lesson research proposals would be minimized. Each of these factors influenced the pace at which the research proposals were constructed and shared with conference participants. Additionally, teachers wanted to build on the learning of their students from the research lesson, which implicated the remaining lessons in the unit that they taught.

Finally, the collaborative nature of lesson study and conference design and implementation cannot be overstated. Although Figure 2 demonstrates the collaboration required between various stakeholders involved in the conference, it does not illustrate the additional collaboration and communication required to host the conference. This collaboration included meetings with the host-site school principal and custodial staff to arrange for the setup of the instructional spaces, communication with audio-visual specialists to assist with technology and sound needs, and getting access to the school the night before the conference to allow for setup and for the teaching teams to orient themselves to new instructional spaces. Multiple teaching teams elected to practice their research lesson in their revised instructional space the evening before to visualize how the delivery of the lesson would feel for them and how they wanted to orient tables, chairs, rugs, and whiteboards for their students.

There is little doubt that inservice teachers require high-quality professional development experiences in order to implement the rigorous instructional shifts required of the NGSS. Our state’s shift in science standards and the subsequent changes in instructional materials presented opportunities for educators across the region to engage in professional development. We contributed to those opportunities by designing and facilitating a conference featuring public research lessons that were taught as the result of teaching teams’ engagement in systematic study of standards, content, and pedagogy through lesson study. The conference provided an avenue to simultaneously center both the voices of experts—those who have contributed to the authorship of the NGSS, designed instructional materials to bring them to life, or field tested newly developed assessments of students learning—and the expertise of local, practicing teachers who engaged in a lesson study cycle about those standards, using those instructional materials, and enacting instructional practices meant to make students’ thinking visible and audible to lesson observers. By making their practice public, the teaching teams offered conference participants an opportunity to see how elementary science instruction could develop and also allowed them to discuss lesson efficacy considering evidence of learning gathered as a lesson unfolded rather than only via an end-of-year summative assessment with underspecified connectivity to instruction.

In one of the first papers written in English that reintroduced lesson study to Western audiences, Lewis and Tsuchida (1998) suggested that “research lessons provide an opportunity for teachers to discuss big ideas currently shaping national educational debate, think them through, and bring them to life in the actual classroom” (p. 16). We sought to design a conference that would actualize this description of Japanese practice in a U.S. context, particularly at a time when stepping up to the potential of the NGSS would require the alteration of standard classroom practice and revitalization of elementary science instruction. We hope that by describing a conference designed to use public research lessons as a mechanism for studying the NGSS, we might encourage other teacher educators to use lesson study and their research lessons to publicly advance the goals of equitable science education for all learners.



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Adapting a Model of Preservice Teacher Professional Development for Use in Other Contexts: Lessons Learned and Recommendations

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Park Rogers, M., Carter, I., Amador, J., Galindo, E., & Akerson, V. (2020). Adapting a model of preservice teacher professional development for use in other contexts: Lessons learned and recommendations. Innovations in Science Teacher Education, 5(1). Retrieved from

by Meredith Park Rogers, Indiana University - Bloomington; Ingrid Carter, Metropolitan State University of Denver; Julie Amador, University of Idaho; Enrique Galindo, Indiana University - Bloomington; & Valarie Akerson, Indiana University - Bloomington


We discuss how an innovative field experience model initially developed at Indiana University - Bloomington (IUB) is adapted for use at two other institutions. The teacher preparation programs at the two adapting universities not only differ from IUB, but also from each other with respect to course structure and student population. We begin with describing the original model, referred to as Iterative Model Building (IMB), and how it is designed to incorporate on a variety of research-based teacher education methods (e.g., teaching experiment interviews and Lesson Study) for the purpose of supporting preservice teachers with constructing models of children’s thinking, using this information to inform lesson planning, and then participating in a modified form of lesson study for the purpose of reflecting on changes to the lesson taught and future lessons that will be taught in the field experience. The goal of these combined innovations is to initiate the development of preservice teachers’ knowledge and skill for focusing on children’s scientific and mathematical thinking. We then share how we utilize formative assessment interviews and model building with graduate level in-service teachers at one institution and how the component of lesson study is adapted for use with undergraduate preservice teachers at another institution. Finally, we provide recommendations for adapting the IMB approach further at other institutions.


