We talk about the concept of Deeper Learning, but bringing it down to a concrete level of what it actually looks like in the classroom is the task that is bestowed upon us as educators. I do not think there is a one answer approach or one set of specific things that will bring you to this place of Deeper Learning. When we take strides to make learning personalized in our schools, it should look different from school to school because each school has a unique culture and community it serves. I believe Deeper Learning manifests itself in classrooms and schools in different ways depending on the existing culture.
First, let's define Deeper Learning for the purpose of this post. According to Martinez and McGrath in their book, Deeper Learning, (2014), “Deeper Learning is the process of preparing and empowering students to master essential academic content, think critically and solve complex problems, work collaboratively, communicate effectively, have an academic mindset, and, be self-directed in their education (pg. 3).” Really we are talking about empowering students and giving them the tools to take charge of their education. When we look at the list used to describe deeper learning; students mastering essential content, thinking critically or solving complex problems I can personally pinpoint areas in my instruction where I do that, but the question for me is are my students empowered through them?
We can have these attributes present in our classroom, but still not have empowered students. It is only when we release our control over these areas that our student's empowerment will come through, and they will take these skills and run with them. As George Couros says in his book Innovator’s Mindset (2015), “By empowering them [students] I’d unleash my student’s potential and allow them to explore and make meaningful connections to the content to deepen their learning (pg. 99).” So how do we do it? How do we release our students’ potential and empower them to take their learning deeper?
First, we must invite student choice into the classroom. By engaging students in meaningful choice opportunities, we invite them into the educational process. It’s the first step towards education not being something that happens to students, but something they have a voice in. Choice can be integrated into the classroom in different ways; choice in technology, choice in subject, or choice in research. However, to initiate change, it is important to start having conversations with your students about what they want to learn. You can simply ask, “What is it that you would like to study?” “What are you passionate about?”
Now, these questions can open up a big can of worms, but as an educator, you have to be flexible in your ability to answer their questions. This is where the next shift happens in your classroom; it is about your teacher mindset. Do you think of yourself as a History teacher, Science teacher, or English teacher? In order to support the work of asking your students, 'What is it that you would like to study?' we need to begin thinking cross-curricular with our lessons.
Coming from an elementary background sometimes my mind goes here naturally because I did have the opportunity to teach all subjects and I can see in my head how they can support one another in the classroom. This is harder as I have moved to a secondary world and even more distant in the post-secondary world. But, taking some time to intentionally reflect on your cross-curricular mindset is a step towards supporting Deeper Learning in the classroom.
Here are some quick things you can try in your classroom this week to start shifting towards incorporating Deeper Learning practices:
Establish a 5 Minute reflection routine at the end of every class or before you switch to a new lesson. Ask students to reflect on their academic mindset (take some time to define what that is) and how they’ve exercised it during the last lesson. What did they learn? How did their effort impact their learning?
- Engage students in a Socratic Seminar on a recent topic. Have your outer circle engage in a discussion using a back channel chatting system like Padlet Back Channel. Require the outer circle to post questions that will extend the discussion that is occurring in the inner circle. If you have an issue with getting students to talk more or less, incorporate the use of talking chips to require or limit the times they need to participate. The more you integrate a practice like this into our classroom routine the more discussion will occur each time. So, press through the first few times as you and your students adjust to a new format.
And here is one really big challenge:
Start your next class or unit of study off with an opening day where you ask students what it is they want to learn from this class. You may need to provide them with some material to get their juices flowing on the topic. Then use your knowledge of your class to interweave student’s passions and desires for learning with the required course content. Use student interests and your expertise to build the syllabus.
When we push ourselves out of our comfort zone, the real fun beings.
Martinez, M.R. & McGrath, D. (2014). Deeper learning: How eight innovative public schools are transofrming education in the twenty-first century. New York: The New Press.
Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset: Empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity. San Diego: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.