Meet the editors of... International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies
An interview with: Professors John Elliott and Lo Mun Ling
Interview by: Caroline Moors
Professors John Elliott and Lo Mun Ling served as the editors of IJLLS until 2017.
Chief editor, Professor John Elliott is emeritus professor of education in the Centre for Applied Research in Education (CARE), School of Education and Lifelong Learning, at the University of East Anglia, Norwich.
His long-standing interest is in understanding the problems of achieving significant change in the quality of students' learning experiences in classrooms and schools. In this connection, he is internationally well-known for pioneering the development of action research approaches to curriculum and pedagogical change. He is the founder of the Collaborative Action Research Network (CARN) and a founding editor of Educational Action Research: An International Journal.
Co-editor, Professor Lo Mun Ling is adjunct professor of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and the Centre for Learning Studies at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.
Her long-standing interest is in understanding the problems of catering for individual differences in classroom learning, teachers' professional development, and developing the theory and practice of learning study and variation theory. In this connection, she is internationally well-known for pioneering the development of learning study. Professor Lo is the founding president of the World Association of Lesson Studies.
About the journal
Launching in 2012, the International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies (IJLLS) is the official journal of the World Association of Lesson Studies (WALS). The journal rests on the conviction that there is a need for a journal that will promote an evidence-based and rigorous pedagogical discourse in the field of education on how to improve the quality of young people's experiences as learners in educational settings.
Lesson and learning study
How would you define "lesson and learning study"?
Lesson study involves teachers collaboratively investigating their own practice to generate and share knowledge about how to teach a particular topic, concept or skill. As such, it may be regarded as a form of educational action research. Lessons in this context are known as "research lessons". Within the Japanese tradition a lesson study is:
- Carried out by a group of teachers (three to eight members).
- Focused on the collaborative development of a lesson defined in terms of a topic rather than a unit of time.
- Proceeds through cycles of planning, teaching, and evidence-based discussion.
- In each cycle a collaboratively planned lesson is taught by a different teacher, while the other teachers collect observational data, which are then discussed in a post-lesson conference as a basis for moving into the next cycle of planning a revised lesson, teaching and discussion.
- The teacher group may be facilitated by an expert specializing in the curriculum area concerned.
(See Lewis et al., 2009.)
However, procedurally lesson studies may vary with respect to the form they take. They may, for example, focus on the development of a particular lesson by a teacher in dialogue with his or her peers who have access to his/her work via video records. The teacher's peers may then test the findings from the study in their own classroom settings. Lesson studies may also vary with respect to their focus.
Some may focus on the development of teaching and learning methods, such as "small group work", "teachers' questions", and "whole class discussion". Others may focus on the quality of students' learning experiences in relation to the object of learning.
We would define "learning studies" as lesson studies that primarily focus on improving the quality of students' understanding of the object of learning. Although lesson studies may vary with regard to whether they are concerned with testing and developing explicit learning theory, the latter will always be a matter of concern for learning studies.
The nature of such learning theories may vary. In Hong Kong the Japanese lesson study tradition was integrated with "variation theory" initially developed by Marton and Booth (1997). Learning study is a form of lesson study that unifies the development of teaching with the development of a theory of learning in formal educational settings. It is not only informed by theory, but tests and further develops theory in the process.
How does lesson study impact on student learning?
Stigler and Hiebert (1999) argue that the superiority of Japanese students in international tests can be credited to the lesson study approach in which Japanese teachers constantly engage with one another to develop their pedagogical knowledge and competence. A number of learning study projects in Hong Kong, based on variation theory, have reported the impact of such studies on student learning. These studies show that the research lessons, apart from helping students to learn better, also help to narrow the gap between high and low achievers.
In your first editorial (IJLLS, Vol. 1, No. 1) you say that the journal will facilitate discussion between " ... research groups engaging in different forms of lesson study, learning study and action research in different countries and contexts". Lesson study originated in Japan, but how has it changed as a result of growth in international interest and appeal? How do you think it will continue to develop in future?
We know from our experience that it is impossible to import any innovation directly and without any adaptations to another country with a different culture and context, therefore, different countries will inevitably develop their own approaches to lesson study/learning study that would be most suitable to them. The success stories and lessons learned can be shared and will provide insights to each other. An example is the learning study in Hong Kong, its development took inspiration from the Japanese lesson study, the Chinese teaching study and Marton and Booth's variation theory, and has now developed into a unique approach.
What are the main barriers to effective implementation of lesson and learning study?
There is always the danger that a lesson study may be lacking a focus on learning, as a result, teachers may feel good about collaboration, but there may be little impact on student learning (Chokshi and Fernandez, 2004).
As lesson studies take up time and effort, teachers need to be supported by "leaders for learning" at the management level of the school, and given time and space to engage in the study. Too many innovations may divert schools' attention to other matters.
A lesson study is resource intensive, but it may not be necessary for teachers to engage in full blown lesson studies all the time for them to significantly impact on their practice more generally. Moreover, in the context of learning studies there may be a need to focus attention on objects of learning that, on the basis of common experience, are known as difficult to handle. A learning study over a concentrated period of five to six weeks can make a significant contribution to the development of professional knowledge about how to teach a difficult topic that has practical pay-off in the future, both for the teachers involved and the teaching profession more generally.
For learning studies, before teachers can fully grasp the learning theory involved, the role of the academic facilitator is very important. S/he can enable teachers to test a theory in action by ensuring that the design of a lesson is informed by the theory.
About the journal
What are the journal's editorial objectives and mission?
