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A Different Kind of Classroom:
Teaching with Dimensions of Learning

by Robert Marzano

Article by Karen Boylan

      In the changing environment of education, making the shift from teaching to learning is essential. As an eighth-grade social studies teacher concerned with ensuring student learning in my classroom, I knew that I needed help. Basically I wanted answers to three questions: If I were to make a true shift from teaching to learning, what would student learning look like? If I truly wanted a classroom focused on student learning, how would I effectively analyze student work to inform my practice? And lastly, how do I design lessons that would enable students to make meaningful connections to other subjects, to the “real” world, and to their lives? I was in the pursuit of answers to these questions when I came across A Different Kind of Classroom by Robert Marzano which was on the shelf of our middle school professional development library. The title intrigued me because I knew that what I wanted and needed was different from the training I had when I was in college twenty years ago.

This book provides a framework for organizing curriculum, instruction, and assessment. The first chapter of the book, “Learning-Centered Instruction: An Idea Whose Time Has Come,” establishes the need to rethink the relationship between the teaching and learning processes. From that point, each chapter in the book describes a “dimension,” the thinking involved in that particular dimension, specific tools, classroom scenarios, and activities to facilitate the particular thinking necessary for effective application of the dimension featured.
Although there are five Dimensions of Learning, they all interact and classroom instruction must promote these five types of thinking.

Dimension One, Positive Attitudes and Perceptions about Learning, defines two categories of attitudes and perceptions that affect learning, the first being attitudes and perceptions about the learning climate and the second being the attitudes and perceptions about classroom tasks.

Dimension Two, Acquiring and Integrating Knowledge, divides knowledge into two categories: declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge. The distinction between these two types of knowledge is found in the definition of standards, what students should know and be able to do. Declarative knowledge is the “knowing,” and procedural knowledge is the “being able to do.”

Dimension Three, Extending and Refining Knowledge, defines a set of eight cognitive operations that are particularly suited for extending and refining knowledge. They are comparing, classifying, inducing, deducing, analyzing errors, constructing support, abstracting, and analyzing perspectives.

Dimension Four, Using Knowledge Meaningfully, presents five common ways we use knowledge meaningfully. These are decision-making, investigation, experimental inquiry, problem-solving, and invention.

Dimension Five, Productive Habits of Mind, explains three “dispositions of mind”: self-regulated thinking and learning, critical thinking and learning, and creative thinking and learning. It was through the study of this research-based framework that I was able to answer my three initial questions. Because the framework defines specific steps for the teaching of thinking processes, I was able to identify student learning. Through the suggested activities in the book, student thinking became visible. Now I could look at student work and see patterns and misconceptions. It was through classroom use of the thinking processes that the connections I had previously wanted to make began to emerge.

Book Details

Paperback: 191 pages ;
Dimensions (in inches):
0.61 x 9.00 x 6.07
Publisher: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development; (June 1992)
ISBN: 0871201925

Last year, I accepted a curriculum position, and I encourage the teachers with whom I work to involve Dimensions of Learning in their classrooms. The Dimensions of Learning program has a variety of components including a trainer’s manual and a teacher’s manual. Currently, I am working with groups of teachers in study teams to learn the dimensions, apply them in the classroom, and share classroom experiences with the use of the dimensions. We are working together to make student learning the focus of our classrooms and school.

Karen Boylan is the Curriuculum Director for the Highland Local School District

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