Marzano on Stimulating Cognitive Growth

Awaken the Learner: Finding the Source of Effective Education 
By Darrell Scott and Robert J. Marzano
(Marzano Research Laboratory, 2014 – Learn more)

vonstaden3Reviewed by Laura Von Staden

In this interesting two-part book, Darrell Scott and Robert Marzano offer their change prescription for the American educational system, rooted in a better understanding of how human beings make choices.

Each of the authors have written a section. The first part, written by Scott, focuses on his work with Rachel’s Challenge, which he founded after his daughter’s death at Columbine High School in 1999. His goal is to reach students’ hearts, heads and hands, and awaken them to their role in the world. Scott discusses the human need for security, identity and belonging, which are further addressed by Marzano in part two of the book.

Scott’s efforts through Rachel’s Challenge have had an impact on numerous students’ lives, preventing bullying and changing attitudes of students across the country as they are awakened to their own hearts and heads and decide what they can do to make a difference.

Strategies to impact student decision making

In the second part of the book, Robert Marzano provides strategies for teachers and schools to transform their environments into ones that empower students to understand and control their emotions and decisions. He addresses teacher push-back, in terms of not having the time to teach anything else, and even discusses his research revealing that to teach the average state standards would take an estimated 15,465 hours, while the estimated K-12 education is only 9,042 hours long, The familiar argument of not enough time is a valid one.

The power of cognitive skills

Marzano, well known for his research on “what works” in education, suggests that if we increase the amount of time that we spend teaching cognitive skills, not only will students be better able to take in the vast amount of knowledge that we are trying to impart, but they also will be better able to understand what drives their thinking and underlies their decisions, thus allowing them to have a greater ability to see others’ perspectives.

He describes the self-system concept, metacognitive theory, and self-efficacy, and provides strategies to teach the cognitive skills, metacognition, and an understanding of how humans process information to generate conclusions and make decisions – most of which are made “on auto-pilot” based on individual biases. Sharing these ideas and understandings with students allows them to make better decisions, based on asking themselves key questions as they work through the process of choice.

Building toward growth mindsets

Marzano also relates this work to the ideas of growth vs. fixed mindsets and shows how this approach would move students toward a growth mindset. Finally, Marzano argues that our educational system should be based on mastery of standards and not grades or grade levels. He gives clear examples and progress monitoring tools that could be used with such a system. This again fits with the growth mindset, where effort, calculated risk, and persistence yield results (growth) and growth is the desired outcome.

Overall, this is one of the most interesting books on educational reform that I have read. It is easy to follow the arguments, and the tools and strategies provided would allow even individual teachers to implement many of the ideas in their own classrooms. The proposal that education could be transformed if this were applied across the country is intriguing. Definitely worth the read.

Dr. Laura Von Staden is a Special Education Middle School Teacher in Tampa, Florida. She serves on numerous committees both at her school and within her district and works closely with the local university where she is a Professional Practice Partner and a master mentor. Dr. Von Staden also facilitates both online and face-to-face Professional Development for her school district.

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