There is a clear consensus that teachers must learn to question, listen to, and respond to what and how students are thinking (Jacobs, Lamb, & Philipp, 2010; NRC, 2007; Russ & Luna, 2013).  With this information teachers can decide appropriate steps for instruction that will build on students’ current understandings and address misunderstandings.  At Indiana University – Bloomington (IUB) we received funding to rethink our approach to the early field experience that our elementary education majors take in order to emphasize this need for developing our preservice teachers’ knowledge and abilities to ask children productive questions (Harlen, 2015), interpret their understanding, and respond with appropriate instructional methods to develop students’ conceptual understanding about the topics being discussed (Carter, Park Rogers, Amador, Akerson, & Pongsanon, 2016).  Our field experience model titled, Iterative Model Building (IMB), is taken in a block with the elementary mathematics methods and science methods courses, and as such half of the field experience time (~5-6 weeks) is devoted to each subject area.  Over the course of the semester, the preservice teachers attend local schools for one afternoon a week.  In teams of four to six, the preservice teachers engage with elementary students through interviews and the teaching of lessons, and then experience various modes of reflection to begin developing an orientation towards teaching mathematics and science that is grounded in the notion that student thinking should drive instruction (National Research Council, 2007).  Thus, the IMB approach consists of four components that include weekly formative assessment interviews with children, discussions regarding models of the children’s thinking from the weekly interviews, lesson planning and teaching, and small group lesson reflections similar in nature to Lesson Study (Nargund-Joshi, Park Rogers, Wiebke, & Akerson., 2012; Carter et al., 2016). The intent of our approach is to teach preservice teachers to not only attend to student thinking, but to learn how to take this information and use it when designing lessons so they will make informed decisions about appropriate instructional strategies.

In this article we describe not only the original IMB approach, but also demonstrate the flexibility in the use of its components  with descriptions of how Authors 2 and 3 (Ingrid and Julie) have adapted aspects of the IMB to incorporate into their science and mathematics teacher education courses at different institutions.  Although this journal focuses on innovations for science teacher education, at the elementary level many teacher educators are asked to either teach both mathematics and science methods, or work collaboratively with colleagues in mathematics education, as students are often enrolled in both content area methods courses during the same semester.  Therefore, we believe sharing our stories of how this shared science and mathematics field experience model was initially developed and employed at IUB, but has been modified for use at two other institutions, has the potential for demonstrating how the components of the model can be used in other contexts.

To begin, we believe it is important to disclose that Ingrid and Julie, who made the adaptations we are sharing, attended or worked at IUB and held positions on the IMB Project for several years during the funded phases of research and development.  When they left IUB for academic positions, they took with them the premise of the IMB approach as foundational to developing quality mathematics and science teachers.  However, the structure of their current teacher education programs are not the same as at IUB, and thus they adapted the IMB approach to fit their institutional structure while trying to staying true to what they believed were core aspects of the approach for quality teacher development.

We begin with sharing an overview of the components of the IMB approach followed by descriptions from Ingrid and Julie about the context and course structure where they implement components of IMB.  In addition, we share examples of how their students discuss K-12 students’ mathematical and scientific ideas and relate this to instructional decision-making.  Through sharing our stories of adaptation of the IMB approach, we aim to inspire other teacher educators to consider how they may incorporate aspects of this approach into their professional development model for preparing or advancing teachers’ knowledge for teaching in STEM related disciplines.

