A Model of Instruction for Middle Schoolers: Part 2

Originally published in CenterEd in 2013

Last week, we met Pennsylvania language arts teacher Kerin Steigerwalt, who is also a graduate of the National Institute for Professional Practice online master’s program, and looked at how she has put her training in Dr. Marzano’s Art and Science of Teaching framework to use in her classroom. We conclude her story in this week’s issue.

My sons are both A/B students and have been on the honor roll numerous times for turning in stellar report cards. I say this not to brag, but to point something out: They are A/B students, not 3/4 students. They get 87 or 92 percent on tests, not 3s or 4s.

The fact is, it feels normal to get letter grades. It’s like measuring distances in miles rather than kilometers: It’s just the way things are supposed to be.

Right? Well, hold on just a minute.

Setting a different standard

For Kerin Steigerwalt, a veteran teacher with two master’s degrees in education and an insatiable desire to grow professionally, there’s a new normal: She has embraced a four-point grading scale (see chart, below) based on Dr. Robert Marzano’s Teacher Evaluation Model and Art and Science of Teaching framework. What’s more, so have her 146 7th graders.

“Quite honestly, I would love to see all middle schools go to that 4-3-2-1-0 scoring because I think it would be so much more valuable,” Steigerwalt says. “An ‘A’ is just an alphabetical representation of a numerical average. But a kid who looks at a 3 on a report card says, ‘Okay, I’ve done what was expected. If I want that 4, I need to go above and beyond.’ And a student who gets a 4 can say, ‘I put my heart and soul and best effort into this class and my score reflects that.’”

For students who get scores of 1 or 2, Steigerwalt adds, “They say, ‘Okay, where do I want to be and what goal do I need to set?’ It might even be that the student started as a 1 and is now a 2.”

Tying it all together

The Marzano framework has transformed the way Steigerwalt teaches in other ways than assigning grades. She has refined her skills at differentiating instruction; she has seen how much more engaged students are in their own learning when she collaborates with them on developing the scoring rubrics and expectation levels.

“They have a much better grasp of why and what they’re learning,” Steigerwalt says. “They really have an understanding of what the final goal is for each lesson. I almost never get the question, ‘Why do we have to learn this?’”

She credits the framework for helping her pull all of her pre-existing knowledge, strategies, skills, and expertise into one cohesive whole. “It’s like I’ve been handed a magic wand that lets me make sense of all those different initiatives, strategies, buzzwords, and everything else we’re given. I had an epiphany: This model will make my life easier because it’s a way for me to put everything together.”

One last hurdle

There is one more thing that Steigerwalt feels would make her professional experience complete: A common language of instruction.

Because she is the only teacher in her school — and district, for that matter — who has integrated the Marzano framework, she has a different way of viewing and processing the changes that are roiling through Pennsylvania’s education system. With the confluence of a new statewide assessment system and the shift toward more rigorous academic standards, there’s enormous upheaval that could be alleviated by a shared vocabulary among colleagues.

“I would love a common language right now, just because it would help so much to talk about the changes we’re seeing and the different concepts we’re trying to put in place,” she muses.

“I just think a common language, no matter what language it is, cuts down so much on wasted effort and disconnect between people.”

Even though her school has not adopted the Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model, Steigerwalt praises her administration for being supportive of her efforts to try new things and integrate different strategies into her classroom.

“My administrators are accepting of whatever weird and crazy and innovative — that’s the word! — whatever innovative strategies we want to try,” she says with a laugh.

“It has always been, ‘Do what best practice dictates.’ So because I’ve gone through Marzano training and realized that a lot of it is the best practice, that’s what I’m using.”

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