Perdita Hatton-Brown is a SENCO and specialist SEND teacher. She leads the Personalisation Department in a secondary academy for girls in West London. The school has a mixed demographic, with high numbers of students with additional learning needs, economic disadvantange and for whom English is an additional language. In the course of her studies on the MTEACH Special Educational Needs, she had become interested in Lesson Study as a way to develop ‘universal interventions’ at a whole class teaching level for learners with Special Educational Needs or Disabilities. Her work documents the process and results of Action Research into using Lesson Study to develop inclusive teaching of Mathematics with Year 9 students, and was carried out in her school in 2015.
Lesson Study (LS) is a form of joint practice development that has been used for over 150 years in Japan. It is now widely used across East Asia and in some parts of the United States, but is a fairly recent phenomenon in the UK. It involves three teachers jointly planning, observing, and evaluating a cycle of three lessons. The exciting part is that the focus is on the learners and their progress and not on one another’s teaching; a key means of achieving this is the study, in each lesson, of the learning of two pre-selected ‘case-students’, who are closely observed. They are briefly interviewed about their experience of the lesson and their learning after each lesson. Student feedback and teacher observations are shared to inform the planning of the next lesson in the cycle. At the end of the cycle the LS team write a short report and share with the rest of the teaching staff. In Japan, some schools even set up ‘show lessons’ after school and invite parents and local dignitaries in. At the time of writing, LS had been recently used in the UK to explore mathematics pedagogy and to develop universal teaching for learners labelled with Moderate Learning Difficulties. It had also been used to apply the ‘graduated approach’ to assessing pupil needs. The literature around Lesson Study is generally overwhelmingly positive. It is cheap and quick, highly context specific, and teachers who take part generally report great gains from the process.
Inclusion and inclusive practice is a complex area: there is a rights argument (all children have equal rights to an equal quality of education) and a ‘medical’ argument (some children need something additional or a different approach to learning). Scholars of inclusion who take a rights perspective often suggest that the development of inclusive practice is predicated on the correct attitude and willingness to develop teaching that works for pupils who differ from standard norms, implying that teachers don’t want to teach inclusively. I felt that good practice was more about two factors that came out of the reading: teacher efficacy for inclusion and teachers’ pedagogic knowledge for inclusion.
Some argue that there is no such thing as a special pedagogy for learners with additional needs, that effective inclusion is simply about extending and intensifying general teaching and that a ‘high quality teacher’ would be skilled in inclusive practice. Recently, however, there have also been strong calls for the use of evidence-based practice when working with learners with additional needs, and in reality, inclusion is also highly context-specific—often as specific as the context of an individual student.
I wanted to explore the impact of Lesson Study on teachers in more detail. I wanted to know if high quality training with a focus on applying evidence-based approaches for case students with additional needs could engender greater knowledge and self-efficacy and thereby higher quality inclusive teaching.
The study involved two Mathematics teachers, two ‘case-students’ and myself. At the start, teachers were given a briefing on the history of SEND and inclusion and laws and policies. I explained that inclusive practice is often an intensification of normal classroom practice and we looked at some evidence-based approaches to trial. Lack of engagement, numeracy, literacy, poor problem–solving, and weak metacognition were the main issues identified. We chose to address cognitive difficulties of problem-solving and literacy through teaching the underlying structure of word problems using metacognitive strategies. We conducted an LS cycle in three lessons over five days, and used dialogic, explicit teaching and practical activities to address engagement.
Strategies fell in three categories:
- resource based: differentiated work sheets, manipulatives, word lists etc;
- craft: teacher actions – questioning, explanations etc;
- design: lesson structure – use of group work, games, discussion etc.
Teachers enjoyed the Lesson Study process, reported feeling that their general teaching had improved, and reported feeling more confident about inclusive practice. Results of my data analysis supported this, suggesting increased efficacy and pedagogic knowledge. However, I also found that teachers did not learn as much as I had expected from my implicit modelling in the first lesson: they were reluctant to adopt strategies that were a greater departure from normal practice (such as the ‘design and resource-based strategies’). Teachers also perceived a conflict between activities that they considered to support learning and ‘fun’, or engaging, activities (such as group work and games).
There was doubt about the efficacy of the approaches we trialled. There was also a lack of SEND-specific theoretical knowledge around the impact of specific needs on learning. I concluded that these issues might be addressed through a greater focus on theoretical knowledge, particularly on theories of teaching and learning and the particular special needs of the study pupils. This could be achieved through adapting the initial training session and through more deliberative actions by the teacher-educator (the SENCO, in this case) in modelling, encouraging reflection, and being prepared to challenge teachers’ views on inclusion.
I will continue to use LS for inclusive practice in the study school, with the aim of balancing theoretical and practical learning.
Perdita’s full investigation can be read here: P.HattonBrown MTEACH RPBE Proofed