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A critical realist perspective on lesson study



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Joomun, Rushda 


Lesson study consists of the collaborative design, observation, and discussion of a series of lessons, centred around an explicit educational goal. This creates a cyclical and contextualised approach to professional development with the potential to spur teacher improvements which can in turn lead to improvements in student learning in a manner which is relevant and reactive to the demands of society.

This study aims to contribute to both professional practice through the adaptation of lesson study, and to theory, through a critical realist approach to professional learning. The literature and my personal experiences are used to highlight various issues with lesson study implementation indicating it might not be sustainable within the English secondary school context. Through the lens of critical realism, these issues are explored, and some potential solutions are crafted and evaluated. Interviews are used to capture the experiences of seven teachers as they engage in multiple lesson study cycles over two academic years. The qualitative data is then analysed to draw inferences about the potential causal mechanisms which enable the teachers to exercise their powers and to enact change to their practices, against their various contextual constraints.

The final abstraction of the research is a sociological model of professional learning informed by Margaret Archer’s social morphogenesis, which provides a theoretical framework for capturing changes within social systems. This model is predicated on the idea that changes to teaching practice are reflexively negotiated in relation to a teacher’s unique social circumstances. Teachers then turn professional learning into action/inaction through reflexivity by drawing from their existing knowledge, dispositions, and beliefs. It is posited that teachers’ reflexive actions are predisposed by their developmental capacity, defined by their specific stance towards professional development as well as objective factors such as time and energy and resulting in varying levels of engagement with professional development mechanisms such as lesson study. By capturing the diversity of teacher identities and defining their abilities to deal with contextual challenges, teacher developmental capacity provides a useful means of enhancing the effectiveness of professional development activities. The ultimate outcomes of professional learning under this model are conceptualised as a ‘double morphogenetic cycle of teacher change’, whereby changes can materialise both internally to the teacher and socially, through their practice, and opportunities for reflexive deliberations are central to nurturing positive teacher change.

This research attempts to position effective professional development as the vehicle for educational change which begins in the classroom but demonstrates the potential to transform schools by enabling teachers to develop and transfer their knowledge/beliefs (what they know) to their practice (how they teach). As well as practical recommendations for teachers, school leaders and policymakers, the realist development and evaluation of a professional development programme centred on lesson study also provide frameworks and analytical tools which could be applied as part of programme and policy evaluation, both across, and beyond the field of education.





Watson, Steven


critical realism, education, lesson study, professional development


Doctor of Education (EdD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge