Learning Scales Explained and Freebie

Hello darlings!  Have you been using Learning Goals and Scales in your classroom?  My school district recently adopted the Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model and Learning Goals and Scales were our top priority last year.  I am not an expert by any means, but I wanted to share with you what works for me in my third grade classroom.

You may not have time to read all of this right now, so pin it and come back to it!

Here is a quick glance at the generic Learning Scale that my school uses.

This Student Self-Assessment Learning Scale follows the Marzano Scale of Understanding model.  Students need to be constantly aware of their own level of understanding. 
At the beginning of the year, explain to students that they will be keeping track of what they understand and what they don’t understand. I always explain to my kiddos that each of us have different brains. Our brain will learn and understand things differently than our friends.  Some of us have brains that work fast and some of us have brains that work more slowly.  Our brains might be really good at math and not so great at reading or vice versa.  That is OKAY.  That is GOOD!  We want our brains to be different.  We don’t want to all walk, talk, and be great at the exact same things.  What we do want is for our brains to LEARN!

I always use myself as an example.  I am really good at reading and understanding what I read, but math is a little harder for me.  I have trouble picturing numbers in my head and I have trouble memorizing facts.  I can still do it, but I’m not as good as my friend Jamie.  She is an expert with numbers and her brain can memorize facts really fast.  I don’t compare myself with Jamie, I compare MYSELF to MYSELF! 

You want your students to track growth in their OWN learning.  I use Data Tracking Binders for all of my students.  We use pre-test data, which I remind them will most likely be horrible, and compare it to post-test data. We graph this data and then we can see the growth that was made by each INDIVIDUAL student.   This is where kiddos can see how much growth their brains have made.  They are always so impressed with how much they have learned and it motivates them to work hard.
I hang the Learning Scale at the very front of my classroom right next to my Learning Targets (goals/objectives) and refer to it at least 2 times during each lesson.  Students are constantly rating their understanding of each lesson. 

There are many ways you can monitor understanding….

Keep reading….

Here is a link to my Data Tracking Binders.  

First of all, your students need to know the goals or targets for the lesson.  Make sure to have this visible throughout the lesson and refer back to it often.  Next, you want your students to HONESTLY indicate their level of understanding on the Learning Scale. In order to do this, YOU must establish TRUST in your classroom community.  No kid wants to admit that they don’t understand something, especially if it seems like everyone else gets it. They become so comfortable in my classroom that I can simply say, “If you are a three or a four, go back to your seat and complete this quick check.  If you are a one or a two, stay on the carpet and let’s work together.”  They get to know themselves as learners and genuinely care more about “getting it” than what their classmates think. 

Kiddos have to know that it is OKAY to make mistakes.  When you make a mistake, own it.  Let your kiddos know you are human and even you make mistakes.  I simply say, “Oops!  Everyone makes mistakes!”  Soon my students mirror me and say it when they make a mistake.  You know how they like to repeat everything you say!  Your kiddos need to feel SAFE in front of their peers.  I let them know right up front I do NOT tolerate laughing or making fun of others.  We establish this everyday by holding Class Meetings.

You have been establishing trust between you and your students and between students and their peers.  Now you want to explain what the Learning Scale is, why it is important, and what you do with the information.

I believe in being up front and honest with my kiddos.  If you respect them, they will respect you. I explain that the Learning Scale is simply a way for us to check in with our brains.  We need to ask ourselves if we really understand the lesson and could teach it to someone else, if we understand it and can do it on our own, if we are starting to understand but we still need help, or if we just don’t understand it. 

I tell them that this is important for me as their teacher and for them.  It helps me decide if my lesson is effective or if I need to explain it a different way.  If most of your kids are a 2 or 1 after the lesson, then you missed the mark and need to present the info in a different way.  That’s okay!  As teachers we can have a class one year that has no trouble with regrouping and we can teach it the same way the next year, and it just doesn’t click with that class.  That’s why teachers are humans who are flexible and can adapt.  Teachers are not robots. 
The scale will very easily allow you to monitor your students’ understanding and adjust your teaching to meet their needs.

