A Professional Learning Lab: Teaching Future Educators Through Lesson Studies
The active pursuit of professional development sets the Mark Day staff and faculty apart. Professional growth takes different forms: we regularly send people out for workshops or site visits to gain new ideas and bring them back to Mark Day students and colleagues and we also set aside several days per year to bring trainers to campus so that we can all dive into a particular topic together. Most recently on October 17, our faculty partnered with PBL Works in a full-day workshop here on campus to refresh and reinforce our common vocabulary and planning approach for gold-standard project based learning for all students. Ongoing education for new and seasoned educators is crucial to ensuring we bring the best research to bear in the classroom. And that includes learning from and with early-career educators in training.
Over the past decade, we have developed a close relationship with leaders at Dominican University’s Teacher Education program and have collaborated in multiple ways. One of the most impactful is hosting lesson studies several times per year at Mark Day School. The lesson study format involves previewing a lesson, observing it in real time, and debriefing afterwards; the format promotes growth not only in the student teachers observing the lesson, but in the master practitioners who run the lesson and unpack their pedagogical practice. The model originated in Japan and gained popularity in the United States in the late 1990s.
On October 11, we welcomed 25 undergraduate and graduate students from Dominican University to the Mark Day campus to participate in a lesson study. While most of Mark Day’s lesson studies to date have been undertaken in Lower School classes, this group of students was particularly interested in middle school. They met with Mark Day Upper Division science teachers Suzanne Alpert and Christine Metzger to learn about the lesson in advance—specifically, how Suzanne and Christine developed the lesson, the rationale behind their curricular choices, and how they planned to conduct the lesson with students. Then, the student teachers observed the lesson in real time, followed by a debrief to analyze what they observed.
When Thad Reichley, Head of Grades K-4, or Dave Hickman, Head of Grades 5-8, approach Mark Day teachers about participating in a lesson study, there is strong interest to do so. These opportunities are reciprocal in nature. “One of the great things about lesson studies is that it’s also a moment for seasoned teachers like Suzanne and Christine to reflect on their own teacher practices,” says Thad. “They get a chance to both impart wisdom and also consider their own choices in the classroom in a way they might not do on their own.”