Overview of IMB Approach – Indiana University (IUB)

As previously mentioned, IMB includes four components: (i) developing preservice teachers’ questioning abilities to analyze students’ thinking through the use of formative assessment interviews (FAIs); (ii) constructing models of students’ thinking about concepts that are asked about in the interviews (i.e., Model Building); (iii) developing and teaching lessons that take into consideration the evolving models of children’s thinking about the concepts being taught (i.e., Act of Teaching); (iv) learning to revise lessons using evidence gathered about children’s thinking from the lesson taught (i.e., Lesson Study). Although these components may not appear to be innovative to those in the field of teacher preparation, the unique feature of the IMB model is the iterative process, and weekly combination of all four components, within an early field experience for elementary education majors that we believe demonstrate innovative practice in preparing science and mathematics elementary teachers.  In addition, the field experience at IUB applies this four-step iterative process in the first 5-6 weeks with respect to teaching mathematics concepts, then continues for an additional 5-6 weeks on science concepts.  In the next few paragraphs, each of the IMB components are described in more detail.  We have grouped components according to those that Ingrid and Julie have adopted for use at their institutions.

Formative Assessment Interviews and Model Building

Formative assessment interviews (FAIs) are modified ‘clinical interviews’ that are aimed at understanding students’ conceptualizations of scientific phenomenon or mathematics problems (Steffe & Thompson, 2000).  From these video-recorded interviews, the preservice teachers identify short snippets that illustrate elementary students explaining their thinking about what a concepts is, how it works, and how they solved for it.  These explanations are then used to try to develop a predictive model to help the teachers consider how the students might respond to a related phenomenon, problem, or task (Norton, McCloskey, & Hudson, 2012).  The Model Building sessions require the preservice teachers to consider what is known about the students’ thinking on the concept or problem, based on the specific evidence given in the snippet of video, and identify what other information would be helpful to know. See Akerson, Carter, Park Rogers, & Pongsanon (2018) for further details on the purpose, structure and ability of preservice teachers to participate in a task where they are asked to make evidence-based predictions regarding students future responses to relate content (i.e., anticipate the student thinking).

With respect to the IMB approach, a secondary purpose of the FAI and Model Building sessions is to develop preservice teachers’ knowledge and abilities to think about how to improve their questioning of students’ thinking within the context of their teaching. This relates to being able to develop their professional noticing skills; a core aspect identified in the research literature (Jacobs, et al., 2010; van Es & Sherin, 2008) and critical to fostering the expert knowledge teachers possess (Shulman, 1987). See ‘Resources’ for examples of the post FAI Reflection Form (Document A) and Model Building Form (Document B) preservice teachers complete at IUB as part of their field experience requirements.

Act of Teaching and Lesson Study

Each week the teams develop a lesson plan using the information gathered from the FAIs, Model Building sessions, and as time goes on, their experience of teaching previous lessons to the students in their field classroom.  With respect to the mathematics portion of the field experience, the mathematics lessons are developed in conjunction with the field experience supervisor from week to week.  However, given the additional time that science has, because the science teaching in the field does not start until halfway through the semester, a first draft of all five science lessons are completed as part of the science methods course. Once the switch is made to science in the field, the preservice teachers then revise the drafted lessons from week to week using the information gathered through the IMB approach and with the guidance of the field instructor.

During the teaching of the lesson, two to three members of each team lead the instruction and the other two to three members of the team move around the room amongst the elementary students observing and gathering information about what the students are saying and doing related to the lesson objectives.  After the teaching experience, all members come together and follow the IMB’s modified lesson study approach that is adapted from the Japanese Lesson Study model (Lewis & Tsuchida, 1998)[1].  Using the Lesson Study Form developed for use in the IMB, the different members of the teaching team reflect on what the children understood about the concepts taught in the lesson and propose revisions for that lesson based on the children’s understandings and misunderstandings.  Possible strategies related to these understandings are also discussed with respect to the next lesson to be taught in the series of lessons.  Supporting them in this reflective process is the evidence some members of the team recorded using the Lesson Observation Form (see ‘Resources’, Document C), as well as what those who taught the lesson assessed while teaching.  The Lesson Study Form (see ‘Resources’, Document D) guides this evidence-based, collaborative, and reflective process.

