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Lesson Study

“What impact will providing challenge for the most able students have on performance/product/final outcomes and assessment levels of (that group in) class 8c?” Dudding, A., Hinton, F., Nicols, H., (2015)

Subject Areas:  Drama, Art and Music.

It is noteworthy that this lesson study was carried out during the last academic year before a change to assessment criteria for Key Stage Three was introduced.  Available assessment levels as this time were 1 to 8 where the current assessment criteria offer outcomes 1 to 9 for all of Key Stage Three and Key Stage Four.

Lesson study members: A. Dudding, music teacher, H. Nichols, art teacher and head of arts faculty and F. Hinton, drama teacher (leader of this lesson study and author of this summary),

In our first meeting, we soon realised that exploring how we challenge our most able students was something that we all felt strongly about: We wanted to consider whether what we were already offering our most able students was enough. We were also aware of how there would be similarities and differences in how we would need to deliver our lessons in order to achieve this.

More detailed evaluations for each subject area are available by contacting fhinton@oriel.w-sussex.sch.uk.


What did existing evidence suggest could improve outcomes?

  • Teaching a unit of work over an extended period of time (I had trialled this before with positive results: I taught an extended unit of work over a term as opposed to half a term to a particular Key Stage Three group).
  • Adapting the concept of an overall unit of work. Also adapting each lesson within the unit to provide extension tasks beyond those already in existence (I had tried this before with positive results).
  • The way in which students were grouped/paired where appropriate.
  • Use of targeted questioning (again, already in use).
  • Use of levelled questioning (as above).
  • Openly sharing outcomes within the trio: What worked and what didn’t.
  • Observations of lessons within the trio. This was replaced by the use of IRIS (see later comments).
  • Knowing students well and having trusting and positive relationships with them.

Had any colleagues tried anything similar?

We were aware that a few other colleagues were carrying out lesson studies. For example N. Barnes (head of RE), F. Jennison, E. Walshe and Z. James (literacy leader) and that they had begun to use IRIS as an observational tool.  We were unaware of their outcomes at the time of carrying out our lesson study.

A brief summary of our approach as originally planned:

Although we knew that we were already differentiating our teaching and learning to meet the needs of all the students in class 8c, we wanted to explore if those in the more able category could be challenged even further. We thought that by being really specific about this group of students, we could focus on their progress and ensure, not only that they weren’t slipping through the net or coasting but that they were given the level of challenge that they really needed and most likely craved.

We knew that the most able students in drama might not also be the most able students in art and music, for example, so we all chose a separate study group of approximately five to ten students who we deemed to be in the most able category. Some students inevitably fell into the most able category in two or three of the three subject areas in the study.  Each teacher selected the students via use of target assessment levels for the end of that academic year and what they had previously witnessed from the students in terms of outcomes.  For example, see extract below taken from my drama lesson study evaluation document.  It refers to a table of assessment levels showing target levels, before the lesson study:

“Criteria: Oriel target level (for end of Year 8) at the time of starting the lesson cycle study had to be a level 6b or above. [Students]***** and ***** were also added to the group as FHI considered them to be of higher ability according to previous work they had completed”.

Through in depth discussion in the early stages of our study, we concluded that there was no way that a jointly planned lesson would be beneficial in this instance. This was for the following reasons:

  • In each of the three subject areas, the units of work to be taught were very different. We considered a unit of work that would incorporate all three arts subjects but decided that this was a separate task in itself and that using such a scheme would not affect the outcomes of our study.
  • Each subject area is taught in such a finite way that trying to make our teaching and learning fit into a frame to achieve the same lesson outcome would be unnecessary at this stage.

Instead, we all made our own adaptations to lessons with the overriding objective of ensuring we provided sufficient challenge for the most able students.

Enquiry question

What was your enquiry question?

“What impact will providing challenge for the most able students have on performance/product/final outcomes and assessment levels of (that group in) class 8c?”


What did the approach look like initially?

One of the key areas of this study was the way in which we wanted to group or pair students (where appropriate).  There were similarities in the way each member of our trio approached this:

  • In drama, I grouped students according to their ability. There were three groups of more able students (one of which also contained one mid ability and one lower ability student).  The students were neither discreetly nor overtly informed that they were in the most able category. This was owing to the fact that I wanted to prevent a two tier dynamic in the class as a whole. This is something I may re consider for future studies in order to see if there is a difference in outcome.
  • In music, Dudding also chose not to inform the most able students that they were her focus group. Instead, she told the whole class that she would be concentrating her studies on them as they are such an able group and the students responded very well to this.  Dudding carried out group, paired and individual work.
  • Within art lessons, Nichols explained, much of the work is completed independently so there were no groupings. Nichols also decided against discreetly informing the most able students that they were the primary focus.
  • Nichols, Dudding and I found that our approaches had positive outcomes for all students, not just those in the focus group.

We also made the following decisions in the early stages of the lesson study:

  • Each of us to use a separate unit of work and lesson plans but with the overall objective of providing challenge for the most able.
  • Each to use IRIS to record a lesson (with further recordings later in the study) and share with one another.
  • Meet to give open feedback on IRIS films, process, and how we found ways to challenge the most able students.

How was it modified?

As the lesson study developed, the basic structure, set out above, continued.  The modifications and extensions occurred in the following ways:

  • Exploring our use of questioning: For example, I made it compulsory for the most able students to respond only to higher level and extension questioning. Middle and lower ability students were also invited to respond to these questions (and some chose to).
  • Exploring use of worksheets. In my case, those containing a specific aim, levelled and targeted questioning and key words. Extension terminology and extension questions also played a key role in the efficacy of these worksheets.
  • Viewing one another’s IRIS films. Learning from one another’s practice.
  • Taking risks as a teacher – remembering not to be afraid if something doesn’t work! This was important as it played a very large part in providing sufficient challenge for the most able students.  Not worrying if something doesn’t work was also intrinsic to the way the students in 8c had to work.  This is always part of teaching and learning, but we discovered it becomes even more crucial when pitching that teaching at such a high level.  The relationships between students and teacher are paramount.  I am certain that the fact that we had all taught 8c in Year 7 and developed very positive relationships with the class played a big part in us being able to teach to the levels we did:  The students trusted us and we trusted them.
  • Using positive reinforcement and a focus on outcome over assessment levels aided progress overall.
  • Using assessment levels as outcomes – towards the end of the unit of work. (Students also wanted to see their progress quantified in a rise in assessment level).
  • About half way through the lesson study, we created a set of questions/criteria against which we would evaluate the process and outcomes.
  • We considered the impact of using IRIS with practical subjects. Not always appropriate, especially when groups are in different rooms – E.g. Dudding’s experience in music.

What do you think were the key ingredients required to make your final approach a success?

  • Openly sharing successes and failures.
  • Taking risks in terms of where we pitched the teaching.
  • ‘Top down’ teaching and the way in which mid ability students adapted to the challenges – perhaps a separate study required here.
  • Relationships with the group as a whole. No anxiety about something not working.
  • Questioning techniques.
  • The ability, nature and positive dynamic of 8c as a whole.
  • Putting so much focus on one group of students helped to raise the confidence and attainment of all students in the class.
  • How high we could go in terms of challenge. g. a student in drama went beyond expectations that were already incredibly high and, honestly, knocked me for six with the brilliance of the idea that he had come up with!  Was it the fact that expectations were even higher on a base level that allowed for his ideas to extend beyond this?


How did you evaluate the impact of your enquiry project?

At almost half way through our lesson study, we wrote a set of criteria against which to evaluate our process and outcomes.  They were as follows (and separate evaluative documents using this criteria are available for Drama, Art and Music):

A:  Nature and expectations of the unit of work / tasks.

B:  Expectations of extension tasks.

C:  Groupings

D:  Teacher and peer questioning and discussion.

E:  Use of question sheets.

F:  Use of task sheets (within question sheets).

G:  Use of extension vocabulary (in discussion and on task/question sheets).

H:   Assessment outcomes

I: Questionnaire findings (see below).

Summary of Questionnaire Findings for Drama Lesson Study 2014-2015.

Class: 8c. Unit of work: Physical Theatre

Please note that a template of the full questionnaire given to students in 8c is available by contacting fhinton@oriel.w-sussex.sch.uk.

29 questionnaires were completed. There were 30 students in class 8c with one student who had an extended period of absence.

Please note that levels given next to student quotations are current levels prior to completion of Physical Theatre unit of work.

