Project introduction and background information
Self-regulated learning and scaffolding
To reach fully self-regulated learning, students have to learn to formulate their own learning goals and to regulate their learning process accordingly (Pintrich & de Groot, 1990). Three different types of learning activities can be distinguished (e.g., Vermunt & Verloop, 1999): cognitive learning activities, meta-cognitive learning activities, and affective learning activities. Meta-cognitive learning activities are those activities aimed at regulating a student’s learning process, including choosing ones learning goals, choosing and initiating cognitive learning activities, monitoring whether the objectives are reached and adjusting the learning process when necessary, and finally evaluating whether the learning objectives are obtained. Since these activities regulate the learning process, these are the focus in the current project on students’ self-regulated learning.
Students’ self-regulated learning is a learning process in itself; students must learn how to become self‐regulated learners and this learning process already starts in secondary education and evolves in higher education. Students must receive scaffolding in becoming self‐regulated learners, otherwise the lack of teacher regulation might lead to destructive friction (Vermunt & Verloop, 1999; van de Pol et al., 2010). The idea of scaffolding is built on the basis of teachers supporting students’ learning by building scaffolds (in Dutch: steigers), that consist of more teacher guidance. Over time, the more and more students are able to regulate the learning process themselves, the less and less support is necessary from the teacher; the teacher can take down the scaffold in a process called fading.
Lesson study (LS) is a method of teacher professional development that was first developed in Japan and has gained more and more ground in Western countries over the past two decades.
The aim of LS is collaborative planning, implementation and evaluation of innovations in teaching practices (Vermunt et al., 2019). LS offers a well‐developed set of principles and procedures for supporting teachers’ professional learning, focusing on the planning and analysis of ‘research lessons’. It has several components: identifying improvement aims; formulating hypotheses and goals; joint research lesson planning; teaching and observing research lessons; post‐research lesson discussion; and passing on the knowledge gained. The beneficial effects of LS on teacher learning outcomes are well documented. LS seems to integrate many features of effective professional development programs suggested by prior research: it addresses problems of practice; teachers focus strongly on students’ learning; preferred instructional practices are modelled and shared; it involves active teacher learning and teacher inquiry; it creates professional learning communities; and learning opportunities are ongoing and sustainable (e.g. Borko et al., 2010; Desimone, 2009; Van Veen et al., 2012).
In this project, we aim for teachers to collaboratively design, redesign and evaluate lessons based on ideas of scaffolding student-regulated learning.
Objective and expected outcomes
As befitting educational researchers, our project will be firmly grounded in existing educational research. Our objective of offering student‐centered teaching can be achieved by matching the learning content to student’s needs and questions (Swinkels, 2017). Students have to learn to formulate their own learning goals and to regulate their learning accordingly (Pintrich & de Groot, 1990). Students must receive scaffolding in becoming self‐regulated learners and teachers must learn how to scaffold self‐regulating learning (Vermunt & Verloop, 1999; van de Pol et al., 2010). To achieve our objective to learn to scaffold self‐regulated learning, we use the method of Lesson Study (LS): with the method of LS both teachers and students learn from each other (Verhoef et al., 2014). The outcomes are methods to transform secondary school lessons and university teaching sessions (lectures, working groups, project meetings, etc.) to facilitate student‐centered learning. One researcher is monitoring, analyzing and reporting similarities or differences in the four teams’ findings how to transform teacher‐student interactions into student‐centered learning. An outcome of this project involving teachers in different contexts is that they are committed to a renewal of teaching within their own contexts attending to ongoing learning processes of students.
Results and learnings
The first set of results regards effective support of students' self-regulated learning. Teacher teams gravitated toward not to full student regulation, but to shared regulation of the identified meta-cognitive learning activities, either with more teacher orientation or more student orientation. Particularly the learning goals and the evaluation of the extent to which these learning goals were reached were more teacher-regulated, while the choice of learning activities, monitoring the extent to which goals were reached and adjusting the learning process (i.e., choosing different activities) were more regulated by the students. For all groups this was a transition, a letting go of regulation by the teachers, which felt awkward at first. However, particularly the teams in secondary education noticed how increasing students’ autonomy had a positive effect on their motivation. Students were enthusiastic about the lessons when they had a say in what they were going to do. This student enthusiasm was a big driver for teachers to look for further improvement in their lessons.
Planning and executing the current lesson study project in close collaboration with the teacher teams has led our own team to some interesting conclusions regarding lesson study. First, although initially participating teachers felt awkward, like they were judged, in the end they were enthusiastic about discussing their actual teaching with colleagues; often meetings are about matters in the periphery of teaching, whereas these four meetings really focused on what teachers do while teaching. Also, looking behind the scenes with colleagues was found to be quite insightful. Groups of teachers have expressed the intention to continue with this type of activity after the project is finished.
The project has led to recommendations regarding promoting students' self-regulated learning on the one hand, and regarding conducting lesson study on the other.
On the subject of supporting students' self-regulated learning, two interconnected recommendations can be made. First, students are generally not used to regulating their learning process fully themselves; they enter the classroom and more or less consume what is presented to them. Teachers in this project found that merely telling students to regulate their own learning was not enough for students to actually do so; students needed to develop these skills. This requires some scaffolding, or some initial teacher-regulation.
Second, not only for students, but also for teachers, giving students control over their learning process is an interesting journey. Most teachers expressed the need to first construct a strong base, after which students can be set (somewhat) free to explore the content for themselves. Teachers felt vulnerable in letting go control. This shows that it takes courage to apply student regulation in teaching. A supportive team in a lesson study environment might help build that courage.
Regarding conducting lesson study, first, a key factor is to evaluate teaching sessions with a focus on students’ learning. What are they doing? What is going on in their heads? In multiple teams, teachers have indicated to find this difficult, which shows in the initial evaluation meetings. However, as the case of team TU/e-TE wonderfully shows, teachers can learn to look at a lesson from this perspective. It seems that here, too, scaffolding from the facilitator is necessary – to get teachers to look at students and how they are learning first, after which this support can be faded out as teachers themselves take the initiative to focus on their students. Moreover, different ways to assess students’ learning can be part of the lesson study process, including the use of exit cards.
Second, time was an important issue in all lesson study teams. It turned out to be quite hard to find time in everyone’s busy agenda to schedule the meetings, let alone to prepare for them and to follow up on discussed actions. Teachers had additional meetings to finish the work they started in the group meeting. Also, the time there was before the project would end was limited (due to Covid-19 restrictions, we postponed starting with the lesson study teams until it was possible to meet one another face to face and also to teach live in school/on campus). For some teams, the limited time available put the pressure on to deliver, while for other teams it seemed impossible to achieve the goals before the project would end. For future lesson study teams, it therefore seems viable to discuss a clear plan and timeline beforehand, so teachers know the amount of work that has to be done.
Third, when composing a lesson study team it is important to think about the background of the members. Teaching the same or at least similar subjects may be crucial to be able to develop a concrete lesson plan together – also, these teachers knew each other best, which may have resulted in an ease to visit each other’s classes. Future lesson study teams that really want to focus on a lesson and learn from the lesson would therefore be well advised to compose teams with people who know each other and whose lessons show considerable overlap, so as to be able to constructively work on these lessons in a collaborative way.
The learnings and recommendations from this project are first shared within ESoE and TEACH, the bodies that conducted the lesson study project, so lesson study can be further used as a vehicle in teacher training programs. Newsflash items have reported about the project, and the researchers have presented the results on several educational conferences.