Six Steps To Deeper Learning Outcomes

“To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear idea of your destination. It means to know where you are going so that you better understand where you are now so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.”

Steven Covey. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. 1989 98

 

 

Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe moved Covey’s “end in mind” concept to the list of best practices in educational planning.  Whenever we plan to immerse our students into deeper learning, we call on backwards planning design. It’s the end that counts.

 

Here are the six steps we call on when we engage in backward planning for deeper learning outcomes.                   

 

  1. Target a Deeper Learning Competency as a Course Outcome

 

In most ELA and math standards, a critical thinking skill such as analyze or distinguish initiates what students must learn to do. For instance, a Massachusetts standard reads “Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of a text relate to each other and the whole.” (Massachusetts, College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard.)

 

By spotlighting the key verb in a standard, we target this skill as a valued competency to develop and as a deeper learning outcome to achieve. By changing a thinking verb such as analyze into an outcome, we signal what is most important for us to teach and for students to learn. This make the critical thinking skill one of the largest contributors to the student’s semester grade. That grade may also include other critical thinking and creative thinking applied within key texts read during the semester.

 

  1. Introduce the Competency with Benchmarks 

 

Benchmarks on a rubric guide students’ as they are learning how to perform that skill. For instance, benchmarks to follow as students are learning to analyze Martin L. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” might include:

 

  • Identify the audience for this speech.
  • Identify the main reason for this speech.
  • Identify the most important idea for this speech.
  • Identify five points Dr. King made.
  • Identify Dr. King’s feeling tone.

 

These marks help our students know what to look for, or the parts to identify in a text analysis. After several experiences with different texts, not only should our students be able to pick out the parts (e.g. audience, reason, idea, etc.) they are identifying, but also, they should be ready to transfer this know-how to future text analyses without our reminder. Note that we place the emphasis on the competency analysis and not on the specific text by King. The same emphasis applies when our students are learning to analyze a life cycle in science, a physical location in geography or an artist’s style.

 

  1. Set Up a Master Rubric for the Competency

 

With this step, we outline the steps which will guide students as they develop the competency.  For instance, we may create a rubric to show them how to analyze that critical thinking skill and how they can become more skillful of confident applying the skill no matter what material they are asked to analyze.

 

As with #2 above, we identify the benchmarks that will lead to assessing our targeted critical thinking skill as a desired outcome. Our goal is to provide multiple chances in a semester for students to develop proficiency with the skill. Proficiency grows confidence and competence in the skills transfer across our curriculum and into others as well.

 

Benchmarks for a deeper learning competency such as analysis will guide progress from introduction of the rubric through several formative assessments to the final assessment. For instance with analysis, the assessment will indicate “to what degree” the student can

 

  • Identify what are the parts of the analysis to consider when analyzing the text?
  • Draw a conclusion about the author’s meaning based on evidence provided in each part?.
  • Explain how each part contributes to the author’s feeling tone?
  • Explain why both meaning and feeling tone are important in a text analysis?
  • Construct a definition of “analysis” based on what it is important for a reader to consider.
  • Can provide examples of how to analyze a text?

 

  1. Schedule the times when students will assess the skill

 

This step is an easy entry on our semester pacing schedule. There are three-five stops on the path.

 

  • At the semester’s start, we allot 15-20 minutes to walk through our guiding rubric. Students read the rubric in pairs and form questions. We discuss the questions and check for understanding. Students are invited to store the rubric in their portfolios for quick access when close reading text.
  • Formative Assessments. We schedule assessment stops through the semester. We guide students to assess their critical thinking rubric with an emphasis on deciding what they need to do to improve.
  • Summative Assessment comes at the end of the year. After review of the rubric, we provide one or two texts that they will analyses.

 

  1. Open multiple feedback windows to promote self-assessment

 

 So that students are challenged to focus on the deeper learning competency we want them to develop, or which they may select in a personalized learning agreement, it is important that we break any bond they may have to “being graded” by the teacher. As a motivator of achievement, evidence tells us that grades are near the bottom of the effectiveness list. Feedback (Hattie) near the top.

 

From the first day of a semester, we want to students to high expectations. Included is our expectation they must learn to evaluate their own work. When we introduce them to the selected competency outcome with our rubric, we show them how they will use the rubric to weigh each of the benchmarks with our feedback and perhaps their peers’. Early in a semester we start assessment with our feedback and peer feedback. Later, we delay our feedback, so they can do their own self-assessment and then see what we have to say. Grades are kept out of any discussion so that students can focus on hearing their own voices.

