When I was a boy, I spent several weeks each summer on my relative’s farm. Chores were included. One summer, my uncle declared, “This summer we’re digging a new well. You’re welcome to join in!” We dug and dug through rock, stone and sand. At last, we found mud and water 26 feet below the surface. “Now, doesn’t this water make all that deep digging worthwhile?” my uncle asked. “That water is going to make out life a whole lot better in many ways,” he smiled. “And, don’t forget what you learned about digging deep in hot weather.”
Deeper Learning Descriptions
Digging a well is like digging for deeper understanding in the classroom. When you Google “deeper learning”, you will find a variety of explanations for what it is and how to do it. The Hewlett Foundation comes closest to a definition with its description of Deeper Learning attributes. You will also find a list of 10 national networks with a mix of 500 public and charter schools committed to deeper learning practices. Other organizations highlight programs and materials which help with the dig or research.
An Outcomes Definition
Unlike others who highlight theory, practices, and programs, we start and end our definition with outcomes. In the outcome light, we add attributes which separate deeper learning from surface learning. As on the farm where a good topsoil has its value, digging deeper for water gets us to the life-sustaining water needed for the farm to prosper.
“Deeper learning is an outcome which results from the intentional development of students’ learning how to transfer the essential learning-to-learn skill sets of critical thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration, communication, cultural respect, agency, and digital deciding to further deepen the understanding of core content knowledge.”
The completed transfer of the five essential skill sets for constructing deeper understandings is the heart and soul of 21st Century teaching and learning for deeper outcomes. The on-going, intentional development of these competencies leading to the deeper learning outcomes provide the keys to each student’s readiness for making life-long decisions as a successful deeper learner. In a century when torrents of data threaten to drown all, it is essential to spotlight these outcomes as the priority in any curriculum.
As students develop the competencies (the small circles) through instruction meant to facilitate deeper outcomes, teachers help students become knowledgeable and effective problem solvers, finding answers to serious problems faced by all in their everyday lives. The final proof of the deeper learning’s worth is found in the assessment of its outcomes. These must not only show what students know, but also what they can do with their ever-deepening knowledge and ability to solve new, tougher problems as they transfer that “how to” knowledge.
Deeper Learning: What It’s Not!
Understanding what deeper learning is not helps us understand what it is. The “is not” list is easy to see or hear in any traditional classroom. grade. Remember these examples.
- Grade 1: The Alphabet
- Grade 4: The Multiplication Table
- Grade 6: Read “Casey at the Bat” aloud
- Grade 7: Name 5 Egyptian Monuments
- Grade 9: Name parts of a cell
- Grade 11: Recite “To Be or Not to Be”
- Grade 12: Match each trig definition
In addition, maybe you can also remember some of the “how-to-remember tricks”. You might have picked up in your pursuit to do well in school.
- Repeating a list aloud
- Homework practice
- Note taking and recopying
- Underlining key words
- Memory Trees
- Sequence Charts
- Cheat sheets
- Daily worksheets followed by review worksheets
- Repeat the whole grade.
All of these practices promote shallow or surface learning. They never get to the aquifer running deep below the topsoil. The best memorizers in a classroom can recall the important facts and procedures in a lesson. They get the best grades. Good memories. Fast speed. Practice hard. Good grades. Best class ranks.
Assessment Drives Instruction
In today’s classrooms, assessment drives instruction. Thus, it is important for us to start and end with deeper learning outcomes in any lesson or unit plan we teach. With ‘deeper’, we shine the light on the competencies which enable students to better understand the real-world problems they choose to address. In this way we are asserting the pre-eminence of life-long learning competencies.
Our students don’t need to recall facts as the be all and end of all of their short time in school. There are more than enough facts in our heads and in the cloud to solve 99% of the world’s problems. If we want to highlight what is most important to learn in today’s information tsunami, we have little choice but to follow the evidence and spotlight deeper learning outcomes.