Marzano 13 Teaching Best Practices for Virtual, Blended, and Classroom Instruction
Edmentum certainly believes in the promise of online solutions to improve student outcomes and empower teachers with additional tools to provide effective, individualized instruction. However, educational technology is a relatively young field, and everyone—educators, developers, and students alike—is still learning how best to use these tools. A lot of brain power is being dedicated to answering these complex questions. One such effort comes from the Marzano Research, whose experts conducted “A Study of Best Practices in Edmentum Online Solutions,” looking at Edmentum’s programs in various settings to evaluate the relationship between student learning and effective pedagogical practices with respect to the use of online instruction.
About the Study
The Marzano Research study considered Edmentum solutions being used in three instructional settings—purely virtual, a blended learning model, and as supplemental instruction in a classroom—for the purpose of original credit, credit recovery, intervention, or Advanced Placement instruction. The study identified 13 best practices across three dimensions of teacher behaviors and strategies that are correlated to significantly higher levels of student achievement in an online learning environment. Adopting these practices can help teachers effectively engage with their students in an online or blended environment and get the most out of online tools. Here, we will take a close look at all 13 best practices identified in the study, along with insights into how each can be implemented.
Marzano Dimension One: Strategies Involving Routine Events
1. Communicating course/assignment rules and procedures
Clarifying your expectations is key to a smooth-running classroom, whether it’s traditional or virtual. If your students don’t know what the rules are, they probably won’t follow them.
In the Classroom: Clearly communicating classroom rules and procedures should eliminate “I didn’t know that” from your classroom vocabulary. We can leverage the power of learning modalities and apply it to teaching students what is expected of them. For each expectation, think of ways it can be presented in visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile ways. You can begin teaching students a pencil sharpening routine by including verbal and poster instructions, along with a live demonstration. Next, explain how sharpening a pencil can look a lot like fishing, and ask students to get up by their seats and practice “reeling it in” before having them line up to practice using the sharpener themselves.
In a Virtual or Blended Environment: If helping students understand what is expected academically, behaviorally, and socially in the classroom is one of the most important parts of your teaching strategies, you need to bump that prioritization even higher if you are teaching online. Students entering a physical classroom are inserted into a rule-based system, whereas, for remote learners, class participation and academic goals are now being inserted into the home where they can easily be overwhelmed by the issues of family life. Turn classroom and virtual collaboration policies into an art project that students can hang near their work area as a great activity to help them internalize and value virtual classroom rules at home.
For Growth Opportunities: Make the communication of classroom policies an ongoing conversation rather than chiseled law. Remember that the physical classroom is a uniform experience for students, but homes are not. Create a survey that you send out periodically asking students how they feel about what is expected of them and their classmates. Send it out to parents too. Give families an opportunity to reevaluate their circumstances in the context of what is expected of them and to suggest what they think would help them continue to find success. Also, be open to revising or personalizing the policy as necessary.
2. Providing students with all materials needed to complete an assignment
Defining clear classroom and assignment expectations and procedures is only half the battle in ensuring that your students have the tools they need to be successful in the classroom. It is just as important to provide your students with the actual materials they need to accomplish the goals you set.
In the Classroom: There are many ways to make sure that materials are accessible to your students. The best strategies to use in your classroom can largely be determined based on how extensively you use technology. If you are relying on paper for most of your classroom activities, keep a bank of file folders in an organizational rack that are clearly labeled by assignment. As students work through an assignment, all they must do is go to the correct folder to access what they need. This method also makes it easier for students who have been absent to get their makeup work without interrupting class.
In a Virtual or Blended Environment: In a virtual model, the goal is to identify an online space for educators to store/share materials and for students to be able to access those materials anywhere. If you are open to managing a class website, Weebly for Education can be a great option for website creation—it’s quick, and there are free, easy-to-use templates. Google Classroom is a great choice, as easy access to documents is a primary feature of this solution; however, Google Classroom does not provide a built-in curriculum. If you are using a digital curriculum, such as Courseware from Edmentum, work with your education consultant to learn how to add in your own documents and make them available to your class.
For Growth Opportunities: The word “materials” takes on a new meaning in a remote learning environment. In addition to practice worksheets and teacher notes, we can create much more immersive experiences with podcasts, blogs, and videos. This educator filmed her road trip to bring history to life!
3. Clearly presenting the goal/objective for each assignment
Although there’s always room for creativity and experimentation in education, a lesson should never be delivered with an overall “let’s see where this goes” approach. Every instructional day, each task should have a clear goal associated with it. The clarity of these goals is key to this tip.