Stories of Adaptation

In the following sections we describe how Ingrid and Julie have adapted components of the IMB approach for use in their teacher education programs.  To keep with the flow of how we described the IMB approach above, we begin with Julie’s story as she adapted the FAI and Model Building components for use at her institution.  Following her story is Ingrid’s, and her adaptation of the teaching and Lesson Study components of the IMB approach.  While neither of these stories demonstrates an adaptation of the complete IMB approach, demonstrating that type of transfer is not our intent with this article.  Rather, we want to share how aspects of the IMB approach could be adapted together for use in other institutional structures.  Table 1 provides a side-by-side comparison of how the IMB components were adapted for use at our different institutions to meet the needs of our students in our different contexts.

Table 1 (Click on image to enlarge)
Comparison of IMB components across Institutions

Julie’s Story of Adaptation at the University of Idaho (UI)

In the final two years of the five year IMB, Julie was a postdoctoral researcher and IMB manager for IMB. In this capacity, she taught the field experience course and coordinated with other instructors of the course. At the same time, she worked with participants after they had completed the field experience and moved to their student teaching or actual teaching placements. Julie was also involved with writing a manual to support others to implement the IMB field experience process.

At her current institution, Julie has incorporated FAIs and Model Building into a graduate course on K-12 mathematics education. The university is a medium-size doctoral granting institution in the upper Northwest of the United States. The course, for which the IMB approach has been adapted, engages masters and doctoral students in exploring: a) connections between research literature and practice (Lambdin & Lester, 2010; Lobato & Lester, 2010), b) the cognitive demand of tasks (Stein, Smith Henningsen, & Silver, 2009), and c) professional noticing (Jacobs et al., 2010; Sherin, Jacobs, & Philipp, 2011). The fully online course lasts sixteen weeks and students engage in weekly modules around these three core foci. Students in the course are primarily practicing teachers from across the state in which the university resides.

The IMB process of engaging teachers in FAIs and Model Building is followed in this course; however, the process spans over a longer period with a whole semester devoted solely to mathematics. Each person designs two FAIs on a specific mathematical topic and completes a Model Building session for each interview. This process is slightly different than the IMB approach because there are fewer students in the graduate class, and since many are practicing K-12 classroom teachers, they have access to students with whom they can easily conduct the FAIs. Despite the teacher population and logistical differences between IUB and UI, Julie used the supporting documents and implemented them in a manner very similar to how they were initially designed and employed for the IMB approach at IUB. For example, at UI each graduate student/teacher selects appropriate mathematics content for the interview based on the standards and learning objectives that are age appropriate for the K-12 student they will interview. They then plan a goal for the interview, along with five problematic questions to be asked during the interview and related follow-up questions. Based on the second focus of the graduate course, they are encouraged to consider the cognitive demand of the tasks they include in their questions. The interview is audio recorded and the graduate students are asked to reflect on the questions outlined on the FAI Reflection Form (see ‘Resources’, Document A).  Referring specifically to the second question on the reflection form, one graduate student responded, “During my post-FAI analysis of the student work and audio, my noticing, once again, improved as I began to consider the relationship between the student’s misconceptions and teaching strategies.” Comments like this were commonly found across the FAI reflection forms, indicating the value of this interview experience in preparing teachers mathematical knowledge of content and students’ understanding of the content (Ball, Thames, & Phelps, 2008).

Following the first FAI, the graduate students are tasked to create a model of the student’s thinking that again mirrors the model-building process of the IMB approach (see ‘Resources,’ Document B). To do this, they are asked to listen to their audio recording and select a clip that highlights what the student says or does as evidence of how the student thinks about particular ideas. They transcribe the segment of audio and conduct an analysis on what the student knows, does not know, and what further information would be helpful. As an example, the following task was given during one FAI conducted by a graduate student — . Going through the Model Building process, the graduate student who gave this question in their FAI highlighted the following portion of their transcript, and provided the accompanying image of the student’s work in solving this question.

Student: I did that because the equal sign is right there.  And so because these numbers are supposed to be at the beginning but they switched them around to the end and then you would add them together to get nine and then you would do plus two and then you write your answer (write 11 underneath the box).

Teacher: How could we check that this (points to the left side of the equation) equals this (points to the right side of the equation?  Is there a way we could check that?

Student: Umm… what do you mean?