 

  1. Enrich the new competency through reflection

 

By initiating a look back on what and how well they succeeded in developing the competency, you deepen their understanding of the skill and encourage its transfer by devoting one class period at the end of the semester to structure reflection.  This final reflection will help your students help your students tell the difference between means and ends, t value of self-assessment and become more meta-cognitive so they can transfer what they have learned about the target skill into in and out of school situations.

 

Competency and Confidence

 

When students walk out the door at a semester’s end, our aim is for each to be competent with the deeper learning skill we have targeted. As students develop the competence and confidence with these skills, we see the evidence in their performance. Their competence shows in their ability to transfer a skill such as analysis into increasingly difficult material. Their confidence shows in their willingness to self-select ever more rigorous situations in which to apply the skill.

 

Wad-Ja-Learn? Assessing Deeper Learning

In the current school accountability climate, we all want to know how well our students are doing. “Wad-ja Get?” That’s the question from parents, teachers, board members and the students. In these times, the question can be translated to means “what the standardized test scores are?” and “what are your grades?”.  However, by just looking at numbers, we are getting only a flat snapshot that tell us little about what students have learned.

Beyond test scores and report card grades, the better question to ask maybe “Wad-ja-Learn?”. In this way, we can inquire not only about what students actually understood, but also about what they learned about thinking critically, collaborating, communicating with new digital skills and creatively solving real world problems.  If we improve how students learn by teaching them “how-to-learn” and if they can demonstrate they are more effective deeper learners by focusing on proof of their advanced competencies, we not only drive them to think critically about what they are learning, we can measure the results. When we assess the competencies that enable students to understand, we have strong evidence that they have advanced their skills and can hold them ready for further transfer.

Wad-ja-Learn that I Can See and Assess?

Let’s examine two examples taken from completed project-based learning units. By adding “deeper” to describe these units means the teachers intentionally designed the units to spotlight deeper learning outcomes and show what their students learned.

Four high school juniors embarked on a journey to build a case for making it easier for local senior citizens to get to their medical appointments. “What did they get?” A’s and B’s. What did they learn?They learned how to research a problem in their own community and then learned how to share a planned solution with the town council. Here is how the multi-disciplinary content examined.

  • Literacy: After researching informational text online, the team interviewed senior citizens, town officials, and others to identify the town’s problems related to senior citizens’ transportation.  They summarized findings in an essay which was also included in a presentation to the town committee.
  • Mathematics:  The team charted, analyzed statistics and reported data from the interviews.
  • Science: The team’s driving question was to determine how an ecosystem can impact human health.  Part of their research asked them to understand health ecosystems, especially as related to seniors.
  • Social Sciences/Civics: Working with local officials, the team addressed a social issue in their community and looked for a public solution that would enhance the lives of senior citizens. Their presentation highlighted the findings.
  • Art: For their public presentation, the team created a tri-fold display of the charts.
  • Technology: The team conducted research on-line, wrote and shared its essay via Google Docs. Students created an of online team portfolio to collect their google docs (Excel, PowerPoint, Word, etc.) and development charts for the tri-fold display.

The high schooler’s multidisciplinary transportation challenge was driven by rubrics connecting deeper learning competencies to the deeper learning outcomes.

  • Critical Thinking: Team members  learned to identify a real world problem important to them, researched, analyzed data, hypothesized, made inferences, and drew conclusions. Each student assessed one thinking skill such as drawing conclusions in a personalized learning plan.  
  • Collaboration: The students made all decisions together. The assessment rubric focused on conflict resolution.
  • Creative Problem Solving: The team searched for more productive alternative to senior transport in their community. The teacher assessed how they used design thinking strategies to reach their decisions.
  • Communication: The team learned how to present the solution to the town committee using clear and precise language. A rubric assessed the skills needed for the presentation.
  • Cultural Respect: This project fostered a positive relationship among students, the elderly community, and the local government. The students’ solution was  derived from the seniors’ stated needs.
  • Transfer: The teacher promoted student transfer by noting instances and then discussing during the project’s reflection.
  • Student Agency: The students were empowered to make their own decisions throughout the project in their team. Examples include  their identification of the community problem, jigsawed research, agreement on the analysis results,their presentation plan and self assessment of  their critical thinking.

The Importance of Deeper Learning Outcomes

Students’ learned more by solving a real world problem, researching their town’s senior transport options and making a product of their design to present to a real world audience, the city council, then taking a test or writing a paper to get a letter grade. By going beyond “know” to “do”, her students had much more to remember than they could deliver in  a single essay or test about the math, literacy, art, science or other content. They not only could speak and show what they had learned but they could also explain the essential learning outcomes they had applied and transferred them to new areas of learning.

