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Dr. Robert Marzano

The aim of this paper is to discuss the major theories, concepts, and/or ideas in Dr. Marzano’s scholarly work, and their relevance to the practice of educational leadership. The paper also addresses the extent to which the perceived or unintended gaps or disconnects exist between the scholar’s ideas and practice in this field.

Dr. Robert Marzano, holding a Ph.D in the curriculum and instruction,  has authored and co-authored numerous practical materials on various topics among them on “reading and writing instructions, thinking skills, school effectiveness, restructuring, assessment, cognition, and standards implementation”  (Robert, 2006). Both are written as books and articles, specifically, his research and theory materials focusing on the classroom strategies have garnered the international recognition and are widely used by both teachers and administrators.

Dr. Marzano’s New Taxonomy Theory

Dr. Marzano developed this theory together with John S. Kendall as a response to the flaws of widely applied Bloom’s Taxonomy and the present nature of the syllabus guidelines-based instruction. The theory would give the assistance to teachers and persons involved in designing “educational objectives, spiral curricula and assessments” (David, 2005 282). Also, they assist teachers in improving the way of thinking of their students. The theory is made up of the Knowledge Domain and three systems. These three systems are the Self System controlling the next one, the Metacognitive System, and the Cognitive System controlled by the latter one. The knowledge can manifest itself in three ways, i.e. linguistically, non-linguistically or emotionally.

As Marzano observes, there are three types of knowledge. One of them is information involving ideas. The second one is mental procedures consisting of either complex processes requiring stringent orders, or simple tasks involving no specific order at all. The third one is- physical procedures that vary depending on the environment of subject. This can be the movement of eyes or flipping a page, or engaging into the strenuous co-curricular activities.

The Cognitive system involves the knowledge retrieval, i.e. recalling and executing it; the knowledge comprehension, i.e. organizing it in categories, making it effective in locating and using it; the knowledge analysis, i.e. matching, classifying, error analysis, generalizing, and specifying; and the knowledge utilization, i.e. making a decision by considering the options to make the best choice, and tackling the problems that arise when achieving the aim, the experimental inquiry which consists of creating hypotheses based on the physical situation, experimenting and statistically analyzing the results, and investigation as a logical argument of the past, present, and future situations.

The self-system addresses are reflected by the factors determining a person to execute a project which includes the person’s attitude, feelings, and beliefs. There are three factors linked with the knowledge and that are crucial for the motivation namely emotions, efficiency, and emotions. The self-system makes the examination of the “importance of new knowledge, efficiency (the ability to learn) and emotions associated with knowledge and motivation” (David, 2005 252). Upon getting the task to do, the level of its importance is the students’ first response (Matthew, 2007).

The next one is how the student gauges his or her ability in executing any task. If the student has a high self-efficiency level, he or she can be better placed to tackle with it and its challenges. Lastly, there is the perception of the learner of the experience. The learner who is effective can make use of his or her metacognitive skills and use the positive emotional responses to tackle with those being negative. The Metacognitive system controls all the systems and the goal of the process of thinking. The Metacognitive system makes the objectives and inference regarding the data required and the most appropriate for the goal. It has the mandate of not only overseeing the process, but also bringing the changes as required, “specifying learning goals and monitors execution, clarity and accuracy” (David, 2005 252).

Marzano’s Ideas

The Students’ and Teachers’ Achievement Based Reform

While Frederick M. Hess, an education policy director, and the Prof. Linda Darling-Hammond called for the federal government to be involved in the education reform and not micromanage institutions, contrary to this Dr. Marzano observed that education could be effectively reformed by beginning with both learners and educators in their learning environment, with the achievement of students, “’the super-ordinate goal, supported by uniform yet flexible behaviors in the classroom’” (Alan, 2012 79). As he explains, his focus is at the individual learner stage in the classroom outwards.

Marzano came up with three critical commitments that he had asked the administrators to implement. One of the commitments is the feedback of the individual at the learning level. In this, he focused on learners whereby they need to identify their goals, create a rubric for every goal, and do a bi-weekly assessment of every learner’s progress. This also applies to the nonacademic fields such as the socialization but with a different grading system that is compared to that of the academic one. The reason as he observes is due to the underperformance at school could be an institution giving the impression of improving (Allan, 2012).

The second commitment ascertaining there is the effective teaching in all classes, and both teachers and principals are evaluated according to the changes that they have made in class and the impact of which is evident from the achievement of learners. As he points out the current evaluation system assisting educators in improving their teaching, and, instead, educators are expected to post good results based on their evaluation elements. Unfortunately, educators are made to “admit pedagogical weaknesses, and principals don’t rate teachers in a given area” as they fear to imagine them in a bad picture (Allan, 2012). Annually, the teachers should cross-examine learners, and point out the learning objectives while checking their progress and rules and procedures, fete the learners’ achievements, and disintegrate academic materials to make this easier for the students to understand.

