What is Deeper Learning?
Deeper learning is learning that results from the intentional interaction of rigorous, standards-aligned content with the 21st Century important skills of critical thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration, communication and self-direction with the result that students are able to transfer what and how they learn inside the classroom and outside its walls.
First, the outcomes assessed are different from those surface, recall outcomes predominant on current standardized tests. In addition to assessing of content, deeper learning gives a least equal weight to assessment of 21st Century outcomes including the ability of students to transfer these skills into practice.
Second, instruction for deeper learning contrasts with traditional fact-centered instruction prevalent in NCLB compliant classrooms. Time is given to develop the complex learning skills, to their explicit practice in course content, and to their transfer. Basic skills are not ignored; they are put in their proportionate place so that at least 80% of instructional time is given to helping students attain deeper learning outcomes.
What do teachers do differently?
- With evolutionary changes, teachers increase the amount of time for preparing students to think and problem solve. They may add explicit instruction that balances the thinking element of the Common Core standards or they may expand their integration of instructional strategies such as cooperative learning, graphic organizers, inquiry, problem solving, investigations and hypothetical thinking into daily lessons. They may also take advantage of the increasing number of off-line (e.g. Singapore Math) or on-line programs (e.g. PHET, Smithsonian Institute, KHAN) which highlight problem solving as the predominant learning tool. The more time teachers allot to such instruction and its assessment, the more they will add to students’ deeper learning outcomes.
- With revolutionary changes, teachers switch their instruction to a different model such as project-based learning (e.g. MindQuest21) or problem-based learning laced with technology or to the direct instruction of thinking skills (Instrumental Enrichment). These models emphasize the continuous high engagement of students’ minds not only in sharpening important thinking and problem solving skills, but also in challenging all students to transfer these skills into practice. With revolutionary changes, the curriculum can remain the same; the method of instruction becomes more rigorous and powerful in producing deeper learning outcomes.
- In both cases, it is important to note that deeper learning assessment must drive the instructional choices. With deeper learning outcomes, cosmetic use of the above strategies or models of instruction will accomplish little when that instruction fails to include the pre-requisite attention to 21st Century skill development which deeper learning requires.
How do teachers develop their skills for driving and assessing deeper learning outcomes?
First, they learn from doing just as their students must. Whether learning how to teach thinking in the common core, cooperative learning, hypothesizing or the more impactful models such as project-based learning, it is essential that teachers experience and assess the deeper learning process as they put their new skills into practice.
- Second, as the professional literature indicates, teachers will have the greatest chance of transfer success, if they work in a supportive professional learning community that focuses on deeper learning “practice”. Illinois 21’s implementation models include a heavy emphasis on the creation of communities of practice which allot time and resources for teachers to collaborate in the transfer of new or improved deeper learning skills to the classroom.