Making the Transition: No Teacher is an Island

James Bellanca

 

“Deeper Learning? All kids thinking critically and creatively? Collaborating? Applying digital literacy? “It would never happen in my school with the kids we get.” “I’m lucky to get them to finish my daily reading worksheet.” “ Half of my thirty-three students speak almost no English.” Those words are just another dream that some college professor writes books and makes speeches about. Get real.”

 

These words are not a common commentary, but it’s a tone I hear often. We understand that it’s especially difficult for a teacher in a school environment where too many students speak too little English and other problems overwhelm the best of teachers. I also have heard, even in schools with a minimum of such issues.

 

It takes extraordinary effort for a teacher to make the transition from shallow learning with its emphasis on memorizing information, test preparation, and scores, scores, scores. Certainly there are teachers who manage this on their own. Mostly, however, it occurs when a whole school, lead by a strong principal, ends the practice of each teacher locked in her own classroom, her own island. “No man is an island” wrote the poet John Donne. Teachers shouldn’t have to be either.

 

An All Together Transition

 

Let’s examine a primary school example. We consider Katherine Smith Elementary in Evergreen School District, San Jose, to be the best elementary school I have visited.

 

I could describe any of this schools K-6 classrooms, the many outside of classroom events, the faculty, the school leaders, the parent program, or the many faculty meetings that occur to illustrate why this underfunded school tops my list. With its most poor Hispanic students starting from scratch to learn English, it defies the common low expectation that these youngsters can handle anything more than rote learning.  

 

What makes the difference? It is the one hundred percent commitment to deeper learning outcomes for each and every student. Commitment encourages each teacher and school leader to come out of typical classroom islands and work together . This commitment is announced on the school’s home page and is visible every day.

 

Deeper Learning: Looks Like, Sounds Like

 

In the 2nd grade classroom, students live deeper learning as they engage in daily project-based units. On my visit, I caught them focusing on the whale they found on their city’s beach. One group was wondering about the whale’s heart. How big was it? Is it as big as ours? How does it work? After reading, watching videos and discussing the blue whale, they later elected to make a replica, paper-mache whale’s heart.

 

This multi-discipline study immersed students into standards-aligned content.

 

  • Reading: Ask and answer questions to find details about the blue whale’s heart.
  • Writing: Organize information in sentences.
  • Math:  Measure and find ratios to build the model heart.
  • Science: Name the parts and their functions of the whale’s heart.
  • Art: Know what paints and materials to sketch and build the model.
  • Technology: Search information about the blue whale’s hearts and how to use an app to sketch the heart.                                           

 

To help “master the core content” and more importantly to develop their deeper learning competencies, the teacher had identified and aligned each outcome.

 

  • Critical Thinking: In each part of their work plans, students had to comprehend, analyze, apply, synthesize, and evaluate how details fit the model.
  • Collaborating: Students had to work together in order to combine what each learned about the whale and present their team’s ideas to a public audience.    
  • Communicating: During their research and the model construction, teammates had to share ideas with each other. They also had to prepare an email to their parents and make a formal presentation speaking to an audience.
  • Creative Problem Solving: Although they had images of the whale’s heart, they had to make sketches and build a model of their own design. There were many “how do we do this?” Questions as they created the whale heart.
  • Respecting Cultural Differences: Students from different backgrounds had to show respect for each other’s views in how to create the heart. As the teams worked, the members enriched their belonging mindset by collaborating.
  • Transferring: After reading stories and articles about the whale, viewing images of the heart and showing they knew what parts to include, the students transferred their knowledge into their model. The teacher used a rubric to assess what they learned about teamwork and how they would improve the insights into future teamwork
  • Student Agency: Students made the decisions about what and how they would make their “products”. Products ranged from the giant heart, to a giant floor sketch with scaled mathematical measurements of the whole whale.

 

It is Possible

 

A Project Based Deeper Learning unit like this whale unit requires daunting effort. When the classroom is geared to similar projects with deeper learning outcomes every day all year, the challenge increases. Yes, I do know one or two teachers who have tried this alone. For the most part, this challenge is best managed in quality and quantity when teachers, such as those in this school, are enabled to work together week in and week out to plan, implement, and assess their innovative units.

 

Although school principal Alan Brengard provided the initial vision when he arrived at Katherine Smith five years earlier, it was clear that his emphasis on collaboratively developed deeper learning outcomes and units of study vetted among the faculty was the water that would drive  the school’s mill wheel. At this point, it was the principal’s job to facilitate teacher team time and provide the resources for the teams to succeed.