Teacher:  So, I saw that you added these numbers together and placed the nine here.  Could we check or is there a way to check that these two things added together equals these numbers added together?

Student: I guess you could just add them together.

Teacher: Do they come out equal?

Student: No because this is eleven (points to left side of equation).  And then this goes three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine.  Oh! So it goes eleven like that and then eleven, twelve, thirteen, like that and then that will equal nine.

Teacher: So I saw a light bulb go off.  Is that going to change he number you put in there (points to the box)?

Student: So if was eleven, wait, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two and that equals twenty-two.  And that is your real answer.

Building on this evidence, the graduate student wrote the following model of the student’s thinking with this problem.  This model is the graduate student’s attempt at explaining the student’s thinking with the evidence provided from the task.

Given a numeric equation with values on each side of the equation but a missing value on one side (e.g. 17+5=___+4), the student added the numbers on one side of the equation and placed that sum into the blank space. The student then continued executing computations by placing another equal sign and adding the newly determined answer with the existing value on that side of the equation. This same action happened in two different tasks with the missing value on the left and right side of the equation. Thus, the student does not conceptually understand the meaning of the equal sign and/or the concept of equality. She does not understand that the equal sign describes the relationship between two expressions and that the correct answer should create two equal expressions.  Instead, the student views the equal sign as an indicator to perform computations to find answers.

This model describes what the student knows and understands with respect to different sides of an equation.

Following this first round of FAIs and Model Building, the graduate students then repeat this entire process again, with the same student. However, before the second round, the graduate students have an opportunity to first share their models and thinking in online discussion boards and receive written instructor feedback. Their peers are also required to comment and engage in dialogue with them through the virtual discussions. With the second FAI, the intent is for the mathematical content to align with the content of the first interview, but focus on revealing deeper understandings of this content from the same student. For example, if the first FAI asked questions that broadly addressed fractional understanding at grade three, and the graduate student recognized some misconceptions related to part-whole relationships and understanding, then the second FAI may be designed to focus entirely on part-whole relationships.  The purpose of the second FAI is to dive deeper into a child’s thinking about the concept to obtain a greater understanding of how the child conceptualizes part and whole.

As the graduate students conducted the series of two FAIs and two Model Building exercises, they focused on the same K-12 student to provide an in-depth understanding of that student’s knowledge. As a result, they were then asked to deeply study what they had learned about that student’s mathematical thinking and focus on that student as a case study. This is a component that is not included in the original IMB process.  Julie elected to add this component of a case study to provide her graduate students the opportunity to revisit both cycles of the FAIs and Model Building processes and formulate some ideas around supporting the student based on evidence from interactions across the two cycles. As a part of the case study, they write a formal paper about the student that includes an analysis of the students’ thinking and makes recommendations for supporting the students’ understanding in the classroom context—these components stem from the research literature on professional noticing and the importance of attending to thinking, interpreting thinking, and making instructional decisions of how to respond (Jacobs et al., 2010). In the final component of the case study paper, the graduate student situates the student’s understanding within the broader mathematics education literature. Therefore, Julie has adapted the FAI and Model Building process of the IMB to engage graduate students in the act of professional noticing through a specific focus on one child as a case study (Jacobs et al., 2010).  The following comment from one of the case study reports illustrates the value of this adapted experience for one student, but the same sentiment was echoed by others.

The student thinking uncovered during the formative assessment interviews and the learning from this course on noticing, cognitive demand, and teacher knowledge combined together to profoundly influence on my views of mathematics instruction. Slowing down to thoughtfully probe a struggling student’s thinking revealed so much more than my prior noticing ability would have allowed.

Ingrid’s Story of Adaptation at Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver)

Ingrid joined the IMB as a graduate teaching and research assistant in the second year of implementation. In her first year with the IMB, she instructed a section of the field experience with preservice elementary teachers. Later on in her doctoral program, she taught the affiliated science methods course that is taken in the cluster with the field experience, but was no longer an instructor of the field experience.  During this time however, she remained on the IMB as a research assistant. Therefore, throughout her time on the IMB project, Ingrid worked on many facets of the IMB and was integral in developing procedures and protocols for teaching the IMB approach.

