Design Thinking & Marzano’s Taxonomy

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This post was originally published on September 16, 2015 at

I’m pretty new to the world of design thinking.  I get most of my inspiration, learning, and support from the #dtk12chat crew on Twitter.  They are my CONNECTION to the world of design thinking, and I encourage any/all educators out there interested in design thinking (from the nubiest of nubes to the Bob Vila’s of the DT world) to connect, collaborate, and engage with this community,  Don’t thank me later… just thank yourself for taking the leap.

This year I’m diving in deep.  Everything I do in terms of curriculum design, professional development, systems organization, instructional strategies, etc. are focused on the principles of design thinking.  There are many ways of doing design thinking… it’s one of the best parts of it.  There’s no right or wrong way… there’s just “way” (if you say that last line as Wayne and Garth, it’ll be worth it).  In keeping with my theme of keeping things SIMPLE this year, I have found that Mary Cantwell‘s DEEP design thinking framework works really well for me.  I like it’s simple, yet explicit construction and use.  It’s broken into four simple stages:


I use this framework all of the time now, because, for me, it just makes sense.  Plus, it’s easy to follow: not just for me (still nube-ish), but for those I work with.

Recently, something happened in my weird brain that makes connections that aren’t always there, obvious, or intentional.  And it blew my mind.

For a long time now, I’ve been deep (ha!) into assessment.  In particular, assessment for learning.  Learning and achievement are different things (achievement = product; learning = process).  My work as a curriculum-instruction-assessment coordinator for AOS #94 has had me consumed with standards-based learning models, proficiency-based diplomas, effective and healthy grading practices, and (in particular) authentic assessment and measurement for learning.  Our district has adopted the Marzano framework for instruction, and I have been working on connecting and aligning our instruction, curriculum, and assessment systems to the Marzano Taxonomy for going on three-years now.   There are six-stages to the Marzano taxonomy (you can see it above in the beginning of this post), but for our K-12 purposes, we primarily focus on the first four-stages:


Sometimes, things get hidden in such plain sight.  And then when you finally see them you think to yourself, “HOW DID I NOT SEE THIS BEFORE?????”

The RETRIEVAL stage of the Marzano taxonomy of cognitive complexity is all about Identifying, Recalling, Recognizing, and Executing in terms of specific information and execution of steps.  Is this not the aligned level of complexity required for the DISCOVER stage in DEEP design thinking?  According to the DEEPdt Playbook, DISCOVER begins with “opening your eyes,” identifying where “the cracks in your environment,” and lots and lots of “preflection.”  In terms of cognitive complexity: these two (DISCOVER – RETRIEVAL) line up directly and explicitly.

Dude.  Sweet.

Well, what about the rest?

COMPREHENSION is all about integrating, symbolizing, and describing.  You can’t fully integrate, symbolize, or describe an issue without the second stage in DEEPdt: EMPATHIZE.  It’s the whole, “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” activity, but this alignment of complexity to process seems pretty blatant.

In the EXPERIMENT phase of DEEPdt, you’d be designing questions around “how might we” (HMW), “what if,” etc.  This aligns with ANALYSIS, where you’d be comparing & contrasting, evaluating, critiquing, generalizing, deducing. and developing arguments.  No product yet… just hypothesis generation.  Trying things out.  Seeing what might work; what might not.

PRODUCE is KNOWLEDGE UTILIZATION.  The ability to take the skills and content of what was learned, and design, create, and make something to address the issue at hand.

So, how might we use this connection in classrooms, schools, and districts?

Scaffolding curriculum based on complexity will support students in achieving deep understanding about the concepts and skills.  Using the DEEPdt process in intentionally designing curriculum based on the levels of complexity will make the scaffolding that much more explicit, direct, and aligned to what matters most: learning.

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