In the Classroom: Clarity in goals and learning objectives benefit learners. If students understand what is expected, then they can evaluate their work toward that mark. A longstanding best practice is to make the day’s or week’s goal and objective visible to the learners, likely on the instructional board. A stronger implementation is to rewrite the learning objective in age-appropriate, student-centric language. Stronger still is a teacher-facilitated conversation with students about their understanding of the shared objective.
In a Virtual or Blended Environment: Digital curriculum often lists the academic standard throughout the content but not always in student-friendly language. Therefore, a strong strategy for teachers is to aid that connection by using learner-centric language within the learning management systems (LMS), on the teacher webpage, or perhaps in the synchronous and asynchronous instructional interactions. Oversharing cannot be detrimental in this environment; consistency is a security blanket for learners. A conversation with students about understanding the objective can take place in real time in a digital meeting or in a discussion on the LMS.
For Growth Opportunities: Considering the value of student-centered language in goals and objectives, you can aid students in translating goals and objectives into their own voice. This process not only supports their understanding and retention but also develops their metacognition of the objectives themselves. Using action verbs, synonyms and antonyms, and examples and non-examples will ramp up the ability of students to communicate their learning. Bell ringers are an excellent way to utilize this technique.
4. Offering encouragement and positive feedback to students
Positive reinforcement is key to instilling a sense of confidence, self-worth, and motivation in children, but for some students, those kinds of interactions are hard to come by in their lives outside of school. This fact makes it that much more critical that the classroom should always be a safe and encouraging environment. Without any encouraging words, learners are likely to shut down from their entire educational experience.
In the Classroom: Consistent encouragement and positive feedback are the social and emotional fuel that guides and motivates learners. The goal is five positive comments for every critical statement per learner to maintain positive learner motivation. Teachers should employ encouragement and positive feedback early and then maintain consistency in interactions. That consistency should be both timely and honest. Reinforce quickly when students demonstrate positive results in the learning process. Stickers, finger snaps, bulletin boards, and communication to families are all tried-and-true methods of positive reinforcement.
In a Virtual or Blended Environment: In online learning environments, emojis tend to replace stickers, and badges often replace bulletin boards. Many interfaces within LMS, online meeting spaces, and digital curricula include ways to communicate positive feedback. Some programs give blue ribbons, trophies, “likes,” or coins, and many systems automate positive responses as students successfully complete tasks. Then, teachers have more time to look at individual students and their assignments in order to analyze mastery of standards and provide positive feedback to incremental progress.
For Growth Opportunities: Direct, positive teacher feedback will always be valuable, whether in person or online, to students and their families. Schools could develop positive encouragement and feedback systems that are not bound by in-person schooling or online classes and that can maintain consistency wherever students are learning. These positive interactions can then add to the comfort of consistency for learners at any age. Additionally, students find great value in positive encouragement from peers. Consider introducing a way for classmates to celebrate one another for positive work.
5. Allowing students to keep track of their learning progress
Ownership of learning is key to student achievement. Students need to feel invested in their progress in order to thrive academically. They should be able to see the scoreboard so that they can be proud when they’re keeping up or when it’s time to kick it into gear to avoid falling behind.
In the Classroom: Digital gradebooks, family dashboards, and interface-based information are standard today. For graded activities, teachers input grades either manually or with automated support. The more frequently teachers post grades, the more connected families feel to student progress. The LMS era aids learners with access to data reports that include grading and provide a better glimpse of learning progress. Student pacing on completed activities, positive feedback on work, and areas for focus are now equally visible to students, families, and teachers. Schools that ease students and families into using dashboard-level data daily find that shared understanding of progress and proficiency empowers learners.
In a Virtual or Blended Environment: When away from the physical school building, students and their families depend on accessible and timely communication. Grades are nice and pacing in the course helps, but what students and families find most helpful is progress tracking in the long-term development of learners. Long-term development in a virtual setting is supported with skills-based prescriptions that cater to learner readiness and social-emotional paths that serve the management of personal development. Learners can feel an estrangement from the teacher and classmates that can hinder the momentum of growth. Virtual schools are becoming proficient in sharing data and dashboards that show families how learners are doing in a current class, how they are tracking in long-term development as a learner, and how they are progressing in supportive personal development curriculum.
