3 questions to help ‘Deeper Learning’ work –

3 questions to help ‘Deeper Learning’ work

by Drew Perkins, TeachThought director P.D

As our home state of Kentucky embarks on a major initiative to provide more and better ‘deep learning’ experiences for students, we are excited about the possibilities. How schools and teachers work is critical as a driver of success in the modern world. Deeper learning work in schools can bring joy and excitement to classrooms, promising increased opportunities for teachers and students within them.

Kentucky, of course, is not the only place to start such work, and the idea of deep learning is not new in education. In fact, an argument can be (and will be) made that education has tried to implement ‘deep learning’ for many years and this is detrimental to students. While I don’t find that argument compelling, I think it’s important to critically evaluate such efforts and be clear about what could go wrong and what needs to happen to help ensure success.

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There are certainly many ways to define deep learning, and Kentucky is defining it:

“Acquire and develop the content, skills and dispositions that all students need to thrive in life. Deeper learning skills promote the transfer of learning in an ever-changing global environment and the ability to apply it to new and complex situations.”

Credit: KY Deeper Learning Initiative

This is as good a definition as any, and unpacking the first part through the lens of the three questions is helpful in thinking about how we might do it well.

To acquire and develop the content, skills and dispositions necessary for all students to thrive in life.

1. What do you want students to learn and think about?

A criticism of such a pedagogical approach is that it emphasizes a student-centered classroom in a way that leads to a lack of clarity about what students should learn and think. While there are some instances where a discovery learning (instructing what and how students learn) type of approach may be appropriate, almost all of our k-12 classrooms should feature teachers as instructional designers and learning leaders.

This means that teachers, before students engage in a lesson or unit, set an academic and cognitive road map of what they want students to think and learn. It will be “content, skill and disposition.” We don’t want teachers to build the plane like they’re flying it, and we don’t want them to wander around with the curriculum and randomly learn the landscape based solely on student interests.

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2. How do you teach students to learn these things?

Once we are clear about ‘what’ students will learn we need to consider ‘how’ they will achieve those things. Here again, deep learning-type pedagogical approaches may lean so heavily toward experiential learning that they may neglect effective scaffolding and assessment practices.

Effective deep learning practices often include direct or explicit instruction, and these should certainly not be dismissed in the name of student engagement. Instead, we should consider how that instruction supports and supports what students need to know and learn, and how that learning can be cognitively and perhaps even behaviorally engaging. It’s also important to note that the direct instruction I’m talking about here is not the same as scripted lessons or drill and kill lectures.

Direct instructional guidance is defined as providing information that fully explains the concepts and procedures students need to learn, as well as supporting learning strategies that are consistent with human cognitive architecture. -Paul Kirschner

3. How do you know what they learned, and what they didn’t?

A third, critical feature of effective deep learning is evaluation. Assessment should not be the end of a project, lesson or unit, varying in form and style based on what we are trying to determine. Instead, we need to be sure that we are assessing early and often and checking the knowledge, understanding and skills of individual students and, where appropriate, assessing process and progress by teams.

Parse the desired content, skills and dispositions and use a variety of forms from traditional quizzes and tests to non-traditional forms that make thinking visible (see a podcast on this here) and lean towards critical thinking. Single-point rubricEssential to help students and other stakeholders learn more deeply, identify where they are missing, and determine H.A distinction must be made between project based learning so that they do.

How to create a rubric that works

Transferring and applying learning

Deep learning works to better prepare students for the modern world as it provides opportunities for them to grapple with ideas, concepts and knowledge. A culture of inquiry. When students are asked to cognitively engage with content through critical thinking such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, they make multiple connections that facilitate retrieval in other settings.

Add relevance, relevance, and purpose in the form of project-based learning or other real-world opportunities often associated with ‘deep learning’ and you’ve not only increased the chances of multiple connections, but you’ve also increased the chances that students will. A more committed approach to work will pay off, not only in short-term engagement, but also in long-term benefits.

The appeal of deep learning for schools and teachers is understandable and justified. After all, who wants shallow education? Yet, let’s not let the lure of engaging and often ‘fun’ activities and exercises detract from deep student experiences because we’ve neglected structure, clarity and best practices from start to finish.

Paul A. Kirschner, John Sweller and Richard E. Clark (2006) Why Minimal Guidance in Instruction Doesn’t Work: An Analysis of the Failures of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching, Educational Psychologist, 41 :2, 75 -86, DOI: 10.1207/s15326985ep4102_1