5 Essential Strategies to Help Students Meet Rigorous Standards

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By Carla Moore

Are your students developing high-level cognitive skills? Critical thinking, analysis, generating and testing hypotheses—these are all important goals of revised state standards. As schools implement new standards, we should be seeing much more evidence that teachers are gradually scaffolding student learning to help students reach the highest levels of cognitive complexity.

For the first time, standards are not just about the what, they implicitly direct your teaching. The good news is that both you and your students will thrive in a standards-based environment. Teachers and principals implementing standards-based classrooms have told us that “the joy of teaching is back.”

At Learning Sciences Marzano Center, we have developed an instructional model, the Essentials for Achieving Rigor, to give teachers a road map for the fastest and most effective route to truly make the shift to standards-based classrooms.

5 Actions You Can Take Now

1. Begin with Standards-based Lesson Planning
Why is standards-based planning so essential? Clearly, if we have expectations for student learning that is rigorous, independent, and applicable in the real world, teachers need to be able to plan instruction that will help their students meet those goals. This is the broad rationale for standards-based planning. It is also a shift from basing plans on curricula or resources that reflect state standards to true standards-based lesson planning.

2. Create Common, Standards-based Scales
Standards-based learning targets and performance scales are tools that function like a frequently consulted road map or GPS, a tool that will lead you, and your students, on a journey culminating in the attainment of a challenging standard. Performance scales also function as a daily organizer that keeps everyone focused in a transparent way on how each lesson is progressing. In other words, using performance scales allows you and students to identify what students need to know and where they will end up (their final goal for meeting or exceeding the standard) according to a clear progression of learning targets. Scales also allow students to track their own progress, which encourages them to buy into, and be responsible for, their own learning.

3. Scaffold Lessons to Rigor 

Rigor in a standards-based classroom must contain high levels of both cognitive complexity and student autonomy. The red dot marks the sweet spot where rigor lives.

Learning Sciences Marzano Center has identified thirteen instructional strategies  drawn from the research-based content strategies of the Art and Science of Teaching framework (Marzano, 2007). For each lesson, you, the teacher, determine which strategies will help your students learn, deepen, and interact with content. Strategies are chosen based on the phase of instruction, from building foundational content to deepening content to utilizing knowledge and skills, to engaging in complex tasks, the level of thinking required from the standards and the needs of students. There are times when you may move back and forth with purpose from high to low cognitive demand and student autonomy even within one lesson. The important thing to know is that your goal will be to scaffold student learning to the higher level of both autonomy and cognitive complexity required by the standard.

4. Create Effective Conditions for Learning
While we know that the classroom teacher is the single most important factor influencing student achievement (within the school’s locus of control), other factors contribute to student learning. Certain conditions must be in place for students to truly benefit from instruction, and the teacher’s expertise in creating these conditions is key. In fact, if the conditions for learning are flawed, inconsistent, or absent, extensive research tells us that students will be less likely to learn the content (see Glass, 1979; Ericsson, 2007; and Weinstein, 1979; among others). These conditions include establishing rules and procedures, using engagement strategies, establishing effective relationships, and communicating high expectations for all.

Recommended Reading

The Essential Flipbook for Achieving Rigor

By Amy Dujon


5. Use Formative Assessment Data to Make Instructional Decisions
Carefully observe the impact of your instructional practices and strategies on student learning. Once you truly understand each of your students’ academic status and progress, you can begin to adapt and personalize their instruction to best meet the unique needs of each. To do this, you can draw on evidence of learning within lessons. Use formative assessment results, collect student work artifacts, and keep records of their progress. Effective formative assessment has been shown to have a significant impact on student achievement.

Get Started Now

You can begin to make some of these shifts today. For additional resources, The Essentials for Standards-Driven Classrooms: A Practical Instructional Model for Every Student to Achieve Rigor is a comprehensive guide to how to use the Essentials for Achieving Rigor Model to implement these strategies.

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