At her current institution, Ingrid has adapted the Act of Teaching and Lesson Study components of the IMB, infusing it into her undergraduate elementary science and health methods course. Her institution is a large urban commuter campus with a large majority of students being undergraduates. The student body is diverse and most are from the expansive metropolitan area. For their field experience, which combines science, health, and mathematics, each preservice teacher is placed in an elementary classroom for 45 hours per semester. In most cases, this is usually the fourth field experience these preservice teachers have participated in for their program. The science and health methods course meets face-to-face for 15 weeks of classes and incorporates a teaching rehearsal experience in the methods course to provide the preservice teachers with the opportunity to practice a lesson they have planned and the Lesson Study component of the IMB approach before completing the teaching experience in the field with children.

The preservice teachers at MSU Denver are placed in separate classrooms for their field experience, thus they plan different lessons and teach the lessons independently.  Despite this independent teaching experience, Ingrid has tried to maintain the collaborative integrity of the Lesson Study component of the IMB by pairing preservice teachers that are placed at the same school or nearby schools.  The purpose of this pairing is so they can serve as peer observers for each other and participate in a shared Lesson Study experience. Unfortunately, this request cannot always be made, and in some instances the preservice teachers work with the mentor classroom teacher through the Act of Teaching and Lesson Study components.

Before the preservice teachers begin their teaching cycle in the field however, Ingrid has her preservice teachers participate in a type of teaching rehearsal (Lampert et al., 2013).  The preservice teachers are placed into teams of four or five and together they develop a learning plan (similar to a lesson) but with a focus on just the first three Es of a Learning Cycle (Engage, Explore, and Explain) and the learning objective.  Preservice teachers usually focus on science, but in some cases they elect to teach a health or engineering lesson. Two groups are then brought together to serve as the different members of the teaching cycle.  When one team is teaching, one member of the other team serves as the peer observer completing the Lesson Observation Form (see ‘Resources’, Document C) and all remaining members of the other group are acting as elementary students for the teaching of the lesson. The group then switches and they repeat the experience for another lesson. Following each rehearsal the two groups then walk through the Lesson Study Form and complete it for each rehearsed lesson.  Ingrid believes taking her students through this rehearsal of planning a lesson, teaching it, and practicing with the forms helps the preservice teachers to be more successful in all aspects of the Act of Teaching and Lesson Study when they conduct it in their smaller pairings and in the context of their field experience classrooms.

Due to the complex structure of field placement at Ingrid’s institution, with it being a commuter-based university serving a large urban/suburban area, Ingrid has made more adaptations to the IMB approach and documents than Julie, some of which are described above. Additional adaptations however, include Ingrid providing feedback on the each preservice teacher’s lesson and then having preservice teachers revise the lesson using this feedback, and having the preservice teacher partners participating in a Pre-Observation Conference.  The purpose of this conference is help the preservice teachers who are partnered for the Act of Teaching and Lesson Study (or the preservice teacher and the mentor teacher) to understand the learning objectives of the lesson and the intentions of the preservice teacher for structuring the lesson in the manner they did.  In addition, there is a section called “look-fors” that directs the preservice teachers to anticipate what the children should be able to do by the end of the lesson (with respect to the learning objective) and what evidence will be gathered to determine this goal was met. This is intended to support the preservice teachers to focus on students’ thinking in the Act of Teaching and Lesson Study processes in the field. The pair completes one Pre-Observation Conference Form (see ‘Resources’, Document E) together for each partner’s lesson. To complete the Act of Teaching and Lesson Study cycle, each preservice teacher is required to submit a packet to document the experience that includes: the Pre-Observation Conference Form, the Lesson Observation Form completed by their partner, their collaborative Lesson Study Form, a revised lesson that incorporates the color-coded revisions suggested in the Lesson Study, and a personal reflection paper about what they took away from the experience.