For Growth Opportunities: Schools and families are seeking to track learners’ development of 21st century skillsets and transferable work skills. These represent student growth that draws on experiences both in and outside of school. Tracking these skills can identify issues outside of traditional academic skills. For example, you may find students who have trouble solving real-world problems or collaborating with teams. Progress tracking on student development of modern skills and workforce readiness helps communities develop the whole child.
6. Accessibility to students via electronic communication as well as face-to-face
Teachers and students can collaborate in many ways to advance their common goals. Often, that collaboration does not end with the last bell of the school day. In today’s connected world, the key is to find a balance between being easily accessible to your students without sacrificing your own productivity and free time.
In the Classroom: After setting clear expectations based on policies created for appropriate and documented communication, we can then find standard methods that will encourage students to become active learners. Try apps such as Remind and GroupMe to send and receive messages through text-messaging format. Social media outlets can also be used to provide informative announcements. As a teacher, make yourself a consistent schedule to be available electronically and stick to it. Consistency is key to ensure that students aren’t calling you at 1: 00 a.m. Remember to set boundaries and be mindful when setting a schedule for after-hours availability.
In a Virtual or Blended Environment: In a virtual classroom, it is important to engage students in communication because you don't see them in person every day. Students and teachers can be equally active participants by threaded discussion posts, breakout rooms during video-conferencing classes, or interactive bulletin boards. Many educators are finding success with virtual office hours that allow for students to ask questions and get feedback. Make sure that your schedule allows time for your personal life outside of school. Set appropriate boundaries, and give yourself permission to give important personal matters priority. Remember that you are the one who gets to decide whether something is urgent or if it can wait. For some students, everything feels urgent.
For Growth Opportunities: Promoting communications with students can help you create a rapport, which can increase the ability to connect and identify your students’ needs. Establish virtual office hours where your students can reach out and ask questions or get help with assignments. Create a virtual bulletin board where you can post class information and helpful links for students. After a few weeks, review what has worked and what hasn’t, then poll students to see if their needs are being met in order to be successful in class. Some people find journal writing to be therapeutic; consider connecting journaling activities in your class to your district’s social-emotional learning (SEL) goals to provide mental health outlets for learners.
Marzano Dimension Two: Strategies Enacted on the Spot
7. Monitoring student work
Without an accurate view of student progress, effective classroom decision-making is challenging. Are your learners ready to move on to the next unit? Who is in need of remediation? Who would benefit from enrichment activities? Assessments, both formative and summative, are one good way of monitoring your students’ development.
In the Classroom: There are many ways to assess learning without adding to your grading pile. Informal assessment needs to occur regularly during lessons. By monitoring discussion and circulating the room while your students work, you can collect observational data to help drive instruction. Also, empowering your learners to keep portfolios of completed work and projects will help engage them in their own progress. This strategy gives your students a broad and tangible overview of their progress throughout the academic year.
In a Virtual or Blended Environment: Monitoring student progress in a virtual environment can be more difficult, but it is not impossible. Educators can gather observational data by leveraging other informal strategies during synchronous learning like using a chat feature to ask and answer questions or to type in emojis, such as a thumbs up or thumbs down, to show if students understood a concept. Younger students can type in the chat box when answering problems. For older students, flipping the classroom can help stimulate deeper discussion during virtual class. Requiring students to view the lesson asynchronously helps stimulate a deeper discussion during the synchronous instruction where a teacher can observe student progress.
For Growth Opportunities: Reflect on how you are monitoring your students in your current class setting. Is it providing as much feedback as an in-person classroom would? Consider trying a new informal assessment to gather feedback, whether tweaking an in-person method to make it fit a virtual setting or implementing a brand-new task. Think of ways to monitor your students during asynchronous instruction as well, such as critiquing peer work using shareable documents, utilizing virtual collaboration boards, or using voice-recorded posts online. Allow students to redo assignments or turn in something else that allows them to choose how they understand a concept. Don’t be a stickler on the “how;” be a stickler on “what they mastered.”
8. Knowing every student by name and being able to recognize them outside of the online environment
Learning your students’ names might seem like common sense, but you won’t believe how many teachers are unable to call students by name a month, two months, or even several months after the first day of school. There are various reasons for this, but the bottom line is that your ability to connect with students whose names you don’t know is severely inhibited. For students with difficult home lives, forming this connection can be critical to their academic success.
In the Classroom: A great way to learn names is to arrange your students in alphabetical order—by first name. Taking attendance every day and saying students’ names every time you pass something out to them or take something from them at the beginning of the school year also gives you added practice in name and face recognition.
