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International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies

Cooperative research. A critical strategy in university teacher training. A case


study of Lesson and Learning Studies
Encarna Soto Gmez Maria J Servn Nez Angel I Prez Gmez

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Encarna Soto Gmez Maria J Servn Nez Angel I Prez Gmez , (2015),"Cooperative research.
A critical strategy in university teacher training. A case study of Lesson and Learning Studies",
International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, Vol. 4 Iss 1 pp. 56 - 71
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David Martindill, Elaine Wilson, (2015),"Rhetoric or reality? A case study into how, if at all, practical
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Alice Driver, Katherine Elliott, Andrew Wilson, (2015),"Variation theory based approaches to teaching
subject-specific vocabulary within differing practical subjects", International Journal for Lesson and
Learning Studies, Vol. 4 Iss 1 pp. 72-90 http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/IJLLS-10-2014-0038
Wai Ming Cheung, Wing Yee Wong, (2014),"Does Lesson Study work?: A systematic review on the
effects of Lesson Study and Learning Study on teachers and students", International Journal for
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Received 24 May 2014


Revised 3 October 2014
Accepted 17 October 2014

Cooperative research. A critical


strategy in university teacher
training. A case study of Lesson
and Learning Studies
Encarna Soto, Maria J. Servan and Angel I. Perez
Department of Didactics and School Organization, University of Malaga,
Malaga, Spain
Abstract
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to present the possibilities offered by Lesson and Learning
Studies (LLS) for training and for improving and generating knowledge by reconstructing the practical
knowledge of teachers in university training through joint design, observation and reflection. In short,
the research aims to show how merging LLS contributes to developing fundamental teaching skills in
new, uncertain contexts and to recreating processes of research and analysis of complex situations
from critical and creative perspectives by involving university teachers and student teachers in
disciplined, informed reflection on their own practice through shared, narrative productions in a dual
spiral which promotes the contrasting of experiences and perspectives in an ongoing manner.
Design/methodology/approach A case study of own practice in a university masters degree, the
aim of which is to develop a training improvement process by following the stages of LLS.
Findings The case study shows the need to reverse the theory-practice sequence and to increase the
importance of experience, the relevance of tutoring in the role of teachers, and the significance of
cooperation and contrast as learning strategies. The evidence presented shows that LLS can be an
extremely useful resource and procedure to reconstruct practical knowledge, facilitating internal
contrast between the different espoused theories of the members of the group of teachers, and also
between their espoused theories and their practical knowledge, in other words their theories-in-use.
Originality/value The paper explores the value of LLS to reconstruct the practical knowledge of
university teachers.
Keywords Case study, Teacher education, Learning and lesson studies,
Teacher practical knowledge, University teaching
Paper type Case study

International Journal for Lesson


and Learning Studies
Vol. 4 No. 1, 2015
pp. 56-71
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
2046-8253
DOI 10.1108/IJLLS-05-2014-0011

1. Introduction
Constant reinvention is a must in all teaching and learning processes in the digital era,
in particular those in the university sphere. In other words, teaching and learning
require an in-depth review of both the teaching function in terms of skills to be
developed by students and of the formation of the professional skills of the university
teacher. To facilitate this process, we believe it is necessary to design and promote
areas of research and cooperative reflection which help to reconstruct the common
practical knowledge which has characterised our day-to-day teaching for decades.
This paper came about as a result of two pieces of research funded by the Spanish
Government[1] related to the reconstruction of the practical thinking of teachers in
different stages of the educational system.
The work presented has two core areas: the functions and skills of current university
teachers and Lesson and Learning Study (LLS) as a methodological approach which
enables the emergence of practical knowledge and the transition to the construction of
practical thinking[2].

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2. Skills or practical thinking of teachers


As discussed in a previous work on university teaching and learning, Focus needs to
shift away from the idea of the teacher as a professional who is defined by his or her
capacity to transmit knowledge and assess results, and also from the perception of
teaching as an individual, isolated task, in order to move towards the idea of a
professional who is capable, both individually and jointly, of diagnosing situations
and people, designing a curriculum ad hoc, preparing materials, designing activities,
experiences and learning projects, configuring and organising learning contexts,
assessing processes and tutoring the overall development of individuals and groups
(Prez Gmez et al., 2009, p. 19). Teachers must take the lead in constructing and
applying knowledge, in developing fundamental skills in new, uncertain contexts,
and in recreating processes of research and analysis of complex situations from
critical and creative perspectives.
In this regard, the most recent research, reports and studies identify the following
fundamental skills of the teacher:
Ability to plan, develop and assess teaching aimed at developing desirable human qualities
in students.
Ability to create and maintain open, flexible, democratic and culturally rich contexts which
help generate a positive learning environment.
Ability to promote professional development and the formation of learning communities with
colleagues and other stakeholders in education (Prez Gmez, 2012, p. 249).

Here we refer to the skills[3], basic professional qualities or practical thinking


of teachers in order to overcome the limited framework of the concept of explicit,
declarative knowledge which has impregnated professional conception right
through to today. In other words, when talking about skills we include practical
knowledge[4] knowledge in action by Schn, which is largely unconscious and
made up of knowledge and beliefs, skills, attitudes, emotions and values. How can we
stimulate the formation of these professional skills and promote the reconstruction of
the practical knowledge of teachers, built and consolidated during previous life
stages as students and inhabitants of a school and teaching culture focused
fundamentally on transmission? How can we stimulate the formation of skills
relevant to tutoring in the digital age?
Recognising and analysing the core areas which form the fundamental nature of
practical knowledge should be considered essential in reconstructing the knowledge,
habits, routines, values, attitudes, skills and emotions related to teaching. The
reconstruction of practical knowledge requires teachers to review and question the
same images, ideas and practices they use in their day-to-day professional activity. Hagger
and Hazel (2006) call this process practical theorising. Practical theorising is the reflection
of the teacher on his or her own practice, his or her own way of acting, in the light of more
relevant educational experiences and of the results of more consistent educational
research. In consequence, privileged strategies in teacher training must get learners
involved in disciplined, informed reflections on their own practice, in other words action
research (AR) programmes and processes in professional and cooperative contexts (Elliott,
1993, 2004; Stenhouse, 1975). By compiling evidence on the development of their teaching
in a specific context, teachers can question the implicit theories, beliefs, values and
artefacts which make up their practice, and develop systematic processes which generate
and check action hypotheses on how to develop valuable changes and innovations.

Case study of
LLS

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3. Research by teachers into their own practice


Research by teachers into their own practice leads them to question their passive
role as technicians who consume, receive and apply the knowledge produced by others,
and proposes the need for teachers to be capable of producing the knowledge required
to improve their pedagogical practice and bring about improved learning in their
students (Cochran-Smith and Lytle, 1999). In the 1980s L. Stenhouse and J. Elliott put
forward AR as the most suitable methodological proposal. AR came about with the
main concern of understanding and improving practice, rather than constructing
new theories or producing new knowledge which can be transferred and used in
other contexts.
In the first decade of this new century, Elliott (2012) incorporated lesson study (LS),
originating from Asia, as a particular, systematic form of cooperative AR for teachers
to reflect on, research and improve their practice. It is worthwhile emphasising that in
Japan, where this tradition is deep-rooted, teachers, especially experienced ones, are
considered researchers of their own practice and enjoy a much higher social status and
level of recognition than in the West, similar to that bestowed on a university lecturer.
Likewise, practice and practical, tacit knowledge are key components in research
and the emergence of knowledge during initial and ongoing training (Ko Po, 2012).
For this reason, LS, as a form of research and cooperative innovation regarding ones
own teaching practice, is a tradition dating back more than a hundred years[5].
3.1 LS
It could be said that LS involves fundamental research processes which, through the
co-operative work of a small group of teachers, aim to resolve teaching problems
and facilitate learning. It can therefore be regarded as a system of teacher learning: a
set of practices, mental habits, interpersonal relationships, structures and tools which
facilitate collaborative work and improve the educational practice of those involved
(Fernandez and Yoshida, 2004; Lewis, 2002; Lewis et al., 2009; Stigler and Hiebert, 1999;
Yoshida, 1999). In consequence, educational practice and research come together in this
AR methodology, where teachers review and reformulate the teaching structure they
use, the content they teach, the learning of students and the improvement of their
own professional knowledge, as a consequence of regular, systematic[6], critical and
cooperative study of what they are doing.
Different perspectives from traditions and interpretations throughout the international
sphere currently emphasise the following concerns or purpose of the LS movement:
connecting the daily practice of teachers to long-term goals, building strong collaborative
networks and promoting more in-depth disciplinary and pedagogical knowledge. It could
therefore be said that, in seeking to disseminate the results, LS implies a certain concern
not only to improve teaching practice but also to increase available knowledge. In this
regard, both Elliott (2012) and Morris and Hiebert (2011) propose using LS as a model
to transform the artisan knowledge of the teacher into professional, public, shared,
cumulative, improvable knowledge.
3.2 Learning Study
The significant contribution made by Ference Marton to LS through Learning Study
helps to strengthen and generate the progressive construction of transferable theories,
both on the objects of learning and on relations between learning and teaching.
Learning Study aims to focus teacher research on students learning using the variation

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theory (Marton and Pang, 2006; Kullberg, 2010; Mun Ling and Marton, 2012; Runesson
and Gustafsson, 2010)
Perhaps the most important contribution of Martons variation theory to LS is to
place the focus of analysis on learning and to provide a technical framework which
helps to better understand the conditions in which relevant learning should come
about, i.e., the type of learning which leads to a qualitative change in the way each
learner deals with learning situations and objects, increasing the possibility of
discerning multiple aspects which simultaneously influence how an object, phenomenon
or real learning situation plays out.
The variation theory proposes that all learners and researchers should be capable
of discerning the largest number of critical aspects which simultaneously affect the
development of a phenomenon. This does not depend on the planned curriculum, or
even on the curriculum implemented by the teacher, but on the curriculum which has
been experienced and appropriated by the learner. Nobody can learn a concept or
method without discerning contrasting alternative positions, the variation of a specific
phenomenon. In consequence, rather than presenting the definition of a concept, it
would be more effective to get each student to face the different alternatives which this
phenomenon can acquire, first emphasising the differences and then the similarities.
Generalisations must therefore be built on contrasted information. This process is
presented by Mun Ling and Marton (2012) as a permanent cycle of: merging: (consider
the undifferentiated whole as presented in everyday life, creating a relevant structure);
contrasting-differentiating: (separate the different aspects involved in a context created
by the teacher); generalising (distinguish critical aspects from accidental ones); and new
merging (reintegrate critical aspects, whilst understanding the working of the system
they make up, with a new, more informed focus).
What matters is that each student should experience the contrast and variation of
a phenomenon and have the opportunity to understand the critical aspects which
can help to recognise its structure and function. Telling students what they need
to discern is not effective, as it does not lead to the skills necessary to discern
and understand. A learning object can only be experienced in a specific way if one is
aware of its critical issues and can analyse how these behave simultaneously (Marton
and Tsui, 2004).
We believe this cognitive approach is fundamental in the development of new
professional skills of teachers, since it requires a shift away from teaching as transmission
towards teaching as experimentation, an experience which is systematically supported
and tutored.
3.3 LLS
Having enriched LS with this learning theory, we can understand that the current goal
of LLS is also to generate knowledge and theory construction, not within a positivist
epistemological tradition which conceives practice as a direct application of theory,
regardless of the agents involved, but rather from a position in which knowledge is
used as an instrument, as a hypothetical resource to help understand the particular
phenomena which teachers face in our day-to-day practice (Toulmin, 2001). Theory is a
professional tool for better understanding of each specific case, problem or situation,
however, complex or uncertain, in real life, rather than a prescription which should be
applied regardless of the agents and situations.
LLS can be proposed and considered as a form of clinical research (Bulterman-Bos,
2008; Carlgren, 2012) in education, since it uses the practical experience of each teacher

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LLS

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60

whilst incorporating practical knowledge and emphasising the unique character of


learning processes and problems in line with each group of students. New knowledge
is generated in investigation, discussion and experimentation processes for specific
cases and problems, and involves shared practice of discussion, interpretation and
construction of meaning.
Although the solutions and proposals of LLS are clearly adapted to a specific
context, the dissemination of multiple individual solutions can be considered highly
valuable as a resource bank which feeds and guides the discussion and design
of unique new proposals adapted to each context (Morris and Hiebert, 2011).
The knowledge produced in LLS does not come from and cannot be conceived as a
rigid action plan, but rather a lesson design in terms of patterns of variation and
invariance of the critical aspects it contains (Kullberg, 2010, p. 35). This is not a plan
which needs to be strictly adhered to, but rather a description of the principles of
procedure (Stenhouse) which the lesson is based on, and which each teacher can
adapt in line with his or her specific action context. The aim is therefore to prevent
any mechanical use or prescriptive technique. Rather than a detailed description of
tasks, moments, contents and stages, the relevant plan should be considered a
theoretical description which includes the critical characteristics to be discerned and
the patterns of variation to be considered. Since teaching is conceived as an
interactive, creative, unpredictable activity, it is important not to lose sensitivity for
all that which is unplanned, emerging and unexpected.
Our research has shown that LLS can be an extremely useful resource and
procedure to reconstruct the practical knowledge of teachers on two levels, facilitating
internal contrast practical theorising between the different espoused theories of the
members of the group of student teachers, and also between their espoused theories
and their practical knowledge, in other words their theories-in-use. This continuous
movement involving the contrasting of experiences and interpretations leads, or
may lead, to an improvement in our practice and our practical thinking as university
teachers.
4. Rethinking our practice: from LS to Learning Study in a university
masters degree
In this section we present the LLS process structured in two fundamental cycles,
the first in the context of the online edition of the university masters degree,
Policies and Practices for Educational Innovation in the Knowledge Society
(Servn et al., 2009; Prez Gmez et al., 2010), and the second in the on-campus
edition of the same masters degree, known as Educational Innovation Practices
and Policies.
The online edition of the masters degree was first implemented during academic
year 2006-2007, focusing on understanding and promoting educational innovation.
A group of five teachers and researchers took this opportunity to design, in line with
LS methodology, the didactic experimentation of a new curricular structure.
4.1 First cycle stages
First, we began the design by defining the problem that gives shape to the lesson,
i.e. the didactic proposal we wanted to offer our students, mostly practising teachers
of different levels of education[7]. How can we teach in such a way as to bring about
significant, relevant learning with regards to the concept of educational innovation?