 

Seeing is Believing

 

During my multi-day visit, I saw the evidence of serious collaboration in every nook and cranny of the school. In every classroom,  I saw variations of Project Based Deeper Learning (PBDL) in action. Guided by a 4th grade “Genius”, I not only watched teachers facilitate PBDL units, I saw models and samples of completed projects, observed a grade level team work as “Critical Friends” to review a proposed project, met with the team leaders to plan and conduct an all faculty session which would develop “looks-like/sounds-like” rubrics for essential learning-to-learn skills, and gave feedback on the faculty’s plan to heighten parent engagement. I sat with a grade level team introducing the school’s new STEM lab teacher to PBDL and joined the all faculty Friday Night celebration at a local restaurant.

 

At Katherine Smith, no teacher, no student is an island. What kids and teachers say and do is not fake news nor an academic’s pipedream.

 

What’s Necessary? Deeper Outcomes for a Lifetime

Common definitions and descriptions of deeper learning have highlighted methods and programs which may facilitate deeper learning experiences. These may be nice for a school to say it is readying students for their 21st Century college and career challenges. However, few are necessary when it comes to producing what is essential–deeper learning outcomes for all students.

Necessary vs. Nice

The comparison of what is most likely to produce these outcomes, as opposed to those most commonly given priority, is stark.

 

 

 

What REALLY matters?

The necessary vs. nice distinctions won’t make vendors happy. Fast talking sales folks love to hit end-of-year budgets with one-time, nice solutions claimed to “do it all”. Fake claims! What these sales “do” do is clean out the budget with a fast expenditure built on “promises, promises” for quick fixes….and they fatten commissions and bottom lines.

In the current school accountability climate, when all is said and done, don’t we all wish to know how well our children are learning? Isn’t that the main concern we hear from parents, teachers, board members, college admissions officers, real estate agents, and taxpayers as they ask: ”What are _____’s standardized test scores?”

The shallow learning reported by traditional school report cards, even when reported on gussied up electronic forms, drive the continuing commitments to shallow 20th Century definitions of learners. We can interpret the traditional scales as good news or bad. If good, we smile and may even get a chance to put a “My Child is An Honor Student” sticker on the family SUV or have the Board proclaim the school’s placement in the US News’ “best in state” ranks.

With limited looks at shallow numbers and letters, we are guaranteed to see more than than a fuzzy snapshot of what students have recalled and little about their development of deeper learning skills. The shallow learning reported by traditional report cards and data-full spread sheets, communicates the barest hints of how students are developing the characteristics which will count the most in the next decades.

By going beyond test scores and report card grades to descriptions of deeper learning outcomes, schools can move their responses from snapshots to detail rich videos. Such outcomes enable parents, school boards, colleges and others to see what deeper learning looks and sounds like. This shows its added benefits for a student’s future and an understanding of how they are developing the talents and skills they will need to succeed in their futures.

 

The “What if’s?”

What if your school defined the characteristics of a deeper learner as your school’s desired outcomes for all? How would these outcomes change what happens each day in the classroom? How would it shift each teacher’s focus from handing out worksheets, lecturing, and checking answers from textbook homework and grading facts recalled? How would it change students from being sponges absorbing information to makers of new understandings and solvers of real world problems? Ultimately, how would these deeper learner characteristics switch the emphasis on changing schools from what might be nice to what is essential for helping all students develop the much desired deeper learner characteristics.

 

 

Check Out Our NEW Website

We are pleased to announce the launch of our brand new website! After months of hard work and dedication, we are delighted to officially announce the launch on 9/13/2018. The new site launch is available and the URL is www.ilc21.org.

Our goal with this new website is to provide our visitors an easier way to learn about Illinois Consortium for 21st Century Schools services and solutions and also to allow the visitor to browse information based on their own choice. The new website is interactive and gives better access to About Us, Our Team, MindQuest21, Resources, FAQ’s, DeeperLearning21 Blog. Our current and prospective clients will find useful information about our services on the homepage of our website. The case studies will highlight the projects we have completed and outline the value created for each client as a result.

Amongst the new features, the site contains integrated social media buttons for Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Linkedin to foster improved communication with the you. We will be constantly updating our content with helpful information, articles, blogs, announcements, and client successes.

We hope you find the new website with a fresh look, easy to access information and we also wish to establish this portal as a source of information for those who visit our site.

We would also like to thank our amazing staff at Illinois21 who donated their time and energy to make this site what it is.

For any questions, suggestions, feedback or comments, please e-mail us.

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Deeper Learning: An Outcomes Definition

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.

  • Outlining
  • Highlighting
  • Repeating a list aloud
  • Homework practice
  • Note taking and recopying
  • Underlining key words
  • Mnemonics
  • 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.

References
https://www.air.org/resource/evidence-deeper-learning-outcomes