When I use the Learning Scale with my students for the first time, I want most of them to say that they are at a one or a two.  I want them to all feel comfortable with the lower numbers and to understand that this is NOT a grade!  This is just a special code for us to talk about what they “get” and “don’t get.”  I don’t want my students thinking that a one is bad and a four is good.  That is not what this is about at all.  EVERYONE should be starting off at a one or two for every new lesson you teach.  (Your gifted learners may be at a 3 or 4, but you know them.)

I try to make this really easy by using my dog as an example.  You can use your kids or even your cat.  I start off the lesson with all of my kiddos on the carpet with a dry erase board.  I then ask kiddos to write down everything they know about my dog on their dry erase board.  Since this is the beginning of the year, I have introduced myself and told kiddos that I have a dog named Cullen, and they know he is black from his picture.  But that is it.  I then start asking them questions that I know they cannot answer like, “What kind of food do I feed him?”  “Where does he like to sleep?”  “How old is he?” etc.  Kiddos are now just guessing.

Now I ask them to use the scale to rate their knowledge of Cullen.  Explain the scale and then tell them to hold up the amount of fingers to match their level of knowledge. 
(4) Do they know everything about him and could teach someone else about him?
(3) Do they feel confident that they know a lot about him?
(2) Do they know a little bit about him but need to be told more information?
(1)Do they not really know anything about him?

Most of your kiddos will say they are a two.  For the darlings that “think” they are a 3 or a 4, ask them to prove it by answering some questions.  This is your opportunity to tell your kiddos that a two or a one is EXACTLY where you expect them to be!  Give air high fives to all your kiddos who held up a two or a one.  Make a big deal about it.  You want them to know how proud you are of them for being HONEST and KNOWING themselves as learners!!!! 

Now spend the next few minutes telling your kiddos about your dog.  Have them interact with each other on the carpet.  Ask them to turn and talk to their partner about what they know. 
Use the same scale again.  Have kiddos hold up their fingers to indicate their level of understanding.  Most kiddos will now be at a three.  Three is the GOAL!  In a Marzano Scale, four is really for your gifted learners who present information in a different way.  Sketch a quick graph on the board with the 4,3,2,1 scale on the y axis and First score and Second score on the x axis.  Show kiddos how to graph their scores.  Now have them make a quick sketch on their dry erase boards.  Show them that the difference between these two numbers is their GROWTH.  This will get them ready for Data Tracking!!  

There are many ways you can check where your kiddos are landing on the Learning Scale.  Here are just a few ideas.

Closed Eyes:  Easiest one!  Have students close their eyes and hold up fingers to indicate their place on the scale.

Paper Assignments:  Have kiddos complete an assignment and place a 4,3,2,1 in the top right hand corner and circle it.  This is private and allows you to see if their actual assignment grade matches with what they think is their level of understanding. 

Dry erase boards:  Have students complete problems or answer questions and show you the answer.  They can also write their score on the board in the top right hand corner and circle it.

Flip Card on Rings:  Create a mini flip card ring of the scale for each kiddo to keep with them. They can turn to the correct card.

Bookmark and Mini-Clothespin:  Tape the bookmark scale to each child’s desk. Do not tape the top.  They can use a mini-clothespin or paper clip to indicate where they fall on the scale.

Quick Check:  Create one problem for students to complete.  I just write it on the board and have students complete the problem on an index card.  On the back, they indicate where they are on the scale and explain why.

Turn and Talk:  Have students turn and talk to a partner and tell them their number and explain why they chose that number. 

Four Square: Get them up and moving.  Only use this for lessons you feel won’t have any outliers.  Name each corner of the room a number 1-4.  Have students stand in the corner that corresponds to their level of understanding.

Back to Back: Another good one for movement.  Have kiddos walk around the room silently.  Ring a bell or say a magic word and students must stop and stand back to back with the closest person to them. (no following friends around)  When you say share, they turn around to face the person and tell him or her what level they are on and why.  Ring the bell again and students start walking around.  Repeat a few times.  

Thanks for sticking around!  I know that was a lot to read but I hope it was helpful!

What tips or tricks do you have to monitor student understanding?  Please share an idea or an Ah ha moment!


  1. This is great! My district does not require anything like this, but I can see how it would be beneficial for students. I love how you used your dog as a teaching tool for this activity. I'm sure the kids loved it and really wanted to learn more about Cullen.


  2. Thank you! Yes! They ask about Cullen all the time!


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