The journal's editorial objectives and mission are to:
- Enhance public knowledge about how to improve the quality of teaching and learning in formal educational settings.
- Become the major medium for globally disseminating the outcomes of practically-oriented research in the fields of lesson and learning studies to educational practitioners and leaders, education researchers, teacher educators, and members of the education policy community.
- Promote interdisciplinary and cross-national collaboration between groups of school teachers, teacher educators, and educational researchers, in conducting action-oriented lesson and learning studies.
- Foster a systematic exchange and discussion of ideas on how to improve the quality of lessons and learning experiences in formal educational settings.
- Promote a just and equitable international distribution of opportunities for researchers (practitioners as well as academics) in the fields of lesson and learning studies to have their work published.
- Encourage teacher educators and educational researchers in higher educational institutions to engage teachers in the process of developing their pedagogical content knowledge, and to co-author accounts of the process and its outcomes with them.
- Identify and clarify the most persistent and enduring themes that are relevant to securing significant improvements in the quality of teaching and learning in educational settings, and to encourage contributions that can be linked to such themes.
- Publish lesson and learning studies that are jargon free and written in a form of English that is equally accessible to teachers, educational leaders, and members of the policy community as well as academics.
What impact do you hope the journal will have in terms of educational practice and policy?
We hope the journal will help to promote lesson and learning study as a platform for teachers' professional development and as a kind of action research that would have an impact on the quality of student learning. Through the journal, the practice and theory of learning study will be more widely disseminated, and this will inform educational practice and policy.
How will the journal benefit from being associated with the World Association of Lesson Studies?
We believe that both the journal and WALS will benefit each other. Members of WALS will be able to publish their work in the journal and the journal has a pool of potential contributors and readers who are interested in this area.
Who will be your main readers? And who should contribute to the journal?
Our main readers will be teachers and leaders for learning within their organizations, educational researchers, teacher educators, and members of the education policy community. Those who engage in action research and design experiments in formal educational settings and educational research on, and evaluations of, lesson/learning studies, are encouraged to contribute to the journal.
What sorts of research methods and frameworks do you expect people to use, and how will they balance conceptual and applied research?
The journal will publish lesson and learning studies that are pedagogically aimed at improving the quality of teaching and learning in formal educational settings. These may take the form of action research, design experiments, formative evaluations or pedagogical research more generally that is designed to foster a democratic, discursive and action oriented inquiry process.
The journal will be particularly interested in publishing lesson and learning studies that are collaboratively constructed and dialogically forged with teachers and their students. Such a discourse is inevitably practical while at the same time eclectically drawing on a wide range of disciplinary knowledge. This does not imply that the contents of the journal will be any less intellectually demanding than those that stem from a particular academic sub-discipline, such as the psychology or sociology of learning or the philosophy of education. In the course of sustaining a clear focus on "improving the quality of lessons and learning" through pedagogical experimentation in which action strategies are constructed, tested and further developed, contributions will address such issues as:
- What constitutes quality in learning and how can it be evidenced and assessed?
- How do we conceptualize the relationship between the achievement and the process aspects of learning?
- What are the major constraints on efforts to improve the quality of learning in formal education, and how might they be overcome?
- What new possibilities of action to resolve persistent educational problems can now be imagined?
What can readers expect from the first issue?
A number of high quality articles that hopefully will establish the standard expected of contributions in future issues. They include actual lesson and learning studies as well as articles on the theory of learning study and the use of lesson studies in teacher education and policy contexts.
Being an editor
How did you become involved in engaging with lesson and learning study?
Together with Ference Marton and a group of researchers in Hong Kong, Lo Mun Ling started learning study in 1999 and has since directed a number of projects in learning studies which have great impact on teaching and learning in Hong Kong and elsewhere. John Elliott who is internationally recognized for his contribution to the theory and practice of educational action research was external evaluator for two of these projects on learning studies. Both are founder members of WALS Council and had been president of WALS.
What made you want to start an academic journal?
The outcomes of lesson study/learning study are of a special kind and they deserve a special journal to act as a platform on which to systematically construct a pedagogical science through the sharing and distribution of high quality lesson and learning studies and the promotion of professional dialogue.
As editors, how do you work together and what knowledge, skills and experience do you each bring to the partnership to make it successful?
John Elliott is a very experienced journal editor and leader of action research in the field of education. He will initially play a leading role in the editorial process as chief editor. His co-editor Lo Mun Ling, a key figure in the development of lesson and learning studies globally, will take up more and more work as she gains experience from working with John. Both correspond frequently through e-mail about the development of the journal and issues arising from the reviewing process. They are both ably assisted by an editorial review board that is truly international in its spread of expertise across the fields of lesson study, learning study, and educational research. An experienced editorial assistant, Miriam McGregor, plays an effective liaison role at the interfaces between potential contributors and the editorial team.
Chokshi, S. and Fernandez, C. (2004), "Challenges to importing Japanese lesson study: concerns, misconceptions, and nuances", Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 85 No. 7, March, pp. 520-525.
Lewis, C., Perry, R. and Friedkin, S. (2009), "Lesson study as action research", in Noffke, S.E. and Somekh, B. ( Eds), The Sage Handbook of Educational Action Research, Sage Publications, London, pp. 142-154.
Marton, F. and Booth, S. (1997), Learning and Awareness, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., NJ.
Stigler, J.W. and Hiebert, J. (1999), The Teaching Gap, The Free Press, New York, NY.
Professors John Elliott and Lo Mun Ling were interviewed in September 2011.
Visit the information page for: International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies