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Mastery Teaching Skills: A Resource for Implementing the Common Core State Standards

reviewed by Rebecca Woodland - November 15, 2013

coverTitle: Mastery Teaching Skills: A Resource for Implementing the Common Core State Standards
Author(s): Marie Menna Pagliaro
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham
ISBN: 1475800894, Pages: 138, Year: 2012
Search for book at Amazon.com

Mastery Teaching Skills: A Resource for Implementing the Common Core State Standards is a detailed yet accessible text that could prove to be a very useful professional development resource for in-service K-12 teachers and those who mentor, evaluate, and support them.

The book’s premise, and Pagliaro’s explicit argument, is that if students are going to be able to learn the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), then teachers must implement mastery teaching skills. By “mastery teaching skills,” Pagliaro means 52 research-based strategies grouped into the categories of: 1) professionalism and collegiality – the behaviors teachers take to advance their professional growth, 2) providing an effective classroom environment – the management approaches that enable a safe, productive, and positive classroom atmosphere, 3) planning and preparation for instruction – the assessment and curriculum implementation techniques that engage all learners, and 4) using instructional strategies – the fundamental teacher-directed and student-centered techniques used by teachers to bring about student learning.

Student learning results from an interaction of what takes place in the “instructional core.” (City, Elmore, Fiarman, & Teitel, 2009) That is the interaction between level of content, teacher’s knowledge and skills, and student engagement with content and instruction through the actual tasks that they are asked to do, is what predicts what a student will actually learn. Pagliaro asserts, “The richest curriculum will not be successful unless it is implemented through transformed instruction, not business as usual while hoping for the best” (p. 3). Because a significant shift in the complexity of the curriculum has taken place with the adoption of the CCSS, which focuses on deeper applications of knowledge and higher levels of cognitive functioning, teachers must make a concomitant commitment shift (i.e., improve/strengthen) their instruction in order to facilitate student learning.

Mastery Teaching Skills is intended to be a self-guided learning tool that a teacher can use to strengthen her/his capacity to understand the organization and key attributes of the CCSS, recognize the specific attributes of 52 essential instructional strategies, and actively self-assess and be able to effectively deliver mastery teaching skills that bring about meaningful student learning.

Master Teaching Skills is set up in workbook style, making it easy for teachers to navigate and reference. Educators are encouraged to become familiar with the unique and essential attributes of the CCSS (as described in the Appendix) prior to delving into other parts of the book and engaging in self-assessment—however, the text is modular in nature and isn’t intended to be read in a linear fashion. Teachers can choose a skill from the Table of Contents that they would like to examine, go to the corresponding section and conduct a self-assessment with action steps. Instructional practices are listed in a bulleted format down the left-hand side of the pages, while the right-hand column is left blank for teachers to document the professional development actions that they’ve taken. For teachers to fully benefit from what this text has to offer, they will need the support of colleagues. As Pagliaro asserts, “Though teachers can use this book personally for self-reflection, the results will be enhanced considerably if teachers use this book collaboratively” (p. 9).

Pagliaro distilled the four overarching categories of pedagogical skills and their 52 associated descriptors from the work of widely recognized K-12 professional development experts (e.g., Marzano, Wiggins & McTighe, Tomlinson, Popham, etc.). Furthermore, the Mastery Teaching Skills framework directly aligns with Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching (FfT), which is the most widely used framework used by school districts and an increasingly number of states to conceptually structure systems of educator evaluation and professional development. In Figure 1 below, I illustrate how Pagliaro’s categories of Mastery Teaching Skills align with the four performance domains of Danielson’s FfT.

Figure 1. Categories of Mastery Teaching Skills as compared to Domains of the Framework for Teaching


The primary audience of this book is teachers whom the author seeks to empower to take immediate control of their own professional development. But district leaders and school administrators could also shrewdly use this book as part of their systematic and comprehensive educator evaluation and professional development systems. Principals, as part of the teacher observation and feedback cycle, could refer teachers to specific sections in the book for examples of how to strengthen particular aspects of their instructional practice. For example, if a teacher is observed to have difficulty with implementing effective questioning she could be encouraged to consult section SKILL CIII.26. on pages 95-97 to find the explicit actions that would help her to improve.  Principals could encourage teacher teams to consult the text when setting SMART goals as part of their professional growth plans. For example, if a teacher team needs specific strategies for assessing student learning needs and styles they could consult SKILL CIII.2 Diagnosing Students Through Interviews for specific direction on how to do so.

After having read the book, I found myself lamenting the fact that Pagliaro did not give equal treatment to each of the four categories of professional practice as Danielson does in the Framework for Teaching (2007). Notably, Pagliaro’s Category 1: Professionalism and Collegiality provides criteria for one single skill, which takes up only two pages in the entire text. Categories 2, 3 and 4 have criteria for 14, 26, and 12 skills respectively over 96 pages. A limited treatment of Category 1 may be understandable. Categories 2, 3 & 4 are more directly linked with actual classroom practice and include the skills most closely linked to the effective delivery of the CCSS. However, I would have liked for this book to have included explicit and research-based advice about how to grow and develop professionally beyond “joining a professional organization” or “giving feedback on district initiatives,” perhaps including criteria for an effective family of engagement techniques, building and maintaining trust, and engaging in professional learning communities.

A real strength of this book is the succinct explanations of concepts and concise definitions of topics about which teachers often hold misconceptions or limited understandings. For instance, considerations of formative vs. summative assessment, tasks vs. products, unit goals vs. lesson objectives, and essay questions vs. multiple-choice questions are expertly examined and articulated. Further, all criteria for mastery teaching skills and definitions of concepts are generalizable and applicable to all subject areas and grade levels.

Overall, Mastery Teaching Skills serves two primary purposes. It enables teachers to make self-guided observations against research-based criteria for effective planning and instruction and it provides a means for documenting the implementation of these skills in a systematic way. I believe that this text could also prove to be an exceptional resource as part of a district’s system of teacher mentoring, evaluation and professional development. Principals and teachers alike could use the text to bring instructional strategies into alignment with the cognitive complexity and demand inherent in the Common Core State Standards.


Danielson, C. (2007). Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching, 2nd Edition Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

City, E., Elmore, R., Fiarman, S., Teitel, L., (2009). Instructional Rounds in Education: a Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: November 15, 2013
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17322, Date Accessed: 12/4/2021 5:35:19 PM

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About the Author
  • Rebecca Woodland
    University of Massachusetts, Amherst
    E-mail Author
    REBECCA H. WOODLAND, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where she engages in scholarship focused on the examination of teacher collaboration and the effects of teaming on curriculum, instruction, and student learning. Dr. Woodland works in partnership with K-12 superintendents and principals to build capacity for professional learning communities and job-embedded professional development. Her most recent publications include: Social Network Analysis and the Evaluation of Teacher Collaboration: A District Case Study (Journal of School Leadership, forthcoming Jan 2014), and A Validation Study of the Teacher Collaboration Assessment Survey (Educational Research and Evaluation: An International Journal of Theory and Practice, 2013.)
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