Thinking in Thin Slices—For the Teacher

Thinking in thin slices can really focus instruction for greater student results.

You may have heard the term “thin slices of behavior” when learning about the Marzano Teacher Evaluation model. The term is referenced in Dr. Marzano’s book, The Art and Science of Teaching, and comes from the research of Ambady and Rosenthal. “Thin slices” has become a way of thinking about the complex act of teaching as a set of observable and specific teaching behaviors.

A Piece of Cake

These behaviors, the strategies of the Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model, are like thin slices of a layer cake.  Each slice is an individual piece of the whole, but is able to stand on its own and can be served up with great presentation. The whole cake—the whole lesson—is comprised of many thin slices, artfully put together in a cohesive way by the teacher. 

Thinking in thin slices may be a new way of doing the business of lesson and unit planning. As teachers, we are used to thinking of whole class periods, whole lessons, whole activities.  But thinking in thin slices can take a teacher quickly from the “whole” to the part, and can really focus the instruction for greater student results.

Planning in Thin Slices
Recently, I was helping Greg, a Social Studies teacher, plan an American History unit, and we followed this thought process:  What’s the topic?  Immigration Patterns.  Now let’s plan in thin slices…….let’s think about goals, scales, critical input, grouping, processing, engagement.

Greg selected three goals from the standards, and together we crafted corresponding scales to track student progress (Design Question 1).  Then Greg worked with colleagues to design a few rich critical input experiences. As we worked through the lessons in detail, we gave careful consideration to ways to organize the students so that they could process and interact with the new knowledge (Design Question 2).  From Design Question 5—the “Engagement” layer of the cake—Greg decided to present a thin slice of “Intriguing Information” and planned to tell the story of Angelina Palmiero, an Italian immigrant from 1913.

On the Spot
Afterwards, as Greg reflected on the lesson, he noted that he had handled a bit of misbehavior by demonstrating “withitness” (Design Question 7) and had decided to add a little drama to his story when he noticed that some of the students were not engaged (Design Question 5).  He realized he was able to do these things quickly and artfully because he had begun to think in thin slices, both in planning the lesson and acting on the spot, as needed.

The Art and Science Come Together
Thinking in thin slices is the way teachers connects the science of teaching, in other words, knowing the research-based strategies, to the art of teaching—the decision-making of when and how to put these strategies together. When a teacher executes the strategies at high performance levels, student achievement increases. This way of thinking may be a different, more analytical way to approach the complex act of teaching than we are used to,  but it soon becomes a more nuanced and targeted way to plan and teach, and by increasing the teacher’s expertise, real student learning results!

Share your strategies with us! How have you “sliced up” your lessons and what were your results?

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