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Marzano's dimensions of learning

Robert J. Marzano
© education review

In 1992 Robert J. Marzano developed an educational model that focuses on the students learning process. Marzano based his ideas on Bloom, Piaget, Kolb, Yeany and Vygotsky. The model is based on a concept of constructive learning. That means learning is viewed as a process that allows the student to construct a view of the world from experience. The model can serve as a foundation for lesson preparation for a teacher.

The model of Marzano consists of five different dimensions of learning. These dimensions are:

Dimension 1: Attitudes and perceptions
Dimension 2: Acquisition and Integration of Knowledge
Dimension 3: Extending and refining knowledge
Dimension 4: Using knowledge meaningfully
Dimension 5: Productive habits of mind

Dimension 1: Attitudes and perceptions

A positive learning environment is important in this dimension. These are the basic conditions in the classroom: a good atmosphere, material facilities, the type of tasks and the involvement of the students in the learning process.

The verbal and non-verbal role of the teacher in this sense is important. The teacher needs to have a positive attitude towards students. Students need to feel important to teachers and fellow students. A teacher has to be aware that his behaviour affects the learning of his students. If a student is asked a question, the teacher should give the student time to answer. Even when the response is incorrect, the teacher should approach this in a positive way: “good thinking, but I was looking for a different answer." Clear rules and requirements provide harmony and security in the classroom. When violations of the rules occur a teacher doesn’t have to take immediate disciplinary action, humour is often a good solution. If a teacher gives an assignment, it should be clear and explicit. The assignment has a better chance of succeeding if the student sees the additional value of this assignment: "If you do this exercise properly, you can do the more difficult assignment."

Dimension 2: Acquisition and Integration of Knowledge

Learning is only functional when the new knowledge is in line with existing knowledge. "Acquiring knowledge involves a subjective process of interaction between what we already know and what we want to learn. We are always using what we know to interpret what we don't know. If we can't link new content to something we already know, learning is much more difficult."

Marzano distinguishes two kinds of knowledge:

1. Procedural knowledge: skills

This knowledge is focused on learning-processes like procedures, reading maps, doing experiments and writing an essay. Acquiring procedural knowledge happens in three phases. First a teacher explains the skill. Then the student has time to practice, and eventually the students should master the skill. For example, in higher grades pupils must be able to complete a translation and transcription based on a piece of DNA. The teacher explains the lesson purpose (dimension 1) and tries to relate to the personal experiences of students (for instance by mentioning a link to cancer). Then the teacher demonstrates the exercise. This demonstration teaches students the building blocks of DNA and RNA. After the demonstration the students have to compose a polypeptide-chain from a piece of DNA. The teacher provides the code a piece of double stranded DNA, translates it into RNA, and looks up the matching amino acids together with the students. In the last phase the students have practiced the skill so often that they can apply it automatically. (Internalizing).

2. Explicative knowledge: cognitive knowledge

This includes knowledge of and the learning of facts. Here are three phases to recognize Marzano: First, the knowledge to relate to and build on existing knowledge. Then the knowledge has to be organized. This may involve the use of diagrams, charts and models. Finally, this knowledge is stored. The storage of knowledge is enhanced by linking the knowledge to images. Think of the famous quote: "A picture can say a thousand words.". You can start your first lesson by asking what the students already know about biology. This way, you combine dimension 1 and 2. Letting your students do the talking makes them realize how much they already know. Because you are building a bridge between existing knowledge and the new program, you are using dimension 2. For instance: Students brainstorm about existing knowledge, the teacher then writes all the terms mentioned on the blackboard. The teacher divides this knowledge into themes.

Dimension 3: Extending and refining knowledge

In dimension 2, the emphasis is on knowledge, and understanding and learning new skills. However, students need to go one step further. They must apply new knowledge and skills and develop their own associations, views and insights. In the third dimension the challenge is to expand, refine and deepen the declarative knowledge acquired in dimension 2.

The teacher can use one of the following mind skills:

  1. Compare: Identifying differences and /or agreements.
  2. Classifying: groups, naming groups etc.
  3. Inducing: draw conclusions based on different kinds of evidence (see illustration).
  4. Deducing: deriving statements from a general rule.
  5. Analyzing errors: detection of errors in reasoning.
  6. Abstracting: Recognizing underlying themes or general patterns.

Dimension 4: Using knowledge meaningfully

In this dimension Marzano describes how a student can use knowledge meaningfully. The ultimate goal of gathering knowledge, is applying it. By applying this knowledge, the student learns much more. In biology, many abstract themes are discussed, such genetic manipulation. You can have students do a presentation with role playing. For instance a politician, environmental activist etc. Students play a role that enables them to view the subject from different angles.

According to Marzano assignments are meaningful if they meet the following requirements:

  1. Practical
  2. Long term
  3. Coached by students themselves

Marzano describes 5 activities that meet these requirements:

  1. Experimental research
  2. Research related to problem solving
  3. Inventions
  4. Decision-making
  5. General research

Dimension 5: Productive habits of mind

Not only substantial knowledge is important, but a good attitude also helps a student in his learning process. "It might be better to help students develop mental habits that will help them learn on their own whatever they need or want to know." Marzano called this a productive habit. According to Marzano, there are three major productive habits.

  1. Self regulated thinking and learning (planning, evaluation)
  2. Critical thinking and learning
  3. Creative thinking and learning

The five dimensions are not to be seen as separate units, or as a sequence in learning. Dimensions 2, 3 and 4 are related to cognitive skills. These skills relate to acquiring (new) knowledge and skills. Dimension 1 and 5 are necessary for the other dimensions to succeed. Dimension 1, 2 and 3 can be used consecutively in learning. In the first dimension, the student gets acquainted with a subject. If a teacher introduces the topic in a stimulating way, and relates to the experiences of students, it is a good foundation for dimension 2 and 3. In the last two dimensions the knowledge is taught and structured. There are differences between dimension 2 and 3. In the second and third dimension of the Marzano design, the skills are arranged according to the guidelines of taxonomy by Bloom. According to this classification, facts belong to the most concrete level. The mind skills in the 3rd dimension, such as abstracting, belong to a higher taxonomy.