The third commitment is to create a basic knowledge for learners because the education that learners know is strongly bonded with the novel academic works. He lobbies for the institution to “identify 30 mathematics, language arts, science and social studies words or terms for grades one to eight” so that when the learners reach the ninth grade, they will have a grasp of all 240 terms (Allan, 2012). Marzano is quick to admit that the creation of reform commitments he has suggested locks their heads with the “education tradition.” The reason is due to the fact that when one initiates the changes in the system that have been in progress for eons, “you are going to get resistance” (Allan, 2012).

Marzano teamed up with the Adams County (Colo.) School District 50 and the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition (RISC) for the “Acamemic Watch”, in which they witnessed a poor performance; also, it triggered a learner-centric system in ten content fields whereby the learners advanced to the next level only after having passed the last one, then, the credit went to Marzano. The adoption of Marzano’s model by public schools in St. Lucie County (Fla.) is a clear indication of its relevance. As Susan Ranew, the HR district assistant superintendent, it shed the light on evaluations being subjective and making the “specifics on what each teaching strategy should look like…more clear to teachers and administrators what effective teaching practices are” (Allan, 2012). Its relevance is also seen in the significant involvement of teachers’ unions in the system’s development and implementation.

The perceived truism in learning is that what most people determine the achievement of learners are the characteristics of their background. Therefore, the learner’s background has been pointed out as a determinant of the academic achievement. As Marzano observes, “home environment, learned intelligence and background knowledge, and motivation” forms the major constituents of learning having a “productive learning ability”. Also, “parental expectations and parenting styles are the most important element filled with positive reinforcement” (Kisha, 2008).

Practices for Grading and Marking Students

Compared to the customary system that gives not much of the relevant information whereby teachers find the sum of points and give a letter to the points that the learners have got for various tasks; keeping a “track of percentages” of various tasks and behavior, and subsequently translating all this into the letter is a variation on the theme. Robert & Tammy (2011) provide some recommendations on how to curb the shortcomings of grading and reporting systems.

One of the recommendations, doing away with the omnibus grade and instead, “teachers should score specific measurement topics” (Robert & Tammy, 2011). It is based on two factors: those that know, and the complexity of the content. On the former one, they recommend the teachers’ assessment of learners based on the assessments that learners themselves have generated. The latter one, calls for the use of “proficiency scales that delineate” the topic and the complexity level gauged to bring about more comparability to the classroom assessments (Robert & Tammy, 2011; Marzano, 2009; Marzano, 2006). The second recommendation is if the elimination of the omnibus grade is difficult, on top of the grade, the provision of scores is on the measurement topics. This is crucial specifically where the public insists on the learners getting the overall grade or percentage score. The institution can integrate some bar graphs with the customary omnibus grades on the report card.

The third recommendation is widening the scope of the assessment accessible to learners. This involves three steps: one of them is measuring the proficiency of the learners’ level by using a probing discussion. The teacher asks the questions involving 2.0, 3.0 and 4.0 contents. The second step is the teacher using an unobtrusive assessment whereby the student being assessed might know that he is being assessed. The last step is the use of some students’ generated assessments. It involves the learner going to the teacher and giving a proposal of what will do so as to show the particular range of performance on the proficiency scale (Robert & Tammy, 2011).

The last recommendation is to allow the learners to continue with updating their previous scores on the measurement topics. The teacher translates into the score the topics addressed in the first quarter and the second one as well. The third quarter’s grading will be determined by the topics covered in the third, the second and the first quarters. There is a better way of creating grading and reporting systems being standard-based missing. However, “four recommendations form the foundation for a system that’s more accurate and informative than the current system and that stimulates” the novel assessment and instruction thinking ways (Robert & Tammy, 2011).

Setting High Expectations for All Students

Based on the research, it has been found out that educators are having some expectations on the academic achievements of their learners, which have formed the foundation of their interaction. This has formed two sets of students, i.e. the “high-expectancy” and the “low expectancy” putting the students to the post achievements based on those expectations (Robert, 2010). The problems that arise are: one problem is that it is hard to change expectations because of the skewed treatment and beliefs. The second problem is the behavior of the teacher, changing only biases and not the behavior changing not much due to the achievement of any learner.

