Planning for Learning: Collaborative Approaches to Lesson Design and Review

reviewed by Jeffrey P. Carpenter - April 23, 2007

coverTitle: Planning for Learning: Collaborative Approaches to Lesson Design and Review
Author(s): Mary Renck Jalongo, Sue A. Reig, Valeri R. Helterbran
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 080774736X, Pages: 176, Year: 2006
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It’s been more than thirty years since Dan Lortie’s Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study (1975) noted teacher isolation as a major obstacle to improvement in American schools. In the interim, a tidal wave of teacher collaboration has not swept the educational landscape. Most teachers still generally plan, implement, and evaluate their lessons individually. Nevertheless, some progress toward reducing teacher isolation has been made. With their book, Planning for Learning: Collaborative Approaches to Lesson Design and Review, Mary Renck Jalongo, Sue A. Reig, and Valeri R. Helterbran make an important contribution to the literature on teacher collaboration.

Jalongo, Reig, and Helterbran, former public school teachers and current education professors, intended to write a book focused on lesson study, a collaborative professional development model developed in Japan. This purpose gave way to the authors’ emergent belief that a broader discussion of lesson planning was necessary and would be more practical for American teachers. Accordingly, Chapter 1 opens with a discussion of the traditional lesson plan, which the authors define as created by an individual teacher and including an introduction, objectives, materials, procedures, and evaluation. Schools of education typically introduce their students to some version of this general format, and advocates of such plans consider them “a powerful, positive influence capable of molding teacher behavior in appropriate ways” (p. 14). The authors, however, extensively critique this notion of planning, which they feel has “outlived its usefulness” (p. 22). They note its promotion of “teaching as telling,” reliance on the expertise of individual teachers, assumption of student uniformity, and most importantly, that most teachers abandon such lesson plans early in their careers.

The alternative to traditional lesson planning offered by Jalongo, Reig, and Helterbran is a variety of collaborative approaches to lesson design and review. They are bullish regarding the potential of such practices: “Like a magnifying glass that concentrates the full spectrum of light to generate heat on a sheet of paper, collaborative planning gathers together the power of a spectrum of educational ideas and concentrates their energy on a single, highly effective lesson” (p. 5). In the second half of Chapter 1, the authors briefly describe the Japanese lesson study process as an example of collaborative lesson design and review. But they warn American educators against “forcing lesson study to fit a completely different culture and school system” (p. 30), and suggest that other models of collaboration may be more appropriate to the United States. The authors then discuss the process and results of their first attempt at facilitating collaborative lesson planning, which occurred with a group of practicing teachers enrolled in one of their university courses.

Chapter 2 argues the importance of lesson planning in general and then makes a case for collaborative planning in particular. Such practices “can improve teacher’s planning processes by enhancing opportunities to learn from experience, by focusing on curriculum development, and by recognizing and overcoming obstacles to achieving mastery” (p. 48). The authors discuss eight common “barriers” to collaborative planning. Structural and logistical obstacles such as teacher isolation and lack of time are noted, as well as cultural issues such as American teacher suspicion regarding research. In several cases, avenues for overcoming barriers are offered, while in other instances the impediment is only noted, with no remedy suggested.

Chapters 3 and 4 explain the relevance of collaborative planning for particular groups of teachers. First, Chapter 3 discusses the use of such collaboration to meet the needs of pre-service and novice teachers. The authors describe the experiences of five student teachers involved in a peer collaboration project, and suggest other possible models for beginning teachers to engage in collaborative planning. A helpful list of twelve design suggestions for those organizing collaborative curriculum projects follows. Next, Chapter 4 shifts the argument for collaborative lesson planning to the arena of experienced teachers. The authors critique traditional professional development, and assert that collaborative lesson design and review is instead the ideal development activity for veteran teachers. Description of the collaborative lesson planning experiences of veteran teachers in a summer, three-day professional development workshop is also provided.

In Chapter 5, the authors conclude the book by situating collaborative lesson design and review in the context of current educational reforms. They argue that to improve schools, and to counteract what they see as the pernicious effects of testing mandates, teachers must function as scholars, leaders, and colleagues. Collaborative lesson design and review has the potential to develop teachers in each of these areas. When teachers’ lessons become the sites of research, they are encouraged as scholars and the oft-noted chasm between research and practice is bridged. Leadership is fostered when teachers share their expertise with more than just their students. Finally, teachers also become more responsible to the peers with whom they work, and move beyond mere socializing to professional dialogue.

Planning for Learning is not breaking new ground by advocating teacher collaboration. What is significant about this book, however, is its specific description of how collaboration can occur, and in relation to one specific aspect of teachers’ work, lesson planning. Little (2003) has noted that in spite of plentiful calls for teachers to work together, collaboration is essentially “a black box” (p. 914). What happens when American teachers do attempt collaboration, and how that teamwork might be best organized, is not well understood. It is important, therefore, that Jalongo, Reig, and Helterbran’s book partially opens up this “black box.” They walk the reader through the details of several processes that have been used to focus collaboration, and include the voices of the participating teachers in their descriptions. As a result, the book is particularly useful for teachers, administrators, and teacher educators who have accepted the argument for teacher collaboration and are now trying to understand how to make it happen. Those trying to turn their schools into “professional learning communities,” for example, are likely to recognize collaborative approaches to lesson design and review as refreshingly concrete means to their end. By providing examples of how collaboration can be effectively structured, the authors may also persuade some collaboration fence sitters that teacher teams need not descend into aimless anecdote swapping or whining.

For those convinced of the value of collaboration, the book’s primary limitation is that it does not delve as deeply into probably the most important type of teacher collaboration: that which occurs on a day-to-day basis inside schools. The specific examples of collaboration that enrich the book feature either pre-service teachers, or in-service teachers enrolled in graduate-level university courses or summer programs. Although effective collaborative lesson planning and review may initially have to be incubated in such extra-school settings, it eventually must be embedded in teachers’ regular work to fulfill its potential. Inevitably, there will be differences in how collaborative planning plays out when it occurs in the schools, with a broader range of teachers.

Jalongo, Reig, and Helterbran have probably not, therefore, completely opened the black box of teacher collaboration—and they do not claim to have done so. Nonetheless, the glimpses into collaborative planning that they offer do provide a valuable resource for those who believe in the potential of teacher teamwork. Teachers who recognize the drawbacks of solo performances, administrators who want to empower teachers, and teacher educators who sense the limitations of the traditional lesson plan will all benefit from time spent with this book.


Little, J.W. (2003). Inside teacher community: Representations of classroom practice. Teachers College Record, 105(6), 913-945.

Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 23, 2007 ID Number: 14355, Date Accessed: 5/28/2022 7:39:44 PM

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