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How can we design the teaching and learning processes to reconstruct the practical
knowledge of students in this regard? Our main goal was to bring about the
reconstruction of the practical knowledge of students with regards to educational
innovation.
In the second stage, the teaching team cooperatively designed a curricular structure,
the scenario in which the lesson takes place, based on three essential elements:

Case study of
LLS

(1) The disciplinary modules which set out the basic content of each of the areas of
knowledge, in the shape of online documents which students can access
whenever they want in order to develop their personal project or interdisciplinary
core (Figure 1).

61

(2) The interdisciplinary core is a curricular space where the basic, formal
components of educational innovation are worked on from a multidisciplinary,
cooperative approach. This is conceived as a didactic area for the exchange of
ideas, experiences, concerns, alternatives and examples which can be used as
sources of inspiration for the personal project of each student.
(3) The personal work project is the area of interest chosen by each student, which
forms the central core of both theory and practice throughout the masters
degree.
Four of the five teachers were responsible for the interdisciplinary core, and in
consequence LS focused on the design, development and analysis of this module, which
finally presented the following didactic roadmap:
First, students are encouraged to reflect on their teaching practice by way of a
written account in which they describe their practice.
Then, in the stage known as internal contrast, students exchange accounts and
descriptions in order to further extend information, compare experiences and transfer
strengths (Figure 2).
Finally, external contrast is used to analyse an integrated, systematic educational
innovation model which involves a network of schools: the Accelerated Schools
movement developed in the USA (Levin, 1987; Soto Gmez, 2006).
This analysis, which is open to discussion and debate, is carried out through
different readings, exhibitions, videos and experiences in order to help understand how
they interact with each of the basic elements of educational innovation organised
around three core areas, curriculum and organisation; context and community; and
diagnosis and assessment, all of which were present in this experiment bound by a
specific philosophy and principles.

MODULES

Personal

C
O
R
E

Project

Figure 1.
Curriculum structure
of the masters degree

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STAGE I
Description of the practice

STAGE II
Internal contrast
Sharing reflection with the
participants

62
Disciplinary
modules

Personal
project

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STAGE III
External contrast
Group analysis of Accelereted
Schools experience

Figure 2.
Interdisciplinary core

STAGE IV
Innovation proposal

The purpose of the fourth stage was for students to design an individual innovation
proposal on their practice using the elements analysed in the previous stages,
with the aim of, above all, discovering the coherence and harmony between these
elements immersed in their daily practice.
Once the didactics proposal or lesson had been designed, we also agreed on the type
of learning evidence we would collect during its implementation. Apart from observing
the LS in the online campus through forums, accounts and tutor interventions, we also
collected students opinions in an assessment forum, a questionnaire and a series of
interviews. The students different productions were also reviewed.
Third, once the design was complete and the materials and resources prepared,
we were ready to teach and observe the lesson: the interdisciplinary core.
In the fourth stage of the LS, we contrasted and discussed the evidence collected
and reached several conclusions, most notably.
We had significant evidence that some students were capable of questioning
their beliefs on teaching and of identifying and reviewing key aspects of their practical
knowledge which are immersed in conflicts and resistance.
The core development favoured the review of personal beliefs by promoting
constant interaction between the educational practice of our students, the educational
practice of the accelerated schools and the theory of the disciplinary modules. However,
we realised that, as is common in the academic university context, students often
focused on theory without connecting it to their practice, and had problems identifying
the critical elements of the educational innovations. Challenges continued to appear:
How could we get students to move away from a theoretical approach and focus more
on the description of their practice?
Finally, in a curricular structure based on individual work, the interdisciplinary core
was the only online cooperative exchange area which clearly showed the key function
of contrast in the reconstruction of the practical knowledge of students, since the
questions dealt with in the forums allowed those general principles which were only

