Research-Based Unit and Lesson Planning: Maximizing Student Achievement
reviewed by Emily J. Klein - August 16, 2012
Marie Menna Pagliaros book Research-based unit and lesson planning: Maximizing student achievement (2012) is designed to provide pre-service and novice teachers with the skills for planning units and lessons that help students succeed in diverse classrooms. She begins with a section on learning theory, as she rightly understands that in order to become a master teacher, the primary focus must be on students and their learning.
Comprehensive unit and lesson planning texts like this one are extremely challenging to write; they need to be open enough to be applicable to all content areas and yet not be so content-free as to seem irrelevant. There are enough education programs that include courses with mixed content-area backgrounds as to make these kinds of texts extremely useful, and Pagliaros text has a number of elements that would nurture planning strategies. Research-based unit and lesson planning provides a solid foundation of practical methods for pre-service educators and the ideas throughout are grounded in the use of coaching rubrics, which were collaboratively designed with the author, other teacher educators, and students at Dominican College. These rubrics include actual examples of the criteria performed (p. viii). Each chapter concludes with a useful summary and most also include coaching rubrics, as well as examples of lessons that help illustrate the ideas within the text. The book begins with an overview of learning theory and then moves to a discussion of coaching rubrics and how best to use them. Chapter Three provides a comprehensive look at assessment practices. Chapters Four and Five together review unit planning (including standards, benchmarks, goals, and objective writing) and how best to maximize unit planning for student achievement. Finally chapters Six and Seven deal with differentiating instruction and lesson planning from both traditional and constructivist perspectives.
Written as if she is speaking to a novice teacher, the earliest chapter on learning theory includes short paragraphs and sections summarizing major learning theories such as motivation, discovery learning, transfer, as well as larger sections on constructivism and multiple intelligences, with references to the current work of Dweck, (2010), Gardener, (1999), and Marzano (2007). Educators using this text in a methods course may find they want to supplement with additional supporting, current research, but Pagliaro provides a nice summary of brain based research, an area more and more students are requesting to study. The text thoroughly covers objectives and lesson planning, drawing on the work of Wiggins and McTighe (2005) and backwards design. Pagliaro suggests that teachers analyze student work for re-teaching, providing a novice teacher a strong understanding of how they might do this. Additionally she includes rich and useful sections on both technology and differentiating instruction.
One of the most powerful and interesting pieces of the book centers on its use of coaching rubrics. Coaching rubrics, here, are a set of criteria for developing performance (p. 31). They represent mastery performance (p. 33) and they provide detailed and accurate examples of criteria, based on her collaborative work at Dominican college. Pagliaro also suggests that, since the criteria are determined because they positively correlate with student achievement, implementing most of the criteria will increase the chances for reaching all learners successfully (p. 33). In my view, what is particularly effective about the use of coaching rubrics as opposed to traditional scoring rubrics is that they acknowledge and respect the non-linear and often messy process of becoming a teacher without sacrificing rigorous standards for teacher knowledge and skills.
Pagliaros text includes major sections that will align with a methods course: curriculum and instructional planning skills, assessment, unit and lesson planning, differentiating instruction, and designing optimal lesson plans. She wisely advocates for new teachers to get to know their students and gives examples of tools that pre-service teachers might use to assess students background. However, novice teachers will need ideas about how to avoid stereotypes in assessing cultural learning preferences (p. 45), something that is perhaps beyond the scope of the text, and yet is nevertheless important. Readers might feel they need further support in this area.
The author covers an enormous amount of ground in her section on assessment and evaluation of learning and refers to key authors in the field (Stiggins, 2005, 2007; Popham, 2008; Wiggins, 1998, 2005, to name a few). She provides useful coaching rubrics for multiple-choice test questions as well as an example of one for a performance task in this case a document based question. Readers will appreciate her repeated suggestions that students themselves are capable of playing a role in both curriculum development and assessment. Although she does suggest that education must prepare students to integrate and apply knowledge, she stops short of locating her own stance in the field of curriculum and assessment, something that readers might wish for at times. For example, she coaches the reader in how to write matching questions and short answer questions such as The population of Florida is ______ (p. 56), questions that tend towards regurgitation of factual knowledge. And while she does offer critiques that have been made of these kinds of questions, noting that they tend to measure lower-level knowledge (p. 61), readers might wish she engaged in a discussion of what different assessments suggest about the nature of knowledge and learning, something the author tends to avoid. It is unfortunate that she chose to place her excellent take-aways about the purpose of assessment at the end of the chapter rather than at the beginning, as this might have helped contextualize the purpose of what she calls objective assessments (i.e., multiple choice exams).
At times, Pagliaro makes the choice to remain broad and on the surface, rather than going deep and explaining an underlying theory behind how or why to do something. For example, when she explains the importance of parental involvement in schools, readers may struggle to figure out how best to implement this suggestion and might have benefitted from further discussion and fleshing out of the topic. Similarly, Pagliaro repeatedly suggests that students experience learning largely in groups (p. 119) without providing a strong theoretical foundation for this suggestion. Although she takes a strong stand on the common core curriculum standards, she offers only a practical reason for new teachers to adopt them, i.e., they are a fact of life (p. 97).
Pagliaro presents two lesson plan models: the traditional and the constructivist. The section on the traditional format draws heavily on the work of Madeline Hunter (1982, 1984) and her colleagues (Hunter, 2004) and includes an excellent example and coaching rubric. It might have been helpful if the corresponding section on constructivist lesson plans similarly included such rich supporting documents, as the coaching rubrics are part of what make this text unique and useful for teacher educators seeking a text for a methods course. However, it is useful for both teacher educators and pre-service teachers to have access to such in-depth descriptions of both models and this makes for an extremely accessible text.
Overall, Research-based unit and lesson planning offers a firm foundation for the beginning teacher trying to grapple with how to develop into a teacher who can support the learning of all students in todays diverse classrooms. It will well lend itself to teacher education courses and programs for a variety of subject area disciplines and classrooms.
Dweck, C. (2010). Mind-sets and equitable education. Principal Leadership: 26-29.
Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence reframed: Multiple intelligences for the twenty-first century. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Hunter, M. (1982). Mastery teaching. El Segundo, CA: TIP Publications.
Hunter, M. (1984). Knowing, teaching, and supervising. In P. Hosford (ed.) Using what we know about teaching (169-192). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Hunter, R. (2004). Madeline Hunters mastery teaching: Increasing instructional effectiveness in elementary and secondary schools. Updated ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Marzano, R. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria: VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Popham, W.J. (2008). Transformative assessment. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Stiggins, R. (2005). Student involved assessment FOR learning. Fourth ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall.
Stiggins, R. (2007). Assessment through the students eyes. Educational Leadership, 64(8), 22-26.
Wiggins, G. (1998). Educative assessment: Designing assessments to inform and improve student performance. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Wiggins, G. (2005). Educative assessment. Second ed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design-2nd Edition. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.