Working on the What and the How with Essentials for Achieving Rigor

Originally published in CenterEd in June, 2014.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve been sharing valuable insight from administrators at the largest middle school in the state of Maine—Bonny Eagle Middle School. Having taken part in a pilot of iObservation, Learning Sciences International’s observation and professional development software, and instructed the faculty to study elements of the Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model, the school was ready to take a deeper dive in year two.

In April, principal Mick Roy, along with assistant principals Stacey Schatzabel and Benjamin Harris, viewed a demo of Marzano Center Essentials for Achieving Rigor, a model of instruction designed to move students toward cognitively complex thinking skills. Roy says that he likes how it “takes away from the teacher, or us as administrators, sort of reorganizing a pathway to learning.”

“Because if you think about it,” he explains, “with this new Essentials model, we can have [students] walk down a pathway of learning that we know is designed for rigor—and I think it’s more comprehensive in some ways, but it’s also more focused. It ties teaching practices in with the standards . . . so next year, not only will our teachers be working on the what (the essential learning around the standards), but they’ll also be working on the how (how they’re going to incorporate these proven practices into the teaching of those standards).”

The Student-Centered Classroom

The Essentials model is designed to help educators gradually release responsibility for the learning to students, giving them more autonomy and ownership of the work. With a brief exposure to the new student-centered pedagogy, some Bonny Eagle students may not be entirely ready just yet, but many are—and they’re all moving toward it.

The district conducts summer “symposium workshops” for teachers who have received professional development around the student-centered classroom, says Roy. “They started to build the capacity for giving students more ownership and having a better understanding of why that’s important. At the same time, we’ve incorporated The Art and Science of Teaching. We’re having students track their own progress and take more ownership. In practice, that work has begun.”

A Common Learning Experience

Implementation is “one of the most important pieces,” states Roy. “By focusing on specific times that we required the teachers to work on this, it helps to make sure they understood the importance of using the framework and getting to use this tool, because we still have a long way to go.”

The school has made it through the first year, and now Roy, Schatzabel, and Harris are helping other schools implement the Marzano model with fidelity. “We’ve been processing our use of it,” Roy explains, and they’re about ready to embark on sharing their experiences with other districts that will soon be rolling out the model.

Roy further states, “What we hope to do is to collaborate and share the workshops and the training that we get from Learning Sciences. So we host, for example, the essential learning piece and invite other districts. These are the people we’ve already been in communication with, who also want to collaborate and cross-share with other schools, teachers, and administrators.”

“This will be one of the—in my time in education—one of the biggest things that can bring people together for a common learning experience,” says Roy.

Bonny Eagle Middle School students are already becoming more autonomous. In turn, faculty members are beginning to see the power and “profound simplicity,” as Harris eloquently calls it, of using instructional strategies highlighted in iObservation. In next week’s issue, we’ll share a story Roy told us about one of his school’s teachers, who was able to put a particular strategy to immediate use in his classroom.

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