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considered superficially in practice to be analysed, reflected on and questioned. In this


regard, having the core teachers involved in a cooperative process such as LS provided
an example to students in terms of the pros and cons of cooperatively developing
an educational innovation process.

Case study of
LLS

4.2 Second cycle stages


Fifth, for the following academic year (2008-2009), the University Institution decided
to implement the masters degree on campus. This meant that the fifth stage, namely
the review and reformulation of the lesson, was carried out in this context, having to
deal not only with the conclusions of the analysis of the previous stage but also
the conditions of this new scenario. Some of the proposed changes were as follows.
In the Interdisciplinary Core, now called Educational Innovation Processes and
Experiences, we felt it necessary to expand the educational innovation experiences
which fed the external contrast process[8]. We realised, following the Learning Study
philosophy, that analysing a single experience was not enough to abstract the basic
critical elements of the innovation process. Contrasting different experiences would
help students understand and differentiate the critical and common dimensions of
any process from the most accidental, singular attributes of each experience. Our LS
process therefore incorporated Learning Study principles. Second, fully aware that the
mere theoretical intervention between the content of the disciplinary modules, the read
and commented external experiences and the individual accounts of educational
practice was not enough to explain and help reconstruct practical knowledge, at least
that of the students who were not working teachers, we proposed including practical
training in educational innovation contexts and the development of a tutored diary as
part of the masters degree. These practice periods would take place at the start of the
academic year, meaning the real experiences involved in them could be analysed and
reflected upon in the different modules, most notably ours, since all the work focused
on describing the practice which now formed the final work of this practice period.
Students would dedicate two whole weeks to the observation, development and
analysis of educational practice, either their own, in the case of working teachers, or
other peoples, for those who had just finished their studies. Throughout this time they
kept a diary to collect information and reflections, which would be tutored by the same
teachers who were in charge of both modules[9]. The main aim of the diary is for all
students to be fully aware of the educational processes implemented in their school
context, along with their strengths and weaknesses. There are frequently incongruences
and contradictions between verbalised, explicit theories and implicit theories or theoriesin-use which lead to deterioration of the efficiency and quality of professional and
personal practice. This is much more apparent in students who kept a diary of their
practice, creating a space for tutored observation, description, reflection and analysis of
their own teaching practice. Encouraging the students/teachers of the masters degree
to know their explicit theories and their theories-in-use, along with their models of
understanding and action on educational innovation, in order to reflect on them and, as
appropriate, reconstruct them, forms the core of our proposal in terms of generating
second-order learning, i.e. learning which questions the fundamental aspects which
govern our thoughts, desires and actions.
Third, we proposed using an online educational social network to supplement the
discussions held on campus, as a way of encouraging participation and collaboration
amongst our students (Figure 3).

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Figure 3.
Social network
developed on ning
platform

The social network gave all participants in the course a more democratic context
with opportunities not only to participate in a quiet and reflective way but also to
design their own learning environment for the portfolios, a strategy which is necessary
in order to stimulate the reconstruction of their practical knowledge, compared to
other more open systems[10].
Fourth, the research processes and instruments were systematised. The strategies to
collect information used by the two teachers in charge of the module were redesigned
to include the drafting of a collaborative digital diary in a private blog on Blogger,
whilst weekly meetings were held, both before and after the session[11], in order to
assess the research process and reflect on it, and to discuss any possible changes to the
subsequent sessions in line with the information collected and recorded in the blog.
Keeping this diary helped us to focus immediately on the other teachers external
observations of the class sessions, extending and clarifying different conclusions and
evidence exchanged in the on-campus discussion of the lesson developed. This was a
new discovery for the research team, and offers a contribution to the LS methodology
which we believe is worthy of further study and focus in subsequent publications.
The diary also recorded our experience and observations of the sessions given by
our colleague. We usually switched between the people leading the class, allowing the
other teacher to observe and make just occasional interventions:
[] counting on M Jos throughout the drawing up of the subject, along with our discussions,
proposals and material elaborations, always provides me with a richer, more contrasted and
accompanied view (Encarnas Diary).

