Teaching Practice – Design Questions for the Learning Journey
Marzano, in The New Art and Science of Teaching (2017), identifies 10 design questions that can be used by teachers in lesson and unit planning with a focus on student outcomes. He claims that the “specific mental states and processes that should be present in the learner’s mind” (p.5) fall into three containers that he titles Feedback (how the student knows both what s/he is learning and how well they are doing), Content (moving through from domain specific knowledge to applying and integrating that knowledge in new contexts), and Context (feeling valued and engaged as a learner within the class).
The design questions align with each of these containers (slightly edited):
- How will I communicate clear learning goals that help students understand the progression of knowledge they are expected to master and where they are along that progression?
- How will I design and administer assessments that help students understand how their grades relate to that learning curve?
- When content is new, how will I design and deliver direct instruction lessons that help students understand what is important and how individual content pieces fit together?
- How will students deepen their understanding and develop fluency in skills and processes?
- How will I help students generate and defend claims through knowledge application?
- Throughout all types of lessons, what strategies will I use to help students continually integrate new knowledge with old knowledge and revise their understanding accordingly?
- What engagement strategies will I use to help students pay attention, be energized, be intrigues, and be inspired?
- What strategies will help students understand and follow rule and procedures?
- What strategies will help students feel welcome, accepted, and valued?
- What strategies will help typically reluctant students feel valued and comfortable participating fully in class?
Marzano points out that the original Art and Science of Teaching (2007) was focused on the teacher. The New Art and Science of Teaching comes from a “perspective of what must occur in students’ minds to learn effectively” (p.8).
An article below speaks to the importance of teacher leaders in a Professional Learning Community. The idea that we teach within a community is key to progress for all students in our schools and key to Marzano’s ideas. If we are to change the focus to student outcomes, and thus be thoughtful about the feedback, content, and context that students need, we are also going to be moving from a paradigm of one teacher with one class with one subject / home room all year (i.e. whole group instruction) to a paradigm of small group instruction where teachers become far more interchangeable to meet the needs of different students. Different means here not just differentiation, but maybe more importantly, Marzano’s acknowledgement of the learning journey.
Salman Khan shows in an address to MIT that the idea of the learning journey can be actually seen in data arrays. He notes that the current system is “insanity” and that an important metric is the ratio of student to “valuable engaged time”. This is almost impossible to do in large group instruction if that is the prime medium for lesson delivery. He shows pictorially what a group of students looks like Day 6 of a mathematics course with the advanced kids, medium kids, remedial kids. He then goes on to describe, again with data arrays, is that if you let all the students work at their own pace and fill in the gaps of knowledge that they have, again impossible through large group instruction, and really “internalize their knowledge”, there is a constant “flipping of the leadership of who is the best student in the class and you stop making these kinds of judgments”. He looks at his MIT audience and suggests that they are the “fortunate by-product of the snapshot” that categorized them as advanced i.e. they are an accident of date.
Maybe your school is not ready in its learning journey to take dramatic steps towards a focus on students and away from whole group learning, toward a focus on all students and away from categorizing students. But many teachers are actually applying this in their own classrooms and teams and home-rooms. Here are a couple of examples:
- Scheduling all the math classes together so that students can constantly group and regroup according to their learning journey
- Individual teachers taking the Kindergarten centers concept and applying it at higher and higher grade levels i.e. direct instruction for introduction and then guided student autonomy in the journey itself
- Classrooms using technology to enhance the ability of the teacher to personalize instruction i.e. technology freeing the teacher up to sit with the student or the small group
- Focusing on unit planning rather than lesson planning i.e. move from the bureaucracy of what I am doing on a daily basis, to the learning journey of careful design associated with great flexibility
The 10 design questions across feedback, content, and context provide a helpful guide to moving to the concept of the learning journey. Doing that is clearly ideal in a school context where the entire teaching community and the administration are committed to the ideal of success for every child. But even where that is not your reality, you can individually and with like-minded colleagues institute practices that reflect these ideas.
Note: Marzano warns against the belief that research can “ever produce a list of instructional strategies that would guarantee student learning” (p.1). He continues: “Specifically, I note that no single instructional strategy can guarantee student learning for a number of reasons. One is that many factors other than the use of instructional strategies affect student learning. Another is that instructional strategies work in concert of sets and should not be thought of as independent interventions. Still another is that educators have to use strategies in specific ways to produce positive results.”