  1. Did you enjoy completing this extended unit of work?
Yes No Yes and No
48.27% 24.13% 27.6%
“Yes, because it was a challenge to incorporate non-naturalistic form (abstract) with characters in between scenes”. Level 8c “No, because I think it was too long and that’s why our performances were not energised”. Level 5a
“I enjoyed completing the extended unit of work because I got to practise it so much that I really knew what I was doing.” Level 5a
  1.  Do you think that having longer to explore Physical Theatre has helped you to learn more about it?
Yes No Yes and No
79.31% 6.9% 13.79%
“Yes, as we learnt more about non-natural and natural physical theatre”. Level 6c “Personally, yes, but sometimes working with other people makes it harder to use some of my ideas!” Level 7b
  1. Did you enjoy working with your current group?
Yes No Yes and No
65.5% 13.8% 20.7%
“Yes, as we kept our groups we got to know people and have fun”. Level 6c “No, because there was no one I liked apart from 1 or 2 people”. Level 6c “Yes it was fun being able to develop our ideas but I felt like they don’t enjoy/care about drama as much as I…” Level 7b
“Yes, because we all had different skills and because of that I think we helped each other improve on those skills”. Level 6b
  1.  Do you think you have been challenged during this extended unit of work?
Yes No Yes and No
82.76% 10.34% 6.9%
“Yes, because there was more time to learn”. Level 5a “No, not really. We did struggle, but showing the feelings was not that hard” Level 4a “Yes and no because sometimes it has been easy and sometimes it has been hard”. Level 4a
“Yes, because there were a lot of sophisticated things we had to do”. Level 7c
“Yes, because we kept trying to make it better by adding more challenging things in e.g. rhyming chorus and lift…” Level 5a
“Yes, because it is something completely new and almost alien”. Level 7b
  1. Do you think you that this unit of work has challenged you more than previous units of work?
Yes No Yes and No
65.5% 20.7% 13.8%
“Yes, because I’m starting to get confident…” Level 4a “This topic was challenging for me but I found the Melodrama more challenging.” Level 6c “Yes and no, because we could put more time into doing the performance meaning it was easier however it meant we had time to add advanced techniques into our performance”. Level 6c
“Definitely – there has been much more criteria to include which makes it more challenging”. Level 7c “No, because I felt it was easier than the other subjects that we have done in the past”. Level 5a
“I’ve had to really put myself in the audience’s shoes and see what they would think to each scene and what they would learn from it”. Level 8c
  1.  Did you find the task/key word/ question sheets useful?
Yes No Don’t Know
89.66% 6.89% 3.45%
“Yes, because as a group, we went through it and checked that we included that stuff and if not, we would add it in”. Level 5a “To be honest I don’t care how the other groups did…” Level 7c “?” Level 6c
“Yes, as I gave an answer using the extension key words sheet”. Level 5c
“ I found them useful because when we were evaluating it was good to see where we could improve”. Level 5b
“The question sheet was helpful and I think it helped me analyse others’ and my work better”.  Level 6c
“It helped me put ideas in that we didn’t already have”. Level 7b
“Yes, it helps me to say what I feel”. Level 4a

Did you have a parallel or historical group to compare against?

We did not use a parallel or historical group to compare our process and outcomes against, although we had informal awareness of other groups in Year 8 that we were teaching at the time of the lesson cycle study.  A more formal parallel group, or 8c as the historical group, would be of good use as and when we develop our lesson study practice.

How did ongoing evaluation inform any changes or refinement to your approach?

  • Each of us learnt about our own classroom practice: This was as a result of reflection, evaluation and viewing ourselves teaching via IRIS. We also benefited from group discussion after sharing our IRIS recordings.
  • Use of task and question sheets (with levelled questioning) in my case: I really honed the content, structure and frame of these. 

What was your experience of the enquiry process?

How would you improve it next time?

  • Have a parallel or historical group for comparison
  • Champion the use of live observation (with the use of IRIS where appropriate)
  • Explore precisely what it was that caused some students within the targeted group to spike in their progress and apply findings.
  • Consider teaching a unit of work that can span all three arts subjects so students can make connections.
  • Consider using the frame of a lesson plan that is the same across all three arts subjects and adapt to needs of each subject. Would this enable us to make more direct comparisons between the subjects or possible restrict our teaching and learning processes?
  • Use questionnaire feedback to inform planning and teaching.
  • Use IRIS outcomes to inform planning and teaching. For example, being able to listen to individual responses / group work when students ‘forget’ that they are being filmed provides great insight into their input, ability and outcomes.
  • Use IRIS to help students evaluate their own work. I did do this during the lesson study and students reported finding it useful.
  • Ideally, we would have more time to apply these techniques to teaching all of our classes. Lack of time as a teacher is one of our worst enemies.  It would be unrealistic to suggest teaching all our groups in this way. However, the lesson study has certainly given us ideas for how we might move forward within the time constraints we have.

Further work, sharing & dissemination

What does your work suggest could be investigated in the future? 

  • Within the three arts subject areas, we have all shared findings with colleagues. This may lead to a review of the way in which we deliver our units of work.  For example, in drama, I am proposing that some units of work, for certain teaching groups, might be offered for an extended period of time. I am also proposing that we explore more ways of challenging our most able students by pitching units of work and lessons at a higher level overall.  The unit of work that I adapted was ‘Physical Theatre’. The content of this scheme plays a vital role in preparing students for both GCSE Drama and A-level Drama and Theatre Studies.  My head of department, S. Thurley, is also suggesting that we teach Physical Theatre in Years 7, 8 and 9 as opposed to Year 8 only.
  • In art, students who were in the most able group in 8c gained confidence over the course of the lesson study and took part in a special gifted and talented project producing artwork for Three Bridges station. This suggests that similar approaches could be set up to achieve similar outcomes.
  • Although this is only our first lesson study, it has provided us with some important findings. Applying these to the way in which we plan and deliver our teaching and learning as a whole school might well form the next step

How did you disseminate your findings to colleagues?

  • Findings have been disseminated to colleagues through formal and informal discussions in the drama, art and music Departments.
  • Informal discussions across the wider school community have also taken place.
  • Formal dissemination to the whole school and beyond via purplepedagogy.com.
  • Other evaluation documents specific to subject areas are available by contacting fhinton@oriel.w-sussex.sch.uk.


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