One question which was very much present in these reflections was related to our
role in the classroom and in tutorial exchanges. One of us tended to make longer, more
structured interventions during the debates, whilst the other, with shorter
interventions, waited longer for the student to intervene. These observations helped
us to review our teaching role in this type of exchange, considering how to tip the
balance: whether it was necessary to show our pedagogical architecture when
analysing, questioning or generating reflections related to the topic under discussion,
or, to the contrary, whether it was more useful to give room to listening and contrast
among students before intervening. We discovered the complexity of the tutorial
function, a process involving guidance and direction, where the questioning of the
teacher acts, from a Socratic point of view, as a stimulus for students to discover the
degree of coherence of their thinking and beliefs. These guided comparisons,

strengthened by the Learning Study theory of variation, helped us to improve and also
generate more tutored experiences and experimentation contexts than in undercover
transmission.
This diary has therefore been a very useful tool throughout the process, allowing
us to become researchers and, above all, creating an area in which to reflect on our
own practice, which in turn led to the reconstruction of our practical knowledge:

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I have never kept a diary on reality whilst another person also makes a diary of this same
reality, with it being so easy to access it. From the point of view of action/research, sharing the
diary of the external observer and of the teacher and researcher is key. In this case we are both
teachers/researchers and external observers. Although maybe not truly external, since they
are fully involved; it is like looking at yourself naked in the mirror and having someone help
you see everything you dont usually notice [] (Encarnas Diary).

We are aware that teamwork is a complex process which requires a balance between
defending ones own positions and respect for the initiative of the other person,
ensuring any criticisms or suggestions made do not restrict freedom and creativity.
To share is to collaborate by anticipating, organising and comparing.
Six, once the lesson had been reviewed and reformulated, we started the sixth stage,
which involved developing it and observing and analysing it again in another class.
As indicated above, the new context in the on-campus version of the masters degree
was the Educational Innovation Processes and Experiences module.
Finally, in the seventh stage we discussed and evaluated the new evidence, reaching
conclusions on the development of the module experienced in line with the proposals
introduced and the research process followed.
In the first description stage of teaching practice, now on-campus, we were struck by
the ease with which they had taken on board the personal, descriptive and specific
character of their daily practice or of the practice of the teachers they had a relationship
with; they had truly focused on their theories-in-use, trying to relate them to their explicit
theories, indicating the contradictions they found, along with any doubts and uncertainties:
In general, I have found those I have read to be much closer, more intimate and sincere than
those received in the Online Campus, and I wonder whether the fact that we have seen each
other every Wednesday and have generated an environment of trust in the on-campus
sessions makes it easier for students to describe their real practice (M Joss Diary).

We each read and made suggestions with regards to the accounts, which we later
pooled and discussed before sending them to the students. This variable, which was
developed not only in the accounts but also throughout their diaries, possibly played a
large part in students focusing more on the relationship between their educational
goals and their teaching practice.
Feedback has been one of the challenges in the practice which has most improved in
each of the stages. Discussing in a constructive and stimulating yet also critical manner
has proved to be somewhat complex, even though the cooperative work carried out has
helped us to review, reconstruct and refine our forms of communication and expression.
An interesting, complementary parallelism between two levels of reflection and
analysis appeared in the second internal contrast stage. The teachers in charge of the
module reflected jointly on shared practice, namely the design and development of
the course. Students have to reflect on their own practice or the practice of other teachers,
as developed in the aforementioned Practice Module, and compare it to the accounts of
their colleagues, allowing their critical and accidental attributes to be identified.