To tackle with the issue, he proposes a process involving four steps. The first one is finding out the learners you have the low expectations from. Teachers need to accept that they have some negative expectations from some learners. The second one is finding out what the students have in similar that should be done without making any automatic conclusions about them (Robert, Barbara & Ceri, 2000). The third one is finding out the dissimilar treatment of low expectancy learners. In turn, this involves two steps. One of them is the “general effective tone established” between an educator and a student such as the type of dialogue (light or playful); and the second one is how you interact with the academic work (Robert, 2010). The forth step is treating both the low expectancy and the high expectancy similarly.

Enhancing Teacher’s Expertise

Other than the supervisory and feedback systems that the research has found to barely improve the teachers’ expertise teacher expertise can be enhanced through the deliberate practice, i.e. designing some activities aimed at improving the performance, stimulating the learners, and receiving a good feedback (Robert, 2010). The deliberate practice has four key constituents. One of the constituents is the common language of instruction which calls for teachers and administrators to use the common way in describing the effective teaching that should be comprehensive to an extent of showing the different behaviors bringing about the positive students’ achievement. Marzano proposed 41 kinds of strategies and divided them into three types including such as: routine, content, and instantaneous strategies.

Routine strategies involve five kinds of strategies focusing on the communication learning goals such as through rubric. Content strategies have 18 kinds focusing on assisting learners to get acquainted with the practice and to widen their scope on something, as well as to create and test hypotheses on the new knowledge (Robert, 2010). Instantaneous strategies, 18 in total, are the ones that the teacher might have set aside to give during a lesson but which are at the arm-length when needed. They engage learners, recognize the adherence or its lack in guidelines, and instill some high expectations from all learners.

The second constituent proposes teachers to focus on the particular strategies rather than using all strategies. It calls for teachers to choose one of the strategies, i.e. routine, contents, and instantaneous - one per year. Whereas teachers select the strategies of their liking, it instills in them the possession of the process. The third constituent is tracking the teacher’s progress on the strategies using the following rubrics, “Not using” - the teachers use none, “Beginning” this is a partial or misinformed use, “Developing” – i.e. a mechanistic use though free of mistakes, “Applying” – this is the teacher uses without errors and monitors this to find out its relevancy to students, and “Innovating” -  means that the teacher has a good understanding and has made the adaptations to cater for diverse requirements of learners (Robert, 2010).  

The last constituent is the opportunities to observe and discuss an expertise. It involves the activities enabling teachers to observe their peers, the study of other strategies, and the comparison with their own. It aims at finding new opportunities to make the classroom practice effective. The teachers also discuss the better teaching practices with their peers (Robert, 2010).

Gaps and Disconnects

While Dr. Robert Marzano’s work has attracted the worldwide acclaim, they have attracted criticism in the equal measure. The criticism has pointed out at Marzano’s biased perspective of his works. One of the persons making an honest peer-review of Marzano’s work is the Professor Jon Becker. As he, Dr. Becker, states there are two characteristics that define Marzano’s work. One of them is that Marzano’s work is not peer-reviewed. Secondly, the nature under which Marzano’s project has been funded. This is the best explained in the blog prepared by this Professor Becker, being the professor of educational leadership, and focusing on the educational policy, educational leadership, and educational technology (“Educational Insanity”, 2012).

Marzano has prepared the project on Promethean ActivClassroom IWB (Interactive White Board). The project has been greatly publicized and largely referenced. However, this was despite the fact that “Marzano’s work has not yet been formally reviewed by ‘any’ peers. Firstly, the Professor Becker provides a “key criticism” so as to “establish semblance of credibility as a reviewer” (Jon, 2012). In the Executive Summary section, one of the most evident statements of the report authored by Robert J. Marzano and Mark W. Haystead is that the report prepared by “Marzano Research Laboratory (MRL) was commissioned by Promethean Ltd” with the aim of carrying out the evaluation research on the impacts of “Promethean ActivClassroom on student academic achievement” (Robert & Mark, 2010). This implies that the project has been funded by Promethean. Unfortunately, such “an arrangement…gives the appearance of a lack of objectivity.”  And based on his experience while researching the funded projects, such arrangements like those should be looked at “with skepticism and examined critically”, and this is due to the funders’ influence on “the contents of the final report”. Thus it can be “palatable to the client” (Jon, 2012).

In Marzano’s report, it is stated that the research team conducted 85 treatment/control studies (Robert & Mark, 2010). Then, the research team used a meta-analysis to synthesize the results of studies. Though it is not unusual for an ordinary meta-analysis to integrate the results of various studies, it is “very unusual to use meta-analysis as an a priori technique built in to an evaluation” (Jon, 2012). The reason is due to the fact that the meta-analysis is more applied in “a mature body of research” in the area of study covering several years.