In a Virtual or Blended Environment: Virtual classrooms should be no different when learning students’ names. For video calls, have students adjust their settings so that their first and last names are visible on screen. You can also get to know your students better by scheduling quick, virtual one-on-ones or small-group meetings where you can chat for a few minutes outside of the whole-class meeting. This will allow you to focus on a smaller group, giving you a more individual perspective of the students. You can also encourage students to log in a few minutes before class and give them some time to chat with each other, much like they would before a regular in-person class while they get settled. Whether it is in-person or a virtual setting, make sure that your school takes advantage of any of the tricks your LMS has to offer, like showing the previous year’s school pictures of your students.
For Growth Opportunities: Challenge yourself to get to know your students beyond just their names! Encourage them when they see you out in the hallways to say hello. Make it a point to know the names of all your students within the first two weeks and set mini goals throughout the first few days to learn a fun fact about each individual, such as a hobby or an interest. Share a few of your own interests, like if you happen to like pugs, Mr. Rogers, or have a favorite college sports team. These are the tiny details that will you and your students connect. Students will not always remember what you taught them, but they will always remember how you treated them.
9. Allowing students to progress through assignments at their own pace
We all know what it feels like to fall behind in a task or project. We also know what it’s like to excel at something over our peers. In both cases, the feeling can be awkward and distracting. Now, think about how students, who are just starting to find themselves and their talents, feel in one of those situations. Allowing students to progress through the curriculum at their own pace helps them get to know their own strengths and weaknesses, which builds their sense of confidence.
In the Classroom: Self-paced models allow students to design their own learning experience around not only pacing but also their interests and learning preferences. Providing small-group instruction is a go-to strategy to differentiate pace but not the only strategy. In many situations, small-group instruction can be most effective if the group of students has similar learning preferences and interests. Another strategy to consider is using online or computer-based curriculum to supplement instruction. With an adaptive platform, students can receive instruction in the appropriate areas and at the appropriate speed for their skill level.
In a Virtual or Blended Environment: Virtual instruction allows for an easy transition to self-paced learning. In a virtual environment, the role of the instructor expands to provide guidance and feedback on proficiency and to tailor the learning environment to students’ needs. Start small by providing choice of assignments for the next learning goal. Allow students to see that you trust them to design their own learning; by doing this, students will feel a sense of responsibility for their academics. Self-paced learning allows students to show for themselves how they best learn.
For Growth Opportunities: Within your classroom, whether a virtual or in-person one, create an academic unit that will outline the learning goals, standards, and various activities of choice available for students. Allow students to pick an activity that interests them and to decide how they want to interact with the content. Once students feel they have mastered the material, have them check in and discuss the learning goal. If you feel they have demonstrated mastery, they can move on to the next learning goal. If not, they can select a different activity and try again.
10. Providing help to understand and practice new knowledge
To help students acquire and master new knowledge is why teachers teach. It’s perhaps the most fundamental part of the job. That being said, it might also be the most complicated. Who do you help? When do you help them? How? Even veteran teachers struggle with these questions.
In the Classroom: Effective teachers employ multiple strategies that allow learners to demonstrate what they know. Most teachers prefer some sort of gradual release model, variations on “I do, we do, you do.” These kinds of models are where pacing and formative assessment take precedence. In theory, if curriculum is paced correctly and mastery has been achieved by all students in your class before moving on, no one should need help with the next topic. Of course, that’s rarely the case. And that’s why it’s important to perform some sort of formative assessment or pretest before each major topic or unit, with more informal assessments coming at the beginning and end of each lesson. You should also take the pulse of your class during a lesson. It may sound like a lot of work, but a deep understanding of formative assessment strategies is essential to help students grasp new material.
In a Virtual or Blended Environment: Within your program, ongoing practice and support can be individualized. You can offer scaffolded practice within your LMS with tools, apps, and widgets to afford learners opportunities to demonstrate mastery within their learning styles. An important thing to remember is that consistency is critical; maintaining a clear and present path. Make sure that things like logins, cadence, and routine—the various resources that are being utilized—don’t change. Mechanisms should be efficient and seamless between different settings.
For Growth Opportunities: The first barrier to effective teaching of new knowledge is simply time. Benchmarks have to be met. Tests have to have proper preparation. Often, students who are struggling the most need to be moved along for the sake of the rest of the class. The other barrier to this practice is a question of differentiation. In many classrooms, small groups, formative assessments, and online learning tools can help solve these challenges.
