Lesson Planning and Marzano’s Nine Strategies

Version 2Context is everything. There’s a saying, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Too often in education, we take a little morsel of knowledge, perhaps acquired at a conference or hastily gleaned from an article or book, and then force it into  a position of exclusivity and prominence that assures success will not prevail. I have observed that such is the case in a growing number of schools where teachers are being required to include some or even all of Marzano’s “nine effective instructional strategies” in their lesson plans. Such a requirement demonstrates a misunderstanding of the utility and intent of the strategies. Experienced educators know that no single strategy works successfully with every child or class, and that it is highly improbable that a complete set of 9 strategies would ever be appropriate for any single lesson plan. Marzano himself has said as much in response to that very requirement (Marzano, 2009). Specifically, Marzano wrote that, “The entire constellation of strategies is necessary for a complete view of effective teaching. Unfortunately, in some schools and districts, this message was lost. This happens quite frequently with the strategies listed in Classroom Instruction That Works.” The book he refers to contains the 9 strategies (Marzano, R. J., Marzano, J. S., & Pickering, D. (2001). The publication of these strategies does not change the fact that effective teachers select strategies according to goals, objectives, and student needs, and that successful teaching demands a flexible and customized approach to selecting those strategies, not a hard and fast requirement that certain strategies be used regardless of student needs. On the other hand, it is certainly true that some strategy or two from the nine will be effective in some music lessons, and should be considered and implemented in music lesson plans. With this flexible approach in mind, I will now discuss how the nine strategies might be applied to music lessons.

Because these strategies are to be used on an as needed basis, they are not presented here in any hierarchical or ranked order. That said, the first is “identifying similarities and differences.” Distinguishing same-different is a fundamental concept. Music teachers teach aural discrimination when they present two tonal or rhythm patterns and ask the students to determine if they are the same or different. Students then can be asked to echo the pattern they have just heard, or to improvise a pattern that is different from the one they have just heard. All of these activities involve identifying similarities and differences. The study of musical form also is well served by this strategy; indeed, perceiving musical form is essentially identifying the use of repetition and variety over time in a musical work. Recognizing that a work is a rondo, for example, requires the listener to know when new material is heard, and when previously material is heard. The alteration of same and different sections of music create the abaca from of an 18th century rondo. In the performance area, singing or playing an instrument in tune also exercises same-different perception. In order to produce a tone that is in tune, one must hear that one’s tone is different from another, and then adjust until they are the same. In order to practice efficiently, students who recognize that a passage is the same as one they have already learned do not spend additional time practicing that passage again, as if it was new. Instead, they can direct their attention to another section containing passages that are different from any others encountered up to that point.

A second strategy is “reinforcing effort and providing recognition.” I have found that this is extremely important with lower achieving students who have become discouraged and see title point in continuing to put forth effort. Demonstrating to these students that their progress is tied to their effort can be a great encouragement, and spur them on to extending their attempts. Students must see that effort effects achievement. Frequent formative assessments of short-range goals can be used to show students exactly what their effort has gained for them. It never ceases to be a joy for me to successfully lead a student through a difficult task that they were unable to complete on their own, and then to point out that if they could make that much progress in five minutes, think of what they could accomplish is they continued working at it for another week, or even for the rest of that class period. Success breeds success, and effort directed wisely and efficiently under the guidance of an effective teacher, leads to success. If a student has been well trained in effective practice techniques, a practice record such as those used by many band teachers, can be successfully used to show students the connection between effort and achievement. When values for minutes practiced increase or at sustained high levels and correlate with improved or sustained high levels of achievement, the practice record is a useful tool in making that effort-achievement connection apparent and clear to the student.