Also, there are the fully reported studies chosen for the meta-analysis as they give the analyst a chance to know the level of trustworthy. As a result, little is known of 85 control studies. While researching, the authors exhibited the type of laziness. Whereas the “high-quality evaluation in education is complicated and costly” and needs much coordination and planning, Marzano has found out that the participation of 79 teachers, i.e. teaching different grades and subjects, and stated  to get the information from more than 2,700 learners. This has resulted into getting a large “dependent variable” shortcoming. The lack of the “comparable measure of student achievement” is implied that he has accounted for it using some analytic methods instead being centered on the study (Jon, 2012).

During the research, Marzano and his team directed 79 teachers to conduct two teaching units; one unit with the IWB, and the other one - lacking IWB. This meant two different classes at school. After the units, pre-tests and post-tests were given. However, it is unlikely for the teachers at the elementary schools to cover double lessons on a single topic. The lack of 85 studies leaves us in darkness regarding the dependent variable in studies, the lack of the “measurement validity and reliability”, thus, invalidating the meta-analysis process (Jon, 2012).

The internal validity, i.e. the approximate reality regarding “inferences on cause-effect”, is a matter of concern in Marzano’s IWB work. According to the Professor Becker, there are three kinds of research questions, namely descriptive, relational and causal (Jon, 2012). Marzano’s research team used the causality as the way through which the IWB may enhance the students’ achievement. The research team does this because they base their studies on “quasi-experimental designs”; and in their application internal validity the major factor is trustworthiness. To give the evidence of causation, the major factor is avoiding “alternate explanations” as they threaten the internal validity (Jon, 2012).

In Marzano’s studies, there are a number of threats triggered by teaching of both the control groups and the treatment by a single teacher. The threats to the internal validity have come in two forms: one is the social threats, and second one is bias by the experimenter. Howevre, at various periods of time, both the treatment and control groups use the same class in order to know about the IWBs either when you see or hear.. It brings a probability of “compensatory rivalry and/or resentful demoralization” (Jon, 2012). It can be ascertained that the participants of study (i.e. teachers) were aware of study. However, from the report’s acknowledgement, which states that, “Thank you for agreeing to participate…study regarding the effectiveness and utility…in your classroom”; it follows that they had been aware of the researchers’ aim, and, thus, they could be more attentive in their teaching of class (Jon, 2012).

Marzano observed that the structure of Bloom’s Taxonomy model moving from the level of knowledge that is simple to the hardest evaluation level is not propped up by the research (Robert, 2000). Every higher skill is made up of the skill being below, with all of them forming a hierarchical taxonomy. However, based on Marzano’s understanding, the truth is in Bloom’s Taxonomy’s cognitive process (“Intel Corp”, 2007). Moreover, he [Marzano] explains that he has applied the investigation in his model. His model looks like an experimental inquiry though the past, present, or future events are being evident. Marzano’s work is largely based on the secondary materials, i.e. other people’s work or research.

Marzano has revised Bloom’s Taxonomy to widen the factors impacting on teaching and learning. The revised Taxonomy has set it clear on “knowing what” being the thinking content and “knowing how” to tackle with problems (“Intel Corp”, 2007). In his students’ and teachers’ based reform idea, which he called the behaviors in classroom, he proposed three commitments. They are: the students’ feedback at the learning level; ensuring the effective teaching, and evaluating the teachers and principals based on their impact on the class and students’ achievement; and third one is creating the basic knowledge for students as there is a strong relation among what students know and the new academic knowledge. He proposed that students may be marked and graded based on the following: eliminating the omnibus grade and instead “teachers should score the specific measurement topics”; providing the scores on measurement topics if the elimination of the omnibus grade is difficult through the integration of bar graphs in the report card on the traditional omnibus grades; increasing the assessment available to students by using the probing discussion, using the unobtrusive assessment, and the assessments created by students.

He proposed the unbiased setting of high expectations for all students by suing the following steps: finding out the learners you have set the low expectations for, finding the similarities between the low expectancy and high expectancy students, and finding the differences among students. To enhance the expertise of teachers, he proposed the following: setting a common language of instruction, focusing on the particular strategies, using rubrics to track the teachers’ progress, and the teachers being involved into activities to improve the efficiency of teaching.

Marzano’s works have not yet been peer-reviewed. However, the Professor Becker criticizes Marzano’s Promethean ActivClassroom IWB and finds out that since it has been funded by the Promethean Ltd., there is a lack of objectivity, and should be viewed with skepticism and being criticized as the contents are made palatable. In their study, they unusually use the meta-analysis, thereby leaving not much to be known of studies. It is unusual for the elementary schools’ teachers to cover two lessons on a single topic as asserted in the report, thus, making the meta-analysis invalid as there had been the problems measuring the validity and reliability. Also, there were the threats to the internal validity.

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