11. Allowing students to ask questions during online courses/assignments
The process of Socratic questioning is cyclical and naturally occurs at various points of learning. Students are more engaged when they can ask questions throughout learning. Saving questions until the end of class risks running out of time and not serving students well.
In the Classroom: There are ways to encourage students to develop questions that will help the whole class progress through the lesson without completely overtaking class time. First, make your expectations clear. State that questions are welcome at almost any time during the class, but ask that no one interrupt while someone else is speaking and that questions only address the topic at hand. Make sure that these policies are available and easily visible as a reminder to your learners. Second, you should act as a model for your students of best practices for asking questions throughout the year. When your students are speaking, ask questions that drive the conversation forward. Always wait for them to finish a thought before launching your questions.
In a Virtual or Blended Environment: Again, be sure to make your expectations for asking questions clear when holding class in a virtual environment. Some techniques that educators have had success with are asking students to mute their microphones unless they have a question and utilizing the “raise your hand” feature on video-conferencing platforms. Many video-conferencing platforms have a Q&A feature that does not interrupt the class during lecture time. Once you’ve compiled these questions, be sure to allow for 5 to 10 minutes before the lecture is over to address them.
For Growth Opportunities: Confusion is a natural part of the learning process. When faced with unanswered questions, students must have options to proceed. True learning occurs when learners persist—often assisted by various tools—to reach a moment of clarity and understanding. If classrooms have a clear protocol of where and how to find the “answer,” teachers are moving students closer to self-agency. Online learning offers the flexibility to access resources in real time with a supplemental structure of what to do and when and how to do it.
12. Treating all students equally
Every student is entirely unique, with different needs, strengths, ideas, and social-emotional requierments. With “students at promise,” by focusing on their potential as opposed to considering deficits first, educators can create an empowering environment and change the paradigm of what students need, both individually and collectively.
In the Classroom: When educators take the position of “guide” in the learning process, a shift takes place that gives learners more autonomy about discovering and synthesizing information and seeking out opportunities for practice. No two students will be on the same track at the same time. By offering multiple entry points for instruction—reteaching, practice, and reflection—educators are more likely to meet the varying needs of a diverse student group.
In a Virtual or Blended Environment: One of the strengths of virtual learning is the removal of direct peer pressure during practice and review. Students who were prone to feeling defeated when peers move ahead quickly are more likely to persist in an independent space. Educators can remind learners that learning occurs after we go through a stage of confusion and that it varies from person to person and discipline to discipline. The more students discover and weave into their own learning styles and strengths, the more confidence and engagement they will realize.
For Growth Opportunities: Equity is a struggle throughout society, not just in educational institutions. Establishing growth models starts with obtaining baselines and setting reasonable, achievable marks for growth. Instead of relying solely on standardized test data, it is imperative for educators to recognize factors—such as trauma, disability, and poverty—related to social-emotional wellness and to do whatever possible to these mitigate those barriers.
Marzano Dimension Three: Strategies Addressing Content
13. Adding external resources to assignments aligned to local objectives
In today’s educational landscape, there is no lack of resources available to target standards and skills students need for graduation. It is a must that offerings of supplemental content and resources are in line and directly tied to specific and personalized learning goals. Implementing clear processes and protocol for learners regarding the organizing, accessing, and leveraging of the myriad of resources maximizes the return on the time investment for everyone.
In the Classroom: It is to both your own and your students’ benefit to use some filtering when students are seeking outside resources for assignments and projects. If possible, provide instruction not only in the curriculum but also in information gathering relative to the subject area your students are working on. Provide acceptable online options for students to consult in the course of their work by using a class website, blog, or other link-sharing system. This isn’t censorship; it’s a way to optimize the information-gathering process for your students and teach them about appropriate online research methods.
In a Virtual or Blended Environment: When supporting your “backbone” curriculum with supplemental resources in virtual programming, consider keeping it simple and clear. Target reliable and paid resources first to drive usage. Less can be more when putting together a resource list in your LMS. Invest in the front end, and take time to model the process and reasoning for using the specific supplemental content.
For Growth Opportunities: Students, particularly those in online learning settings, also need opportunities to unplug. Point out local real-world resources available like museums and libraries, even if they’re temporarily limited to online access. This is a great way to get students to venture out into the community. Consider offering extra credit in order to motivate your students to engage with the offline world. It also teaches students how to effectively research and use resources outside of the structured classroom.
Interested in hearing more about Marzano Research’s findings regarding online teaching best practices? Check out how Marzano Research peer-reviewed a research project that we conducted for our classroom practice and assessment program, Study Island!
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