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This stage truly captured the interest of students; knowing other practices in detail
was, in their opinion, an attractive, relevant proposal. There is usually a degree of
pessimism amongst teachers with regards to the possibility of organisational
and curricular changes in schools. Knowing how some colleagues had overcome
different obstacles created a stream of optimism and interest which they had not felt up
until now. It is worthwhile emphasising that the exchanges during the discussion of
individual practice were highly positive. Students continually praised their colleagues
practice and seldom pointed out controversial questions or issues which could lead to
conflict, discussion or unease. However, when the discussions were about experiences
outside of the group or theoretical reflections on any issue, we could say that they were
more spontaneous and controversial.
This led us to group students in pairs. The working teachers were in charge of
analysing the description of a colleague who had been in the innovation classroom
and vice versa. This allowed those who were in innovation classrooms to further
specify the conceptual and theoretical tools offered in the masters degree by observing
them in a specific experience, and to use them more naturally in order to analyse the
practice of a colleague who was a working teacher, leading to enriching contrast.
The climate of openness and discussion that was created in this stage set the scene
for the following module proposal, the third stage, which we continue to call external
contrast, where the discussions became more intense and dynamic. At the end of
this period, students emphasised how interesting the eminently practical nature of
this module was. Knowing and understanding different consolidated educational
innovation proposals both nationally and internationally connected with the interest
aroused in the internal contrast stage. This helped link the Practice Module to the
Educational Innovation Processes and Experiences module, ensuring that practice, or
teaching practice, was understood and meaningful.
In the fourth stage of the module, the innovation proposals were discussed in a final
session, which concluded with an assessment of the process developed. The students
drew up their proposals again in line with the results of this pooling session and
received new individualised feedback from us. Most indicated characteristics
and aspects of the experiences worked on during the module which have affected
the final proposal and, above all, highlighted the influence not only of these proposals
but also of colleagues practice. The importance of collaboration and cooperation in
analysing and designing teaching practice is therefore clear:
I cannot believe we have reached the end of the road. New perspectives and possibilities have
opened up, but now we are alone. This is a little frightening. Now it is time for commitment, to
get started and take risks. It is time for innovation. Here is my proposal, with a little fine
tuning. I hope my formulations are clear and my proposal precise. I would like to reiterate
my gratitude for you accompanying me, and look forward to counting on your advice,
companionship and support in the future. We will keep in touch thanks to the magic of Ning
(Portfolio of a student).

5. Conclusions
We can state that the development of LLS has helped bring about at least several
significant changes, in both students and teachers, in the following aspects.
5.1 Need to reverse the theory-practice sequence and increase the importance of experience
Students have shown greater specificity when analysing and describing their personal
experiences, striving to describe their theoretical framework. This was particularly

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true following the introduction of the practice period, emphasising the importance
of inverting the traditional theory-practice binomial, which allowed us to create a space
for reflection on this experience in particular and on actual educational innovation
processes.
Moreover, comprehensive monitoring by the teachers with successive feedback and
ongoing contrast of the experiences developed during this period allowed students not
only to get a sense of the practice and of the personal account, but also led them to
question their pedagogical assumptions.
This process of deliberation and analysis has made us more aware of the need to
start off from practice as a core learning process. Although the importance of practice
was often found in our theories-in-use, we continued to give priority to conceptual
and theoretical clarification, promoting simultaneous learning processes where the
disciplinary modules took on particular importance. Although students interests are a
key starting point, learning can only be achieved when supplemented with other
aspects. Recovering the initial goal of providing relevant learning requires finding
action contexts which encourage the emergence of beliefs, knowledge, attitudes and
skills and, of course, the emotions tied to them.
5.2 The role of teachers, the relevance of tutoring
In short, this research project allowed us to open ourselves up as teachers and find,
in each and every one of our actions, this map of images, information, experiences, etc.,
which make up our practical knowledge. Above all, it gave us the opportunity to
reconstruct any incoherences and absences we found between our theories and practice
in a reflexive, reasoned manner. At the same time it helped us include the research
profile within the scope of our own teaching and develop practical thinking based
on our own teaching reality, ultimately encouraging reflection and theorisation of our
practice as teachers.
Finally, we are in the process of building the teachers role as a tutor, a complex role
which is somewhat removed from the processes experienced by us as students and
which, in short, make up the most immediate corpus of images which firmly guide
our practice. The most problematic areas for us were the exchange, feedback and
discussion areas, which required us to rethink the ways and times of teacher
intervention in order to give more space to students, without forgetting the reasoned
outline of the ways of thinking developed so far in the different spheres and by
different authors, striving to put aside any impatience and eagerness and open
ourselves up to listening and contrast.
With regards to the dual role of teachers and researchers, we believe that what in
principle could have been an obstacle is now seen as potential. As we indicated at the
beginning with regards to LS, collaborating with the same level of responsibility in
teaching facilitates cooperation, understanding and reconstruction of the theories-inuse. The equality which brings us together is quite different from that which comes
about with regards to AR between the teacher/researcher and the external observer/
facilitator, and we believe learning processes are therefore promoted and encouraged.
5.3 Cooperation and contrast as learning strategies
The discussions held, along with the social network we set up, led to a climate of
exchange, contrast and cooperation which students welcomed and praised on several
different occasions.