Lastly, Ingrid’s Act of Teaching/Lesson Study cycle concludes with a debriefing about the experience with all students in the class. She focuses much of the conversation on asking the preservice teachers to share what they reflected on in their individual papers about the experience and she guides the discussion with questions such as,

  • What did you think about the peer observation process?
  • How did participating in lesson study support your growth as a teacher?
    • What parts of the lesson study process were particularly helpful for you?
  • What would you do differently if you could do this again?
  • How did lesson study support you in focusing on students’ thinking?
  • What have you learned from the lesson study process that you will take with you in your future classroom?

From this class discussion she is able to glean how they view the whole process as supporting the preservice teachers’ understanding of how to focus their attention on children’s scientific thinking and use this information to inform their future instruction. ​

Reflecting on Our Stories of Adaptation: Lessons Learned

At Julie’s institution (University of Idaho [UI]), implementation using FAIs and Model Building have shown to be beneficial for the graduate students, as most of them are practicing classroom teachers. One accommodation from the IMB model is the time span for the FAIs and Model Building. In the modified version, two cycles are spread over six weeks, as opposed to having a new cycle each week. Additionally, one graduate student interviews one student in K-12, as opposed to working in pairs. This has afforded opportunities for greater flexibility with scheduling and diving in deeper around a specific mathematical topic. However, the graduate student has only one student with whom they work and do not develop a broader understanding of various students, which may lessen their opportunity for understanding the thinking of multiple students. Additionally, at UI, every graduate student selects the grade level and the student with whom they will work. The FAIs and Model Building then focus on their selected student and topic, which restricts collaboration across the graduate students and learning from one another; whereas with the original IMB model, the same mathematics topic (e.g., number sense) is covered by each team.  This modification affords teams experiencing the full IMB model the opportunity to learn from each other within their team, but also across the teams to learn about content progressions. Therefore, a possible limitation of the modification at UI is that every graduate student has a different topic and they are unable to share and discuss students’ thinking and ideas about a similar mathematical domain. Determining ways to work around this limitation depends on the intentions of the course instructor/teacher educator for using FAIs and Model Building.  For Julie, her focus is on developing individual teachers’ professional noticing, thus the limitations in collaborating with others does not prevent her from meeting her intentions.

Another accommodation from the IMB model is that Julie is unable to attend the FAI recordings in person unlike the field instructors at IUB who are present weekly.  The online nature of Julie’s course provided the graduate students with flexibility in accessing students and scheduling the recordings at times throughout the school day that worked for them and the students.  However, being disconnected to the context limited Julie’s abilities, she believes, in providing more targeted or individualized feedback regarding specific student’s thinking.  The inclusion of the case study however, is how Julie works around the limited contextual understanding she feels she has and it affords her the opportunity to dig more into an understanding of the ‘whole’ child that her graduate students’ are presenting to her.  The case study, while it includes evidence from the FAI and Model Building cycles, is only a portion of what is required for the case study paper.  Therefore, we suggest the FAI and Model Building be done not in isolation but merged with other tasks that can help foster deeper professional noticing, such as Julie has done with her Case Study assignment.

With respect to Ingrid’s story of adaptation at MSU Denver, the implementation of the IMB’s modified lesson study has been positively received. As previously described, two accommodations made by Ingrid were the implementation of a modified teaching rehearsal experience and the development of the Pre-Observation Conference Form (see ‘Resources’, Document E).  Considering her field placement arrangements, she learned she needed to include both of these modifications to give the preservice teachers practice with both the Act of Teaching and Lesson Study components before doing it in the field.  Also, because the preservice teachers are not placed in the same classroom (unlike IUB) they need the opportunity to first review each other’s lesson (i.e., Pre-Observation Conference) so they had some idea of what to expect when observing each other teach.

Overall, the preservice teachers at Ingrid’s institution mentioned they enjoy the “lower stakes” atmosphere of being observed by a peer (when possible) rather than a university supervisor and the opportunity to discuss possible revisions to the lesson with a peer considering their different participatory perspectives.  This arrangement can create a challenge however, as not all preservice teachers may provide the same level of constructive criticism for revising the lesson.  Ingrid has attempted to address this challenge by first providing the teaching rehearsal experience in class so students can gain experience in her methods course on how to complete the forms and provide constructive feedback on a lesson.


