Interview: Robert J. Marzano on the Art and Science of Teaching Master's Program

Dr. Robert J. Marzano discusses the Art & Science of Teaching master’s program from the National Institute for Professional Practice, a division of Learning Sciences International.

Please introduce yourself.

I’m Dr. Robert Marzano. I’m executive director of Learning Sciences Marzano Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S.A. and co-founder and CEO of Marzano Research in Denver, Colorado, U.S.A. I’m a speaker, trainer, author, and scientist on topics such as assessment, cognition, effective leadership, implementing standards, and school interventions. My books include The Art and Science of Teaching, Effective Supervision, and the Essentials for Achieving Rigor series.

Do you think it is possible for the professional teacher to learn all 40 items of attention to improve his or her quality as a teacher in one lifetime?

My short answer is yes, and there are actually 41 in total. These 41 items are categories, and each category has a strategy. What we know about expertise is that you have to work for it. The difference between an expert and a novice is that an expert has many of ways of doing things, while the novice only has a few. If you think of chess masters, it is estimated that they have between five and 100,000 strategies. So to be an expert in teaching, you need multiple strategies. I think it is possible to learn these 41 strategies in one lifetime.

That is also the background of The Art and Science of Teaching that you would like to create, a certain sense of science as a teacher. However, many teachers all over the world say that they don’t see certain consequences from science. Do you recognize that?

Well, the book The Art and Science of Teaching was named very intentionally because there is a certain science to the teaching profession. There are certain strategies that we know of that work in general. The art part is, how to put these strategies together. I think every teacher should have strategies within each of the 41 categories, but how you put them together—how you mix them with your own personality, with your content, with the grade level that you are teaching, your intentions—that is the art part. So it makes perfect sense that there is an art part and a science part to teaching. If we only considered teaching as an art, then teachers would be making up what they consider to be good teaching. It would be as if we had never learned over the past couple of decades what good teaching is. We have a pretty decent history that demonstrates positive results.

You developed a master’s degree for teachers, The Art and Science of Teaching. Could you tell us a little bit about the background of the program?

I wanted to create this master’s program because in the U.S., while people are getting their certification at university, they learn many different ideas about what good teaching is, but without a focus. There are benefits to this, but teaching is procedural – there are skills that need developing. For that, you need a unified whole, and you need it for an extended period of time. So my master’s program is designed not only to show that learners understand the content, but that they can execute it in the classroom. That is the unique part.

What would the ideal target group be for the master?

Well, first of all, classroom teachers who want to increase their expertise and go as far as they can. The program is designed in such away that learners must have students with whom they can practice the skills and strategies. Teachers in the beginning of their careers are well-suited for this program. Not necessarily first-year teachers, but those who say Okay, I have a general idea what is going on, I want to get really good at this. In addition, there are many teachers with 20 to 25 years of experience who say that they learn new things in the program. So all educators are welcome.

So, if I’m a French teacher and have 10 years of experience and my drive is to improve my teaching skills, then I would follow the The Art & Science of Teaching master’s program?

Yes, it is very much like that. The model will cause teachers to re-examine the content because it is very much based on what we know about how people learn, the nature of knowledge. One of the problems with teaching simply as an art is that being an expert in a subject area doesn’t necessarily help someone teach students who aren’t experts. Through the program, teachers will learn how a strategy works well with one student, but a different strategy works better with other students. It is designed to shake things up and really understand how we look at the content and, therefore, teaching.

A little while ago, John Hattie came out with his list of 200 things to do and not to do. So it is like a recipe for success. What is your opinion about this?

What he has identified are really broad categories. A lot of those deal with things that are outside a teacher’s control. The ones that are within a teacher’s control still must be organized. There is a variable called microteaching. Microteaching means that you focus on a very specific skill, and you work on that skill until you get better. The Art and Science of Teaching is very much about microteaching.

As we look at the next phase of teaching, do you think it is possible that though much of teaching will be done with electronics, the quality process will still be done by teachers?

Yes. In the U.S., we use the term computer-based education, which means that students move at their own pace through content and that they could learn content and be assessed on content at any time. This means that they have access to the content, the assessments, and the embellishments virtually. Some people say that we can totally replace the classroom teacher, but that is not the case. You can replace the new presentation of content—why would a teacher need to design new lessons where 8% of the content should be about fractions? This could be done virtually with dynamics examples. However, there is still a need for the teacher—for that personal connection—but also to help develop knowledge. Instead of the expectation that the teacher has to do everything, there are certain parts to the process that can be done virtually. We call that blended learning. For example, a teacher would say Okay let’s learn about fractions today. Let’s look at what this video has to say. In this way, the teacher can interact with the students again.

There is a discussion in many countries about how busy teachers are—that teachers can’t prepare themselves enough to give the right lesson. Is that something you recognize?

There are two parts to this. One part is that there are counties like Finland or Singapore that have a lot more time for preparation, and their teaching quality is very good. But this is something that will never happen in the U.S. Teachers will not be allowed to allocate 40% of their time to prepare lessons. The second part is the solution. Taking the presentation of the new content out of the hands of the classroom teachers allows teachers to interact with students on a human level. So they can be experts in helping students become a little bit better on expanding their knowledge. This expansion of knowledge requires person-to-person interaction. I believe the problem will be partially solved by blended learning.

Last question. What will it look like in the upcoming years for the Art and Science of Teaching? Many teachers will have the Art & Science of Teaching master’s degree, What will that mean?

Going through the program will, by definition, make someone a better teacher because the teacher must demonstrate confidence in the classroom and be able to implement the strategies. The program is not only about learning the materials; teachers also need to practice the strategies in their classes. This is part of the program. What I’m trying to stir is a network of teachers who share classroom examples. They could record their practice and show a short video of 30 seconds to two minutes, while they demonstrate one specific strategy. I envision a free network—a sort of YouTube channel—where teachers could upload their examples. When you read about a strategy and try if for yourself, it is one thing, but when you watch other people do it, you see a slightly different version and get an idea how you could alter it.

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