Nov. 19, 2019

Planning a SoTL lesson study: Step 1 — Lesson plan and study design

Create a teachable lesson plan that you can easily collect data on and eventually share with a broader audience

Start your literature review

After identifying your topic of interest, we suggest you learn about student thinking and find other teaching examples by conducting a literature review. This step  can take approximately one month. Understanding what is known about how students struggle or progress in their learning, as well as what instructional practices have worked and not worked, can help you to design or refine your lesson. Taking the time to read the literature will allow you to identify what knowledge gaps exist in the literature regarding teaching and learning on your topic.

Recommendations for an effective and efficient literature review:

  • Use a reference manager (e.g., Mendeley) to organize your readings and generate in-text citations. As you add citations, double-check that the reference information is correct.
  • Switch between finding articles, reading articles and summarizing your findings. It is easy to continue reading more and more literature, so you should set goals and stopping points. For example, your goal could be to find and read articles until you the amount of new and relevant information you learn from each article diminishes.
  • Take detailed, well-organized notes with correct citations. These notes will be useful during the writing process and will prevent omissions or incorrect referencing.

Develop an initial lesson plan 

In our project, we spent one month generating a lesson plan, but you could also use a lesson plan that already exists. Your goal is a lesson plan that has well-aligned learning objectives, activities and assessments. Outlining this plan early and updating it throughout the process will ensure that you collect evidence of learning and save you time in conducting the study.

There are many resources available that provide strategies and tips on creating a lesson. Such examples include articles that provide a framework for planning a lesson on your topic, as well as information on how to select forms of assessment and ways to incorporate Universal Design of Learning and active learning techniques into your lesson design. Sharing resources with other instructors can also be very helpful at this stage.

Recommendations for lesson plan methodology:

Select the primary learning goal that the lesson will focus on and break down it into learning objectives.

  • Develop 2-3 learning objectives that you can collect data on (as a rule of thumb, for a 50-minute lecture, there will only be enough time to teach and assess two or three learning objectives effectively).
  • Use the principle of backward design to outline your learning outcomes; then identify activities and assessments that help meet those outcomes.
  • Come up with activities and forms of evaluation to provide feedback on the success of these learning objectives. It may also be helpful to consider how you will collect and analyze your data.
  • Check that the learning objectives, activities, and assessment are aligned.
  • Remember to keep detailed notes about how goals were selected and why during this process. 
  • Remember that a finalized lesson typically includes completed presentation slides, an instructor script and forms of assessment (e.g., worksheets, quizzes, clicker questions, etc.).

Collect feedback and iteratively improve your lesson

Once you have a draft of your lesson plan, it is time to begin collecting feedback from both experts and students on how the flow, alignment and activities can be improved to meet learning goals. Once we had generated all the lesson materials, this iterative process of revision took us approximately two months.

You could collect this information by sending out a survey to experts, holding a focus group of experts or students and/or piloting the lesson in multiple courses and gathering feedback.

Following each round of feedback, you will need to reflect on what is working, what isn’t and what could be improved. Consider all recommendations and ideas but use criteria to decide what feedback you will incorporate. Keep in mind that revision is a time-consuming, but essential and valuable step in the lesson design process.

Recommendations for final lesson design

  • Pilot various methods of assessment and discuss the most appropriate ones with the instructor who will deliver the lesson.
  • Ask reviewers and the instructor to help brainstorm possible student responses to assessment questions.
  • Write out the lesson 'script' with the instructor that includes what they will be saying and delivery instructions. Include this script in the presentation slides for future instructors.
  • Gather feedback early and ask a diverse group of individuals to be involved.
  • Expect to have many revisions and edits. Try not to become attached to the specifics of how you achieve the learning objectives.
  • Check to make sure that all learning objectives, activities and assessments remain aligned throughout this process.
  • Take notes about how activities and assessment were revised.
  • For presentation images that are not self-generated, check to ensure they are public domain and adequately cited.

Ethics approval

If you would like to publish or share the results of your lesson study, you will need to have Conjoint Faculties Research Ethics Board (CFREB) approval and obtain student consent before you deliver your lesson or collect data. The Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning provides a guide on how to incorporate ethical practices into your lesson study design, as well as other resources to consider during this process. All your lesson materials and data collection methodology must be approved before you can run your lesson in a course. It is therefore essential to submit a research ethics board (REB) request for ethics approval early. More information on University of Calgary CFREB applications and deadlines are available here.

It can be helpful to have someone who has already submitted a lesson study ethics application involved in this process. You can also meet or have a phone call with your CFREB.

At minimum you will likely need to have the following prepared before you can submit your ethics application: a finalized lesson plan, assessments and any questions you will ask students, plan for data analysis, consent forms and recruitment materials.