There is consensus across both science and mathematics teacher education that for effective teaching to occur teachers must learn to recognize and build on students’ ideas and experiences (Bransford, Brown, &Cocking, 1999; Kang & Anderson, 2015, NRC, 2007; van Es & Sherin, 2008).  Considering this goal, preparation programs often design opportunities for prospective teachers to question and analyze students’ thinking, and when possible do so within the context of teaching science.  However, few programs offer a systematic and iterative experience such as the IMB approach, and this is due in part to the structural variation in teacher education programs and the varied constraints of these different models.  As Zeichner and Conklin (2005) explain,

there will always be a wide range of quality in any model of teacher education….The state policy context, type of institution, and institutional history and culture in which the program is located; the goals and capabilities of the teacher education faculty, and many other factors will affect the character and quality of programs (p. 700).

Therefore, our intent with this article is to show the potential for taking well-recognized practices for teacher education, such as those used in the IMB approach, and demonstrate how they can be combined for use in other science and mathematics teacher education models.  In particular, we wanted to highlight the adaptations made by Ingrid and Julie because their institutions and learner populations are very different from those where the IMB approach was initially developed, and this sort of variation in context is rarely described in the research (Zeichner & Conklin, 2005).  Despite the vast program differences at our three institutions, Ingrid and Julie were able to adapt key aspects of the IMB approach to fit the context and needs of their learners.

More specifically, although we recognize that individually the four aspects of the IMB approach are not innovative, it is the potential for combining features of the IMB, as Authors 2 and 3 have shared, that we believe demonstrates the innovation and potential of the IMB approach for impacting science and mathematics teacher learning. As such, we offer the following recommendations from lessons we have learned through our adaptive processes, with the hope of inspiring others to consider how they may combine features of the IMB for use at their institutions.

  1. Understand your own orientation toward teacher preparation. Begin with selecting aspects of the IMB approach that most align with your own beliefs as to core practices for developing teachers’ cognition about learning to attend to students’ thinking to inform practice. Ingrid and Julie made their selections based on what they viewed as critical practices given the professional development needs of their student teachers (i.e., their population of teacher), as well as the purpose of their course.
  2. Don’t lose sight of the goal! Make modifications to the sample documents provided (see Resources) or provide additional support documents (e.g., the Pre-Observation Conference form designed by Ingrid) to guide preservice or inservice teachers’ cognition of how to uncover K-12 students’ ideas and reflect on their ideas in order to identify rich and appropriate learning tasks.
  3. Choose the strategies that best fit your context. If some components of the IMB approach will not fit into your current program or university structure, select the one that will fit and be most appropriate for your own students and situation. The goal is to help preservice and inservice teachers understand their students’ thinking, and whatever strategies can best work for you and your students given your context are the ones to include.
  4. Remember that improvement is an iterative process. Continue to adapt and refine the approach as needed for your context. Once you have selected the aspect or aspects of IMB that you think will be most impactful, continue to reflect on and obtain feedback about the process from the students with whom you work, and then make modifications to support your goals.
  5. Collaboration is valuable and can take many forms. At the core of the IMB approach is the belief that collaboration leads to better understandings about learning to teach science and mathematics. Whether collaborating to plan, teach, and reflect on lessons taught, or the sharing of models of students’ thinking and engaging through discussion boards online, the notion of collaboration is still at the core of each of our pedagogical approaches to working with teachers. We recognize the structure of various institutions teacher education programs/courses may make it difficult to afford students the opportunity to collaborate in the same physical space (classroom, or school), as did Julie; however, it is worth exploring what technologies your institution may offer to arrange other means of collaborating in synchronous and asynchronous spaces.

[1] For further details comparing these two models of Lesson Study see Carter et al. (2016).

Supplemental Files



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Carter, I. S., Park Rogers, M. A., Amador, J. M., Akerson, V. L., & Pongsanon, K. (2016). Utilizing an iterative research-based lesson study approach to support preservice teachers’ professional noticing.  Electronic Journal of Science Education, 20 (8). Retrieved from

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