Classroom Techniques for Creating Conditions for Rigorous Instruction
reviewed by Cindy Gilson - November 01, 2018
Title: Classroom Techniques for Creating Conditions for Rigorous Instruction
Author(s): Jennifer Cleary, Terry Morgan, & Robert J. Marzano
Publisher: Learning Sciences International, West Palm Beach
ISBN: 1943920877, Pages: 160, Year: 2018
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This delightful book, part of the Essentials for Achieving Rigor series published by the Marzano Center, is truly an essential guide and resource for novices, early career teachers, or even veteran teachers interested in a refresher. Readers will gain practical knowledge about creating a fertile environment for learning to occur (p. 67), which is necessary for teaching with rigor. Rather than providing superficial attention to such a timely education buzzword, Cleary, Morgan, and Marzano give it due diligence by carefully defining, clarifying, explaining, and illustrating the concept.
Readers will learn five specific research- and theory-based strategies and a number of corresponding techniques toward the overarching goal of the book: achieving rigor through classroom curriculum and instruction. The foundation of the book heavily draws upon prior research and theory published by Marzano, specifically the Marzano Instructional Framework. However, the authors consistently cite current and seminal research and theory from other experts to support their rationales, assertions, and recommendations.
Cleary, Morgan, and Marzano understand the heartbeat of educators, as indicated by their consistent attention to translating theory and research into very practical and realistic suggestions for teachers across different grade levels and subject areas. Each chapter includes an introduction to the featured strategy and related techniques, implementation tips, common mistakes to avoid, ways to support conative skills, concrete examples of success and failure, and suggested approaches for monitoring teacher and student progress. While the text does not specifically elaborate on techniques for specialized populations, such as students with very severe disabilities or who are highly advanced, the authors do list suggestions for scaffolding and extending student learning at the end of Chapters Two through Six. Readers could further differentiate or modify these suggestions as needed for special populations in their schools. The figures, tables, bulleted lists, quotes, anecdotes, and real-world teacher dialogues and class scenarios enhance the readability and comprehension of the major concepts presented. This guide is minds-on and encourages the reader to intentionally plan, implement, monitor, adapt, and reflect on their instructional practices (p. 1).
The book is structured into six well-organized chapters, making it easy to absorb, and it encourages the reader to reflect and consider how to implement the suggested strategies and techniques.
In Chapter One, Conditions for Rigorous Instruction, the authors set the stage by explaining the necessary conditions for achieving rigor. A major takeaway from this chapter is that rigor is achieved by increasing cognitive complexity and student autonomy of essential knowledge and skills (p. 6). The remaining chapters focus on the five essential strategies toward creating a learning environment that will make instruction more rigorous.
Chapter Two, Establishing Rules and Procedures, is replete with practical and concrete examples for immediate implementation in the classroom. This chapter would be very helpful for teachers to read before the start of a new school year or semester as they will also learn to organize the physical classroom landscape to optimize teaching and learning.
Next, in Chapter Three, Recognizing Adherence and Lack of Adherence, the authors explain the importance of balancing between the consequences for negative behaviors and the reinforcement of appropriate behaviors. The authors aptly point out that teachers can implement effective and positive approaches to proactively avoid serious disciplinary measures that could impede student learning. At first glance, the reader might feel that some of the suggested practices in Chapters Two and Three lean toward the characteristics of a traditional classroom; however, the authors provide the very logical rationale that students need appropriate guidelines, reinforcement, and consequences to be productive. They also acknowledge that teachers can flexibly implement the strategies and techniques with their particular students.
Chapter Four, Using Engagement Strategies When Students Are Not Engaged, includes informative insights about cognitive engagement and the need to look beyond compliance to ensure students minds are activated during lessons. In addition to a plethora of teacher-initiated techniques, the chapter also includes reflective questions to teach students about re-engagement in learning, thus encouraging student self-regulation.
Knowing students as individuals with personal interests, feelings, and aspirations is essential for establishing a positive classroom culture. In Chapter Five, Establishing and Maintaining Effective Relationships, the authors discuss the importance of having positive interpersonal relationships with students and maintaining a balance between guidance and control, and between cooperation and concern. This chapter offers specific tools to proactively avoid and effectively respond to negative thinking or conflict.
Most notable in Chapter Six, Communicating High Expectations for All Students, the authors go beyond reiterating the need for having high expectations of all students to actually providing the reader with tangible takeaways for accomplishing this goal. This chapter will help educators build their awareness of how beliefs influence expectations. They will also learn concrete steps for encouraging students and increasing their expectations of themselves.
Cleary, Morgan, and Marzano provide a great conclusion that summarizes the overarching goal of the book, and they include reflection and discussion questions to encourage professional collaboration and monitoring of teacher growth. Finally, there are two appendices with a number of beneficial resources. Appendix A includes ready-to-implement reproducibles, such as planning and organizational templates, classroom posters, and forms for self-reflecting and monitoring student progress. In Appendix B, there are recommended titles and descriptions of texts, technology resources, and other tools to extend the readers learning about how to teach with rigor.
In sum, I would highly recommend this book to any teacher who is interested in learning how to effectively implement research- and theory-based approaches for teaching with rigor. The reader is sure to walk away with a large repertoire of new strategies and techniques.