Why Understanding Hierarchy Matters to Your Teaching

Our human brains intuitively grasp and appreciate hierarchy; the Marzano Model sets the pattern for optimal student learning.

Over several posts, we have looked at the connections within the Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model to help you use the model most effectively. Much of the power of the Marzano Model lies in its use of a hierarchical structure. This structure arranges items as being above, below, or at the same level as one another.

Author, inventor, and “restless genius” Ray Kurzweil explains in How to Create a Mind that the human capability for hierarchical thinking—in other words, our understanding of how elements can be arranged in a pattern and also represented by symbols—separates us from all other animals. Our brains work by recognizing, remembering, and predicting patterns. Our most effective teaching takes all of this into consideration.

Hierarchy in Design Question 1
The most important hierarchical structure in the Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model is the learning progression located in Design Question 1, Providing Clear Learning Goals and Scales (Rubrics). The learning progression is arranged so that each level is more complex as you go up the progression. Each level corresponds with the Marzano Taxonomy of Learning which is also hierarchical in nature, as you see below:

•  Level 4, Knowledge Utilization. Decision Making, Problem Solving, Experimenting, and Investigating
•  Level 3, Analysis. Matching, Classifying, Analyzing Errors, Generalizing, and Specifying
•  Level 2, Comprehension. Integrating, Symbolizing
•  Level 1, Retrieval. Recognizing, Recalling, Executing

At the bottom of the learning progression, you find the simpler parts of the learning goal used at the retrieval and comprehension level. The next level is more complex and requires students to use thinking skills at the analysis level. At the highest level of the learning progression, students use thinking skills found in knowledge utilization.

Hierarchy in Design Questions 2, 3, and 4: Lesson Segment Addressing Content
The last area of hierarchical structure is found within Lesson Segment, Addressing Content. The three design questions, Design Question 2, Helping students Interact with New Knowledge, Design Question 3, Helping Students Practice and Deepen New Knowledge, and Design Question 4, Helping Students Generate and Test Hypotheses, are hierarchical, with the knowledge and accompanying thinking becoming more complex as you go from Design Question 2 to Design Question 4. In addition, the role of the teacher changes – the teacher moves from directing learning to being a facilitator for students as they take the lead in processing and deepening their knowledge.

For example, this hierarchical structure of the learning progression serves as the “chunks” teachers can use with Design Question 2, Helping Students Interact with New Knowledge, Element 9- Chunking Content. By previewing (Element 8), teachers determine how much students already know, so they can gauge how much information to give students, and at what level of complexity to start. As you can see, the learning progression is really handy and matches up with how the brain actually works!

Ray Kurzweil also explains that students must start out with a basic concept before they can process at a more abstract level. The brain cannot work in abstractions until concepts have been absorbed. The Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model was designed specifically to work through these progressions for the most effective, efficient learning and retention of knowledge: moving along a continuum from introducing new knowledge, to interacting with new knowledge, to deepening knowledge, and finally to generating and testing hypotheses.

How do you use hierarchical learning in your classrooms? Share your expertise below.
Spread the word! We’re looking for presenters on many topics, including individual design questions, at this summer’s Marzano Conference: Building Expertise. The deadline to apply or nominate someone to present is coming up! Visit the Marzano Conference website for details

Leave a Reply