Marzano’s excellent new column in Ed. Leadership again hits the mark with an excellent, succinct take on how to ensure students “process information that is essential to understanding specific content.”     Five avenues are indicated by the research as important: Chunking, Scaffolding, Interacting, Pacing, and Monitoring.

The two which interest me the most are chunking and interacting.     In my own observations in over 100 classrooms at more than 20 schools last fall,  it was very clear that longer lectures are less effective, and that breaking things up will create better comprehension and lead to better memorization.    Marzano says about chunking:

Chunking means presenting new information in small, digestible bites. This requires carefully examining the manner in which students will experience new content. If the teacher intends to present content in the form of a lecture, he or she needs to determine the crucial points at which to pause so students can interact with one another about the new information.

Some research says that going even longer than ten minutes without chunking will result in students losing comprehension and retention.

But what to do when you break up lectures, discussions, videos?  Interaction, Marzano and I say. Students need to work it, need to process it, need to discuss and debate.      I like, too, his suggestion we look at ways to use contemporary digital tools to facilitate greater interaction.

Interacting refers to how students process the information in each chunk. One common way to facilitate processing is to organize students in groups and ask each group to summarize the content in the chunk, identify what was confusing, try to clear up the confusion, and predict what information might be found in the next chunk.

It’s important that as many students as possible respond. Teachers can increase the response rate to questions in several ways. One technique, response chaining, involves having students respond to the answers of other students. Students can agree with, disagree with, or add to a response. Another technique is to use the voting technologies that frequently come with interactive white boards. These allow students to electronically cast their vote regarding the correct answer to a question. Their responses are immediately displayed on a pie chart or bar graph, enabling teacher and students to discuss the different perceptions of the correct answer. If voting technologies are not available, students can record their responses on inexpensive slates.

Marzano cites additional research elaborating upon interacting:

A necessary component of interacting is keeping the student response rate high. By the time a class period ends, all students should have responded to multiple questions or been asked to explain their summaries of the content. Students should discuss all answers and summaries as opposed to just moving on in response to a correct answer.

What I love about this is the connection it has to the value of smaller classes.  For students to learn, they need to be responding and interacting frequently, and teachers need to be monitoring for understanding. Simply put, a class size of 14 will be dramatically better able to provide this than a class of 24 or 34.

Chunk and Interact, or, in other words, provide regular, frequent, processing of learning in classtime!