School Libraries

Book Reviews, Research, Issues

Making Standards Useful

Making standards useful in the classroom by Robert J. Marzano (ASCD, 2008, 294p., ISBN: 9781416606482) Of the hundreds of speakers every year at the ASCD national convention, few draw bigger crowds than Robert Marzano. Known for his What Works series of books that spotlight research-supported practices for teaching, learning, and schooling in general, Marzano’s extended view of education backed by a long career of experiences with top thinkers, makes him a major attraction. This year, he spotlighted his new book and its full first printing was sold out in a matter of hours. Making Standards Useful in the Classroom has some major practical suggestions. As Marzano traces the standards movement in the U.S., he notes the bloated curriculum suggests that it would take at least 22 years to deliver if it were all covered the way that it is laid out in the various standards documents. This is because the mathematicians tend to think that their subject is the most important one in the curriculum and so they want it all covered. This can be said of all curricular areas including the concerns of teacher librarians. His solution? Reduce the number of topics for a school year to a maximum of fifteen so that the current rush to cover would be replaced by more in depth studies. We could not agree more. The knowledge of the world is expanding rapidly and if we continue to try to cover everything, we are all doomed to failure. The second thing Marzano does is to recommend a standardized rubric for measurement across the various content areas – a scale upon which all teachers could agree and learners could expect. His scale goes from zero to four with half-increments such as 2.5 or 3.5. The scale is appealing because at 3.0, a student has mastered the standard and gets the A. If the student scores above 3.5, that student has pushed into the excellence range, or what we would term the expertise to compete globally. Such a notion counters the current mediocrity of NCLB that only concentrates on students achieving the minimum at their particular grade level. These two ideas are exciting indeed, but only as far as they go. Some will argue that the power of letter grades is not covered well in his rubric scoring system because a 2.0 equals a C, a 2.5 is a B, and a 3.0 is an A – meaning that there is a very narrow range between 0-4 where normal grading practices are understood by parents and students. That one can be solved, we think, but there are two major issues missing for teacher librarians and the major ideas being pushed by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning. The first idea is “learning how to learn” (information literacy, media literacy, critical thinking, creative thinking, etc.) and the second is the explosion of information and technology. To be fair to Marzano, he does suggest rubrics for what he terms life skills including participation, work completion, behavior, and working in groups. But there is a world of learning to learn strategies that Marzano has never addressed in his interests or in his research. The same goes for the expansion of the world of information and technology. These two areas seem not to have come into Marzano’s radar screen. This lack of understanding becomes quite amusing when he sets up rubrics for research in the language arts rubrics. By fourth grade, students who can use an encyclopedia article to extract information get an A, and excel with a 4 score if they can do detailed Internet searches. These two blind spots are major deficiencies in our opinion. If we cut the number of topics studied, then students need to build and reflect on their learning skills simultaneously so that they begin to understand that they know and can do a great deal about some topics but also have the power to learn and master anything they wish to learn. They are smart and they know how to learn. It is a powerful two-pronged thrust into global excellence. Thus, to teacher librarians, this book is half the story and thus a challenge to its author to expand his vision into the real world of 21st century information and technology systems. It is a challenge that many educators wish to ignore because they feel pressured to cover just what is in the textbook. So, consider carefully the Marzano proposals in this book. Teachers will surely have opinions about his recommendations. And, perhaps that is the sign of an engaging book. Is there such a thing as a half recommendation for a book? We will rate this one on Marzano’s own rubric as being 1.5: “Partial knowledge of the simpler details and processes but major errors or omissions regarding the more complex issues and processes.”

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April 4, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,

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