A third strategy is “setting objectives and providing feedback.” Edwin Cole famously said “If you aim for nothing you have already hit it.” Too many students spend too much time doing things their teachers have required them to do without knowing why they are doing it or what they are trying to ultimately accomplish. People are naturally purpose driven. We don’t like to wander about not knowing where we’re going. That might be okay for a Sunday drive in the summertime, but it is definitely not alright for a way of living or of learning. We need to direct our actions to a purpose that is desirable and meaningful. Students who are simply good at playing school can get great grades on


Robert Marzano

report cards, but graduate with very little understanding. Music students who are told to play softer, not to rush, or not to play notes so short are capable of meticulously executing the director’s wishes without ever learning why they were asked to do these things within the context of creating an interpretation of a musical work. Compliance is not the same as understanding. Having a goal allows students to learn from the process of practicing, problem solving, and performance, because they know what they are trying to achieve from practicing, which problems need to be solved in order to move the process forward, and how to move through the process in order to arrive at a performance that is ready to present to an audience.

The last of the 9 strategies that I will discuss here is “questions, cues, and advance organizers.” Teachers sometimes make it too easy for students. Gone are the days when teachers dispensed knowledge, treating students like sponges or containers into which that knowledge simply needed to be poured. That kind of teaching produced students who were full of knowledge with little or no idea of what to do with it. Students need to solve problems, discover or construct knowledge, and apply what they learn to authentic situations in order to gain understanding. Questions, cues and organizers are used to help students access prior learning, and to use that learning to make sense of and put to use new learning. Teachers need to hold students responsible for using prior learning to accomplish the task at hand, and to plan lessons that use instructional methods that draw that prior learning out without delivering it “on a silver platter.” To students who have performed recital literature before, the teacher might say, “I notice you are having some trouble learning this part of your piece. You had a similar difficulty when you were learning the beginning of the Mozart flute concerto. How did you overcome the trouble you were having then? What practice methods did you use to learn that piece so well?” This line of questioning is getting at a sort of metacognitive awareness, but it could easily be along the lines of other types of learning. “This solo is by Quantz, who was a contemporary of J.S. Bach. What did you learn about playing ornaments from studying Bach that you could use in this piece also?”

I have only discussed three of the nine effective strategies. Notice that in each case, I have linked a specific strategy to a specific situation. This is how these strategies are intended to be used. Knowing these strategies and utilizing them at situationally advantageous times is a powerful tool among a host of others that teachers have at their disposal.

Marzano, R. J., Marzano, J. S., & Pickering, D. (2001). Classroom management that works: Research-based strategies for every teacher. Alexandria: ASCD.

Marzano, R. (2009). Setting the record straight on “high-yield” strategies, Phi Delta Kappa91(9), 30-37.

Working from an Objective to a Lesson Plan

Version 2Let’s say you want your children to pass an object in time to the beat around a circle while chanting a rhyme to that beat with the correct rhythms. There are several competencies enfolded into that one objective. You want your children to be able to pass an object around a circle, you want them to pass on a beat and receive on a beat, you want them to chant rhythms accurately, and you want them to keep a steady beat with their chanting, and you want them to keep a steady beat with their movements. The fact is, playing a “simple” object passing game is not so simple after all. Let’s break this activity down into a sequence of learning activities that will prepare those children to succeed at playing the game.

First, we need a rhyme.

round and round

Just a side note for this is that when I play games that exclude a player, I always give them something to do once they are tagged “out.” For this game, I would have them leave the circle and take up a rhythm instrument to play either the beat or the rhythm while the circle continued to chant and play the game. Now back to our lesson plan.

There are two rhythm patterns in this chant; three quarter notes followed by a quarter rest, and four quarter notes. The first thing to do is to get all the children keeping a steady beat. I don’t want them making sounds at this point, because I want them to be able to focus on hearing me chant to them and hearing themselves chant back to me. So I will have them do a silent time keeping movement. Tapping the back of their left hand with the fingertips of their right hand works well. With the children doing this beat in this way, I will have them listen to me chant one of the patterns on a neutral syllable, and then have them repeat back to me what they just heard me do. Bum, bum, bum, — . They repeat, bum, bum, bum — . I would do this pattern at least twice, with everyone chanting together. Then I would do the other pattern. Bum, bum, bum, bum. They repeat, bum, bum, bum, bum. Again I would do this at least twice with everyone chanting together, then doing sometimes one pattern, other times the other pattern. Finally, for this step, I would have individual children chant one or the other pattern, still repeating it after me. Remember, all the time, the children are tapping the back of their left hand with the fingertips of their right hand.