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With regards to contrast as a learning strategy, learning study offered the teachers
involved the opportunity to become fully aware of the need to generate experience and
experimentation contexts which include different perspectives and processes. These
contexts stimulate research, discussion and analysis of specific cases in order to construct
and reconstruct meanings and skills, not only to understand these experiences but also to
discern their critical characteristics and to understand that theory is a professional
tool which helps us to understand and design singular, context-based personal action
proposals.
This same contrast process has generated and evinced the importance of cooperative
work in generating change processes. With regards to cooperation, we, as teachers, are
aware of the difficulty involved in researching ones own practice and in carrying out
AR on practice which is shared with other teachers, although our experience shows that
this is much more gratifying and enriching than when performed alone[12]. During the
last edition of the masters degree we saw how sharing requires time and dedication,
and also means we need to transfer, envisage, organise and structure further ahead than
when working alone, although we also found reinforcement, encouragement and
confirmation of the criteria we used to design, develop and assess the entire teaching
and learning process.
We require autonomy and responsibility to grow, although these can be enriched
with other perspectives which shared work can generate and extend. Cooperative work,
as in LLS, can be a powerful tool if we are able to use individual qualities to generate
more creative, reflective contexts. Designing, debating, observing and drawing up the
diaries, etc., is a slow and painstaking process much must be shared with other teaching
responsibilities, research, management, etc. However, these systematic processes are
necessary if we wish to analyse the scarcely recognised sphere of university teaching,
especially, as set out in LS, when analysing ourselves and our practice with regards
to jointly designed work. In our opinion, this cooperative learning initiative is key to
transforming the somewhat dry context of current university teaching, which promotes
the reconstruction of inertia and practices rooted in the most ancient academic tradition.
If this has been the case for specialist teachers in the educational field, imagine the wealth
and need to start these processes in other disciplinary areas.
Notes
1. R&D Excellence Project (1st edition): (2006-2008) of Andalusia Regional Government:
Diagnosis, design and experimentation of university teaching innovation through problembased learning, and the R&D project of the Ministry of Education Practical knowledge in
primary education teachers and its implications for initial and ongoing teacher training:
cooperative action-research (2011-2014), both directed by ngel I. Prez Gmez.
2. We understand practical knowledge as knowledge in action by Schn, and we reserve
the concept of practical thinking to also include knowledge on action and reflection
on action.
3. The works of Prez Gmez (2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012) can be consulted in this regard.
4. Practical knowledge comprises a repertoire of images, maps and artefacts which bring with
them information, logical associations and emotive connotations (Prez Gmez, 2010).
In other words, it is holistic, emergent, rational, unconscious, emotional and intuitive in
character, although we are seldom aware of it and of what we put into action in every
situation. The comprehensive dossier on the concept of practical knowledge, published by
Infancia y Aprendizaje (Clara and Mauri, 2010) can be consulted in this regard.

5. Lesson Study began in Japan over 100 years ago. Over the past decade or so it has become
widespread in Asia, is taking root in the USA and Canada, and is beginning to appear in
European countries such as Sweden and the UK.

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6. This system is made up of seven stages which, following the action research model, help
teachers to get involved in the analysis, discussion and design of their own practice (Prez
Gmez et al., 2010; Perez Gmez and Soto Gmez, 2011): define the problem; cooperatively
design an experimental lesson; observe and teach the lesson; discuss and analyse the
evidence collected; check the lesson again; develop a revised lesson in another class and
observe it again; discuss, assess and reflect on new evidence and disseminate the
experience.

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7. Hereinafter, in order to avoid confusion with the teachers developing the research, these will
be known as students.
8. Experiences such as problem-based learning, learning communities, Lesson and Learning
Studies and a seminar of alternative education experiences given by the visiting teacher
Jos Contreras were introduced. Later on, it was the students themselves who, in pairs,
researched different educational innovation experiences.
9. The teachers gave feedback on the diary at different times during practice. At the beginning
we focused on the description and analysis of what they observed. We then helped them to
identify critical incidents in the classroom. In the final stage we provided guidance on how
to organise the information in order to draw up the description of the practice, with complete
feedback before sharing it with colleagues.
10. For example the Moodle environment which we used in the online edition of the
masters degree.
11. The course was carried out in weekly two-hour sessions over five months.
12. An idea as simple as having two teachers in the classroom can lead to interesting individual
and shared reflection processes, in line with which teacher observes and which one develops
the classroom dynamic, even when both are active participants.

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About the authors
Dr Encarna Soto is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Malaga. Dr Encarna Soto is the
corresponding author and can be contacted at: esoto@uma.es
Dr Maria J. Servan is an Assistant Teacher at the University of Malaga.
Angel I. Perez is a Professor at the University of Malaga.

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