By using a neutral syllable, I have helped the children focus on the rhythm without beingSelf-Image distracted by the words. Now that they have learned the rhythm, I would now replace the neutral syllables with the words of the chant. I am not using rhythm syllables here because I don’t want the children to associate the rhythms with both syllables and lyrics in a new song all at once. Today, I need them to play the game with the words. Another time, I will introduce the rhythm syllables to replace the neutral syllables, and then go back to the words, which by then will be familiar, to play the game again.

So now the children are chanting the rhyme and tapping the beat. The next thing we need them to do is to pass an object on the beat; that is, to pass an object at the same time they are presently tapping. This can be a challenge, especially for PK and K students, so some readiness may be necessary. They already have their left hands held out in front of them for tapping with their right fingertips. Now they are going to right tap the left hand of the child to their right on one beat, and return their right hand to tap their own left hand on the next beat. I call this passing a beat. To practice this, the children temporarily leave off chanting the rhyme and instead chant “pass, own.” “Pass” refers to their neighbor’s hand, while “own” refers to their own left hand. This is the motion they will use to pass the object. When they can do “pass-own” well, have them start passing an actual object. They will continue to do “pass-own” throughout, but when the object comes to them, they will using the “pass-own” motion to actually pass the object.

Finally, have them continue to do the “pass-own” motion and to pass the object when it comes to them, but now they will chant the words of the rhyme instead of saying “pass-own.” Another teacher has had success assigning each student a number. The children count out loud from one through whatever number is assigned to the last child. The children are to pass the object to the friend whose number is being chanted when it is chanted. If this method is used, then the children only count on the “pass” motion and never on the “own” motion.

With younger children, you will need to repeat the readiness activity described above, though more briefly than at first, before playing the game outright. Eventually, the class will be able to sit in a circle and play the game straight away. At that point, it probably becomes a favorite activity, and so is best placed at the beginning or the end of the lesson. Because it was brand new in our hypothetical lesson, I would have placed it in the middle of the lesson, making it the most “meaty” segment of the class. Once the song is familiar, and the children can sing it without assistance, and play the game with no review, then it can be used outside the game for the literacy segment of the lesson plan, which is what I referred to as “meaty” above, the middle segment.

This middle segment is where I would start to use the rhythm syllables instead of neutral syllables. I would follow Feierabend’s Conversational Solfege procedure. The first step, teach by rote with a neutral syllable, as was done above. Next, teach the same material by rote with rhythm syllables. This might be during the same class, but often will be at a subsequent meeting. After that, have students decode; you sing the rhythm patterns in neutral syllables, and they sing the same patterns back to you in rhythm syllables. Again, decoding would not be done the same day they learn the syllables for the first time. I always wait until they have gained proficiency at one step before moving on to the next with a particular song or chant.

When the children can decode, it demonstrates that they have succeeded in associating the sounds of chanted rhythms with the names of each sound within the rhythms. Once they have decoded, then they can read what they have decoded. You chant, then they chant, while you point to the notated rhythms on the board. Now they are associating the melded sounds/names with the visual notation. After that, the students will be able to read the rhythms with rhythm syllables off the board without you having to chant it to them first. Do this with familiar songs and chants first, then with unfamiliar songs and chants to see if they can generalize what they have learned to new material. This is all done in the middle segment of your lesson plan, though not all in the same lesson.

The final third of the lesson returns to something lighter and something the children enjoy doing. I like to do my response to listening here. I use music they enjoy, and give them specific things to listen for and respond to. For example, I might ask them to tell me how the composer used timbre to create the image of water fountains (Respighi’s Fountains of Rome) or how what effect was created by changes in dynamics in Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro. Or, I might play two popular songs, and ask them to name one thing in each that interested them and give one reason why. Or, I might play something twice, once to gather ideas and the second to create movement for expression, or for form. So the overall form of my lesson are hands-on music-making, music literacy, responding/connecting.